LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Church
More than Just Gay: Understanding Queer Identities
Understanding the LGBTQ+ Acronym and Identities it Represents
"Why not just gay?" is question people in the queer community often get asked. While gay men are often the first thing that people think of when they of the LGBTQ acronym, they are not the only ones. The LGBTQ+ community consists of various sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. In recent years, the organizations that advocate for sexual and gender minorities have became aware of their own omission of non-white, non-gay, and trans (rather than cisgendered) people in their advocacy. Hence LGBTQ+ (the plus sign + is meant to include other identities, by the way) is used to be more inclusive than simply 'gay'. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has an excellent glossary of terms related to sexuality and gender identities.
The Spectrum(s) of Gender, Sex, & Sexual Orientation
The Genderbread Person is teaching visual often used to illustrate the spectrum of gender identities, gender expressions, biological sex, and sexual orientations. Keep in mind that gender identity ≠ gender expression ≠ biological sex ≠ sexual orientation. For example, ne can identify one side of the spectrum in terms of gender identity (the gender they identify with) and can be on a different spectrum in terms of gender expression (how they dress, behave, etc.).
To be an ally of queer people, one must:
respect how people identify themselves,
the pronouns they use (ex. he/she/they),
Allow people to disclose their identities in their own time and on their own terms (i.e. it's not polite to ask outright or coax people to share the identities)
Be willing to learn more, listen, and occasionally be corrected. You might, for example, use the the wrong gender pronouns. If someone corrects you, simply thank them and try to not misgender them again.
While these identities might seem confusing, remember that all people are created in God's image. As Christians and allies of queer people, we can focus on the image of God in people, rather than trying figuring out their gender or sex.
Queer: A Catch All Alternative?
Some activists suggest queer as a 'catch all' phrase and some people in the queer umbrella identify as queer to reclaim the term from its former status as a slur. For some older members of the community, this word still evokes negative memories of homophobic treatment. Gender and sexual preferences often intersect with other identities as well, such as race and social class (read more about intersectionality if you're curious).
Why is there more than one pride flag?
Original Pride Flag (1978)
“The rainbow flag, originally devised by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements. The colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community and the ‘spectrum’ of human sexuality and gender. Using a rainbow flag as a symbol of gay pride began in San Francisco, but eventually became common at LGBT rights events worldwide" ("Rainbow Flag (LGBT), 2021, para. 1).
Progressive Pride Flag (2018)
“In June 2018 designer Daniel Quasar released a redesign incorporating elements from both the Philadelphia flag and the trans pride flag to bring focus on inclusion and progress within the community. […] While retaining the common six-stripe rainbow design as a base, the “Progress” variation adds a chevron along the hoist that features black, brown, light blue, pink, and white stripes to bring those communities (marginalized people of color, trans individuals, and those living with HIV/AIDS and those who have been lost) to the forefront; ‘the arrow points to the right to show forward movement, while being along the left edge shows that progress still needs to be made" (Reign, 2018, para 1-3).
The Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, a series of events that inaugurated the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, were lead by black and brown trans women. Their acts of defiance made it possible for other, more conventional members of the LGBTQ community (i.e. white, cisgendered lesbians and gays) to find acceptance even as trans people of color (POC) were not afforded the same dignity.
Developing a Christian Ethic for Full LGBTQ+ Inclusion
“Affirming theology maintains that the gender identities, sexual orientations, and sexual relationships of LGBTQ+ individuals are equally as good and holy in the sight of God as those of cisgender, heterosexual people. Proponents of this view extend an unqualified invitation to our LGBTQ+ siblings to participate fully in the life of the church, including weddings, membership, and leadership positions. Members of the LGBTQ+ community may espouse different variations of affirming theology according to each individual’s personal convictions" ("LGBTQ+ Theology 101").
Jesus chose to read scripture through a lens of grace and compassion rather than reading it literally. When the religious leaders brought a woman accused of adultery to Jesus, he did not interpret the ancient Old Testament scriptures literally and stone the woman to death. He went against what was already written in the Holy Scriptures. Instead, he said, “Let any on of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Jesus looked at the scripture and asked himself, “will this allow the person to thrive? Will this give life? Will this cause a separation or bring people together through love?” ("LGBTQ+ Theology 101").
