It’s Unclobbering Time!- a book review

When I hear the word clobber, I  always think of  Ben Grimm—the rock-giant dubbed “The Thing” from the pages of Fantastic Four. Ben would arrive on the scene in his blue Speedo, pummel the hoards of evil henchmen and shout, “It’s Clobbering Time!” Ben Grimm or his speedo has very little to do with the book I’m reviewing here.  Colby Martin’s Unclobber was not written as an answer to comic book violence, but to the so-called clobber passages—the six passages in the Christian Bible that directly address homosexuality used by conservatives to prove the sinfulness of the gay lifestyle.

unclobberMartin is the founding pastor of Sojourn Grace Collective , a progressive Christian community in San Diego; yet Martin didn’t start out as a progressive. He grew up conservative  and was ordained as the worship arts pastor at a conservative evangelical Bible church. However, he became increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional view of the LGBTQ community as his passion for justice, mercy and grace grew. Then his tenure at the church ended  because of one Facebook post.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed and Martin expressed joy on social media for what he felt was the end of a discriminatory policy. This sent shock waves through his faith community. Martin was called on the carpet and asked whether or not he believed homosexuality was a sin. He presented the elders with a ten-page paper explaining his position and reading of Scripture. He was fired even though his church had never taught publicly on homosexuality. In the aftermath, the clobber passages were quoted to him ad naseum.

Unclobber is one part memoir and one part exegetical survey. The even-numbered chapters walk through the clobber passages, unclobbering them, and providing an affirming interpretation; the odd chapters describe Martin’s journey from conservative pastor to LGBTQ ally. Martin is still very much evangelical, the Bible bleeds into his story, and his testimony informs his reading of scripture. Martin wrote this book for anyone who has felt the dissonance between head and heart in their response to the LGBT community (i.e. believing the Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin, but feeling affirming toward for LGBTQ neighbors and uncomfortable with some judgmental rhetoric).

Martin is an attentive reader of scripture and it is his reading of the Bible which leads him to the affirming position (when he is fired from the church, he doesn’t actually have any close gay friends). In his handling of the clobber passages he engages in narrative and canonical criticism of Genesis 19 (the one narrative clobber passage), historical criticism, rhetorical criticism and linguistic analysis. The clobber passages Martin discusses are Gen 19, Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10.

I like this book, in part because I like memoirs of pastors getting fired. They make me feel good. Martin’s story is a compelling read, he is funny and vulnerable. Martin also makes several strong cases in his handling of the clobber passages. He does a good job demonstrating Genesis 19 (the destruction of Sodom) has little to say about homosexuality (i.e. gang rape and inhospitality are much bigger issues in the text). He ascribes the Levitical prohibitions to a cultural, covenantal moment where Israel (possibly just the Levites) were  instructed on how to be radically different from the nations by repudiating Canaanite practices (many of the Levitical restrictions no longer apply to us, or at least not in the same way). He sets the Romans passage within the larger argument of the epistle and asserts it is possibly a Jewish quotation which Paul uses rhetorically before addressing where his Jewish readers likewise fall short of the glory of God.  With the other epistles, he discusses the nature of arkenokites and malakos  (the active and passive members of a male gay relationship, or prostitute and the John?) as describing a type of homosexual practice which bears little resemblance to committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. He opens up the possibility that some types of homosexuality are condemned in scripture, though not all.

Martin doesn’t dismiss these clobber passages, so much as offer an account of them which is self-consciously inclusive and gracious. I appreciate his commitment to wrestling with the scriptures he finds difficult rather than simply jettisoning the hard stuff. But conservatives and traditional interpreters won’t likely find Martin’s arguments compelling. He traverses similar ground similar to other pro-LGBTQ hermeneutical approaches (i.e. William Countryman, Dale Martin, Matthew Vines) which conservatives are well aware of. Occasionally I found his arguments convoluted (especially in the case of Romans). I also felt like Martin did a better job with the Old Testament passages than he did with interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Still, this remains an intelligent case for reading the Bible inclusively  from a Bible-believing cisgender, heterosexual pastor. You don’t see that everyday.

