Professor Youtha Hardman-Cromwell of the Wesley Theological Seminary, a longtime advocate of LGBTQ causes and frequent General Conference delegate, spoke at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia, as part of its “Holy Conversation Series” on May 13, 2014. The Holy Conversation series was held in the church’s sanctuary, and this series was part of Mount Olivet UMC’s period of reflection and discernment on how the church can live out its vision statement as a congregation in “relation to their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.” Hardman-Cromwell, who teaches Practice of Ministry and Mission at the Wesley Theological Seminary, was invited to explore the Scripture and different ways to read and understand relevant (to homosexuality) scriptural passage. She spoke on the theme: “What the Scripture Says about Homosexuality.” Her answer was that the Bible does not address homosexual practice, which the United Methodist Church calls “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Professor Hardman-Cromwell began her 45 minute presentation with a prayer saying, “Oh God strengthen our understanding of your words, and broaden the horizon of our minds to appreciate different interpretations of your words. In Jesus name we pray.” Then she opined the Bible is “a collection of books and that it has been impacted over the years by rational editorial process that has happened over many centuries.” She referred to the Bible as “writing by humans who believe themselves to be inspired by God.” Primarily the Bible deals with the relationship between God and God’s people.
Hardman-Cromwell’s explained the Bible is “living, and alive, and lively,” and she believes God’s Spirit animates the scriptures and we have taken them form one context to be appropriated in another context. Therefore, the Bible is always being interpreted and transformed as it is transforming us. She quoted the late Harvard University chaplain Peter Gomes in saying that “the questions that the Bible seeks to answer are these: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? What does it mean to be good? What is evil, and how do I deal with it? And how do I deal with death?” to say that those are the questions we ask as we read the scriptures.
The Wesley Seminary professor continued with a Buddhist saying, “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men old; seek what they sought” (Matsuo Basho), make a point of the inclusive nature of the Bible. For example, she said “Christianity became the religion of the oppressed American slaves and of their oppressors” and spoke to them in their own way. With more reference to quotes from Peter Gomes, she said we do not trust the Bible in the sense that it is fact, but because in its infinite variety it points to the truth and communicates truth because it comes from the Truth which we call God. She went on to highlight three tendencies of wrongly interpreting the Bible:
– The first is the tendency of worshiping the Bible, it causes us to ascribe to it what we ought to ascribe to God.
– Second is the tendency to worship the text of the Scriptures; that is giving greater advocacy to the word of the text then the spirit that is behind the Word.
– And third, the worship of the culture. That is, forcing the Bible to conform to the norms that are of a prevailing culture.
Speaking about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, she said the easy answer is “nothing.” That is because, she adds, the term homosexuality is not found in the original Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic scriptures. It’s a phrase coined in 1892. But we tend to apply what we find in scriptures today to homosexuality. The Professor explained that even the word homosexuality does not have a fixed meaning nowadays, so she decided to explore what she termed as “commonly anti-homosexuality references from the Bible” and give her interpretation. She also lifted up some points that don’t always get mentioned as much, according to her.
Professor Hardman-Cromwell’s first biblical reference was Genesis 1 and 2. She indicated that there are 2 different creation stories found in the passage. Her argument is that the purpose of Genesis 1 & 2 is to tell us where we come from. She articulates that despite the vast changes in technologies from then till now, we come from the union of part of a man and a woman. According to Hardman-Cromwell, this is not about relationships in particular; it is about our genealogy, it says nothing about Adam and Eve being married. However, she claims, the passage establishes the core humanity of male and female (that males and females are human).
Professor Hardman-Cromwell also mentioned the biblical passage of Genesis 19. She argued that the grave wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah in the passage is not known, and the word used there which is now translated as sodomy refers to temple prostitution in its original sense; therefore, it does not refer to homosexuality. She claims that story of the men on Sodom and Gomorrah’s confrontation with Lot and actions towards the angels is actually lack of hospitality and the desire to commit homosexual rape, but it does not condemn the act of homosexuality. To support her argument she referred to the case of David and Bathsheba.
She continued to point out several other passages of Scripture and give her interpretations of them in support of her argument, trying to endorse the acceptance homosexuality in the church.