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Re-Evaluating Gay Scriptures

Reverend Laurence Keene Disc of ChristReverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene, Disciples of Christ, “When people ask questions about homosexuality, almost always they follow with, ‘and what does the Bible really say about it?’

The preceeding quote comes from an interesting documentary on Netflix called For the Bible Tells Me So.  The documentary discusses traditional and liberal Christian beliefs about homosexuality in the scriptures.  I wanted to run some excerpts from the documentary by you to see what you thought of these interpretations.

Reverend Peter Gomes, Harvard, “There are about six or seven verses in all of scripture that speak to even remotely what we might homosexual activity or homosexual conduct.”

Rev Steven Kindle-Clergy United

Rev Steven Kindle-Clergy United

Reverend Steven Kindle, Clergy United, “In this particular one is Leviticus 20:13

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.  They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

If you read the Bible on a face value level, that reading disregards several very important things.  The first one is just a few verses before that.  Moses teaches in Leviticus that it is an abomination to eat shrimp.

Reform Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, MAHL, “A few verses above and below it says you shouldn’t plant two different seeds in the same hole.  You shouldn’t co-mingle your crops.”

Kindle, “It is an abomination to eat a rabbit.”
Rabbi Brian Zachary MayerMayer, “There’s other laws that you shouldn’t wear linen and wool together.”

Gomes, “They are failing to read the Bible within the context of its authors and of its original culture.  “

Bishop Desmond Tutu, “The Bible is the word of God through the words of human beings, speaking in the idiom of their time, and the Christian-ness of the Bible comes from the fact that we don’t take it as literally so that it was dictated by God.”

Mayer, “To just pick out that this is the one we’re gonna follow, the Bible doesn’t come that way.  It’s selective reading.”

Keene, “When the term ‘abomination’ is used in the Hebrew Bible, it is always used to address a ritual wrong.  It never is used to refer to something innately immoral.  Eating pork was not innately immoral for a Jew, but it was an abomination because it was a violation of a ritual requirement.”

Mayer, “Those biblical laws, they’re known as the holiness code.  There were laws that were supposed to help people at that time find holiness in their lives.”

Rev Susan Sparks-American Baptist ChurchReverend Susan Sparks, American Baptist Church, “To me, that’s the important thing to recognize, the historical context and the basis for which it was written.  That particular section on a man not lying with a man goes to procreation.  It is about a nation trying to grow.  At the time, the Hebrew people understood that male seed was actually all of nascent life contained right there.  Women had nothing to do actually with the birth except for incubation.  So that particular section was about saving seed, saving seed only to procreate so the nation could grow.”

Keene, “There is no ability to procreate when you’re engaged in homosexual behavior so it was violation of a cultural norm the sin of Onan in the Old Testament where Onan is committed to death because he ejaculates out of the woman’s body so his partner doesn’t get pregnant.  As the King James Version says, ‘Onan spills his seed upon the ground and God strikes him dead.  It was ritually impure.  It was an abomination.”

[Film cuts to a scene of Martin Sheen from The West Wing where Sheen says] “I like your show.  I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.”

[woman responds] “I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination Mr. President.  The Bible does.”

[Sheen] Yes, it does.  Leviticus.”

[woman] “18:22″

[Sheen] “Chapter and verse.  I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.  I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.  She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn.  What would a good price for her be?

While thinking about that, can I ask another?  My chief of staff insists on working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death.  Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it ok to call the police?”

Reverend Mel White SoulforceReverend Dr. Mel White, Founder of Soulforce, “I can’t tell you how many radio stations I’m on where the opposition will say have you ever read Leviticus 20 and I say yeah I’ve read Leviticus 20, what does it mean to you?  And they say a man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be killed.  And I say, who should do the killing, the church people?  And this Presbyterian in Seattle said, no that’s the civil authorities job. That’s why we need to get more good men of God elected to the government.  And I said, so they can kill us?  He said, well you must find that hard to take Dr. White, but God said it first and it is our job to obey.”

The documentary then goes on to discuss former Senator Richard Gephardt’s daughter Krissy.

Rev Richard Holoway-Bishop of EdinburghRight Reverend Richard  Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh (retired), “Biblical literalists are people who know the truth, absolutely and so they’re not able to engage in the conversation.  They’re only able to engage in a pronouncement.”

[film turns to a shouting fundamentalist preacher], “If I didn’t believe that the Bible was the word of God, I’d quit the ministry and I’d never preach another sermon!”

[unknown man], “God wrote it so even a simple guy like me could understand it, and if he said it, that settles it.”

Keene, “I have a soft spot in my heart for literalists because I used to be one.  However, when someone says to me, ‘this is what the Bible says’, my response to them is ‘no, that’s what the Bible reads.’  It is the struggle to understand context and language and culture and custom that helps us to understand the meaning or what it is saying.”

