Words are often unclear. Take this instance.
A girl asked a guy if he thought she was pretty. He paused and said “No.” She asked him if he would want to be with her forever. He said “No.” She then asked him if she were to leave would he cry. Again he replied “No.”
She had heard enough. As she walked away, tears streaming down her face, the boy grabbed her arm and said, “You’re not ‘pretty’, you’re beautiful. I don’t ‘want’ to be with you forever—I need to be with you forever. And I wouldn’t ‘cry’ if you walked away, I’d die.”
Awww! We romantics are glad she finally learned what he meant!
What do we do when persons tell us that we are misunderstanding what God means by the “No’s” to same-sex intimacy in the Bible? These are persons I respect—ones who love Scripture and love neighbors sacrificially—so I talk with them and read what they write. Do they see something I’m not seeing? Can they show that God would allow us conservatives to change on same-sex marriage? That would make life simpler—it’s always easier to move with society around us!
These good-hearted brothers and sisters give two basic lines of argument.
First, they say that Bible scholars are not totally sure what some words mean in the passages which refer to same-sex intimacy as sin. Those words, they say, may refer only to sex that is exploitive or excessive, meaning that the Bible is only condemning such forms of same-sex behavior, not loving, committed forms.
I respond to this line of argument by pointing out that ambiguity by itself is not decisive. Almost all words have ambiguity—as the young woman in our story learned. (Anyone clever and motivated can come up with alternate readings for almost any statement, especially one from an ancient text.) Yet we don’t let that stop us. Especially when we care about someone and what they have to say, we don’t ignore their words just because there is uncertainty about their meaning. Rather, we mull over those words until we have a sense of what the person was probably trying to say. When I weigh the various possible meanings of Rom. 1:26-27 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11, I see a very strong (80%?) probability that the church’s historic understanding of those passages is the most natural and straight-forward understanding. As I mentioned in my previous blog, eight of us area Mennonite pastors are meeting to discuss Bible passages bearing on same-sex partnerships over the next months. This series of conversations will be a place to test whether those texts are as clear as I think they are. Is there indeed strong probability that they refer to same-sex eroticism in general, including loving, committed same-sex relationships? Stay tuned.
Second, these brothers and sisters tell us to note other things God says. The young woman in our opening story was 80% sure (or more!) that the young man didn’t love her—three apparently-decisive “No’s” were enough. But then additional words by the young man revealed that her understanding, no matter how strong, was wrong. Perhaps there are additional passages which show us that the “No’s” on same-sex intimacy are not the Bible’s last word. So our pastors group is also looking at passages like Isaiah 56, Matt. 19:1-30, Acts 15, Gal. 3:23-29, and Rom. 14-15. Stay tuned.
Blogs on this pastors’ conversation:
2016-06-07 – God’s help (Bible and same-sex)
2016-06-28 – Ambiguous “No’s” (Bible and same-sex)
2016-07-12 – Like an urban legend (Bible and same-sex)
2016-09-27 – The main argument (Bible and same-sex)
2016-12-13 – Conversation wrap-up (Bible and same-sex)