In the wake of voter approval of a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in Oklahoma and controversy within the Episcopalian Church concerning the consecration of a gay bishop last year, the Rev. Dr. T. Lee Stevens of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bartlesville took on the subject of “Homosexuality in the Scriptures” during a public forum held Tuesday.
The forum, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bartlesville, was the latest in a series on a variety of subjects held regularly at the church.
Stevens began the discussion by describing that he and some members of St. Luke’s began a six-week study concerning homosexuality in the Scriptures after openly gay priest Gene Robinson was consecrated as bishop in August of last year, resulting in the findings discussed at Tuesday’s forum.
Stevens said Robinson’s appointment has caused “tension” within the Church, and said that many parishioners are uncomfortable with the overall issue of homosexuality.
“We are struggling,” he said of the Episcopalian community.
During the discussion, Stevens examined several Scriptures found in Genesis, Judges, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy and Romans, noting that the Scriptures do not specifically deal with sexual orientation but rather with sexual behavior.
“There are two primary ways to talk about homosexuality,” Stevens said. “One is the way people act, what people do. It’s sexual behavior. The other (way) concerns the way people are. That is their way of being – their sexual orientation. Sometimes those get confused, but it’s very important when looking at Scriptures that those be differentiated between.”
Stevens said that in studying the Bible, he has found all references to appear on the surface to address homosexual behavior “and it is deemed unacceptable – even sinful,” he said.
“However, the Bible does not deal with sexual orientation because that concept, that way of looking at human nature was unknown to them,” he said. “It was not known until the late 19th century.”
Biblical writers knew nothing about homosexual orientation, but rather condemned homosexual behavior by heterosexual people, Stevens said.
“In biblical times, everyone was considered to be heterosexual – straight,” he said. “This explains some of the views reflected in the Bible and, as a result, the views now held by some people regarding homosexuality.”
To truly understand the Scriptures, the reader must not only consider the Scripture but also take into consideration “tradition” and “reason,” Stevens said, describing the latter two as commentary about the Scripture that has been passed down over the centuries and the insight and experiences of individuals.
“The primary source of knowing what we believe is Holy Scripture,” Stevens said. “But, with Scripture, there’s also tradition. Tradition is what people have written about, talked about, said about the Scripture concerning our faith.
“Reason is our God-given intellect and our experiences in engaging life, which includes, of course, Scripture and tradition,” he said.
In an attempt to explore opposing views regarding the Bible and homosexuality during the study, Stevens said he searched for words to accurately describe the division. Ruling out “for and against” and “pro and con,” Stevens said, he settled on “conservative and liberal,” despite his reluctance to apply labels.
In doing so, Stevens said, his study led him to believe there are “three prevalent faults” in the use of Scripture.
“A major one, primarily on the conservative side, was ‘proof-texting,’” he said. “That is looking for a passage to support your view and take it out of context to make a point. A second major fault, which is primarily on the liberal side, is ‘explaining away’ the scripture to defend one’s position.
“The third major fault I observed was the referencing of Scripture passages without actually dealing with them. No explanations, only declarations,” he said.
Stevens also pointed out selective use of the Scriptures to condemn homosexuality while ignoring others that clearly condemn behaviors widely accepted in today’s culture.
Quoting Dr. Walter Wink’s work outlined in “Homosexuality and the Bible,” Stevens said that “‘virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting incest, rape, adultery and intercourse with animals.’”
“‘But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores,’” he said quoting Wink.
Stevens went on to convey Wink’s assertions that the Bible also condemned several behaviors that are generally allowed by today’s standards, including intercourse during menstruation, celibacy, exogamy (marriage with non-Jews), naming sexual organs, nudity (under certain conditions), masturbation and birth control.
Likewise, Stevens said, the Bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn, such as prostitution, polygamy, sex with slaves and treating women as property.
“‘So why do we appeal to proof texts in Scripture in the case of homosexuality alone, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practices,’” Stevens, quoting Wink, said.
“We ignore or work around what Jesus did say about other things, such as divorce and adultery,” Stevens said. “People seem to pick and choose what can be used against others.”
While he spoke at length about several specific Scriptures commonly used to demonstrate a belief that the Bible condemns homosexuality, Stevens spent a fair amount of time responding to interruptions by a small group apparently hoping to debate the issue.
Concerning the Bible’s New Testament, Stevens pointed out that there is no direct objection to homosexuality activity outside the references of pagan rites, and that there is no reference to committed same sex relationships.
“This does not mean that other homosexual activity was considered acceptable in New Testament times,” he said. “I seriously doubt that it was. However, if this had been a problem, you would expect Paul or someone, even Jesus, to say something very directly.”
Speaking to Scripture in the New Testament, Stevens said Jesus “broke the mold” by reaching out to people who were considered to be “untouchable, unclean and unacceptable in society.”
“That’s where He started His ministry,” Stevens said. “Jesus said nothing about the matter of homosexuality. He said everything about embracing all people and respecting their dignity.
“Jesus always led with compassion and grace in nearly all His encounters. The exception seemed to be His challenge to the religious leaders who refused to deal with their own sin and used their power to oppress others.”
Stevens has spent 35 years in the ministry, serving 22 of them as a Southern Baptist minister. He holds advanced degrees in divinity and theology and has worked extensively with gays and lesbians in the Bartlesville community.