“When interpreting scripture, Jesus paid attention to whether people were thriving or being harmed. That is the basis of how we can truth from error because Scripture was meant to administer love and grace.” ("LGBTQ+ Theology 101").
The 'Clobber Verses'
Exploring the real meaning of verses often used to condemn LGBTQ+ individuals.
"The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. It says so in this verse" is refrain that LGBTQ+ hear all too often from people with religious objections to homosexuality. While on the surface, there are nine or so verses (out of 31,000+ verses in the Bible) that seemingly condemn queer people. It wasn't until the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which was published in the 1946, that the word 'homosexual' was explicitly used in English Bible translations ("Has 'homosexual' always been in the Bible?").
Many of the clobber verses that employ the word 'homosexual' are actually mistranslated words from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). They often refer to a broad category of coercive and exploitative same-sex activity in the ancient world, which confounds modern readers by lumping them under the catch-all phrase 'homosexual'. In short, comparing the ancient words for sexual misdeeds with modern conceptions of sexual orientation is an 'apples to oranges' comparison.
Let's explore these clobber verses in-depth and discover the original words used and context surrounding the verses.
Genesis 1 - Creation and the 'Proof' of a Gender Binary
"Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
Many people use this text to say that there are only two genders and that that is what God intended upon creation. But take a look at verses 1-5: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day."
Day and night. But what about dawn and dusk? Dawn and dusk are neither day nor night, they are something in-between. Just like there is more to a day’s cycle than just day and night, there is more to gender than just male and female. Gender is a spectrum, and many individuals identify as something other than “man” or “woman.” For those people, and for individuals who are trans, it can be uncomfortable or even dangerous to use a bathroom according to the gender they were assigned at birth.
Genesis 19:1-14 - Lot, Sodom, and Hospitality
"The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning 'No,' they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it. So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry[a] his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking."
This story is often used to claim that God had destroyed two whole cities because of homosexuality.
In this passage, there is a lot of emphasis on hospitality, and respect to one’s guests:
When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground.
“Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.”
But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate
…. for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”
In the ancient world, hospitality is considered the utmost good you can do to someone – an act that is so valued that the lives of one’s guests are placed higher than that of women. This also says something about the way women were treated in the past and how in this patriarchal society, women’s values were much lower than men’s. Lot was also deemed to be a righteous man in God’s eyes because he treated his guests with respect and offered them hospitality – it isn’t because Lot is a great guy or anything like that, as we’ll soon learn. So, being hospitable is extremely important.
Only 3-10% of the population in any given context are gay. This means that 90-97% of the men that were outside Lot’s doors were heterosexual! Why then, do they want to have sex with a couple of other men? The men weren’t interested in sexual pleasure or intimacy. They were there to force the guests to engage in sexual acts against their will – in other words, they wanted to gang rape the guests. They wanted to do this because their goal were to denigrate the guests and show that they were dominant. During this time, in the Near East, soldiers who conquered a city would commonly use homosexual rape to humiliate their enemies – by treating them “like women”. In this ancient time, being a woman was the worst thing a man could be. God was angry at Sodom, not because of homosexuality, but because this is the disgusting way they would treat visitors/guests.
At one point, Lot offered up his virgin daughters to the mob. This was a disturbing gesture that shows us two things: 1) The guests’ safety were top priority and Lot’s protection is bound to his honor and social requirement. 2) Women were far less valued than men in this culture – so much so that a father would give up his daughters to sexual violence for the sake of some guests that he would probably never ever see again. If the mob is also homosexual as claimed by many evangelical Christians, then why would Lot have offered his daughters? Homosexual men would not be interested in sexual relations with two women.
God’s anger towards Sodom was against the way Sodom treated others – they were violently abusive and had no respect for guests and women. The behavior of the people of Sodom were motivated by hatred, violence, and brutality. They were also guilty of being prideful, excessively rich, and haughty but never helping anyone who is poor or hungry. They also did abominable things (like gang rape/sexual violence). God wiped them out of the face of the Earth because of their inhospitable behavior. They had no regard for people’s worth and lives.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is that of abuse – abuse of power, of prosperity, of women, and of guests. It has nothing to do with homosexuality as evidenced by the fact that the sexual orientation of the mob was implied to be heterosexual by Lot’s offer of his daughters.
