Ten steps on my journey toward full LGBTQ inclusion, concluded:
8. I concluded that the Genesis 3 account of human sin and its impact on that primal first marriage could also be applied to speak to everyone’s equal need and difficulty in establishing faithful, fruitful covenant relationships.
I began reading Genesis 1-3 as a unit, rather than only Genesis 1-2 with its supposed obvious teaching about maleness and femaleness and male-female marriage.
So, my focus shifted away from the problem of why some people don’t fit the male-female and male plus female framework of those texts and moved toward the broader human problem in the post-Eden world of any of us getting our sexuality and relationality to work out right.
I then realized that my sexual ethic long articulated – a rigorous, binding covenantal vision – was not changing, just widening its reach.
All of us, with the helper-partner suitable to us if we are blessed with someone, face the challenge of a text like Malachi 2:15-16: “Look to yourselves, and do not be faithless to the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord.”
And that then links to Jesus’ own strict teaching against divorce: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6).
I was reminded that the focus of biblical moral teaching about sex and marriage is covenant fidelity, not gender complementarity.
9. Close study of multiple treatments of Romans 1 led me to the conclusion that Paul there condemns male and perhaps also female same-sex acts as part of a complex rhetorical strategy that is not about sexuality at all, but about knocking down either Gentile or Jewish pridefulness in the divided Roman Christian communities – while also demonstrating awareness of Roman imperial debauchery.
Romans 1:21-23: “For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him but became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds …”
I have been persuaded by Robert Jewett’s authoritative account in his massive commentary on Romans. What Paul was trying to do was to knit together the fractious Roman Christian community that was stressed and divided along Jewish/Gentile lines.
Romans 1-3 is about establishing that no group is better than any other and all are in desperate need of salvation in Christ.
Romans 1 pungently describes the characteristic sins of out-of-control pagan Gentiles, with many hints that it is Rome itself and the imperial court that he has in mind. Romans 2 describes with similar hyperbolic force the characteristic sins of judgmental Jewish folks. Romans 3 brings everyone to the foot of the cross as equals.
Reading Romans 1 against the backdrop of Jewett’s description of the omnisexual debaucheries of the emperors Caligula and Nero, and of the likelihood that some of Paul’s own readers were victimized by sexual use and abuse – because they were from the lower sectors of society, many slave and ex-slave – helped me see that the text makes perfect sense in relation to that world.
It also helped me see that the passage was of very questionable applicability to the devout 14-year-old who discovers himself to be gay, or the faithfully married 60-year-old queer couple.
10. I was finally able to see that the broader themes of the Christian ethical tradition, as I had interpreted it, must lead to full acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ Christians.
Perhaps the most familiar bit of ethical instruction in the whole Bible is this text: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is Matthew 7:12, the “Golden Rule.” It still speaks so beautifully to this and every issue.
Ethics has plenty of language for what amounts to the same theme: justice for the victimized, liberation for the oppressed, dignity for the slandered, solidarity with those on the margins, compassion for the suffering, or simply love of neighbor as self.
I now see that literalist parsing fights over Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, while ignoring these larger themes, and while LGBTQ+ people bleed out by the side of the road, is the worst kind of Christian malpractice. And it still happens all the time.
The two main narratives of the Bible are, in a sense, narratives of divine allyhood with human sufferers – these are the exodus and the incarnation.
Exodus 3:7: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.” In response to their suffering, God was not a bystander but an ally and indeed a rescuer.
Philippians 2 says that Jesus willingly emptied himself of all divine privileges to come into the world not just as a human but as the lowliest of humans, in order to rescue the lowliest of humans and then all humans.
“Let this same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Those of us who have committed to Jesus Christ as lord have promised to imitate and obey this kind of savior, this kind of God. Christ-followers should seek to be allies, not bystanders.
When they know someone is being victimized, they stand in the gap, in solidarity, motivated by compassionate love and filled with God-given courage. When they make a habit of this way of life, it becomes as natural as breathing.
We are in a transition moment and one of intense moral conflict. Our societies are moving on. Some of us Christians are unmoved, others are conflicted, but there is much movement toward full and unequivocal LGBTQ+ acceptance and equality as well.
I believe this issue will be in our rearview mirror before too long. But for now, we face a moral conflict that is simultaneously intense, inevitable and disheartening.
While that rages, I join a growing number of Christians who stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ fellow believers. For me, that is what it looks like to follow Jesus.
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, Chair in Christian Social Ethics at Vrije Universiteit, and Senior Research Fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Centre. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 25 books and approximately 175 book chapters, journal articles and reviews.