On his blog, Bob Cargill has been arguing with conservative Christians about same sex marriage and homosexuality - in particular, against those who claim that to follow the Bible faithfully requires one to oppose homosexuality and same sex marriage, while at the same time not agreeing with the biblical permission to own slaves (found in Exodus, Leviticus, and in the household codes of the New Testament).
I wrote a comment on the blog which I'm also posting here:
I’d like to speak as a scholar and also as one of the gay people whom the religious right demonizes. Yes, demonizes. Organizations like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family accuse gay and lesbian people of doing things that we do not – they spread lies about us. Some Christian right groups are opposed to anti-bullying laws for students in public schools out of the fear that it would mean allowing gay and lesbian schoolchildren to live in peace. They use the pretext that this is limiting their religious freedom – freedom to harass and ostracize teenagers. People are still attacked and murdered for being gay. Children are thrown out of their homes for being gay by their bigoted parents. We have fought very hard to gain the rights that we have in American society, but we are still not equal in rights to heterosexual people. In many states, without anti-discrimination laws that include gay people, it is still legal to fire someone or evict someone if they are gay.
If you read the Bible with care, you will see that Leviticus 18:22 does not speak of “homosexuality” as an identity – there was no such concept when the Bible was written. A certain act is forbidden – men having sex with other men in the manner that a man would have sex with a woman. There is no mention of lesbians at all in the Hebrew Bible.
In Genesis 19, the sin of Sodom is not homosexuality – it is lack of hospitality and attempted gang rape. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah says nothing about a consensual relationship between two men.
In 1 Samuel and the book of Ruth, close emotional relationships between people of the same sex are presented as praiseworthy – the close friendship between David and Jonathan and between Ruth and Naomi. It’s unknown to us whether sex would have been part of these relationships, but close emotional relationships are assumed.
In the New Testament, Jesus never says anything about homosexuality. Since he consorted with people considered the dregs of society – prostitutes and tax collectors – one might think that were he alive today he would also be consorting with the gay children thrown out of their homes who subsist on the streets of our big cities by selling their bodies.
I’m not a Christian – I’m Jewish, so I would not follow the New Testament as inspired scripture, but there are certainly beautiful prophetic lessons presented in the New Testament.
I do believe that the Bible should be read as a product of its historical period, which means that parts of it are not relevant to our lives today, including the two examples that Bob has been writing about, slavery and same sex relationships.
And I also see no evidence whatsoever that biblical slavery was any more pleasant than American slavery. Slaves were at the mercy of their masters – a master could kill a slave with impunity, as long as he or she did not die immediately from a beating. Leviticus says that it’s permitted to treat foreign slaves בפרך – with harshness. Even Hebrew girls sold into slavery by their fathers had no choice about whom they had sex with – their masters or their masters’ sons. I do not think that biblical slavery is something that anyone living today should defend with the weak argument that somehow it was “better” than American slavery. Slavery is indefensible, period, regardless of the time period in which it was practiced.