From the Pulpit to the Pew: A New Hermeneutic

There is hope in the struggle for faithful LGBTQ people to see themselves in the Holy texts that shape their churches and communities.[1]  When people of faith ask, “where does authority come from for the direction of our journey,” in most mainline denominations the answer is: “From the Bible.”[2] This answer sounds reasonable from a Christian standpoint. The problem arises when biblical authority infringes on the biblical authority claimed for another person. This problem causes harm and exclusion. Such harm often follows heteronormative and hegemonic interpretation of the texts in Christian education and preaching. Reading through this lens of white, male heterosexuality ignores entire communities. When preachers and teachers assign meaning to biblical texts from the pulpit or classroom in such a limiting way, readers from different social locations, dealing with “outsider” factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, and education, are left out of the text.[3]  Reading strategies that incorporate modernist biblical interpretation in small groups, Sunday studies, and preaching lead people of faith to open their minds and hearts to the LGBTQ community and recognize their worth as a People of God.

The church has been wrong in the past using a fundamentalist approach to interpretation, as evidenced by racism, slavery, and misogyny. White men in power claimed their experiences as normative for all, which gave them freedom to abuse, exclude, and judge others. Entire communities still suffer from such exclusionary practices. There is a difference between the inerrancy of the Bible from a fundamentalist view and the modernist interpretation. A modernist approach takes into account the social location of its readers, which is the difference between exclusion and inclusion for today’s LGBTQ community.

A modern interpretive approach, a queer hermeneutic, one of inclusion and one intended to move from the pulpit to the pew and into society, has produced “four reading strategies used within the church setting, which characterize Queer Biblical Interpretation.”[4] If the Bible has the authority, then the interpretation of the text must move from an interpretation of privilege to one that includes those on the margins. The church has corrected its wrongs before. Now it is time for the LGBTQ community to be welcomed into the Church’s text. Reading strategies are one way to upright and uphold the faith and its holy text. West proposes four reading strategies: (1) a defensive stance toward scripture; (2) an offensive stance toward scripture; (3) outing the Bible; and (4) reading the Bible from the social location of being queer.”[5]

First, one strategy is the defensive stance. According to Mona West, with this strategy the LGBTQ community and their supporters in the church defend themselves against the “clobber passages.” These passages have been used abusively against the queer community, as they promote homophobia and violence. The abuse comes from the descriptors of “abomination” and “unnatural.” They are used as identifiers for LGBTQ people.[6] The texts are presumed to contain specific directives against certain unacceptable sexual “behaviors.” The most commonly used abusive texts, according to Mona West and Jack Rogers, are Gen. 19:1-28; Judges 19:1-30; Lev. 18:22 and 20:13; Rom. 1:26-28; I Cor. 6:9; Tim.1: 10; Jude 1-25. These passages are also known as “texts of terror.”[7] Jack Rogers notes that all of these passages are found on only twelve pages within the entire Bible. Rogers also points out that none of the passages are specifically about Jesus, and none of them use Jesus’ recorded words, as many Christian’s claim. [8] The defensive stance is a starting point to argue against the position that homosexuality is an abomination.

Second, another reading strategy assumes an offensive stance. This approach, moving beyond the clobber passages, brings healing by envisioning and affirming same-sex love as part of the Bible narrative. It reiterates the value of the social location of readers and affirms LGBTQ brothers and sisters.[9] Examples of same-sex love, such a Naomi and Ruth and Jonathon and David affirm the goodness of human sexuality for LGBTQ people. Song of Songs affirms for same-sex loving people that human sexuality is worthy of celebration, bringing joy outside the parameters of reproduction or marriage.

           Third, yet another strategy is based on the principle of ‘Outing the Bible.’ It calls for a reconstruction of the queer identities of characters in the biblical text.[10] An example of this strategy is found in the character of the Ethiopian eunuch from the Book of Acts. The significance for queer people is the fact that the eunuch is a sexual minority in the Jewish context of the time. Yet, even as a sexual minority, the Eunuch was not left outside. Since queer people are kept from the church because of their outside status, they call this story their own. This is significant for churches in the midst of a struggle that leaves the LGBTQ unable to serve within the church so that they often and often leave  their sexuality at the door.[11]

Fourth, the last strategy Mona West articulates involves reading from the social location of queer people. This approach engages “the entirety of the Bible and its message.[12] It recognizes the Bible as the word of God for a whole community of people. This strategy asserts that the Bible should not be selectively read. It validates the social location of queers, and it recognizes the diversity and intersectionality within the queer community. Just as the queer community is vast and diverse, so are biblical texts.

These four strategies of interpreting the Bible from the pulpit and in the classroom recognize the values and concerns of the LGBTQ community. They promote healing and thus provide affirmation to a group currently pushed to the margins. Queer preachers, biblical scholars, and the whole Church can give voice through this hermeneutic.[13]

An Anonymous Student

[1] Mona West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans: Social Location and the Hebrew Scriptures,” Theology and Sexuality v. 10, (1999), 29.

[2] Jack Bartlett Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, rev. and expanded ed. (Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 35.

[3] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 28.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, 66.

[9] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 33.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, 134.

[12] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 34.

[13] Ibid., 40.