When I saw the announcement for Craig Bettendorf’s new book A Biblical Defense Guide for Gays, Lesbians and Those Who Love Them my first reaction was to groan. Why in the world do we need yet another book about what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality? Haven’t we beat that dead horse enough? Why must we keep coming back to the Bible to finally make peace with our sexuality and our spirituality?
So, I asked Bettendorf, and his answer made me understand why there can never be too many books, too many Web sites, too many resources on what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.
“A person needs to understand a weapon that’s being used against them,” he explained patiently. “When you are told by a person who allegedly knows what the Bible says – that not only are you a bad person but you have no chance to survive in the afterlife – you owe it to yourself to get that book and read it and see where they came up with that opinion.” Exactly. We continue to study the Bible and what it says about our lives because so often it has been used as a weapon against us – a weapon to bludgeon us, keep us silent and fearful. If books on the subject help us to disarm this weapon, then Bettendorf’s offering is an effective tool to neutralize those armed to the teeth with scripture.
I even learned a thing or two from this retired bishop from the Evangelical Anglican Church in America. He tackles all the usual suspects like Romans 1 and the Holiness Code, but with new twists on the old arguments. To show that inhospitality was the ultimate sin of Sodom, Bettendorf recalls the story of the fall of Jericho to prove just how indispensable this ancient custom was to the Hebrews.
“It was just so absolutely obvious that Rahab, who was stigmatized by her culture as woman and a prostitute, which was absolutely the lowest rung on society’s ladder at that time, but she and her family were the only one’s spared the sword when Joshua won the battle of Jericho,” Bettendorf explained. “The only reason she was spared was that she saved his scouts who went into the city to scope it out before the attack and ultimate destruction of her city. The whole concept of hospitality and how seriously the OT and the Hebrew people took this concept of hospitality just led me right back to Sodom and it was no longer a gay man reading the Bible hoping for something that clicked, it was so obvious to me that these stories parallel each other.”
In the book Bettendorf concludes:
“The argument of Sodom being destroyed for sexual perversion holds no water when compared to this story in Joshua chapter six. Secondly, what does measure up is that Rahab was spared for offering hospitality to strangers, thus fulfilling the rite of hospitality and that Sodom acting totally inhospitable to its strangers broke that rite without doubt.” (p. 35)
Bettendorf said his background – cutting his theological teeth while attending conservative Moody Bible College – gave him an advantage when approaching the scripture.
“I think I was blessed to be able to see with the same tinted glass that fundamentalist Christians see with today. At the time I don’t think I understood what a benefit it would be to me later in life, but I think it turned out to be very beneficial,” he said.
Bettendorf left his conservative roots in the 1970s as anti-gay sentiments began to grow in the church. He relocated to Los Angeles, but still could find only a few progressive churches.
During his time in L.A., Bettendorf said he began to feel ‘the poking of the Holy Spirit.’
“That’s when you have your mind made up that life is going to be one way but the Holy Spirit in its wisdom decides otherwise. After begin poked and prodded for a number of months, I considered the possibility of re-entering ministry,” he said. But, he didn’t find a good match with the churches available to him like Metropolitan Community Church or the Unitarians. He found himself drawn instead to the Philippines where he became part of the Philippine Independent Church (Anglican Church of Philippines).
“It was a church in which every single parishioner understood the concept of oppression and mutuality,” he said.
He was ordained a priest with them in 1993 and eventually returned to Los Angeles to lead affiliated congregations there. After the 1993 March on Washington, Bettendorf struggled with being more out and how to move the church to do more to minister to people with AIDS and provide good role models for the rest of the community. He eventually left the Philippine church and began pastoring a small independent Anglican church in Los Angeles where he helped to found the Anglican Institute of Affirmative Christian Studies.
It was out of this association that his book was born. He developed the material for ten one-hour workshops that he presented around the country in the late 90s. A friend urged him to put it into book form and finally moved Bettendorf to do so after he transcribed tapes of the workshops and sent them to Bettendorf.
We should all be thankful that he did. Bettendorf’s book is a valuable addition to the plethora of material on the Bible and homosexuality. Bettendorf said he designed the “little book” (it’s only 100 pages long) to be a quick, but still scholarly, read.
“The concept behind this little book is that you can sit down in one or two readings and read it from cover to cover and do some highlighting and then grab your Bible and do some studies with it. The idea is to speak to the common person,” he said. “It’s written for the teenager in high school who has just been approached by three or four evangelical Bible carrying kids who have convinced them their soul is in mortal danger and they’re going straight to hell and they’re going to the bathroom to slit their wrists. It’s written for the mother or wife or daughter of a gay person who has just come out to them and is emotionally shaken by this because they haven’t taken the journey and have no way of understanding and can at least begin the journey.”
For anyone on that journey, Bettendorf is a great guide to take along.
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.