This is a worthwhile read whether you agree with Martin’s biblical interpretation or not. Conservative Christians ought to examine these clobber passages and discover what they say (or don’t say) about sexual orientation and gender. To that end, Martin is a good dialogue partner because he takes the Bible seriously and engages these texts. LGBTQ allies will appreciate Martin’s story and commitment to understanding the Gospel of Grace inclusively. Those on the fence will find plenty of food for thought. So put on your blue Speedo and attack this book. “It’s Unclobbering time!” I give it four stars ☆☆☆☆

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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8 thoughts on “It’s Unclobbering Time!- a book review”

  1. Im not so sure that it was “his reading of the Bible which leads him to the affirming position”. In chapter 1, after he’s detailed his becoming a Christian, the first thing he talks of is his discomfort with discrimination against women, against other races and against gay people. He then refers to this as a conflict between his heart opposing discrimination, and his head telling him that discrimination sometimes has a theological mandate. Much of the rest of the first half of the book carries a theme of him trying to integrate his head and his heart.

    In other words, he then spent a lot of time grappling with his understanding of scripture saying one thing, and his heart saying another. And he indicates he read materials from people like McLaren, Vines and others until he was better able to align his head and his heart, by coming to a new understanding of Scripture. The new understanding is partially based not so much on what Scripture says, but on obscure theories and doubts about whether it’s translated accurately. And at several points, it seemed to me that he simply ignores key elements that run counter to his preferred conclusions. EG I didnt notice him raise the heteronormativity of Genesis 2. And when discussing Sodom & Gomorrah, I didnt notice him reference Jude 7. And in chapter 6, he writes that “Some scholars maintain that Leviticus applied only to men of the priestly tribe of Levi. Other scholars maintain that these Clobber Passages applied only to Jewish men living in the Holy Land.” But he fails to point out that other scholars state that there’s good reason to conclude that Leviticus applied to all.

    1. I missed these comments when you posted, and not interested in debating the merits of my review. However, stasisonline? Really? The Christian life is about total heart change, disequilibrium and transformation but you want stasis? Um okay.

      On your substantive comments, I don’t think Colby gets around Romans 1 too well. The Sodom and Gomorrah passage in Genesis 19 has too much going on to make it a blanket denunciation of homosexuality. Even if you consider Jude 7, ἐκπορνεύω is a blanket term, and that the men of Sodom wanted to rape Lot’s guests, is a sign of human sexuality gone awry and it has only a superficial relationship to anything to do with same-sex attraction. The other so called clobber passages (especially, as I said, Romans 1) are better at addressing the relevant issues than Genesis 19.

      You are quite right that Genesis 2 describes a hetrosexual relationship (I would also use Genesis 1:27 if I was going to build a case for hetronormativity by divine design. But this was a book about Clobber passages and whether you end up agreeing with Martin or not, it is worth pausing to consider how the Bible has been used to hurt people. There are many good exegetes that lack almost all pathos. And when we are talking about people’s life, identity and understanding we got to do better.

      I’ve reviewed books here which are LGBTQ affirming and books which are not. My point in offering this review is give people a sense of the argument the author is making, and certainly I have opinions and as the above notes, I am not uncritical of his reading of the biblical text.

  2. Im not so sure that the author is still very much evangelical. The first two reviews on the rear of my soft cover edition, are from Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. Not very evangelical. And in his Introduction, he describes himself as “a straight, white, formerly conservative evangelical pastor … who now leads a progressive Christian church”. Kinda sounds like he’s walked away from evangelical? And when envisioning establishing a new church, in chapter 9, he ponders “What would it look like to create a church that was uniquely Christian, but not exclusively? Where we … dont pretend that Christianity is the sole arbiter of truth …?” Not what Id expect to hear from an evangelical at all.

    1. I guess we have different understandings of what it means to be evangelical. The classic definition of evangelicalism that David Bebbington offers is biblicism,
      crucicentrism, conversionism, and missional activism. Certainly you can be all those things and a wee bit progressive. And in terms of world religions, there are evangelical inclusivists, even among more traditional evangelicals ( while certainly still affirming that Jesus is the unique son of God).

    1. Oops. Somehow the comment got posted before I had finished it.

      My own perspective departs from Luke 11:36 and Matthew 22:37-40.

      A sin is a sin because it leaves a wound in our eternal souls. Whenever anyone wishes to commit to a love that brings them solace from the wounds of the world, to deny them that healing is uncharitable, to say the least.

      1. I’ve prematurely posted myself ;). Certainly the greatest command should frame how we respond to this and any issue!

        P.S. -I’m James 😉

      2. Yeah, Microsoft keeps on adding new keys to the bottom row of their natural keyboard, and I think I hit one of them by accident.

        And thanks for the correction on the name. My sons keep fifty tabs open in their browsers, and I have trouble just scrolling up and down and keeping the details in my head so I can get a comment out!

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