How to talk to anti-LGBT Christians
Christians can get hostile when it comes to LGBT issues. If you have to deal with it, breathe through it, and remember? Jesus loves facts.
Here’s ten approaches to Bible issues, with scholarly sources, to whip out as needed.
1. “I prefer to emphasize that ‘love’ stuff.”
For all the Christian fascination with sex rules, the teachings of Jesus seem to concern the idea of just loving people. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says in John 13:34, “to love one another” (cf. 15:12 & 17).
Is evaluating and condemning other people ever called for? Jesus indicates one is not to judge (Mt 7:1). One loves enemies! (Mt 5:55). He affirms the “golden rule” as a guide. This is a spiritual practice not that invested in attacking other people.
The love theology is repeated over and over, from 1 Peter 4:8 (“Above all, love each other deeply”) to Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
The 1 John letter cites “love one another” five times (3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12; cf. 2 Jn 6). That’s a lot for even Christians to ignore.
2. “God is male and female, and so are we.”
For many Christians, the faith is basically keeping to cultural norms, especially in regards to marriage, family, and children. It’s a religion about being ordinary. A few references from the Bible are cited. Doesn’t the Creation story establish compulsory heterosexuality? That Adam and Eve stuff?
Actually, no. Genesis speaks of God being “male and female,” and humans are created in this duality. The story of Creation is of a first human who is is not male, but androgynous.
As Elliot R. Wolfson summarizes: “God created Adam as male and female concurrently, which has been interpreted through the centuries as an affirmation of the androgynous status of the primordial human being.”
This is not unusual. “Myths of a bisexual progenitor of the human race were very common in antiquity,” notes Wayne A. Meeks. And it was typical for Jews and early Christians to read Genesis this way. We find it in Philo, Clement, Origen, etc.
Genesis is a really complex text, but just note: if God creates an androgynous state, then it’s “good.” And Galatians 3:28 seems to find Paul viewing the Christian person as not “male or female…”
This is a spiritual system in which people use both divine energies.
3. “Sorry, God doesn’t go to Sodom to kill gays.”
In Genesis 19, God visits and destroys an evil city. God reflects back on the scene in Ezekiel 16:49, identifying the problem as the city being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
Judith H. Newman notes that for Jews the story was about “lack of hospitality and antagonism toward strangers.” But Christian tradition knew the truth. It was about anal sex.
The story is complex and full of references that Christian readers typically ignore. Note the city’s punishment is decided on by Abraham before God visits the city. And it concerns a crime which has already occurred. Joshua W. Jipp helps out:
“The reader is not yet told the exact content of Sodom’s ‘grave sin’ but with the repeated usage of the term ‘outcry’ (twice in vv.20–21) it is clear the Sodomites are accused of an abuse of social justice (cf. Genesis 4:-9–11; Exodus 2:23–3:7; Isaiah 5:7).”
4. “Stop mistranslating Leviticus 18:22!”
Christians tend to love that sentence: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
She helpfully takes on the Christian efforts to use this verse against gays:
“Out of all the verses in Leviticus that could be singled out, people filled with hate have chosen two obscure verses and ignored their context . . . Isn’t it interesting, that when Jesus quoted Leviticus, he quoted a verse about love (Lev. 19:18)? Maybe, if we’re going to pick one verse out of Leviticus to plaster on signs, that’s the one we should choose.”
5. “No, God doesn’t police the gender of clothes.”
When facing transgender people, drag queens, etc., a lot of Christians will not just admit that Jesus seems unconcerned about clothes (Mt. 6:25). Instead, they again dive back into the Old Testament law, and find in Deuteronomy 22:5 a deity policing the gender of garments:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” (KJV)
So here’s some facts. The Bible makes little or no difference between the gender of male and female clothing. As Nili Sacher Fox notes: “The Hebrew names for articles of clothing rarely distinguish between male and female garments.”
Whatever is going on in Deuteronomy 22:5 (and the language is full of oddness the translations omit), the Bible’s language of terms for clothes, as Fox notes, “actually render men and women in gender-neutral dress.”
Note to Christians: This is a sacred text in which garments can be used for Temple worship, divination, etc. And the details get really complicated.
