Through a lens darkly

On January 14, the Anglican Communion sent U.S. and LGBTQ Episcopalians into the corner for a time-out. They did it because they don’t know how to bring a large part of the Communion into the 21st century. They did it because too many church leaders are trying to read their scripture through a dark lens.

This time-out consists of three years’ worth of the United States Episcopal church having no say in any internal matters pertaining to doctrine, and U.S. church members cannot be appointed to any committees, and anyone on committees already must participate no more than a fly on the wall, and (if that’s not enough) U.S. members can no longer represent the Communion to any organization or effort outside the Communion. U.S. church leaders must sit in the corner with their thumbs up their proverbial bums. Oh—except that might be a “gay” thing to do. Very well, then, they must sit there and suck their thumbs.

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The January 14 decision came out of a four-day meeting in Canterbury, England, of 39 Anglican primates (bishops and archbishops, not chimpanzees, although…) —a meeting made necessary because many church leaders south of the equator are trying to read Biblical scripture through the wrong lens. They’re trying to interpret it without any understanding—or, at least, any acknowledgement—of the differences between life 2,000 and more years ago and life today. And in doing so, they’re making the egregious error of condemning LGBTQ individuals and of ostracizing all U.S. Episcopalians.

Let’s examine some of those life differences. First, there are the basic assumptions about life. The Bible doesn’t tell you that “only ewes can have lambs.” It doesn’t say that “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” It also doesn’t say that “unless a man is present, no sex is happening, because all the essentials for a new life are contained in male ejaculate and the woman’s only job is that of baking the child,” but everyone alive when any book of the Bible was written knew this to be true. (See "Homosexuality and the Bible" by the theologian, Dr. Walther Wink.) So it doesn’t tell you that the problem with “men lying with men” is not that men are lying with men. It’s that any time any man “wastes seed,” he’s essentially killing someone.

It also doesn’t tell you that women are not really people, but it does use phrases like “the men of Sodom…both young and old, all the people from every quarter…” (Gen 19:4) which tells us that “all the people” consisted of men. It does show Lot offering his two virgin daughters to a violent, rapacious crowd, saying, “do to them what seems good to you,” because it would be “wicked” to send his male visitors outside (Gen 19:6-8). It offers no punishment—or even a reprimand—when Lot begets sons from those same daughters (Gen 19:30-38). It shows a woman and a young girl being thrown to a similar violent crowd, for the same reason (sending a man out would be “wicked”), with the crowd told to “humble” the females (Judges 19:23-24).

The bottom line? Those were different times. Life operated on different assumptions. And we cannot use a contemporary lens when we read words given to people living under ancient circumstances without running the danger of misapplying these supposedly sacred laws.

Let’s examine the question of homosexuality. Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was no understanding of sexual orientation. The words heterosexual and homosexual didn’t exist until the 1860s, because no one saw a need for them, so "homosexual" does not appear in the original scripture anywhere. In Biblical times, the most common male-male action was not something that occurred between two guys who loved each other. Even in the famous example of Sodom's destruction, if we accept that the crowd wanted to rape the two male visitors Lot was harboring, there's no doubt that it was gang rape. In Biblical times a man raping a man was a violent, hateful way to emasculate the victim by treating him as a “mere woman.” This had nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and must be recognized for the act of violence and domination that it was. And nowhere does scripture say that the destruction of Sodom or Gomorrah has to do with sex in any way.

And, while we’re at it, let’s examine the question of marriage. People who insist that the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman typically point to Genesis 2:24, which follows immediately after the creation of woman. It says, “Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh.” But I ask you: Who was Adam’s father? Who was his mother? And if there’s only one woman on earth, why is the term “wife” necessary? So the verse is questionable from the start. And, actually, it makes no mention of what man does not do (i. e., marry another man), because there is no other man on earth. So this verse cannot address life or marriage today.

So U.S. Episcopalians, and LGBTQ individuals especially, are being punished for the ignorance and hatred of some members of the Anglican Communion.

What would Jesus do?

We know what St. Paul would do:

I Corinthians

13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 13:10 but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. 13:12 For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. 13:13 But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.

If only.