When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, my Pastor always denounced the dangers of relying on anything other than the literally-interpreted Word of God. He denounced the act of “cherry-picking” the parts of the Bible that we liked and ignoring the parts of the Bible we didn’t like. He would say cherry-picking the Bible makes us the ultimate arbiters of the intellectual or moral soundness of the Bible.
My Pastor would say that this is egotistic, placing our judgment higher than the judgment of God. He would say either it’s ALL true as the divinely inspired Word of God, or none of it’s true, making it a purely human product, which we might as well just read selectively to confirm what we already believe.
A Counter Argument
But God gave us the Scriptures. And She also gave us brains. If my brain rejects with the force of its entire being what some particular interpretation says (e.g. women cannot be priests or that LGBT acts are sinful), then I am going to deny what my own brain is telling me?
One can see the brain as a kind of receiver tuned to the frequency of a consciousness field. And God is the Ultimate Consciousness, the Consciousness that is conscious of all of us, and through that Consciousness, creates and sustains us.
And is this not how revelation works? The sensus divinitatis inside our brains is tuned to the God frequency, and from this reception, “downloads” God’s information, the Logos or Word, directly into itself, similar to how my phone tunes in to the local wi-fi frequency. This is a metaphor, mind you (albeit with a recognition that all models of reality are ultimately analogical.)
So if one Christian tells me that God’s Scripture tells them that the acts of love, tenderness, and beauty of LGBT people are “inherently disordered,” and thus sinful, everything in my brain, my Mind, my Soul screams against this view.
It rattles my entire skeleton with the force of its moral wrongness. I am just as confident in the wrongness of that view as I am that there are trees outside my window.
Did God not give me my moral intuition? Did She not give me my sense of discernment? Did She not give me my moral compass? Is my sensus divinitatis somehow broken just because it seems so completely morally intuitive to be fully affirming of LGBT people? Since I am LGBT myself, it feels completely rational and moral and just the right thing to do to affirm the essential goodness of my lifestyle as a LGBT person. I do not think this is just a self-serving bias, because I know of many non-LGBT people who hold onto the same very strong moral intuition.
A Thought Experiment
Imagine this. A young gay man in the 1980s is dying of AIDs, a deadly and mysterious disease devasting an already marginalized community. His loving partner is at his hospital bed. His loving partner was the one who showed him True Love after his family, his friends, his church, and society itself completely rejected him for being gay and condemned him to death essentially saying he deserved it for just living his own truths.
Imagine as the gay man was dying, in an act of utter love, the man’s partner reached down and kisses the dying man on his lips and says, “I love you” as the man’s life slowly fades.
Any Scriptural interpretation that tells me that kiss is “inherently disordered,” “evil,” “sinful,” “ungodly,” etc., is not an interpretation that comports with my deepest and most heartful understanding of Christ’s message of love and peace for our fellow humans.
Under what possible moral theory could we plausibly reason that acts of love in a consenting, loving relationship between two rational adults, supporting each other and loving each other with the full depth of the hearts are “sinful” and worthy of moral reproach?
There is a good reason that on the Christianity subreddit, every day people ask questions about whether or not the Bible condemns homosexuality. There’s a good reason this issue is absolutely tearing the Christian community apart. On one side, you have the “traditionalists” who defend the orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. And on the other hand, you have progressive or liberal people who see so very clearly that the Church is on the wrong side of history, just it was on slavery, segregation, and women’s rights.
Allies of LGBT people often rely on the argument that when read in the proper historical context the Bible was really talking about things such as male prostitution, which were understood in a completely different socio-cultural context than today’s understanding of “sexual orientation,” which includes two consenting adults in a long-term, loving relationship.
The latter conceptual category is a relatively modern conceptual category for understanding homosexual behavior. In ancient times, sex acts were categorized completely differently so, conceptually speaking, all the verses in the Bible condemning man-on-man or woman-on-woman sex acts is not applicable to the modern concept of “being gay,” which is dependent on the conceptual category of consenting adult behavior analogous to consenting straight relationships.
