I was so encouraged to get this message for a pastor friend of mine recently. He recently reached out with such an open heart and mind, that I wanted to share his questions and my responses. He actually asked a couple other questions as well, and I’ll be mentioning one of those later. I know he’s probably not the only one who’s asking, so that’s why I made it a post. His statements were framed in grace and understanding. I edited for brevity.

How big of a role does experience play in your journey, vs hermeneutics and solid biblical data? Now, just to clarify, I have not been keeping up with your blog, so I’m not implying you don’t have hard hermeneutical data (in fact, it seems that you do have at least some), I’m just asking, from your view, is your journey mostly founded on experience or hermeneutics? I also don’t want to bash experience, as we all have those mystical experiences in Christianity, separate from our intellectually religious pursuits. But I ask because anyone can say they had an experience or a feeling or an impulse, but most critics will care more about the data (scientifically modern people as Adventists tend to be these days).

The short answer is “yes!” I wouldn’t ever have come to the view I did if scripture didn’t allow for theology that affirms LGBT sexuality and gender with a solid, conservative hermeneutic. I don’t think experience would ever have been enough for me in the absence of good biblical “data,” as you say. I was utterly unwilling to go against scripture in favor of my experience. I’m also not sure I would have asked the question as seriously as I did without experience of the reality of non-affirming theology.

I used the hermentutics (the way of interpreting scripture) taught to me at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. I applied the approaches I was taught to test affirming theology, test non-affirming theology, and examine the text for myself. Non-affirming theology fails the test. Affirming theology makes all of scripture make sense, not only the texts applied to LGBTQ people, but the major themes and promises of scripture as well.

In looking at the texts that are usually seen as prohibitions (Gen 19:1-5, Lev 18:22; 20:12, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Tim 1:9-10), if you focus on the author’s intent it’s not hard to see what they authors themselves had in mind. Applying these texts in ways that are out of harmony with the author’s intent is not sound hermenutics. That’s what non-affirming theology does.

Non-affirming theology also relies on the argument from absence. This argument says that since there are no same-sex relationships or alternate gender identities in scripture they are sinful now. But just because something didn’t happen then doesn’t mean it’s prohibited now.

These are the basic arguments that non-affirming theology are built on, and I don’t believe them to be hermeneuticly sound. In fact, according to what I was taught in my conservative seminary, they are not sound principles.

When I think about the way I thought before this theological shift, my biggest regret is that I relied too much on my social context, a type of experience. Everyone around me seemed in agreement that same-sex relationships are wrong and scripture was clear. Even those who weren’t didn’t speak publicly about their disagreement.

My conclusions at the time did not come from hermeneutics. I never had studied it carefully and prayerfully, because my social context was uniform in this belief. I didn’t realize this until later, but the signs were all there.

Unfortunately, my social context came from an organization that doesn’t base its theology on hermeneutics, at least not in this instance. It has never once in its history made a serious biblical inquiry on the topic, neither have most non-affirming theological organizations. Non-affirming theology has been assumed and scholars have worked to support it.

This is clear from the fact that each time they gather in the Adventist denomination to discuss theology as related to LGBTQ people they begin by saying they already agree on non-affirming theology. You cannot be a professor at the Adventist seminary or a scholar at the Biblical Research Institute if you dissent from the accepted position.

So how can you accept a position as scriptural without ever undertaking to study it with integrity and objectivity? Not based on hermenutics and scripture.

So my shift towards affirming theology is a shift towards greater integrity in my interpretation of scripture. It’s away from a purely experiential perspective towards one that relies on sound hermeneutics.

My ability to move forward on this issue also came from my Adventism and the values of progressive revelation, justice, and reliance on scripture rather than creeds or tradition. In order to move forward, we need only reconnect with these core Adventist values. We need to again think of ourselves as a movement and not an organization.

I could see how someone could read this particular post on hermeneutics and think I’m not using a conservative hermenutic.

I add a caveat. When our theology seems to be causing harm, or when a minority group claims it is harming them, we should be willing to re-examine our theology.

I’m not advocating changing theology to match what we think is compassionate. I’m advocating a humble approach and a willingness to seriously re-examine scripture with integrity and an open heart and mind.

Scripture itself teaches us that we should pay attention to the fruits of our theology and care about the lives of others (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 7:12, 16, 23:4; Luke 6:31, 11:46). Scripture also makes promises about the results of following Jesus (Matthew 7:9-11; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 4:7).

Good theology produces good fruit.

In that sense, I’m not sure hermeneutics and experience are ever supposed to be divided. One is the study of inspired words, the other is the study of God’s creation. If we understand correctly, they will be in complete harmony.

