“All means all.” It’s a battle-cry that is appropriately Wesleyan. Since we believe in prevenient grace rather than predestination, we understand God’s infinite love for all humanity as the underlying truth that explains everything else about Christianity. Prevenient grace is what leads us to slogans like “Open doors, open minds, open hearts” and the concept of inclusivity for all. The question is what inclusivity really entails, because for everyone to have safety and dignity, sinful behaviors that hurt the community must be excluded.
We live in a society in which certain taboos and assumptions have been deeply engrained in us as normal “civilized” behavior. Thus it would never occur to us for “inclusivity for all” to mean that a group of horny boys could grab a girl off the street and do whatever they wanted with her. But the ancient world did not share this assumption. It was a very sexually violent place. Genesis 19 and Judges 19 attest to the mobs of horny men who were wandering the streets of ancient cities in search of a sexual victim. There was no distinction between consensual sex and rape.
When Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem, the reason his sons massacre the town is because Shechem didn’t get permission from Jacob first. When David’s son Amnon rapes Tamar, she offers herself in marriage to him afterwards to avoid disgracing herself. Rape was just how sex happened.
The solution to the problem of rape in the ancient world was to guard women through the boundaries of a patriarchal order. This is what Leviticus 18 sets out to do: lay boundaries for excluding those sexual relations that do not allow everyone to be safe. Men are told not to have sex with their father, mother, son, daughter, wife’s kin, children’s spouses, other men’s spouses or children, other men, or animals. These boundaries protected the Israelites from the sexual violence that rampaged the ancient cities around them. Homosexuality would have compromised the male patriarch’s role as a gatekeeper protecting the women of his house. It would have made the social order unsafe. Thus inclusivity in ancient Israel excluded homosexual behavior.The question is whether we need the same exclusions in our community today to provide a social order where everyone can be safe. Some think that patriarchy is the permanent, Biblically prescriptive order for human community and that women will
never be safe from violence without fathers and husbands in charge of them. Others see patriarchy as not only obsolete but an actual source of violence against women that does not allow them full safety and dignity.
John Wesley taught us that when we read our Bibles, it’s entirely appropriate to look for the underlying logic beneath verses that we interpret rather than plucking them out of context as “prooftexts.” Augustine wrote that we are misinterpreting the Bible if we cannot apply the text to love of God or love of neighbor since that’s what Jesus said the whole law and prophets are about.
If Leviticus 18:22 is part of a list of prohibitions that form the basis of safety from sexual violence in a patriarchal society, then its application today hinges on the question of whether patriarchy is still necessary to keep people sexually safe. If so, then homosexuality must be excluded for the sake of inclusivity. If not, then where is the fault line?
There is no question that the saturated commercialization of sex in our culture does violence to human dignity. Whether or not sexual promiscuity is consensual, it does wreck
community, speaking from personal experience. I have no doubt that a boundary-less inclusivity to any and all sexual behaviors would be inherently violent and thus not truly inclusive. But because the gay people I’ve met are nothing like the mobs in places like Sodom that Leviticus 18:22 was written to address, I have trouble seeing that verse as literally applicable to the gender of their orientation.
If you have a different understanding of the purpose of Leviticus 18, I’d love to listen and learn. But I think it has the purpose of excluding violence for the sake of making everybody safe.