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The Bible and homosexuality: Selectively plucking passages looks like seeking divine cover for denying basic human rights

As the proposed constitutional prohibition on gay marriage gains in the Minnesota Legislature, many supporters again say that their anti-homosexuality stance is rooted in Scripture.

As the proposed constitutional prohibition on gay marriage gains in the Minnesota Legislature, many supporters again say that their anti-homosexuality stance is rooted in Scripture. But some people of faith rightly wonder why some “people of God” malign other “people of God” simply for who they are.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, pondered the question another way: “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?”

So I consulted available history and re-examined my old Methodist Bible for guidance.  From that, it seems one must be careful about selectively plucking biblical passages to support a social position — because anyone who really pays attention will encounter impossibly conflicting scripture, and may confront larger messages that relegate things like anti-gay legislation to codifying denial of basic human rights.

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It is true that the Bible, most prominently in Leviticus and Paul’s New Testament letters, frowns on homosexuality. Old Testament Mosaic Law called it “an abomination” punishable by death!

We don’t kill for … wearing fabric blends
Thankfully, many ancient biblical dictates have yielded to modern common sense.  We don’t kill as Leviticus decrees for any number of practices, some as ordinary as wearing clothes woven with a blend of fabrics. Jesus tempered the barbaric Old Testament wrath with a new covenant that revealed a caring God through whom misdeeds by fallible humans may be forgiven.

Nowhere in Jesus’ New Testament teachings is homosexuality even mentioned, let alone branded sinful. Rather, Jesus is presented as a champion of the downtrodden and an untiring advocate for human dignity and unconditional acceptance of all people (note the several times Jesus cites good deeds by Samaritans, who in biblical times were social outcasts).

In Matthew, Jesus says that whatever is done to the least of us is done to us all. Jesus also says in the same book: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you …” (variations of the “golden rule” are central in all world religions, always with an absence of condition).

Elsewhere in the Bible:

Moses says that “abominations” are not keeping the Sabbath holy and touching a pig’s skin, both punishable by death!  Exodus says it’s OK to sell one’s daughter into slavery, yet adultery (almost exclusively directed at women in the culture of the time) is punishable by death.

A long-ago context
Those directives emerged in a long-ago social context, and today we know that it’s certainly not OK to kill gays or those who skip church or herd hogs.  And who’d look the other way if the neighbors sought added income by selling their daughter to a slave camp?

Deuteronomy commands that children who eat or drink too much or are disobedient “shall” be stoned, and elsewhere Moses orders death to any who curse.  So, who’d throw the rocks, and what would law-enforcement officers do when they inspect the bloody bodies?

Really … how far Bible literalists want to go with all this.

Paul — once the Jewish Pharisee Saul of Tarsus who eagerly terrorized Christians before his legendary flip-flop on a trip to Damascus — claimed to speak for Jesus (whom he never met) in his scriptural letters.  However, in condemning gays Paul had zero basis in the biblical Jesus, just as he had no foundation in Christ for his forbidding women to speak in church except through their husbands, or his tacit approval of slavery.

Bible was used to justify …
Over the years, the Bible has been the basis for:

• Advancing the “divine right of Kings” through the Magna Carta in 1215 (of course, we no longer accept that God endorses royal dictators … or candidates for elected office).

• Imprisoning and nearly executing Galileo in the 17th century for saying the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe.

• Branding Charles Darwin a heretic for his theory of evolution in1859.

• Denigrating women, who in ancient times were considered chattel in Taliban-like tribes.  Such patriarchal sexism remains widespread in some cultures and is the basis for barring women from positions of Catholic authority.

• Denying American women the right to vote, something that changed less than 100 years ago (the Bible was also invoked in our “democracy” to deny full human status to blacks and Native Americans, and to deny interracial marriage).

• Insisting that black was sinful, a bedrock belief of the “Christian” Ku Klux Klan (Byron De La Beckwith, the convicted killer of Medgar Evers, once said the Bible proclaims that people of color were made “along with beasts” and are therefore subhuman with no more rights than a mule).

One could go on with the nonsense and mayhem (see the Crusades, the Inquisitions, Columbus, Spanish Conquistadors) wrought by those who blithely pretended that biblical authors provide an “inerrant” basis for conduct that most thinking moderns rightly reject.  Some biblical dictates are now properly cast as felonies.

As we get past the Bible’s troubling texts that reflect ancient patriarchal prejudices and understand its central message of goodness, the Bible can be a foundation for living lives of care and respect.  As evangelist Rev. Rick Warren has emphasized, Jesus’ core mission was to “defend the defenseless and speak for the oppressed.”

It’s fair to wonder why it is that we’re still burdened by what Jonathan Swift observed 300 years ago:  “We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

Citing the Bible to denigrate people for who they are seems to be little more than seeking divine cover for a disturbing denial of very basic human rights that our nation’s Christian founders declared to be “self-evident and unalienable.” And it’s something that the Jesus in my tattered Bible would surely challenge, just as he famously challenged the hypocrites of his own time.

Ron Way is a longtime Minnesota journalist who has written about the environment and energy for MinnPost.