Megachurch Pastor Rob Bell certainly caused a stir with his statement on Oprah Winfrey's "Super Soul Sunday." His statements however need some qualification. Fact is, even though the majority of (and growing) number of people in the Western world do support equal rights for LGBT people, including civil marriage, anti-LGBT Christian rhetoric and the churches who preach it are still very much relevant... to those who are anti-LGBT of course! As well as the political parties counting on their votes.
Even anti-miscegenation Christian churches still exist in America, South Africa, with a resurgence in the UK. There are churches that still believe it is against God's plan for the races to mix. The same can be said of Christian churches that are heavily informed by very misogynistic religious rhetoric with regard to the place of women in society and believe in a God-ordained gender hierarchy of: God, then man, then woman last, created from a spare part of man, as an afterthought for HIS use as HIS helpmate to carry HIS seed and not a person in her own right.
N.B Many primitive cultures believed only men were "creators" of life and therefore in the image of God. They thought semen contained the entire seed of a human being and women had no life-giving power except as a fertile plot of land to grow it. They had no knowledge she also contributed gametes or that scientifically speaking the female of the species is the one who holds the key to our genetic ancestry. Much of their belief systems about men and women came from that ignorance.
However I hasten to add that Pastor Rob Bell is not wrong. Evidence shows anti-gay churches are losing the younger generation, those with higher education and a growing number of people whose spirituality is not dependent on an "Us vs. Them", imperialistic world-view. Furthermore, their growing "irrelevance" is not the fault of LGBT people or equal rights legislation.
It is the fault of anti-LGBT Christians themselves.
Before I explain further, let me avoid any confusion over the definition of "anti-LGBT Christian" by sharing what my definition is as it relates to this article.
The heated debates in the wake of Pastor Bell's statements highlight that anti-LGBT Christians base their position on four assumptions (1) the bible explicitly condemns LGBT orientation and/or all loving committed same-sex relationships of LGBT people; (2) the bible is 100 percent infallible (i.e. free of cultural subjectivity, scientific limitations of the iron-aged Northern Palestinians who wrote it, political agendas or human errors of those who selected, compiled and translated it) and can be read at a pedestrian level, in their favorite English version to answer any situation, by just picking a verse that seems to apply; (3) that strict adherence to the bible is necessary for salvation and (4) that their sect's method of interpretation and application of the scriptures, (particularly those they use to condemn LGBT people), is absolute Christian theology.
Ironically it's those very four assumptions that are proving to be their theological undoing. You see, the more they assert those claims, the more those claims are being scrutinized. The more those claims are scrutinized, in our new age of information, the more people are unearthing a minefield of contradictions, double standards and intellectual dishonesties. I only have time and space to highlight two of them:
More people are closely examining the oft quote-mined verses anti-LGBT Christians use. They are cross referencing with the best scholarly information on the historical, cultural and linguistic background of those verses. When they do, they soon realize Genesis 19 is about an attempted gang rape of two angels, Leviticus 18:22 is a prohibition idolatrous ritualistic sex between men and part of a code of laws Christians say are defunct, Romans 1 is about people engaging in what Paul called "akatharsian" (verse 24) or "uncleanness", which is a reference to idolatrous temple prostitution. It was for that reason the men and women he was referring to changed their usual opposite-sex relations and 1 Corinthians 6:9 is about the catamites (boy prostitutes) and pimps and pederasts who sexually exploited them in Corinth which was infamous for that kind of flesh trade.
Now, those with basic reading comprehension skills who understand the big difference between sexual orientation (a medical classification that first occurred in the 19th Century, of innate gender attraction) and the specific sexual behaviors described in these verses, immediately realize that none of these verses have anything to do with being born LGBT or expressing one's LGBT orientation in terms of a loving committed relationship. Nor is it newfangled "pro-gay theology" to have this interpretation. From the very beginning the most Conservative biblical scholars and the earliest Christian philosophers never applied scriptures like Romans 1 in the manner anti-LGBT Christians use it today.
