This will be one in a series of posts on LGBTQI+, theology, and Scripture. The rest of the series will be posted this week.
Two minutes before I boarded the train the other morning to come back to Philadelphia, I was posed the question, “Do you think that the Bible is against homosexuality?” The question seemed not only inquisitive, but also had a hint of innocence. When one lives in an area for their entire life, and some notions are always answered the same way, and the national dialogue (Chick-fil-a’s stance becoming publicized) on a particular issue is brought up, how can one not, but to answer the same way? Yet, the questioner was looking for a different answer, maybe not a answer of hope, but from a different perspective. I started to answer in the way I usually answer, by starting with Leviticus and explaining it historical-critical fashion. I did not get to finish the conversation, so I wanted to write the rest of it down since I have not done anything on LGBTQI+ community.
Growing up I was taught the importance of reading Scripture. I memorized many bible verses through Awana and youth groups. Wholeheartedly, I agree that Christians, and others who are interested, should read the Bible as a personal spiritual practice. Yet as I have become older and hopefully more wiser, I believe that context should be included with text. (As my Critical Theory professor taught, “contexts accompany texts at all times.”) For example, in eighth grade I memorized a section of Isaiah 53, commonly known as the suffering servant, and for the longest time, I thought that this was speaking of Jesus as prophecy. Now, might I add that many of the early followers of Jesus as well, using their Christian imagination, thought the same thing. Yet, since I have had the chance to contextually analyze Isaiah, which is one of my favorite books from the Hebrew Bible, I have come to appreciate it more with having a knowledge of its historical context, socio-economics, and political situation. For scholars like Walter Breuggeman, who insist that Scripture can have double meanings, which is also an early development in the Christian tradition. This too was adopted, of course, from its own context, and it was called sensus plenar. This suggests that even if there is a plain meaning to a text, since it was written by God, there must be more to it. There seems to be nothing wrong with this kind of interpreting and if rightly used can have great theological benefits. Anyway, back to Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-9)
These verses read as a good theo-narrative for the Gospels. It gives meaning to the Gospel narratives, since most of it is mostly narrative does not necessarily bring about a meaning for the atonement. For example. when Mark’s Jesus died on a cross, he cried out, and gave up his spirit. Barely anyone was there to comfort him. Jesus dies a sad prophet, without hope; therefore, the only kind of atonement theory that one could come up with is the one that Jesus earlier in Mark says “That I will be a ransom for many.” This, of course, was the earliest atonement theories, and that many of the early church mothers and fathers adopted this idea about Jesus’ death.
Yet, in the original context of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the suffering servant is a metaphor for Judah who suffered through the Exile. They were the ones who were tortured and as it seems in these verses, idolized for doing so. These verses also speak to a kind of hope, although they were in the belly of the beast, Babylon. Isaiah declares God’s imagination to them, in the chapters previous and after, of a new society in which God’s Law is followed and all are called back into the land of Judah. With the help of context, Isaiah 53, proclaims more and is not as literalistic as it may seem, and gives me hope that with the use of Christian imagination, Scripture can come alive and have more than just a plain sense of the word.
Leviticus, the third book in the Torah, is a book that Christians do not usually read or follow for that matter, unless it concerns an issue that they feel should be followed. When I hear anyone quote the book of Leviticus, I wonder how much of it that they had actually read and second how important they find this book to be in the context of their lives. It may be the Word of God, but it seems more like a pack of bullets ready to be aimed at whatever “unethical” group Christians are against at the time.
Most biblical scholars affirm that the book of Leviticus should be the books of Leviticus. It has a few different authors, although they all would have been priests in one way . The section in which “man shall not lie with man” comes from a section called the Holiness Code. This section was written during the Babylonian Exile, between 597 (first deportation) and 538 (mostly all the Exiles returned to Judah). Scholars believe this is so because many of laws written here are new concerns that the Judeans were not concerned with until the Exile. The Exiles must have seen an overabundance of men having sex with men and women with women and certainly orgies. To defend against these types of behaviors the priests thought that if one was going to follow the Law without a Temple, the place where God reigned, then even sexual behavior must be conducted in a particular way. Yet, some of the Jews were cast as Eunuchs, and this was done for the purpose for the male to be pimped out to other people. This was a humiliating position, and probably callused many of them to God. The Holiness Code’s purpose was originally to keep people pure unlike the Babylonians. Thus, God did not seem too concerned with who is having sex with who until then.
Yet, since Scripture was written by several different authors, there are always different ways to . When the prophet Isaiah declared who should come back into the land, he called out in Isaiah 58 to the Eunuchs and Foreigners to join with Judah. The other side of this conversation must have been, “Those Eunuchs who are having sex with tons of people should not come back into the land! They are not holy like us heterosexuals, who have pure Jewish blood children.” As Derrida has taught, the Law does not equal Justice and the prophet Isaiah was allowing all to come back into Judah. Anyone who wanted to follow God would be allowed to come back. This is a reversal of the Leviticus’ law. God desires all to come back. This was also the literary purpose of Jonah and Ruth. People were probably questioning whether its good to have these foreigners in the land, and Jonah and Ruth respond in their own particular way. Jonah shows that foreigners can repent and turn to God, while even Jonah doesn’t. Ruth shows how a foreigner can give up everything and follow God.
Sexuality in Scripture is fluid as well. It matters which book you are reading depends on the kind of answer that you will receive. Personally, I am a big fan of the prophets rather than anything else in Scripture. The prophets call out in political and social situations, demanding justice. For the sake of homosexuality, it is justice that God wants them as well as everyone to be apart of the kin-dom, and for the sake of the law comes the “hierarchy of being.” For God there is no order, we are all called good. For human structures, hierarchy abounds and concerns itself with the particulars of some people over others.
Stayed tuned more posts are coming!