Episode 6 of ALLin pod looks at how we should interpret Old Testament Laws. Do they still apply to us, as Christians today? If so, how we do distinguish between those laws that do apply and those that don’t? And what does this mean for the two verses in Leviticus that prohibit “men sleeping with men as they would with a woman”? It’s a longer episode than normal (44 minutes), but well worth this deep dive into how to apply Old Testaments laws in our modern world.
Back in 2016, James O’Keefe presented a TEDx talk entitled “Homosexuality: It’s about survival – not sex“. It has since had more than 2.5 million views.
The reason for the interest in this video is that James presents a compelling theory of why we need LGBTQI people in the world.
James presents his theory from the basis of evolution. As a Christian, if you prefer to refer to Creation and God’s choice rather than nature’s choice, it doesn’t change James’ theory. He suggests that at first glance it might seem strange that LGBTQI people exist – they don’t appear to make sense for evolution (or creation and God’s command to reproduce).
I was recently recommended the 2011 book by Philip Gulley, “If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus” (Available at Amazon). I am busy reading it, but love the general idea.
It is a wonderful bringing together of many of the concepts embodied in what has become known as “the emerging church” – a movement of progressive Christians and churches around the world trying to build a “new kind of Christian” (to quote one of the men who kicked it all off, Brian McLaren).
In his book, Gulley suggests ten ways that we can rebuild spirituality, Christianity and the church today. This is something you might not hear in your church, but you should – I am paraphrasing, borrowing from his chapter titles and main themes:
- Jesus needs to be a model for living – someone who’s life we follow – more than an object of worship.
- Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
- The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments and division.
- Gracious behaviour is more important than right beliefs.
- Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
- Encouraging personal exploration and experimentation with faith is more important than group uniformity.
- Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
- Peacemaking is more important than power or position.
- We should care more about love and less about sex.
- Life in this world is more important than the afterlife.
It’s tough to argue that these ten things are not very Christ-like.
Continue reading If the Church Were Christian – a manifesto for the emerging church
Richard Rohr writes a daily devotion, which I highly recommend you sign up for.
On 27 October 2019, he wrote this stunning reflection:
Church: Old and New
I have come to set fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing. —Luke 12:49
People are rightly concerned by the loss of property through fire. However, forestry workers understand that from the destruction caused by fire emerges new growth, new life. Time and again, this also has been shown to be true in the church as we seek to follow the way of Christ in light of expanding human knowledge and understandings that continually affirm the movement of the Spirit.
In 2017, Protestants and Catholics honored the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his “95 Theses” or complaints on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, European Christianity had become too focused on meritocracy and hierarchy, losing sight of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church itself now admits it is always in need of reformation. The perpetual process of conversion, or reformation, is needed by all individuals and institutions. We appear to be in the midst of another period of significant turmoil and rebirth, thus my focus on Old and New: An Evolving Faith in this year’s Daily Meditations.
In North America and much of Europe, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in “nones,” people who don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. While I ache for those who have been wounded by religion and no longer feel at home in church, the dissatisfaction within Christianity has sparked some necessary and healthy changes. Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer (1930–2014) aptly called these recurring periods of upheaval giant “rummage sales” in which the church rids itself of what is no longer needed and rediscovers treasures it had forgotten.
As Phyllis Tickle (1934–2015) reflected, in the process of building necessary structure in institutions, we eventually “elaborate, encrust, and finally embalm them with the accretion of both our fervor and our silliness. At that point there is no hope for either religion or society, save only to knock the whole carapace off ourselves and start over again.”  This is a difficult and frightening task, which is why we only seem to do it every 500 years or so! If we look at church history, we can see the pattern. 
With each reformation, we don’t need to start from scratch but return to the foundations of our Tradition. We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.
It takes a contemplative mind to witness these changes without resistance or defensiveness. When living within a sacred tradition, everything can seem essential and untouchable. But all Christians are already worshipping in “reformed” churches—often many times over—whatever our denomination. Let’s take heart and have faith that the Holy Spirit is with us through it all.
 Phyllis Tickle, “The Great Emergence,” Radical Grace, vol. 21, no. 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), 4-5.
 If the Great Reformation “occurred” in 1517, the Great Schism took place in 1054 with the heads of both the Eastern and Western churches mutually excommunicating each other. Look back another 500 years or so to the 6th century and we find the birth of the Oriental Orthodox Church (which still has 60-70 million adherents today) as well as the rise of the flourishing monastic movement. Even further back, in the 1st century, earliest Christianity began as a radical offshoot from Judaism, Jesus’ own faith. For a fascinating and accessible description of this history, see Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books: 2008).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “500th Anniversary of the Beginnings of the Reformation,” (October 31, 2017), cac.org/reformation-500th-anniversary/.
The Bible is not meant to be used as a legal textbook. On many issues, we are required to look for principles in the Bible, rather than direct instructions. This includes issues such as slavery, women leaders, and democracy. On these issues, we need to identify principles from the Bible that help us understand how God would have us live. In this episode of the ALLin podcast, we look at ten passages in the Bible that provide principles for affirming gay marriage and LGBTQI people.
Or listen and subscribe on your favourite podcast platform.
Resource and recommended reading:
Justin Lee wrote a very important book on the issue of the Bible and homosexuality. It’s called “Torn” (or in the UK, “Unconditional”).
