Monday, July 27, 2015

Does Biblical Liberalism Support LGBT Rights?

Ten years from now, I predict, the movement for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights will be largely successful, and Biblical religious believers will claim that this success was due to the cultural influence of Biblical religion.  Just as it is commonly argued today that the abolition of slavery and the general idea of universal human rights manifest the influence of the Biblical teaching that all human beings have equal dignity as created in the image of God, so too it will be argued that equal rights for LGBT people shows the influence of the same Biblical teaching.  What this shows is how easily the Bible--or at least the New Testament--can be interpreted as supporting classical liberal thought, as early modern classical liberals like Locke and Spinoza saw.

Right now, the debate over LGBT rights is commonly said to be a debate between secularist libertarians and religious believers.  But one can see the beginnings of the shift among Biblical religious believers towards recognizing LGBT rights.  What's most interesting about this is that the shift is beginning to occur even among some leading evangelical theologians who embrace the idea that the Bible is the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God, and who therefore must question the traditional interpretation of the Bible as condemning LGBT people.

This development has recently been covered in an article in The New York Times.  One of the leaders in this movement is the Rev. David P. Gushee, an evangelical theologian at Mercer University.  He has explained his position in a recent lecture.

Gushee draws an analogy between Christian anti-Semitism and the Christian persecution of LGBT people.  In both cases, there have been thousands of years of Christian tradition interpreting the Bible as condemning these two groups of people.  But, then, sometime around 1965, there was a shift against the tradition of Christian anti-Semitism and towards the view that the Christian teaching of universal love or the Golden Rule applies to Jews, and that the interpretation of the Bible as identifying Jews as Satanic Christ-killers is mistaken.

Now, a similar shift is beginning to emerge in the Christian view of LGBT people.  The Biblical verses that appear to condemn LGBT people are being reexamined in the light of the Christian teaching of universal love or the Golden Rule, so that Biblical believers can see that these verses have been misinterpreted, and that the Bible actually requires Christians to love LGBT people as having the same human dignity as all human beings created in God's image.

In his gay marriage decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized the word "dignity."  Rev. Gushee has said: "Dignity language is a widely used cognate for the idea that every person is made in God's image and is sacred for that reason.  So what I think Judge Kennedy did was reach to one of the core concepts of our civilization."  So for Gushee, the argument for LGBT people having equal human "dignity" that must be recognized by law rests on a secularization of a Biblical religious teaching.

My prediction is that within ten years almost all Christians will be saying this, and they will be puzzled as to why it took 2,000 years for Christians to see that this is the correct reading of the Bible's teaching.

Many Christians today cannot accept this, because they think it's obvious that giving equal rights to LGBT people violates the sexual ethics of Christianity.  But Gushee argues that LGBT people can be held to the same standard of sexual ethics that applies to all Christians--"celibacy outside of lifetime covenantal marriage, monogamous fidelity within lifetime covenantal marriage."  The Christian opponents of LGBT rights will have to dispute this.

Some of my posts on the classical liberalism inherent in the Bible can be found here, here, here, here, and here.


Anonymous said...

They should pray for them as you'd pray for anyone with a mental illness.

Anonymous said...

Except the majority of people in gay 'marriages' are non monogamous, this is celebrated as the lack of patriarchy by feminists in gay relationships. When the recent verdict came down,liberal people in Europe due to their perpetual activist state mentioned non monogamous relationships should be legalized since that affects them - since none of them are monogamous.

CJColucci said...

When enough people who consider themselves Christians come to support LGBT rights, they will simultaneously come to believe that the Bible supports them as well. Whether this is a reasonable interpretation of the text -- the nearest we can come to deciding a question as to which there is no ascertainable truth of the matter -- won't matter much.

Larry Arnhart said...

This is similar to what happened in the Christian debate over slavery. Once most Christians decided that slavery was wrong, they assumed that the Bible must condemn slavery, despite the fact that the Bible clearly endorses it.