Evasive answers don’t help
The short answer is that the Bible is anti-gay. But this doesn’t necessarily mean what we take it to
John Richardson – guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 December 2009 13.30 GMT
The question: Is the Bible anti-gay?
Is the Bible anti-gay? The short answer has to be “Yes”. Despite Theo Hobson’s commendable efforts to argue that it is not talking about us, and Davis Mac-Iyalla’s desire to summarise Jesus’ message as a quote from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18), the modern enquirer, who has posed this most modern of questions, will surely find any other answer evasive.
Yet that answer does not at all mean what the enquirer will take it to be saying. It is like the lawyer who asked of Jesus, “What shall I do to be saved?”and was told to keep the great commandments. The answer was true enough, but the fullness of truth lay outside the form of the question. The subsequent parable of the Good Samaritan is not a truism about altruism, but a challenge to the questioner’s world-view.
So with the Bible’s standpoint on sex. In Genesis 1:27 we read that God “created man in his own image … male and female he created them”. God and human gender combine in the same sentence. Our interpretation of this, however, depends first on whether we regard the Bible as a coherent whole or as a series of quite unrelated “musings” on the divine. If the latter, then this is a standalone enigma. The Christian who can speak of “the Bible’s view” on anything, however, will find here the beginnings of a theme which is developed and clarified as the revelation of scripture unfolds.
Too often in the Bible, human marriage and sexuality are depicted at their worst —the examples are legion. Yet throughout, God’s relationship with his people is also depicted in marital terms. Thus the Bible ends with a marriage between Christ and the church: “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2). God is the great bridegroom.
This is not, however, because God’s love is, in some sense, “like” a bridegroom’s. Rather, marriage derives from our relationship with God. It is itself an “image”, just as we are also God’s image. Far from being seen as a challenge to true spirituality, sexuality thus provides an insight into salvation, with the Song of Songs as the outstanding biblical depiction of what this means in human experience. It is this which explains why the Bible takes sex so seriously.
However, as Davis Mac-Iyalla rightly recognises, Jesus provides the interpretive centre of the Bible and, in one of his hardest sayings, makes it clear that the divine “model” for marriage is one man, with one woman, in a lifelong covenant.
All expressions of sexuality outside this framework are, to a greater or lesser extent, declensions from the ideal which aims to reflect the very character of God. Some were allowed, Jesus said, because of people’s lack of faith. Others were vehemently prohibited. Ultimately, however, the Bible’s position on sexuality cannot be defined by listing those things to which it is notionally “opposed”. Rather, we need to see it arises from an overarching understanding of the nature of God and his relationship with his creation.