Tag Archives: clobber texts

Excluded From God's People?

Question: Look carefully at this picture of assembled Catholic cardinals, and decide (carefully, now): Which of these, in terms of Pope Benedict’s own reasoning, are “excluded from God’s People”?

Answer: If you are to follow the line of reasoning of Pope Benedict himself, in his earlier incarnation as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the answer should be plain to see: all of them.
How so?

In the first Church document dedicated to the matter of homoerotic relationships, “Homosexualitatis Problema“, the “Problem (sic) of Homosexuality”, Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) quotes two verses from Leviticus which appear to condemn homosexual relationships, and then leaps to the completely unsubstantiated assertion that, because these verses describe such actions as an “abomination”, the people so described are excluded from the Kingdom of God.”
If we are to accept the reasoning as sound, we should be able to apply it equally to the other behaviours which are similarly described as “abominations“, and so discover who else are “excluded from the Kingdom of God.”
These verses include in their condemnation those well-known disreputable sinners as the eaters of shellfish and rabbits, those wearing clothing of mixed fibres, and (it pains me to say this), those who have shaved their beards. Now, the picture shown does not show a great deal of detail, but I fail to see a single beard among the assembled throng. To be consistent, on the basis of this argument we have only two options: either we must accept that the illustrious cardinals shown (and the overwhelming majority of all clergy) are likewise “excluded from God’s people “, or we must accept that the reasoning is flawed. Which is it?
Homosexualitatis Problema” concludes with two wonderful verses from Scripture: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn 8:32), and “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), both stirring verses that I would endorse fully. What enrages me, is the deceitfulness, the utter dishonesty, of a document which purports to be about “Truth”, but instead bolsters its claims (for that is what they are: claims, not reasoned arguments) with a long series of palpable falsehoods.
I could accept in good faith a document that submitted ts claims and supported them with clear reasoning. This document does not. Instead, it provides us with an excellent example of what Dr Mark Jordan has described as the typical rhetorical style of the Church: to present statements as unquestionably true, without justification, and then to bludgeon us into submission by sheer force of repetition. These are examples of the statements made in exactly this way, without demonstration, that are demonstrably untrue:

In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the course of describing the conditions necessary for belonging to the Chosen People, the author excludes from the People of God who behave in a homosexual fashion.

These verses from Leviticus are well known, and it is inexcusable that they should be so badly misrepresented. They do not condemn those “who behave in a homosexual fashion”, but a much narrower set of behaviors – men who lie with men “as with a woman”. It does not condemn women’s relationships, nor does it condemn other kinds of “homosexual behavior” – such as caressing, or home-making, or cooking, or mutual love and support, or dancing,or…… Just what is behavior “in a homosexual fashion“?

“There can be no doubt of the moral judgement made there (in Genesis 19, of the story of Sodom) against homosexual relations”.
Note that this is not just a claim that the story is a condemnation of “homosexual relations”. It is much stronger, and says that “there can be no doubt“. In fact the opposite is true – there is indeed a great deal of doubt. Not only is there “doubt”, but even outright denial. Many reputable Biblical scholars now point out that there is in fact no condemnation of homosexual relations anywhere in Genesis 19. The story as told in Genesis does not in any way identify the infamous “sin of Sodom” – but it is identified elsewhere, and it is not “homosexuality”. (See “Countering the Clobber Texts” for more on the real sin of Sodom.)
The document goes on to claim that there is a “clear consistency within the Scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behavior. This is nonsense. Among over 30 000 verses in Scripture, there are only half a dozen which appear to criticize some homosexual behaviors and even these verses are debatable. (Over 300 verses carry admonitions against heterosexual behavior). there are also very many texts which support loving same gender relationships (see The Gospel’s Queer Values) – but these the CDF simply ignores.

