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"Clobber Passages: LGBTQ+" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

Picture the scene: The president of the United States is about to address a gathering of radio talk show hosts in the White House. As he enters the room, they all stand and applaud. All except one — a blond woman wearing a bright green suit. As the President is addressing the group, he loses his train of thought several times before eventually speaking directly to the woman in green.


“‘I’m sorry, you’re Dr. Jenna Jacobs, right?”


“Yes, sir.”


“It’s good to have you here.


“Thank you”


The President tries to continue his speech about the power of radio communication. It doesn’t work, he’s thoroughly distracted.


“Forgive me, Dr. Jacobs, are you an M.D.?”


“A Ph.D.”


“In psychology?”


“No, sir,”


“Theology?”


“No.”


“Social work?”


“I have a Ph.D. in English literature.”


“I’m asking because on your show people call in for advice and you go by the name ‘Dr. Jacobs,’ and I didn’t know if maybe your listeners were confused by that and assumed you had advanced training in psychology, theology, or health care.”


“I don’t believe they are confused. No, sir.”


“Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.”


“I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President, the Bible does.”


“Yes, it does! “Leviticus…”


“18:22.”


“Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?


While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police?


Here’s one that’s really important, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?


Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?


Think about those questions, would you? One last thing. While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the ignorant tight-a** club, in this building when the president stands, nobody sits.”


That scene is, of course, from The West Wing. Thank you to Debie for helping me voice it, though I do owe her an apology for giving her the lousy part of Dr. Jacobs, particularly because The West Wing is her favorite show!


I wanted to start with that quote because it not only highlights the absurdity of cherry-picking from the Bible, but it also ends so gloriously with a bigot being put in her place. Who here hasn’t wanted to be President Barlett and deliver a decisive verbal smackdown to someone howling the words “homosexuals” and “abomination”? It would be so satisfying!


Of course, most of us will never get the verbal pleasure of being President Bartlett, mostly because he’s fictional and had excellent writers give him the upper hand. And yet voices like Dr. Jenna Jacobs are very real and present in our little corner of Louisiana, in our country, and in the church at large. So it’s worthwhile for us to take some time to address these “clobber passages” head-on, talking about their meaning, and context, and wrestling with why they’re included in the Bible at all.


Now I realize that some of you are already clear on what you believe and how you understand these verses. You’ve done the work, the wrestling, the deep dives. You’re no longer hurt by these passages that are so often used as weapons. I’m going to ask you to follow along anyway as your support can function as a buoy to those among us who are still stung by these verses. Who haven’t heard sermons putting these words into their proper context. Who’ve only had these verses used against them from pulpits and by pastors who professed to be loving. My hope is to relieve some of that hurt today, but as we all know, healing is a process.


I’m also a big believer in biblical refreshers, so let’s begin this discussion by reminding ourselves of the importance of context and why these verses are in the Bible at all. Context is defined as, “the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs,”[1] or in other words, context is all the things that happen around something that gives it meaning.


Take for example Welton’s stole that rests in our Narthex. To visitors that stole is a mishmash of material draped over a picture, but to those of you who were here when Welton became Northminster’s pastor that stole is a piece of fabric from your grandmother and a scrap of a beloved baby blanket.


Context is what gives simple items meaning and context is an inseparable part of reading and understanding the biblical text. This doesn’t mean that you can’t simply pick up the Bible, read a passage, and be transformed by it. But at the same time, understanding context can elevate and expand a story’s meaning.


Take for example the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which on the surface sounds like a story about little more than violence and sexual assault. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that contextually this story is also about, “a gross violation of the conventions of hospitality”[2] throughout the city and by Lot in his hosting of the two angels. This is in direct contrast to Lot’s brother Abraham who’s depicted as the epitome of hospitality.


As a personal aside, I would also say to those who point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as proof of God’s hatred of homosexuality that there’s a vast difference between consensual intimacy between two partners and the violent group sexual assault that’s depicted in this story. The two have no business being equated. Nor should we overlook Lot’s easy offering up of his daughters to the mob out of his own cowardice.


I hope you can see from this example that understanding context gives the biblical text so much more meaning!


But it doesn’t answer the question, why are these clobber passages in the Bible to begin with? Because it would be so much easier and more enjoyable to read the Bible without these passages! Alas, that’s not the text we have so we must figure out how we can best live with what’s been handed down to us.


One of the ways we do this is by remembering that the people who gave us the Bible were doing the same thing - their best to be faithful to the stories and documents entrusted to them. In the process what was produced was not a history textbook, a scientific journal, or even a reliable source of ancestry records. Rather, the Bible we have is a product of many peoples’ faithful efforts to tell the story of God and humanity and later, God through the person of Jesus and humanity. These efforts don’t make the Bible easy to read but do make it worthwhile and sacred.


