Sometimes I despair that we Christians will ever resolve our differences over what the Bible says about homosexuality. I had such a moment watching the latest episode of “Darkwood Brew” featuring Sue Fulton and Justin Lee, when a member of the audience stood up not to ask a question, but to proclaim his assertion that the Bible says unequivocally that homosexuality is a sin.
My annoyance sent me searching for a recent quote I’d collected among the inspirations I use in my spiritual direction ministry:
“You are supposed to struggle with spiritual texts; but when you make the Bible into a quick answer book, you largely remain at your present level of awareness. There are groups who would describe the Bible as an answer book for all of life’s problems. The Bible is actually a conflict book. It is filled with seeming contradictions or paradoxes, and if you read it honestly and humbly it should actually create problems for you!
“… The Bible offers you a mirror that reflects back to you how you live life in general. There are very high levels of consciousness and holiness in the Biblical text, and texts which are frankly hateful, selfish, and punitive. You need to recognize them as such. … The Bible mirrors our own human fragmentation, your own two steps backward and your own occasional three steps forward. Your spiritual eyes will eventually be trained to see which way you—and the text—are going (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-16).”
Thinking about Fr. Richard’s teaching and the ways we use the Bible sent me searching again – this time for the scholarly work of a professor named Joseph Haidt (pronounced “height”). Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist and co-developer of Moral Foundations theory, and of the research site YourMorals.org. Now a full professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he is developing a new program on complex social systems, his most recent book is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Dr. Haidt’s moral psychology theories have gained substantial ground in recent years as the polarization in American politics, religion, and society left us gridlocked over how to make decisions for the common good. His study of the moral matrices of liberals, and conservatives in both politics and religion uncovered two basic realities: Liberals like me make moral decisions using two guides, love and justice. Conservatives use a more complex moral matrix of six factors: liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity, suffering/harm and injustice/fairness.
Clearly, moral decisions are tougher when weighing among six factors rather than among two.
Using Rohr and Haidt as guides, I’ve thus come to two realizations about my distress over resistance to newer interpretations of the Bible’s texts on homosexuality:
- The Bible is a mirror, not a model, of human behavior, and thus shows all the confusion and contradiction of which humans are capable. Likewise, interpretations of its text will show the same contradictions. (Rohr)
- Those who hold different biblical interpretations from my own may see some aspect of truth that my viewpoint misses. (Haidt)
For all my pique that adamant anti-gay stances remain after five “Darkwood Brew” episodes exploring the Bible and homosexuality, I sympathize with our questioning brother’s plight. Like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” we can bend only so far in our faith traditions before we break entirely. Even though the Psalms teach us that God loves a broken and contrite heart, we’re terrified at the prospect that what we have so fervently believed for so many years could be wrong. In that fear, we mistake our egos’ resistance for faithfulness.
Far more faithful, it seems to me now, is to make our moral decisions by flinging ourselves into the mystery of God’s grace. Yes, we take the authority of scripture seriously, but even the God-inspired words of the Bible are still not God. Our actions may prove right at the time, but ultimately wrong because of consequences we cannot see. Or we may think we have made the wrong choice, only to find out later that its results align with our faith better than we thought.
According to our best understanding of Jesus’ teachings, God cares most about relationships, first of humans with God, and then human relationships based on the divine kinship. As Justin Lee asserts: We must be more loving to one another whatever our divergent moral views, and especially to the LGBTQ people in our midst.
In other words, it’s about recognizing the image of God in one another, and honoring that mystery beyond all human morality.