The Church’s teaching today is “in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and her own constant tradition.”
The Vatican likes to repeat this phrase about a “constant tradition” (or “unchanging” tradition) on “homosexual relations” at regular intervals. In fact, there is no “constant” tradition, when you take a long view over history. There is indeed “organic continuity”, but it has changed substantially over the two millenia of history, just as teaching has changed on many other issues: on slavery, on usury, on women’s proper & expected subjection to the will of there husbands, on the sacramental nature of marriage, and the need for its solemnization in church (which was once required only for priests), on compulsory celibacy for priests, on the evils of democracy………..
On homosexuality, historians such as James Boswell, Mark Jordan and Alan Bray have shown just how much the teaching has evolved and changed over the centuries. I have listed some of this at Queering the Church, in my post “The Church’s Changing Tradition“.

The church’s perspective “finds support in the more secure findings of the natural sciences

It does not. The natural sciences, like the human and social sciences, clearly show the opposite view. Zoologists have shown that homosexual behaviour occurs throughout the animal world. (See “God is Slightly Gay“). Physiologists have found some differences between the brains of people with homosexual and heterosexual orientations. The professional associations of the medical and psychiatric professions agree that homosexuality is not pathological or in any way “abnormal”. (Anthropology and social history show the same, but let us stick with natural sciences for now, as the Vatican does.) None of these natural sciences “support the Church’s perspective”, as the document fraudulently claims. But note the slippery rhetorical style: it does not claim that all science supports it – just that the “secure” findings of natural science do. In other words, those findings that do support Church teaching are “secure”, those that don’t can simply be dismissed as “insecure”, no matter what are the views of the scientific community as a whole.

“Homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God.”
This outrageous assertion is one that the CDF would no doubt like to believe, but there is no basis at all for accepting it – nor is any justification provided. On the other hand, there are two clear reasons for rejecting it, at least as applied to persons with a natural homoerotic orientation. First, if this is the way we have been made by the creator, how can its expression be “contrary to the creative wisdom of God”? God does not make mistakes. Does the CDF really believe we are called to somehow repair God’s mistakes? The truth here, as so often in this document, is precisely the opposite of the claim presented. The lessons from psychotherapy are clear: what is dangerous to mental health, and prevents human fulfilment and happiness, is the denial of one’s identity and personal truth, including one’s sexual identity. As John McNeill, the notable theologian and psychotherapist, endlessly reminds us in his books, bad psychology is bad theology.
These are the most obvious, clear falsehoods in the statement. There are others which are less extreme, but are also misleading.

St Paul, in 1 Cor 6:9 “proposes the same doctrine and lists those who behave in a homosexual fashion among those who shall not enter the Kingdom of God”;

This text does not list those “who behave in a homosexual fashion”. It lists rather, “malakoi” and “arsenekotoi“. Do you know what those are? No? Nor does anybody else. Accurate translation of these terms has puzzled Biblical scholars, because their meaning is unclear, but could be associated with idolatry, or the practice sometimes described (inaccurately) as “temple prostitution”. It most certainly does not refer to people who behave in a “homosexual fashion”, whatever that might mean.

