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Same Bible, differing interpretations

Same Bible, differing interpretations

When President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage this week, he cited his faith, and this highlighted the fact that different Christians read the same Bible differently and see different implications. The Rev. Canon Susan Russel talked about this on NPR’s Morning Edition today.

Barbara Bradley Haggerty contrasted two advocates for full-inclusion and marriage equality. One, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, who concedes the Bible to her opponents saying that only the Scriptures endorses only marriage between one man and one woman. The other, Susan Russell, doesn’t give on the Scriptures and calls for the faithful to read them more closely and carefully.

It’s true, says Carmen Fowler LaBerge: You can be a Christian and support same-sex marriage, but, she says, “nobody can say gay marriage is biblical. That’s just foolishness.”

LaBerge resigned her post as minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after the denomination voted last year to ordain noncelibate gay clergy. She says the Bible is clear.

“From the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament, the only sexual relationships that are affirmed in scripture are those in the context of marriage between one man and one woman,” she says.

Actually, the Old Testament does condone polygamy. Still, LaBerge says, from Leviticus to Paul’s writings in Romans and First Corinthians, homosexual acts are called vile and detestable, and legalizing same-sex relationships does not change the sin.

Not so fast, says Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. She takes her cues from Jesus.

“Jesus never said a single word about anything even remotely connected to homosexuality,” she says.

Jesus does say the most important commandments are “Love God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Given that, Russell believes if Jesus were here today, he would celebrate committed, same-sex relationships.


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Murdoch Matthew

Sorry, David — I usually check my links. This is the Webpage that I Googled:

I’ve seen this reading elsewhere — but I’m not a scholar, just an interpretation collector.

My point is, anti-gay polemicists declare what homosexuality IS, assuming that their understanding of Leviticus and Romans constitutes a description. They should rather observe people’s actual experience, check it against evidence, then see if the scriptural citations actually apply.

The silence of scripture on sexual orientation has been taken to indicate that the matter can be safely ignored, or treated as individual aberrations. Now that gay people are living open and productive lives, tradition must learn to accommodate the fact that they exist — like left-handers.


I think you misheard/misread the interview, Andrew. Carmen Fowler LaBerge is NOT an “advocate for full-inclusion and marriage equality” (she merely concedes that other Christians—those who, in her words, either aren’t “biblical” or are “foolish”—can be).

JC Fisher

David Allen

Your link does not appear to work Murdock.

However, I would submit that the Hebrew in Leviticus does not say that at all.

Brother David

Murdoch Matthew

I read that the texts in both Leviticus and the letter to the Romans are convoluted and difficult to interpret. This tends to happen when the meaning of slang terms often used in discussing sexual matters become obscure after the slang is forgotten. (What does it mean that David “exceeded himself,” and what was Saul implying in saying that Jonathan had “chosen the son of Jesse to thine own shame, and unto the shame of thy mother’s nakedness”?) Literally, it seems that Leviticus outlaws a male sleeping with another male in a woman’s bed.

Despite all the talk nowadays about how Romans and Leviticus are really bad-mouthing temple prostitutes and paedestery, what Paul and the author of Leviticus write is consistent with a view that all males are naturally heterosexual (a word and concept they wouldn’t have heard of), and any male same-sex expression is just an example of thrill-seeking or excess lust. We needn’t strain present-day evidence or understanding to try to salvage a legitimate meaning for a scriptural passage when it’s clear that the writers just didn’t understand the situation. Sexual orientation, biology, and geology are absent from Scripture. (Some people in Texas recently walked out when a lecturer mentioned that the moon isn’t a light in the sky as described in Genesis, only a reflector of the sun’s light.)

Wayne Hastings

For gentile Christians — like me — the question is of choosing a universal principle taught by Jesus vs. a historical but ultimately contextually limited principle taught by Paul.

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