The Bible tells me so.
Those who are against homosexuality often quote Bible verses — Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 22:5, and Genesis 18-19, among others — to “prove” that it is a sin. But Dr. Jim Dant, senior minister at Greenville First Baptist Church, says there is no valid, Christian, biblical argument against same-sex relationships between consenting adults.
“People may argue against homosexuality and LGBTQ identities, relationships, and rights on political, economic, or personal morals, but the Bible cannot credibly be used as a weapon in these fights,” he said. “The minute you bring the Bible into it, there’s no valid argument.”
The impetus for Dant’s recently released book, “This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians,” was that some members of Greenville First Baptist Church, which generated headlines in 2015 for how it addressed the LGBTQ community within its walls, asked for a simple-to-understand defense against those Bible verses that had become weapons against them.
“I wrote it for the 22-year-old lesbian girl sitting in the church pew and the grandmother whose grandson is gay,” Dant said. “It’s important to reconcile who they are with the Bible they read and the God they worship.”
Well before Dant became Greenville First Baptist’s pastor in 2014 and before a split U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a right nationwide, Greenville First Baptist was talking about how it would relate to the LGBTQ community.
Like many churches, Greenville First Baptist had members of the LGBTQ community worshipping in the church alongside its heterosexual members.
Through a six-month long discernment process that included small-circle discussions, the church came up with a consensus statement: “In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching, and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
When the congregation was invited to stand to affirm the consensus statement during a Sunday morning service in May 2015, only a dozen of the 800 people in attendance couldn’t stand. After the affirmation, Dant said one of the church’s many gay members said he and others simply wanted to be a part of congregational life. One of its most conservative members said the discernment process was “the proudest he’d ever been of the church” because it didn’t force him to give up his view.
“Within our congregation, 75 to 80 percent are welcoming and affirming to the LGBTQ community,” Dant said. “Twenty percent still struggle.”
The first couple of months after word of the consensus statement got out were not easy.
Talk radio vitriol caused the church to add security, something it retains today. The church was flooded with phone calls and emails, some of which said the church would die or would be struck by lightning. “They were brutal,” Dant said.
But instead of the death of the church those critics predicted, the church has flourished. It has added more than 200 new members. The majority are not gay, but instead people looking for a church that did not discriminate against those who are. In October, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus performed in the church sanctuary as a part of its 2017 Lavender Pen Tour that attracted a crowd of about 1,400. The church was swept for bombs not because of a threat but to ensure the church was safe and secure.
“We’re not trying to make ourselves the flagship,” Dant said. “But obviously, it has gotten bigger than first imagined.”
Making an argument
Dant’s book is meant as a quick reference for LGBTQ Christians who struggle against the biblical attacks hurled at them, for people of faith who struggle to understand how LGBTQ Christians can be welcomed in light of Bible verses that seem to exclude them, and for people who believe that God requires them to love and welcome all people but they can’t explain that biblically.
Dant, who took three days off to write the book, wanted to keep it simple.
“There are books out there that delve deeply into the theology and language of the biblical verses used to condemn homosexuality, but they are thick and scholarly,” he said. “What I heard from people is they needed something short and simple. The book is not intended to be a thorough theological discussion of sexuality in the biblical text. It is a survival manual for those on the firing line.”
Deuteronomy 22:5, which says it is abhorrent to God for a man to wear a woman’s clothing or a woman to wear man’s clothing, is often used against transgender individuals. But Dant said abomination has a moral connotation today that was not part of its original meaning.
Dant said Old Testament laws were meant to keep a person, primarily a man, ritually clean so he could enter the temple for worship. Anything that made that person unclean, such as being sick, touching a dead person, wearing mixed-fiber clothing, or not washing one’s hands according to a specified ritual was labeled an abomination, Dant said. Men would never wear a woman’s clothing or vice versa because she was likely “ritually unclean” by nature of biology and her role.
Dant said the command of the Bible verse had nothing to do with cross-dressing.
“Everyone ‘cross-dressed’ then,” he said. “Garments of men and women were primarily the same style,” Dant said. “Everyone wore dresses in the Middle East.”
Leviticus 18:22, the verse that says, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female,” had nothing to do with sexuality, Dant said. Rather, it had to do with property laws.
Dant doesn’t expect the book to change the beliefs of those who use the Bible as a weapon against LGBTQ Christians. “Information alone rarely changes anyone’s heart,” he said.
In Conversation with Jim Dant – “This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians”
When: Thursday, Feb. 15, 6 p.m.
Where: M. Judson Booksellers, 130 S. Main St.
Information: mjudsonbooks.com or 864-603-2412