1 Tim 10 “explicitly names as sinners those who engage in homosexual acts.”

Again, it does not. It “explicitly” names only “malakoi“, for which – see above.
There are numerous other nasty rhetorical tricks employed by Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict in this document, from the choice of language and false contrasts he sets up, for example, by contrasting “homosexual acts” with “conjugal relationships”. For balance, he should compare “conjugal acts”, with all their associations with a loving marriage, with loving homoerotic relationships. Of course he does not – he totally ignores all consideration of such loving same sex relationships, writing instead only of “homosexual” (historically, a medical term) acts and behaviour, of the “homosexual condition” , and of “disorder”.
The very title of the document is deceitful: it is headed “Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, but in fact the formal title of the work is “Homosexualitatis Problema“, again simply resenting “homosexuality” as a “problem”. it is not. The only problem here is the Vatican’s total failure to understand , or even to attempt to understand, the problem.
Even the choice of Scriptural verses is telling: “Speak the Truth”, the document concludes. But what about listening? For all the claims of the modern church to be a “listening church”, there is not a shred of evidence in this document, or anywhere else, that the writers have made any attempt to listen to the people who know most about it – those who have learned from personal experience what it is to have a homoerotic orientation. Those churches which have in sincerity engaged in proper listening exercises have found that they have modified their previous views, and have recognized that their traditional views of Scripture on the subject were inadequate. There is a reason, though, why the Catholic Church refuses to do the same kind of listening, and it is one that affects us all- straight or gay.
Now, I would really prefer NOT to be dealing with issues of the church and sexual orientation here, at the Open Tabernacle. For that, I have my own site, “Queering the Church”, where I have been writing for the past year on this and related topics. However, it is clear from some of the observations in the comments threads to other posts, that this is a topic that cannot be simply ignored here. It is also important to note that the issue is of far wider significance and application than just to matters of sexual morality, still less exclusively homoerotic sexual morality. The real motive hiding behind the letter, which should be of concern to us all, has nothing to do with “pastoral care”, nor with “speaking the truth”. Rather, as the text of the letter itself makes clear, the real object is simply one of control. This is reflected in the document’s consistent denial of the validity of any conclusions that differ from its own: if science does not support it, it is not “secure”; if  scriptural exegesis is in conflict with the Magisterium, the Scripture scholars are in error. Nothing, it seems, is to be accepted unless it conforms with the writer’s own view of the Church “truth”. Dissent, debate, discussion are all simply ruled out. (Recall that the origin of the CDF was as the infamous Inquisition – which had thousands of alleged homosexuals executed, usually by burning, between the centuries after the high middle ages and the early Reformation. Unlike other atrocities in church history, this is one for which there has still been no official apology)
The lies, half truths and nasty rhetorical sleight of hand which the CDF has used in an attempt to stigmatize and condemn loving same sex relationships, under the pretence of pastoral care and speaking the truth, should be seen as much more than just a hostile act against a small minority. It is, rather,  just the most obvious symptom of a much wider malaise within the power establishment of the church, which threatens us all. This is of the utmost importance: the ecclesiastical obsession with control and power, and its frequent abuse at all levels, have been clearly shown to be one of the primary root causes behind the ongoing scandals of clerical sexual abuse – in Ireland, in the US, in Australia, and right around the world.

The Sin That Cries to Heaven For Vengeance

For a long time, I’ve been thoroughly irritated by those sanctimonious Catholics (and others) who tray to remind us (for our own good, they would claim) that homosexuality is “the” sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.  However, as I had never myself come across any such reference, I did not know the origin of the claim, and could not respond.  Finally, I got my act together and investigated. What I found was useful, and worth sharing.

First, as one might expect, there is not such thing as “the” sin that cries out, but several: depending on your source, there are four or five of them.  The claims for grouping these together come from old sources, and are based on a shared interpretation of Biblical verses.  Apart from the allegation that “homosexuality” is one of them, the others are:

Murder (not surprising):
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gn 4:10)
Oppression of Widows and Orphans
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” (Ex 21-23)
Now, I would have thought that a failure to provide health care to widows and orphans counts as “oppression”.
Cheating Laborers of Their Due
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be a sin in you.” (Dt 24:14-15)
So, paying unfair low wages is  also a sin crying out to the Lord.
Sodomy
Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me.” (Gn 18:20-21) The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of homosexual activity. So far gone were they in this vice that the men of the town would not even accept heterosexual license with Lot’s daughters, both virgins, as a means of sating their lust (see 19:8-9).
Ah, there it is – the old canard that homosexuality is the sin of Sodom. It is not – as any actual reading of the Bible, and not the endless commentary that abuses it, makes clear. I will return to this below.
The four cases listed above are the four given at the  “Catholic Doors” website, which also warns us (ironically to interpret these carefully, free from cultural conditioning.  Yet their interpretation of the Sodom story is entirely based on cultural conditioning.  It is not Scripture, but popular prejudice that has associated the sin of Sodom with homoeroticism. History shows that religious opposition to same sex relationships has followed  popular bigotry, not led it.
Another source , the blogger Douglas Lawrence, adds to the above list a fifth, the “oppression” in Egypt:.
Q. 1. How many sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance?

