Religion Dispatches has a dialogue on whether it is possible for LGBT believers to debate other believers, particularly those who cite the seven "clobber" verses of the Bible, about scripture.
Jay Michaelson, the founder of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality, says that a direct approach is required. The Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, pastor of Jubilee! Circle United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C. says don't argue scripture at all.
It is tough, lonely, and occasionally dangerous to be an LGBT religious activist. Fellow queers think you’re an apologist for an oppressive system, or that you haven’t yet gotten over your guilt about being gay. Religious people think you’re nuts, or evil, or worse. And you have to be told, time and time again, that your love for your partner, lover, or friend is no different from someone’s lust for a sheep. I think our work is saving the world, but it definitely sucks at times...
...Recently, on The Huffington Post, Rev. Chellew-Hodge (author of Bulletproof Faith) suggested that gays and lesbians should never argue Scripture—in particular, the half dozen “clobber verses” that some people interpret against gays. Why? Because nobody wins, everyone’s opinion hardens, and we talk past each other, because gays and lesbians are usually not biblical literalists, while our opponents usually are. Most importantly, she wrote, “the Bible has nothing much to say about homosexuality,” which after all is a modern concept not known to the pre-modern men who wrote the Bible—men who also believed that the earth was flat and that women were property.
Chellew-Hodge’s suggestion sounds wise, but I want to respectfully disagree with it. I think we can make progress by talking about Scripture, even if we adopt a literalist perspective for the sake of argument...
...When faced with two equally coherent interpretations of biblical verses, what do we do? Well, we have to turn to our fundamental values and ask which reading makes sense in light of them. By way of analogy, “thou shalt not kill” seems to admit of no exceptions—and yet, obviously it does, because other biblical verses discuss the law of war. So we resolve the ambiguity in one verse by looking at other ones.
And this is where our tie turns into a win.
Michaelson says that Chellow-Hodge's approach "hangs our religious hopes on literalists changing into non-literalists."
As religious progressives and advocates for equality, we can’t hang our hopes on divesting people of this belief. We can do better—not because literalism is right, but because we don’t need it to be wrong..
In contrast, my approach only requires that people admit that there is a lot more unclarity in the clobber verses than they previously thought. From there, we’re on home turf. Then we can have the real conversation: how God’s grace operates in the lives of LGBT people, how gay and lesbian love is a path to holiness. Then we can testify to the truth of LGBT experience: that sexual diversity does exist. Then we can speak from our own experience, our own witness.
But first we have to crack the false façade of biblical unambiguity. I am convinced that we can open that crack, on the face of the biblical text itself, and that when we do so, the light will come in
Candace Chellew-Hodge replies
I am grateful for Jay Michaelson’s generous disagreement with me over my assertion that gay and lesbian people should refrain from arguing scriptures. He does a great job of capturing the overall point of disagreement between literalists and progressives when reading the scriptures that are used to condemn homosexuality.
I, however, remain unconvinced.
I can argue both sides of this issue. For a long time—too long, I think—I argued scripture with anyone who could spare five minutes, or a week or two. I relished the back and forth—the “gotcha” moments of both sides—and told myself I was boldly arguing as a way to teach others who may be reading along or listening in about how to effectively argue against homophobes. Eventually, though, the exercise became painful, mainly because the “tie” Michaelson says he hopes to achieve is unreachable. Those who disagree with homosexuality, no matter how compassionate they may feel for gays and lesbians, will never even agree that a “tie” can be reached.
While I admire Michaelson’s attempt to redefine the battle over scripture by requiring “that people admit that there is a lot more unclarity in the clobber verses than they previously thought,” it is ultimately quixotic. Those who are most attached to the certainty of their interpretation of scripture have no interest in admitting any “unclarity” in the clobber verses. There is no common ground in such a redefinition.
Arguing over scripture—even arguing over whether to argue over scripture—only frustrates the participants and continues to cloud the real issue that the Bible calls us to embrace grace over judgment, acceptance over rejection, and love over hatred. This is why I no longer argue scripture.