As a gay Christian, I am often confronted with what the LGBT community knows as the “clobber passages.” This is an especially evocative name for me. There have been times when someone mentions one of six supposed verses in the Bible that supposedly condemn my “lifestyle.” Every time it feels like someone took a two-by-four and hit me in the gut with it. I have to go through an elaborate mental ritual in order to deal with what I know is coming.
First, I take a deep breath and sigh a little, trying not to sound like I’m too fed up with this line of argument. Then I have to make myself smile at a person who I tell myself is well-meaning, trying to show some kind of loving attitude towards me in whatever mixed up way they think is right. I have to quickly remind myself of all the times I have ambushed someone with the goal of making them better, which means that I am no better than they are. And then I prepare myself for the inevitable – the fact that they will probably not change their minds even after I have explained things to them and dialogued with them. Then again, I’m not going to change my mind either.
The clobber passages are dangerous, not just to gays and lesbians and trans* individuals, but to the people who use them. In fact, I believe they are more damaging to the well-meaning heterosexual Christians than they are to any LGBT person. Because of this, I have shied away from mentioning them on this blog or delving deeply into the topic. Yes, this is a queer Christian blog, but I have felt no need to go over this much discussed topic. Today, however, I’m still not going to do it.
Educate, educate, educate
The first thing I will say is that if you want in-depth analysis or LGBT perspectives, Google is the best tool you have. Just use the term “clobber passages” and you’ll come up with gya-friendly, very informative links. Here are four that I have found especially useful in my own studies:
These are just a sampling of all the resources out there. It is easy to find someone or something that agrees with your point of view. I am no exception to the fact that most people like to have their views confirmed rather than challenged. I do not usually have the luxury of comfortable ignorance, however, and so I generally have as many sources disagreeing with me as confirming me. There are books, websites, articles, and scholars galore who will agree with me. There are just as many who will agree with my critics. What matters is that we educate ourselves with opinions from all sides. If you want to do that, these four links are a great place to start.
Bible Basis for an -Ism
One of the things that I have been very interested in personally is the discussion of Genesis 1:27, usually one of the last clobber passages that people point to. The verse goes like this:
God created people in his own image, in the image of God he created them; he created male and female.”
I actually really love this passage. It has an air of poetry in its phrasing, in the repetition of words and their cadence. From a purely English major-y perspective, their beautiful words. But I also like the ways in which this verse can be interpreted, which I do purely based on my own experience of textual analysis and my knowledge of theology.
Firstly, both male and female are in the image of God. It does not say, “He created the dude in his image and the woman was an afterthought.” No, “he created them” in his image. Both men and women have the image of the divine in them.
There are arguments, of course, about what this means. For instance, what does it say about the gender of God? Christianity most often insists that the gender of God is masculine. Jewish philosophy, however, does not assign a gender to God at all. Which is right? If we are to believe the Bible from this passage, God has aspects of both. However, my question to this argument has always been a follow up question: Do you really think God who is outside time, space, and any other dimension we experience really has a gender at all? I agree far more with Jesish philosophy which avoids assigning God a gender at all. But for clarity’s sake, I use masculine pronouns, not as a statement of gender, but aas an acknowledgment of my culture’s norms of language. We don’t really have a gender neutral pronoun to refer to persons. It is a shortcoming of our language in this matter.
Because God is outside of designations of gender, all people are created in his image. And yet there is still sexism that has certain passages of the Bible to supposedly back it up. This passage gets ignored or explained away. But it points out the lengths that people have to go to in order to support their sexist views Biblically.
If you read through Evangelicals Concern Inc.’s links to the clobber passages, you will notice that there is reference to another -ism regarding this verse: heterosexism. The quote provided is this:
Crude natural law ideas are… read into… the early chapters of Genesis. … This view [supports] the ‘physicalist’ ethical model upon which heterosexism is built. … This view of creation is based upon the obvious anachronism of reading 13th century definitions of nature into ancient Hebrew texts.”
Some of the problem is that heterosexuality is read into this text by pointing out the distinction of the sexes. Instead of focusing on the shared image of God that all people share, it goes straight to the differences and takes for granted what it already wants to believe: that there is only one way to have a relationship. I’ll leave it to the website to discuss why this is wrong.
What I want to focus on is how the Bible is used to create an inequality that does not need to be there. Just like sexism, heterosexism is also not supported by the Bible. Instead, the Scriptures get twisted into saying whatever people want them to say. That is the central job of the clobber passages. They are not used in a way that is meant to create deeper understanding. They are simply used to back up people’s pre-conceptions and opinions.
The Forgotten Image
I would rather look at this passage as neither evidence for or against anything, but as a means of discussing the image of God. What is this image that all people are created in? Too often we forget to discuss this concept when discussing this passage, which is a real shame.
So what do you think it is? The image of God?
Jesus is a good place to start. He taught us that we were God’s family, his children. That makes the unconditional love of a parent key in understanding God’s image. Jesus all taught us the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. God treats us like he would like us to treat him. Caring, loving, centered on us, unconditional – these are what we are supposed to be like. We are supposed to be like Jesus, too, the only human being to ever be the perfect image of God. What did Jesus do that we should be doing? For the answer to that, read the New Testament.
It is because of how forgotten the image of God is that I have not addressed the clobber passages directly here. There are far more important things to be discussing. For instance, I have never had someone come up to me and talk about how we are failing to reflect God into the world as Genesis 1:27 says we do. That would be a conversation I would willingly have without my warm-up ritual of breathing and sighing. That is the conversation I would rather be having with you.
Yes, the clobber passages exist. No, they are not the fullness of biblical interpretation. And yes, they are harmful to me and to others of the LGBT community. But they are just as harmful to the people using them as weapons. They have led so many people on both sides of the argument to ignore what is most important – God. Because of this, I have decided not to distract anyone else with them. They are simply not as important as God is.