Full transcript of Kristin Saylor & Jim O’Hanlon’s TEDx Talk: What the Bible Says About Homosexuality at TEDxEdgemontSchool conference. Kristin Saylor is an Episcopal priest and breathwork practitioner based in San Francisco, and Jim O’Hanlon is a Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This event occurred on June 11, 2016.
JIM O’HANLON: I’ve finally made it to Heaven. This is so beautiful, and I’ve worked every day of my life making sure I’d make it here to heaven, and I’m now finally here.
I really want to meet the big guy. Do you know who the big guy is?
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Ah, they told you I was a guy? That’s cute.
JIM O’HANLON: Are you the receptionist?
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Yeah, no. Hi, I’m God.
JIM O’HANLON: You’re God?
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Yeah, welcome to Heaven.
JIM O’HANLON: Hi.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: So, just a couple of questions to make sure you really belong here.
JIM O’HANLON: I’m the perfect Christian. All my life I’ve been a perfect Christian.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Well, let’s see about that.
So, first off, I just need you to assure me that you have categorically rejected any scientific teaching that contradicts even one word of the Bible.
JIM O’HANLON: Absolutely, absolutely.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Great. And then, do you, based on the authority of scripture, accept the existence of talking snakes?
JIM O’HANLON: I do, they’re in Genesis 2.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: And what about talking donkeys?
JIM O’HANLON: Numbers 22.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Unicorns?
JIM O’HANLON: Numbers 23.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: And what about hoards of suicidal, demon-possessed, cliff-jumping pigs?
JIM O’HANLON: The Gospel of Mark, the 5th chapter.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Very good, I’m impressed. I have just one final question then, before I let you in.
JIM O’HANLON: All right.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Did you do as I told you and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor?
JIM O’HANLON: Well, I… Wait, what now?
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Ah yeah. I said it twice, actually.
JIM O’HANLON: Were you serious about that?
KRISTIN SAYLOR: Very serious.
JIM O’HANLON: Oh!…
You may think that there are people who take the Bible too seriously, people who throw out anything that contradicts the Bible — science, history. What this skit is asking you to think about is maybe they’re not taking the Bible seriously enough.
Maybe they’re very serious about the Bible, if they can use it to judge other people, if they can use it to shame somebody or to punish somebody.
But if the Bible was used to turn back on themselves and they were to evaluate themselves and examine their own conscience, if the Bible was to be humbling them, then they might not take the Bible so seriously. These people say that they want the Bible to be taken literally, in its entirety it should always be literal, and that’s ridiculous, you can’t do that.
When the Bible says, “God is our rock, our sword, our shield,” when the Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd,” we can’t take those literally.
But there are people who are rigidly saying that the Bible needs to always be taken literally. They think it gives it some kind of force that they can use, that they can win arguments, that they can settle the debate, by saying, “This is literal. It is cut and dried, it is straight-forward.”
They’re these people who believe that they can overpower other people, with their argument, by saying, “The Bible says it,” people in positions of great authority.
Just last month, a U.S. congressman from District 1 in Texas stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and said, “The government wants us to forget about the Bible.” He says, “In the Bible, it says God created the male and female, period. No questions marks.”
So he’s got this idea that he doesn’t want people talking about sexual orientation. He doesn’t want people talking about gender identity as something distinct from biological gender. He’s got this idea that we need to just follow that without any ambiguity, without questions, just keeping the status quo. He believes that he can use that by saying the Bible must be taken literally, and it settles his argument.
These people have bumper stickers that say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” which they could probably shorten down to say, “I believe it, that settles it.” Because that’s what they’re saying, they want these things to be cut and dried, and clear.
It’s interesting that people believe they can take the Bible to drive through their point of view, because the Bible doesn’t have one point of view. The Bible does not speak with one voice. The Bible does not have one definition of God. It doesn’t have one way of describing God.
The Bible does not have one theology. We think if the Bible could be consistent of one thing, it would be consistent about describing God, about the language we use and how we understand God.
The Bible does not have one definition of marriage. It doesn’t have one model of marriage. There’s no consistent ethic about sexuality going throughout the Bible. The Bible speaks with these many voices.
The Bible, really properly speaking, is not a book. It’s an anthology. It’s really a library with a wide variety of spiritual wisdom, things that have different ideas and speak with different voices.
The Bible has all these voices and all these ideas throughout it. It’s not just one book with one point that it’s trying to drive home. The Bible has these many voices. And there are many stories in the Bible, and many of these stories are told from different points of view, from different perspectives and different voices.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: So given the amount of media attention the Bible has received recently with respect to issues of gay marriage, gender-neutral bathrooms, it would be easy for us to come to the conclusion that the Bible has a lot to say about homosexuality, and it ain’t good.
But in reality, if you take the Bible as a whole and look at, percentage-wise, how much of the content is devoted to the issue of homosexuality, it is less than 1%. Statistically speaking, it just is not a priority for the Bible.