From Aristedes' commentaries of Romans 1 in his work The Apology to the early Church fathers like Clement of Alexandria to Saint Augustine, their understanding was that Paul was talking about the pagan fertility rites of the Romans, not romantic attraction and love between men let alone women! Lesbianism was not even "a thing" and the verses never said women had sex with women, it said the women changed their natural use of the man, which was understood to be heterosexual anal sex.
"Clearly they (the females referred to in Romans 1:26) do not go into one another, but rather offer themselves to the men."- Anastasios, Early Church Father.
More people are realizing gay-affirming Christian sects do indeed have proper biblical scholarship on their side because they stick to the original meanings and original context. If a word meant "male prostitute" in the Hebrew or Greek they do not make the intellectually dishonest claim it means all "homosexuals" or "transgendered" people today. If there is an account of Jesus answering a question about men and women getting divorced (Matthew 19) they do not mislead people into believing he was answering a question about gay marriage. If a story was about gang-rape, and all other Hebrew references to it and doublets (see Judges 19) of it, point to the motivation being wickedness, inhospitality to foreigners and greed, then they do not use that story to make an impressionable 15 year old who just nervously came out, feel like a wretched, evil person and kill himself rather than be labeled a "sodomite".
This brings us to the next theological minefield anti-LGBT Christians create for themselves. Clearly they have no problem ignoring historical, linguistic and cultural context and quote-mining a verse out of context just to load up biblical burdens on others. So they should have no problem when they get a taste of their own methodology. After all, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Right? Wrong!
2. Biblical Double Standards
Anti-LBGT Christians turn red in the face with rage when you point out that they do not apply their biblical methodology when it comes to so many everyday things they do:
I can go on and on and never have to mention the usual pork, shellfish and mixed fabrics abominations of the Old Mosaic Law, which most Christians agree are not relevant.
The glaring hypocritical pitfall of Anti-LGBT Christians is not only being noticed by more and more people, it's further exacerbated when people unveil the embarrassing, historical pattern of Christians selectively wielding the scriptures purely to oppress those towards whom they already had a prejudice or to excuse human atrocities that benefit their status or profit margins. Once that skepticism/distrust button is pressed, I'm afraid it is very hard to step off without detonating one's suspension of disbelief, which is necessary to believe in any religion's claim to absolute truth and Divine superiority over all other ideologies/cultures. The outcome is not always a total rejection of spirituality (atheism) but as in my case and that of many others, a rejection of organized religion only, especially that of the anti-LGBT ilk.
While I may no longer categorize myself as a member of any Christian denomination, I have to admit that the LGBT-welcoming Christian sects are refreshingly honest and upfront about the fact that all Christians, anti-gay or not, are cafeteria Christians. None of them live a strictly biblical life. It's impossible! Even Jesus broke a biblical law or two according to the Gospels. Sometimes it was for the greater good, like letting a woman with unclean blood flow (who should be quarantined according to Leviticus) touch him. Sometimes it was just for pure practicality, like when he and disciples were starving and picked grain in a wheat field, angering the Pharisees, because it was the Sabbath. Jesus's retort, "God desires mercy, not sacrifice."
It's also impossible to live a strict biblical life because how do we ignore all the knowledge, systems and cultural insights mankind has acquired in the 2000-plus years since? We cannot revert to the mind-set and cultural myopia of people living 2000 years ago in Northern Palestine. Using the bible as a new edition of Mosaic book of rules, almost guarantees societal regression into ignorance and hypocrisy. If one is going to use the bible, the astute thing seems to be putting it into proper perspective and applying a lot of discernment in order to sift out the timeless, universal truths it does possess. For a time may come when humans travel to the deepest corners of space and/or answer even more questions about our existence with science but so long as Christians sects focus on living The Greatest Commandment, as their primary mandate, they always stay relevant to humanity.
An interesting thing happens when you ask an anti-LGBT Christian about the Greatest Commandment and whether they currently loving and treating their LGBT neighbors as they would like to be loved and treated. In the uncomfortable silence that follows, you understand why a growing number of people only see the rotten fruits of politicized religious extremism, rooted in Pharisee-ish use of ancient texts to justify unjust status quos that really have and still are hurting and oppressing people. You understand why people are not experiencing a yoke that's "light and refreshing" and the more anti-LGBT religious people double down on their current modus operandi, they more they hasten their irrelevance.