Judges 19:1-30 offers a similar story to Sodom and Gomorrah. The stories have many parallels. This passage, however, ends in the tragic rape and death of the concubine that was offered as a “substitute” to the mob.
The Holiness Code: Clobber Verses from Leviticus & Deuteronomy
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them."
"None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your god in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the LORD your God"
These verses are part of what is called the ‘Holiness Code.’ The Holiness Code is a variety of ritual and ethical rules articulated to distinguish the Israelites from the Canaanites, who occupied the land that the Israelites were to occupy. Rules within the code range from dietary laws to regulations regarding clothing, prohibitions against child sacrifice to forbidding of handicapped men from being part of the priesthood. The code is stated over against the fertility religion of the Canaanites. The Israelites were to completely distinguish themselves from the Canaanites.” Same sex sexual behavior among men was linked with cultic prostitution which was part of the polytheistic Canaanite’s idolatrous worship.
Abominations in the Old Testament
Have you ever....
gotten a tattoo?
worn clothing that contains more than one type of fiber (ex. polyester/cotton blend, nylon/wool, etc.)?
put more than one kind of plant in your garden or in a pot?
touched a woman or are a woman who is one week before her menstrual cycle, during her cycle, or one week after her cycle?
gotten a haircut?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are an abomination according to the laws of the Old Testament!
Linguistically, the word abomination referred to any act that was ritually impure rather than a behavior that was intrinsically evil. For example, in Genesis 46:34 we read that in Egyptian culture shepherds were considered an abomination. In the laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus we read that touching unclean things, such as touching a woman after childbirth, was an abomination. So was eating shrimp, wearing clothes with mixed fibers, and planting more than one kind of seed in the field. Today, none of us consider these to be sinful or offensive to God. Imagine having to wait a week before you hugged your wife for giving birth to her newborn? Or to wait a week before holding your newborn? Things change over time.
Rules and laws are culturally sensitive and time-sensitive. Scripture itself reinforces the changing nature of what is and isn’t an abomination anymore. In Acts 10:9-19, Peter has his vision at Cornelius’s house. He’s commanded to eat shrimp and pork, which were considered an abomination, but God says “nothing is impure that has been created by God.” This transformed the old law into a new way of loving and being God’s people in the world. This is one example of God’s transforming work among God’s people (Keith, n.d., para. 11).
“Jesus brought in a re-creation ethic that disrupted the ideal of Levitical purity. Jesus touched people with skin diseases. Jesus wreaked havoc by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his disciples to work by picking grain. We are no longer bound by an ethic of separation, now the commandments are rooted in love. In Christ, there is a nonbinary multifaceted beautifying of every person that more closely reflects the image of God" ("LGBTQ+ Theology 101").
And think again to what I said about the woman accused of adultery. Biblically speaking, she “should have” been stoned to death. But Jesus with Jesus came a whole new thing. He ushered in a new way of living and of being God’s people that centered around loving each other, not judging each other. Jesus asked, will this bring the person harm or will this help the person thrive? That’s how he interpreted scripture.
Jesus wasn’t concerned with ritual purity, and that’s what these Levitical laws were about. Jesus was instead concerned with purity of the heart (Edmonds, 2016, p. 6).
And what is Jesus but scripture itself? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh" So in the beginning was Scripture, and then scripture became flesh…through the incarnation, Jesus was the Word. The Levitical laws are one in the same thing as Jesus Christ himself, except with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, God ushers in this whole new way of life. This is what the Last Supper is all about. Holy Communion is God’s whole new thing in Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:18-27 - Exchanging 'Natural' Desires
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Vines (2014) states that v. 26-27 refer to Paul’s larger point, of turning from idols to worshiping God (p. 96). Romans chs. 1-3 was a condemnation of sinful Gentiles and 22 other sins, such as envy, murder, gossip, and slander, were mentioned (p. 98). Paul appears to condemn the lustful, passing sexual relations rather than stable, committed relationships. It’s important to ask not only what does Scripture say, but why Scripture says it (Vines, 2014, p. 100). Paul condemns the lust, being consumed with same-sex attraction since being attracted to the same sex, along with non-conventional sexual acts of the time (pederasty, relations between slaves and their owners) was view negatively as a result of over-consuming libido (Vines, 2014, p. 105). The shame that Paul discussed was rooted in patriarchy, than in imitating male-female relationships, the Gentiles were disgracing themselves (as cited in Vines, 2014, p. 112). The problem for Paul was unbridled passions, not rightly used desires (Vines, 2014, p. 114).