A. There are five sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

Q. 2. What are they?
A. Based on # 1867 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are:
(1) Wilful murder – the blood of Abel, [Gen. 4:10]
(2) The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]
(3) The cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, [Ex. 3:7-10]
(4) The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22] and
(5) Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4]

So, what is this “sin of Sodom”?  Canon Bailey, writing half a century and more ago, did extensive research in Scripture, in the Apocrypha, and in the Pseudepigrapha, and came up with some clear answers.
Genesis 19, which tells the story of Sodom’s destruction, is remarkable vague on the subject of the precise sin that had brought down this dramatic penalty. I had read previously (in Boswell, and elsewhere) some of the texts from other books of the Hebrew scriptures that tell us more, but Bailey has an impressively long list. Gay men in particular,who have for so long been beaten over their heads for their supposed “sin of Sodom”, would do well to absorb these, and understand just what the true sin is.
Jer 23:14
In the prophets of Jerusalem also I have seen a horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies, and they strengthen the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them become unto me as Sodom , and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Ez 16: 49-50
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease…..; And they were haughty, and committed abomination (to ‘ēbhāh) before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Wisd 19: 8
Whereas the men of Sodom received not the strangers when they came among them; the Egyptians made slaves of the guests who were their benefactors.
Ecclus 16: 8
God spared not those with whom Lot sojourned, whom he abhorred for their pride
3 Maccabees 2:5
“Thou didst burn up with fire and brimstone the men of Sodom, workers of arrogance, who had become known for all their crimes
Jubilees 13: 17
The Men of Sodom were sinners exceedingly
Jubilees 16: 5-6
The Lord executed his judgement on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the regions of the Jordan ad he burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh...
Jubilees 13: 17
And Abraham told of the judgement of the giants and the judgement of the Sodomites, how they had been judged on account of their wickedness, and had died on account of their fornication,  and uncleanness…..
Josephus, Antiquities
About this time, the men of Sodom grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust toward me, and impious toward God…… they hated strangers
Josephus, Antiquities
Now when the Sodomites saw the young men [the angels] to be of beautiful countenance, and this to an extraordinary degree, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence.
Bailey has more, but I leave it there.  It is clear that only the last of the list refers to sex with men – and the emphasis there is not on gender, but on force and violence.  Otherwise, apart from some generic statements about “wickedness”, or “fornication”,  the sins specified are about pride, injustice, indolence, and hostility or lack of hospitality to strangers.
Now that we have a clearer understanding of the sin of Sodom, we can now return to the “sins crying to heaven”.  In addition to murder, all the sins crying to heaven are about injustice and oppression.  Not one has anything at all to do with voluntary sexual relationships between men.
We as gay men are not the perpetrators of sins crying to heaven – we are their victims.

Romans 1:24-27 (1) Just WHO Is Being Condemned?

Among the half dozen biblical clobber texts that appear, in modern interpretations, to condemn all same – sex relationships, perhaps the most difficult to counter is that in Romans 1:24-27. A reader, who in several comments recently has been critical of my posts about Mattew Vines and his book “God and the Gay Christian”, refers to this passage, asking:

How does Vines square his case for same-sex marriage with the New Testament condemnation of *all* sexual relationships outside of the male-female paradigm as unnatural in Romans 1:24-27?

I’ve already replied to my reader in the comments thread (here), with reference to Vines specifically, and with passing reference to some other useful commentary on the passage by others – but there’s much more to be said about this very badly misunderstood passage.RomanForum

Continue reading Romans 1:24-27 (1) Just WHO Is Being Condemned?

Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

Conventionally, when people speak of “Romans 1” in the context of homosexuality, they are thinking in terms of the end of the chapter,verses 26 and 27,  with their apparent condemnation. of homoerotic acts. There are two basic flaws with this assumption. As James Alison and others have pointed out, the division of the text into chapters and verses is relatively modern, and arbitrary. It is inappropriate to read these verses in isolation, without consideration of the full context. Reading the whole of Chapter 1, immediately followed by chapter, gives quite a different perspective on the intended lesson – that the passage as a whole, as of the full letter to the Romans, is a condemnation of hypocrisy.in judging others.

