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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. 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.

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.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 05/13/2011 - 08:40 am.

    Spot on, Ron!

    Describing anti-gay folks as “seeking divine cover for a disturbing denial of very basic human rights” is exactly what’s going on.

    Now if we could only fit that onto a bumper sticker!

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/13/2011 - 11:32 am.

    Great piece, Ron. I miss your regular work here.

  3. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 05/13/2011 - 11:40 am.

    If the Republicans get their marriage amendment on the ballot, we will be hearing alot from those who aren’t so careful about “selectively plucking biblical passages to support a social position” …in fact, most of those who testified in the legislative committees were faith leaders using scriptures to call for a constitutional amendment.

  4. Submitted by Bill Toppson on 05/13/2011 - 01:51 pm.

    As I understand it, the State of Minnesota cannot pass a law that will affect how a church views same sex marriage, so your piece has little to do with the actual proposed law just as the Bible, or the Koran, will not be changed by the law.
    Your piece is merely attacking other peoples religious views. Yes, there are some who are using their religious views for justification of their personal position on the issue but I doubt if your reading of the Bible to them will affect a change.
    While I agree there are plenty of religions that could be attacked on many levels, I doubt if calling other people religious veiws wrong is going to win a political fight. (If you really want to stir the religious pot publish a picture of Mohammad!) It irks me to see some religious views so easily trashed while others cannot even be discussed for fear of retribution.
    It is ironic to me that while trying to be tolerant of same sex marriage you not tolerant of different religious views. Enough on that-
    This law is not going to change religion, it is only going to affect the civil marriage laws. I am not an expert in marriage laws but many of these laws where put in place to protect the act of traditional marriage and child rearing. Laws covering health insurance coverage, divorce, inheritance, tax laws and others for checking the “married” box were put place to allow for child rearing and a stay at home Mom. That is the area that will be affect and needs to be explored.Remember on the TV show Boston Legal where Denny and his law partner, while not gay, decided to get married in order to beat the inheritance laws?

  5. Submitted by Philip Lowe Jr on 05/13/2011 - 03:55 pm.

    I would invite folks to check out an article at this web site:

    In it a Jewish Rabbi clarifies what the word “abomination” in the Hebrew “toevah” means. In short it means a “cultural taboo.” The New Message Bible translates it as “disgusting” in reference to Leviticus 20:13. The word “abomination” is not a word that means “immoral” or “guaranteed loss of eternity” as so many suggest.

    As a gay man I can translate that same verse to say something that I can agree with. As a gay man, I would agree that it would be quite disgusting for a man to lay with another man as he would a woman. I would want a man to lay with me another man, as a man lays with a man. I wouldn’t suggest stoning them to death, but I would agree that it is gross. LOL

    One movie I would encourage people to purchase and watch is First Run Features: “For the Bible Tells Me So”. Among the featured families and individuals in it, is Randi, Philip and Jacob Reitan from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. You will enjoy it immensely.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/13/2011 - 04:06 pm.

    I have to disagree with Mr. Toppson.

    It took the Catholic church several centuries of scientific progress to learn that it was wrong to have punished Galileo for being right.

    And, during the Spanish Inquisition, torture, which was considered an acceptable way to protect the faith, is now seen for the abomination that it is (unless, of course, it’s done to Fight Terror).

    It took the world almost twenty centuries to call slavery wrong, even though the Bible says slaves should “honor their masters.”

    There have to have been critics during all those centuries who spoke truths that weren’t acknowledged. And today’s critics of right-wing Christianity, or any other kind of religious fundamentalism, almost always leads to oppression and sometimes to death may not be honored until some future century.

  7. Submitted by Stan Lee on 05/14/2011 - 09:12 am.

    There are plenty of scriptures in the bible that help us to love more than hate, people really need to read more than just plucking out a few scriptures they are interested in looking at and ask God to give wisdom to understand what the purposes of the scriptures are for. Most of it is history, many scriptures are old laws and new laws but most of the bible is telling you how to find God and believe in him, that it takes more than just believing in God if you want a real relationship with Him.

