I had a chance to reconnect with an old friend recently, and in one of those throw-away lines, she asked me what I thought of Paul (the guy from the New Testament). Our conversation immediately got sidetracked, so we didn’t have a chance to talk about it right then, but it got me thinking, and later we had a little chat by text.
After she asked the question, I immediately started wondering if she was referring to the “clobber passages” in Romans 1 and in I Corinthians 5 and Timothy 1. I’ve been following recent press on Matthew Vines‘ book God and the Gay Christian (including the online discussions hosted by Rachel Held Evans), so these passages have been on my mind. I grew up feeling the condemnation of these passages. Could it really be that my wickedness was causing God’s wrath to be revealed? Did I feel this unwanted attraction to guys because God had “given me over to the sinful desires of my heart” and to my “shameful lusts”?
I suppose it was natural for me to think and feel these things. My church, my culture, and even my family taught me that I was evil, shameful, and detestable. Once the internalized self-hatred took root, the only comfort to be found was that of feeling affirmed in my judgement. “I may be evil, but at least I’m right.” Ugh. So stupid.
Only recently have I come to learn that there are other ways of understanding these passages; alternate interpretations that are plausible, and perhaps even compelling. So back to my friend’s question. What do I think of Paul? What did Paul have to say about gay people? I am pretty thoroughly convinced that the answer is “not much.” In contrast, though, Paul seems to have lots to say about women. Women should keep silent in churches; they should be subordinate; they shouldn’t braid their hair or wear gold or pearls; they shouldn’t dress in expensive clothing. They must not teach or have authority over a man; they must submit to their husbands; they must wear head coverings (yay Amish!)
Evangelical churches today are more than willing to do the mental gymnastics necessary to explain away what Paul clearly says about women, and rightly so! Note that there’s no doubt that Paul was in fact talking about WOMEN; however, these passages are viewed by most evangelicals as limited to a particular sociohistorical context, and are not intended for today. Excellent. I agree! But these same churches are unwilling to consider any interpretation of the clobber passages other than the one handed down to them, despite that fact that it’s not clear, certainly not compelling, that these passages are even about gay people in the first place.