The preceding 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.”
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.”
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.”
Reverend 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.”
[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 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.
Right 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, “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.”
Reverend 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.”
Steven 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.”
Gomes, “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 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.”
Reverend 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.
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.”