‘A Christian has no reason to think they understand where God stands in regards to the LGBTQ community, until they welcome LGBTQ people to the table as equals, and sit and eat with them’ – Engaging Scripture, Fowl (paraphrased)
In his book Engaging Scripture, Stephen Fowl argues that scripture is more than a problem to be solved. It is not a resource, that if attacked with the right tools, can be mined for truth.
Scripture, he argues, must be read theologically. By this he means that the text should be interpreted in the context of community. Interpretation is not something which merely happens in the ivory towers of academia, but something which is happening as the people of God engage with scripture, taking into account the real issues and concerns of their community, while endeavoring to live faithful authentic lives within the context they find themselves.
As in the case of apartheid and slavery, Fowl acknowledges that Scripture has constantly been used to further agenda’s contrary to the teaching of Jesus. To combat this Fowl asserts that when we interpret scripture, we must do so by keeping our eye’s fixed on Christ.
By approaching Christ from a place of humility, acknowledging our sin, and by participating in a community of believers that allows us to live out of the forgiveness and reconciliation found in Christ, we are able to prevent ourselves from interpreting scripture in a way which – as Fowl puts it – underwrites our sin.
One of the ways Fowl demonstrates this approach is by looking at the question of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church. Drawing upon the example of how the Early Church wrestled with acknowledging the Gentiles as people of God, he points to how Peter and James came to an answer about Gentile inclusion (see Acts 10-15).
From one point of view the Jewish Christians had a solid scripturally backed case against the Gentile’s inclusion within the people of God. The obvious interpretation of the scriptures was to insist that any Gentile that wished to join the Church, first become a Jew and be circumcised.
Yet, then something happened that threw that interpretation into question.
Peter, had an encounter.
Led by the Spirit, Peter entered the home of a Gentile.
That may not seem like such a big deal today, but for Jews, associating with Gentiles, eating with them, staying in their homes, was detestable. The Jews believed that Gentiles were unclean, and so to associate with them in this way was to become unclean themselves.
Yet, as Peter joins these Gentiles at the table, fellowshipping with them and joining them at the table as equals, he discovers something he had before been unaware of.
These people who he had discounted, and written off, were in fact filled with God’s Spirit.
They were brothers and sisters in Christ, no different than him.
It is this revelation which leads Peter, and later James and the elders in Jerusalem to reevaluate their interpretation of the Scriptures.
Influenced by the revelation of the Spirit’s acceptance of the Gentile community, they follow the Spirit’s leading, and open their arms to accept and acknowledge their Gentile brothers and sisters.
And so, Fowl turns to the question of the LGBTQ community’s acceptance within the church.
To address this question, he argues that cis-gender Christians must first join LGBTQ Christians at the table. If we are not in relationship with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, then how can we make a judgement regarding whether or not God’s Spirit is in them?
This quote from Jeffrey Siker sort of sums it up.
Before I came to know various Christians, who are also [gay] in their sexual orientation, I was like the hard-nosed doctrinaire circumcised Jewish Christians who denied that Gentiles could receive the Spirit of Christ as Gentiles. But just as Peter’s experience of Cornelius in Acts 10 led him to realize that even Gentiles were receiving God’s Spirit, so my experience of various gay and lesbian Christians has led me to realize that these Christians have received God’s Spirit as gays and lesbians, and the reception of the Spirit has nothing to do with sexual orientation (123, Fowl).
Whether you agree with Fowl’s method of interpretation or not, Siker touches on an important point which I think is important not to miss.
If our God is alive and active – as is our claim – then Christian Theology must be more than an intellectual exercise.
The Christian Theologian must come down from their ivory tower, and become incarnate in the lives of the people their theology effects. They must allow themselves to be led by the Spirit into an encounter with their fellow human beings. Wrestling with the text, not in a dusty old room, but within the complexity and messiness of the human experience.
This is where we have gone wrong when developing our theology on sexuality.
So determined to find the ‘right’ answer, we have ignored the suffering of the people whom our theology effects. Keeping ourselves detached, we have allowed ourselves to repeat phrases, and recite old mantra’s, while ignoring how our words have resulted in pushing many LGBTQ people away, causing immense suffering, trauma, and in the worst cases… death.
And so, Fowl offers us this caution.
Before you presume to know the Spirit’s judgment on the state of another’s soul, approach that person, not as enemies, or outsiders, but as brothers and sisters. Joining them at the table, not to ‘convert them’ or ‘win them over’ to your way of viewing the world, but as fellow human beings, as equals.
It is in these authentic and genuine relationships, that we are best able to bear witness to the work of the Spirit in the lives of those we encounter.
- Engaging Scripture, Stephen Fowl. The article above is at best a brief summary of a very nuanced, and developed method of interpretation. I have done my best to explain it in brief, and have endeavored to do so accurately. However, if you’re interested in the book, I would recommend it. It’s a bit dense in places, but it is definitely an interesting read.
If your interested in exploring this topic more, check out the other articles on Biblical Interpretation on this blog, or check out these pieces from our sister site When Lamb’s Are Silent