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A close friend of mine, [personal profile] reenchantress, has been blogging about gay issues and life growing up and not being straight. She's heard me give "The Rant", my name for the discussion of why we can't say that the Christian Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality, several times, and asked me if I'd be willing to type it up as a guest blog for her. This is a shortened form of the vocal rant, I've been timed at over forty-five minutes once delivering the full rant.

“The Rant”

Or…”Why we cannot argue that the Bible condemns modern homosexuality”

Or…”Bible passages to quote back at the Fundies.”

Broadly speaking, when fundamentalist Christians go out and argue that the Bible condemns homosexuality, they quote from two to four biblical passages. Those include: Genesis 1-2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and Romans 1:27. Sometimes they also include 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Timothy 1:9-10.

If we include, when the fundies do not tend to, the story of David and Jonathon, or Ruth and Naomi we end up with nine passages in the entire Bible that have any relationship to homosexual actions or thoughts. To put that into perspective, there are well over a hundred passages in the Bible related to the proper treatment of slaves.

At this point, I should mention that I come at the text from a very different perspective than many fundamentalist literalist Christians. One is that I do not believe that any human endeavor is without flaws and potential errors. That includes both writing down and translating the Bible. There are issues with translating anything from one language to the next, concepts that are clear in one language, but to which there is not any single word for them in another. That’s something only exacerbated by time and progress. How, for example, would any of us today translate “post-it note” into Ancient Greek?

Another way in which I do not address the Bible in the same way as many fundamentalists is that I believe that it is a context-dependent document. That is, I view the various books of the Bible as being very much written in their times and places, and primarily addressing their immediate contexts. For me, the best way to understand Biblical passages is to refer back to their original contexts, and to figure out what they are reacting to. Many fundamentalists reject this view, believing that the Bible is both without error, and is constantly referring to our own times and mindsets.

That being said, let us look at the passages in question, and see what can be determined about Biblical conceptions of homosexuality from them. When it is necessary, I will fill in with historical details about the context of the passage, and with the cultures the texts may have been reacting to. I am not an expert in the Ancient Near East, and if I oversimplify or exaggerate anything, please feel free to correct my factual errors.

Working in order of appearance in the Bible, the first passage is Genesis 1-2, also known as the creation stories. Yes, stories, the plural is important. We’re actually given two stories of creation, which differ in terms of the order of creation, whether or not men and women were created at the same time, and the general time scale of creation. What they do agree on is that God created the world and everything in it, and that God created both men and women. Fundamentalist Christians are fond of chanting, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” as an argument against gay marriage.

The main issue with this passage, to me, is whether one considers it to be descriptive, that is, describing observed relationships and natural law, or proscriptive, dictating patterns and behaviors. Because, as a matter of basic biology, if you want to build the next set of human beings, you do still need male and female gametes. In the absence of modern methods of in-vitro fertilization, the only way to get both gametes together and going in the ancient world required both male and female bodies. If we consider the creation stories to be describing the world and how it came to be, to get later generations of humans, one needs both men and women, biologically. We’re not like certain species of fish, capable of switching gender according to environmental need, or like one species of lizard which lacks a male gender entirely, with the females producing clones of themselves when stimulated by another female lizard initiating mating rituals. (Yes, there is a species of parthogenic lesbian lizards in existence. The natural world is far crazier and more creative than we ever give it credit for being.)

Therefore, understood descriptively, Genesis 1-2 simply states what was required to be there in the beginning in order for the human race to exist. No barrier to homosexuality there.

The second passage is probably the biggest flashpoint for many Fundamentalists. Yes, we’ve hit Sodom and Gomorrah. Within the Genesis text, God simply states that “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin is so grave…” Following this, there is an argument with Abraham, where Abraham bargins with God, talking God down until God agrees that if there are still ten good men in either Sodom or Gomorrah, neither city will be destroyed. Again, the sin is left nameless in the Genesis accounts.

But Genesis is not the only place in the Bible where Sodom and Gomorrah are discussed. In Ezekiel 16: 46-51), we are given quite an interesting passage. Ezekiel is using a common prophetic construction, where he first says, “thus says the Lord,” and then follows with a speech using first person language, ie, using I as the pronoun. This is understood within prophetic texts to be a prophetic quotation of God, unadulterated. If we honor the prophetic texts and speech patterns, this, then, is God speaking directly about the sin of Sodom.

“As I live, says the Lord God, I swear that your sister Sodom, with her daughters, has not done as you and your daughters have done! And look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and the needy. Rather, they became haughty and committed abominable crimes in my presence, then, as you have seen, I removed them.” Ezekiel 16: 48-50.

So…the sin of Sodom, sodomy, was being proud, overfed, wealthy and complacent about it, and not caring about the poor around them. These are all breaches of the hospitality codes of the Ancient Near East. In my more cynical modes, I’d look around the world today, and the groups I see who are committing sodomy by these standards? Not so much the queer community I must say.

Ignoring Ezekiel’s explanation of the sins of Sodom for a moment, I want to look closer at the text of both the Genesis account of the destruction of Sodom, as well as a text from Judges that closely mirrors the story. The Bible is full of such mirror texts, and it is often useful to examine the mirror texts alongside the primary text.

The relevant passage of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is as follows:

“The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’ 6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ 9But they replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.” Genesis 19: 1-11

There is a very similar parallel text found in Judges (warning, this passage includes rape, and some truly sickening discussion of what happened afterwards, some people may be triggered):

9When the man with his concubine and his servant got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, ‘Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home.’

