An Enquiry Concerning the Evangelical Religion

When I was about fifteen, I was beginning to come to grips with the fact that I was
gay. Coming out as gay in the late 1990s was not, and still is not, a big deal. The
problem was that I was raised in the right-wing evangelical tradition, which, of course,
condemns the expression of homosexual orientation. Consequently, I faced three choices:
1.) I could abandon my faith, 2.) I could attempt to “change” my sexual
orientation or 3.) I could attempt to reconcile my faith with homosexuality. At first, I
concentrated on the second option. I read a version of The Eagle Story, and in the
theological commentary at the end of the story, the book recommended that one struggling
with temptation (it didn’t specify what kind) read and memorize Romans chapter 6 and 9.
Whenever a temptation presented itself, reciting those passages mentally was supposed to
help someone overcome their temptations. I did what The Eagle Story suggested, and
each time I had an attraction to another boy, I would recite either Romans 6 or 9 in my
head. Considering that the average male thinks about sex every seven minutes, reciting
these verses every time I had an attraction to another boy became psychologically
exhausting. Rather than go insane with the obsessive recitation of biblical passages, I
decided to consider option three, which led me to an intensive investigation of the Bible.
In the course of about a year and a half, I read the Bible from cover to cover and
explored many commentaries on homosexuality and the Bible. To my satisfaction, I
discovered that expression of homosexual orientation was in fact compatible with the
evangelical religion. The writings of John Boswell, a former Jesuit priest, greatly
influenced this discovery. Concerning Romans 1:26-27, a passage traditionally used to
condemn homosexuality, which reads:

“God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged natural
function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the
natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men
committing indecent acts with men…”

Boswell suggested:

“the persons that Paul condemns [in Romans 1:26-27] are manifestly not homosexual:
what he condemns are homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons. The whole
point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their
calling, gotten off the true path they were once on. It would completely undermine the
thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not ‘naturally’ inclined to the
opposite sex in the same way they were ‘naturally’ inclined to monotheism. What caused
the Romans to sin was not that they lacked what Paul considered proper inclination, but
that they had them
; they held the truth, but in unrighteousness because they did not
see fit to retain him in their knowledge.”

Boswell bases his argument on the usage of the Greek words para
fusin (para phusin) in the New Testament. To interpret Paul’s
statement, “their women exchanged the natural [phusin] for that which is
unnatural [para phusin],” Boswell looks at the other instances in which
Paul used the word phusin and para phusin.

Fr. Daniel Helminiak in his book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
sums up Boswell’s observations of the use of fusin:

“In Galatians 2:15, Paul speaks of those who are Jews by nature and
in Romans 2:27, he speaks of those that are Gentile by nature [physin]. In
Romans 2:14, Paul speaks of Gentiles that follow their own conscience and ‘do
instinctively what the law requires,’ but the Greek text reads ‘by nature’ [physin] and
the Gentiles act as is consistent with the kinds of persons they are…or again in I
Corinthians 11:14, Paul writes, ‘does not nature [physin] itself teach you that if a man
wears long hair it is degrading to him?'”

Because the word fusin often refers to one’s personal
nature, Boswell and Helminiak argue that Paul is not condemning those that commit
homosexual acts per se, but those that go against their own personal nature to
commit homosexual acts. Because the word “exchanged,” (v. 26) which implies a
conscious choice is used, Boswell concludes that the immorality Paul condemns is not
homosexual activity purposefully suppressing ones nature
. The condemnations in
Romans 1 are specifically addressed to those anqrwpon twn thn alhqeian
en adikia katecontwn (anthropon ton ten aletheian en adikia katekhonton)
“men that suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

But despite the fact that I discovered homosexuality and evangelicalism were
compatible, and even though I had every intention of reconciling the Bible with my
sexuality, I soon realized that in my investigation of the Bible, many questions arose.
And after reflecting on these questions, I realized that it was no longer defensible to be
associated with the evangelical religion. As I became more secure in my rejection of the
evangelical religion, I began to seriously think about and investigate the philosophical
implications of atheism and rejection of religious belief. Now, there are many reasons
that I continue to consider myself an atheist; but only the observations of the
evangelical religion that led to my initial rejection of it are discussed in this essay.

