Speaking of love, let’s talk about the ‘Clobber’ Passages

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If you were in attendance Sunday, September 26th or read the blog post that summarized that sermon, you will know that we looked at 1 Corinthians 13—the LOVE chapter. We focused on this reality: we can have all the knowledge in the world and complete access to the mysteries of God, and yet if we have not love, we are nothing. Worse yet, we might be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Few Christians ever speak about God and think of themselves as sounding like a clanging symbol. Yet, every one of us knows how that works. When we see a Christian on TV or on social media who claims to speak for God, but has no semblance of love, we start to cringe and feel the need to look away.

Sometimes, that person is us. Sometimes, it’s me. Lord, have mercy.

When it comes to relationships and human sexuality (the focus of our current sermon series), we need to be mindful of this ugly phenomenon highlighted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Left to our own devices, we can become a noisy gong instead of a winsome witness.

Take, for instance, the six passages of scripture that deal directly with the topic of same-sex behavior (Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10-11). In the context of this conversation about sexuality, it’s good to familiarize yourself with these passages.

It’s equally important to know that, over time, these passages have come to be known as “the clobber passages.” That’s because those who experience same-sex attraction have also experienced Christians clobbering them over the head with these passages. It doesn’t take a lot of discernment to perceive whether ‘clobber’ is a word more akin to an act of love or to the cacophonous ringing of a noisy gong.

As a church, we have to own up to the misuse of these passages. Regardless of how clear we believe they are about certain behaviors, we are never justified in using them as a means of debilitating judgment and condemnation. Yet, if you read a memoir by someone who experiences same-sex attraction, you will almost invariably find a section where the person describes the painful experience of being condemned by Christians. The person is struggling with their sexuality and in the midst of that struggle, they receive condemnation instead of compassion.

Some may respond to this by saying “regardless of how people feel, we need to proclaim the truth.” If that’s you, I would simply encourage you to keep a few things in mind: first, yes, there are certain instances where our culture has become far too sensitive to people’s feelings. I agree. But second, keep the life of Jesus in mind: when Jesus spoke to people on the margins, he almost always led with compassion. When he was upfront with the truth, it was invariably with the religious leaders of the day. That’s informative—when we approach sexual minorities, we should follow the way of Jesus by leading with compassion. Third, I would refer you to a major point from the Sept. 26 sermon: we need to learn to hold things in tension; i.e., people’s feelings are not irrelevant in light of “the truth.” We can be sensitive to multiple things at once, including God’s design for relationships and the emotional state of the person we’re talking to.

In a later post, I will return to these “clobber” passages so that we can explore their content. But for now, it’s enough to understand that they have been misused. And regardless of whether we ourselves were the actual people doing the condemning, we are all part of a larger church that has done such things. We need to be vocal in our repentance and seek, as best we can, to chose a different path, the difficult path of love. As one of our members is fond of saying, we default to acts of power—i.e., clobbering—when we’re unwilling to do the difficult work of love.

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