Friday, October 21, 2005

Gays and the Bible

Homosexuality and the Bible Scripture is not the ally Christian homophobes think it is. By Bishop John Shelby Spong It is difficult for people who are not part of the Christian Church to understand the power its members attribute to the Bible. That attribution appears to non-church goers to be so irrational and so excessive as to be almost inconceivable. After all, they reason, the Bible is an ancient book with its earliest narrative, the Yahwist document, being written around 1000 B.C.E. and its latest narrative, probably the 2nd Epistle of Peter, being written somewhere around 135 C.E. There is no other piece of literature written in that period of history which people today still treat as a source of ultimate truth. A doctor or pharmacist practicing medicine or dispensing drugs in our time based on either the writings of Aristotle or the formulas of an ancient medicine man would be laughed at first, and then if this activity were not stopped immediately, they would be accused of malpractice, removed from their professions and even imprisoned. While that harsh a treatment might not be the fate of a chemist, biologist, architect or astronomer who acted on the basis of the knowledge available in the time the Bible was written, such behavior would nonetheless be considered ignorant at best, mentally ill at worst. Yet as strange as it might seem, the Bible continues to be quoted by 21st century Christians on a variety of issues as if this book somehow continues to hold literal truth and unchanging principles within its tissue thin pages. So deeply has this book been wrapped in the claims of divinely inspired inerrancy, that it acts like a wild card in current ethical debates. No where is this more obvious than in the controversy over homosexuality that rocks the Christian Churches of the world today. Inerrant claims for biblical truth have been present in the official statements of the Vatican, in the reports and resolutions adopted at the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Bishops of the world in 1998, and in the rhetoric and votes that have marked almost all statewide, diocesan, synodical and national gatherings of various Christian traditions including both mainline protestant and fundamentalist churches. Again and again over the last twenty five years negativity toward gay and lesbian behavior has been justified by an appeal to something some Christians continue to call "biblical morality," and to assert that there is something called "clear biblical teaching. One wonders what those phrases mean. "Clear biblical teaching" and "biblical morality" are not phrases of recent origin. They have been used in the debates over the centuries on a wide variety of issues. Yet when the smoke of battle over these ancient issues has cleared, it has always been the Christians, bruised and battered, but still clinging to their Bibles, who have been forced to slink away in defeat. But no matter how many times the "clear biblical teaching" has been shown to be dead wrong, the next new insight that challenges the patterns of the past goes through the same hostile process. Religious people do not seem to learn much from history. The Bible had to be proved wrong before the divine right of kings could be pushed aside and the Magna Carta accepted. It had to be defeated before Galileo's ideas about the non centrality of this planet in the universe could usher in the world of astronomy, and before Darwin's understanding of evolution could win the day. The clear teaching of the Bible also had to be overcome before slavery and segregation could be ended and before women could escape their second class status. In a remarkably similar pattern today, a major impediment to the quest for justice and the full acceptance for gay and lesbian people in the life of this society is the Bible, which is quoted over and over again to justify the homophobic prejudice that still so deeply infects our culture. Homophobia is a prejudice largely created and sustained by the scriptures of the Judeo -Christian tradition. However, the Bible is destined to lose this fight also and homophobia will join the parade of other human and religious evils like racism, chauvinism, the condemnation of mentally ill people, left-handed people and anti-semitism as one more dark cloud in Christian history, a killing prejudice that endured far longer that it should have because it was supported by "the inerrant word of God." But how accurate is the claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin? At best the record is ambivalent. There are seven biblical passages that are regularly cited by fundamentalist Christians and their fellow travelers to justify their condemnation of homosexuality. Three are in the Old Testament and four are in the New Testament. However, three of the four found in the New Testament are highly suspect and appear to refer to sexual anomalies such as temple prostitution, pederasty or forced sexual activity which are quite unrelated to homosexuality. So the biblical texts that actually condemn homosexuality as we today understand it, are only four in the entire Bible and none of them, interestingly enough, is found is the Gospels. According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. Given the all consuming nature of the current ecclesiastical debates on this issue that fact comes as a shock. Jesus does talk about those who are victims of prejudice like the Samaritans, and those who are marginalized and rejected like the lepers, but he never says a word about anyone's sexual orientation. Perhaps church leaders should contemplate the possibility that they are, as one man once suggested, "making much of that which cannot matter much to God." When we turn to examine these four biblical proof texts, other insights develop. The first passage is found in the Book of Genesis, and relates the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That narrative has given us the rather inelegant words sodomy, sodomite and sodomize. It is a strange story about ancient