The beginning of the end was when I saw right-wing evangelicals bitterly criticizing
Boswell’s interpretation of Romans 1, suggesting that his interpretation equivocates the
“plain sense” of the text. In my personal investigation of the Bible, however, I
came across explicit commands in the Bible that Christians simply do not follow because
they equivocate the “plain sense” of a passage. For instance, I discovered
Romans 13:1-3, 6-7:

“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is
no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God
. Therefore he
who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God
; and they who have opposed will
receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause for fear for good
behavior but for evil…Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection not only because of
wrath, but also for conscience’s sake. For because of this you pay taxes, for rulers are
servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them:
tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

I became particularly angry with adherents to the evangelical religion when I realized
that, while dogmatically insisting that homosexuality is immoral based on their view of
the Bible, they blatantly ignore the implications of Romans 13—or use ludicrous
interpretative methods to explain it away.

The vast majority of Christians: evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and mainline
Protestants all celebrate the American Revolution—an event that flies in the face of
Paul’s command in Romans 13. The word “resist” in Romans 13:2 is the Greek word antitassomenoV ? (antitassomenos),
a combination of the word anti (which means “against,” of course) and the
verb tasso (which means “to appoint or ordain”). In other words, to
rebel, or to set oneself up “against that which is ordained or appointed” is
what Paul condemns (Paul does not necessarily condemn “disobedience” to
governing authority, though it could be argued that obedience is a part of submission). I
would say that the American colonists fit the description of antitassomenos.
Additionally, Paul says, “render…tax to whom tax is due,” and in many other
instances in the New Testament, Christians are commanded to pay taxes—remember Jesus
says “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” One would think that no Christian
would justify rebellion against a governing authority on the grounds that they found the
taxes unfair—especially considering the fact that taxes in the first century went to
the construction of temples for Roman gods and emperors. But one of the major reasons for
the rebellion of the American colonists was their intense dissatisfaction with what they
perceived as unfair tax policies. Despite Paul’s commands and the nature of the American
Revolution, right-wing evangelicals loudly denounce the promotion of homosexuality in
schools, but do not protest the glorification of rebellion against “governing
authority” by condemning the American Revolution. Also, as far as I know, most
Christians celebrate the Fourth of July with barbecues and church picnics, which
commemorates what, according to Paul, is “sin.”

In Romans 13:1-3,6-7, Paul makes what I like to call, “absolute statements.”
The language of phrases like “there is no authority except from God” and
“the one who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” requires that
they cannot be equivocated. One cannot say, “there is no authority except
those established by God” and then say “well…maybe some authority isn’t
established by God” because the former is a point blank, absolute declaration. Any
interpretation of this passage must be accountable to the “absolute statements”
of Romans 13:1-3,6-7. Because Romans 13 suggests that the entire “American
experiment” is a “sinful” endeavor, Paul’s absolute statements have not
stymied right-wing evangelical attempts to make this passage not say what it actually
says. Everett F. Harrison, in his commentary on Romans in the right-wing Zondervan NIV
Bible Commentary
says this about Romans 13:

“There are two ways to deal with [Romans 13]. 1.) Paul is presenting the norm
here, i.e. the ideal for government, which is certainly that of punishing evil and
rewarding or encouraging good…this interpretation does allow for revolution in cases
where rights are denied and liberties taken away, since the state has ceased to fulfill
its God-appointed function…the Christian community is obliged to voice its criticism
of the state’s failure and deviation from the divinely ordained pattern
(588-89).”

To Harrison’s credit, his second “way to deal with” the Romans 13
question suggests that one should submit to governing authority in all circumstances, and
that in the end God will work things out for the obedient Christian—an interpretation
loyal to the meaning of the text. On the other hand, in discussing Paul’s reference to
same-sex activity in Romans 1, Harrison dogmatically insists that homosexuality is clearly
condemned by Paul. It says a great deal about Harrison that he will give legitimacy to an
interpretation of Romans 13 that undermines the text, but will not even mention Boswell’s
hypothesis concerning homosexuality and Romans 1.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., et al in their book The Hard Sayings of the Bible agrees
with Harrison’s initial interpretation by saying, “If…the authority of the state
runs counter to [the] divine intent [reward evil, punish good], then the authority should
not be understood as God given” (575).

But the interpretative “escape hatches” that Kaiser, et al. and Harrison have
fabricated have absolutely no justification in the text or in common sense for that
matter. Kaiser, et al.’s suggestion that any state could hypothetically not be God
given is preposterous because Paul says plainly, “there is no authority except
from God” and “those which exist are established by God.” Harrison and
Kaiser, et al.’s assertion that Paul’s words in Romans 13 permits rebellion against
governments that “deny civil rights” is also nonsense considering that Paul was
thinking of submission to Roman authorities, who routinely trampled on civil
rights. If, in Paul’s mind, it was permissible to rebel against a governing authority that
denied civil rights—which the Roman government did often—there was absolutely no
reason to tell the church at Rome to submit to governing authority! Actually, the
implication of Romans 13 is that it would be better to endure tyrannical government than
to resist a governing authority; because to resist authority would undermine what Paul saw
as the natural relationship between government and the governed, which was designed to
“punish evil and reward good.” To Paul, preserving the design of the
relationship between the governed and the government was more important than moral
objections to the government.

