Friday, August 17, 2012

The Things that You're Liable to Read in the Bible

Did you know that six years ago, I thought being gay was a sinful choice?

Yeah.  It's always awkward to admit, but I was young and uninformed.  Everything I knew about being gay came from my parents, who were themselves still trying to figure out where they stood on things.

I started knowingly meeting gay people in eighth grade*, and I loved them.  My best friend all through high school was a sweet, smart, flamboyant guy, as were... the vast majority of my close friends in high school.  It really started getting going in my freshman year of high school, when there were two same-gender couples at my fifteenth birthday party.  Their affection for each other was every bit as real, genuine, and abso-freaking-lutely adorable as my straight friends in their relationships.

I knew those relationships had as much love as any other.  I also knew that the Bible had some things to say about homosexuality that, on their face, are incredibly negative.  You may have heard of them.  They're called the clobber verses**.

Before I knew what I do now, I felt helpless in the face of those verses.  I hated them.  I wanted to make like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and cut the verses out, anything that would keep the Bible from condemning the love my friends shared.

Instead, I studied.  I searched.  I continue to gobble up resources, anything to strengthen my already strong (in my opinion) case for why there are more ways to interpret the Bible on this issue, and why it's the most reasonable and compassionate choice to interpret the Bible in such a way that 5% of the world's population isn't a bunch of filthy Sodomites destined for Hell.

(I'll get back to the Sodomite thing in a minute.)

I want to lay out my case for you.  Maybe you already believe that the Bible is less hard on these things than some believe.  Maybe you're on the fence.  Maybe you think I'm an egregious, remorseless sinner and you're reading this for giggles.  No matter what, I want to do this, because I think it's important to spread the word about this.

The way I'm going to do this is by taking each of the oft-cited clobber verses and make the case for an alternative interpretation for each, and then a couple of other oft-used arguments against queer folks which have less of a basis in the Bible than they do in General Christian Knowledge.

Many, many people have gone over this before.  As such, I'm going to let them do most of the talking.  This isn't an academic paper; I can quote all I want.  I'll use my own words where I can, but honestly, I think so many others have put it better than I ever could, that it'd just be easier to go to the source.

So without further ado, let's get to it.

GENESIS 19 (trigger warning for rape)

All the other passages are small collections of verses, but this is a whole chapter of Genesis, so I'll summarize: Abraham, father of the Hebrew people, has a relative named Lot living in the city of Sodom, one of a group of cities destined by God for destruction as punishment for the rampant wickedness within.  Abraham pleads to God to spare Lot and his family; God therefore sends a couple of angels in the form of men to Lot to warn him to flee.

What is described as "all the men of Sodom" comes to Lot's house, demanding that he release his mysterious guests to the mob so that they may "know" (usually translated to mean "rape") them.  Lot refuses, and instead offers his virgin daughters to be raped.  The mob refuses and is blinded by the angels.  Lot and his family later escape the city, and Sodom is destroyed.

It is frequently argued that the sin of Sodom and the other cities was homosexuality.  Upon further reading, however, this simply cannot be the case.  First and most obvious of all is the fact that the rest of the Bible, when the "sin of Sodom" is mentioned, never seems to bring up homosexuality at all.

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." -Ezekiel 16:49-50

Jude 7 is perhaps the closest the whole Bible comes to suggesting that the sin of Sodom was sexual in nature, and even then there is no specific reference to man-on-man sex.  (Besides, these weren't men, they were angels; a totally different species.)

"In the passage, the men of Sodom threaten to gang rape Lot’s angel visitors, who have come in the form of men, and so this behavior would at least ostensibly be same-sex. But that is the only connection that can be drawn between this passage and homosexuality in general, and there is a world of difference between violent and coercive practices like gang rape and consensual, monogamous, and loving relationships. No one in the church or anywhere else is arguing for the acceptance of gang rape; that is vastly different from what we’re talking about." -Matthew Vines, The Bible and Homosexuality

There's also the fact that, then as now, men raping men was never about sex; it was about domination and humiliation.  In cultures where being the "receiver" of sex is seen as shameful because it is typically "female," being a man forced to let another man penetrate him would be a brutally effective way to "put him in his place".

"What most people don't know is that this isn't an isolated incident in Scripture. Judges 19 tells a very similar story about a town mob threatening to gang rape a male visitor in the city of Gibeah, though in that story they end up [raping and] murdering his concubine instead. Does this mean that in Bible times, the landscape was dotted with 'gay cities' everywhere that loved to rape men? Of course not. A threat of gang rape should be interpreted as an act of humiliating violence - a way of saying to a visitor, 'You are not welcome here; we're the big dogs.' (Just imagine if you were in prison and a bunch of big, burly men threatened to rape you. You wouldn't assume they were gay men hitting on you; you'd realize that they were threatening you with the worst punishment imaginable!)" -Justin Lee, The Great Debate: Justin's View

Many people who argue that the Bible condemns homosexuality don't really use this passage anymore, but I know at least one person who, last I checked, still does, so I think it's important to bring this up and address it.  In doing so, not only has the traditional interpretation been challenged, but it sets up a key thing that'll come in handy for interpreting other passages later: the idea that a man being on the receiving end of sex is debased and shamed by virtue of being on the receiving end of sex.  Even today, in some cultures, this idea prevails.  Not long ago in Brazil, for example, two men having sex were not equally gay.  Only the man on the receiving end was considered gay; the other was "macho" and not at all gay because he was on top.

Some things just never change.

Because this whole issue is so complex, I can't address every clobber verse and objection in a single post.  Instead, this will be a series.  Next time I'll be delving into Leviticus, that most infamous book in the Bible, and dealing with the intricacies of what many consider to be such a straightforward command.

Until next time!

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*Multiple friends and family friends have come out since then whom I didn't know at the time were queer.
**So named because people use them to "clobber" queer folks.

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