How errant is the Holy Bible? Considering it’s written by dozens of authors from dozens of different eras, some having phenomenal educations for their time period, others having little, but all being inspired by the Almighty, all of us need to keep in mind that the Bible is not the literal Word of God. It was not dictated verbatim as inerrant truth, but a record of events often written by authors totally unknown. Biblicists and Biblical inerrancy are a very recent enigma.
Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, few, if any, ever considered the Bible inerrant. Furthermore, the patriarchs whom we view as perfect weren’t perfect. Let’s just take one example: Abraham, the Father of Faith.
Here’s a patriarch who I always thought of as perfect in faith in my Sunday school days. How else could such a noble title be given him? He faltered in his faith at least twice.
When God visits Abram and changes his name to Abraham, he’s told his descendants will be as countless as the stars in the Heavens. He takes it in faith, right? Well, not exactly. He gives Sarah the news, and being well beyond her child-bearing years, she gives him her young slave, Hagar, and says take her.
Granted, she was property, and should she bear a child, the child would be the property of Sarah and Abraham, nevertheless, Hagar wasn’t Abraham’s wife. Abraham doesn’t question Sarah, “Where’s your faith? I was promised a son. You’re my wife, not Hagar.” He took Hagar without question. (Gen. 16: 1-4) Odd that with all the fuss over the sanctity of marriage being between one man and one woman, nobody bothers to bring up Abraham never questioning Sarah’s lack of faith. He takes Hagar and conceives Ishmael.
Six years later, God visits again and says the time of fulfillment is at had. Now you and Sarah will have the son of promise. Abraham falls prostrate on ground, but is laughing to himself. Failure of faith, number two. The messengers noted his disbelief and chastised him for his lack of faith (Genesis 17: 17). Abraham and Sarah are both in their 90s, nevertheless, she does conceive Isaac, the son of promise.
My point? Aside from no man being perfect except Christ, the Bible is loaded with troubling little incongruities like this. Some small and subtle, others massive. All Christians take the Bible seriously. Enlightened Christians have never taken it literally. We glean the principles and take them seriously. We take the Bible in faith and realize it has countless flaws from the authors.
It’s like trying to look through a smudged window to view God. Through the cloudiness, however, we get a good enough glimpse to know God as best we can as the Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth. We can see Him, after all is said and done, as the God of love and mercy, sending His only son to pay for our redemption. Those who take it literally seldom take the principles in it seriously, and a completely different image of God appears. A petty, vengeful, jealous, vindictive deity. How arrogantly some misrepresent God.
As fundamentalists fume over homosexuality being the greatest danger of our time, even greater than international terrorism, they miss the point. Of all the 613 laws in the Holiness Code in Leviticus, they ignore nearly everything except the two references to same-sex acts. Sodom and Gomorrah are interpreted to their blind fear of the LGBT community.
Throughout history, scapegoats have been picked to blame for anything and everything. In earlier times it was Native Americans, blacks, Asians, or women. Today it’s the Gay issue that trumps all. Bible abuse continues in these modern times. It’s said that one drowning will grab at straws to be saved from a watery grave. So too with inerrancy of the Bible to justify “those other people” being the cause of modern adversity. There always seems to be “those people” messing up everything. It’s time to begin using more than 10% of our brains and unveil Bible bigotry once and for all.
Two generations of progressive clergy have been in agreement that the Bible is silent on the subject of homosexuality as it’s understood today. It’s always been present in all nationalities, worldwide. Furthermore, homosexuality has been observed in perhaps 20% of animal species which have been studied. In Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, Bruce Bagemihl (1999) discusses the homosexual activity that has been documented among 450 different species of animals, showing that it is clearly a ‘natural’ part of sexual diversity. The reality is that the absence of homosexuality would be unnatural.
To suggest that homosexuality as a “lifestyle” or “choice” is erroneous and the attempts to change anyone’s sexual orientation is futile. The numerous religious organizations pushing ex-gay programs boast fabricated, inflated successes. It would seem God is uncooperative regarding any attempts to warp his diverse creation into sterile conformity. Sexual orientation is set at birth.
Numerous denominations and seminaries may be classified as Biblicists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists. These old, narrow-minded conservative establishments perpetuate a twisted image of God that is angry, petty, and vengeful. He’s presented as a Deity who hates everything and everybody (except them). “God hates sin,” they loudly proclaim. “Certain people are an abomination, and God is made sick by them, consequently, He has no choice but to send these unrepentant sinners to a burning Hell.” They allude primarily to GLBT people.