The only correct resolution to Romans 13 is the resolution suggesting that if one
submits to authority, God will work things out in the end. Perhaps if a tyrant asked a
Christian to “sin,” out of obedience to Paul’s commandment, the Christian should
plan to obey the tyrant. Perhaps, as God stayed Abraham’s hand in Genesis, he will present
a scenario so that a Christian, who is obedient to the command in Romans 13, does not have
to “sin.” Perhaps if a government is overtly tyrannical, since there is no
governing authority except from God, God himself will intervene on the people’s behalf.
However, what is not permissible, according to Paul, is rebellion.

Right-wing evangelical interpretations of Romans 13 are at least on the same level as
Boswell’s interpretation of Romans 1 (and in my opinion Boswell is more loyal to the text
than is Harrison and Kaiser et al). The fact that right-wing evangelicals smugly condemn
Boswell’s interpretations and at the same time engage in the same interpretative tactics
reveals much about their nature and character.

In a similar vein, the Bible specifically commands slaves to obey their masters:

“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with
external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the
Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than men…”
(Colossians 3:22-23).

The writer of 1 Peter elaborates on commandments for slaves:

“[House] slaves, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to
those who are good and gentle, but those who are unreasonable
. For this
finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when
suffering unjustly
…” (1 Peter 2:18-19).

But while right-wing evangelicals demand that evolution be removed from curriculums and
Gay-Straight Alliances not be formed based on what “the Bible says,” they do not
react with similar moral outrage to the fact that the “Underground Railroad,” an
institution that promoted resistance to “earthly masters,” is glorified in many
textbooks and history courses.

Another more despicable example of exegetical hypocrisy involves the Southern Baptist
Convention’s blatantly sexist insistence that women be excluded from the clergy. They
piously snubbed “the world” for condemning their misogynist theology,
righteously proclaiming that “God’s Word” takes precedence over political
correctness. They were quick to point out that the writer of 1 Timothy specifically says
women are to be excluded from the ministry (2:11-12). What is shocking, however, is that
they ignored 1 Timothy 2:9, which appears right above it and says, “Likewise, I want
women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided
hair and gold or pearls or costly garments…” But when the Southern Baptist
Convention said that women should not be clergy, or that they should “submit
graciously” to their husbands, did they also say that women should not wear gold,
pearls or costly garments? This part of “God’s Word,” which is as plain and
clear as the passage concerning women clergy was mysteriously excluded from the Southern
Baptist Convention’s resolution. Perhaps this commandment was ignored because if it were
obeyed, the wives of rich evangelical televangelists could not flaunt their wealth so
much.

In addition to the command concerning women’s dress in 1 Timothy, Paul has
additional comments about women in the church. In 1 Corinthians 11:4 he says, “Every
woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she
is one and the same with her whose head is shaved….the woman ought to have a symbol of
authority on her head…” The Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution was also
silent about this Pauline command. Clearly the Southern Baptist Convention, like all
right-wing evangelicals, “pick and choose” what passages they will and will not
believe, while criticizing those that “pick and choose” what they will and will
not believe in the Bible.

The discovery of double standards concerning the interpretation of the Bible only led
me to reject right-wing evangelicalism. A more liberal form of evangelicalism was still,
theoretically, an option. But I rejected Christianity outright because no pro-gay
evangelical ever made the claim that anti-gay evangelicals did not have the Holy Spirit
within them—and even if they did, I would not have believed them. No evangelical who
believed that women should, in fact, be clergy said that those who disagreed with them
were not “true Christians.” And no pro-gay evangelical or evangelical supportive
of women clergy could explain how right-wing Christians, who had the omnipotent Holy
Spirit and the resources of that which created the universe residing within them could get
away with such brazen-faced interpretative hypocrisy and hubris without
“conviction.” To me, the only logical conclusion was that the Holy Spirit is a
figment of the Christian imagination, which, at least in any objective sense, does not
really exist.

In essence, what prompted me to reject the evangelical religion was the evangelical.
They are self-righteous and condescending to those who do not completely obey the Bible
and to those who ignore certain parts of the Bible, and to those who reinterpret the
“plain sense” of particular biblical passages, when they are guilty of the same
things. After seeing this, I realized that I cannot, nor can I ever be associated with a
religion whose very existence is characterized by hypocrisy and double standards.