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“Submit to the test of love”

11 February 2012

The test for whether an interpretation [of Scripture] is Christian or not does not hang on whether it is historically accurate or exegetically nuanced. The touchstone is not the historically reconstructed meaning in the past, nor is it the fancifully imaged, modernly reconstructed intentions of the biblical writers. Nor can any responsible Christian—after the revolutionary changes in Christian though in the past twenty years, much less in the past three hundred—maintain that Christian interpretations are those conforming to Christian tradition. The traditions, all of them, have changed too much and are far too open to cynical manipulation to be taken as foundations for gauging the ethical value of a reading of Scripture…

The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself… I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of GOd and of neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).

By this light, any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church’s stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing?”

The burden of proof in the last twenty years has shifted. There are too many of us who are not sick, or inverted, or perverted, or even “effeminate,” but who just have a knack for falling in love with people of our own sex. When we have been damaged, it has not been due to our homosexuality but to others’ and our own denial of it. The burden of proof now is not on us, to show that we are not sick, but rather on those who insist that we would be better off going back into the closet. What will “build the double love of God and of our neighbor”?

I have tried to illustrate how all appeals to “what the Bible says” are idealogical and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love.

Dale B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality is Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 49-50.

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