Monday, April 28, 2008

clobber passage

There's a place or two in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul takes it upon himself to compile a list of human behaviors in an attempt to show that no one reasonably can expect to get into heaven by virtue of good behavior.

These passages, particularly in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, are known in the gay community as "clobber passages." It's not hard to understand why. If you've been around evangelicals enough, you've probably seen them wielded more than once like a club in the hands of a caveman.

It's something about the human condition; we like to believe that we're more moral than another group, whether it's gays, Republicans, evangelicals, or Muslims. So we find a passage of Scripture, pop culture, or philosophy, and we lift it up in the air and bellow, and we start swinging it.

The bellow is what gets everyone's attention. It's a bestial sort of sound, coming from the throat of someone who's not quite evolved enough to handle human speech.

It's a cry of loathing, meant to alert everyone that a monster has entered our midst and needs to be put down immediately. Before long, that club comes crashing down on the skull of its victim not once, not twice, but as many times as it takes to bring the brute down.

It's a hideous thing to see, and no matter what group you belong to, you've seen the horror visited upon your own group. The loss is that Christians recognize when pop culture is clobbering them, but not when they themselves are clobbering someone else; and vice versa. I've seen a number of people slam Christians down with rather crude and unwarranted caricatures. Lost in this quest for monsters to destroy is the irony that the monster lies in all of us and how we treat those who differ from us.

Today I had the ironic task of reading one of these clobber passages in church.

Apparently people in church like it when I read Scripture. I do try to avoid the dry matter-of-fact readings we usually hear, where the reader could be reading "War and Peace" by candlelight or zipping through the shopping list at the Kroger's.

I read passages with intonation, add gestures when appropriate, and even change my voice to reflect a change in speakers. Maybe I make God's words sound more plausible than usual, I don't know, but last week I was asked if I would mind doing this on a regular basis.

Today, when I was asked to read the famous clobber passage from 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, I choked. A good friend of mine is a lesbian, and I know how badly people have beaten her with this passage from a misguided sense of what love is. Former co-workers of mine who were gay kept their distance from me for the longest time because they knew that I was a Christian, and they'd long had their fill of Christians who "hated the sin but loved the sinner."

How can you read something like this in church without feeling like you're contributing to the pain your gay brothers and sisters suffer every time the subject comes up of how their chosen lifestyle is in direct rebellion against God?

I read it, and then stewed in my seat for the first half of the sermon as the preacher answered this week's "Tough Question" about the reaction Christians should have to homosexuality and homosexuals.

No, Sodom was not destroyed because there was gay sex going on. Ezekiel 16 is pretty clear that cruelty and inhospitality were the main offenses. Certainly raping visitors to the city isn't exactly the most welcoming act the city aldermen could have come up with -- but it has as much in common with homosexuality as men in prison raping newcomers to humiliate and degrade them. It's about power and dominance, not about the sex.

A lot of my attention at this point was consumed with thoughts of how I would explain my decision not to leave the church if I ever ran for president, but there was a ray of light. The preacher challenged everyone present: "No one in the gay community has any doubt what Christians think about homosexuality. What we're missing is showing them God's love."

He even got specific that he wasn't talking about a general sort of "Gosh, we love you" sentiment, but actual tangible actions: attending a Gay Pride parade, for example, to give cold water to people. Or being friends with people and not letting it affect you one way or the other what their sexual orientation is.

Damn straight. Jesus -- and I know this will come as a shock to some -- Jesus wasn't a moralist. He wasn't about telling people how to behave, and he didn't give us a list of rules to follow if we wanted to please God. What he said was pretty simple: "I'm the Lord. Follow me."
Wish I'd hear more of that and less of people being clobbered.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Anonymous said...

Good post....but I remember this sermon and the preacher didn't preach that OT passage like that. He gave both sides to the story and said it was irrelevant while moving on to the New Testament. (Unless I preached differently than my notes:) )

marauder said...

Well, I'm sure my notes aren't as extensive as yours, but I'm fairly certain that homosexuality was mentioned as a sin of Sodom, if not as THE sin.

That latter in particular is a common reading in evangelicalism, albeit one that is not particularly well supported either in the Bible, or in the rabbinic commentary.

I've written more about that elsewhere, although as you can see, I've written plenty on this subject, enough that I'm sure some people have started to wonder if I'm gay myself.

I'm not, but I do consider this to be one area where the evangelical church has had its priorities woefully askew. As Christians we run the risk of sinking into deadly moralism or into irrelevant mysticism, obsessing over points of Torah or over prophecy. The power of the Bible lies in the strength of its narrative and its metaphor, where the Logos overwhelms us and effects the inward transformation.

Given how few places the Bible actually mentions homosexuality -- four places? five? -- and how frequently it deals with issues like povery -- twenty thousand times? thirty thousand? -- I think it's time we moved on, and started to take a stand for righteousness the way Jesus did: by standing up for people whom society has overlooked, and confounding everyone by holding up those who are deemed to have little value as examples of faith whom we can all follow.