I had a right to be straight, didn’t I?
Wasn’t that implied by the Bible’s mandates against homosexuality? Most of the Christians I knew seemed to think so: that there was no such thing as being born gay; that God was just waiting to spring heterosexuality onto anyone who asked; that if you stayed gay, it was probably your own fault. Not that they said as much. But it was written into their voices as they declared God’s stance on the issue, as they painted “the homosexuals” with a wide-bristle brush of condemnation.
Could they have been wrong?
And if they were wrong about that, what else might they have been wrong about?
Since those fateful puberty days when I first began to come to terms with my sexuality, there were two assumptions I had never spent much time questioning. The first was that Jesus was real, loved me, died for me, left words in the Bible for me to live by. The second was that the Bible declared homosexual behavior a sin.
For a few dark days, I haggled with the first assumption. But in the end I couldn’t let it go. Too much of my experience had proved my faith to be true. Too much of my life made sense only through the lens of the gospel story. To throw away everything I believed and understood—to plunge the rest of my world into darkness in order to make sense of one shadow—I could think of no fate worse than that.
Then came the second assumption.
I had inspected the Bible’s assessment of homosexuality before—how could I not have, being what I was?—but until now it had only been a cursory inspection, to confirm what I already thought was true. I had never deconstructed my own assumptions, started from scratch, read with fresh eyes.
Did I dare to open that door? For most of the evangelical community I was steeped in, acknowledging the sinfulness of homosexuality was a litmus test of biblical belief, and therefore a test of true faith. Affirming gay marriage was synonymous with discarding the Bible. It felt like a sin even to ask the question.
But I couldn’t help asking it. I needed to know, and not just to take for granted what someone else had told me. I needed to see it for myself.
So I ordered books and watched YouTube videos and dusted off my Greek New Testament, and I dared to think the unthinkable.
Those of us who come from an evangelical background and adhere to traditional interpretations of the Bible usually don’t like to admit that we’re interpreting at all. We’re simply reading and understanding. It’s all the other people—the people we disagree with—who are interpreting. “God said it,” runs our bumper-sticker-friendly mantra. “I believe it. That settles it.” Our hermeneutic lens, the framework through which we approach and analyze Scripture, is so straightforward it becomes almost flippant.
I’m not faulting the heart behind this hermeneutic lens—I think the people who invoke it are usually sincere and want more than anything to follow Jesus. I don’t even disagree with many of the stances they adopt via this attitude. The pervasiveness of sin. The divinity and supremacy of Christ. The urgency of evangelism. I affirm these truths. I celebrate whenever and however people come to believe them. But even so, the bumper-sticker hermeneutic worries me for two reasons.
First, reading the Bible this way reveals the shallowness of our love for God’s Word. Sometimes we’re so in love with easy answers and calendar-sized sound bites that we fall out of love with the Bible itself. We overlook the messy, the nuanced, the complicated. Or we try to read the Bible like a systematic theology, smoothing over the lumps with a rolling pin, forgetting that God could have given us a systematic theology if he wanted to, and he instead chose to give us something unsystematic, something dangerous.
Second, the bumper-sticker hermeneutic leaves us helpless where the Bible seems to contradict itself. How do we respond when the order of creation changes between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2? When kidnapping and enslaving people is condemned, but slaves are told to obey their masters? When Paul appears to forbid women from filling leadership roles in the church and then speaks highly of women who have taken on leadership roles? The logic of surface meaning forces us to read dismissively, to overlook or explain away whatever doesn’t seem to fit. We miss the opportunity to read holistically because we’re too busy regrouping, cutting our losses, trying to protect the Bible from itself.
I say this not to defend revisionary readings of the Bible’s approach to homosexuality but to defend the instinct that makes us bold enough to raise the question. If we truly love Scripture, we have to love it enough to let it prove us wrong.
And at the same time, we have to love it enough to let it tell us what we don’t want to hear.
—Taken from chapter three, “Debating the Divine”
Taken from Single, Gay, Christian by Gregory Coles. ©2017 by Gregory J. Coles. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com You can purchase “Single, Gay, Christian” here.