Freeing the Bible from fear
Most GLBT people are afraid of the Bible. Who can blame them? For probably as long as they can remember they’ve been told this book — that is the inerrant Word of the Almighty God, mind you — in no uncertain terms condemns them — eschews their very existence. That’s a might heavy revelation.
Rev. Samuel Kader is out to make a heavy revelation of his own — the Bible is nothing to be afraid of. Instead of condemning homosexuality, like we’ve been taught, Kader makes it clear in his new book Openly Gay, Openly Christian: How the Bible Really Is Gay Friendly that the Bible is a source of strength and joy for GLBT people. Instead of an instrument of fear promising death, the Bible is an instrument joy, promising life for everyone be they gay, lesbian, bi, trans, straight or otherwise.
“Our community has been sold a bill of goods that says, ‘God hates you and the Bible says so,'” Kader explained. “I want people to realize there’s wonderful stuff in [the Bible] for you. There’s nothing in here that will hurt you. You won’t go to hell if you read this book.”
Kader goes a long way to dispelling that fear of eternal damnation many GLBT Christians have struggled to overcome. The tool he uses to tear down that fear the very tool anti-gay Christians use to build it … Strong’s Concordance.
“There are many books out there but none of them addressed the issue from an evangelical perspective,” he explains. “Someone might pick up other books and think, ‘yeah, but that’s not really what it means.’ Most evangelical Christians would, to prove they were right, would get their Strong’s Concordance and look for things. So, I thought, let’s use the very tools that those who say we’re wrong would use.”
By making reference to Strong’s Concordance, Kader carefully builds his case based on the Greek and Hebrew words used in the passages those who oppose us say condemn us.
He first tackles the story used most often to condemn gays and lesbians … that of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re all familiar with the story. Lot houses two angels in his home, and the men of Sodom show up, demanding to know the strangers. The furor raised is over the phrase “to know.” Ask a preacher bent on using this passage to condemn gays and lesbians and he’ll tell you that phrase means they wanted to sexually “know” the strangers. They wanted to homosexually assault them. Kader says that’s not the case.
The original word, according to Strong’s, is yada, which “is used over 900 times in the Bible. In all but ten times, it means to be acquainted with, to observe, to recognize, to have an understanding.” Kader argues that if the men of Sodom wanted to sexually assault the strangers a different Hebrew word would have been used, specifically shakab. “That’s the Hebrew word that means to rape, to carry away by force, homosexually, heterosexually, or for bestiality,” Kader concludes.
He further makes his case by looking closely at who exactly came to visit Lot that night. Genesis 19:4 tells us all the “men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house.” However, the word used for “men” does not mean “male human being.” According to Strong’s the word ‘enowsh means “a mortal”… “hence a person in general (singly or collectively).”
“Thus we have a gathering of all the mortals. Men and women, young children and aged senior citizens are all present. The Bible is not talking about a crowd of homosexual men. It is talking about a crowd comprised of every human being who lives in this city … what is occurring is a mob scene. Is it a mob scene of all homosexuals? Some people obviously think so.”
Kader continues his argument using Strong’s to tear down the myth that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality. His close study of the original words used extends to other passages that mention Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible, concluding as Ezekial did that it was indifference and arrogance that brought the demise of the cities:
“The people of Sodom were not gay. They had plenty, were prosperous, and yet were arrogant and inhospitable. In many ways the inhabitants of Sodom were like much of the Church’s treatment of gays today.”
Strong’s proves to be a powerful ally in putting the other passages, like those in Leviticus and Romans, said to condemn gays into perspective, and effectively neutralizes any arguments made by anti-gay Christians.
Kader knows even this close of a study of the actual words used by the writers of the Bible will do little to change many minds in the opposite camp, however.
“I don’t expect everyone who is Christian to read this and find it a great revelation,” he concedes. “They’ll call it twisted and I’m not surprised. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to convey the truth.”
That truth is about the all-inclusive love of God, not the politics of division and exclusion that permeate today’s mainstream churches.
“The Bible warns about false prophets and teachers who will take you into bondage. I think those are the things we experience when people tell us we’re not going to heaven,” he explains. “They’re lies to keep us in bondage. Many who tell us this may mean well but they don’t realize they’re not really loving their neighbor. If they loved their neighbor they would want to see them gain peace with God instead of badgering them into a corner until, like a frightened animal, it snaps back. They’re operating out of duty instead of love. Operating out of duty you have to win so many souls and have so many notches in your belt so you’ll have a crown when you get to glory.”
Kader sees a true movement of love within the GLBT Christian community.
“When a straight person comes to our church we’re delighted they’re there. When someone’s mother comes to service they’re given a round of applause. Now, if Mom took her lesbian daughter to her church and introduced her she would not get a round of applause, she’d be shown the back door.”
But not before she was told the Bible condemns her in no uncertain terms. While Kader has used his book to dispel that myth, he changes course in the second half of the book, using it to discuss how the Bible speaks “a clear word of hope and love to the gay community.”
His first argument centers on the Bible’s use of the word “eunuch” to describe everything from castrated males, to courtiers to “one who voluntarily abstains from marriage with someone of the opposite sex.” He makes the case that some eunuchs were most likely homosexuals. Eunuchs traditionally were excluded from the church along with women. Reviewing the many scriptures that deal with eunuchs he shows that even these social outcasts were finally included within the household of God.
The most common scripture used to illustrate this point is Philip’s conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-31.
“Philip, as a good Jew of the first century who would never have associated with a foreigner such as an Ethiopian, much less a eunuch, went down into the water with him, and baptized him. What could hinder him? The only thing that mattered was his belief in Christ. If a person will believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Who died for our sins, there is nothing that hinders them from being baptized.”
This is Kader’s ultimate message to gays and lesbians within the pages of this well-written, concise look at scripture. Ultimately, nothing stands between us and God, not a church, not a holy book, not our sexual orientation. The good news is more and more GLBT Christians are hearing that message and believing.
“God is moving in the gay community, bringing restoration and reconciliation. No matter how much others try to force us back into their tradition and theology so they can be comfortable, it is too late. Gay Christians can no more go back into old wineskins of bondage, believing they are unloved by God, an abomination, or unworthy, than a butterfly at liberty can go back into its cocoon. They have become new wineskins getting filled with new revelation from the unfolding of scripture.”
The process of coming to the revelation that the Bible holds no condemnation of GLBT people is a long and rocky one, filled with pitfalls and emotional trauma from friends, family and the mainstream church. Kader’s book is an excellent resource to have as we journey from fear to fullness in Christ.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.