SHIFT: How Progressives Read the Bible as LGBTQ+ Affirming

by Bill White

My lesbian friend, H., approached me a bit bashfully after church one Sunday. “Bill, I’m so grateful that our church is fully welcomes LGBTQ+ folks, but I actually don’t understand why. Can you help me understand how you read the Bible as LGBTQ+ affirming?” I hadn’t seen that request coming! As I thought about it more though, this question made so much sense. Most “churched” people have heard the “traditional/conservative” reading of Scripture many times. The “progressive” reading, on the other hand, is much less widely shared and understood. We needed to fill that gap!

So a week later a few of us started putting together a plan for a simple gathering in my home. Our intention: to welcome anyone with this question to come, whatever their theological starting point, and talk through a Jesus-centered reading of the Bible as LGBTQ+ affirming, including gay marriage and gender transitions. We’d take Q&A. We’d stay curious (not combative). And we’d care for each other as we talked through these sensitive matters. After all, some of the traditional/conservative folks would themselves be LGBTQ+, and we wanted to treat their faith journeys with total respect.

The format was simple. We invited people from our little church to a simple lunch and conversation in my living room after a Sunday service. Then those folks ended up inviting friends as well. Imagine our surprise when 43 people showed up, from across the theological spectrum! We actually had to open the sliding glass door to the patio to make it an indoor-outdoor event.

Seminar, Reading the Bible as LGBTQ+ Affirming

It’s More than the Bible’s “Clobber” Passages

Though we got there eventually, we didn’t start in the well-known “clobber” passages like Leviticus 18 and Romans 1. Instead we waded in by orienting ourselves to how scripture is interpreted differently by different followers of Jesus (in general and specifically around human sexuality and gender). For example, for the first four centuries of the church’s existence, the piece in Romans 1 about women exchanging natural relations for unnatural was universally interpreted – including by Augustine! – as about women allowing men to have anal sex with them. Only much later was it interpreted as a ban on lesbian sex.

Even more than the clobber passages, people were interested in learning about the first creation vs. new creation, the Omega Wedding of Revelation (that was huge!), and uncovering examples of sexual minorities right there in the scripture that we overlook all the time. Some of the Q&A also centered around ancient near eastern culture and Greek words; even more focused on how to find healing from wounds caused by the church. 

Curious about these things, too? Join us!

reading the bible as LGBTQ+ affirming introduction webinar

We closed in small groups for people to share what stood out to them most, and some of those groups just went on and on. We had so much to process: new ideas and lots of deep emotions.

Creating Safe Church Spaces for All LGBTQ+ People

Leading up to this gathering, and even during it, I found myself feeling anxious about my more conservative friends. That may sound strange since I am generally considered a ‘lefty’ by the evangelical world and look like a diehard progressive in so many ways. I mean, I’ve got two gay kids, and I do gay weddings and gender/name-change ceremonies! But the truth is, I really value theological diversity and feel called to be an ally to all LGBTQ people on their journey, not just the progressive ones. 

For me, that means I support a bunch of queer friends who are committed to celibacy or mixed-orientation marriage because of their theological convictions. I love and honor these friends. I understand and respect their interpretation of the scriptures. The last thing I want to do is come across as a judgy know-it-all who has finally gotten all the right answers. (See one of my all-time favorite comics below).

So I was thrilled with what unfolded that afternoon! Some new-to-our-church gay folks who are celibate hung out for an hour in my kitchen after the seminar. They asked additional questions, pushed back on a few of the points, and just swapped stories with the small group of us who remained. We laughed, we wondered, we connected. I felt like I made a couple of friends that day, and for that I was grateful.

Is This a Conversation You’ve Been Wanting Too? Join Us!

After the gathering a gay couple new to church suggested that we do something similar but online, a webinar, so that more people could be involved. Then a couple of friends from out of state who heard about it requested the same thing! The message they communicated clearly was “there are more of us out here who want to understand how progressives read the Bible as LGBTQ+ affirming.”

So – let’s do it! Brenna and I are putting together a 1 hour webinar on Zoom, Wednesday, August 16th at noon PST.

Webinar, An Intro to Reading the Bible as LGBTQ+ Affirming - Aug. 16, 2023

It’ll be free. There will be plenty of time for Q&A, so bring your honest, thoughtful questions. (This webinar is for the curious, not the combative, so please leave your gotcha questions at home.) And though we’ll specifically talk through a progressive reading of the scriptures for LGBTQ inclusion, we’ll seek to honor everyone along the way.