We began our time together by lighting the red, orange, and yellow candles to invite Christ into the space and the Holy Spirit to guide us, and read the corresponding section of the Rainbow Christ Prayer: "Yellow is for self-esteem, the core of spirit. Out Christ, you are our Core. Free us from closets of secrecy and give us the guts and grace to come out. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, build our confidence."
Our topic today was Biblical Interpretation. We started by identifying the ways we each understand the Bible, in order to develop a collective understanding of how our congregation approaches Biblical interpretation as a whole. For our congregation, the Bible is:
We then explored the cultural contexts and broader Biblical messages behind the so-called "Clobber Passages," or the six scriptures most frequently used to "clobber" or discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals and families.
First we looked at the cultural contexts and broader Biblical messages of the Hebrew Bible. God led and protected the Israelites in their exodus out of Egypt towards freedom. The Israelites were a nomadic, shepherding tribe of the desert who traveled to a fertile, agrarian Mediterranean context to "be fruitful and multiply." When they arrived into this new fertile land, the encountered the Canaanites who had a fertility-based religion. God took care of the Israelites in their Exodus, and also, the Israelites were tempted to join in this fertility-based worship, because the land was so fertile—something foreign to them, that they thought perhaps they should also worship the Canaanite fertility gods too.
This Canaanite fertility religion included ritual sex, which reflected a magical thinking and logic that if the people engaged in ritual sex, it would encourage the goddess Asherah and god Baal (Asherah is both mother and mistress to Baal) to have sex therefore bringing fertility and fruit-fullness to the land and people. Not only was there same gendered ritual sex, there was also same gendered temple prostitution, which is why we encounter scriptures like Deuteronomy 23:17, "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute." In the Hebrew Bible God is giving clear guidance to the Israelites to separate them from their new religious and cultural context in which ritual sex and temple prostitution are ubiquitous. The scriptural passages in the Hebrew Bible that forbid men from lying down with men are in response to the ubiquitous ritual sex and temple prostitution of the Canaanites, and are not broad statements about mutually consenting and respectful same-gender sex or sexual relationships as we understand them today.
We also encounter an interesting translation issue with some interpretations of the Hebrew Bible around two important words that are sometimes conflated into one meaning:
Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, the sexual and relational standards at the time of the Hebrew Bible are not comparable to modern standards. In the context of the Hebrew Bible:
We also explored the class of gender fluid people known as "Saris" in Hebrew, which included both castrated and physically intact gender fluid male and female identified individuals, intersex, and a variety of other non-binary gender attributes. according to Ancient Jewish halachic (legal) proscriptions, eunuchs were allowed to marry and have sex, although they couldn't produce children due to their infertility. These Saris or eunuchs occupy a unique space in the Bible which otherwise generally portrays gender as binary, except for this group of people. When present in Biblical stories, eunuchs have important roles. In Jeremiah 38:1-12, a eunuch saves Jeremiah, and in Esther 4:5, a eunuch helps Esther. Then there is the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40, who represents one of the first gentiles to follow Jesus and is baptized by Philip. The Ethiopian Eunuch was a person of power, in charge of the entire treasury of the Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians. What does it mean that a eunuch was on of the first gentiles to follow Jesus? What does this mean for how wide we should make the circle of inclusion for followers of Christ?
Finally, Jesus speaks about and affirms eunuchs in Matthew 19:12, "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” Some interpret this passage to be about celibacy, yet would the ancient Jewish halachic (legal) proscriptions apply in which eunuchs were allowed to marry and have sex? How would our reading of this passage change? Would we understand Jesus as saying: For there are gender fluid people who have been born so from birth? And can we imagine someone making themselves [living authentically as] gender fluid for the sake of the kin-dom of God?
Here is what those "Clobber Passages" look like through these contextual lenses and in a wider context of the primary messages of the Bible:
Our modern concept of mutually consenting, respectful, and loving sexual and romantic relationship whether they be same-gendered or different gendered is simply not comparable to the sexuality and relationally of the cultural contexts of the Hebrew Bible or Gospel.
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Rev. Dr. Jenny Whitcher
Minister of Prophetic Formation at Juniper Formation. Currently working with Evergreen Christian Church to rebirth their ministry as more missional, inclusive, and community engaged. Join us on our Open & Affirming journey.