Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ask the Amateur Theologian!

"What's this?" you're wondering. Well, there was a question left on last week's post that is central enough to the whole MRTB, uh, mission that it seemed worth a post of its own. So, figuring that a change of format is a pretty risk-free move for a blog that only has two regular readers anyway, we're going to push tonight's reading back a few days and use the regular Sunday night space for the world debut episode of....

Ask the Amateur Theologian!

Is Homosexuality Bad?

ChuckDaddy2000, of Portland, Oregon, asks:

What do you recommend as a snappy comeback for someone who says homosexuality is wrong because it goes against the Bible? I've heard before, "Yeah, and the bible also says you shouldn't grow beards or eat oysters." First off, when did the bible say this (I remember something about shellfish, nothing about beards). And, do you have a better line? Your blog has helped me with some ideas, but I thought I should go to the source for the snappiest comeuppance.

Dear ChuckDaddy,

First of all, it is extremely important to remember that The Amateur Theologian has only read the first tenth or so of the Bible. For all we know, the book of Joshua begins with an injunction to disregard all that has gone before. For all we know, there are whole chapters of Matthew where Jesus says repeatedly that God hates gay people, and that they are going to hell, every one of them.

Having said that, let's take a look at what we've got so far:

The creation stories in Exodus certainly imply a natural order in which males and females are to be paired off. God's displeasure with the inhabitants of Sodom might imply a problem with homosexuality -- it's often cited as such -- but the evidence is really pretty thin there. Much more to the point is Leviticus 18, which includes male homosexual intercourse on a list of sexual taboos, and Leviticus 20, which assigns it the death penalty.

It is always fun to parse. What about a male homosexual relationship in which anal intercourse is avoided? What about lesbian relationships, of whatever sexual intensity? These questions are not addressed, which is to say that neither is forbidden, and this in a text which in other contexts goes into great detail as to exactly which behaviors are and are not acceptable. Still, I would have to say that the balance of evidence implies that the category of "other homosexual relationships" is not exactly encouraged by Old Testament law.

OK, that brings us to the question of whether Old Testament law really matters. The "beards and oysters" argument makes the proposition that, if there are specific laws in the Old Testament that the vast majority of people routinely flout, than picking other laws out for enforcement or moral judgement is invalid. Leviticus 19 prohibits cutting beards (and most haircuts), Leviticus 11 prohibits shellfish (and pork), and Leviticus 18 prohibits homosexual intercourse; if you fail to take either of the first two seriously, what grounds do you have to worry about the third? This is a powerful argument. Its only real weakness is that Leviticus 20 death penalty, which could be construed as elevating the homosexual taboo to a level of seriousness above the others.

However, as colorful as haircuts, pigs, and shellfish are as examples of routinely ignored Old Testament prohibitions (private land ownership would be another good one, by the way), they are really small potatoes. Easily the most important aspect of Old Testament law -- again, as far as I have read -- is the sacrifice system. Above all else, God wants you to understand what animals you need to surrender to the priests, and how, in order to keep yourself in a state of ritual cleanliness. Far more space and detail is lavished on this aspect of the Law than on anything else. So, The Amateur Theologian would have a hard time respecting the reasoning of someone who was citing God's instructions to Moses regarding homosexuality, unless that person was also rigorously keeping up with his or her sacrificial obligations.

This gets cloudy, however, since most Christians believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ took care of everyone's sacrificial obligations in perpetuity. So let's go down a notch, and look at the aspect of Old Testament law that gets the most attention, repetition, and clarification, after the sacrifice system. That would be the necessity of keeping the Sabbath, which even gets a mention in the traditional Ten Commandments. There is no ambiguity on this point; anyone who performs work on the Sabbath must die. You will recall the story from a few weeks back of a man caught gathering wood on the Sabbath, whom God condemned to an especially grizzly public execution.

So, ChuckDaddy2000, my response to your question, based on my reading so far, would be this -- Old Testament law does indeed condemn homosexuality. However, it also condemns breaking the Sabbath, and to a far greater extent. This suggests that we should comdemn homosexuals, at the very most, to the same extent that we condemn those who work on Sunday. Or who work around the house on Sunday. Or who make purchases on Sunday. For all of these things, the Bible says in no uncertain terms, the punishment is death.

If YOU have a question for the Amateur Theologian, knock yourself out! I'll do my best.


Jennifer said...

I was the only person I knew growing up whose family refused to shop on Sunday because of the "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" thing. The way I remember it, that meant a LOT of Mom rushing to Safeway at 10:45 (it closed at 11) on Saturday nights for another gallon of milk and/or loaf of bread so we could survive until Monday morning. Perhaps this is why one of my friends jokes that I grew up in "Leviticus house." (I think that's what he calls it.)

Michael5000 said...

@jennifer: Hmm, interesting. And now? Do they still keep the Sabbath holy?