And the few stories that do speak to the topic of same-sexuality are often taken out of proportion and out of context. One of the most famous examples of these texts is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which some of you might be familiar with. It’s a story that has become famous because of anti-sodomy laws that exist in some places still today and this concept of sodomy that is derived from this Bible story.
And “sodomy” is a word that we throw around a lot, without necessarily understanding what it means. We might have an idea that it refers to gay sex, that it’s somehow bad, when in reality, it has a very specific definition. And it is any sexual act that is not procreative.
So that opens the door wide to a whole host of things that are not limited to same-sex couples. And that’s interesting to remember in a context where our society loves to take the Bible out of context and use it for its own purposes.
So what does the story of Sodom and Gomorrah actually say?
Once upon a time, there was a city called Sodom, and there were two men traveling, trying to find a place to stay in the city limits.
They were having zero luck. They were about to give up and spend the night in the town’s square. But a man named Lot took pity on them and let them crash at his house for the night. Good thing he did, because not five minutes later, the town mob came banging on his door, demanding that he bring his guests out, that they might “know” them.
Now, when the Bible says “know” in this context, it’s not saying, “Hey, nice to meet you! Let me shake your hand!” No.
It’s, “Let us know them intimately, sexually,” and in this case, violently. We’re talking in this case about gang rape.
And the story continues. Lot begs the mob, “Please, I beg you, do not act so wickedly.” He then turns and offers his two virgin daughters to the mob in exchange, which is all kinds of twisted.
And then, the story ends when God gets angry at the whole situation and destroys the whole city for their sins.
But what exactly was the sin of Sodom? Was it men sleeping with men, or was it an angry mob banging on a man’s door and demanding to rape his house guests?
And you can see how quickly we leap to conclusions and how quickly that begins to affect our judgment.
JIM O’HANLON: So what does the story say? And what does the story not say?
The story describes an entire city that converges upon one house for the purpose of raping these two people. Does that mean that this is a story about two adults who want to have a consenting relationship, who want to publicly affirm a monogamous relationship and their commitment to each other? How does it really connect it all to that when it’s talking about an entire city that wants to have a mass rape of two people?
So you see this man, Lot, who sees this, and he stands against them, one person who stands against the entire city. He sees these two people, he sees they’re vulnerable, they’re traveling, they’re far from home, they’re people who could be preyed upon, they’re foreigners, they don’t belong.
So they’re weak and susceptible in so many ways, and he wants to protect them. And when the city says, “Let them come out here because we want to know them,” he begs them not to do this wicked thing.
And when he stands against the whole city, they then turn onto him and say, “You know what, Lot? You haven’t been here all that long. You’re not really one of us. You don’t have the same beliefs like us.”
So this is Lot, a man who himself is vulnerable in this situation, who’s going to put himself out for someone who is even more vulnerable than he is.
And as we heard, he says, “Take my daughters instead,” which raises the issue of: why would someone insist that you have to literally read this and you have to unquestionably apply the morality in a way that you must be obedient to it?
So when the Bible talks about what was the sin of Sodom, you can look throughout the Bible: over hundreds of centuries, it keeps referring back to Sodom and how bad Sodom was and how wicked Sodom was.
But what is it specifically that the Bible is talking about? Is it talking about same-sex partners, or is it talking about violence and violating people sexually?
There’s a part in the Bible, just a little bit further, in the book of Ezekiel, where it talks about what Sodom did that was so wrong. And it says in Ezekiel, “Now, this was the sin of your sister Sodom.” And it’s saying “sister” just in a metaphorical way. These cities are all in a location.
They’re sister cities. They refer to the population as daughters. But they’re talking about the city and its population. “Now, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were overfed, arrogant and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
So it seems this thing has become something that’s used to target a minority group, to say that this minority should be shunned and they should be punished, when it’s talking about how the people who are weakest among us, the people who need us the most, the most vulnerable people among us, are people that we need to be thinking about.
So when people look at the Bible, they need to think about all these different literary types: love songs, poems, different kinds of literature, people dealing with big life questions. There’s all different kinds of literature and genres.
And when we read something in the Bible, we need to put it in its literary context, we need to put it in its historical context, understand who these people are and what the time period was.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: So when we read the Bible in our own context, especially in light of the recent attention that issues of the LGBTQ community have received, it’s important to do two things.
And the first is exactly what we have been doing: to take the texts that do talk about homosexuality, few though they may be, and really dig into them and read them for ourselves and ask, “What do they really say and what do they really not say? And then, what does that mean?”
And the other thing we can do is read the Bible in context, as a whole, in all of its multiple and diverse voices, and ask, “What counter-voices could we lift up that might actually be queer-positive?”
Now, that’s different from saying that the Bible somehow has a hidden gay agenda, because it doesn’t. It really doesn’t have any agenda.
