With These Few (misunderstood) Verses We Oppress You

April 1, 2015

This article is an addendum to my recent “When Half Steps are Worse than No Steps” article in which I considered the absurdity of a church finally taking a welcoming stance but foregoing the affirming aspect and how such a stance is damaging and in many ways worse to LGBT church-seekers than explicit condemnation.

I only touched on scripture briefly in that post. I summed up my major point by stating that the debate over LGBT inclusivity in a religious context has little to do with sex at all but is instead about hermeneutics, interpretation, and the philosophy of scripture. The same debate has raged over centuries in relation to slavery and the rights of women. Now I have decided to reiterate some of the major arguments against the misuse of the few key verses fundamentalist Christians use to oppress the LGBT community. This is particularly of importance to those “Bible believing” churches, quite often non-denominational churches who shirk the organizational governance of a denominational body to rely solely on the Bible. Such churches often do so to avoid developments such as what occurred recently when an LGBT affirming position was made official by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Such decisions can’t affect a non-denominational church nor can the “academics” of denominationally authorized seminary education creep into pastoral theology when such education is avoided. These type of churches were the fastest growing part of American Christianity for many decades though many signs point to that growth being past its peak and in recession now. But, those churches are holding fast in the suburban and rural south and Midwest and are largely the primary source of resistance to equality movements in such states.  The real problem in how these churches and by default their community use scripture is that no one in the Christian world really gives equal weight to all passages of scripture. Every person who takes scripture seriously develops a hermeneutic lens through which to interpret, coalesce and organize a view. Otherwise it’s random picking and choosing which itself is its own system albeit one confined to one’s personal prejudices and whims.
Once again I remind readers I am not directing you to a particular hermeneutic. I am not recommending you to a particular church or even claiming you should go to a church at all. I am outside of that tent looking in. I am doing so because religion remains important to me–it should remain important to every Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist and Secularist alike because people behave as if God exists and influence the lives of all around them based on their understanding of God. With the Indiana law in full effect (and in effect in so many other states as well) it is important  that all know what such positions are grounded in in the first place. I claim they are based on faulty reasoning, misinterpretation, and existing prejudices masked incorrectly with a “religious” rationale.
So–when a Christian claims to be against gay marriage, LGBT ordination, or an “affirming” church stance what are they drawing on from their religion and text?
Leviticus chapter 18

Nestled in the holiness code of the ancient Israelites, directly following a chapter detailing how animal sacrifices are to be done this text forbids the eating of blood (the inspiration for many kosher food laws) and condemns goat-worship. Leviticus 19 includes a large litany of sexual prohibitions. Beyond incest, sex with a woman on her period  is explicitly forbidden (where are those sermons at? That would be interesting). Sacrificing your children to Molech–obviously a practice in some way desirable to its original audience or such a restriction wouldn’t need to be stated–is outlawed. Immediately after the Molech prohibition “laying with a man as with a woman” is prohibited. In the chapter that follows (still in the same holiness code) tattoos are explicitly forbidden. I’ve seen quite a few cross and Jesus tattoos but have never heard an anti-tattoo sermon or read such a thing on any church billboard, certainly not as emphatic as the anti-gay church billboards read.

There are several points worth noting regarding Lev 18:22. First, this passage arrives after a break in the litany of forbidden sexual activities. The first 20 verses line-by-line forbid incest with particular relatives. All sexual prohibitions here are addressed to Israelite males as sex in this code is typified as something done to someone/thing else–women were not “active participants” so to speak nor were they considered as much more than something which is acted upon. Anyway, 18:22 arrives after that string of notation is broken and follows directly on the Moloch passage. Many scholars have interpreted it based on the literal translation of the Hebrew and  the stylistic shift to be specifically focusing on a pagan temple practice of ritual anal sex. Thus, they interpret it is as forbidding that specific practice. That’s an understandable way to pay heed to the text without ignoring it I suppose. But the bigger issue here is the role the holiness code as a whole plays. The role sexuality plays in the holiness code is like the rest of the holiness code in general–don’t do what the neighboring nations and tribes do, be different and stand apart. This is why a certain dietary code is stressed, why regulations of blood and discharges are regulated, why “mixed fibers” (today’s polyester) are forbidden, and many other things. Most restrictions relate to not paying homage to other gods or  pagan practices. The type of homosexuality that would have been known when this was written would have been primarily temple male-to-male prostitution or of a man-boy domination relationship, never a committed monogamous relationship because sexual orientation was not understood. The sin was essentially, beyond appearing pagan, that a man was “reduced” to a woman–the sin was shame on the “recipient” of the act. So, why are all of these ancient misunderstandings so stressed today in some circles? Why is a specific prohibition–likely referring primarily to one man using another man “as a woman” in a pagan temple outside of a relationship–erroneously expanded to be compared to all modern LGBT relationships? Furthermore, why is this prohibition emphasized but the prohibitions against tattoos, polyester, sex with a woman who is menstruating, mixing meat and dairy (cheeseburgers anyone?) or eating shellfish (Red Lobster?) ignored or downplayed? Only ultra-orthodox Jews attempt to codify and literally live out the entire holiness code in 2015 yet fundamentalist Christians seem to place a large emphasis on just one out of context line of it.

