It has been a week since the United Methodist General Conference in Saint Louis. The main debate was on human sexuality, with delegates voting to determine whether or not to allow people on the LGBTQ spectrum to be ordained and serve as clergy in The UMC. The other debate was whether clergy can officiate at same-gender weddings in their local United Methodist churches. The Conference adopted the Traditional Plan, which has harsher penalties for clergy who marry same-gender couples and continues to prohibit the ordination of practicing LGBTQ people. This vote made me start thinking about the methodologies used in the interpretation of Scripture. In other words, how do we practice proper exegesis of scripture? In her book, Our Lives Matter, Pamela R. Lightsey considers how queer theory and theological deconstruction may be used as ways of looking at scripture, with the assumption that the text has no stable reference and can have many interpretations.[1] Below I will offer a general overview of deconstruction and discuss how it may be applied to our church’s debate on human sexuality in the church.

One of the goals of queer theologies is deconstruction of the biblical text “to expose its contradictions and the impossibility of a unified and precise interpretation.”[2] At the heart of this argument is the conviction that it is incorrect to maintain that “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” because the  text can have no literal meaning. There is no fixed reality of meaning since the meaning of the text comes from the context in which it is written and/or read. In addition, we posit our life experiences into our reading of the text and these experiences may not have existed in the original context. As Lightsey observes, “Filtering data through the context (to include experience and culture) of the observer means – according to post-structuralist philosophers – that there is no disinterested, unbiased, or objective knowledge as purported by the structuralists.[3] In other words, we make the text say what we want it to say. So, for queer theologians it is important to understand scripture through deconstruction, for this suggests that the “clobber” passages may not actually mean what some believe they mean.

Deconstruction can help us understand that there is no clear meaning to the text that we can discern with our own biases in play. In addition, while we profess that scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the writings that comprise the Bible were composed by humans. Thus, the use of binary, hegemonic language in the texts should be recognized as culturally conditioned and not used as a basis for further marginalizing LBGTQ people. Through deconstruction, The United Methodist Church can draw the circle wider to include God’s love for all people.

[1] Pamela R. Lightsey, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 15-27.

[2] Lightsey, Our Lives Matter, 20.

[3] Lightsey, Our Lives Matter, 21.