The Bible vs. Bible Thumpers
In the battle over gay marriage and equality, the question everyone has an answer for but nobody can agree on is the Bible’s view on homosexuality. According to author Jonathan Dudley, we’ll never agree on an answer to that question because our interpretations of the Bible are founded on preexisting values and beliefs. Failure to acknowledge this fact has led many evangelical Christians to abuse the Bible in their war against homosexuality, abortion, evolution and environmentalism, the four topics Dudley talks about in his book, Broken Words: The Abuse Of Faith And Science In American Politics.
In his book, Dudley challenges many of the cases that Christians use against these issues. Wanting to get a better understanding of his argument that “opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values, they’re using the Bible to defend their own,” I called Jonathan personally to better understand his view that although he believes gay marriage will ultimately win, it won’t win by arguing over what the Bible says.
D: You were raised an evangelical Christian and you went to Yale Divinity school, so what’s your position on gay marriage?
J: I definitely do support gay marriage. Those making arguments against it based on the Bible have assumptions about how the Bible works that aren’t true, with the idea that the Bible requires humans to adopt one position or another. What people think the Bible requires them to do reflects the beliefs they bring to the Bible…Humans should interpret the Bible guided by principles such as Augustine’s idea that if an interpretation of the Bible doesn’t promote love for other people then it’s not the right interpretation.
D: What do you believe the Bible ultimately says about homosexuality and to what degree should we interpret it versus follow it word for word?
J: We have to interpret it…I don’t think it’s even possible to not interpret it and just “take it for what it says.” When people say they’re doing that, they are just hiding the fact that what they think it “says” is actually an interpretation.
People on both sides—liberal or conservative—bring values and bring theology to the Bible that has a determining impact on how they read it. That fact itself undermines objections to gay marriage that say the Bible requires me to oppose it. It’s actually the Bible filtered through your values that requires you to do that. Of course, it also undermines arguments for gay marriage that the Bible requires us to accept it.
D: With so many lines drawn in the sand, will we ever meet on a middle ground?
J: I don’t think there will be a middle ground that we come to on the topic of gay-marriage but I do think the liberal side of this debate will ultimately win, at least in the broader American culture. People in my generation that were raised Evangelical are increasingly coming to support gay rights.
The Evangelical community tends to lag behind the broader culture on social issues, whether we’re talking the civil rights movement or feminism or environmentalism, which is unfortunate. It’s not really a progressive moral force, it’s something that holds the culture back and then changes its mind after the culture moves forward, apologizing all the while for holding things back, and I do think that will happen in many segments of the Evangelical community on gay marriage as well. In fact, it already is happening.
D: When does standing up for one’s religion become bullying?
J: I think a lot of conservative Evangelicals feel like they’ve been treated unfairly because they would say, “We don’t hate gay people, but there are moral rules and the loving thing to do is to hold people accountable to moral rules, not to just dismiss them.” If you honestly think that someone’s going to go to Hell for being in a homosexual relationship, then it does make sense, that the loving thing to do would be to try to prevent them from being in that relationship.
The problem with that is “love” is usually defined in the minds of Evangelicals as just –we have this given set of rules, we’re not gonna question that, we’re just gonna enforce it. But sometimes “love” means reevaluating the rules themselves in light of new evidence or arguments or experiences.
*D: What can you tell gays about God’s love without making them feel persecuted?8
J: It would be a message that God loves you and that your sexual orientation is not evil. And that any reading of the Bible that projects a condemnation of your sexuality onto God is not motivated by love but by unacknowledged and (usually) unconscious prejudice.
D: What’s your message to the Christian community?
J: Christians need to be more attentive to how their preexisting values shape their interpretation of the Bible, whether it’s on homosexuality or the other topics I talk about in my book, like abortion or evolution, and stop pretending they’re “just taking the Bible for what it says.”
D: What’s your message to the Gay community?
J: Gay people who may be tempted to believe that God really does condemn their sexuality should realized that throughout history, rules that are portrayed as God’s Will have quite frequently been reflections of human prejudice…What a community takes to be moral rules can reflect prejudice and…submitting to those rules is ultimately submitting to the prejudice that formed those rules…So I would just say, don’t feel that submitting to the perspectives of conservative Christian leaders on what the Bible says about homosexuality is equivalent to submitting to the will of God.