When I lived in England in 1992-93, there was an interesting discrepancy between law (it was illegal for shops to be open on Sunday) and practice (virtually all shops were open on Sunday). There was a movement at that time, successful if I remember correctly, to do away with the law. The argument was that it was discriminatory to small businesses, who would be hit hard if a fine was imposed, whereas the fine would be trivial to a large chain.

Rebel said...

If you're interested in lesbian relationships in the bible, skip ahead and read Ruth. Ruth tells her 'mother in law' Naomi (and I paraphrase heavily)"don't tell me to leave, don't tell me not to follow you - where you go, I will go, where you live, I will live, your people will be my people, your god will be my god." How many widowed women are *that* devoted to their mothers in law???

But, I'm pretty sure that Jesus voids the 'no work on the sabbath' rule too. So you might have to wait until you get through the New Testament to see where it says "God Hates Fags" as the good Christians downtown so joyfully exclaim.

chuckdaddy2000 said...

Glad to see I've had some effect on Michaelreadsbible.

Althougb I'm not sure your response would be described as snappy, I found it very interesting and, as usual, well thought out.

Now I just need someone to try it out on. "Oh yeah, and the bible also says you can't shop on Sunday, sucker."

Fred Conwell said...

Do you still believe homosexuality is a sin? Well, Jesus defines ALL sin as lack of love (Matthew 22:36-40, 7:12; Luke 6:31) . Paul then expanded this love definition in Romans 13:8-11 and Galatians 5:14. So what is sinful about a loving same-sex relationship? Who is the victim being unloved, hurt or sinned against?
Sin is basically disrespect for God and lack of love for self or others. We are to serve God and others lovingly or we serve Satan and death. That sums up all the laws and teachings of the prophets.
Man-to-man loving sex is OK. It is inherently a non-sin and non-crime.
If God wanted to condemn sex between men, couldn't He have said “Man shall not lie with man” PERIOD. He tacked on the “ with woman “ because He is offended by straight men imagining they are having sex with a woman as they unlovingly rape their prisoner, cellmate, tearoom contact, etc. (Leviticus 18:22)
Straight people who are acting homosexually (“situational homosexuality” ) should expect the Holy Spirit's conviction for acting contrary to their created nature (Romans 1:26-27). Marrying a woman and playing around on the side with men ( “down low”) is lying to self, spouse and others in imitation of the Father of Lies.
The idolatrous Jewish Christians would pretended they were “as with a woman” while performing as male temple prostitutes (Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-28 ). In so doing they adulterated their relationship with God, (Dt 23:17) denying the One True God over Baal.

Michael5000 said...

@Chuckdaddy: Helpful and knowledgeable thoughts from rebel and Fred (Welcome, Fred!) here, both of whom have clearly read further along than the Amateur Theologian.

I was trying to give you ammo to craft your own snappy response. But here's a snappy little something you could use:

Guy: You know, the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin!

Chuckdaddy: Yeah, well, the Bible says you're an asshole!

Let me know how it works.

feetxxxl said...

dealing with lev is simple. god designated certain prohibitions to create a seperate people. at the time these laws were created they would have been considered extremely liberal and ahead of their time. some were for health reasons (see how it handled mold). others im not sure. the point is not all prohibitions were of themselves sins. such as mentioned..... household chores on the sabbath.

if you wnat to see how serious it was that these rules and regulations be kept, read deut 28.

remember god made 7 different covenants with his people, the last being one with christ. each one superceding the one before.

romans really spells out what our covenant with christ is about. he says that all laws can be summed up by the commandment....... love your neighbor as yourself.

its comical about all this emphasis on the origin of homosexuality. like we rely on science to determine our theology.
when the true test for lbgt is whether their capacity to embrace love of self and neighbor is anyway less than those who are heterosexual.

also the lev prohibiton was about same sex sex. there was no conception of orientation identity.
all acts of sex were considered just sex.
its impossible for us to transpose ourselves back to that time without taking along our 21st century awareness. this leads to all kinds of misconceptions.

i was thinking how could a 1900's man have conceptalized ethnic or religious equality.

now, we have just recently embraced an age where people are actually credited with having individual opinions. do you know incomprehesible would have been 50 years ago.

fifty years ago you were expected to hold the same opinions of those of your church, family, group of friends etc.

and in 1954, at the age of ten, when i first heard of the death camps, having been raised in that antisemetic time(in spite of the existence of romans 9,10,11), my mental knee jerk response was..........."isnt that the way you're SUPPOSE to treat them.

Mark Witteman said...

An episode of The West Wing included a refutation of those who condemn homosexuality based upon selective reading of Leviticus. The scene can be viewed at The scene seems apropos to this discussion.

It's impossible to imagine a non-fictional US President saying such words, especially in public, a sad statement on our Chief Executives past and present.

Jessica said...

When did the Sabbath change to Sunday?

Jessica said...

Jessica - according to what I know - the Sabaath changed to Sunday to honor the day that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified.