The Impurity of Homosexuality
Back a few posts when I gave a bit of perspective on the homosexuality debate, I mentioned that there are all of 6 texts at most that can be used to speak of homosexual activity as a sin. One was the story of Sodom, which I looked at in my last post. I showed that whether or not they were also punished for homosexuality there is no evidence of that and in fact the only biblical evidence is that they were punished for greed. The next two verses that speak to the issue come from the Leviticus Holiness Code:
22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22 NIV)
13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13 NIV)
There are lots of interesting thoughts when it comes to the Levitical Holiness Code, but there’s basically two I want to present here:
First of all and most dominantly, when we talk of the Leviticus Holiness Code, do we usually talk about it as something that is to be followed today? Well, conservatives would say, we are to follow the letter of the law throughout the whole Bible, and none is more or less important than any other. It really is a fascinating section of Scripture to me because some of the rules have obvious benefit to humanity, such as not committing incest. Nobody would really doubt that it is a good general rule for a man to not marry his sister and have sex with her. Some others are a bit hard to explain, however, like the ban on shellfish or on wearing clothing weaved together of two different materials. So how do we approach these laws? If we say we’re going to follow all of them, then we need to at least try to follow the ones that make no sense as well. I think everybody, whether they admit it or not, draws some line in there somewhere about what is still good for us today. In fact, one of the earliest scandals in church history was related to whether Gentiles had to obey the Torah laws including dietary requirements and circumcision. It was decided that no, they didn’t have to, but it is a theological question that has never stopped being asked. In which case, the question becomes: where is that line drawn?
The other interesting concept to me is that the word holy does not actually mean good or pure or any of those other words we often use it as synonymous with. Literally, it means “set apart” or “different.” In many cases those two concepts line up, but not always. It is clear that some things that were commanded of Israel were commanded simply for the goal of their being different from neighbouring nations, and when you read the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole there is no doubt that a primary goal was some kind of separation from those around them. The mantra of the Holiness Code is that Yahweh is holy (different), therefore Israel must be holy (different). It seems like some of the laws were established simply to make Israel stand out.
So putting the two together, I would argue that some of the laws are still pretty good advice, but I do not feel like it is heretical to say that we are not asked to fulfill every letter of the Holiness Code. What this comes down to for me then is that I know I don’t pay much attention to these laws, and most other Christians don’t either. Yet we seem to often make an exception for those two verses about gay activity, which can be often quoted as evidence that we must stop “the homosexual agenda.” Does anybody else pick up on the inconsistency here? If you can find some reason to believe it is in the first category of universally dangerous actions, like incest, then that would be a different case, but is there any evidence whatsoever of that being true of homosexuality? I know the definition of the word “harm” is a pretty fuzzy one, but even by the fuzziest definition I have not heard any evidence for any kind of harm being done by gays or lesbians acting out their natural desires in the same way that heterosexual couples are entitled to.
As with the story of Sodom, I find these two texts in Leviticus to have absolutely no convincing power toward the position that homosexuality is a sin. Many on Side B and Side X would even agree, but contest that since there are also texts in the New Testament, which does hold much more influence in our lives today in terms of “the rules,” it is a moot point. It is those three verses in the NT which really seal it for them usually, and I will start to look at those in my next post.