The only other major OT reference to homosexuality is the famous “Sodom and Gomorrah” tale in Genesis 18-19.

This one really shouldn’t be used as a moral lesson for any modern day teacher for any constructive lesson. That’s because it’s a very old tale stressing a very particular lesson–hospitality–in a very extreme manner. Here’s a quick refresher–some male angels visit a town. Men around town want to rape these angels yet these angels are guests of the only righteous man left in town. That righteous man tries to discourage the townsfolk from their horrendous wish by offering up his own virginal daughters for the town to rape in place of his guests! Do I really need to point out that LGBT rights are not an issue to be discussed using this passage? Do I have to point out the problems in trying to positively use this story for any healthy relationship? The lesson should be “don’t rape” but the text is pretty clear that the “righteous” man’s offer to throw his daughters to the town (hey, they were his property) was a good move even if it was rejected.
Let’s move on to the NT.
Most NT passages dealing with homosexuality are penned by St. Paul. Jesus had nothing to say about the issue as reported in the text. Paul had his own conflicting feelings with sexuality that writers have spilled gallons of ink on over for centuries. In short, Paul believed celibacy was the best choice for any follower of Christ. Sex clouds the mind and takes away one’s focus from the spiritual path at hand. Paul’s position has influenced western Christianity and puritanism in countless ways to this day. Particularly via folks like St. Augustine, a sex addict who really struggled with giving up sex as Paul suggested. Anyway, Paul did concede he understood some people just couldn’t give up sex. If not, it was better for them “to marry” than “to burn” with lust or passion. Some commentators have reflected that Paul thought marriage would throw water on lust and passion and that sex would become something perfunctory to quickly purge lust! Anyway, when Paul writes about same-sex relations he does so negatively. He does so in a few quick lines. Of course, it is also worth noting even for those who place a high-level of importance on scripture and even those with an “inerrant” view of scripture that Paul readily conceded he sometimes wrote from his own perspective and understanding and wasn’t always trying to be a mouthpiece for God.

Romans 1:18-32 (specifically v26)

Here Paul paints a picture of time stretching back to its beginning and in it all humans are aware of God in a self-evident way–God is “clearly seen and understood” by all people without excuse. Then something happens–people stop worshiping God and instead construct idols and worship reptile and bird idols. And their punishment? Verse 26–“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” Men and “even women” “abandon natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” This is an incredibly odd narrative. Many liberal commentators focus on the fact that sexual desires are subverted stressing that this is a case of straight people committing homosexual acts which they consider the sin in point. Most commentators think Paul is talking about neighboring cultures behaving in this way or former Christians slipping and that this is a warning to set themselves apart from that. All of which misses the scope of this narrative. I have at least once heard this narrative described as a pre-historical myth of a second fall. The text clearly reads that “since the beginning of time” God was self evident but then people switched from monotheism to polytheism, crafted idols, and were punished by God inserting homosexual desires into their hearts “unnaturally!” Very odd. If you’re going to use this passage to discriminate against modern day LGBT people I hope you are at least consistent and swallow Paul’s whole idea that monotheism predated polytheism (though even the ancient Israelites seemed to take the existence of other gods as a fact even while worshiping theirs above and instead of those other gods) and that homosexuality was something placed willingly by God into otherwise straight humans.
There are at most 3 other NT passages on this issue. All are believed to be penned by Paul and vary little from this other instance, they are just more concise. The Greek word used in some of them has been reinterpreted many ways to refer to prostitutes, cultic sex participants, pimps, perverts, etc. It’s worth noting that it always refers to someone who participates in an act by choice (even if compelled by desires placed on them by God) not an orientation as that was not understood in Paul’s time. All acts condemned by Paul had to do with things “going against the natural order” which was also a misunderstanding in Paul’s time. “Going against nature” for Paul included having long hair if male, short hair if female, dressing in anything “unisex” and speaking in public if female. None of these opinions of Paul’s should be used as the rubric to judge modern day LGBT individuals.

So there you have it. The Bible is a long complex book written by many people in many places over a long period of time, assembled according to many councils and votes. You can find arguments for and against many things. You can interpret what you read literally, figuratively, metaphorically, mythically, or historically. If you take what you read seriously at least know why and be consistent. Ultimately though, even if you define a rubric of consistent interpretation that requires you as a believer to take on the entire holiness code and live that lifestyle you need to understand that it is a choice you have personally made and you cannot enforce that standard on your neighbors. Nothing in these passages is addressed to those who aren’t listening–it does not state “go forward and persecute the neighboring tribes (or non-Christians) for not following these rules.” It’s addressed to the community who takes on those restrictions. You should understand there are many Christian, Jewish, and other religious communities who do not share your understanding or objective. Furthermore, you should understand that there are many outside of religion’s tent entirely in America and that our very society was built to protect those people as much as yourself.


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