(There’s a lot more I could say, but this old response I gave to a friend covers a lot of the main points.)
Ok, now to some of the places we are likely to disagree. Sara is right to ask about your view of the Bible and why you see it in that way. To my mind, a lot of this gets down to how we know what is real and how we discern what God’s will is.
I’ll let you elaborate and defend your view of that. But let me here explain mine. Christians have historically viewed the Bible as an authority. But they have approached it in different ways and they have always recognized other ways God reveals truth as well. For example, God also reveals truth through science, experience, reason, tradition, and the fresh leading of the Holy Spirit. Further, we recognize that the Bible and redemptive history are not “flat.” Instead, the person and message of Jesus are at the center. He is our salvation and the key to how we approach the rest.
I believe empirical experience is fundamental to human knowledge. By this I mean what we sense through our five senses as well as our moral and spiritual sense (holistic empiricism). Even knowledge of God and the Bible depend on experience of this sort being generally trustworthy. Where we have strong empirical evidence or experience of something, that truth is presumptive. This is even more so when it involves broadly shared patterns of experience or is strongly evidenced by rigorous scientific study. In general, even Christians would say that one’s assumptions about reality have to change if they don’t fit the evidence. We should not twist what we discover in the world through science and strong empirical experience to fit our assumptions about how it must be; instead our assumptions should be amended where necessary to fit with the reality we discover.
This should be transparently obvious. In any other context you’d agree. For example, do you think it would be reasonable for a Mormon or a holocaust denier to refuse to consider the evidence against their assumed bodies of truth and simply twist that evidence to suit their preconceived opinions? You wouldn’t accept that. How is it somehow noble for Christians to resort to the same strategy? Especially when we know that God reveals truth in creation and in our study of the world. The Bible itself teaches that.
Christians have historically believed that God reveals himself in both the Bible and in nature. What happens when what we see in the Bible seems to contradict what we learn about nature through empirical experience? We should go back and examine our interpretation of both. We could be wrong in either case; be that due to sin or human error. What happens if after we have done that there still seems to be an irreducible contradiction between the two? In that case it seems obvious to me that we should side with the well evidenced findings of science and strong empirical experience.
The Bible is first and foremost a collection of human documents. Whether God was involved in its production and the degree to which he was involved in that have to fit with what learn about both the world and the Bible itself through our careful study. (Ascertaining what the Biblical authors meant is itself an inductive/empirical enterprise.) It is my study of both of these that has led me to a different view of inspiration. In context, the Bible contains scientific and historical errors, failed prophesy, internal contradictions, and even (in places) immoral teachings. If you want some examples, I’d be happy to point them out.
Now obviously God cannot lie. This is not me maligning his character. My whole point is that for those who believe that God speaks through Scripture (as I myself do), we have to acknowledge that he accommodated some human error in inspiring broader principles and trajectories in Scripture. How do we sort the one from the other? We read the Bible through the lens of God revealed in Jesus and we do it in interaction with other Christians, in light of our considered experience, and through the prayerful leading of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, the early church took a similar approach to Scripture. For example, although there was intense debate among early Christians, eventually they felt free to reject the Old Testament laws because these were fulfilled in Christ. Their approach to Gentile circumcision is very instructive. As Kenton Sparks notes, “Circumcision is a central rite in the Hebrew canon, and the text explicitly describes it as an ‘eternal covenant’ (Gen. 17:13) to be observed by Jews, and most importantly, by any foreigners who wished to join Judaism (Gen. 17:27; Exod. 12:48).” And yet, based on the concrete evidence of the Spirit’s work before them, they felt free to reject this Biblical requirement. “The weaker position from Scripture, supported by the Spirit, bested the stronger position opposed by the Spirit.”
This and many other examples I could give shows that they were much more interested in God’s broader message revealed within Scripture; discerned according to their understanding of its higher principles of love, Christ’s message and work, God’s in-breaking kingdom, and their experience of the Spirit; then with slavish agreement with the original authors’ every meaning.
I want to say something more about the ethic of love because that is relevant. Jesus said that loving God and loving our neighbor fulfilled the whole of the law (Matt. 22:35-40). He felt free to heighten laws or negate them based on his perception of God’s in-breaking kingdom and based on how they fit with our call to love God and other humans. The early church also felt that freedom. I find it fascinating that Paul says basically the same thing as Jesus. In Galatians he says that we are no longer under the supervision of the law now that Christ has come (3:23-25); but that we are not to use our freedom to sin but rather to love one another, “for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Likewise, in Romans 13:8-10 Paul says that the spirit of EVERY SINGLE commandment is fulfilled in loving our neighbor as ourselves!
