It amazes me sometimes when friends of mine try to tell me, "if you read the Bible, then you have to believe..." My latest foray into the argument for acceptance of LGBT's happened quite by accident. As I was talking about John Stewart's "slaughter" of Jim Cramer last night, I mentioned the Mike Huckabee debate and the quip, "so when did you decide to be straight?" She then told me that not only was homosexuality a choice, but that Jesus said it was a sin. My jaw almost hit the floor! People still believe this? So those who read this blog, I'm mostly preaching to the choir, but to reiterate: The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) never mention homosexuality whatsoever. Jesus NEVER addresses this in the Gospels... at all!
Before I start the usual exegesis on scripture, let's first point out that the concept of homosexuality as we know it today did not exist prior to the 18th century when scientists first started the study of psychology. Before then, it just simply wasn't studied that much. So to claim that the Bible is talking about a concept that is completely foreign to the culture it was written in is incorrect.
To follow our conversation further, (which we've beaten nearly to death, but I'll grab the whip again) there are only 7-8 passages in the entire Bible that deal with anything closely relating to homosexuality. They are: Genesis 19:1-4, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:21-31, 1 Chor 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1: 9-10. People more learned than I have discussed these before, but for a summary:
Genesis 19 tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many fundangelicals like to quote this one because of the story of Lot and the Angels. Basically, a crowd comes to Lot's door and demands that he bring his visitors out so that the crowd may "know" them. Lot instead offers up his two virgin daughters, which they refuse. Then the angels blind the crowd, and hurry Lot and Co. out of the city. More than a few people would say this is why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed...
But wait, Sodom and Gomorrah were already slated to be destroyed. That's why the Angels were there at Abraham's request. Here's were it gets a bit murky. In biblical times, there was a code called the Hospitality Law. It basically said that a visitor had to be welcomed and protected by the host (see Leviticus 19:34). What the crowd was after wasn't sex, or they would have taken the daughters. This was about power. The crowd wanted to insult the Angels in the worst way possible. Ezekiel 16:49 says, "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. " Their sin was similar to our own sin today. We do not help the needy, we turn the alien away. In fact it wasn't until around the 6th century CE that people began to look at this story in the light of same sex attraction.
Next the infamous Leviticus passages 18:22 and 20:13: posted on protest signs across the land. The argument is over the word translated as "abomination" in the King James. The word used in Hebrew is "to'ba". This word in Hebrew actually means, "ritualistically impure or religiously unclean". It is used very rarely in the Septuagint (Old Testament). In Exodus, Moses uses it to describe how the Egyptians view his people, because they were shepherds, and Isaiah uses the word to describe all sin. So it is not that what they describe is inherently evil. It is just unclean, not Jewish.
Moving along to Romans 1:21-31, which was in our BCP lectionary lesson a few days ago. This is in a discussion by Paul about the Pagans in Rome, and how they act and how sinful they are. But where people fail in their reading is that they stop at the end of Chapter 1 and don't include Chapter 2, which begins with, "Therefore YOU have no excuse..." Paul is using a classical tactic of whipping the reader into a zealous frenzy and then turning that zeal inward to show them their error. "whoever you are," he continues, "when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." This is the same admonishment Jesus gives in the Gospels of, "Judge not, lest ye too be judged."
On to 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1... here we see the words "male prostitute" and "sodomite" used. The word in question, Sodomite, is actually an English invention. There is no ancient Greek word that equals it. The actual word is arsenokoitais, and scholars are still arguing over what it means. Some also translate it as "abuser of self". Another, from and article in "Second Stone Magazine" says this:
The Greek compound term arseno-koitais literally means ‘the male who has many beds’. The word arsen means ‘male’, the adjective o means ‘the’, and the term koitais is defined as ‘many beds’. Thus, the entire phrase means a male with multiple bed-partners; a promiscuous man. Everywhere that the word koitais is used in the plural in the Bible denotes promiscuity. However, when the same word is used in the singular form, the Bible gives approval because the singular denotes monogamy.
Big difference there. The point is, to all of this is simple. Just because the Bible says it does not necessarily make it so. In reading the Bible, you must take in to account that a) it was written by a different culture in the distant past and b) it is being translated from two dead languages to a living one. The bible is an excellent teaching tool, and great for spiritual instruction, but it is a guidebook, not a rulebook. It is the response of two ancient cultures to God. In that way it is "God inspired" as Paul states in Timothy. To read it in a literal way takes away from the beauty of it, and to use it to discriminate against a people is wrong.
Until fifty years ago, churches taught that Africans were the descendants of Cain (their darker skin being the "mark of Cain") and used it to justify slavery and the Jim Crow laws of the South. One hundred years ago, the churches taught that women were beneath men and should not even be able to vote or work outside of the home. Two hundred years ago, the Bible was used to slaughter hundreds in witch hunts. This all came about from a purely literal interpretation of the Bible. The same is happening today. Isn't it time we broke the cycle?