Saved by The Arc: how the Bible reveals a way forward for complex human issues like LGTBQ+ and wait, aren’t all human issues complex?
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” -MLK JR
The Bible can be a gift or a curse.
Yes, I believe this is true. Some of you are already feeling slightly lightheaded at anyone suggesting the words of Scripture possibly being a curse. I know, I know. Hang in there. You can do this. It’s a gift as it points to the way of life, but if one stops, and sets up basecamp in the least beautiful or inhospitable places, then the sacred text can be burdensome. Surprisingly, Jesus says it better than I do. One time, loud enough for the religious leaders to overhear, because Jesus’ manners left a little to be desired, he said, "The religious leaders make the banquet of God's word into a bundle of rules." Another time, apparently tired of being coy, he turned directly to them and said, "You've neglected more important things like justice and mercy in order to follow your law." Like I said, he says it better. When we use passages in the Bible to reinforce “our law,” or otherwise overemphasize prohibitions against specific behaviors, it can turn dangerous. This thing, I invite you to picture someone, as I refer to it as, “a thing,” nervously holding an actual Bible at arm’s length, isn’t safe. We have to approach it with respect, humility, and my favorite hyphenated combination of words when talking about the Bible: intellectual-honesty. The Bible can reveal directions, but also why we’re so bad at following directions. It can give answers, but also why we’re so addicted to seeking answers. In all of this, it’s something of a Rorschach Test. We can read the Bible, but also, it’s reading us.
I’ve been stumbling my way through the forest of scriptures all my life. Somewhere along the hike, it occurred to me that it was impossible, in spite of what a lot of people had told me, to get the words of the Bible to relinquish answers to specific questions.
I mean, yes, there were specific answers not to kill, but are there specific answers about killing in war? Hmm. I mean, of course, there were specific answers about not being greedy, but is it specific when it comes to how culpable I am for the culture of greed I live in? Hmm, some more. Obviously, we shouldn’t lie, but what if the lie is to protect someone? More hmm-ing. Yes, it told me specifically that if someone was gay it would be OK, even encouraged, to execute them, while also telling me in the same passage, specifically to love my neighbor, and eating shellfish was an abomination, which led me to the specific question of, “Hey, what should I do if my neighbor friend is flamboyantly eating shrimp with another neighbor friend of the same sex? I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t kill them, but should I punch somebody? Or give them dirty looks? Or maybe I should just turn the shrimp bowl over in disgust and make a dramatic exit.” So, yes, I’ve been stumbling around the woods for quite a while.
I’m no Robert Frost, but as I started down a less-traveled path a couple of things emerged that made all the difference. I don’t know what to call the first other than love. Please stop rolling your eyes. It’s true! I noticed again, and again that though I appeared to be going in circles a lot, that it never felt like God was upset or mad. Actually, just the opposite. It felt like God was full of grace, or mercy, or patience, or, well, yes, love. What else could one call it? And then I read John 4:18 one day, “God is love.” Actually, I had read it a thousand times before, but one day I read it and then paused to think. Could it be this simple? I knew what I was feeling, and what I was thinking so I decided that yes, it could be this simple. I didn’t tell a lot of people, of course. I was smart enough to know that one can’t just run around suggesting that, “it turns out this whole thing is simple.”
Something else emerged as I was whacking tree limbs out of the way on my journey. I decided the only person in the text that seemed to make any sense was Jesus. Actually, he didn’t always make sense, but his life was very compelling. Have you read about him? He was constantly upsetting the arrogant, religious, and rich while esteeming the humble, the irreligious, and the poor. Even more, he identified with the humble, irreligious, and poor to the point of becoming one of them. And no matter how often I read it, I never ceased to be amazed at how upset this made the arrogant, religious, and rich. So upset that they turned to scapegoating, the oldest trick in the book, to assuage their anger. Yes, they, in their lust to maintain power, marginalized the one who had no use for power. Seriously, how mean were they? And how great was Jesus? So, I just started paying attention to Jesus and what he taught more than the other Biblical characters and what they taught. I know, I know, some of you think I’m going down a slippery slope here of possibly ignoring parts of the Bible that don’t have Jesus in them, but please just slow down. I’m not saying the rest of it isn’t inspired, but what it’s inspired to do is to point toward Jesus. Anyhow, you know what I think is a slippery slope? When people use the phrase, “slippery slope.” It’s usually just a way for fearful people to get out of having a conversation with you. And that’s what I call a, “slippery slope.”
