The Hijacking of Christianity, Part 3
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. Matthew 23:23
One way the institutional church has hijacked the Bible is through its emphasis on limited passages that reinforce its dogmatic idiosyncrasies instead of the overall message conveyed throughout the Bible, which is one of inclusion, love, and forgiveness. Despite its many stories of violence, murder, adultery, rape, slavery, and every sort of evil humankind has waged upon itself, the Bible’s overriding message consistently replays the Israelites’ movement from oppression in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Slavery to freedom; misery to joy; woundedness to wholeness; crucifixion to resurrection. There is no sugar-coating the hardships of the journey, but there is also no denying the grace woven into its fabric.
To illustrate how some churches hijack the Bible, making it aversive to many spiritual seekers, I will reflect on homosexuality, which is arguably the most divisive issue among people within, between, and outside of churches. This, for an issue only tangentially addressed in a handful of places in the Bible. Tellingly, homosexuality is not an issue that Jesus chose to address. I say tellingly to hint that perhaps Jesus did not address it because he did not consider it a problem, certainly not on par with those he did address, like healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and including the outcasts (which certainly included homosexuals).
A sample of the Old Testament passages used to condemn homosexuality include this from Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination… Likewise, the few verses in the New Testament used to establish a prohibition against homosexuality include 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites…none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. Interestingly, the term homosexuality is not used in the Bible. This is likely because there were no socially tolerated same-sex relationships until recently in human history. Same-sex relationships, which were certainly present, had to remain hidden.
A church in the town where I grew up focused its entire public ministry on the issue of homosexuality, preaching its incompatibility with what they believed was God’s will. Even many less-homophobically-obsessed churches hold that a person must renounce their practice of homosexuality before they can gain full membership into the church. All of this from organizations who proclaim themselves followers of Jesus, who was mum on the subject. It is intriguing how many churches develop a laser-like focus on homosexuality while largely overlooking the multitude of other common “sins” that are much more of a focus in scripture. The double-standard is breath-taking.
I believe there are many reasons for a church’s choice to condemn homosexuality while issuing a pass on other sexual behaviors condemned in scripture. One reason could be that some church leaders (and biblical authors and interpreters) find homosexual behavior threatening out of fear of their own, subconscious homosexual leanings. Sigmund Freud had a lot to say on that subject. The apparent biblical prohibitions of the practice certainly motivate some churches, but I feel they need to answer for why they single out homosexuality for special exclusions and not divorce, adultery, or lustful thoughts (not that any of these should be cause for exclusion from church participation). The propensity towards condemning the sexual orientation of a minority while overlooking behaviors common to large swaths of humanity is, I believe, a product of Churchianity. Most churches can survive by excluding a few, but not by excluding majorities.
It appears to me that most of the biblical texts that are used to condemn homosexuality were written to condemn forms of sexual depravity where sex is used as a show of power over another as opposed to a loving, uniting expression between two people in a committed relationship. For example, the soldiers in Sodom publicly raped conquered foreign soldiers as an act of humiliation before they killed them. It is where the term sodomy originated. Clearly, this is not what God intended from the sacred gift of sex, any more than is sex with children. Acts of love cannot be forced upon another and when they are, sexual expression becomes an abomination.
Because certain churches adopt anti-homosexual doctrine, many seekers assume all churches adopt such beliefs, and so they reject church. Because those seekers know the basis upon which some churches reject homosexuality comes out of the Bible, they also reject the Bible. Whether the issue is homosexuality, ethnic privilege, or other divisive issues, churches hijack the Bible by interpreting and presenting it for their own purposes, thus making it an undesirable and inaccessible tool for non-churched spiritual seekers.
This is the 8th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.