I don’t see the authors of scripture burying themselves in the text and failing to look at the world around them, and neither should we.

Neither do I see them using scripture to make excuses for doing whatever they want, and neither should we.

The Bible is not a closed book, and our understanding never arrives at perfection. We need to be more humble and keep searching, praying, and learning until we get it right.

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4 Replies to “Q&A: Is LGBT-Affirming Theology Based on Experience or Scripture?”

  1. You wrote, “Non-affirming theology also relies on the argument from absence. This argument says that since there are no same-sex relationships or alternate gender identities in scripture they are sinful now. But just because something didn’t happen then doesn’t mean it’s prohibited now.”

    It doesn’t take much work to find same sex relationships in the Bible. It seems to me that King David had a same sex relationship with Jonathan. The Bible (1 Sam 18:1-3) is fairly clear that they loved each other. It is believed that John is the disciple pictured as “leaning on Jesus’ bosom”, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. (Jn 13:23).

    1. Certainly a lot of LGBT people see themselves in those verses and others as well such as the centurion and his “servant” or the Ethiopian Eunuch. Non-affirming theologians don’t agree, and I’m not sure it’s provable either way. Though that doesn’t take away from the meaning those verses have for many people. I certainly see your point. Thanks for contributing!

    2. One of the most convincing and meaningful potential examples to me of same-sex love in the Bible is the beautiful, touching story of Ruth & Naomi.
      Quite frankly I can’t say I’m 100% convinced that their relationship included a sexual, or even romantic component, I like to believe it did though. It is such a remarkable and inspiring example of love, acceptance and of course loyalty- in the face of tragedy and loss! It certainly goes above & beyond any idea of the “in-law” relationship that I’ve ever heard of in any culture. And the famous declaration “your people will be my people, your God my God” is quite a powerful, deep and moving promise/commitment from one person to another. I can’t deny that it sounds somewhat suspiciously like a wedding vow to me.

      I also feel that Saul’s explosive outburst of rage to Jonathan (1 Sam 20:30) upon ‘discovering’ the nature of their relationship almost irrefutably reveals at least what he perceived that nature of their relationship to be; although I’m not suggesting that this proves it to be true. However, my personal feeling is that the absence of any attempts by the author or the subject(s) to deny those allegations (at ANY point in the entire saga) speaks volumes in support of the romantic and sexual (in some form) aspect of their friendship/relationship.
      I’ve always found the imagery used to recount the story of David and Jonathan to be quite charged and suggestive! Not to mention the content itself; from Jonathan stripping naked and giving everything he was wearing to David the first time they met (which resulted in their souls being knitted together as one), to David’s adoption on Jonathan’s son.
      “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” The implication fairly clear and the use of the terms “perverse” “rebellious” “shame” and particularly “nakedness” is not coincidental and leaves little doubt in my mind of what Saul is accusing Jonathan. And in the events that follow in which Saul attempts to bring about David’s demise at the hand of their enemies by offering his daughter Michal (who was also in love with David) as a wife to David setting the dowry price at 100 Philistine foreskins. And I adamantly refute any notion that this wasn’t a calculated, psychological attack on David regarding his relationship with Jonathan (BESIDES the obvious inherent danger involved with collecting or procuring the foreskins). I’ll omit the grisly details of supportive evidence because I assume it isn’t required.
      And how does David respond? He’s delighted, and generously decides to pay double, bringing 200 foreskins! I bet you never heard that one at Sabbath school… And this was a man after God’s own heart.

      Personally, I am of the opinion that whether these (or any other) same-sex potential-lover duos were sexually attracted to each other, or whether they actually ever engaged in some type of sexual acts or not is irrelevant… to God! What does matter to God is the love, devotion, compassion, loyalty and joy that those duos experienced through each other because it increased their understanding of God’s love for them! Even though I don’t have any definitive scriptural support for that, I don’t care and it doesn’t matter to me or make it any less true. I understand why that isn’t valid for many Christians and I respect that. I just praise and thank God that it is all the assurance I need of His love! And I am grateful that these examples of same-sex love (regardless of whether they include a sexual element) exist within the Bible.

      1. Oh, please guys don’t just don’t these “evidences of same-sex relationships” in the Bible just don’t help the case you guys want to make, just please please stay away from it. I honestly don’t think that any scholar without an agenda could seriously make those claims.

        We can all read whatever we want in the Biblical text it doesn’t mean it is there (and I mean we all do it from time to time, but let us not pretend that it has solid scholarship behind it.

        This probably sounds way more aggressive than intended. But just understand the point I’m vehiculating and forgive my tone.

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