But as much as these historical-context arguments are correct, I do not think they go far enough. For what if the ancient people did have a conceptual category similar to our modern understanding of being gay and still said it was immoral?
Would we just give up our moral intuition and say, “Oh, well, this Sacred Scripture says it’s immoral, so therefore we must believe it”?
This is the harder case because it transforms into our original question of cherry-picking. Should we rely on our moral intuition and rational intelligence to work out the moral facts of the universe? Or is cherry-picking somehow elevating our own judgment over that of God?
If you are a moral realist, as many modern philosophers are, then it is rational to believe that it’s wrong to torture innocent babies. Philosophers claim they have come to this conclusion without needing to suppose a Christian God. It is worked out from first principles. Often the argument depends on a kind of Platonism. But we need only look at the long history of moral reasoning in Western Philosophy from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, and every iteration in contemporary philosophy to see the rationality of moral facts worked out in conceptual schemes independent of theology.
Many contemporary philosophers are moral realists but don’t necessarily ground this ontological foundation of moral facts in Christian theology. Rather, it is grounded in facts about human reason itself.
And within these rational debates about morality, saying “X is immoral because it says so in the Bible” is not going to cut it.
If one of the Ten Commandments said “Thou shalt torture the innocent” would we thereby accept this as a divinely-inspired “moral fact” that can be supported by reason? The natural question is why should we torture the innocent? If there is no underlying reason why it’s good to torture the innocent, then it seems we have no good reason for believing it’s true except the meta-theoretical claim that the Bible is the literal word of God and thus contains no human error.
And if you say, “Well, the Bible would never say ‘torture the innocent’ because God is All Good and would never write that,” you must realize that for gay people, saying “loving gay acts are sinful” is pretty much just as irrational. And so defenders of Christian orthodox teaching risk arguing in a circular manner, because the gay Christian has equally strong moral intuition to say “Well, clearly God didn’t write ‘being gay is wrong’ because He would never say that!”
Which, accordingly, leaves the Gay Christian with the idea that the Bible might not be completely inerrant, that is, completely devoid of any contradiction or human limitation.
This approach, however, doesn’t sit right with many modern Biblical scholars, who argue that the Bible is not a univocal document with a single voice or perspective that is consistent with respect to itself. In reality, the Bible was written by dozens of different people across historical and cultural time, all with unique authorial intentions, biases, motives, and cultural perspectives.
It is beyond the scope of this post to say more about the Bible, but I want to emphasize that, as many progressive Biblical scholars have argued, just because we situate the Bible within its proper historical and metaphorical context, does not thereby entail we have to stop taking the Bible seriously as having the status for Sacred Scripture for Christians. The question of the Scripture being Sacred is different from the question of whether the Bible is completely inerrant or whether it should be taken completely literally.
What Does It Mean for Scripture to Be Sacred?
A Scripture can be sacred even if it is 100% human. As Peter Enns argues in Inspiration and Incarnation, we already have a model for this in Jesus, who in the Gospel of John we see as the Divine God incarnated completely in the flesh as a God-man. Similarly, we can see the Bible as a divine product, but incarnated in the all too human Scriptures we have available to us.
So if Jesus can be 100% God and 100% Human we can analogically apply the same model to the Bible, which allows that the Bible can be a completely human product with all the expected limitations and faults of such a project, and at the same time see it as 100% divine and Sacred.
In other words, we need not see the Bible as literally the words of God, as if the authors of the Bible were just passive puppets that God the Great Ventriloquist used the human authors to directly speak through, as if the Biblical authors had no human agency in the creative process of the documents they were creating, as if no human interpretation or editing happened, or as if human decision making didn’t factor at all in how the canon of the Bible was edited together into a single document.
