by Josh Gould
There’s an ancient quote that says, “any interpretation of scripture which leads to hatred or disdain of other people, is illegitimate.” Some of you might recognize this quote from The Charter of Compassion that was launched a few years ago by Karen Armstrong. Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes who lived during the second century first uttered it and made it famous. St. Augustine also came to the same conclusion, but said it in different words.
So what does this have to do with homosexuality? Well, it doesn’t take much effort to see how evangelical Christians oppress and discriminate against someone who identifies as homosexual. These Christians claim that marriage is between one man and one woman and that anything else would destroy the sanctity of marriage, as God established in the Bible. They go out of their way to stand up against issues like same-sex marriage to the point where they pass amendments to ban such an idea. The media especially enjoys plastering their networks with video and pictures of people holding up signs that say, “God hates fags” and “God says fags should die.” Where do they get these ideas from and how can they be so bold as to speak on God’s behalf?
These ideas and interpretations about what God speaks through the Bible come from a place of hatred and, according to Rabbi Meir, this makes them illegitimate. But what exactly are they interpreting? Within the pages of the Bible, there are six verses that are commonly used across the board by Christians opposed to homosexuality: three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at the one that is arguably the strongest, most used verse in the Old Testament. We’ll find this verse in chapter 18 in the Book of Leviticus. It might be helpful to follow along in your own Bible, so feel free to turn there and skim down to verse 22. It reads, “do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, it is detestable” (TNIV). Before we begin breaking down the verse, a little context on Leviticus might be helpful.
The Book of Leviticus is found within a collection of books that make up what is called “Torah.” Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible and God’s law for the Hebrew people. Within it are two creation accounts, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, a little bit of history and various laws and rules for the people to abide by, the latter accounting for the majority of the Torah. Leviticus is specifically a law book and there are five major movements within the book. It starts off with laws for sacrifice, then moves to the institution of priesthood, followed by laws for cleanliness, holiness (called the Holiness Code) and it concludes with the redemption of offered gifts. These movements are discussed in great detail, chapter by chapter as you move through the book. Chapter 18 falls within the Holiness Code section and deals with sexual prohibitions.