The recent Israel Folau controversy has highlighted various issues: freedom of expression in modern society, the place of religion in Australian society, the ethics of professionalism … and questions of biblical interpretation.
For people within the Uniting Church, the Basis of Union provides a foundation for careful and prayerful thinking about scripture. The Basis affirms that the witness of scripture is to be understood through the work undertaken by scholarly interpreters, by insights that have arisen in scientific and medical investigation, by understandings that have developed in society, as we better understand how human beings operate and how they function. All of these are important matters to consider when we think about human sexuality.
A number of passages are regularly cited in relation to matters of human sexuality, and particularly homosexuality. We need to think about those sections of scripture in the light of this way of approaching the biblical texts.
Elizabeth and I have written a brief discussion of the texts most often cited when “homosexuality” is debated by Christian people–especially conservative Christian people. It is an expansion of our earlier blog post (noted below).
A longer discussion of these issues is now posted on the Uniting Network website (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf) as part of a collection of resources for Open and Affirming Churches (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/open-and-affirming-project/)
LGBTIQ+ people often refer to these passages as the “clobber passages”, since they are regularly (mis)used to “clobber” people who identify as LGBTIQ or other related designations.
These texts were originally written either in Hebrew or in Greek, so there are questions about how particular words should be translated, whether there are exact equivalences in English, and so on. Many translations use the word “homosexual” where the original language actually requires more nuance in translation.
A second factor is that we need to reflect on the cultural customs of the societies within which the Bible came to be written. It is important to consider how these cultural customs have shaped the way in which the words were written. “Homosexuality” is a modern concept, which was not known to the writers of the biblical texts in the way that we understand it.
Scripture does not include anything relating to the loving, committed, lifelong relationship of two people of the same gender. So we need to take care when we use these “clobber passages” in our discussions. None of them should actually be used to criticise LGBTIQ+ people.
Alongside these passages, there are many sections of scripture which provide a more positive outlook on human sexuality. So we have offered a short reflection on a number of the key affirming and inclusive verses.
Our discussion of these passages can be read at
Geoff Thompson has a careful consideration of the cluster of issues in the Israel Folau scenario at https://theconversation.com/amp/why-christians-disagree-over-the-israel-folau-saga-118773