Reverend Irene Monroe, Harvard Divinity School

Reverend Irene Monroe, Harvard Divinity School

Reverend Irene Monroe, Harvard Divinity School, “There are many readings to any passage.  You and I can read the same passage and get a different interpretation, and the reason for that, it has to do with our social location.  I’m going to read the passage very differently than someone who might be white male and straight and upper middle class.  I’m going to read it as an African-American who has had a history of how the Bible has been used to denigrate black people.  I’m going to read it as a woman.  The Bible has been used to subordinate women.  I’m going to read it as a lesbian, another [ok] use of the Bible to denigrate another group of people.”

[young version of Billy Graham] “The Bible teaches that we  have a spiritual disease.”

Holloway, “Biblical literalism, far from being a classic Christian approach is in fact very modern.  It belongs in part to the early part of the 20th century.  So we had almost 2000 years of Christian history without biblical literalism.  It’s a modern invention.”

Rev Joan Brown Campbell-Chautauqua InstitutionReverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, Chautauqua Institution, “One of my favorite example against biblical literalism is there is a text that says you must take all you have and give it to the poor.    I don’t know anyone who says ‘I believe that to be God’s word and therefore I will close my bank accounts, I will give all my money away, and I will give it to the poor.”

Holloway, “To me the most monstrous gulf to claim to literally following the Bible lies in the fact that most of the literalists in America are also capitalists.  [Graphic on screen shows Jerry Falwell annual revenue was $8.9 million]  You know they’re making money.  [James Dobson annual revenue $138 million] Being a biblical literalist you don’t take interest.  [Pat Robertson annual revenue $459 million] You couldn’t possibly have investments, because usually it is condemned in the Bible.”

The video turns to a few families that discuss how they dealt with gay children, and then goes into a somewhat hokey cartoon video that discusses some interesting science, claiming without sourcing that same sex activities occur in the animal world, including zebras, baboons, dolphins, sheep, buffalo, ducks, foxes, elephants, horses, gorillas, moose, house cats, pigs, mice, rabbits, swans and lions.

The study discusses twin studies and sexual orientation.  If one twin is gay, there is a 70% chance the other is gay, so genes seem to play a role.  Having older brothers increases the odds of younger being homosexual.  There is a belief that for a woman with multiple sons, subsequent pregnancies view the male as foreign, and the woman feminizes the fetus, resulting in more gay boys.  The video then discusses more scriptures.

[man shouting] “In Genesis 19 God burned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality.”

Keene, “Well that’s the passage in Genesis the 19th chapter that everybody even if they don’t read the Bible know about whether they are a part of a church or a temple, they know about Sodom and Gomorrah.  It’s a part of our secular wisdom, or lack of wisdom such as the case might be.”

[film clip from old television series,] “Tonight on Greatest Heroes of the Bible, the struggle of a man against the forces of evil, and the awesome destruction wrought by an angry god against Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Keene, “In the 18th chapter, God says that he’s going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because he has heard they are exceedingly wicked…

[from film clip] “…angels of the Lord appeared unto Abraham…”

Keene, “and he brings with him two messengers, angels in the form of men.  The next morning Abraham accompanies the two angels to Sodom and Gomorrah and he takes them to Lot’s house, and Lot entertains them and feeds them and allows them to have lodging.  It was required of the Hebrew people that if someone came to your door, you were obligated to take them in.  One of the most serious social breaches was to no entertain a stranger.”

Rabbi Steven GreenbergSteven Greenberg, Orthodox Rabbi, “Sodom was an incredibly wealthy community and they didn’t want to share their wealth.  They thought that if travelers passed through and were welcome, well they might want to come and take our wealth, so they canceled the law of the welcoming of travelers.  Having violated the rule of Sodom, they threatened Lot and his guests with violence.”

Keene, “The Bible says in one translation, ‘let these men come out so we can have sex with them’, and another translation says ‘let these men come out so that we can know them.’  So we’re not clear as to which translation is correct.  My understanding is that these men wanted to gang rape these two males, these two strangers as an act of humiliation.”

Greenberg, “Anal rape was a great way in the ancient mind to humiliate, demean, and punish.  Armies that would defeat other forces would not uncommonly rape the defeated members of its army.  The Sodom story is not about license or promiscuity, or even perversity.  Sodom, according to the rabbis, is about cruelty.  It’s about in-hospitality.”

Keene, “So the angels strike the men with blindness and then usher the family out to safety.  “

RevPeterGomesHarvardGomes, “It’s not about homosexuality.  The city was doomed to destruction before the strangers arrived at the door.  There has been 500 years of reputable, critical scholarship in the English language on these texts.  This is not something that someone has come up with in the last three or four years, an apologist for a ‘liberal reading’ of scripture.