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul's letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)
Part of a Syriac ms of Paul’s letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

Continue reading Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

Biblical Love – Lost in Translation?

The dangers inherent in translating texts are obvious to anyone who has attempted to use Google Translate. Professional linguists and translators fo better, but difficulties remain, especially with literary and biblical texts. For LGBT people, the consequences have been profoundly damaging.

The widely held belief that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality underpins both religious and secular opposition, but this belief is unfounded. The word does not exist in the original text, for the simple reason that in Biblical times, the word and concept as we understand them, were unknown. What we have, is a set of modern interpretations of a series of translations from what are now dead languages. It is now widely recognized, for instance, that the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokotoi” that occur in Corinthians, do not in fact simply refer to “homosexuals”, as some translations imply. There has been less attention paid to the Hebrew texts of the First Testament.

Love Lost in Translation, front cover

In a new book, “Love Lost in Translation“, the biblical scholar and linguistic specialist  Renato Lings argues convincingly that in fact, all of the damaging texts of terror that have been so widely used to object to homoerotic relationships have been similarly distorted, with their original sense badly corrupted. In a fascinating opening chapter, he describes how these difficulties have affected not only modern translators, but even the writers of the Gospels and Pauline letters, in their understanding of the Jewish scriptures.  These were written in a classical Hebrew over hundreds of years, so that by the time of the Second Testament, it was no longer the common speech, having been replaced by Aramaic and Greek. To make the Hebrew bible more widely accessible, it had been translated from classical Hebrew into Greek (the version known as the Septuagint).  The Second Testament itself was written directly in Greek – and for its quotations and  references to the Hebrew prophets, depended on the Greek translations in the Septuagint. A few centuries later, the Greek bible, both Septuagint and Second Testament writings, were themselves translated into what had since become the common language of the people – Latin, in Jerome’s Vulgate version. Continue reading Biblical Love – Lost in Translation?

"Clobber Texts": Resource Page

When I first began to grapple seriously with the tensions between life as a practicing Catholic, and living honestly and with integrity as a gay man in a committed, stable partnership, one of the discoveries that helped me enormously was a Quest pamphlet given to me by a Catholic priest, which showed me for the first time that far from being “obviously” against homosexuality, the Bible includes only a half dozen verses that even appear to be critical, and that the relevance of even these half dozen is seriously disputed by many modern scholars. That was twenty years ago:  since then, many more scholars and theologians have been revising their views on the biblical take on same – sex relationships – and coming down on the side of acceptance.

So when I began to write at Queering the Church, in an attempt to share with readers the ideas and materials that had helped me, one of the first subjects I tackled was this question of the “clobber texts”, in a basic introductory post. Conscious of its limitations, for a long time I intended  to return to the subject, with more detailed reflections on each of these troublesome texts, drawing on and summarising the key arguments about them – but held back, feeling intimidated and inadequate to the task. Later, as my own knowledge matured, I became less interested in the defensive approach to the texts of terror, and more interested in identifying the far more numerous supportive and affirmative passages, both those featuring specific peoples that LGBT Christians could identify with (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the “Beloved Disciple”),  and the more general passages emphasising love and inclusion, and warning against legalism or passing judgement on others . So, as I began to expand my back pages at the site into a collection of resource pages, for the pages on scripture I have added extensive links to material on the affirmative texts – but added very little on defence against the nasties.

It was always my intention though, to include as many links to useable posts elsewhere on these clobber texts,  as I could find.  Earlier this week, I was asked by a reader for some help in this area, and as I did not yet have the summary of links that I have planned but not put together, I was forced to do some digging about from scratch. In the process, I finally began the process of adding an extensive list of links to my “Defence Against the Clobber Texts” page (a subpage of the “Rainbow Bible” section, in the navigation bar above). It’s still not exhaustive – I know that I have seen many more on-line articlues on these than I have included. These are just the ones that I was able to track down in the short time that was then available to me.  I will continue to add to it – and would welcome any further suggestions from readers.

