“The Bible says it’s wrong.”
If we want to take some Leviticus verses literally and out of context, what about the ones saying not to eat fruit from a young tree (19:23), read horoscopes (19:26), get a haircut (19:27), get a beard trim (19:27), get a tattoo (19:28), eat shellfish (11:9-12), eat meat with fat or blood (3:17), touch a menstruating woman or anything she touches (15:19-33), crossbreed cattle (19:19), plant two different kinds of seed in the same field (19:19), wear clothing of mixed fabric (19:19), eat pork (11:7-8), touch pigskin (11:8), or have sex with a woman “having her sickness” (20:18)? What about some verses outside Leviticus, like the ones saying not to use profanity (Colossians 3:8), act out of anger (Psalms 37:8), get drunk (Pr. 20:1), pray aloud in public (Matthew 6:1-8), swear (Matthew 5:34), call someone worthless or a fool (Matthew 5:22), charge interest to poor people (Ex. 22:25), judge people (Matthew 7:1-5), or hate people (I John 4:20)? Should we follow the verse saying that no one should make a newlywed man work or serve his country for the first year of his marriage (Deuteronomy 24:5)?
Should women see their menstruation cycles as “sin” (Leviticus 15:19-33)? Should women see it as sinful to bear a male child, and even more sinful to bear a female child (Leviticus 12:1-8)? Should women follow the New Testament passages where Paul says they must always remain “silent” and “under obedience” while at church (I Corinthians 14:34), that they can’t put braids in their hair or certain jewels around their neck (I Timothy 2:9), that they must pray with their heads covered (I Corinthians 11:5), that they are inferiors who caused the fall of humanity (I Timothy 2:13-14), that they can only redeem themselves by bearing children (I Timothy 2:15), and that they cannot teach or “usurp authority over the man” (I Timothy 2:12)? Should we follow Exodus 21:7 in its guidance on how a daughter should act when her parents sell her into slavery?
What about the verses that require churches to pay taxes (Romans 14:6-7; Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25)? Should we also follow the biblical tradition of promoting slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46; Ephesians 6:5), or the one of keeping the disabled from our places of worship (Leviticus 21:18-23)? Should we bring back the death penalty for people who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), people who use God’s name in vain (Leviticus 24:16), anyone who commits adultery (Leviticus 20:10), a woman who loses her virginity before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), a son who acts stubbornly or rebelliously (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), and “everyone who curses his father or his mother” (Leviticus 20:9)?
Too many people scream Bible verses that condemn others, but find ways to disregard verses that condemn themselves. The famous list of hell-bound sinners in Romans 1 covers every person ever born (anyone who ever lies, gossips, acts out of anger, holds a grudge, starts arguments, etc.), but the idea of certain actions causing damnation conflicts with John 3:16-17. In context, Paul used the list to show that no one should judge, because we all face condemnation by someone’s standards (Romans 2:1). If gays will burn in Hell for violating the list, won’t everyone else? Also keep in mind Paul’s admission (I Corinthians 7:6, 7:25, etc.) that parts of the letters we now read only came from his opinion; of course, Paul didn’t realize that the letters he wrote to disciples and churches would find their way into the Bible. Another of Paul’s lists appears in I Corinthians 6:10, in which he said anyone who gets drunk, has premarital sex, cheats others, or envies others will go to Hell, but most people use ellipses in place of those references, so they can safely and self-righteously quote the same passage’s references to gay sex.
In fact, the Bible only mentions man/man sex three-twelve times (depending on the particular translation we choose and how we choose to interpret the individual passages) and woman/woman sex one time, while condemning idolatrous man/woman sex around 360 times. How odd that so many readers can overlook something constant in favor of something that occurs only a few times! Biblical condemnations of self-righteousness, divorce, gossip, and drunkenness each separately surpass the condemnations of gay sex in their frequency, yet most people still overlook those many in favor of the few that seem to refer to gay sex.
