Unlearning the Bible’s ‘condemnation’ of homosexuality

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Does the Bible condemn homosexuality? Not according to a new publication that helps Christians understand the Bible in a more LGBTIQ-affirming way.

Produced by Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), The Bible and Homosexuality: A Toolkit, was launched on 30 September at the Devon Valley Hotel in Stellenbosch.

It offers a context-based way of reading the Bible instead of the traditional literal approach that’s been used to justify the abuse and oppression of LGBTIQ+ people, especially across the African continent.

The toolkit aims to equip LGBTQ+ readers “to know that their sexuality and gender diversity is not an ‘abomination’, and to help family and friends become aware that the Bible does not condemn LGBTIQ+ people, and that therefore any form of violence sanctioned by religious beliefs is inhumane.”

The publication is based on a 2008 booklet of the same name but offers a more practical and interactive approach. It presents a step by step guide to analysing the Bible and passages – such as those in Genesis and Leviticus – that have been historically used to condemn LGBTIQ+ people.

In a foreword to the toolkit, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu writes: “Hostile and rejecting attitudes towards [LGBTIQ+] can have no place in our congregations, let alone in the community. Such prejudice is akin to racism, and we need to struggle against this with the same dedication and enthusiasm we fought against the injustices of apartheid.”

MambaOnline spoke to IAM’s Director, Rev. Ecclesia de Lange, about the toolkit and how it might be used to reduce queerphobia in Africa.

What was the aim of developing the toolkit? And where and how do you see it being used?

The emphasis was on designing a practical tool, introducing a step by step process and method to read the Bible, to assist readers with texts that are used to demonise and harm queer communities and individuals. It will be used in faith communities and civil society contexts – clergy, parishioners, parents, friends, and family of LGBTIQ+ individuals – who are engaging and struggling with the topic. It also seeks to provide an accompanying process to LGBTIQ+ people and others using a dialogue approach to move away from literal reading of the Bible. We hope to receive feedback from our users, so that it could become a “living document” that can be revised for maximum reflection, impact, healing, inclusion, and transformation.

What is the most common and widespread misconception about the Bible and homosexuality?

That the Bible condemns homosexuality and homosexuals are an abomination to God.

“We wish to destabilise the power that faith leaders hold over the Biblical text and faith communities…”

To what extent do literal Biblical views inform homophobia in homes and communities in South Africa and the rest of the continent?

Literal Biblical views are one of the root causes that ignite and fan the flames of homophobia in communities in SA and the rest of the continent. They are used to deny LGBTIQ+ people life – through, for example, hate crimes – and to strengthen bills that criminalise LGBTIQ+ people and their relationships. This is what we are currently witnessing in Ghana. Through this resource, we wish to reclaim the Biblical text as a text that affirms and offers life to LGBTIQ+ people.

How has church leadership played a role in the limited and uncritical way the Bible is understood by the layperson?

I think the answer is centred in the power that church leaders hold amongst their people and community. Church leaders are seen as the representatives and messengers of God and are revered by the people they serve. They are the ones that have the knowledge, power, and skill to interpret the “word of God”. Their status and reverence are also acknowledged in the wider community. In many instances the leader’s message or sermon to the people is never criticised and is taken as the gospel truth. So, if the leader interprets the Biblical text as condemning toward LGBTQ+ people, the parishioners will believe it without question and will follow suite. Through bringing a reading process to reading the Biblical text, we wish to destabilise the power that faith leaders hold over the Biblical text and faith communities.

Why do you think people are so willing to uncritically pick and choose what parts of the Bible to understand and follow literally?

I think for some people it is easier and safer to stay with what they know or learnt in their faith tradition compared to unpacking or deconstructing their faith and understanding or interpretation of Biblical text. They don’t have to apply their mind in thinking critically around the Bible, their faith tradition, reason, and experience of people and Christians. There is also the notion that “God never changes”, meaning that the interpretation of scripture doesn’t change; if you read it literally the message stays the same. Of course, there are also people that are just simply too lazy to do more reading on the topic.

How would you respond to someone who argues that the Bible is fundamentally homophobic and heterocentric and that efforts by queer people to convince ourselves and others that it is not are futile?

We would ensure that we don’t get involved in a debate and opt for an ongoing dialogue in making the point that there are other methods of interpreting the Bible, for example, an intercultural contextual Bible reading method, which if you applied it, you would most definitely come to a different conclusion. We would also use examples of how the Bible was used in the past to condone slavery and racism and how re-reading the text with liberation, feminist and queer theologians has brought new light to our understanding of the text.

How do we change the hearts and minds of those who remain so inflexible about believing that same-sex love is condemned in the Bible?

We increase our visibility and raise awareness by telling our stories, living our lives as best as we can and educating people as far as we go, one step at a time. We also continue to collaborate with our academic and research partners to find methods to illuminate the ancient text.

The Bible and Homosexuality: A Toolkit can be downloaded from the IAM website here.

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