This directory of links is permanently housed at the page on “Clobber Texts“, a subdivision of the “Rainbow Bible” pages but as an introduction and for convenience , here it is, as it stands today. (For balance, also see the far more extensive pages on “LGBT Affirmative Scriptures“)

*****

General: Overview

For a general discussion of these “Texts of Terror”, see Countering the Clobber Texts here at QTC,

and also:

The Bible and Homosexuality, ByRev. MonaWest,Ph.D. (at Metropolitan Community Church), with the sub-headings:

  • Sexuality in the Mediterranean World
  • The Story of Sodom in Genesis 19
  • Leviticus
  • The Writings of the Apostle Paul
  • Romans 1:26 ‐ 27
  • Issues of Biblical Authority

Also at MCC,

At Bridges Across the Divide, Homosexuality and the Bible  by Walter Wink

For more detailed discussions on each, see:

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Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Pioneering gay theologian (1910-1984)

Bailey was the first Christian scholar to re-evaluate the traditional understanding of the Biblical prohibitions regarding homosexuality. He was an Anglican clergyman and Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral. Although not a full-time academic theologian or biblical scholar, after World War II he led a small group of Anglican clergymen and physicians to study homosexuality. Their findings were published in a 1954 Report entitled The Problem of Homosexuality produced for the Church of England, and were influential in moderating the church’s subsequent stance on the moral issues raised by homosexuality. The work of Bailey and his colleagues also paved the way for the progressive Wolfenden Report (1957), which was followed a decade later by the decriminalization of homo­sexual conduct between consenting adults in England and Wales.

As an additional project arising from this work, he undertook a separate historical study, which led to the publication of his groundbreaking book, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. Although this monograph has been criti­cized, it was a landmark in the history of the subject, combining scrutiny of the Biblical evidence with a survey of subsequent history. Bailey’s book drew attention to a number of neglected subjects, including the intertestamental literature, the legislation of the Christian emperors, the penitentials, and the link between heresy and sodomy. Since then, his work has been overtaken by more extensive analyses by specialist biblical scholars, but it was an important influence on the early work that followed by historians (for example, John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality“, and Mark D Jordan’s “The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology “) and by biblical scholars (William Countryman’s “Dirt, Greed, and Sex“).
It was also important for influencing the findings of the British Wolfenden Report, which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and on the later deliberations of the Anglican Church on the subject.
Bailey died in Wells in Somerset.

 


John McNeill: Homophobic Abuse and Distortion of Scripture

Guestpost: Gay theologian, psychotherapist and former Jesuit, Dr Fr John McNeill has sent me this commentary on Renato Ling’s interpretation of Leviticus 18:22:

 The recent effort of evangelical pastor Martin Ssempa under the tutelage of American Evangelicals to pass a “kill the gays” bill in the Uganda parliament and the extensive persecution of GLBT people  throughout eastern Africa is based primarily on a questionable interpretation of a passage in Leviticus 18: 22.

The words of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Vatican Council II deal with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture:

“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in a human fashion, the interpreter of sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words”
This cautious investigation of the intention of the human author is especially called for in  dealing with the biblical passages which traditionally been accepted as dealing with homosexual activity. We are keenly aware that back in the days of slavery, slave owners regularly quoted passages from scripture to justify keeping slaves as God’s will.  There is a real possibility that the homophobia of the translators and their culture has led  to a distortion of the meaning of scripture.
The best way to arrive at an understanding of what the author means by this verse is to read it within the overall context of Leviticus. “Just as the overall aim of Leviticus is to ban incestuous heterosexual practices.  Lev. 18.22 may well be there to ensure that homosexual incest is added to the list of proscriptions
This understanding of Leviticus frees us from making the assertion that God wills the death or imprisonment of all those humans that God created gay.
John McNeill’s Books:



John McNeill’s Books:
The Church and the Homosexual 
Freedom, Glorious Freedom;
Both Feet Firmly Planted in mid-Air 
Taking a Chance on God 
Sex as God Intended 