6. “Doesn’t Jesus say eunuchs are great?”
Traditional Christians often like to pretend that the Bible creates a system that criminalizes unmarried sex, and promotes marriage and reproduction. But does Jesus ever say so? He’s off praising the ‘eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven’.
It seems like Matthew 19:12 is a problem for traditional morality, since eunuchs were not so good with gender role. But Christians have an answer! The eunuchs are non-sexual.
If only there were facts to back it up. As J. David Hester reminds us in “Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus,” even the early Christian “Church Fathers” complained how sexual eunuchs were!
There is no reason to think the verse was ever hinging on sex vs. no sex. Rather, Jesus seems to like the freedom of eunuchs, who were often combining male and female qualities. Like God!
7. “Sorry, ‘arsenokoita’ are not gay people.”
Rarely has Christian tradition been more deceptive than in translating a rare Greek word as ‘Sodomite’ or ‘homosexual’. So we find arsenokoita in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 used as an attack.
Bible scholars knew it was a problem and kept quiet about it. But a young Medieval historian named John Boswell reminded Christianity, in his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, that the word’s meaning wasn’t known. Early on in Christianity, he writes, it was “associated with masturbation or general moral laxity.”
In 1989, William L. Petersen hunted down all evidence of the word in the ancient world, and found it pointed to an episode in Greek mythology: Zeus’ abduction of Ganymede. The word might be just a cue to Zeus worship.
It’s time to stop taking weird old Greek words and reassigning them meanings they never had.
8. “No, the Bible isn’t about having children.”
Christians try to use the Bible to advance their own ideas of “family values.” Back in reality, the teachings of Jesus are not about being married or having children. He often insults biological family!
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
As Dale B. Martin notes: “Jesus refused to identify with his traditional family and instead substituted for it the eschatological community that shared his vision of a new, divinely constituted family.” The messiah is here for the ‘family of God’.
Christians cite the “be fruitful and multiply” language back in Genesis, so remind them that “bearing fruit” in John 15:16 refers to how you live your life. To bear fruit is to contribute to the world around you.
Family is great. Paul notes in 1 Timothy 5:4, that biological family can be a place for Christians to “put their religion into practice…” You can put it in practice in a lot of places.
In reality, the Bible stakes out the importance of non-reproductive people as spirit guides and unbiased mediators. From Jesus to Paul to the Ethiopian Eunuch, on and on, it’s a parade of wonderful, childless people.
9. The Bible has lots of LGBT stories
As Christians seem not to know, the Bible is jam-packed with androgynous beings. The angels in Ezekiel 1:5–25 have oscillating gender. Jonah’s whale is bizarrely transgender. “The gender of Jonah’s fish changes twice in the course of its appearance in the book,” notes Thomas M. Bolin.
The boy Joseph is “beautiful” just like his mother, and wears a special garment identified as female. (Check out Robert A. Harris’ paper on Joseph’s nearly transgender character.) Ehud in Judges 3:12–30 is openly a story about gay sex. “The number of scholars who have resisted reading this as male-on-male sex is really quite astonishing,” says Christine Mitchell.
There’s lots of gay stories in the New Testament, like in in Matthew 8:5–13, a Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal a male slave with whom he has a touching relationship. Jesus is happy to help.
Paul’s letter to Philemon seems to concern a sex slave. Paul’s advice? Try loving him. Paul’s praises Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4: 2–3 for having “co-contested” with him. A reading is possible, Mary Rose D’Angelo notes, in which these strong ladies are love partners.
10. “Jesus isn’t the straightest thing ever”
Christian tradition dreams of a religion dedicated to being ordinary. But Jesus is never ordinary. It’s not just that he travels around with a bunch of men, and is close with women—perhaps even closer than the men. It’s not even the love story with the ‘Beloved Disciple’.
It’s his own language for himself. As Aída Besançon Spencer notes: “Jesus never uses the Greek masculine term anēr (male) for self-description. Jesus always uses the generic or inclusive term anthrōpos (human).”
He calls himself the ‘son of Man’. “In Hebrew the phrase simply means ‘a human being’,” notes Walter Wink.
Maybe we could try being ‘human’ to each other? 🔶