Right-wing conservatives have an ill-conceived perception of redemption, grace, inclusion, and the Gospel or “good news” brought by Christ Jesus which was “love thy neighbor”. It’s a deviant, exclusive, twisted theology which negates the fact Christ came for sinners, to sinners, and ministered to the lost, the sick, and those marginalized by the “righteous”. He spent little time among the high-class, self-righteous Jews and often criticized their hypocrisy and arrogance.
Conservative denominations believe the scriptures stand alone “sola scriptura”, as the ultimate authority on God. This concept originated with Martin Luther. Unfortunately, they go to extremes by deducing erroneously the Bible is to be taken literally as God’s word and is inerrant. The Bible, therefore, is idolized. They compound the error by misinterpreting and twisting specific scriptures for their own purposes, regardless if it squares poorly with Christian principles. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and “love thy enemy” are abandoned.
Homosexuality is the hot, unifying issue that affords them a common foe and a righteous cause to wage war against. They display little semblance of Christian conduct. Their judgments are errant, groundless, and dangerous. Western demise, economic recession, natural disasters, HIV/AIDS, and even 9/11 have been blamed on the tolerance of homosexuals and abortion clinics. God has clearly removed his hand of blessing from the US. Capitalizing on fear and hysteria, their ultimate goal is to gain power, politically infiltrate and control the government, and impose their beliefs on all to save us from ominous evil influences bent on destroying family values, morality, and Christianity itself. Unfortunately, they’re sincere and taken seriously by multitudes over the GLBT issue. They perniciously twist a civil rights issue into a moral, religious war. In short, they lie.
The American Society of Psychiatrists removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973. The World Health Organization did the same in 1990.
There are over 2,300 verses in the Old Testament alone. Only six in the combined Old and New Testament mention same sex relations which are misconstrued as negative. There’s nothing new about Bible abuse. It’s been used to justify slavery, apartheid, Anti-Semitism, genocide, subversion of women, blacks, minorities and finally, homosexuals. This theme will only deal with defusing the Bible texts used for gay-bashing.
Genesis 19 (Sodom & Gomorrah)
The destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah had nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with repetitive gang rape and the violation of the hospitality code. It was a violent crime peculiar to Sodom, intended to humiliate all travelers whom made the mistake of staying overnight in the city. Understand that rape is a crime of violence and subjugation, not passion. This subversion was carried out by all the men of Sodom upon all male visitors. Can anyone actually believe, “all, from young to old; every last man”, in Sodom was homosexual? No population is 100% homosexual, however, the modus operandi of all the men of Sodom was to criminally violate the hospitality code.
Hospitality to strangers was one of many standards which predated Hammurabi’s Code, a Babylonian King who was credited as the first to actually write a code of conduct in Mesopotamia. Hammurabi’s Code originated circa 1790 BC. Many of the 282 laws were not original, but existed long before because by 2000 BC, many cities in Mesopotamia had reached populations of 200,000 and codes of conduct were imperative. These codes predated the Ten Commandments of the Israelites.
One of the mandates was that food, water and shelter were to be afforded to any and all strangers without question. This didn’t occur in Sodom. The reasons for its destruction are clearly stated by Ezekiel in Chapter 16: 49-50, “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, an abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” In other words, they were affluent and could have easily followed the hospitality mandate. On the contrary, it was their choice to assault all strangers. The motive viewed by God was contemptuous disrespect. The act was violence, the abomination was criminal, it was consistent, hence God intervened.
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13
It’s well established and accepted by generations of mainstream theologians that the origin of Leviticus is unknown and has gone through frequent editing throughout the history of Judaism. None of it was written by Moses or dictated by God. Leviticus took its present form between 555 BC and 538 BC when the Jewish intelligentsia was allowed to return to their homeland by the Persian King Cyrus, after the fall of Babylon. They found the common Jews mixing with Canaanites and adopting their customs and gods. They were desperate to restore and preserve the Judaic culture. The original Priest’s Manual (a very brief Leviticus) was expanded to 27 chapters by adding the Holiness Code. 613 laws were concocted and imposed on all Jews to separate them from the Canaanites and salvage the Jews’ identity, restore monotheism, and make God’s chosen people markedly distinct, separate from the gentiles. Some of the laws were radical, and harsh punishments were assigned for violations, nevertheless, it worked and was successful in restoring their cultural identity. Most Jews disregard much of it today, and Christians never adhered to it.
