março 30, 2011 § Deixe um comentário



Who Wins When Bible is Blamed for Gay Bashing?

Mark D. Jordan

Mark D. Jordan teaches at Harvard Divinity School. His books include The
Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (University of Chicago Press, 1997);
The Ethics of Sex (Blackwell, 2002); and Telling Truths in Church: Scandal,
Flesh, and Christian Speech (Beacon, 2003). His latest is Recruiting Young Love:
How Americans Talk about Homosexuality.

The news item is both grisly and depressingly familiar: a young man is
accused of killing an older man for making sexual advances. The weapon was a
sock filled with stones; the young man told police that he had been instructed
in prayer to apply the Old Testament punishment of stoning. You want to stop
there, recognizing old stereotypes of cultural homophobia coupled with
age-prejudices—but mostly the unpredictability of violent delusions.

Unfortunately the story didn’t stop there. John Aravosis, political blogger
and publicist for gay causes, is perhaps best known for leading a boycott
against Dr. Laura; or else for outing a conservative “journalist” as a gay porn
star. In a recent post, Aravosis says first that “the Bible does say to kill
gays,” then quotes a string of alternate (and admittedly “wrong”) biblical
translations before reiterating that they are “quite clear about the need to
murder gay people,” only to conclude that “Christians do nothing about it, other
than quote it against us in order to take away our civil rights.”

Before I say anything more about Aravosis, let me emphasize that some scraps
of Christian language do seem to have figured in the delusions of the young man
accused of committing the murder. Let me add that there is plenty of evidence
(and much better evidence) that Christian churches in many times and places have
cited their Bible to authorize crimes against a long list of people—including
those accused of same-sex relations. But then let me ask the obvious question:
Who gains when a gay activist endorses the most homophobic of marginal
interpretations of the Bible after half a century of gay or gay-friendly efforts
to establish better readings?

By “better” readings, I mean truer readings. Because, of course, even the
one version of Leviticus 20:13 quoted by Aravosis that anachronistically uses
the phrase “act of homosexuality” doesn’t say “kill gays.” It’s talking about
acts, not identities—which the other fourteen versions make clear. There are no
sexual orientations in Leviticus. As the Anglican theologian D.S. Bailey first
argued more than fifty years ago, there is nothing in the texts of what
Christian call the Old and New Testaments that corresponds with modern
categories like homosexual or gay. The horrifying prescription of Leviticus
20:13 (and its correlate, 18:22) are not directed against classes of persons,
but against acts committed by Israelite males (and males only). Moreover, it’s a
matter of lively dispute even among fierce textual literalists exactly which
acts are intended.

If acts versus identities seems too fancy, try this: Two millennia before
Bailey’s argument, Christians had already begun rewriting the purity provisions
of Leviticus, including its provisions for executing those guilty of certain
crimes of impurity. John 8 tells a story in which Jesus prevents the stoning of
a woman taken in adultery—though that penalty is also prescribed in Leviticus
20. So when later governments in Christendom wanted to punish persons convicted
of same-sex acts, rather than cite a supposedly literal reading of Leviticus
they preferred to cite a statute by the emperor Justinian—which relied in turn
on a misreading of the usefully vague story of Sodom.

We know so much about this because two or three generations of scholars have
worked to restore more accurate readings of the “clobber passages” in scripture
and to recover something of the hidden history of same-sex relations in
Christian churches and the societies around them. Many of these scholars were
Christians, and they did their work because they judged that homophobic uses of
the Bible were not only false and unjust, but blasphemous. If their results are
still controversial in some Christian churches, in others they have led to
wholesale revisions of standard biblical interpretations.

Even in Christian churches that regularly and (to my mind) badly cite the
Bible against same-sex acts, it’s hard to find a prominent voice that urges
stoning in punishment of any of the capital offenses against purity in Leviticus
20. When some church figure does suggest such an interpretation, he or she is
typically disowned by other “conservative” voices. The young man accused of
murder may have heard some extreme interpretation of Leviticus somewhere, but
it’s more likely that he made it up by scrambling things he’d half-heard and
never understood.

So the interpretation of Leviticus 20 offered by Aravosis is textually
inaccurate, contrary to the Gospel example of Jesus, historically repudiated by
Christian communities, and today espoused only on the fringes of the most
homophobic church polemic. Who gains, then, when Aravosis asserts that this is
what the Bible says and (unspecified) Christians believe? Or who exactly is
being persuaded—and of what?

It’s tempting to say that the only gain could be for those fringe voices who
garner public credibility for their otherwise discredited views. But neither
those voices nor their regular sparring partners are likely to care much what
someone like Aravosis thinks about the Bible. Indeed, the blog post’s only
imaginable effect on homophobic church readers would be to move the more
moderate of them towards a more extreme interpretation. Does Aravosis really
want to persuade members of the Southern Baptist Convention, say, that a strict
interpretation of Leviticus requires them to advocate the death penalty for
same-sex acts?

It’s more likely that Aravosis is preaching to his own choir; that is, to
political liberals who identify as LGBTQ, or their staunch allies. What effect
will this post have on them? It can only confirm the view that queer political
progress depends on a strict secularism—after all, Christians only quote their
violent Bible “to take away our civil rights.” We politically awake queers would
be so much better off, the post implies, if only we could get rid of that
hateful book and those who still read it.

This argument isn’t new. It goes back at least to the heated passions of gay
liberation around 1970—to the strident Marxism of solidarity and revolution.
Indeed, opposition to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was
one way that the liberationists tried to distinguish themselves from earlier
homophile groups—whom they dismissed as hopelessly compromised by their efforts
to form alliances with churches.

I am tempted to ask Aravosis whether what he counts as progress in gay
politics (say, around Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) owes more to the liberationists or
to their homophile predecessors. But let me end instead by noting who suffers
from blanket dismissals of Christians like this one. Now, as in 1970, the
constituency most likely to be damaged by such polemic is not the membership of
conservative churches, but LGBT believers. This post, which seems to attack
murderous Christian bigotry, ends up attacking other queer people.

I recall the long line of Christian writers, pastors, and congregants who
have labored strenuously over recent decades to change received readings of the
Bible, to enlist the churches in support of legal reforms, to open church
hierarchies and church rituals to LGBT people. They understood, as Aravosis may
not, that no effort at public persuasion could forestall every violent misuse of
the Bible or any other sacred text. If all major and minor denominations were
suddenly to repudiate their homophobic interpretations, the biblical text would
still remain at the mercy of individuals or groups who seek to abuse it in order
to conceal their crimes.

While it cannot issue guarantees, the patient work of undoing Christian
homophobia is still worthwhile—if not for bloggers like Aravosis, then for the
sake of public debate in a country where Christianity still wields considerable
power. And not least for the sake of queer believers who still find themselves
caught between the dogma of homophobic churches and the dogma of versions of gay



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