People want to know why I have done what I have done—going against the teachings of my church, giving up my career as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and losing the only community I have known. That’s what happened when I came out as bisexual.
In some ways, my reasons might be unique. I changed my thinking about God and what the Bible teaches before I changed my thinking about myself. It wasn’t about desire for me, or even about being able to be open about who I am. It wasn’t until later that I saw how important those things are. Only after I knew the approval of God for my sexuality did I dare be honest with myself about it.
In many ways, it was a journey of years, but it culminated in a period of several months of intense study and prayer. I’d like to share with you what that process was like and what drove me to and through it.
Compassion Came First
The immediate catalyst was the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, but all that did was amplify the agitation that already dogged me. LGBT people were hurting, even when they tried to follow the church’s teachings. Christianity isn’t supposed to be easy, we’re supposed to take up a cross after all, but it isn’t supposed to tear you apart from the inside.
Besides, same-sex relationships seemed like a sin that existed only in the abstract, not in the real world. Who did it harm? How does it dishonor God? How does it harm one’s self? How does it harm anyone else? Can you really hurt someone by loving them in commitment and self-sacrifice?
Something wasn’t adding up. What was I missing? How is the gospel good news for people who experience same-sex attraction?
Foolishly, I didn’t see that these were questions about myself. I had long ago decided not to pursue my desire for a relationship with a woman. What I wanted to know was how I could better minister to my congregation, including the members who are LGBT or who have LGBT people in the family.
Psalm 119 describes the goodness of God’s laws. If God is prohibiting this, then that prohibition makes people more spiritually whole, and breaking it is destructive to the soul. I believed the problem was in my understanding, not in the prohibition against same-sex relationships. I expected to find a better understanding of the theology my church teaches. I expected this because of faith in God and his goodness. But I also knew that in the process I had to become better versed on the theological perspectives of both sides, so at the suggestion of Herb Montgomery, a friend of mine, I picked up Gender, Bible, Sexuality by James V. Brownson first, and eventually an entire shelf of books, and started reading.
What Does the Bible Say?
I often heard LGBT apologists say the Bible never speaks to sexual orientation, that none of the passages apply to the current situation. I didn’t find that compelling back then. I wasn’t concerned with what the Bible doesn’t say, I was concerned with what it does say.
So when I approached those six passages of scripture that mention some type of same-sex sexuality, I wanted to know what they were talking about. Whatever they were about, that would be in harmony with the compassionate and loving heart of God.
It wasn’t hard to find out what these passages were talking about. No matter what commentaries or books I read, no matter what conclusions they reached about whether same-sex relationships are wrong or right, I always found that what is being talked about in these verses is exploitative sexual behavior like rape, prostitution, and adultery, and out-of-control lust in the case of Romans 1. There was no limit or concern for marriage and commitment. In none of these verses would the behavior be condoned if it were heterosexual instead of homosexual. These verses are some variation on the theme of men degrading men by using physical or social power to dominate them sexually by treating them sexually like women.
What Did Verses About Same-Sex Sexuality Accomplish?
I don’t have a problem with the rules and statements about slavery in the New and Old Testament not because I think we should live by them today, but because they made life better for the slaves in Israel. Slaves in the Ancient Near East were better off in Israel than anywhere else. The laws affirmed them as a human beings and not mere property. They set significant limits on how slaves were treated.
Similarly, I don’t have a problem with statements in both the New and Old Testament that limit the autonomy of women because the real impact of these scriptures was positive by moving society in the right direction. They accomplished greater freedom and equality relative to their societies. If we were to apply these verses according to their plain meaning today, we would be accomplishing the opposite goal. We would enslave people and take away the civil rights of women. A literal interpretation sometimes undermines the meaning and function of the Bible.
With this in mind, I considered the verses about same-sex sexuality. I took myself out of my modern mindset and put myself in theirs. Instead of asking about sexual orientation and marriage, the question I asked was this:
What would have been the impact of these verses on the culture in which they were written?
They accomplished protection for the vulnerable and accountability for the outrageous, out-of-control lust of men who were almost certainly married to women. It’s unlikely that they would have stopped even one same-sex relationship between adults. Those weren’t happening.
Could it be that these texts prohibiting same-sex sexual exploitation were there for the same reason as verses about slavery and the limitations on the autonomy of women? These texts would be life-giving when they were originally given. It’s not hard to see how they have a powerful modern application as well that supports the sacredness of each person, the value of protecting the vulnerable, and the right that each person has to sexual autonomy against exploitation.
What is harder to see is how they relate to committed, monogamous marriages between people of the same gender. When I finally took the time to read and understand these verses, I had to acknowledge that applying verses about same-sex exploitation to same-sex marrige was a stretch. I was surprised to discover this. It messed everything up for me. All my plans, my career, even my firm and convenient decision to never date women.
Caring About What the Bible Cares About
I have read the verses referencing same-sex sexuality over and over. You could read all the texts in 1-2 minutes. I realized that none of these verses were part of a larger passage where the topic of same-sex sexuality is taken up as the theme. In each of these texts, it is only mentioned briefly and is secondary to the main point. In each of these texts, context shows that they refer to exploitative sexuality or out-of-control lust. Non-affirming Christians want to apply them to all same-sex sexuality, but what if they are stretching too little and too far?
I believe in the inspiration of scripture. Scriptures tells one story. There are places where that story is told clearly and boldly. There are other places where it is more difficult to understand because it’s being applied to people and situations dramatically different from our own. It’s only when we pay attention to the major themes of scripture that this becomes clear. Setting aside the most important principles in favor of a few texts is not taking scripture seriously, it’s explaining away the heart of the gospel in favor of selective literalism.
Gradually, I realized that we allowed a handful of texts to hijack the heart of scripture. Our theology was not leading us to treat LGBT people as we want to be treated. I’ve also come to believe that the traditional condemnation of same-sex relationships degrades the foundational ethics of marriage. You can’t save marriage by limiting it heterosexuals. That’s a distraction. It doesn’t address the real problems of selfishness, adultery, and complacency that are causing divorce and destroying marriage.
What we need is a biblical understanding of sexuality that addresses actual problems not manufactured problems. What we need is the true heart of the verses that address same-sex sexuality, which is to shun sex that is exploitative, selfish, and based on pure lust. Sex is not for that. Sex is meant to be given from the heart in love and fidelity to one’s spouse. Literalistic interpretations are obscuring the real meaning. Sex can be given from the heart in the context of a life-long commitment to a same-sex partner. It happens all the time. Such love is pleasing to God.