The two texts forbidding same-sex acts were intended to keep Jews out of the Egyptian and Canaanite temples of Astarte, Ishtar and Molech. Male prostitution in pagan temples used and abused underage youths for fertility rites. Idol worship and wanton, abusive sex was the objection. Amoral fertility rites in conjunction with idol worship were abhorrence to the rulers of Judea. This had nothing to do with loving, same-sex relationships in any way.
Ironically, citing the Holiness Code as being God’s law to condemn gays, fundamentalists hypocritically ignore the other 611 laws which clearly forbid eating shrimp, shellfish, pork, or wearing blended knits or polyester clothing, haircuts, shaving or trimming beards, and more. It also mandates stoning anyone for working on the Sabbath. Calling GLBT people an abomination libels fundamentalists to their own violations of the Holiness Code, all of which are abominations they flagrantly choose to ignore. The real issue is obviously homophobia targeted at the GLBT community out of fear, bigotry and power.
St. Paul is addressing the Christian congregation of Rome. In Rome, there were those who sought pleasure in any form. Hedonists were those who lived for pleasure alone. Rome was known for excesses. Perhaps any obsessive/compulsive disorders, sexual obsessions, and promiscuity could be criticized here, but St. Paul is writing to the entire Christian congregation of Rome about numerous problems in the congregation. It pertained to all the members of the Church in Rome. Heteros can be just as guilty in pursuit of sensual excesses and gratification, and apparently were. Excesses of any sort were to be avoided as Christians. “Let your moderation be made known to all men.” Is Paul condemning anyone in a loving committed monogamous gay relationship? No. Is he condemning excesses, vice, and promiscuity of all sorts in context? Yes. Was it the norm in Rome? Probably not in the Christian community, but anything was available for those who cared to stray, and some obviously did.
St. Paul alludes to sex in the pagan temples as irresponsible, exploitive, and hedonistic. For the fundamentalists who condemn gays for same-sex acts, use caution when pointing fingers. There have been instances where the very highest fundamentalist preachers and TV Evangelists have been caught in same-sex acts and heterosexual infidelity. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The epistle to the Romans must be taken as a whole, in context.
Summarizing the context of Paul’s admonition, he rebukes the Church at Rome for:
- Refusing to acknowledge and glorify God.
- For worshiping idols (images or created things rather than the Creator).
- Being more interested in earthly pursuits than spiritual pursuits.
- Giving up their natural passion for conventional sex in an unbounded search for pleasure elsewhere (the pagan Roman temples offered anonymous sex).
- Living lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, etc.
To conclude, it wasn’t only same-sex acts with temple prostitutes that Paul criticized. It was a comprehensive list of particular problems and vices within the Christian community of Rome. Let’s take them all in context as unchristian behavior. Fundamentalists who judge gays using this text should focus on Paul’s admonition against malice, slander, strife, being unmerciful, etc. Stop the lie that it’s only about homosexuality.
The reference to Sodom & Gomorrah’s “fornication and going after strange flesh” pertains to the first century myth that women had intercourse with angels as referenced in Genesis 6: 1, 2 & 4. This was exclusively heterosexual interaction between male angels and female earthlings and had nothing to do with same-sex acts. It was believed that the women of numerous cities besides Sodom were suspected of this also, a secondary factor to Sodom’s destruction, and a contributing factor for the earlier sin flood of Noah’s time.
Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, Martti Nissinen, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1998), pages 91-93
A Commentary on the Epistle of Peter and of Jude, Kelly (Harper & Row, New York, 1969), pages 258-259
First and Second Peter, and Jude, Fred Craddock, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995), page 139
Jude, II Peter. Richard Bauckham, (Word Books, Waco, 1983), page 54
The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, Michael Green, (Inter-Varsity Press, Leichester, 1987), page 180
I & II Peter and Jude, Cranfield, (SCM Press, London, 1960), page 159
The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard Hayes, (Harper, San Francisco, 1996), page 404
I Corinthians 6:9-10 & I Timothy 1:10
These texts used the word “effeminate” and is misconstrued to be homosexuals. The word used in the original Greek text is “malakoi” which means “soft”. In what way was “soft” meant? Lazy, decadent, cowardly, indecisive, or spineless? In the first century, Romans considered any man who enhanced his looks in any way to attract a suitor as “soft”. It was considered vanity and was ridiculed. More recently, it was considered that first century Roman male prostitutes who exhibited female gestures or mannerisms, who generally bottomed (receptive in male-to-male sex) were considered “soft”. Adulterers are listed, too. The relevance today would indicate male prostitution equates as offensively as heterosexual infidelity. They’re used side by side. Imagine all the religious right conservative males who cheat on their wives being as equally berated with a young male prostitute who exclusively bottoms.
