What the Bible says about homosexuality and other abominations
Today voters go to the polls in California to vote for or against Proposition 8, which “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” If passed, Prop 8 will “change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” A new section would be added, stating “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Because of the importance of precedence in the law, and the size and importance of California in American politics, this proposition is historic. The issue of Gay marriage in particular, and homosexuality in general, is a case study in how religion, especially Christianity, has erred egregiously.
The overwhelming evidence from science shows that gender preference is primarily determined by our genetics and prenatal biochemistry, especially embryological hormone balance. Almost everyone is born attracted to members of the opposite sex. A small percentage — perhaps as few as one to two percent (but probably not as high as ten percent, as some estimates have put it) — are attracted to members of the same sex.
Asking a homosexual when he or she chose to become gay is like asking a heterosexual when he or she chose to become straight. The answer you will get (I know because I’ve asked) is “Uh? I didn’t choose. I’ve always felt that way.” And that’s the answer I get from straights as well as gays.
Nevertheless, on this particular issue Christianity remains mired in pre-civil rights, pre-enlightenment, even pre-scientific medieval thinking, basing their beliefs on a few biblical passages, most famously Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” This prohibition is tucked in between other passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that should be repeated every time someone cites the above passage. (All biblical passages cited within are from the Revised Standard Version.) For example, for professional women thinking of adorning themselves in business attire that may resemble men’s business ware (or for guys who dig cross dressing), Deuteronomy 22:5 does not look kindly on such behaviors: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
An even worse abomination is a rebellious child. Deuteronomy 21:18–21 offers this parental moral guideline: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”
If that isn’t jarring enough, here is the Bible’s recommendation on how to deal with women who may or may not have had sex before marriage. According to Deuteronomy 22:13–21, “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate.” (For those not accustomed to reading between the biblical lines, the phrase “goes in to her” should be taken literally, and “the tokens of virginity” means the hymen and the blood on the sheet from a virgin’s first sexual experience.) If the father of the bride can produce the tokens of virginity, then he “shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man [the husband] and whip him; and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife.”
However, lo to the woman who has dared to have sex before marriage. “But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.”
To be fair, not all biblical ethics are this antiquated and extreme. There is much to pick and choose from that is useful for our thinking about moral issues. The problem here is consistency, and selecting ethical guidelines that support our particular personal or social prejudices and preferences. When slavery was the social norm, it was simple for pro-slavery defenders to point to passages such as those in Exodus 21, which outlines the rules for the proper handling of slaves, for example, “when you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing,” and “when a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.”
Of course, we no longer endorse slavery, or the death penalty for disobedient children, nonvirginal women, and adulterers, so why pick on the gays? What happened to the ethic of Christian charity and Jesus’ doctrine of love for all humanity? In their stead, we find Christian preachers, writers, and theologians who think nothing of tormenting gays by telling them that their desire to love another person of the same sex is an “abomination,” by telling them that they have a disease that can be “cured” through “treatment,” and by telling them that promiscuity is evil but that the single best prophylactic against it — marriage — is legally banned from them. Worse, some Christians actually believe they are being charitable by proclaiming that they “hate the sin, not the sinner,” which is not dissimilar to what Christians declared just before lighting faggots to burn women to save their souls for allegedly practicing witchcraft, or when Christians called for pogroms against Jews for being Christ-killers.
Mark my words. Here is what is going to happen. Within a decade, maybe two, Christians will come around to treating gays no differently than they now treat members of other groups whom they previously persecuted — women, Jews, blacks — but not because of some new interpretation of a biblical passage, or because of a new revelation from God. These changes will come about the same way that they always do: by the oppressed minority fighting for the right to be treated equally, and by a few enlightened members of the oppressing majority supporting their cause.
Then what will happen is that Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays, dig through the historical record and find a few Christian preachers or bloggers who had the courage and the character to stand up for Gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal.
Finally, politics and religion aside, are we to believe that the biggest concern of the creator of the universe — that all-knowing, all-powerful all-good deity capable of constructing stars, planets, life, consciousness and love — is what consenting adults do with their sexual organs in the privacy of their bedrooms?