It’s February, so it’s impossible to avoid the trappings of Valentine’s Day—hearts, candy, and cheap chocolates. The holiday’s murky history has religious roots. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes three different St. Valentines—all were martyred. Valentine’s Day may be celebrated mid-February to commemorate one of their deaths or burials. Another possibility is that the church may have chosen this date to Christianize the celebration of Lupercalia, an ancient fertility rite that involved sacrificing a goat and a dog.
Let Everyone Take a Chance on Romance
Valentine's Day is for anyone who loves and is loved
Murdered saints and goat sacrifices aside, I admit that I love Valentine’s Day. And I am shocked and saddened that there are Christians who would deny some people the joy of romantic love in same-sex relationships.
It is interesting that so many people claim we should adhere to a Biblical model of marriage. In our country today, most people would agree that an ideal marriage is when two adults fall in love and freely choose to commit themselves to each other forever in an equal partnership that enriches both their lives. This does not exist in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it was common for men to have multiple wives and concubines. Throughout the Bible, marriage was a way of uniting families and a matter of economics. If a man found a woman he wanted to marry, it was common practice to pay a price, called a dowry, to the woman’s father. Women were not given a choice in the matter. We cannot look to the Bible as an example of how to have a proper romantic relationship or how to choose a marriage partner because that is not something we find in scripture. There is no Biblical model for the way we do marriage today. In Deuteronomy 22 it says that if it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin at the time of her wedding she should be stoned to death. This would put a damper on most of the weddings I perform. It also says adulterers should be punished by stoning. As the ex-wife of an adulterer, I am more sympathetic to this one, but it’s still a bad idea.
I am a member of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.) We are the largest Lutheran church body in the United States with about 3 million members. The ELCA does not prohibit same-sex weddings and we have pastors and bishops who are members of the LGTBQ+ community. There are many ELCA members who are still not on board for complete marriage equality. Each congregation is free to decide for itself. I would have a hard time being part of a congregation that denied marriage to some of its members.
A young member of one of my churches told me about a discussion she had at work. She is in a romantic relationship with another woman. Her colleague said, “I don’t have anything against you. I just don’t agree with it.” This was confusing for her. She wonders, “What is there to disagree with? Do you disagree that I am a woman or that I like women? Do you disagree that I am a human being with the same feelings, rights, hopes and fears as you?” When asked why she “disagrees” with same gender romantic relationships, the woman replied, “Because the Bible says.”
Many people would be surprised to know how little the Bible actually says on this subject. Jesus did not mention homosexuality at all—not once. There are seven places in the Bible that are typically used to condemn homosexuality—Genesis 9:20-27, 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 1:26-27. The first two are about rape and attempted rape. No one would disagree that rape is wrong. The next three are most likely about men taking advantage of younger men or boys and slaves. The last one has to do with a pagan temple where St. Paul was condemning the use of prostitutes as part of religious ceremonies. None of these texts are about same gender relationships. Even if they were, it would not be worth arguing over. There are parts of the Bible that do not apply to our context today. I disobey the Biblical prohibition against wearing clothes of blended fabrics every day. (Leviticus 19:19) I don’t even feel bad about it. I also ignore St. Paul’s admonition for women to be silent in churches and not be permitted to speak. (1 Corinthians 14:34) I feel my preaching would suffer if I had to pantomime my sermons. Psalm 137:9 asks God to bash Babylonian babies’ heads on rocks to avenge the cruel treatment of the Israelites. This sort of prayer is frowned upon in my church.
I believe that most people who are against full equality for our LGTBQ+ siblings are fooling themselves when they say it is because of the Bible. Maybe they don’t realize that they are fine with disregarding other parts of the Bible that are not central to our faith. They can’t embrace equality for sexual minorities because it makes them uncomfortable. It’s a sin to deny someone their full humanity to ease your own discomfort.
Christians should not focus on individual verses of scripture we have taken out of context. We worship Christ. Martin Luther said that the Bible is the manger that holds the Christ child. We don’t worship the manger, we worship Jesus. Jesus is not dead or gone. He continues to guide and inspire us to new and better ways to love our neighbors. How would Jesus have us treat members of the LGTBQ+ community? Jesus was inclusive, peace loving and a champion of the underdog. He chose to spend his time with the religious outcasts of his day. His harshest criticism was for the self-righteous religious authorities who excluded those they deemed to be unworthy. I believe that Jesus would not deny anyone the opportunity to live in a loving and committed relationship. Valentine’s Day is for anyone who is willing to take a chance on romance. A church that rejects the possibility of love for everyone, rejects Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Judy Kincaid serves as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. A featured preacher on the website, “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” Judy received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University and her Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary. She earned her doctorate in Biblical Preaching in 2016. She lives in a church parsonage with her college professor husband, two beautiful daughters, two dogs, three cats, two little birds, a turtle and a snake.
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