In I Timothy 1:10 the older KJV states “abusers of themselves with mankind” or “sodomites”. The specific Greek word “arsenokoitai” is used. There is no reference anywhere to define what this means. Breaking down the Greek into its root origins, the meaning is “bed”, “alluding to sex”, and “male”, its meaning is unclear. It’s seldom found anywhere, and other Greek literature that does address male to male relations never uses “arsenokoitai”. Clement of Alexandria and John Chrysostom, two early Christian writers who wrote about same-sex relations, never used “arsenokoitai” in any of their writings. The true meaning will never be known.
The Corinthian text in the RKJV actually uses the word “homosexual” which is presumptuous since the word “homosexual” didn’t exist until the 1860s.
In conclusion, the ultimate authority on earth, Christ Jesus, spent three years teaching among the Jews, during which He said much about divorce and infidelity. On the subject of same-sex relations, however, He said nothing, which ironically, speaks volumes.
* Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
For a light touch, you may want to check out the New York Times article “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name,” February 7, 2004.
A review by Jim Manchester:
People have said that the very best stories make you feel unsettled. They demand thought and prompt action. Grant West has achieved that in his debut novel, AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, Triumph of the Religious Right.
The novel takes our world and turns it inside out. In it, the earth’s population is and always has been gay and lesbian. Admittedly or not, ten percent are straight, bisexual, or transsexual, and as such, compose a “Queer,” deviant minority; a startling, unsettling alternate reality. HIV/AIDS still has a devastating grip on society with infection rates as high as 25 percent in developed nations; total domination and decimation in under-developed, third-world countries. In this alternate reality, the straights, of course, are blamed for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The United States has gone through an economic and political collapse and allowed extreme fundamentalism to take over a provisional government as it tries to recover. Heterophobia runs rampant in a society dominated by martial law.
West introduces us to some colorful and endearing characters. A religious leader named the Reverend Elder Troy Mason claims to be the nation’s religious authority, but instead of being a beatific figure who inspires diversity, tolerance, and personal spiritual empowerment (as does a real-life friend of almost the same name), Mason has manipulated himself into political power where he directs a governmental plan of ethnic cleansing and purging of heterosexuals. I was ready to like Mason because of the name similarity and because he is gay, but the comparison of him to Adolf Hitler is no exaggeration.
West injects a straight couple into the mix who try to live normal lives. They, too, are religious people. The Reverend Gary Fall and his wife, Lillian, serve a small Christian congregation in one of North Carolina’s urban centers that believes that it’s okay to be straight when the rest of the world is proud and determined to be gay. I was ready to dislike Reverend Fall because of the name similarity to the late Jerry Falwell of the Liberty Alliance. Again, I was mistaken. He is much more like a compassionate senior pastor I greatly admire.
Other characters surface such as a dear uncle who rides in a Pride parade and is amazed to find that he is marginalized because of his conventional religious belief. A physician and his husband lead an effort to make sense of the terror of HIV and heal broken spirits as well as afflicted bodies. Gay and lesbian in-laws struggle to accept their straight children. Other quaint gay couples open their homes to people in need despite the fact that such hospitality could be viewed as treasonous.
The challenges that Gary and Lillian face mount up quickly until they face a struggle for survival. When their lives become almost too much to bare, several enlightened gay couples come to their rescue. The ultimate survival of the Falls depends upon being able to trust people who may not seem all that trustworthy on the surface but who prove to be guardian angels.
Grantham West’s masterful interweaving of biblical scholarship to expose the twisted, hate-centered Bible abuse of arch-fundamentalist preachers and teachers is refreshing. He shows how such discussions can become a part of everyday encounters and how firmly-rooted attitudes can change as a result.
I hated the first chapter. It terrorized me. Luckily, I trusted Grant West enough to keep reading. By the third chapter, I was hooked. From that point onward, it was a compelling, intriguing read. By the time I got to the seventh chapter, I refused to put the book down – even to eat or sleep. AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, is just that compelling.