John McNeill’s Websites:
johnmcneill.com
mauriceblondel.com

The Abomination of Heterosexuality: The Sin of Gibeah, Judges 19

We are all familiar with the story of Sodom, and how it is frequently used (without any justification) as an argument to justify opposition to homosexuality. I will come back later to the story of Sodom, but first, to show just how ludicrous the argument is, I will apply exactly the same reasoning to a remarkably similar story, that of Gibeah in Judges 19. (See, even the chapter number is the same.) If the argument from Sodom were sound, then the same argument applied to Gibeah should lead us to conclude that heterosexual intercourse is sinful. Of course, that conclusion is patently false. An investigation of the story of Gibeah is useful because it helps to show the inadequacy of the historical interpretation of Sodom (now rejected by most reputable modern scholars), but it also shows clearly how inappropriate it is to base modern sexual ethics on Old Testament Biblical standards – which also underpin the entire patriarchal structure of the Church as we have it.

The Story of Gibeah
Unlike Sodom, the story of Gibeah is not well known, although it should be. I present it now in the words of the Finnish Biblical scholar, Marti Nissinen.
“In those days when no king ruled in Israel” – so begins the story of Judges 19 – it happened that a certain Levite, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim, stopped at the Benjamite town of Gibeah. He was accompanied by his (anonymous) wife of second rank, whom he had recaptured from her refuge in Bethlehem at her father’s house. The Gibeahites were unfriendly toward travellers; only by late evening did an old man accommodate them. The man,also from the hill country of Ephraim, invited them to his house and showed them great hospitality. But then suddenly something horrible happened:
While they were enjoying themselves, some of the worst scoundrels in the town surrounded the house, hurling themselves against the door and shouting to the old man who owned the house: “Bring out the man who has gone into our house, for us to have intercourse with him” (19:22, NEB)
The old man wanted to protect his guest and offered his own daughter and his guest’s wife instead. When this did not appease the scoundrels, the Levite gave his wife up to the men, who then fell on her sexually and abused her all night till the morning”(19:25). The woman died of her injuries, and the incident led to a war between the Benjaminites and the other tribes of Israel.
Correlation with Sodom
The similarities with the Sodom story are remarkable. In both tales:
  • There are travellers in a strange town, who settle down in a public place.
  • A townsman, himself new to the town, offers hospitality to the travellers and takes them into his home.
  • A crowd of angry townspeople surround the house, demanding to “know”, or “have intercourse” with the visiting men. (The same Hebrew verb, yāda, is used in both stories, and also for the sexual assault in Gibeah).
  • The host pleads with the angry crowd, and offers them female victims instead, including his own daughters (in both stories) and his wife (in Gibeah).
This is where the stores diverge. In Gibeah, the mob accepts the host’s wife, gang rape her, and she ends up murdered. In Sodom, where the guests are in fact angels, they take control, the mob is blinded, and the story ends with the destruction of the town.
Now note please that in Sodom, the assault is threatened, but not executed. The only crime is one of intent. In Gibeah, the assault is real. There is a gang rape lasting all night, ending in murder. Oh, and this assault is against a woman. In Sodom, the threatened assault is against men – or angles that the mob believed to be men.
If the lesson of Sodom is about the threatened rape of the guests, then surely the real rape and murder in Gibeah is far more scandalous. If the assault in Sodom was the excuse for its destruction, and the condemnation of homosexual intercourse, then surely the sin of Gibeah should lead to equally strong condemnation of heterosexual intercourse?
Yet it does not. Whereas Sodom is frequently condemned elsewhere in Scripture for its “sinfulness”, Gibeah disappears, after its appearance in Judges 19, without trace. Why?

