In my first blog-post, I told you a little about my background and why I felt I needed to put down in writing why I had changed my mind about the Biblical position of those who identify as LGBTQ+, having had an upbringing in a very typical Baptist church in South London.
Now we need to move on to chapter two of my writings and I have called it “Scripture and/or Science”. There seems to be a strong impression from many people that the Bible and Science are in opposition to each other. If you are a hard-nosed scientist you can’t believe the incredulous ideas of the Bible, and some will think that if you believe the Bible, you must at minimum, treat with deep suspicion some of what science says, especially around our origins. Both arguments are daft, because neither Scripture or Science are any threat to each other – after all they are usually addressing different issues, the Bible is talking about morals, ethics and how we can have a relationship with God, through Jesus, His Son, and science is busy asking the questions of how, what, why and when of everything we can see around us, from the sub-atomic particle, to the largest star/galaxy/supernova in the night sky.
Recently we have seen various churches defending the right to gather in person during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen some pastors saying Covid-19 doesn’t exist and that they won’t be taking the vaccine. I find this indefensible as a Christian, where we are supposed to look after and protect others.
Other conflicts can occur when Christians start making pronouncements about issues that can be definitively proven one way or another by science. For example, we have to be very careful when talking about stories like Jonah being swallowed by a whale, because we can look around and scientifically assess how this can happen. What is the size of a man? Is there a fish capable of swallowing a man without injuring him? How is it possible for him to survive for three days without regular replenishment of air, and where there is no fresh water, only salty? How does he survive, when presumably the “fish” is mainly underwater taking great gulps of water, even if the water doesn’t get to the stomach? If you argue for an air pocket in the fish’s stomach, this seems barely credible because the continual movement of the “fish” that will move that air pocket around. Besides, digestion processes (in whales the acids need to be harsh enough to break down crustacean shells) and stomach gases for three days would make survival unlikely. Conceivably he might have been unconscious, but then we have to explain his lucid/normal conversation with God, where it sounds like he could be sitting at the table opposite me constructing his long appeal to God.
So yes, I have a problem taking that story at face value, although the underlying message that:
– there is nowhere God can’t reach to save or help you,
– that God is a god of second chances, and
– that we can all play a part in God’s mission to the world, however reluctant.
These are really important to hold on to. (Maybe my long delay in setting up this website is as a result of my own reluctance.)
There are other crossover issues between science and the Bible, and these tend to be around the origins of the universe and life on Earth. Science says everything began with the “Big Bang” where matter exploded into being, forming what we know as the universe. Some Christians still advocate a literal seven-day Creation; others take a “Theistic Evolution” stance; others hold to an “old Earth Creationism”; and there are a myriad of other views, all held sincerely and with conviction. All are trying to make sure that there is consistency between what they have seen and what the Bible says
I remember back to when I was a teenager looking to defend a “Young-Earth Creationist” standpoint (later discarded!). When I was challenged by evolutionists who were trying to say it all just evolved as a result of the Big Bang, I would naively challenge them and ask, “but how did that matter form out of nothing?” What I hadn’t realized was that this is in essence the Kalam Cosmological Argument (initially put forward by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali who was a Persian twelfth-century medieval Muslim philosopher), more recently brought back into favour by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. The argument appeals to logic and simply states:
1 – Whatever begins to exist, has a cause of its existence.
2 – The universe began to exist.
3 – Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
Some like to disparagingly call it part of a “God of the gaps” idea, but Dr Craig deals with that argument too, in his writings and podcasts. We’re not here for that though! However, something or someone must have started the whole process. You can find out more about Dr Craig’s work in the field of philosophy here: www.reasonablefaith.org.
God made us in His image as people with a spirit to communicate with Him, but also with intellects, with the capacity to be creative, imaginative, curious, investigative, caring, in addition to many other attributes. We reflect God’s image not just when we are in church, but even when we are being curious, questioning and investigative – trying to find answers to difficult issues.
I too, am also trying to respond to His call and reflect His image in my writings. I want to be sure that when I say the Bible doesn’t condemn, but instead embraces the LGBTQ+ community, that this is correct and that one day Jesus will tell me “Well done! Even if it took you a while to get there!” 😉
I said earlier that conflicts normally occur when Christians start making pronouncements about issues that can be proven factually one way or another by science, and in this chapter I talk about how the Church has a very poor track record when:
- it insisted the Earth was flat;
- it then insisted the Earth was the center of the universe;
- dealing with slavery, because it is so much a part of the Bible, if not endorsed by it;
- looking at what women can do in church life. Even today that is a huge issue in some churches, but it is slowly improving.
- it ostracizes the LGBTQ+ community, without really understanding exactly what it is they condemn and why – is it because of their nature or orientation, or for the act of intimacy? If you read chapter 1 you’ll remember we started to look at this and we will explore this more deeply as we go along.
The church ostracizes in spite of Jesus’s commands to love, get alongside, help, build one another up. But people will say “We don’t ostracize” – but churches do. When they find out someone is lesbian, gay or trans* it isn’t long till they are made to feel unwelcome, held at arm’s length, stopped from doing any little job they had, and sometime later, unsurprisingly they drop out of church. Then there is the remark that says “we love the sinner but hate the sin”, which comes across in a very different way to that intended. It is elitist and says “you are someone we need to keep an eye on” and “your sin is far worse than mine”. In conversations with Christians I trust, I have come across several stories of people being told they are no longer welcome to come to the church they had attended for many years.
