Text: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Matthew 22:34-40
“Do you not believe what the Bible says about homosexuality?” Having recognized me as the “pastor who marries gays,” this is the question the woman asked me as we stood in line together at a store in downtown Raleigh the other day. “Excuse me,” I said as if I hadn’t heard her question clearly; but really I was just buying some time. She repeated, “Do you not believe what the Bible says about homosexuality?” Really, I thought. You want to talk about this here. But I decided to play along. “Well” I began, “you have suggested a rather complicated question—both about the Bible and about homosexuality.” “Yes or no” she snapped with a growing frustration at my less than straightforward response. In hindsight, it would have been so easy to just say “no.” After all, I imagine that is what she expected and wanted me to say. But her question felt like a trap and in that moment I had to quickly decide how I would respond. It’s amazing how many thoughts can run through your mind in a nanosecond. My first thought, imagining she of all people would appreciate my thinking, I wondered: “What would Jesus do in this situation?” And so I asked her, “Do you think people should be allowed to own slaves now?” You know, Jesus will get you in trouble if you start using his methods of biblical inquiry. Well, I’ll end this story by saying that my question back to the woman abruptly ended our conversation.
Needless to say, this little encounter has stayed with me; especially the question of how we read the Bible. Even a cursory read of the Bible reveals that there are many conflicts and contradictions within the biblical text. Theology and homiletics professor David Lose explains the difficulty this way. He writes:
[think about] the many and various offenses listed in the Bible that call for the death penalty: murder and kidnapping, which perhaps shouldn’t surprise, but also adultery, homosexual practice, cursing a parent, owning an animal that repeatedly attacks others, and being a “medium or wizard” — and all this from only two chapters (Exodus 21 and Leviticus 20). And these, of course, are just capital offenses; there are numerous others that call for losing various body parts or being expelled from the community.
To be sure, there are also many important and salutary laws that we might well heed today, including caring for the most vulnerable, loving one’s neighbor, releasing the debt of those overwhelmed by their obligations, always making provision for those who are poor, not taking vengeance on others, planting and harvesting in a manner that today we would call “sustainable,” and not lending money in a way that disadvantages the borrower — and all of those also from a small set of chapters. (Ex. 22-23, Lev. 19, 25). Think how different our debates about health care, relief for those facing foreclosure, agricultural policy and the regulation of would be if we consulted these passages. Notice, though, that the chapters from which the “good” laws come are disturbingly close to those containing the “bad” ones. And that’s just the problem [he concludes]: the Bible seems regularly and simultaneously to offer counsel that we deem both awful and excellent.