(405) 425-5070
Rubel Shelly preaches to the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn.
Dialogue
Photo via www.harpethhills.org

Male and female God created them

Biblical scholar Rubel Shelly shares insight on his latest book about the LGBTQ+ community.

What happens in the places where church and popular culture meet? Recent studies found that 7 percent of Americans are lesbian, gay or bisexual, according to the Pew Research Center. Among adults 18 to 29 years old, that number increases to 17 percent. 

Those who identify as Christians in the U.S. are also about three times more accepting of same-sex marriage and relationships now than they were 20 years ago, Pew reported. But how are Christians to respond? 

A highlighted Bible lays open on a table.

A highlighted Bible lays open on a table.

Some hold traditional positions toward LGBTQ+ persons, while others are softening their stance, finding new ways to interpret the Bible to be more accommodating — if not accepting — of same-sex relationships. 

Rubel Shelly, a Bible scholar and teacher whose career in congregations and university classrooms goes back more than 50 years, is the author of dozens of books that dig deep into the Bible to expose and present its teaching. The subjects he addresses  are often controversial, both in the church and in society at large. 

Shelly’s new book, “Male and Female God Created Them: A Biblical Review of LGBTQ+ Claims,” examines same-sex attraction and relationships through the lens of deep and scholarly biblical research. Shelly joined The Christian Chronicle Podcast to share his insight. This interview has been edited for brevity.


B.T.: This is a very academic book. It’s 403 pages including appendices, and out of everything I’ve ever read on the subject, I think it’s the most thorough biblical exegesis and historical critical analysis on the subject of same-sex relationships. Can you present the thesis of your book and some of the supporting points?

Rubel: The Bible is, in the opening chapters of Genesis, laying the groundwork for everything that we’re supposed to understand about our personhood in relation to human sexuality. As proof of that, I would jump to the Gospels. In Matthew 19, when Jesus is asked a question about marriage and divorce and what that implies about sexual partnership, he says, “Well, haven’t you read that back in the beginning God created them male and female and said this?”

So, there’s something about Genesis that, in that narrative, Jesus saw as laying out the groundwork for how human relationships work in terms of marriage, sexuality, reproduction, the human race. 

Number one, there’s a positive view of human sexuality. There’s nothing embarrassing. There’s nothing shameful. God brings them together. They are naked. They are brought together to become one flesh. They will fulfill the mission that God has outlined: that they will be fruitful, they will multiply, they will perpetuate the race and then join with him in the wise use and governance of the creation he’s given them. 

Second, in that Genesis account there is, when the woman is created and brought to the man, certainly commonality. Adam had seen the animals brought before him, but now he says, “Ah, finally, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” But he also immediately sees not just commonality but difference. “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of the man.” 

As humans in the image of God, we are male and female, and now, for this reason, they are brought together to be one flesh. And that unquestionably involves sexual differentiation. So male and masculinity, or female and femininity, are integral to personhood, and creation is not just a sort of disposable backdrop to the lives of human beings.

As humans in the image of God, we are male and female, and now, for this reason, they are brought together to be one flesh. And that unquestionably involves sexual differentiation. So male and masculinity, or female and femininity, are integral to personhood, and creation is not just a sort of disposable backdrop to the lives of human beings.

We are, in fact, to see ourselves in that light, and later, when there are prohibitions about adultery, about fornication, about same-sex relationships — gay or lesbian — these are not freestanding. They are guardrails designed to protect what is fundamental, and that is marriage and pure sexuality — one flesh identity with male and female in marriage.

B.T.: Your book introduced me to a phrase I’ve never heard before in reference to Christian congregations, and that phrase is “welcoming, but not affirming.” Is that just a nicer way of saying hate the sin, love the sinner? How can congregations really be welcoming of people who identify as LGBTQ+ without affirming their behaviors?

Rubel: I welcome my friends who are alcoholics. I welcome my friends who are drug addicts. I welcome my friends who have addictions of various sorts. In fact, a church that I served for 27 years here in Nashville at one point had 41 groups — accountability, reorientation sessions — going for people with all sorts of addictions, most of them around alcohol and drugs. 

We welcomed every one of them, but not in a single case did we ever affirm the addiction, the alcoholism, the meth, gambling, whatever it was that was their addiction. We welcomed them because that’s what the church is — the church is a recovering community of sinners. 

Here’s my point: If a church creates an atmosphere of redemption through the grace of God … we feel safe to admit, “Yes, I do need redemption, and I must throw myself on the grace of God for my gambling addiction, my alcohol addiction, my pathological lying, whatever it may be,” and that church welcomes them. Not to encourage them to continue the behavior, but they are welcomed into a penitent community where there is acceptance, accountability and nurture into spiritual health and recovery. 

Let’s follow that through with sexual issues in particular. Let’s talk about the teenager who is caught up in what now has the name “gender dysphoria.” 

Men have cooked and done needlework a long time. Women have been truck drivers and farmers. 


Related: To affirm or not? That is the question


Gender dysphoria is one set of issues, but let’s suppose a teenager is dealing with what this culture is telling them: You may need to consider puberty blockers. You may need to consider dressing differently. You may need to consider surgery and changing your genitalia because you’re probably a woman trapped in the man’s body or vice versa.

Most teenagers — if they feel those things — don’t have a safe place to go to deal with it. 

