Homosexuality and The Bible
The Bloomington Voice
The Weekly Newspaper of South Central Indiana
VI:23 (July 3, 1997): 4
Public debate on gender is frequently saturated with
voices claiming the Bible as basis for political resistance to civil rights for homosexuals. Policy-makers
may conclude that all constituents of faith demand public hostility to homosexuals. To spiritual
seekers it may seem that the Judeo-Christian tradition was founded on and is obsessed with such
hostility. This essay outlines one heterosexual Christians reading of scripture to understand
anti-gay discrimination as profoundly contrary to the spirit and truth of the Bible.
Opponents of civil rights for homosexuals typically cite three Biblical passages understood to
condemn homosexuality, and then declare that these three passages should direct public policy.
Putting aside this tactics violation of the principle of the separation of church and state,
this Christian finds two flaws in it: it is anti-Biblical, and, it is belied by the religious
practices of the homophobes themselves.
The cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition is not a traffic signal, nor is it a Marine drill
sergeant. God did not choose to direct this tradition with the kind of stimulus that requires
blind obedience. Our guide, rather, is a lengthy book, which must be studied and discussed as
books are studied and discussed.
One can no more abstract one sentence from the Bible and understand it in isolation than one can
abstract one sentence from War and Peace or any other complex work. This approach is folly
on a Swiftian scale. It does great disservice to the Bible. Shaving, wearing of mixed fabrics,
intercropping -- isolated Bible verses can be found to condemn all. Menstruation is abomination,
the same word used to describe homogenital acts. Couples intimate during menstruation are condemned
to exile. Verses can be found to support human sacrifice, the veiling of women, the genital mutilation
of corpses, the exile of victims of skin disease, absolute communism under pain of death, slavery,
racism, the blood guilt of Jews, and consumption of poison as proof of marital fidelity or Christian
faith. Unless and until the homophobes follow all these verses literally, they demonstrate their
own argument as without merit.
Given that isolated Bible verses can be found to support any number of heinous or exotic policies,
one might be tempted to jettison the Bible and dismiss Jews and Christians as primitive lunatics.
This Christian feels no such temptation. Rather, logic demands that each idiosyncratic interpretation
and application of Scripture answer for itself. So-called Fundamentalists must announce why they
promulgate verses condemning homogenital acts as central; those of us who do not must provide
This Christian would offer two supports for her rejection of homophobia as a Biblically supportable
position. One, the Bible itself offers a check to literalism. The Bible, to this Christian, is
true; it is just not true in the way the homophobes need it to be. Too, advances in knowledge
demand that we engage with the Bible, testing everything we read in it against what it is and
what we have come to learn since it was set down.
Selection of one verse as foundation for public policy applies a literalist concept of truth
that is anti-Biblical, secular, and anachronistic. And it is sin. Fundamentalists apply to the
Bible the approach to words that evolved after the invention of texts like package instructions,
legal documents, and science experiments. Such texts, and the mindset that produced them, altered
how people processed words. Fundamentalists now -- sinfully, foolishly, unsuccessfully -- apply
that secular approach to sacred words that were once heard in a very different way.
A Native American, testifying in a trial, was adjured to tell the truth. He hesitated and said,
I dont know if I can tell you the truth. I can only tell you what I know. Paul
encapsulated the concept this way: We know in part and we prophesy in part...We see as in
a glass, darkly. Folk cultures tacitly accept that truth, like the oral canon, has versions
and variants. The Bible, from the secular, anachronistic standpoint adopted by homophobes, lies
beginning in Genesis, which offers two different versions of the creation story. Berkeley folklore
scholar Alan Dundes has demonstrated that every major Biblical passage, from basic prayers like
Judaisms Hear, oh Israel and Christianitys Our Father, to
historical accounts like that of Jesus death, is recorded in at least two differing versions.
The folk concept of truth that allows for such variation is not antiquated; post-Heisenberg physics
and postmodern philosophy support it.
The check the Bible offers to self-serving applications of literalist concepts of truth
is a strong condemnation (Mat 26:61; Mark 14:58; John 2:20). Further, in Matthew 23, Jesus literally
damns righteous hypocrites who, like modern homophobes, attempt to assassinate the immortal spirit
of Gods word while denying the Kingdom of Heaven to those who do not measure up to the dead
letter of the law.