In summary, we are fully within our rights to see the Bible as divinely inspired and also that it’s a product of mortal humans with frail, human minds, in all their limitations and historical contingencies. It’s fully possible to think that the Bible is divinely inspired and that also some parts of the Bible contradict other parts, or might be outright wrong or mistaken when viewed from the historical vantage point of modern methods of ethical or scientific reasoning.
There are many ways to think about what divine inspiration looks like without entailing the Ventriloquist model is right. Instead of Divine Dictation, we might instead see the inspiration of the Biblical authors as more similar to the inspiration of a poet.
So when it comes to the handful of verses in the Bible which seem to condemn homosexuality, even if we ignore the historical context which renders these moral commandments irrelevant in our time, it is not a justifiable rational argument to say “Being gay is a sin because the Bible says so.”
So for anti-gay theologians then, is there any attempt to rationally argue that LGBT acts of love are “immoral”? Indeed, there are. And they are popular among Catholic theologians who twist themselves into knots trying to rationalize the stance of the Catholic Church which would outrageously and grotesquely categorize the gay man’s kiss of his dying partner as “inherently disordered.”
These Catholic arguments involve what is called natural law theology. I turn to this next.
The Natural Law Argument Against Homosexuality
Catholics often argue for a “natural law” theology that says the teleological “final cause” of the human being is to sexually procreate which is only fulfilled as telos in the act of sexual reproduction where a penis is going inside of a vagina.
The reason it’s called “natural law,” is because you are trying to read God’s intelligent design off of nature. You look at a giraffe and wonder what their long necks are “for.”
Because God’s design is read off nature, this is seen as “objective” and thus suitable as an intellectual foundation for building rational arguments in defense of the official Catholic dogma on homosexuality.
Looking at a beaver, you can see that building dams is what they are designed to do. It’s built into their telos.
Now, obviously, atheist/materialist evolutionists believe that final causes play no role in evolution, only efficient, mechanical causal forces. But let’s put that debate aside for a second because I am speaking to the Christian who does believe in final causes or intelligent design.
For this Christian, the question of “what is the telos of the human being?” involves procreation. Did not God tell us “be fruitful and multiply?” This Christian will say multiplication, or reproduction is only possible through heterosexuality.
On the face of this, it’s just wrong. Two bisexual people can reproduce. Two trans people can reproduce. A gay person and a trans person can reproduce. So there’s nothing special to LGBT dynamics that prevent us from engaging in the teleological purpose of humanity to multiply our species.
The anti-gay Christian might say that the only teleologically “proper” sex act is penis in vagina, because only this act leads directly to pregnancy.
However, this is a very reductive perspective on “natural law.”
What Is the Evolutionary Unit of Selection?
Evolutionary biologists are still debating the “unit of selection” in natural selection.
That is, at what “level” does evolutionary pressure apply: the genetic level, the animal level, or the tribe or group level?
To my knowledge, this is not a settled question and philosophers and biologists disagree with each other.
But as seems plausible to me, suppose that the tribe or group level evolves just like individual humans. This would mean that we can talk about the teleology of the tribe. Some tribes do better than other tribes. Whatever helps the tribe better survive better is what gets selected for.
This would be adaptive pressure at the group level.
At the genetic level, the other perspective is that adaptive pressure is relative to the evolutionary success of our entire kin. That is, if we can make actions to make our genetic relatives more successful, then those actions would be considered “evolutionarily successful.”
Now, consider how gay people fit into this picture. Wouldn’t gay people get “selected against,” because their actions don’t contribute to the genetic success of their related kin because the male-on-male or female-on-female sex act does not lead to reproduction? After all, they are perhaps not propagating their genes as much by not engaging in as much sexual reproduction.
The Gay Uncle Hypothesis
One promising theory to explain why gay people are not “harmful mutations” that would be selected against is the “gay uncle hypothesis,” which essentially says that a gay uncle who never reproduces would be considered an “evolutionary success” if he spends all his time trying to improve the lives and support his genetic relatives, his brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. This is called the “kin selection” theory of genetic success.
