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Monday, July 8, 2013

What I'm Reading: God Vs. Gay? – An Ambitious Argument

I have recently begun reading the book God Vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality by Jay Michaelson.[i]  And, though I haven't read all of it yet, I am amazed by his audacity.  I mean, seriously, wow!  He is not repeating the argument that ‘the bible doesn't condemn homosexuality’ but taking on the more ambitious argument that we should support equality and inclusion for sexual minorities - not in spite of our biblical faith, but because of it.

Michaelson has set out to provide a positive argument (based on the scriptures of both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament) for the equality of LGBT relationships.  Many books merely set out to prove a negative argument – that the bible does not condemn homosexuality.  But Michaelson wants to move beyond the few verses of scripture that seem to speak against same-sex relations to the numerous other verses that speak to justice, love, intimacy, and equality as the basis for supporting rather than opposing equality for sexual minorities

The clear and overwhelming themes of scripture (love, justice, holiness, intimacy, etc…) should trump the few obscure and ambiguous verses that seem to speak to same sex intercourse – especially when those verses are often mistranslated.   Something like 7 of 31,102 verses of the bible seem to speak to homosexuality. That’s what? 0.023%?  This is hardly a foundational issue. 

Meanwhile the very clear message of scripture – that we are to embrace love and justice and to protect human dignity etc… - has hundreds, even thousands of verses to encourage us.  It is a common rule of interpretation that the clear and easy to understand should be used to enlighten our understanding of difficult and ambiguous passages, not the other way around.  But we have allowed these few troubled verses to bind up and warp our understanding of the scriptures.        

Part One of Michaelson’s book deals with the positive argument – that we are called to love and to exercise justice and that this calling should compel us to accept and love the LGBT among us.  Blending scriptural interpretation and stories of personal experience, Michaelson demonstrates what it means to love one’s neighbor in the context of LGBT / straight relations. 

Part Two deals with the negative argument – that the bible does not clearly condemn homosexuality.  These arguments have been made, over and over again in other books and publications.  But for those who still resist, he works through them again, patiently and precisely explaining why the ‘traditional’ interpretations are dangerously flawed. 

For example – he allows that the prohibition in Leviticus 18:21 -22 prohibits male anal sex but only that; it is not a universal prohibition against homosexuality in general or against other forms of intercourse.  He shows why these verses are more about the degradation and humiliation of sexual violence than about a loving homosexual relationship. And, still further, demonstrates that these verses are given in the context of Canaanite idolatry and that “abomination” should be better understood as a culturally relative taboo – marking the boundary between the Israel and their idolatrous neighbors.

Part Three explains why an acceptance of sexual minorities is good for religious values. I haven’t read that far yet, so more about that when I get there.

[i] Michaelson, Jay, God Vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, Beacon Press Books, Boston MA, 2011.

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