Argumentation, rather than blind obedience, is the model offered by Biblical heroes. Abraham,
Mary, and Jesus are but prominent examples of the Biblical model of debating the absolute commandments
of God. Abraham changes Gods mind about the number of good men that can redeem a town; Mary
defies Jesus resistance and nags him into performing his first miracle. Jesus openly disobeyed
tenants of the meticulous and rigid law. When asked directly, Jesus selected some commandments
as being worthy to follow, to the exclusion of others (Mat. 19:18-22). Jesus explained that the
law was made for man, not the other way around. The laws test and proof was love of God
and love of others (Mark 2: 27; Mat. 22:35-40). Love, in Jesus radical approach, was to
be granted even to those his contemporaries had been trained to hate because of accidents of birth
(Luke 10, 25-37). In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus depicted a despised minority group
member as superior to a priest and a high caste Levite. It is the Samaritan who obeys the spirit
of the law, and rescues a brutalized stranger. Application of the tenets of this parable to homophobia
exposes homophobia as anti-Biblical.
In any case, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. The word is never used. Three passages
condemn male homogenital acts performed a part of gang rape, temple prostitution, or idolatry.
These verses are few, especially when compared to the Biblical torrent of words lambasting greed,
gluttony, and power without conscience. Lesbianism is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Jesus
never mentioned homosexuality or homogenital acts. Bible scholars argue that the reason the Bible
does not address homosexuality as such is that homosexuality was not fully understood by the ancients.
The three passages repeatedly cited by homophobes need to be understood in context. For example,
homophobes cite the Sodom story as evidence of Biblical condemnation of homosexuals. The Bible,
in fact, reports the sins of Sodom as pride, gluttony, ease, and greed (Ezekiel 16:49). An illuminating
version of the Sodom story appears in Judges. There the predatory gang, mistakenly identified
by modern homophobes as homosexuals, rapes a woman sacrificed to protect her male companions (Judges
19:22-26). Clearly, gang rape, rather than homosexuality, was these mens crime.
The Bible does record extraordinary love between members of the same gender. Perhaps the most
poignant love vow in world literature was spoken by Ruth to Naomi (Ruth 1:16, 17). Jonathan risked
and sacrificed incalculably for David, with whom he exchanged numerous love vows, and whom he
loved as he loved his own life (1 Samuel 20, 17). When Jonathan died, David said, your love
to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26).
Study reveals that the Bible is not the gay bashing handbook so-called Fundamentalists would like
to pretend it to be. The Bibles text erodes the Fundamentalist position; the kind of document
the Bible is erodes their position even further. Jesuit Walter J. Ong, Eric Havelock, and other
scholars of oral cultures tell us that folk literature served as encyclopedia. In the absence
of libraries and computers, sacred scripture, memorized by tribe members, had to encapsulate every
byte of data deemed important to the tribe. Modern Christians dismiss much of such data found
in the Bible as simply inaccurate. No Christian physician would tell his patient, as the Bible
does, to cure illness by drinking alcohol (Timothy 5:23). No contemporary preacher calls for the
incarceration and torture of Stephen Hawking, although Galileo once suffered such a fate under
the church because his findings contradicted the Biblical concept of the solar system.
The Bible is not the contemporary Christians physicians Desk Reference -- hydrocortisone
works better for eczema than forcing the itchy to muss their hair, dwell apart, and shout, Unclean!
The Bible is not our political system -- we can rejoice that we no longer practice the slavery
so vigorously defended by Paul. Christian historians seeking the truth of Jesus life must
juggle competing and contradictory versions of his genealogy in Mathew and Luke; versions that,
it is openly acknowledged, were written to appeal to special interest groups. The Bible as databank
of secular knowledge has lost ground. To ask the Bible to teach us about aspects of human sexuality
that were deeply misunderstood in ancient times is to torture the book, to force it to perform
tasks it cannot do.
Sister Wendy Beckett has pointed out that art starts at the top; that todays art may be
different from the cave paintings of Lascaux, but it is no better. Spiritual writing, too, starts
at the top. Nothing written today surpasses the spiritual classics. The Bible remains an inspiration
for modern Christians and Jews, and that inspiration is found in words like, Love God; love
your neighbor as yourself; that is the law and the prophets. To reject such words because
of the politicized application of their neighbors is to unnecessarily impoverish ourselves, to
surrender to the forces of oppression and cruelty, and to lie to ourselves about our birthright.
It is not enough to claim the Bible; one must also live it. In The Good Book, Reverend
Peter J. Gomes describes how so-called Christian rhetoric directed against homosexuals makes fertile
the ground for brutal beatings and, yes, even religion inspired murder. The Bibles overall
message, the Bibles repeated warnings against a crafty, self serving literalism, adjure
Christians and Jews to speak up and out when scripture is prostituted to serve homophobic campaigns
of violence and hate.
© Danusha V.
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