So, how do we use Scripture? Many of us just learned to read it literally, and we end up tying ourselves up in logical knots, wriggling like an eel when we get faced with some of the really unpleasant stories in the Bible, like the stories of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and God apparently killing people for non-specific sins. We have the prophet Nehemiah behaving atrociously – bullying of the remnant of the people who had been left behind in Judah when the rest were taken into exile. He was proud of himself and his devotion to God – he was passionate for God and of that there is no doubt and we could do with some of his passion. But the results of his passion are abhorrent. He was striking them, pulling out their hair in his anger, and breaking up marriages. He was appalled because the remnant in Judah had inter-married with the local tribes and the children had forgotten the language of Judah – Nehemiah 13: 23-27, and forgotten God. To our eyes, regardless of motivation, this is inexcusable. How would Jesus have treated the people if he had been standing in the place of Nehemiah? The extra problem is we are taught that God never changes, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We therefore struggle to see how it is that He loves us all, in compassion, mercy and grace, but then finds a lot of people expendable.
By way of contrast we know that in the case of Jesus, His heart was broken when he stood at the tomb of Lazarus, and when he looked out at the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37 or Luke 13:34). And we know God’s heart was broken when He watched His Son die at Calvary. So, for me, I can’t see any way that Nehemiah’s actions were right and acceptable, and I am certain there would have been a much better way of bringing his people back to God in repentance, through His grace and mercy, but I’m sure I’ll have people who will disagree with me, and that’s fine.
Understanding the Bible is a problem we need to explore properly. I was listening to a Christian on an apologetics radio programme, in the last few days, dying a death as he was trying to explain some of God’s behavior as recorded in the Old Testament, but failing to see how big the hole he was digging was. I was cringing with embarrassment, because the explanations were so awful. As a fellow believer, I know I should have been praying and willing him on, but it was like watching a slow-motion crash, and I eventually had to turn it off. It’s taking a long time to learn to read the Bible a little differently, to unlearn my instinctive habits, but reading the Bible now is a lot more enjoyable, and not so worrying.
The Bible can’t tell me why some folk are left-handed, or why folks are attracted to specific people-types and not others, or why some people have thick hair and others fine hair. It doesn’t explain why Esau was born red and hairy (“The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment” Genesis 25: 25) and Jacob not. The Bible simply records these things happen, like giants, people with six fingers and six toes, people born as eunuchs. The Bible isn’t authoritative about these things, but science in the form of genetics is. Obviously there are times when the role is reversed, and science can’t explain, but Scripture can. In this chapter I clarify how I have used my sources, and I say I have used:
- the Bible to explore moral, ethical and spiritual issues and provide guidance,
- the testimony of the LGBTQ+ community to understand their experiences (and feelings of rejection),
- scientists to understand the biology and psychology,
- historians to see how far back these issues go,
- and finally, media reports and commentaries because often they will explain things clearly, where maybe a scientific paper isn’t very readable to those like me, whose education is not at the same level!
However, Scripture is very useful when we look at the ethics and morality of any situation, and indeed this essay is only as long as it is because the Bible is so important to me, so this is not a capitulation to the ethics of our contemporary society. It seems the problem we face is because many see homosexuality as a moral issue, so we try and use the Bible. We don’t recognize that it is not a moral issue, but a scientific issue, where the Bible isn’t authoritative.
It’s a scientific issue because we see homosexuality in many other (I’m talking of hundreds) species. It’s not a question of choice. Please note I’m not talking about sexual exploitation or rape, those are very clearly moral, and the Bible clearly addresses that. I’m talking about true homosexual orientation and monogamous relationships, because that can be proven and tested by science (genetic and epigenetic research, brain scans, etc).
Not only are there hundreds of species with proven natural homosexuality, there are also fish (as well as a number of other aquatic creatures) that change genders, multiple times during their life (the Kobudai fish).
I conclude the chapter by discussing in very general terms the different types of sexual relationships that we see today, which normally involve two people, and also refer to those seen in the Bible. I also talk about marriage in passing, but later on I will deal with it properly in all it’s complex forms, as described in the Bible.
I will assume that everyone has become aware of how important it is to fact-check what you read on the Internet, so please make sure you fact-check what I have written, both in my blogs and in the main essay, and let me know (politely please) if you find any errors, and I’ll happily draw attention to and correct any genuine errors.
Finally, I want to pay my respects to a friend who died in hospital in South London on 23rd January 2021, of Covid-19. Peter Hall will be missed by not just his family, but by the hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees and homeless folk whose lives he touched and made more bearable over many years. I will miss your company when I next visit the area. James 2: 18 was written for such as you: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” Well done good and faithful servant!
If not for yourself, for the sake of those around you, please get the vaccine when it becomes available to you, in your area. The vaccine came too late to protect Peter. Covid-19 can strike anyone, president or pauper – it can kill, leave a person with life-changing health conditions, or leave entirely unaffected. Please don’t gamble.