Homosexuality, Slavery, and the Bible

By Adam Hamilton

Homosexuality is one of the most divisive issues within churches and across our country today. The issue has become, for some, a litmus test on fidelity to God and the scriptures. The divide is not just between the progressives and conservatives. It is also a generational divide, with younger Christians generally seeing this issue differently than older Christians.

I recently delivered the sermon for the National Prayer Service at the presidential inauguration. While in Washington I took my family to the Lincoln Memorial. This iconic structure stands as a reminder of America’s great dream of equality and President Lincoln’s role in the emancipation of America’s slaves and the abolition of slavery in America. The words to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are inscribed on the north wall of the memorial’s interior. In them Lincoln noted that at the center of the conflict over slavery were very different interpretations of the Bible. Lincoln said of the two sides in the war, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

Southern preachers and slave owners believed the many references in the Bible permitting and regulating slavery (well over 100 verses), in both the Old and the New Testaments, were clear evidence that the institution was a part of God’s social and moral order. Abolitionist preachers argued in their sermons that the verses related to slavery in the Bible were a reflection of the cultural context and times in which the Bible was written and did not reflect God’s endorsement of slavery. They argued that there were “weightier” scriptures on justice, mercy and love that superseded those on slavery. This was the position that Lincoln himself adopted.

At the center of the divide over homosexuality today is the Bible. Conservatives and progressives “read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people.

In my own life, it was both reading the Bible’s passages on same-sex intimacy in the same light as passages on slavery (and violence and the place of women) and coming to know gay and lesbian people that led me to see this issue differently, particularly children who grew up in my church who loved God and sought to serve Christ. As I listened to their stories I saw that they did not fit the stereotypes I had been taught about gay and lesbian people. The love they shared with others looked very much like the love I share with my wife – a deep friendship and companionship. And their faith was as authentic as that of anyone else in my congregation.

For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.

Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and the author of several books including When Christians Get it Wrong (Abingdon, 2013). This article originally in The Washington Post entitled “On homosexuality, many Christians get the Bible wrong.”

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A response from the Revs. Rob Renfroe and Thomas A. Lambrecht to this article can be found here: A Matter of Interpretation: Engaging Adam Hamilton

A response from the Rev. Adam Hamilton to Revs. Renfroe and Lambrecht can be found HERE.

 

Comments

  1. Homosexuality is decried by God throughout the Bible as sin just as fornication is decried as sin, and we are commanded by Jesus to repent of sin.

    Of course all people sin and we are commanded to not to put insurmountable obstacles in front of anyone to accept the gospel. But we are also commanded to tell the truth, aren’t we?

    So just like all people who are sinners, we are to come to faith in God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and repent of our sin, whether it is fornocation, homosexuality or anything else.

    Even the pastor acknowledges that homosexuality is decried 5 to 8 times in the Bible. ISN’T THAT ENOUGH TIMES TO MAKE IT CLEAR? (And homosexuality is decried throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.)

    God will judge all people, not we, as to whether their actions are in accordance with His will.
    So God will judge whether this pastor’s actions are in accordance with His will, just as God will judge the actions of homosexuals.

    But we are free to make all kind of judgements, and actually commanded to do so in scripture. I need to judge whether the United Methodist church is a true church or an apostate church, in order to decide whether to attend.

    Jesus said in John 12 that people who accept Him and his message would be saved, but those who do not would be doomed to hell and the lake of fire for eternity. Part of accepting his message is the desire to turn away from sin = “repentance”.

    It appears that the United Methodist church now does not believe any of this but has turned away from God’s truth in order to conform to the culture of the unsaved world.

    I recently heard a Methodist pastor say that hell does not exist, which of course clearly contradicts scripture.

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  2. […] rely on to make the case against denying the freedom to marry to gays. (Compare that to the more than 100 verses permitting and regulating […]

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