So, I’m climbing, hiking, mostly stumbling on, like, how do I talk about this Bible thing if there aren’t specific answers? How do I promote it to others when it contains ideas that seem to contradict themselves? How are some (most?) of these rules relevant? But, the things emerging are… God is love, and Jesus. And I just kept watching Jesus. Little by little I realized Jesus was the way to begin to understand the entire text. Maybe it was when I read Him saying, “You have been studying scriptures, but you don’t realize they point to me.” That’s a pretty good clue. And when I matched that up to how Biblical writers were saying he was, “God with us,” “the visible image of the invisible God,” and how he was, “the exact representation of God." Well, I realized this is an excellent place to pitch a tent.
Recap: God is love ->Love is turning away from power to give one’s life away for the powerless -> This is what Jesus did -> Jesus is God. (Rinse and repeat.)
I started mulling this four-part-movement over and over. I thought about it in different ways, and something began materializing in my mind's eye… what was it…? It was some kind of movement, a movement toward light, and freedom, and possibilities. It started somewhere, but where it was going was really interesting… I started picturing something arcing toward the powerless… that’s it, it’s an arc! Yes, I started imagining an arc. Somewhat hidden with the pages of the Sacred Text is a type of movement that looks like an arc. You can characterize the movement in lots of ways, I suppose, but I best see it as a “Christ-informed Arc.” I wasn’t sure where or why it started, but I was figuring out where it was headed. It was headed toward life. And freedom. And possibilities. Yes, I got saved by The Arc.
How could I begin to explain this in a way that would allow me to help you interpret Scripture? Ok, let me give a couple of examples. Maybe we’ll start with a subject like slavery. You probably know this, but there’s no place in the Bible we find the sentence, “Slavery is wrong.” What we find is a lot of talk about slavery, the whole Hebrews as slaves story where they are freed, only to build their own empire on the back of slaves, and then we have Jesus saying things like, “Love your neighbor,” and then way back in a tiny little letter at the end of the NT, you find Paul encouraging his friend Philemon to receive his former slave, Onesimus, back as a friend. The text never once says, “Slavery is wrong. Don’t do it!” But, we see The Arc, right? It’s the movement of love toward the powerless. We watch it. We let it inform us. And, crucial piece of navigating coming up here, we’re careful not to listen to the powerful, that is, the ones doing the enslaving. For example, when it comes to the issue of slavery, we don’t draw our theology from the white plantation owner from 1850s. And it’s not just because he’s evil, though some may have been, in general, we’re not interested in demonizing him that way. In doing so, we could turn this whole thing back in on itself and miss truth. No, we want our own discernment to be informed by The Arc too, so we don’t scapegoat the white plantation owner, we simply recognize he represents the powers. And what we learn from The Arc is that the powers always wind up scapegoating the powerless. So, in this discussion, we don’t even care what the plantation owner thinks. No, we sense the arc. It’s arcing toward the powerless. We’re not sure where or even why it started, but we know where it’s going. The Arc is life. The Arc is freedom. We’re saved by The Arc.
How about everyone’s favorite, and happy subject like the eunuchs in ancient civilizations? Well, there’s no place that we find a sentence like, “Be a eunuch. It’s good and holy, and acceptable to God.” What do we find? We find OT laws prohibiting eunuchs from entering the temple, then later the prophet Isaiah challenging the idea, later still, we get the story of Philip visiting with a eunuch who eventually says, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?" Thank God the answer is, “not a thing!” What’s going on here? Is this not a movement? We don’t get exact answers, but we sense The Arc. We watch it. We let it inform us. We’re careful not to listen to the powerful, that is, the ones who’ve made it a thing to emasculate boys, and men. We don’t draw our theology from kings the queens who perpetuated this practice. Not because they’re bad, though undoubtedly, some of them were. We don’t want to demonize them that way. In doing so, we could turn this whole thing back in on itself and miss truth. No, we want our own discernment to be informed by The Arc too, so we don’t scapegoat the aristocracy, we simply recognize they represent the powers. And we learn from The Arc that the powers always wind up scapegoating the powerless. So, in this discussion, we don’t even care what the kings and queens have to say. We sense the arc. It’s arcing toward the powerless. We’re not sure where or even why it started, but we know where it’s going. The Arc is life. The Arc is freedom. We’re saved by The Arc.
