A Review of Colby Martin’s “UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality”

It’s UnClobbering Time!

“UnClobber” Book Cover

I consider myself an affirming Christian. For one, I have friends who are either gay or bisexual, so homosexuality doesn’t bother me — even as a Christian. I’ve been around gay people for a long time, and would like to think I’m pretty comfortable around them. Two, if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I don’t like being judged for who I am, so, in turn, I try to practice the same way of being with other people. True, I can be judgemental at times. I’m not perfect. However, I try to keep my judgements to myself, and whenever I encounter someone that I don’t like upon first contact, I try to remind myself that that person is God’s creation, too, and keep in mind Jesus’ command to love thy neighbour.

Still, it’s refreshing when a book like UnClobber comes along. I wasn’t particularly aware of the details of the so-called “Clobber Passages” — five or six verses or chapters in the Bible that are used mainly by conservative Christians to denounce homosexuality as a sin — but I knew the Bible had something to say about sexual orientations. To that end, UnClobber and its unpacking of those Bible passages was particularly illuminating for me. It told me what those passages were, and why they might not be saying what everyone thinks they might be saying.

UnClobber is actually two, both equally compelling books in one. On one hand, it is a theological study of certain passages of the Bible. It also is a sobering memoir of sorts, detailing how author and pastor Colby Martin — a millennial — had a personal journey towards opening his heart to gay people, a journey that cost him a preaching job at an Arizona megachurch.

Martin’s journey is particularly remarkable. He had no gay friends of note, his contact with gay people was fairly limited, and yet — as a straight, white, conservative Christian — he felt compelled to champion in his own way gay rights. That’s pretty astonishing. So the personal journey aspect of the book is largely a page flipping one. I did think the final chapter detailing the rise of the church that he went on to found in San Diego after being fired seemed a little Utopian — after all, there is no such thing as a “perfect church” (or so I think). Still, most of the ride is a heart-breaking one, and shows just how close-minded and unfair some church people can be. Even towards members of their own flock.

The real meat of the book lies in the chapters dealing with the Biblical passages, though. Martin takes great pains to explain that his take is not the only way of interpreting these passages, and may not be the “correct” way of reading them — which kind of shoots himself in the foot a bit, though I see where he’s going with that. However, he deftly goes to show that a lot of these passages were poorly translated into English from the original Greek. In one instance of the use of the word “homosexual”, Martin points out that the word is only 150 years old, and basically has no business being in the Bible to begin with! Could it be that Paul in the New Testament — where this one particular Clobber Passage that mentions the word “homosexuality” is found — had something else in mind? Read this book and find out.

The great thing about this book is that, coming from a conservative Christian writer, it is refreshingly liberal, and there are no real attacks on the church as a whole or on personal denominations. Martin is wise beyond his young years, and seems to realize that different people have different faith journeys and that’s OK, so long as those journeys don’t go into places of hurting others. The book is clearly written and is easy to understand, though there are sometimes complex jumps through hoops in explaining the Bible’s language and meaning.

All in all, UnClobbered is a vitally refreshing and important book, and clearly ranks among the best Christian books I’ve read all year. By book’s end, you’ll get to know Martin a bit personally, find yourself siding with him, and all around liking him. More importantly, though, you will have a clearer understanding of the context of the Biblical passages that condemn homosexuality, and realize that there might not be a blanket prohibition against homosexuality that you might think is there on first blush.

While it’s true that one could take the Marcus Borg approach and consider that the New Testament trumps the Old and the Gospels trump the New Testament and thus conclude that nothing in what Jesus says comes out against homosexuality, I think the arguments put forth in UnClobbered are important. The sad reality is is that Borg is probably too liberal for the religious right, so someone needs to unpack what the Bible might mean in the face of people who use the words literally and think the Bible is infallible.

For that reason, no matter where you are on the scale of affirmation of gay people, UnClobbered is a sober read that shows just how hurtful some churches can be towards people who are very inclusive of others. It is also crucial for showing some real understanding of where the Bible could be going in terms of its interpretation. By all means, this is a book that needs to get into as many hands as possible for practicing Christians, and it is a necessary read. I’m glad I read this, as I feel my understanding of the complexities of the Bible is now that much greater. I can now say that I’m a Christian that doesn’t judge gay people, and now I know why. UnClobbered, in short, is pretty darn indispensable. Pre-order it now!

Colby Martin’s UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality will be published by Westminster John Knox Press on September 28, 2016.

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Zachary Houle is a resident of Ottawa, Canada, and was the recipient of a $4,000 arts grant from the City of Ottawa for emerging artists. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, too. He also is a music critic, with music writing publishing credits in SPIN magazine and the Ottawa Citizen, among others. He is a member of First United Church in Ottawa, Canada, and has been so for the past two years. Houle is interested in anything having to do with deepening his newfound faith in God, so, if you’re an author, feel free to get in touch. Contact: zacharyhoule@rogers.com.