Christians who condemn LGBTQ persons typically do so on the basis of six short Bible passages. These have come to be known as the “clobber verses,” authoritative biblical injunctions believed to decisively end all debate and discussion regarding sexual identity. The passages in question are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10. None of them actually says “being gay is a mortal sin,” but they all give the sense of unequivocal disapproval or prohibition of some manner of same-sex practice. The meaning of each text has been and will continue to be researched and debated, and I think that is appropriate and important. But that’s not what this post is about. My point is that “Bible clobberin’” is an irresponsible and specious way to engage with both Bible and neighbor. Here’s why it’s wrong, no matter what the verses say.
It’s Dishonest and Revealing
Bible clobberin’ (like its cousin proof-texting) is a foolish and destructive way of interacting with scripture. It betrays an ignorance of what the Bible is and how it can be read and interpreted fruitfully. It ignores the immediate setting of a verse or passage and sidesteps crucial questions of authorial intent and interpretive possibility, all while ignoring the diverse and conversant nature of the whole Bible as a collection. It fails to ask important questions: Who wrote this text? Why? To what historical reality or crisis were they responding? How does this text interact with other parts of the Bible? How does it hold up next to the teaching of Jesus?
To the clobberer, these questions are distractions that threaten to compromise or dilute the raw “biblical truth.” They are tricks played by liberals and unbelievers to help people wriggle out of the Bible’s grip and “get away with sin.” Yet, when presented with a text which appears to endorse a principle or institution which they consider questionable or archaic, the clobberer will suddenly employ all the nuances of literary criticism to dismiss the offending notion. “This was written in a different time and place…” “You have to read the whole chapter to see what it’s really saying…” “That Greek word has a wide range of meanings…” If exegesis and interpretation are not part of your regular interface with the Bible but only last resorts to get you out of a rhetorical jam, you have an unhealthy relationship with the book you claim to believe, follow, and obey. Bible clobberin’ exposes all of this dysfunction, whether we recognize it or not.
It’s Hypocritical and Harmful
By condemning a neighbor according to “what the Bible says,” clobberers mischaracterize themselves as worthy accusers and the Bible as a platform for accusation. It’s an arrogant and condescending move that implies the clobberer is either supernaturally righteous (unlikely) or a devious hypocrite (significantly more likely). It also misrepresents the Bible, reducing a dense, complex, sprawling, spiritual library to a single flaming arrow of personal disapproval and vilification. Clobber verses damage the reputations of everyone (and every book) involved.
They also connect the clobberer to every other unsavory institution and movement that has used clobber verses to pursue its own interests. In American history alone there have been “cut-and-dried” biblical cases made against the abolition of slavery, gender equality, civil rights, and interracial marriage, to name just a few. Even the most staunch clobberers I know wave a dismissive hand at these bald attempts to misuse the Bible, but in shockingly recent times they were ubiquitous among prominent groups of “Bible believers.” If you think your clobber verses are different because they’re really really true and really really relevant, you haven’t grasped the nature and danger of the role you have assumed or the nasty legacy it leaves.
It’s Not What Christians Are Supposed To Be Doing With Their Bibles
Despite the Bible-clobberin’ posture of popular American Christianity, scripture was never meant to be wielded as a weapon against the unbelieving hordes. Bible texts were written to be sources of inspiration and hope for those who already believe. Any moral challenge they offer is a matter between the text and its readers, be they individuals or congregations. The Christian should not imagine that they are charged with extending its warnings and injunctions to the general public. Meanwhile, of course, in-house Bible clobberin’ between believers is every bit as reckless and destructive as it is anywhere else.
It is also ironic that, having made scripture the central authority for belief and living, so many Protestants and evangelicals have forgotten how to read and understand it like Jesus did. Consider two episodes from scripture when Jesus stopped hyper-righteous mobs hopped up on Bible truth from literally clobbering accused sinners:
In John 8:1-11, a crowd is really excited for an opportunity to obey Leviticus 20:10 and stone a woman caught in adultery, but Jesus kills their buzz. Mind you, this woman doesn’t just have a reputation or an orientation toward something that offends the crowd, she is apprehended in the throes of an actual sinful activity! And Jesus rescues her, despite “what the Bible says.”
Then in John 10:31-39, another mob (the Bible is a lot like The Simpsons) seeks to stone a truly innocent person: Jesus himself. They want to stand up for traditional values by stoning him for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14). Not only does Jesus defend himself, he does it by quoting scripture back at his attackers (Psalm 82, it’s complicated)! The Bible can condemn and it can save.
In the hands of human interpreters, scripture is a tool that can either do the work of “the satan” (literally “the accuser”) or the work of Christ. It can be twisted into an instrument of accusation, condemnation, and blame, or it can advocate, liberate, and rescue. When some Christians opine that the only way to truly love their neighbor is to pummel them with “hard truth,” they may be justifying their own willing participation in the sort of victimization and oppression which Jesus decried and offers to save us from. Christian truth looks like selfless love and shared suffering, not hypocrisy and vain righteousness.