But there are different voices that stand in contrast to the ones that the media would have us lift up. One of the most powerful examples, I think, is from the book of Acts, which is basically the story of the earliest years of Christianity, in which people like Peter and Paul are going out into all the world, sharing what they’ve learned and been taught by Jesus and encountering on the way a whole lot of diverse and unexpected scenarios.
And one of those is when the apostle Philip is on a road, traveling somewhere, and he meets and Ethiopian eunuch.
Now, what is that? Well, Ethiopian, in this case, is just shorthand for anyone from Africa, south of the Sahara, with dark skin.
So there you go: an outsider on one count, because of the way he looks. And a eunuch is a man who worked on a royal court and had undergone ritual castration, so that he could serve the monarchy without posing the threat of producing male heirs who could usurp the throne.
Now, eunuchs, in Judaism of that day and age, were not full members of society. They were subject to all kinds of ritual prohibitions, they were excluded.
So again, you have a double outsider in this Ethiopian eunuch.
And what happens? Well, he and Philip get to talking, one thing leads to another.
Next thing you know, the eunuch is saying, “Hey, look! Here’s a pool of water on the side of the road. What is to prevent me from being baptized, from becoming a full member of this community, right here, right now?”
And Philip says, “Sure. Let’s do it.” He doesn’t interrogate him about his sexual practices. He doesn’t say, “Oh nah, you’re not qualified.” No! He just welcomes him on the spot.
And that story is a powerful counter-voice that values inclusion and acceptance of someone who, in today’s context, might have some parallels with the transgender community.
Another example that I’d like to leave you with — there are many — is from the letter to the Galatians, which is a very early piece of Christian correspondence in which Paul is describing what the afterlife is like. And he says, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there’s neither slave nor free, and there’s neither male nor female.”
So he’s radically just erasing all the boundaries and distinctions that we put up among ourselves and saying, “In the end, none of that matters.”
So my question to you is: what does it mean to say that, in Christ, there’s neither male nor female, in a world where people are insisting that the Bible says, “No, actually there is male and female,” and that affects what kind of bathrooms we have and that affects what kind of marriage we have? And in reality, what the Bible says is much more complex than that.
JIM O’HANLON: And why do we even care what the Bible says, these stories from thousands of years ago? If you look at our society, we’ve made so much progress just in this generation, in terms of our understanding of homosexuality.
The medical community, just a generation ago, was describing homosexuality as a disorder. They’ve rewritten those manuals to no longer describe homosexuality as a disorder.
Now, it’s one of a different range of sexualities. Legally and politically, we’ve come so far. Just in the past couple of decades, just in this time now, just in the lifetime of these high school students, the Supreme Court has overturned laws that were against sodomy, the Supreme Court’s said there’s marriage equality.
Why would we go back thousands of years, tens of thousands of years, when we’ve made so much progress just in the recent time in our understanding of human sexuality? The reason is because people still continue to base their values and their morality on these old scriptures.
People still look to their religious traditions and to the understandings they get from these religious traditions, they continue to undergird, they continue to be the foundation of our science, of our laws.
So we need to understand what are the beliefs and values that people are coming with. And we see there are still people whose beliefs and values lead them to discriminate.
This congressman who stood on the floor of the House of Representatives last month doesn’t want people talking about equality for same-sex couples. He doesn’t want people talking about gender identity as something that can be defined different from biological gender. And he wants to use the Bible because he believes he can use that to push across his point and tell people that they can’t argue with that.
We need to be looking at the Bible and understanding the values and the morality that people should be getting from it, because people continue to discriminate and people even continue to use violence. We see gay and lesbian and transgender and homosexual people, young people, high school people, continuing to be discriminated against, harassed, ridiculed, tormented.
We continue to see stories like Tyler Clementi, 18 years old. Just back in 2003, his roommate thought it would be fun to videotape him having an intimate moment. He ended up taking his own life.
And there are many stories like this, so that’s why this is important. In Greenwich Village, just in 2013, a man went around, harassing people, giving people a hard time because he thought they were gay or lesbian, confronting them and tormenting them.
Finally, he goes up to one man and starts to interact and to have an altercation with him, until he finally takes out a gun and shoots him. Mark Carson, 32 years old, killed because he was gay, walking in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, where the modern Gay Rights Movement began.
That’s why these scriptures matter, and that’s why it matters that we look at them and that’s why it matters that we take them seriously.
We take these stories seriously, and we take the lessons that we draw from them seriously. We see the story of Lot, a man who stands against an entire city that believes that they can discriminate against people because they’re outsiders. He stands against them for their discrimination, he stands against them because of their violence, because they want to violate these people sexually, and we see this as a very serious story for us, that we can learn from today.
And that’s why we stand here today, saying that we believe that being gay is not a sin. Period.