Monroe, “I know a lot of towns that are like Sodom and Gomorrah, that you can walk into these towns and they don’t show any sign of hospitality simply because you’re black or simply because you’re gay or lesbian, or just because you are an outsider.  We have many towns here in New England that are like that.  That’s the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, and when I walk through those towns because I’m a black woman, or a lesbian woman, that’s when I think of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Richard Muow-Fuller Theological SeminaryRichard Muow, Fuller Theological Seminary, “I really do think that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality.  A lot of people today want to say it was really about hospitality.  But if all we have is the Sodom and Gomorrah story, there’s not a lot in the Old Testament that settles the question.  We have to turn to the New Testament.  The one that’s very clear is Romans 1, the first chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans.”

Keene, “In the first chapter of  Romans, the apostle Paul writes these words:

God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way as the men also abandoned natural relationships with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  (Romans 1:26)

Muow, “It seems to me the clear meaning of that is, whatever the other stuff in the Old Testament, one thing that carries over as an enduring theme is that God disapproves of same sex genital intimacy.  He does not want men lying with men and women lying with women, denying the natural use.”

Jimmy Creech-Faith in AmericaReverend Jimmy Creech, Faith in America, “When Paul uses the term ‘natural and unnatural’ he is really meaning what is customary or uncustomary.  It wasn’t customary for men to have sex with men in a Jewish context, but he saw it in the Greek world so he saw that as evidence of worshiping the wrong god of idolatry.  “

Gomes, “His reference is to same sex relationships among pagan Romans and Greeks.  Paul certainly never contemplated the kind of monogamous, long-term relationships that are very much normal among homosexual people today.”

Creech, “The Bible really doesn’t deal with homosexuality because it has no concept of it.  There were no Greek words, there were no Aramaic words, no Hebrew words for these concepts of human sexuality and therefore the few references that have been lifted out of the Bible to be used in religious teachings to condemn homosexuality really are inappropriate.”

The film goes on to discuss other personal stories of gay families.  Finally, I want to end with some interesting final quotes.

Bishop Desmond Tutu

Bishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, “We have very perversely used difference to justify cruelty of the most vicious sort.  I equate homophobia to the injustice of apartheid and that’s so contrary to the heart of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Gomes, “The sin with which we should be concerned is not homosexuality, because I don’t believe that is a sin.  The sin however is homophobia, fear and loathing of homosexuals.  That is a sin, and it’s a more egregious sin because it’s often in the name of scripture by religious people.”

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11 comments on “Re-Evaluating Gay Scriptures

  1. They didn’t go over every scripture, nor the language roots. See this:

    http://www.righteouswarriors.com/controversial/article8.html

  2. That was a very interesting article. I wish they allowed comments, because the one thing from this article that wasn’t addressed was Rev Susan Sparks point that “the Hebrew people understood that male seed was actually all of nascent life contained right there. Women had nothing to do actually with the birth except for incubation.” In the article, they asked the question “Why does the Torah explicitly prohibit sexual acts between men and not between women?”, but it seems that Sparks has a ready-made answer for that.

    I also thought it interesting that the article made the point that “Talmudic Judaism makes it very clear that male-male sexual relations are condemned and forbidden because of the Torah injunctions, yet no such injunction is found for female-female relations.”

  3. MH, There were so many things wrong with the way some of those opinions were presented, I don’t really know where to start. I am going to take just one as an example.

    Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene, “When the term ‘abomination’ is used in the Hebrew Bible, it is always used to address a ritual wrong. It never is used to refer to something innately immoral. Eating pork was not innately immoral for a Jew, but it was an abomination because it was a violation of a ritual requirement.”

    Not correct, Examples

    Proverbs 11:1 A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.

    Proverbs 17:15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.

    Leviticus 18, Verses 6 – 27 (includes the act of lying with a man)

    Here are two examples. Leviticus 18

    20 Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife, to defile thyself with her.
    21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.
    22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    And to give a bit of context, here is what the Lord said about those acts, and others detailed in the preceding verses.

    Leviticus 18:27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)

    Deuteronomy 12:31 Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

    Ezekiel 22:11 And one hath committed abomination with his neighbour’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter.

    Jeremiah 32:35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

    Thes examples should suffice to show that Brother Keene is somehwat off the mark in his declaration.

    Fortunately, none of those have been designated as prophets, seers, and revelators and their thoughts just may not accurately reflect God’s viewpoint on the matter.

    Glenn

  4. Glenn, good to see you. It’s been a while. I’m not sure we’re on the same page. Can you give me your definition of “innately immoral” vs “ritually immoral”?

