Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Are Those Laws About Goat Slaughtering?

Check out this Newsweek article about gay marriage and the Bible--and what exactly the Bible says. The author, Lisa Miller, is obviously pro-gay marriage, but I think it's good to take a look at the context of the passages people usually quote when referencing homosexuality in the Bible. For example:

"The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as 'an abomination' (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?"

Leviticus is a whole crazy list of "dos" and "don'ts." Miller's right to reference issues of slavery. (And it's not just the Israelites and Egyptians. Remember the weirdness of Abraham and the whole pregnancy issue?) Obviously we don't have slaves anymore. And just as most of us aren't so careful about our goat-slaughtering, we need to reassess what religious laws mean in contemporary life.

And what about the New Testament? Miller says:

"The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties...There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women)."

The divorce issue is one that gets me. How do we legally accept divorce and not homosexual relationships? If we're going to be so strict about these "rules," how does divorce get by?

Most of the time, I think the Bible isn't black-and-white. The general idea of "be kind to each other" is spot on. But even Jesus shook up people's ideas of what was religiously right and important. (How many times does he encounter somebody who gets the religion thing wrong?) So we can't assume that everything we have in this book is exactly what it seems to say. Add to that the issue of translation and human error, and you get a really, really complicated text.

That's not to say that you can't interpret the Bible how you want. But I think the issue of interpretation is so interesting, and one scholars and religious leaders are still wrestling with.

For me, a nice moment came when I was at mass recently, and the priest mentioned how there was a new gay/lesbian/transgender/bisexual support group forming at the church for people who are looking for support in the community, or for people who are looking to support those people. He ended with "Everyone is welcome at God's table."


Catherine said...

God hates shrimp, just like He hates gay people. :::rolls eyes:::

My church is also very welcoming and loving to all. I know several gay couples who go to my parish. Last year when the gay pride parade was going on in the neighborhood where my church is, the priest made a point of welcoming all who were visitors there that day for the festivities. This makes me happy because I know Jesus would be like "Come on in, y'all" to everyone whether they're gay, straight, married, divorced, clean, or shrimpy-smelling. :)

annie said...

Shrimp are the devil's crustaceans!


And hurray for welcoming Catholics!