His main thesis is that as Christians dealing with the issue of homosexuality we have fixated on sex – and he means those both for and against LGBTQI inclusion in the church. He has a point. Most of the debate is about who can have sex with whom. His book, and his work, is a request to go further than this – to talk about more than sex. We should talk about what it means to be an LGBTQI Christian, because there is a lot more to life than sex.
Justin has a really good online presence with great resources. This video is a good introduction to his thinking, and I think you’ll find it valuable. I don’t agree completely with his approach to interpreting the Bible, but I think its worth considering and talking about, and his overall point of the conversations we should be having are vital.
Right now – and for the rest of our lifetimes – one of the biggest and most important discussions in the Christian church centres around the issue of the inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQI people in the church. You should be hearing about this in your church: not just fiery judgement against the “evils of homosexual lifestyles”, but gentle sermons on how to love others. And here’s a thought – maybe even reflective sermons on whether the church’s historical viewpoint might be wrong. Imagine that? A church willing to admit it might be wrong?
Progressive Christians do not see that God is opposed to gay marriage and LGBTQI people. They see the negative Biblical chapters as talking about sexual abuse, rape and idolatry. But the biggest problem they have with attempting to show a positive Biblical witness towards LGBTQI people is that the Bible never directly addresses the issue. There are no LGBTQI role models in the Bible (positive or negative, as it happens).
But if we use the Bible as a legal textbook or Constitution, looking for a subparagraph clause somewhere to proof text our position, we will always be disappointed – on multiple issues, not just this one. That’s just not how the Bible works.
The Bible is best interpreted when we use it to see – and show – the character of God, and our relationship with the divine.
A few years ago, Layton Williams, wrote in Sojourners about the Ten Bible Passages that Teach a Christian Perspective on Homosexuality. This is well worth reading (here at Sojourners or an extract below):
… In his book God and the Gay Christian, Christian LGBTQ activist Matthew Vines challenges LGBTQ-condemning interpretations of these Scriptures — sometimes referred to as “clobber passages.” But these clobber-texts aren’t the only Scriptures that can guide faithful Christians as we seek a godly understanding of sexual and gender identity.
Here are 10 Bible verses that emphasize the value of love over the law, the God-belovedness of all people, and the special affirmation of those who have been historically rejected as unclean or unholy.
A few years ago, I came across a blog post on Patheos that did a really great job of overviewing how progressive Christians (including myself) approach the Bible. I think it is worth revisiting.
I’d also highly recommend Peter Enns’ latest book, “How the Bible Actually Works“.
The article on Patheos, but Roger Wolsey is available here, or read an extract below:
16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible
JANUARY 21, 2014 BY ROGER WOLSEY
I’ve long stated that atheists and fundamentalists each tend to read the Bible in the same wooden, overly literalistic manner. The difference is that atheists reject what they read in that manner, while fundamentalists believe it.
There’s a lot of truth to that – enough that it tends to piss off members of both of those groups off when they come across what I said.
However, I’ve also said that all Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible they interpret literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.
That observation has resonated with many people – including many fundamentalists who are honest with themselves and who rightly contend that they don’t read “all of the Bible literally.” Some of these more self-reflective fundamentalists have asked me, “So, how do you progressives ‘discern’ and interpret the Bible? Seems like you just read into it what you want it to say; twist it; and don’t take it seriously.” I generally respond by reminding them that – that which we criticize most in others, is often that which we struggle with most ourselves.
While no doubt true, and I fully stand by holding that mirror up to them, they deserve an actual response.
I can’t speak for all progressive Christians, but here’s how many progressive Christians approach, discern, and interpret the Bible:
1. We embrace the many variations of the view expressed by many great Christian thinkers that “We take the Bible too seriously, to read it all literally.”
2. We don’t think that God wrote the Bible. We think it was written by fallible human beings who were inspired by (not dictated to by) the Holy Spirit. Hence, we don’t consider it to be infallible or inerrant. [My comment: This does not deny the divine and God-inspired nature of the Bible – see below for more detail.]
Later this year, I will be spending a few days with a group of Conservative Christians. It’s meant to be a social event, and the organisers have asked me not to be provocative. This is a group of people who largely think that “social justice Christian” is an insult, so it is going to be tough. I think there is a plan to do daily devotions, and I am starting to prepare something in case I am asked to lead one. But I am struggling to find something to share from the Bible which doesn’t get me in trouble for talking about politics and the state of the world.
Here’s a summary of the Bible you might not hear in your church, but you should:
Genesis: God gets mad over and over at humanity for being cruel to foreigners, for being uncaring to the poor, for war and for being nationalistic.
Exodus: God frees captives and guides refugees to new lands.
Leviticus: Jubilee is explained: redistribute all wealth every 49 years.
Numbers/Deuteronomy: Take care of widows and orphans, and don’t oppress foreigners.
Judges: Don’t get trapped in cycles of abuse and neglect.
Ruth: We discover that Jesus is descended from a poor immigrant who worked in the fields (and did sexual favours with Boaz to get his attention).
Last Saturday, I joined a group of Christians who attended the Johannesburg Pride Parade. We didn’t protest against it – in fact, we did the opposite. We held signs showing our support of the LGBTQI community, and apologising for the way the church has treated them in the past.
The responses we received were overwhelming and amazing. Many people were in tears as they saw us, and understood that we were bringing a message of love and grace. For those are into signs and wonders, there was a beautiful double rainbow over the whole event.
Here’s another article I wrote about why I went to Pride: News24 Landisa
And here are some photos of our group.
You probably won’t hear this message in your church, but you should: this is where Jesus would be, and He would be doing if He was here.