Back in the 1980s, there was this new disease that was called AIDS. I had people asking me, “Do you think it’s safe to drink from a water fountain at church?” A neighbor warned my wife against going to a laundromat with some of the big bedding that she was going to dry in one of the big dryers. People were terrified. 

So what Dr. Roy Hamley and I did was set up an accountability group, not for alcoholics or drug users or people caught up with gambling or pornography, but for people who were HIV-infected. We didn’t know if anybody would show up, but we had established a community of grace and healing. And sure enough, probably four or five the first night we met showed up, and before long the group grew large enough that we had to divide it into two different groups. 

We welcomed people who had AIDS. We welcomed people who were gay into the context of the call of Christ, to purity and repentance.

So this is not new territory for me. This is not abstract and academic. This is also pastoral for me. I think what people are looking for is not so much sex as intimacy, and by intimacy: safe people, safe places, acceptance, love. 

Rubel Shelly preaches to the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn.

Rubel Shelly preaches to the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn.

Where love is defined in the Christian sense, it’s the self-giving interest in one another. And yet in this culture, we don’t know how to do intimacy apart from groping or viewing or having intercourse with a woman, a man or both or a group. 

Intimacy doesn’t mean having sex. Intimacy means having a deep, meaningful connection within this male-female community that God has created to be the human race in his own image and likeness and, in that context, serving the kingdom of God. The point of life is not to have sex. The point of life is not romantic fulfillment. The point of life, if we are  Christian, is the kingdom of God. 

Our churches have to be welcoming, but not affirming, to people from all kinds of backgrounds, so that the church really is a Christ-focused place where acceptance with accountability — not simply acceptance to affirm, but acceptance with accountability to truth — can take place. We’re not centers to dispense judgment. We are centers to dispense grace within the context of the truth of the Gospel.

Our churches have to be welcoming, but not affirming, to people from all kinds of backgrounds, so that the church really is a Christ-focused place where acceptance with accountability — not simply acceptance to affirm, but acceptance with accountability to truth — can take place. We’re not centers to dispense judgment. We are centers to dispense grace within the context of the truth of the Gospel.

B.T.: I have a friend who’s not a member of the Church of Christ but listens to the podcast, and we were talking the other day about this interview coming up. She asked me if I am concerned at all about platforming hate by having you on the show. 

Rubel: Some people have spoken as “representatives” of the Christian community, and they have been hateful. They’ve been homophobic. They’ve been bigoted. They’ve been angry. They’ve been mean and ugly. 

No, we can’t affirm things that the Bible says are wrong. I can’t affirm adultery. I can’t affirm stealing. I can’t affirm lying. I can’t affirm same-sex relationships.

Why? Not because I’m looking to be mean and to go out and clobber somebody, but because I’m a Christian, and to say that I’m a Christian minimally means I subject myself … as a disciple to the discipline of the teaching of Christ as it is given to me in Scripture. 

The ink is dry in Scripture. Scripture says these behaviors are wrong, and they do not promote the kingdom of God. I think it’s unfair for me to be judged as bigoted and hateful simply because I say I still believe we have to respect Scripture. 

If we don’t respect it on this point, do we give up then on lying? Do we give up on stealing? Do we give up on adultery? 

If we are disciples at all, the discipline of Christ must relate to the way we live. To say that Scripture teaches, “This is right, this is wrong,” is not hatred. 

If we are disciples at all, the discipline of Christ must relate to the way we live. To say that Scripture teaches, “This is right, this is wrong,” is not hatred.

It’s simply teaching the discipline of Christ to those people who say we are the followers of Christ. I’m not trying to change what the courts have said, what the laws say about civil rights for gays, about employment and job opportunities and housing. I believe those things are right. 

Christians should not be allowed to write the distinctives of Christian ethics into civil laws, because the majority of the people out there aren’t Christians, and they shouldn’t be forced to pray, and they shouldn’t be forced to live by the ethical standards that we’re called to. 

This book and my ministry is about what the church must be. The church is an alternative community to the larger culture, and the train has left the station for the culture. What I’m pleading for is this: “Church, we can’t go with culture!”


Related: How to keep LGBTQ people from becoming ‘spiritual orphans’


B.T.: The question that is at the top of mind for a lot of folks in our Church of Christ family, and that is, are same-sex intercourse and marriage a salvation issue? 

Rubel: The biblical answer to that is found in Paul, but it’s a nuanced answer. Listen to it: “Wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is 1 Corinthians 6:9. Wrongdoers is a broad term. Now he’s specific. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Sounds to me like Paul says it’s a salvation issue. But now watch the tone of grace. “And that’s what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

I don’t want to be my authentic self. I want to be Christ-like.

So, yes, it is a salvation issue in the sense that sin is never affirmed in Scripture. Sin is always there to be addressed through repentance, and then, by the power of God, people are washed and sanctified. 

The Holy Spirit becomes the internal dynamic, the gift of God’s Spirit … enables me to live above myself, to be Christ-like. One of the most offensive arguments for any number of behaviors to me, B.T., is, “I just want to be my authentic self.” 

I don’t want to be my authentic self. I want to be Christ-like. My authentic self can get off the rails really easily. I want, by grace, to give people hope, love, kindness. But I cannot give grace without at the same time calling for accountability for myself and them in truth. Things that the Bible says are sin? Don’t do those.

Grace is for the penitent.

Filed under: affirmation vs. acceptance Culture Dialogue Features LGBTQ LGBTQ+ and Christianity LGBTQ+ and Churches of Christ People Rubel Shelly Top Stories

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time