10 But the man would not spend the night; he got up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. 11When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, ‘Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.’ 12But his master said to him, ‘We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.’ 13Then he said to his servant, ‘Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.’ 14So they passed by and went on their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin. 15They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.

16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) 17When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, ‘Where are you going and where do you come from?’ 18He answered him, ‘We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home.* Nobody has offered to take me in. 19We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.’ 20The old man said, ‘Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.’ 21So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, ‘Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.’ 23And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.’ 25But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

27 In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28‘Get up,’ he said to her, ‘we are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. 29When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, “Has such a thing ever happened* since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.”
Judges 19: 10-30)

Finished throwing up yet? Once you have, it’s relatively easy to step back and note the similarities within these passages. In both cases, a stranger comes to stay in a town, is taken in by one man of that town, and later in the evening, men of that town come out and demand that the man’s host turn him out of the house so that they can rape him. This pattern comes out of an existing pattern of behavior in the Ancient Near East, where if you can assert sexual dominance over a man by raping him (or his property, in the form of wives/daughters/concubines), you gain social and political dominance as well, because you have proved the other man is weaker than you are. As modern scholars will tell you, this is very similar to modern rape, where the act is not about sex nearly so much as it’s about aggression and power being played out using sex as the means to an end. If we use Genesis to argue against homosexual sex between men, then we should use Judges, where the story parallels so neatly, as an argument against heterosexual sex. At that point, the only people allowed to do anything sexual are lesbians.

Or, we can say that both passages argue that rape as sexualized aggression and dominance is a bad thing, and therefore, rape is wrong, whether the target is male or female. Which is really what I’m reading from this.

Next on our list of Biblical passages is Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, such a thing is an abomination.” Verse 24, following, gives the reason, “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things by which the nations whom I am driving out of your way have defiled themselves.” Leviticus 20: 13 gives the punishment for male/male sex as death, again, because it is an abomination. I’m going to quote from a friend’s research article here, because she points out something interesting in the language used in these verses. “What exactly was meant by "abomination," though? The Hebrew word used was toevah and the Greek used bdelygma. These words refer to a ritual impurity or uncleanliness, or a taboo, and are sometimes even associated with idolatry. Both the Hebrew and the Greek had other words (zimah and anomia, respectively) that could have been used to indicate something wrong in and of itself, but those words were not used in reference to homogenital acts in this context. Leviticus 18:1-5 states,"The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrewes and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord'" (NIV). It seems clear that the "abomination" of homogenital acts referred to in Leviticus refers to nothing more than Jewish purity. Homogenital acts were common in much of the Ancient World and were often an important part of pagan rituals, particularly fertility ones. Men often had sex with temple prostitutes as a way of indirectly offering their seed to the goddess. Though these prostitutes were usually female, some were males who had voluntarily castrated themselves, sacrificing their manhood to the goddess.” (Sweeny, 2000)

Taken in the light of this word study, and in the context of a larger passage rejecting many acts associated with temple worship of other gods, this becomes a rejection of idolatry, by refusing actions associated with other religion’s practices. Modern homosexuality normally does not have anything to do with worship of various and sundry Ancient Near Eastern deities.

If the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the big Old Testament passage cited as being against homosexuality, then Romans 1:24-27 is the big New Testament passage. I do find it interesting that there are absolutely no references to homosexuality from Jesus at all. Our New Testament arguments are coming primarily from Paul, who is speaking, not for God here, but from his own experiences. Romans 1 is also the only place in the entire Bible that mentions anything at all about lesbians. Here, Paul argues that both men and women are acting unnaturally, and men in particular are doing shameful things to other men. As a biology student who can cite examples of an entire species of lesbian lizards, as well as homosexual pair bonds in every species we know of that mates for life, I don’t think I need to expound much on whether homosexuality can be found in nature.

But the other thing to look at, and the thing that we should keep in mind when we look at all of the New Testament writings, is what they were responding to at the time. Greek society had a very socially accepted form of male homosexuality, where one man in his mid-late twenties to early thirties, would take a younger man in his late teens under his wing and teach him about life and his role in society. The younger man would repay him with sex. Ther was normally an age gap of at least ten years or so there. By modern standards, this is statutory rape, and would be, regardless of the genders of the people involved. The word used in Timothy 1: 10, malakoi, reflects some of this different understanding of these acts, as it can be translated, depending on the interpreter, to mean effeminate, morally loose, masturbator, homosexual, or child molester. There’s a broad range of people there, some of which I would still condemn, like child molesters, and some of which I really raise an eyebrow at. In any case, which translation of the word you give in English shows more the prejudices of the interpreter than it does the original interpretation in Greek.

That wraps up the various passages in the Bible which seem to respond negatively to homosexuality, and, in case I haven’t been clear enough, I don’t believe there is enough in any of those passages to state that the Bible would condemn modern homosexuality. What seems to be condemned are rapes, temple prostitution, and child molestation, things I can see most people rejecting today, regardless of sexual orientation.

I’ll come back to the stories of David and Jonathon, and Ruth and Naomi, in another journal entry. If you want to read them for yourselves, I’ll just note that these are two stories involving unselfish, whole-hearted love between two people, and are in my opinion, two of the more beautiful stories out of the Bible. And in both cases, the love and affection shown between two people of the same sex is affirmed and upheld as good and blessed by God within the text.


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