    Is eating pork “innately” or “ritually” immoral?

    Have you eaten pork, rabbit, shrimp, or worn wool and linen together? Are you guilty of these abominations?

  5. MH, First of all, we very seldom are on the same page. But one has to read the scriptures in context to get an idea of what is innately immoral and that which is/was ritually immoral. Wearing linen and wool together was not listed as an abomination. The Israelites were told not to wear garments of mingled linen and wool, which I interpret to mean woven together. The same was true of sowing a field with “mingled seed” which I do not interpret to mean not putting two different seeds in one hole, but not sowing two different kinds of seeds together in the same field.
    I surely have eaten pork products, but no shrimp or rabbit. I have eaten clams though, which do not have scales. And I committed no abomination in doing so, because we are not living the Mosaic law. It was fulfilled by Christ thus obviating the the need to observe that which was ritually an abomination or unclean as opposed to that which was and is innately immoral.

    Glenn

  6. Glenn,

    You didn’t really define it, so let me try. Murder is innately immoral, lying is innately immoral. Eating pork is ritually immoral, as is wearing linen and wool. There is nothing innately wrong with eating pork, or wearing wool and linen.

    Where does sex fit in here? Well, since we are commanded to multiply and replenish, God expects us to have sex with our spouse so we can propagate the species. Now, adultery is ritually immoral (rather than innately immoral), but sex itself is neither ritually or innately immoral. The immorality applies only to circumstances. If a polygamous man has sex with multiple women, that is not immoral because he is married to all of the women. But if he has sex with a woman to whom he is not married, it is ritually immoral, not innately immoral. Do you agree?

    Let’s look at Leviticus 19:19-20.

    19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

    20 And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.

    Isn’t it interesting that linen and wool, mixing seeds is in the same prohibitions as lying carnally with a bondmaid? And why is it the bondmaid that is scourged, rather than the rapist?

    I committed no abomination in doing so, because we are not living the Mosaic law.

    Then I guess it is not appropriate to invoke any of the Mosaic laws of Leviticus, right? We should really be relying on the New Testament laws, because Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses.

  7. MH, I disagree with your take that adultery was and is not innately immoral. It is listed as one of the sins for which death was the immediate consequence under the Mosaic law.

    You will note that the consequences for touching or even eating of that which was unclean to was make the person unclean for a specified period of time. See Leviticus 11:40.

    “Then I guess it is not appropriate to invoke any of the Mosaic laws of Leviticus, right? We should really be relying on the New Testament laws, because Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses.”

    I agree with that, to some extent. The New Testament does not cover every possible sin, but adultery, and other forms of sexual immorality are still regarded as sins, although the immediate consequences are not applied. Paul categorizes many of them in Romans, Chapter 1, which includes homosexual practices, not only between men, but between women, ( 26 “For this cause God agave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:”)
    and ( 27 “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”)

    Modern day prophets have reaffirmed that adultery, homosexual acts, premarital sex, etc. are still sins in the eyes of the Lord.

    Glenn

  8. Glenn, perhaps I did not explain myself properly. I meant to talk only about the morality of sex. When we have sex with someone other than our spouse (adultery) then sex is ritually immoral (as opposed to murder which is wrong in pretty much every circumstance–innately immoral–save self defense). Sex with our spouse is actually encouraged and seen as godly. So I can’t ever consider the sex act as innately immoral; otherwise, sex with our spouse should be condemned in scripture, which it obviously is not.

    I actually understand your interpretations of Romans 1, and I’m just trying to see if I agree with Richard Muow above, or Jimmy Creech. Right now I am still in evaluation mode. We really don’t have temple prostitutes on our day as Paul did in his day.

  9. MH, My views are more in line with those of Richard Muow. Jimmy Creech is doing some “wresting” to come up with his interpretation. There is an ongoing debate about whether there is actually a word in Hebrew and Greek which describes homosexual behavior. Whether there is or not, Leviticus and Romans describe behavior that is homosexual.

    Those descriptions have only recently been challenged by some theologians and interpreted in ways which soften or actually abolish any prohibition against homosexual behavior.

    I don’t understand how Dr. Keene and others can say that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that of inhospitality. After all, according to the Bible, the men of Sodom were calling for Lot to send out his visitors so that they could get to “know” them.

    Glenn

  10. After reading all of this it seems to me you are all like chicks in a yard, each roaming around the religious barnyard, each pecking at his or her own belief. When the hail falls the Mother Hen will try to gather you, but you will not be gathered. Oh be wise.

  11. Ronald, Don’t know if you have been here before, but MH likes to explore different scenarios. He may or may not subscribe to the opinions that he posts, but he provides some thought provoking material.

    Glenn

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