Some will point out that Leviticus deems male/male sex “an abomination,” but it says the same about eating pigs, oysters, clams, shrimp, rabbits, and many other creatures in Leviticus 20:25, a passage where the author clearly shows that he only uses “abomination” to mean “unclean” or “vulgar” by Hebrew holiness code standards—i.e., not kosher. I’ve yet to meet anyone who even tries to follow the entire Hebrew holiness code, so why elevate two verses from it? Keep in mind also that Proverbs 6:16-19 lists several of what Solomon calls “abominations” to God, including three “abominations” that many televangelists and politicians practice constantly: arrogance, deceit, and divisiveness. Solomon, in his wisdom, left same-gender sex out of his “abominations” list. Furthermore, the Bible says that anyone who claims to follow the law but breaks any one part of it is breaking all of it (James 2:10), so a man who lives by the law but eats pork is also guilty of lying with a man as with a woman; the Bible offers only guilt for people who live by the law instead of living by grace.
Though surrounded by the openly bisexual Roman culture, Christ never mentioned same-gender relations; instead, He taught people about love and acceptance, even going out of His way to meet the rejected half-breeds of Samaria. Yes, He mentioned heterosexual relationships, but He never condemned gay ones. Some people say that His condemnation of adultery automatically included homosexuality, but the Bible offers no support for that definition of adultery; according to scripture, adultery meant having sex with someone other than one’s first sex partner (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11-12).
His only possible reaction to homosexuality occurred when He healed the “pais” of a centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). Though the King James Bible renders it “servant,” the word “pais” might also have carried gay connotations at that time—a connotation strengthened both by the prevalence of open bisexuality in ancient Roman culture and by the obvious love between this particular centurion and servant. Christ reacted to the centurion’s love by healing the servant. Notice, however, that Christ made no judgment of this relationship. Daniel A. Helminiak, a Roman Catholic priest, examines various studies of that passage, and of all the supposedly anti-gay passages, in his book What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. I recommend that book for further study.
Of course, many people will go beyond specific passages and use the Bible to make a blanket statement about homosexuality as “an immoral lifestyle.” Using that tendency to take scriptures out of context and impose them on others, consider how Jesus said that anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11-12). Therefore, by those standards, a divorced person in a second marriage lives an immoral lifestyle, and anyone who supports that marriage supports sin. With that in mind, it seems hypocritical that many divorced and remarried people will claim gays pose a threat to family values, religious values, and the institution of marriage.
We could even accuse people who support football teams or sell pork of promoting an immoral lifestyle (Leviticus 11:7-8). We could even say female Sunday school teachers live an immoral lifestyle (I Corinthians 14:34-35).
We could also say churchgoers promote an immoral lifestyle by filling up restaurants, donut shops, and grocery stores on Sundays, forcing employees to violate the Sabbath. Many people who work on Sundays consider themselves Christians, though your way of thinking suggests that they live an immoral lifestyle. Actually, the Bible places the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday morning, but most fundamentalists overlook that faltering from the letter, as well as the fact that Jesus and his disciples violated the Sabbath.
Besides prayerfully and closely reading the Bible all the way through several times, I have found a great deal of help in understanding its applications to gays, thanks to books like Things They Never Told You In Sunday School: A Primer For The Christian Homosexual (by David Day), The New Testament and Homosexuality (by Robin Scroggs), and many of the other resources I mention in “Reactions to Homophobia.” Those works helped me form some of the following observations about Christianity, specifically the idea of Biblical literalism.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their attempts at wearing the best clothing, particularly during worship services (Matthew 23:5; Mark 12:38-39). As His “lilies of the field” allegory shows, Christ preferred simple, perfunctory clothing that reflected only the practical concern of covering oneself (Matthew 6:28-34). Yet, countless churches today follow an unwritten code that everyone must wear their so-called “Sunday best,” turning the church aisle into a fashion runway. Even on the hottest days, men in such churches will wear three-piece suits, while the women overdress in uncomfortable-looking fashions. So much for the humility and pragmatism that Jesus taught.
Back to more relevant matters, Jesus and His disciples promoted racial harmony and interaction, welcoming Greeks and people of interracial heritage to break bread with them. Yet, many white congregations still prefer whites only in their buildings, while using out-of-context Bible verses to condemn interracial dating and interracial marriage. Some churches still use the Bible to show blacks as inferior or cursed.
I even heard the word “nigger” casually used during church or Sunday school in my original home state of Louisiana; as you can guess, the racial slurs really started flying after those churchgoers left holy ground. I’ve also heard racism and racial slurs from churchgoers in my temporary home state Tennessee and my permanent home state Texas, but not with the same fanatical frequency as in Louisiana, and not while inside the church building.