Imagine a celibate gay person was the greatest hunter the tribe had ever known. Everyone in his family ate better than everyone else in the tribe. Accordingly, because there was always an excess of calories to feed babies, this gay man’s family was “more fruitful” and multiplied more than any other family in the tribe. In strictly evolutionary terms, this gay man would be considered a smashing evolutionary success.
And if he is a smashing evolutionary success, that creates conditions for natural selection, which is God’s favorite mechanism of intelligent design. Over many generations, the gay gene would become built into the human genetic code and thus be part of our adaptive design. In other words, gayness would be part of the natural teleology or “design” of the human species.
Since natural law theology is based on trying to read teleology off nature, it is perfectly scientifically plausible that being gay is “naturally ordered” and thus Godly for people to engage in gay acts.
I hold this theory to be likely. It also happens to comport with my deepest moral intuitions and seems to fit into the message of Scripture. We are all made in the image of God. In Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I would throw in “straight or gay, cis or trans” into that sentence.
In conclusion, it seems there are no compelling Christian arguments against the dignity and moral decentness of gay love.
As an LGBT person myself, I can tell you “from the inside” that it is absolute moral bullshit to hold onto the pernicious cliche of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
There is nothing sinful or disordered about consenting human adults loving each other. It strikes me as distinctly unChristian to label some types of consenting adult love as sinful and others as not sinful.
Indeed, when Jesus was asked to summarize the entire Hebrew Law, he famously said:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat. 22:37-40)
For Jesus, the essence of the law is Love. Loving God. Loving others. Many Christian theologians would agree with the equation that God = Love. So in what possible world could the pure love of two consenting gay adults could ever be “disordered” or “sinful”? This absolutely screams against my moral intuition.
For me, it would be like telling a fish that swimming in water is sinful. And like I said before, it was God who gave me my moral compass. It is not a violation of my Christian ideals to use my God-given moral intuition to discern that being gay is perfectly moral.
The only way to make sense of what the Bible says on homosexuality is to put it into its historical context. But as LGBT Christians, we need not merely rely on these arguments of historical context because what would we do if scholars all agreed that the historical context did condemn modern consenting adult gay relationships including natural expressions of those relationships?
Would gay Christians just suddenly be like, “Oh, well, these scholars now agree this ancient book condemns homosexuality so therefore it’s wrong?”
No! Morality does not derive from arbitrary reasons. “Cherry picking” is absolutely necessary for modern people to have a proper relationship to the Bible.
It pains me to see so many gay Christians suffering because they believe that acting on their natural sexual orientation in loving, consenting relationships is inherently disordered and sinful all because the writings of people 2,000 years ago were mistranslated and taken out of context in order to reinforce the patriarchal regulation of sexuality for gender minorities.
But we are living in a completely different ethical and social world, and have every right to judge these ancient texts according to our own God-given moral intuition and moral reasoning. This is not “putting ourselves above God” as my Pastor used to say. It’s about respecting the moral faculties of reason and critical thinking that characterize the modern mind.
Just look at the relationship to slavery Christians have had over the centuries. Can we really say Christians always escaped the historical contingencies of their social context in interpreting the relevance of the Bible to social and moral questions?
It is not heresy to re-vision the Bible’s message in light of contemporary moral intuitions. And besides, one might argue that such a modern re-visioning that is fully affirming of the essential dignity of the LGBT movement is also a more conservative form of Christianity that goes back to the words of the historical Jesus Himself, whose message boiled down to its essence involves loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, being humble, forgiving our enemies, not judging others, helping the poor and needy, finding joy in the present moment, and fighting systems of social-political domination.
Let’s go back to our thought experiment about a young gay man dying from AIDS as his partner kisses him on lips. If Jesus was there watching that kiss, what do you think he’d say to a Catholic theologian who arrogantly condemned this act of love as sinful or disordered? I don’t know what Gospels you might be reading, but the Christ I know from reading the Gospels would not be on the side of Catholic orthodoxy.