Many conservative Christians use June as a month to get out there, get some vitamin D, and harass LGBTQ+ people. They show up at Pride parades with huge signs that are just lists of scriptures out of context, they protest in front of progressive churches, and work extra hard at being extra annoying. And I hate it. June is the month when many people finally feel safe enough to come out because of the excitement of Pride. It’s one of the only months of the year that it’s possible for a newly out person to gather in a public space with a large group of other queer people and be celebrated! And for someone to ruin it in the name of my God really grinds my gears. It makes me sad; I’m not big on evangelizing, but I do think that Christianity is there for those who want it, and for some to behave as if the Bible teaches us otherwise is wrong. When these Christians use the Bible to spread hatred, to judge people who are marginalized, and to maintain their positions of power in society, it makes me remember when I was thinking about coming out and then eventually came out, and how hurt I felt by the things I saw people saying in the name of Christianity.
As I grew in my queerness and my faith, I decided that I had to read the Bible for myself if I wanted to really understand what they were saying. Taking the time to read through the passages that made me uncomfortable wasn’t easy. Some of the things that are written in that collection of books feels hurtful on first, second, or even on a third read. But I wanted to read them. I wanted to read the whole Bible. But it’s not easy! It’s thousands of pages, covers thousands of years, and in English alone has over 50 translations to choose from. It’s a lot of information to take in at one time and different groups have been interpreting the Bible for their benefit since it was written, y’all. (If you’re looking for translations, I’m totally into the NRSV and the CEB; both of which consulted many progressive denominations in their creation).
I took about a year to read the Bible, and what I learned was this: at its best, the Bible is a story about a God that loves their creation so much that they will do anything to let that creation know that they are loved and treasured. It’s a story for people who have been gaslit into believing they aren’t whole; it’s for people who have been told that they are inherently wrong or bad; it’s a story for rebels and revolutionaries who hope and work for a future they probably won’t ever see. If we were to believe conservatives though, the Bible is a rulebook meant to keep people out. I didn’t want to believe that though, so I made sure be especially critical when reading some of the most controversial scriptures.
In the long list of passages from the Bible conservatives use to discriminate against queer folks, I think Leviticus 18:22 is the most well known. In the CEB it reads, “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman; it is a detestable practice.” Most other translations read similarly, many replacing “a detestable practice” with “an abomination” or “abhorrent.” An especially conservative translation (New Living Translation) even says “homosexuality” in the verse. It doesn’t sound promising, I will give it that.
When I recently came upon this passage in my daily devotional, I almost skipped it. But I hate not knowing things for myself, and I realized that I’d never really read that verse in context with the entire book of Leviticus. When I read it in relationship to the entire book, my perception of the passage changed. The whole book of Leviticus is introducing this new “law” for the Israelites. And basically, the law is saying if you want to be righteous, “think about God first, then others, then yourself.” This just seemed like a continuation of that message, applied to sexual behavior. If God wanted these people to be thinking of God in every aspect of their lives, then that obviously included sex.
I journaled next to the passage after reading it: “It feels like God is saying, ‘Hey, so I recognize that I’ve created different cool bodies on different people and it would be cool if you also recognized that and made love to them being mindful of who they are and what their body wants and needs. Doing otherwise would be detestable.'” And maybe it’s because I’m a bisexual non binary human who reads the Bible with those intersections in mind, but I think that all God is saying here is to honor the body that you’re having sex with. If God is telling Moses to have his community think about others before themselves, is it such a stretch to think that extends to sexual behavior? God wanted the Israelites to think about their partner when they were having sex, and less about themselves. I believe this is a passage about sexual selflessness and respecting bodies as a way to live the life God wants us to live. How rad is that?
Not only was it comforting to read the passage in a fresh way, it also made more sense when thinking about the law that’s being introduced throughout the book. Later in the Old Testament, we see the law spoken about in different ways that all essentialize love, honor, and respect. Deuteronomy 6:5 distills it this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength” (CEB). Part of loving God is honoring those around you and treating them with respect.
This is where it gets exciting. Because if we read the law this way, then every other homophobic argument in the Bible just sort of falls apart. The story of Lot and Sodom in Genesis can be read as a warning against sexual harassment and assault, or as an allegory against discussing the importance of hospitality. It’s read the way it was intended to be read – not as a literal historical narrative, but a parable that’s useful to help a culture understand their laws and customs.
Even Paul, who is like the ultimate jerk in all the New Testament, becomes more palpable. Paul says at least three things in three different letters that have been used against queer people. In 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, and Romans, Paul pretty crudely associates having queer sex with depravity. And, y’all, I don’t know. There are some experts who read it as a condemnation of lustful behavior associated with prostitution in the Roman empire. Some people read it as being against pederasty. But I don’t know. Because I wasn’t there, and so I don’t know the culture Paul was writing in, or the people he was writing to, or what there experiences were. I only know what I’ve been told, but all history is subjective, so I’m cautious to wholly believe any single interpretation.
Here’s the thing about Paul: he maybe says that queer sex is sinful, but he also is very clear that all people are sinful, period. And he says that because of that, we can’t trust things that are said to us by people who claim that they have the power to judge us, because no one can judge anyone anymore. He also says that acts such as those are against nature and the law, but that Christ came to replace the law, and that if one follows Christ, they are following the law. So, to quote Oprah, “What’s the truth?”
I’m not an expert at the Bible or religion or Christianity, but this is what I think is the truth. In Romans 14, Paul recognizes that all Christians won’t agree with each other, and warns that we don’t judge each other in our disagreement. I think he understood early on that in the spread of information, there are bound to be different interpretations. And I think the truth he wants us to understand is this: no matter who we are now, because of Christ, God is for us. I think he wants us to love each other as a way to show our love of God.
I can’t make every passage better. There are some passages that are still, even after months of study, hard to accept. But I try to remind myself that it’s okay to be critical of what’s written and that questions can help my faith grow. I remind myself that it’s okay to have my own interpretation because everyone is interpreting the Bible all the time. I think the best interpretations of the Bible are ones that encourage us to love one another deeply as a way to love God. And I remind myself that love is one of the most mentioned words in the Bible and it is the core of my faith. And even if I can’t figure everything out, I can still love.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how queer Christians read the Bible during Pride and how we practice the tenets of our faith. What does loving God look like for me as a queer person? Even though I still won’t agree with everything he wrote, Paul does say this, “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other” (Romans 12:9-10, CEB). As an action, this love looks like caring for God’s creations. It means that I’m listening to trans women of color, protesting unjust laws, showing up for queer youth, or sending silly mail to my friends to encourage them. This is how I follow Christ. I take care of creation, I don’t judge, and through giving love, I am able to feel Christ’s love all the more in my own life.