by Brian Walsh
They’ve come to be known as the “clobber texts.”
You know the one’s I’m talking about.
Those six texts – count them, there are six! ‑ that purportedly are about homosexuality.
Six texts in the whole Bible.
I don’t know, but somehow the more than 2000 texts in the Bible that address poverty and justice just seem to outweigh these six texts.
So when I meet the “God hates faggots” crowd with their self-righteous hatred, I’ve got to admit that I get pretty pissed off.
Or at a less extreme level, when I hear folks say that homosexuality is the litmus test for “orthodox biblical faith,” while legitimating and enjoying the benefits of an economic system characterized by exploitation, injustice and environmental rape, then I’ve got to admit that I just don’t take that kind of talk too seriously.
Some years ago I taught in another academic institution and the issue of homosexuality had the chairman of the board all upset. So he summoned the faculty to his house for dinner and a conversation about how this school would situate itself in relation to gay and lesbian rights. I simply said that if we were going to situate ourselves institutionally in relation to this issue, then I would insist that we did the same in relation to the question of global capitalism. Surely, biblical faith is more concerned about socio-economic oppression than it is about matters of same gender relationships. The chairman said that the two issues had nothing to do with each other and that he had set the agenda for the evening. I sat in silence for the rest of the proceedings.
I think that sex and economics are always related.
Violent economic structures and sexual violence are always found together.
Oppressing the most vulnerable poor
will always be coupled with sexual oppression.
Unrestrained economic greed and insatiable sexual desire
are always in the same bed.
An ecologically rapacious economy is at the heart of a culture of rape.
Where avarice and greed rule the economy,
sexual commodification will rule the bedroom.
And idolatrous economies will always prey on the young. Always.
So let me put my cards on the table here.
I don’t believe that any of the six ‘clobber texts’ have anything to do with the question of same sex committed relationships that we are talking about these days. Not one of them.
But I think that they are all concerned with the relationship of sexual practice and our broader socio-economic lives.
So I’ve been thinking about Romans 1.26-32. If there is a ‘clobber text’ that trumps all other ‘clobber texts’ this is it.
And consistent with the subversion of the Roman imperial ideology that is pulsing through these opening sentences of Paul’s letter, he doesn’t let up when it comes to the sexual and socio-economic practices of the empire.
If Romans 1.18-25 debunked Roman religious arrogance by dismissing the empire as lost in idolatry, then Paul simply keeps the argument going in what follows through a deconstruction of the inherent virtue of the empire by attacking both the sexuality of the imperial household and the kind of debased imagination that has taken Rome captive.
In the end, Paul dismisses the Roman way of life as nothing less than an imperial way of death.
Is this a clobber text? Well, yes.
But what is the apostle attacking?
Together with a list of no less than twenty other vices and behaviours that can only serve to render Roman culture and Roman households as places of betrayal, violence, and heartlessness.
And how does this address the question of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who want to form households of trust, fidelity, hospitality and love? Is this passage really opposed to what these dear friends long for?
I don’t think so.
So I refuse to clobber these sisters and brothers with this text.
Don’t forget that what begins as a criticism of the Roman body-politic in chapter one is answered by Paul’s own vision of a Christian body-politic in chapter twelve of this epistle. Here is the kind of community that Paul is striving to form at the heart of the empire:
A community of one body.
A community of genuine love and mutual affection,
where we outdo one another in showing honor.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.
A community that strives towards harmony and lives towards shalom.
And a community where we do not claim to be wiser than we are.
It seems to me that we need to come together to worship as this kind of community.
As a community of love and mutual affection, a community of mutual honoring of each other, we come to pray, to sing, and to share in the body and blood of our Lord.
And it as such a community that we come to these troublesome words at the end of Romans, chapter one.