    The bible tells us that God doesnt want to condemn us, we are already condemned since birth. We are born as sinners and unless we seek God and His righteous kingdom and ask for forgiveness, we are doomed to follow our own evil desires.

    God gave us a choice, its sad that us christians can never really explain to the world what we know and what we understand without being judged or persecuted for our testimonies. And when we really try to open up our experiances and share with people about God, we are always either called a Jesus freak or that we are a priest preaching to the world. And most people are not interested to even talk about God.

    Its really sad, God is not about just believing that He exists. You have to be a child of God, and have a relationship with God before you can truely understand Him and why christians believe.

    Most people who do not thoroughly study Gods word tend to only look at the scriptures they want to see and use it for their own interpretation to defend or condemn and throw out execuses of what was written.

    Jesus said he did not come to the world to change God’s word… He came here to fullfill it, therefore many people use Jesus as an excuse to allow themselves to break God’s word.

    As for homosexuality, The bible does tell us it is detestable and an abomination, That God made man and woman so that we can be fruitful and multiply. That was Gods purpose for man.

    The Bible even tells us that man tends to tip toward evil desires more than doing righteousness and thats why God grieved that He made man..

    I use to be homosexual because I felt it was unfair that we didnt have a choice but now Ive had second thoughts about my decision, I choose not to be anymore because when you seriously look at the homosexual lifestyle, everything is about lust, sex, drugs, gossip, hatred toward each other in some way, who is more fierce, not saying that their arent any nice people but this is what you see most of the time. Lies, cheating, Sexual partners during sex tend to think about pleasing themselves in most cases. Most men don’t really care. There is alot of selfishness involved. And how many Homosexuals can honestly tell you that they go to church? Everyone believes in some sort of religion but no one truely follows their beliefs.

    The wickedness is so great, that even gay people have to take a break from the scene every now and then because it is too much to handle.

    Relationships in the homosexual community most likely last a couple of days to a week for most. And most of the time men are only about 1 night stands. Some men even play innocent love games just to get sex only and ignore you after. Its very rare you will see people go beyond 1 year. And for those who have been with each other for more than 1 year can honestly tell you that the relationship deals with cheating, open sex, multiples sex partners etc.

    Im just tired of everyone writing all these articles about how homosexuality is so innocent when no one will ever step up and say the truth.

    Im not here to judge gay people because I use to be gay and I have alot of amazing gay friends but I wanted to share with you what people don’t say about it.

    Most of the time when hanging out with friends, I can’t even get by 10 minutes without someone talking about sex, or who they want to have sex with or whos hot, and the rest of the details that is inappropriete to write about.

    Ive seen people who don’t even take care of themselves and won’t even get tested for HIV out of fear. But still go around and innocently look for a sex partner.

    Ive seen people even go out looking for several one night stands in the same night. Does anyone step up and say anything?

    And then you wonder why God says “It is detestable or an abomination”

    The homosexual scene is truely opposite from what God teaches in the bible, not just about homosexuality itself but about the other things you find in the homosexual world.

    Every article written about homosexuality only tells you the simple part of it all, but no one ever realizes that there is much more involved than what people write about.

    You only hear the good things about homosexuality, and how nice gay people are, but if you really open your eyes and see, theres more things going on that is the exact opposite from what the bible really teaches.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/14/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    Mr. Way,

    Selectively plucking “passages” from Rick Warren to justify your premise is denying basic fairness.

    You are doing to Rick Warren what misguided biblical interpreters have done to the bible.

  9. Submitted by CJ Camp on 05/15/2011 - 09:04 am.

    Yes. For a little more detail on what the bible says, see also:

    Stan Lee (nom de plume?)-
    You seem young. I hope you truly are comfortable with who you are, because if not, you almost certainly have an unhappy life ahead of you.

    I don’t understand your comment. Are you saying that Rick Warren doesn’t emphasize that Jesus’ mission was to “defend the defenseless and speak for the oppressed?” Or are you saying you disagree with using Mr. Warren’s ideas in this context?

  10. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 05/18/2011 - 09:50 pm.

    Mr. Way is a complete failure as a Torah scholar.

    Just sayin.

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