In contrast, Paul later says in his letter to the Romans, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). God's love covers our sins and redeems us even though our sins temporarily separate us from God's will.
1 Corinthians 6:9 - Weakness, Effeminacy, and Patriarchy
1 Corinthians 6:9
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral [malakoi], nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[arsenokotai], nor thieves, nor the greedy nor drunkards, nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Malakos (malokio is plural) is the Greek word for ‘soft’ or effeminate. Originally, the word meant loose or lacking self-control, but in the patriarchal society, it became a catch-all insult for being effeminate (Vines, 2014, p. 118). Weakness or lack of self-control was seen as a female trait and being a malakos was a sure sign that one lacked self-control. Arsenokotai refers to arsen (men) and koites (bed). The word is used only in two passages of Scripture, so its impossible to determine Paul’s exact meaning – there are no other comparable uses (Vines, 2014, p. 123). The placing of ‘abusers of men’ next to thieves and greedy suggests that Paul was referring to some type of sexual exploitation, rather than consensual same-sex relationships (Vines, 2014, p. 125). It wasn’t until the 1946 Revised Standard Version of the Bible was this word translated as ‘homosexual’ (Vines, 2014, p. 127). Pederasty was the most common form of same-sex behavior in ancient world, to the point that it was likely that Paul was referring to coercive sexual acts rather than consensual ones (Vines, 2014, p. 123). This same word appears in 1 Timothy 1:10.
In contrast, Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus reminds us that salvation is a gift of God, not of human effort. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot earn and consequently cannot lose salvation since it is a work of God.
1 Timothy 1:10 - Men who 'Bed' With Other Men
1 Timothy 1:10
"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality [arsenokotai], enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted"
The same word arsenokotai that was used in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Like the verse in the letter to the Corinthians, this use of the word is sandwiched between other coercive acts. This suggests that sin in question was not consensual adult same-sex relations, but something else, like pederasty or rape.
Edmonds, Janet. (2016). The Bible doesn't say that homosexuality is a sin [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxCgiexwUWPkMkJydU1MRUN0NUU/view?fbclid=IwAR2VK3SFA4h0VqP3makkA9FinbjKZqqXLbkUTJL0Ph1mpA_Od8bsMV5vD4I&resourcekey=0-qvlAbdx5C6q9F7OGeWXL_w
"Has 'homosexual' always been in the Bible?" (2019 Oct 14). Retrieved from United Methodist Insight. https://um-insight.net/perspectives/has-%E2%80%9Chomosexual%E2%80%9D-always-been-in-the-bible/?fbclid=IwAR3YcijJtdeGWYOfGj5NyzaoEdt9YwyMbVM4J32tmbfa6uDceqV3PG3fcgo
"LGBTQ+ Theology 101." Retrieved from Q Christian Fellowship: https://www.qchristian.org/resources/theology
Rainbow flag (LGBT). (2021 July 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rainbow_flag_(LGBT)&oldid=1033502279
Reign, M. (2018 June 11). "This pride flag redesign represents the diversity of the LBGTQ+ community". Retrieved from Them. https://www.them.us/story/pride-flag-redesign
Vines, M. (2014). God and the gay Christian: The biblical case in support of same-sex relationships. New York: Convergence Books.
Further Reading & Resources
Check out these additional resources on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church
Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness will Transform your Faith by Mihee Kim-Kort
Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin
Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke
Reconciling Scripture for Lutherans – On Sexuality and Gender Identity by Austen Hartke and Emmy Kegler
Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today by Louis William Countryman
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak