Biblical interpretation. Pretty heavy subject, am I right? So, here I am, sitting in my bed, typing this up at midnight on Easter Sunday. I’ve been up for several hours at this point, spending that time going over biblical interpretation in my mind and why on earth it seems so complicated at times.
Now, before I begin, I should mention that biblical interpretation is very important to me. It’s something deeply ingrained in the fabric of my being. It’s a foundational part of who I am, something I’ve been taught since I could walk and talk. This is the Bible. This is what it says. This is how you read it, interpret it, let it guide your life. This was what my parents taught me. This is what my Church taught me. I don’t take the Bible lightly. It’s no laughing matter, and that’s why I’ve been up all night thinking about the complexities of biblical interpretation and why it can be so difficult as an LGBT Christian to talk about.
The first things I noticed about biblical interpretation were obvious. As I stated before, I’m an LGBT Christian, and I’ve spent over half of my life closeted. Because of this, I have a very unique perspective on what it’s like to go through life with people thinking you’re straight and cisgender, and then how those relationships change when you come out as queer and transgender. Pretty great, right? Not really.
The first thing I noticed is that before, when people thought I was straight and cisgender, was that we all seemed to share a common ground. We all seemed to have the ‘right answers’ even though we claimed not to know it all. If we all agreed on the Christian basics, the #Christian101 I like to call it, (you believe in God, you believe he sent his Son to die for our sins, you know that he loves you, you love him, you follow him, you’re good), then everybody can walk away happy knowing that hey, we’re all Christians right?
It’s not like that for LGBT Christians. Unlike straight and cisgender Christians, who can happily claim to not have all the answers, if you’re an LGBT Christian, you can’t afford to not have all the answers. You need to know all the answers, and you better be able to prove it too, otherwise everyone will be convinced you’re going to H-E-L-L.
Why is it like this? Why is it that if we’re all straight and cisgender, we can claim not to have all the answers and be okay, but if we’re LGBT, we have to know it all and be able to prove it? Why does this happen? Can’t we all just go back to the #Christian101 basics and rest our faith in a Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves? Can’t we put aside our differences and celebrate the souls God placed inside us?
Well, it gets tricky, because one of those Christian basics is following God, and we all have a different opinion on what following God looks like. For some, that’s following the ten commandments. For some, it’s following all of the Old Testament. For some, it’s only following the New Testament. For others, it’s just… complicated. For others, it’s very, very simple. But where is the truth? Where is the clear cut path that we all can follow?
Here lies the problem of biblical interpretation. Everybody has an interpretation. It also seems that no one can be swayed in their beliefs. We all have the ‘right answers’ while simultaneously claiming not to know it all. How strange.
So how can we solve this problem of interpretation? One example, and possible solution, I like to look at is slavery. Wow, diving in deep, aren’t I? Eh, it’s a little more complicated than you might think.
Slavery is everywhere in the Bible. It’s throughout the Old Testament, it even has a whole book in the New Testament called Philemon. In the Old Testament there are entire paragraphs dedicated to the logistics of buying and selling slaves, and in Philemon, Paul tells a runaway slave to go back to his master and back into slavery, yet don’t most of us Christians know that slavery is wrong? Wasn’t there a whole civil war in America dedicated to that whole time period where half the people were divided on whether slavery was okay or not? They were Christians! They were in the thick of the interpretation struggle! Yet, most of us came out on the other side of the battle understanding that slavery was wrong. How did that happen? How did the tables turn? Do we need another civil war to prove that LGBT Christians are Christians too? I certainly hope not.
One of the biggest reasons for turning the tide on racism and slavery was understanding that yes, the Bible can seem to clash with itself and seem hypocritical. How can it discuss buying and selling slaves like it’s talking about the weather, tell us that there are neither slave nor free nor man nor woman, then go right back around and tell a slave to go back to his master and his slavery? How does any of that make sense?
We look at the grander scheme of the Bible. We know, now, that the Bible is about setting the captives free. We know that the Bible as a whole is about love, freedom, grace, mercy, trust, and faith. We know that the heart of the Bible is the opposite of slavery. It’s freedom in Christ and freedom from chains and captivity (of all kinds).
We need to reach that point with LGBT Christians. There are very few verses in the Bible that explicitly mention homosexual acts, and all of those verses are taken out of context. (That’s another can of worms that I’m not going to jump into at this point.)
The point is, can’t we return to the heart of the Bible? Can’t we reach a point where we come back to the love, freedom, grace, mercy, trust, and faith that it took to recognize that yes, the Bible doesn’t seem to explicitly condemn slavery, but we know that it’s wrong anyway. Also that yes, the Bible does mention homosexual acts, but are they really about LGBT identities? People that are born attracted to the same gender, or born feeling wrong in their own bodies? Or are these scriptures (like Sodom and Gomorra) just violent actions of angry people setting out to do harm to their fellow neighbors? Not people who genuinely love God and love each other?
Where is the heart of the Bible? What is the full context? I challenge you to go back to your Bibles and read with the heart and context of the Bible in mind. The context of God coming to set the captives free. The heart that says, “Come to me.” The context that says, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” The heart that says God doesn’t make mistakes. The context that God doesn’t look at the outside, but the inside, the soul.
My soul is fearfully and wonderfully made. God made no mistake with my soul. He’s not looking at the outside but at the inside. He knows my heart and my intentions. He knows my desire to follow him.
When in times of doubt about the complexities of the Bible and theology and interpretation, I always turn back to Romans 13:8-13 and 1 Samuel 16:7.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, expect for the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-13)
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)
We need to return to the heart of scripture again. We need to return to the grander scheme of God’s redemptive picture. We’ve become too caught up in the small details, details that matter I’ll admit, but not in the grander scheme of what God is trying to accomplish in us.
We need to learn to love each other again, wholly, and not partially. We need to learn to listen to those we don’t agree with. We need to learn to trust God with our differences, and believe that he has all the answers when we don’t. And we need to learn to stop putting each other on such high pedestals, demanding the impossible from each other. We can’t expect each other to always have all the answers. We need to give grace and recognize that only God has all the answers. And until that day when we see God face to face, we will have to wait and trust in him to carry us on his shoulders.
We don’t have to push each other around. He’s big enough for all of us. I’m glad to be one of many resting in his arms, celebrating his resurrection and power and love this Easter Sunday. This is my biblical interpretation. This is my belief in God. What’s yours?