The Sin of Sodom.
The first part of the answer, of course, is that the threatened attack on the guests was not the reason for the destruction of Sodom. That had already been decided. The angels had been sent to the town in a last ditch effort to find good men to prevent the punishment for the sin – the assault simply cut off hope of reprieve. It was not the cause of God’s anger. What was?
The answer to that is not given in Genesis, but is given elsewhere in Scripture. The explanation in Ezekiel (16:49) is best known:
This was the iniquity (or pride) of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride of wealth and food in plenty, comfort and ease, and yet she never helped the poor and wretched (NEB).
In the Wisdom of Solomon, Sodom is acused of
“abandoning wisdom and of “leading their lives as a monument to folly”. (Wisdom 10:6-8).
Later, it is also compared with the Egyptians in their hostile treatment of strangers:
There had been others [Sodomites] who refused welcome to strangers…(Wisdom 19:13 – 15).
Nowhere in Scripture is it said that the sin of Sodom had anything to do with homosexuality – except indirectly, as homosexual rape, and that after the destruction had already been determined. The sins of Sodom were quite clearly pride, indulgence in luxury – and xenophobia, a hatred of foreigners. Remember that in Biblical times, when travelling was always arduous and hazardous, there was a strong obligation to offer hospitality to travellers, an obligation that both Sodom and Gibeah flouted most directly, by threatening rape instead of protection.

The Sin of Gibeah.
From a modern perspective, the gang rape and murder of the Levite’s wife seem horrific. The very idea of a man “giving” his wife to a mob to be raped is almost beyond belief, but this gets hardly a passing glance, and is not remarked on elsewhere.
This is a direct result of the appalling status of women in Jewish society, and other societies at the time. Recall the opening of the story: The Levite was accompanied by his wife “of second rank” (or “concubine”)
“whom he had recaptured from her refuge in Bethlehem at her father’s house.”
This highlights two features of importance: the obsession with rank; and the idea that wife or concubine was treated as property, and could be reclaimed by her husband from refuge with her father. Later, this idea of women as at the disposal of their husbands or fathers is illustrated in both stories by the idea that they could indeed be “given” to the mob by the men who controlled them. The idea that the women involved might have an objection, or right to protection themselves, simply did not come into it.

Male and Female Rape Compared.
This all begs the question: why should the women have been offered instead of the male guests? Why did the mob in Sodom reject the offer? Again, this comes back t the position of women in society. Women were seen as naturally inferior to men and subservient to them. It was part of the natural order that they should be the passive partners in sex, which was not primarily an expression of love between partners, but a means of procreation, or of relieving men’s physical urges. This natural order dictated that men should dominate, women should yield; men should take the active part, women should be passive; men should penetrate, while women were there to accept penetration. Indeed, then and after, it was routine in many Near Eastern and other cultures that in time of war, the victors would rape any male surviving losers, just to assert the new relationship between them, of victor and vanquished. Sex was about establishing and demonstrating a pattern of dominance.
This is why it was seen as so appalling to threaten the rape of male guests – for a man to be raped was an appalling injury to his dignity, to his status as a man. It was turning him into that worthless creature – a woman.  
The maintenance of gender roles was of crucial importance. The actual gang rape and murder of a woman was of minor importance.

The Modern Significance
The true sin of Sodom is not homosexuality, but xenophobia – fear or hatred of foreigners, leading to a refusal to give them welcome and hospitality. It remains true today that correctly viewed, the sin of Sodom is an appalling one, crying out, as they say for vengeance. But the Sodomites are not those who engage in loving same sex relationships, but the homophobes, who in their hatred attack them and refuse to offer welcome.
The much neglected sin of Gibeah also remains with us: the pervasive sin of treating women as second class citizens, fit only to be treated as inferior to men, subservient to them in all important decision. Fortunately, secular society in much of the world has moved well beyond that attitude. Yet the Church continues to build its system of sexual ethics on what is surely an inappropriate Biblical pattern – even as the Pontifical Biblical Commission advises that the interpretation of Scripture should be sensitive both to the context of the historical conditions in which it was written, and to the conditions in which we live today.
It is also the same outmoded insistence on male domination that is responsible for the shameful and destructive patriarchal nature of the Catholic Church, a structure that, in the name of justice, simply must be undone.
Two sins intertwined, both crying to heaven for vengeance: the homophobia that is the modern sin of Sodom, and the misogyny ingrained in the church, that is the legacy of the sin of Gibeah.