There is plenty in Leviticus that Christians and even many Jews today not only do not observe, but do not even feel the slightest tinge of guilt about not observing. Yet Leviticus gets quoted all the time by such people as an argument against homosexuality.
I suspect that a good place to start discussing material in Leviticus is by asking why certain things are prohibited. Presumably most would agree that, if we cannot figure out why something was against the Levitical code, or if we clearly do not accept the assumptions behind a particular law, then it would be difficult if not impossible to justify enforcing it today. It might even be reckless to do so, since the same rule may have completely different significance in a different cultural context.
So what do you think was behind the author of Leviticus’ objection to “lying with a man as one lies with a woman” (18:22; 20:13)? Was it a matter of ritual purity? Canaanite cultic practice? An attempt to introduce monogamy based on the principle of creation? My initial reaction was that the latter seemed unlikely given that polygamy was accepted in ancient Israel. But then I found I could not recall any legislation in Leviticus related to polygamy, apart from prohibition of certain specific situations, such as marrying a woman and her sister at the same time (Leviticus 18:18).
We have a tendency to read ancient Israel’s laws and stories through the lens of our own cultural practices and assumptions regarding marriage (see the post on Sansblogue today about Ruth and Romance).
So what do you think? What do you think this ancient author was prohibiting, and why? And if the reason for the prohibition was purity or some other concern that Christians today do not share, would you agree that in that case Christians should not quote such verses from Leviticus as an argument against homosexuality?
[FOOTNOTE: The photo I included is from a story about same-sex marriage being legalized in Iowa. I included it for two reasons. One is the fact that Leviticus says nothing about lesbian relationships or marriage between same sex couples. But the other is because it is a beautiful picture, and I know one of the things that is often an unfortunate aspect of our social context is that same sex couples who make a committment to one another (whether in a civil ceremony or only in a church ceremony, as the law in their state allows) sometimes feel that because of the stigma attached to them by some, they cannot share openly the joy of having married the person they love. And so I wanted to share this photo of joy and challenge those who oppose what is shown in the photo to explain why. And unless you do everything Leviticus requires, an answer along the lines of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” isn’t going to cut it].