Why Arguing the “Clobber Passages” Might Be Helpful Now


Why Arguing the “Clobber Passages” Might Be Helpful Now

This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project.

Proposition: Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I think there is a place for thoughtful engagement over the “clobber passages.”

Yep. The Clobber Passages. Those six (or eight, depending on who you’re talking to) passages in the Bible that appear to “clobber” the idea that God could ever love Gay people just the way they are.

As a liberal and an advocate for full LGBT inclusion in the life of both the church and the culture, I often run into a line of questioning (particularly on Social Media and the comment threads on blog posts I write—oh, the comment threads … boy howdy!) that goes something like this:

“How can you call yourself a Christian and still be for … you know … Gays? Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

I can’t tell you how many literary interactions I’ve had that began with something very much like, “You can’t believe that stuff and still believe the Bible.” It happens. (Like here or here or here).

To which I respond with as much dignity as I can muster, trying hard not to sound like a third grader: “Can too!”

What happens next is predictable.

“Well then, what do you do with __ (fill in the blank with Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, etc.)?”

So, I begin my spiel: “You must realize that the world of the Bible and the world of twenty-first century suburbanites are different worlds … ” And off I go.

But as I’m writing to my newest interlocutor for what seems to me at this point like the 37th time, I get a hollow feeling in my stomach. Even if I were the Albert Einstein of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, even if I could come up with some kind of seemingly airtight Thomist proof for my position, even if I could make the angels sing and the Begonias bloom on command (which, by the way, if it needs to be said, I am not and I cannot) I would still never be able to convince my conversational dance partner of the truth of my arguments … that the world out of which the Bible emerged could never have anticipated the world we inhabit.

I often despair, convinced that even making these arguments is pointless, since I’m never going to convince the person with whom I’m arguing.

Having said all that, though, I am beginning to think that having a well-reasoned response to the “You-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-still-believe-the-Bible-doesn’t-condemn-gay-people” argument is worthwhile … especially now.

Why do I say that?

Lisa Murkowski.

Yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) came out in support of same gender marriage.

Big deal, you say. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) did something very nearly like it a few months ago.

I know. But as someone commented on my Facebook page yesterday after I’d posted a link about Lisa Murkowski, “It feels like we’re reaching critical mass.”1

[As I write this, an announcement has just been released that the leader of Exodus International (an organizational leader in “ex-gay” treatment) is apologizing to the Gay community for years of abuse. Another article announces that Exodus International is shutting down altogether.]

I know right?

I think there can be no denying the obvious indicators that we are reaching critical mass, a sociological tipping point2 on the issue of embracing the full inclusion of LGBT people.

But here’s the thing: This kind of cultural shift doesn’t take place in an intellectual and moral vacuum.

What do I mean?

Well, even though the current is shifting, that doesn’t mean everyone will automatically turn around and swim in the other direction … just because everyone else appears to be doing so. In fact, the cultural trope of hyper-individuality (Thank you, Baby Boomers!) stands explicitly over against the facile adoption of “what everyone else is doing” (c.f. your mom’s favorite incredulous question: “You wouldn’t jump off a bridge just because your friends did, would you?”).

Consequently, and even if it’s for their own peace of mind, people who are making huge alterations in their thinking patterns need the fortification of good intellectual and moral reasoning. Most folks can’t just turn on a dime; they need good reasons to change.

All of which we know instinctively, right?

But here’s part of the psychology behind such a change: When things are moving so rapidly, many people who don’t want to be left behind are looking for intellectual and moral reasons to do what everyone else is doing. Those reasons need some substance, of course. But if you can provide them good reasons, many people who find themselves in the midst of a great cultural shift, are looking for reasonable justification that will give them permission to change their minds.

Exhibit A: Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski, who has long opposed same gender marriage, admitted in March that her views on the issue have been evolving. The reason she gave yesterday for changing her mind involves an Alaskan military couple who are Lesbian. These two women have taken in foster children, prompting Murkowski to observe that “our government does not meet this family halfway and allow them to be legally recognized as spouses.” Our inability to recognize these fine women’s relationship as legitimate gave Sen. Murkowski the reason she needed to change her mind.

Now, I’m not saying that Sen. Murkowski’s shift is a cynical ploy to get on the right side of history. Far from it. In fact, I take her at her word, believing she genuinely means what she says about the change in her thinking. I’m just saying that when the cultural pressure to change reaches a certain point, many people will start listening to stories, Biblical arguments, scientific data that they were able to ignore before.

People need reassurances that they’re not jumping off a bridge into uncertain waters. Lisa Murkowski needed the story of that Lesbian family. Other people are going to need reassurance that they can simultaneously believe the Bible and that God doesn’t hate Gay people.

So, I think refuting the clobber passages is an essential enterprise now more than ever–not because it will convince those determined not to hear, but because it promises to give support to those searching for a new way to think.


  1. “In social dynamics, critical mass is a sufficient number of adopters of an innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_mass_(sociodynamics)) ↩
  2. “In sociology, a tipping point is a point in time when a group–-or a large number of group members–rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_(sociology)) ↩
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About Derek Penwell

Derek Penwell is an author, editor, speaker, and activist. He is the senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and a former lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Louisville. He is the author of The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World, from Chalice Press, about how mainline denominations can avoid despair in an emerging world. He currently edits a blog on emergence Christianity, dmergent.org, and blogs at his own site at derekpenwell.net.

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