By Adam Hamilton
I want to thank Rob Renfroe and Tom Lambrecht for the gracious critique they offered to the op-ed piece I wrote for the Washington Post. It is a model for how we as United Methodists might discuss issues over which the church is divided. I see them as brothers in Christ and I value their commitment to the renewal of The United Methodist Church, a commitment I share.
The underlying issue regarding the church’s debate over homosexuality is how we read scripture. The question is not the authority of scripture. Rob, Tom and I agree that the Bible has authority in our lives and for the church. Nor is this a question of our love of scripture and desire to read and live it. We each read the Bible daily and seek to be shaped by its words.
At the same time United Methodists recognize the complexity of the Bible. It is inspired by God, but written by men whose words were shaped both by the needs and circumstances of those to whom they wrote, and by their own worldview and theological understanding. This is why biblical interpretation is so important.
In the Washington Post, I lifted up slavery as an example of the biblical text reflecting the culture and times in which it was written. Rob and Tom are correct that the seeds of liberation are scattered throughout the Bible, but it took 3,000 years for Jews and Christians to see clearly that slavery was inconsistent with the character of God. Moses himself could not see this in his day.
There are some things taught in scripture that we rightly question. Examples include the killing of infants and children in the conquest of Canaan, the command for the daughter’s of priests who become prostitutes to be burned to death, the death penalty for crimes such as disrespecting parents and working on the Sabbath.
In the New Testament Paul taught that women were to “learn in silence and full submission,” pray with their heads covered, and he prohibited their teaching men. It took nearly 2,000 years for us to understand that Paul’s commands were a reflection of first century culture and the needs of the early church rather than the timeless will of God.
Which leads to the question of homosexuality. Levitcus 20:13 states that same sex intimacy is “abhorrent” or “detestable” and that those who engage in it are to be put to death. Rob, Tom and I agree that the last part of this verse does not capture God’s will for today. We disagree concerning the first part of the verse.
Do the handful of verses that mention same-sex intimacy in the Bible capture God’s heart concerning gay and lesbian people? Or do they reflect the understanding of ancient Israelites and first century Jews regarding what is “normal,” “natural” or “clean”?
On these questions many conservatives seem clear, the first half of Leviticus 20:13 reflects the timeless will of God that gay and lesbian people cannot share their lives together as heterosexual couples do. Having seen gay and lesbian families who love one another selflessly, who love their children, who love Jesus and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, I am persuaded that the first half of Leviticus 20:13, like the second half, does not reflect the timeless will of God concerning gay and lesbian people.
This article was written in response to “A Matter of Interpretation: Engaging Adam Hamilton” by the Revs. Rob Renfroe and Thomas Lambrecht.
This engagement was sparked by the Rev. Adam Hamilton’s article “Homosexuality, Slavery, and the Bible.”