And now what you’ve all been waiting for: Bringing the idea of The Arc into the always-popular, and unifying topic of homosexuality. OK, we see the discussion started somewhere in the text. Obviously, we have to locate the start of the dialogue within the Levitical prohibitions. And while there’s no place in the book that says, “Being gay is OK,” there is an arc. Actually, since we brought up the example of the eunuch, that might be a good place to locate The Arc, for eunuchs, were at times, necessarily left without a desire for the opposite sex. So, one could superimpose those thoughts over this thought and be done with it, but I can't help myself, so I'm bringing up Romans 1 too. This doesn’t seem like a great idea at first (story of my life) because Romans 1 doesn’t paint homosexuality in a favorable light. However, Romans 2 opens with this line, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself…” so, it appears the point of the argument in Romans 1 is not to tell us what the worst thing is, rather, it’s to use the weight of that argument to get the reader off-balance, in order to say, “Oh, yeah, homosexuality is obviously the worst thing,” so that Paul can say, “Hey, Mr. Obviously Worst Thing… you’re guilty of passing judgment! You are sinning!” And I have a bunch of other questions about Romans 1 (six others actually), but we’ll have to save that for a later time.
The point is, The Arc. I hope you see it. It favors the powerless. The Arc tells us we could do precisely what the Bible says (e.g., shun people) and miss precisely what the Bible says (e.g., love people). How amazingly infuriating is that? So, thank God for The Arc! We watch it. We let it inform us. We listen. We’re very careful not to listen to the powerful, that is, in this case, the ones historically doing our theology. We don’t draw our theology from the heterosexual. And it’s not because he’s bad. I use the masculine pronoun here because historically men are the only ones who’ve done theology. Oh, and because the Bible prohibits women from teaching men, so why even bother? So, not because the heterosexual is bad. We don’t want to demonize him that way. In doing so, we could turn this whole thing back in on itself and miss truth. No, we want our own discernment to be informed by The Arc too. We don’t scapegoat the heterosexual male theologian, we simply recognize he represents the powers. And we learn from The Arc that the powers always wind up scapegoating the powerless. So, in this discussion, we’re just not infatuated with his perspectives. No, we sense the arc. It’s arcing toward the powerless. We’re not sure where or even why it started, but we know where it’s going. The Arc is life. The Arc is freedom. We’re saved by The Arc. And ironically, in this instance, it’s the church that has made the powerless, even more powerless. The church led by whom? Correct, the heterosexual theologian. If you put 100 people in a room, and 99 are heterosexual, and 1, for whatever reason, is homosexual, what do you think is going to happen? The 99 will always be in power. The 99 will decide what is natural, and unnatural, what’s shameful, what’s not shameful, what’s an abomination, and what’s not an abomination. What does The Arc do? The Arc leaves the 99 and goes after the 1.
We are people of The Arc. It’s what drives us to confront racism. It’s what motivates us to extend grace to the outsider. It’s what compels us to depopulate the sex trafficking industry. It’s what has asked us to name unhealthy patriarchy. It’s what invites us to visit the poor. And… it’s what burns in our heart as we consider our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who for a variety of different reasons, have identified as LGTBQ+.
It’s The Arc.
Not seeing The Arc led me to use my power to look down upon those without any power. Resisting The Arc left me with only one option, which is to scapegoat LGTBQ+ humans! This is wrong, and I repent.
I am one individual, a member of a local church, which is a part of a denomination, within the protestant family, inside of Christianity, within humanity. I have very little power. With whatever influence I have I ask humanity for forgiveness and then I invite love into my life This may have no effect whatsoever. Then again, maybe as the individual goes, so goes humanity. So, I just invite love in. Period.
May humanity be blessed.
All of this thinking and more informs my Scripture navigation. Which is good. Because the Bible isn’t safe. One could say it’s a gift. Or one could say it's a curse. I think with God’s help, we can choose which one it will be. As for me, I think it’s a gift. And the only way I arrive at this conclusion is by way of The Arc. Yes, it’s cool Noah and his family was saved by the ark, but what’s saving all of us is The Arc.