Whenever I see it, I attribute religion-based homophobia and religion-based racism to bigotry, not to God. At this point, let me clarify that I am attacking bigotry, not God or Christianity. Further, I am not calling homosexuality a sin, but showing the problem with using out-of-context verses as a way to label gays as sinful and thus somehow deserving of discrimination, violence, etc. With that said, I want to further expose the idolatrous worship of tradition.
We see that worship when many Christians become riled over newer Bible translations using gender-neutral language in place of male-specific language, even though the translators will say the gender-neutral language more closely follows the actual texts. Tradition replaced the Bible’s original phrasing, so tradition-worshippers will claim sacrilege when someone brings back the original phrasing. In that case and in the Sodom and Gomorrah passage I’ll soon discuss, tradition actually outweighs scripture for many Christians.
Good or bad, tradition affects our thinking, including our theology. Christians need to quit confusing Christian tradition with the Bible and the Bible with God. By definition of monotheistic religion (worship of only one God), Christians should not worship tradition, the Bible, or anything else but God. Reconciling Trinitarian doctrine with monotheism (i.e., explaining how Father, Son, and Holy Ghost form the one and only God) poses enough problems without us seeing the Bible as also a part of God. Many people speak of God and the Bible as if they were equal, and hold their Bibles as if they were touching the hand of God. When we stop confusing tradition and the Bible with God, we can begin a deeper examination of what the Bible really says.
That examination also requires going beyond what certain, selected verses literally say. Reading the Bible literally requires disregarding scientific and historic evidence. For example, we would need to see the Earth as created in seven literal days (and not the Bible’s later concept of equating God’s days with a thousand of ours), see the Earth as only 6000-35,000 years old, and see all types of life-form evolution as nonexistent.
The Sermon on the Mount also presents too many problems for Christian fundamentalists. I challenge anyone to read Matthew chapters 5-8 aloud, stopping after each verse to ask “Do I even try to literally follow that?” I’m not saying that you try and fail; I’m saying that you probably don’t even try to follow many of those verses. Jesus later claimed that we should rid ourselves of our hands, feet, and eyes if they might cause us to sin (Matthew 18:8-9). Since most Christian fundamentalists somehow manage to keep their hands, feet, and eyes, we can assume either that they never face temptation, or that they fail to take that passage literally. The second assumption seems more plausible. Jesus even pulled His followers away from literalism by constantly speaking in parables. Should we read the parables literally? Read literally or figuratively, I think all the teachings of Jesus come down to five points: (1) laws can save no one, (2) love matters more than all the other laws, (3) acts of compassion impress God more than religious displays, (4) we cannot truly love God unless we also love all human beings, (5) those who believe in and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior shall receive salvation. Those five points emphasize Christianity as a life of love, peace, volunteerism, and hope, while many Christians downplay those concepts in favor of reducing the Bible into a tool for judging and controlling others.
If you’re a Christian, I challenge you to allow for metaphor, balance, opinion, and context when reading the Bible. We should acknowledge the difficulty of translating from one language to another, especially when the translators tried to precisely translate a book written in four ancient languages over a period of hundreds or even thousands of years. In many cases, the translators could not find more than one use of a particular archaic word. Still, they supposedly translated that word accurately. Many people who have read the Bible in its ancient languages will admit that all the translations contain errors, so why should we assume that the parts about gay sex were translated correctly?
Reading your holy book requires not always reading it literally, but always reading it with the idea that one must continue learning and seeking in order to continue one’s constant journey toward a deeper understanding of spiritual matters. You extinguish the discovery process when you claim that you already fully understand every aspect of a book and that no misreading or textual friction could possibly exist.
Challenges to total literalism often invoke a recital of platitudes, instead of an examination of the verses I just mentioned. Platitudes get us nowhere, and they certainly can’t help the many people who become the targets of the many fanatical fundamentalists who commit, encourage, or ignore hate crimes. At some point, we need to start questioning fundamentalist rigidity in favor of compassion and free thought. When people reject, mistreat, assault, or murder each other for not fitting into some rigid theological view, we have reached that point.
The above excerpt is from Reactions to Homophobia, an essay in Duane Simolke’s book Holding Me Together. Keywords: homophobia, homosexuality, gay pride, lesbian, LGBT, transgender, religion, ex-gay, Bible, scripture, Leviticus, LGBT resources, church, Christian, faith, family.