Homosexuality is a sin, according to a few otherwise decent and honest Christians. The justification for their hostility lies solely in the Bible, which unambiguously refers to homosexuality as immoral in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, as well as Romans 1:26-27. I’ve always wondered about this justification, because if going to a Church of England school taught me one thing, it’s that there is lots of very weird stuff that the Bible asks you to do that Christian homophobes conveniently ignore. Yet these are shoved aside and it is the few verses on the gays that people seem to focus on.
It’s true that people will use religion to justify all sorts of beliefs and there are plenty of wannabe Timothy McVeighs out there to confirm that, but the almost obsessive condemnation of homosexuality permeates to the point where it is a mainstream view. Where in the 21st century, Pope Benedict XVI can describe gay marriage as (along with abortion) one of the “most insidious and dangerous challenges that today confront the common good”.
This always puzzled me, because the Bible verses they use to back up these claims are relatively small in number. There are only three unequivocal mentions of homosexuality and a few other verses that the real hardliners have tried to twist to be about gay people, in a kind of squint really hard and you’ll see it move. It’s funny though, because the Bible is full of plenty of strange proclamations and recommendations that go ignored by just about everyone and are certainly not put into any kind of practise by modern Christians.
Leviticus is a great start for the insanity advocated in the good book. Aside from being the bulk of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, a lot of it is a manual for making burnt sacrifices of animal carcasses. The first nine chapters are devoted to what the book describes as a most holy ritual of killing an animal, smearing yourself with its blood and then dancing around its burning body. It’s recommended that you use a male lamb without blemish, but if you don’t have one handy, Leviticus tells you that two pigeons will do instead (12:8). Just make sure to wring off their heads before you start.
But Leviticus is also on hand to offer its opinion on sexual morality. Homosexuals are clearly referenced as being immoral, but Leviticus’ recommendation for punishment is death (20:13). On top of this, similar punishments are to be handed out to both parties in adultery (20:10). Furthermore, if a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, then both must be killed (20:12) and if you have a threesome with your wife and your mother-in-law, then all three of you should be burned to death (20:14). Well, there goes my Saturday night! Finally, the death sentence is to be handed out to: witches and fortune tellers (20:27), men who swear (24:16) and priest’s daughters who ‘play the whore’ (they should be burned to death)(21:9).
More crazy than Leviticus is the book of Deuteronomy, which recommends that you kill prophets (13:1-5), people of other faiths (13:6-10), rebellious children (21:18-21), adulterers (22:22) and rape victims (22:23-24). Deuteronomy also considers women that wear men’s clothes ‘abominations unto the Lord’ (22:5). Furthermore, there are specific guidelines for budding rapists, specifically wartime rapists, who must take their victims home, shave their heads and wait for a month before having their way with their victims (21:11). Peacetime rapists, on the other hand, should pay the victim’s father fifty shekels beforehand.
If you thought that this sort of stuff was just confined to the Old Testament and none of it is applicable because of that whole Jesus thing, think again. Jesus starts out in Matthew 5:17 by explaining that every single law in the Old Testament is still applicable and his teachings have no impact on their relevance. He then reiterates that yes, disobedient children should be put to death (15:4-7). Jesus also implies heavily that disabled people are made that way as a punishment for their sins (John 5:14).
Okay, okay, so nobody seriously believes these things, they were written a long time ago, must be understood in context, etc. But if it’s true that Christians should re-evaluate the Bible based on historical context, why is it that the relatively few verses on homosexuality (the majority of which are sandwiched in between absurd and now immoral proclamations) are somehow off-limits and accorded special treatment by some mainstream Christians? If we can get to a point of moral understanding whereby we can say that stoning people to death is perhaps not the best way to go about things, can’t we also say the same for the vilification and discrimination of people of a non-heterosexual orientation?