Of course, it is AGAPE love that is in view; not some sentimental or self-serving type of love. We receive further instruction into what loving God and others means elsewhere in the teachings of Jesus and in Scripture. But seeing love as the central principle and seeing Jesus and the apostles feeling free to rework the Old Testament in light of the God’s in-breaking kingdom, in light of Christ, in light of the Spirit’s fresh leading, and in light of love gives progressive Christians warrant and guidance in doing the same thing with things like committed gay couples or full equality for women.
Whether a thought, word, or deed fits with agape love is the determiner of whether it is God-honoring or sinful. When we think of sins such as lying, stealing, adultery, gossip, etc.; it’s not that hard to see how they violate the spirit of love. But the same is not the case for loving gay relationships. These do not obviously violate agape love. On the contrary, in many cases they seem to be a noble expression of it.
We learn through science as well as clear empirical experience that in *most* cases one’s sexual orientation—that is, who we are attracted to—is not chosen and cannot be changed. I say “most” because some claim to have changed that. In many cases this appears dubious and numerous LGBTQ people have tried everything to change with no success. The American Psychological Association cautions that trying to get people to change their orientation is unlikely to be successful and can cause a great deal of harm. You might prefer to word this differently, but you seem to grant the premise. This means, for example, that gay men are only attracted to other men and can no more be attracted to women than straight men can be attracted to other men.
Then we observe that most LGBTQ people, just like most straight people, want to fall in love and experience the intimacy, dependability, and other benefits that come from being in a committed relationship with another.
We can see that those who try to suppress this desire and/or their orientation often face severe loneliness, self-loathing, mental health issues, and elevated suicide rates. This is prima-facie not good. The Bible itself testifies to the existential truth that it is not good to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Both Jesus and Paul say or imply that celibacy should not be mandatory (1 Corinthians 7:9; Matthew 19:11-12).
On the other hand, we can see that when they find that special someone, they experience love and joy and happiness; someone to depend on; someone that grows them and brings them outside themselves; really almost all the virtues that we associate with genuinely loving straight relationships. This seems prima-facie good. I have gay friends that have some of the most loving, and beautiful relationships I know. I can SEE the good they bring out in each other.
Of course, not all of these relationships are this healthy; just like not all straight relationships are healthy. Both have the same capacity for good or evil.
I say “almost all” of the same virtues because obviously gay people cannot reproduce in the same way that heterosexual couples can. But they can adopt and medical technology has expanded their options here. Studies suggest that children raised in intact gay families are just as healthy as children raised in intact heterosexual families.
And both experience and Scripture suggest that reproduction is not the only legitimate function of sex or romantic relationships. There is no principled way to say that sex has to be connected with reproduction without also stigmatizing heterosexual couples who themselves cannot reproduce.
Implicit with what was said before, we observe that gay relationships between consenting adults do not obviously harm anyone. Promiscuity, whatever one’s orientation, can be harmful. I’m not necessarily speaking to that. But gay people are not just going around having “gay sex.” This is about the full range of sexual and romantic expression.
Finally, we see our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ loving Jesus and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (which Jesus himself said only a good tree could bear (Matthew 7:16)).
To me, this seems like a very strong argument not just for the moral permissibility of gay relationships, but for their capacity for positive moral good. It is based in science and careful empirical observation and reflection. It results from paying loving attention to our neighbors and their experiences.
Opponents of gay relationships want to cite a handful of texts against that. What these texts are actually saying is debatable (see below). But to me, even IF they meant what conservatives say, science and experience should trump traditional interpretations of, what we know from other cases, is an all too human book. Further, loving gay relationships fit the gospel and Scripture’s dominant themes very well.
I know you likely won’t agree with this view of knowledge or the Bible, but please prayerfully consider it. I am fully convinced that it or something like it is true.
Know also that there are many who take a more conservative view of the Bible and simply interpret those 6-7 texts that have been used against gay people differently. I’m not sure I’m fully convinced (especially on Romans 1). I come to an affirming stance in the different way that I have described above. But they have some pretty powerful arguments. See, for example, Matthew Vines presentation here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY or Justin Lee’s here https://www.gaychristian.net/justins_view.php .
If I could recommend only one resource for you to check out, I would say read Justin Lee’s book “Torn.” It’s very accessible to conservatives. Lee has a gracious manner. Even if you end up disagreeing with him, it is eye-opening in showing just how hostile the church has been to LGBTQ people—even those who accept traditional interpretations and have chosen celibacy. We as a church have a lot to answer for!