Monday, June 06, 2011
Disagreeing with Paul
It was a shocking thing to say in a Sunday school class. Especially one led by a group of people who fervently believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. But I couldn't keep quiet and concede the point. Besides, they brought it up and asked my opinion. So I hope nobody was too terribly shocked and offended. I'm pretty sure they already see me as the token liberal in the class and they haven't run me off yet.
The topic today was about gays in the church. Methodist doctrine currently forbids gays from taking any kind of leadership role in the church. A person in the class who sits on a committee that will represent our church at a conference where they will discuss making changes to the church bylaws brought up a proposed amendment that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. She asked what we all thought. The class quickly divided into two groups - one that wants to keep the doctrine the way it is and says the amendment is not needed, and one that believes the doctrine is already too tolerant of gays in the church.
Then I spoke up and said I support the amendment and furthermore, I did not believe that being gay was a sin. This caused a flurry of page flipping as people dove into their Bibles to call up Leveticus and First Corinthians to "prove" to me that being gay most certainly is a sin. Our class leader found it first and proceeded to read the entire section in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians where he condemns homosexuality in no uncertain terms.
That is when I interjected my shocking statement. "I disagree with that. I think Paul was wrong."
I didn't get a chance to say much more because the class time was over so I thought I would elaborate here on my blog.
Paul was clearly influenced by the Old Testament writings in Leveticus. What's more, he had no knowledge or conception about biology. Sexual orientation is a biological function, not unlike being left or right-handed. A person can choose to suppress it or ignore it, but they cannot change it.
But back in Biblical times they had no idea about this and just assumed that people were choosing to do "unnatural" and thus sinful things. But note that God never directly addresses this as a problem - it is not part of his Ten Commandments and he never mentions it as a problem to any of the prophets. Instead, he seems to be much more concerned with idolatry and other forms of wickedness.
Likewise, Jesus never broaches the topic in any of his stories or sermons. One would think that if it was such a heinous sin meriting death and isolation from the church that they might have made some effort to mention it rather than leaving it to be addressed in the multitude of laws listed in Leveticus most of which we ignore today. But for some reason, this particular "sin" is given a higher status among believers. They are not so much concerned about other forms of adultery and have pretty much forgotten about the bromides against eating pork, shellfish or of touching women when they are menustrating.
No, gays are definitely singled out for special mistreatment. And yet, despite all of this condemnation we find that roughly 5 to 7 percent of the population in every community throughout time "chooses" to be gay. A most remarkable persistence and amazingly consistent as well.
So I disagree with Saint Paul and instead agree with Lady GaGa in my belief that gay people were "Born That Way." I think I have more scientific evidence on my side than Paul did and I dare say if he were still around today he might even change his mind.
But the more distrubing thing I think for my Sunday school classmates is my clear rejection of Biblical authority. When they show me a quote in the Bible I am only allowed one of two options: I can claim that the quote is misinterpreted or taken out of context, or I can prostrate myself before the Good Book and swear allegiance to whatever it says. Instead, I chose a third option. I disagreed. I don't think we are misinterpreting Paul, I just think he is wrong on this point. I agree with him on most everything else he has to say, but on this one point I think he was off base. But, if I'm correct and Paul is wrong, that would mean that the Bible is not 100 percent true and correct. And if we can't trust the Bible, what can we trust? Are we just going to pick and choose what we believe in the Bible???
Yes and yes. The Bible is not 100 percent true and correct. It has lots of factual errors and contradictions. It reflects many of the prejudices and biases of the times that it was written. So what can we trust? Trust your God-given brain and think things through. That's what you do.
My faith is with God. I do not rely on any intermediaries between me and God. I do not confess my sins to a priest. I do not look the the Vatican or the Pope for spiritual guidance. The Bible most certainly guides my faith, but it does not dictate my faith. My faith is with God directly.
I believe God made the entire Earth and all the people in it. I believe he cares for and loves ALL the people and not just some lucky few. I believe he accepts us the way we are and wants us to do the same. We constantly fall short in our love. God does not fall short in his.