Now, moving from the broad to the more specific and addressing the clobber passages directly I have four points I’ve been chewing on this week.


Point #1: The word “homosexuality” wasn’t included in any Bible until 1946.

-used in Revised Standard Version

-research done by Ed Oxford

-22 man team of translators who kept excellent records[3]

-records include Luther Allan Weigle - head of translation team - letters with a seminary student

-student challenged the use of “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “providing a detailed outline of his reasoning.”[4]

-In Weigel’s response he admitted “that the translation team had indeed made a mistake and would seek to correct it in their next update.”[5]

-Problem: Weigel had signed a contract saying he wouldn’t make any changes to the RSV for 10 years.

-During those 10 years several other translations were released that used RSV as their basis for also including “homosexuality”- New American Standard, The Living Bible, and the New International Version.


-Why did RSV committee decide “homosexual” was inaccurate?

-because in Greek the word arsenokoitai “was not condemning homosexuals, but instead those who were abusive in their pursuit of sexual encounters.”[6]

-Keep in mind that historical context shows that abusive forms of sex were quite common and included temple prostitution and owners abusing slaves.

- Bible “contains six verses that appear to condemn homosexual activity, it contains more than 200 verses that condemn heterosexual activity.”[7]

-This means a responsible reading of the text is understanding the type of sexual activity being condemned.


Point #2: 1st Century people had no context for committed, loving, monogamous same-sex relationships.

-they would have had as much conception of what a Smartphone is, to say nothing of how to use it.

-Does this mean committed same-sex relationships didn’t exist? That trans people didn’t exist? Arguable. But they certainly wouldn’t have been understood as there was simply no frame of reference.

-So is Paul condemning LGBTQ+ people? No, because Paul has no concept of LGBTQ+ people. The argument is apples and oranges.

-What we can say for certain is that “Paul definitely did not approve of the reprehensible same-sex activity that involved various abuses.”[8]

-In the 40 years since the most popular Protestant bibles have been published (NASB, TLB, NIV) “we have seen the largest amount of teen and young adult suicide in the history of the world.”[9] This is not a coincidence.


Point #3: Perhaps most important: Jesus doesn’t say a single word about homosexuality.

-Could argue: he had no frame of reference.

-But he talks about marriage, about divorce, about sexual relationships. Surely he could have if it was something he was concerned about.

-Closest we get is Jesus talking about accepting eunuchs in Matthew 19.

-want to be careful. Not equating trans people with eunuchs who were often forced into that identity. Nor am I suggesting that being trans is just about your genitialia which was more or less the case for eunuchs.

-But there are similarities and not only can we read Jesus’ words about inclusion, we can also read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts.

-Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis points out that when it comes to the story of Ethiopian eunuch there while were “earlier baptisms in the book of Acts…the author chose this [story in particular]...to illustrate the inclusion of all kinds of people into the Jesus movement. It would have been easy to tell the story of an upstanding male pillar of the Jewish community being baptized…but instead, the story was told about an outsider. That’s important.”[10]


-Getting back to the Jesus movement and Jesus himself, what do we hear? What can we read? What did Jesus talk about? What did he do?

- Jesus talked about caring for the poor. Not making religious practice and idols. He talked about being part of a community and advancing the kingdom of God.

- Jesus healed the sick, ate with those society said were off limits, made space for women to follow him in a deeply patriarchal society, and embraced children.

-Of all the things Jesus talked about homosexuality simply wasn’t one of them, but let’s remember what was.

-When he was asked what the greatest commandment in the law, this was Jesus’ response, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Conclusion: Started with Martin Sheen as President Bartlett, going to end with him as himself.

-Recently heard him give a speech on the picket line of writers and actors

-Told old Irish story “of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and asks to be let in. St. Peter says, “Of course! Just show us your scars.” The man says, “I have no scars,” and St. Peter replies, “What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

-Many of you carry scars you had no choice in. They were forced upon you by those who were supposed to love you the most.

-And for those that came for a pastor or church I am sorry.

-But remember that your scars are part of you, they inform who you are and how you treat others.

-For those of us without scars, who’ve never been told who we can and cannot love, it’s our job to make sure we don’t inflict scars on our LGBTQ+ siblings. It’s our job to remember we don’t hold some sort of moral high ground. It’s our job to speak up when we hear these clobber passages being used and remind people of how inclusive, loving, and accepting Jesus was.

-And it’s the job of us as a community to live out and spread Jesus’ most important message: Love God and love each other. Everything depends on doing these two things.




[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/context [2] The Jewish Study Bible, pg. 41. [3] Ed Oxford, “My quest to find the word ‘homosexual’ in the Bible,” August 10, 2020 from Baptist News Global. [4] Ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Daniel Villarreal, “What does the Bible say about transgender people: An in-depth look,” via LGBTQNation, May 2, 2023.

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