middle eastern hospitality laws and the right of the people of any town to harass and to violate sexually, any strangers to whom no fellow citizen has extended the protection of hospitality. This failure of hospitality left strangers at the mercy of the base elements of the city. Humiliating an unprotected visitor by forcing him to act like a woman in the sex act, was the supreme insult in these cruel and insensitive days. That is the underlying reality described in this biblical episode. Lot, Abraham's nephew, gave his protection to two male visitors at the end of the day when preparations for sexual abuse had already begun. The men of Sodom were furious and sought to take their intended victims by force. It is interesting that every time this story is referred to in other texts of the Bible it is the sin of inhospitality not homosexuality that is its focus. The climax of the story comes when Lot is judged by God to be righteous and is thus spared when the city of Sodom is destroyed. Yet Lot, seeking to protect these male visitors , who were said in the text to be angels, from being violated, offered to make his two virgin daughters available to the mob to be gang raped. After all they were only women! Later in this same story the "righteous" Lot has sex with these same two daughters and impregnates them. I never hear this narrative quoted to affirm incest! Yet this strange biblical passage continues to be used to condemn homosexuality. Perhaps those who quote it in this manner might want to read the whole story! Next there are two passages in the book of Leviticus which are part of the Torah. Leviticus 18 condemns a man for 'lying with a man as with a woman" and Leviticus 20 requires the death penalty for this offence. First, it needs to be noted that even John Paul II, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, all of whom regularly condemn homosexuality as a sin condemned by scripture, refrain from calling for the death penalty as the punishment for this offence. They know that a campaign for the execution of homosexual people would not be tolerated so in a pattern of what might be called "selective literalism" this verse of the Bible is simply ignored. Second, one wonders why several other Torah rules have been generally ignored while this one is elevated to the status of "the word of God." The Torah prescribes a kosher diet which fundamentalists today ignore. The Torah says that a person cannot make a garment of two different kinds of fabric. It says that those who worship a false god should be executed and so should those children who are disobedient and who talk back to their parents! It orders people to observe the Sabbath by refraining from all activity save worship on Saturday. It assumes that slavery is a legitimate social institution, while defining women as the property of men. A book containing this kind of dubious ethical teaching hardly seems to be a competent authority to be used to make moral judgements about homosexuality. The premier New Testament passage condemning homosexuality is found in Romans 1 and is from the hand of Paul. It is the strangest of all the biblical arguments. Paul suggests in this passage that God will punish those people who do not worship God properly. The punishment will be that God will confuse their sexual identities so that men will lie with men and women with women. What a strange God! Thus saith the Lord; "If you don't worship me properly I will turn you into being gays and lesbians." I have a hard time imagining any one worshiping such a capricious and egocentric deity. The other issue that this passage raises is, what is going on in Paul that he would offer such a weird argument? Is this an autobiographical note? Does it illumine those passages in Paul's other epistles where he exhibits his passion for proper worship, for advancing beyond all his peers in piety? But the pursuit of that thesis will have to wait for next month's column. For now let me be clear. Quoting the Bible is not a legitimate argument to deploy in the current ecclesiastical and cultural debate on homosexuality. It is nothing more than an outdated and ignorant appeal to the prejudices of yesterday. It is an illegitimate and even a profane way to approach scripture. It does not illumine the complex issues of sexual orientation. This approach to the Bible should either cease forthwith or the Bible used in this manner should be relegated to the same dustbins of history where the text in the Book of Joshua, stopping the sun in the sky to prove that Galileo was wrong, now resides. Quoting the literal Bible in the service of one's prejudices must be named as incompetence even if it involves a proof text from "the world of God." © Baptist Watch.org Baptist Watch was created October 14, 1998 From John the Atheist

4 Comments:

Blogger xncyhniia said...

hihi. thanks for your quote and comment. :)

10/21/2005 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Semperviva said...

this article is def. weird- if one IS A christian u either take what the bible says and live it OR DON"T!!!!! YOu can't take wghat it says then be a man and disregard it and say its made up that is at least logical to hold-

don't try and have it both ways and re-write history/the bible...

10/22/2005 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Semperviva said...

basically what i mean is- this "bishop" knows nothing about HISTORICAL CONTEXT or Greek or what St. Paul and the words actually mean, he does not take archaic/linguistic style into account he doesn't know what he's talking about- to know the bible is not just to look at it from ones own perspective you must know histiry language and many many other facets of it

10/22/2005 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

I think you're totally missing the point of this article. It's not attacking the "inerrancy" of the Bible.. it is attacking the attribution of inerrancy to the Bible by SOME evangelical/conservative/blind-faith-ed christians.

10/28/2005 12:02:00 PM  

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