Picking and Choosing, Loving Your (LGBT) Neighbor, and the 76 Things Banned in Leviticus

Picking and Choosing, Loving Your (LGBT) Neighbor, and the 76 Things Banned in Leviticus June 12, 2012

Fred Clark began a recent post on his blog by pointing to a list of 76 things banned in Leviticus that someone posted online, and a subsequent self-scoring against the list posted at Tad’s Happy Funtime (click through to see where C3P0 gets a mention).

Fred used this jumping off point to notice that pretty much all of us observe some of the things mentioned in Leviticus and consider them to be of ongoing validity, while regarding others as obsolete. Conservative critics who regard him as a “liberal” because he does not regard homosexuality as sinful nevertheless retain employees’ wages overnight, treat foreigners differently than the native-born, and so on. And so Fred writes,

Yet somehow their disregard for all of those biblical commands never results in thembeing accused of “liberal” tendencies or a suspicious failure to respect the scriptures.

They’re picking and choosing.

And so am I, of course. The difference is I can explain why.

Here is the basis on which I do my picking and choosing:

  • He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

That tells me that No. 47, “Defrauding your neighbor,” still applies. And No. 67, “Using dishonest weights and scales” still applies. Those are both expressions of love for, and justice toward, your neighbor. But No. 61, “Trimming your beard,” does not still apply. In another time, place and culture, leaving one’s beard untrimmed may have been an expression of love for God. But not here, now, in this culture.

Click through to read the whole thing.

Related to this is John Shore’s recent post in which he asserts that there is no middle ground on the issue of same-sex relations, because it is a black-or-white moral issue whether one treats GLBT human beings as human beings made in the image of God or in a dehumanizing and unloving manner.

Hemant Mehta appreciates John Shore’s stance, but expressed frustration with so-called progressive Christians who don’t take a clear stand on the matter. He suggested that we should tweet the following:

It’s no sin to be in a homosexual relationship. I support same-sex marriage.

Some of us may prefer a blog post, like Fred’s, in which we can actually not merely state our view but offer justification for it. But I agree with him that we need to be clear and vocal about out views on this. (As an aside, I “came out” as a Liberal Christian in response to hearing a lesbian colleague share what it was like to marry her partner, in a ceremony not recognized by our state, and not be able to openly share her joy on this momentous occasion with colleagues and students.)

In a guest post on Hemant’s blog, Alise Wright asked atheists not to make it harder for liberal and progressive Christians to “come out” in favor of marriage and sexual equality. Some atheists actively undermine those Christians who do so by joining with Christian fundamentalists in declaring them to be “not really Christians.” As you can see from the comments on the post, many atheists do not accept her point, and chimed in to illustrate the problem she addressed in her post. (See also her blog, Alise…Write).

Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood seems to grasp the point, coming out in favor of marriage equality and saying that her stance is inspired by her Christian faith.

Irreducible Complexity and The Lead chimed in about the Church of England’s recent pronouncement against marriage equality. Crystal St. Marie Lewis blogged about an experience when theologies collided over same-sex relations and the Bible in the classroom.

In conclusion, I’m very much with Fred on this. Same-sex relationships and marriages are expressions of human love one for another, and when the guiding principle is love, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to oppose such relationships – or to believe that God does so.

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  • Bhante G

    “…because it is a black-or-white moral issue whether one treats GLBT human
    beings as human beings made in the image of God or in a dehumanizing
    and unloving manner.”

    That doesn’t necessarily follow.

    It’s possible to believe that consensual adult incest, for example, is a bad thing, and therefore to tell a brother and sister who are truly in love that they can’t get married in your church, without necessarily “treating them in a dehumanizing and unloving manner.” The love may be sincere; the attraction may be real; and both (adult) siblings may be absolutely consenting; but it is possible for a Christian to disapprove of the union anyway. Note that there is some evidence that siblings raised separately are unusually prone to experiencing this if they meet again as adults (but data is sketchy on this subject).

    For another example, it’s possible to disapprove of consensual polyamory without “treating them in a dehumanizing and unloving manner.”

    Indeed, the same applies to (serially) monogamous heterosexuals who have sex in the context of “committed relationships, or to divorce and remarriage. The Bible seems clearly enough to endorse lifelong monogamy, yet not because deviation from it has a victim: it’s possible to deviate from lifelong monogamy with all parties’ consent. But in that case the only argument for lifelong monogamy is along the lines that it in some way optimizes happiness, or else that God simply prefers it. And the folks who want to engage in consensual polygamy, or serial monogamy, or whatever other deviation from the “norm,” would disagree that it optimizes happiness.

    So it seems as if we have a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, we can endorse homosexual relationships, but would seem constrained then to endorse more or less any form of relationship that was completely consensual; on the other hand we can promote lifelong monogamy, but would seem constrained to discourage consensual incest, homosexual relationships, and other alternatives.

    Or can someone propose a coherent approach whereby a Christian can promote lifelong monogamy with marital fidelity, and discourage things like premarital sex or consensual incest, while also recognizing homosexual relationships?

    • I think that the case of incest might be an appropriate one for even secular societies to address, because of concerns about genetic abnormalities being passed on. Laws addressing that could be justified in terms of the welfare of society. But apart from that, it isn’t clear that there is a Biblical case for prohibiting polyamory, since it was in fact practiced in the Biblical societies. There are warnings about the jealousies and tensions that can emerge in such relationships, but there are jealousies and tensions even in monogamous relationships, and so it is not clear that a warning about potential pitfalls constitutes a mandate to prohibit something altogether.

      • Bhante G

         At most I might agree with discouraging incestuous married couples from having children, or requiring fetal checkups; the argument about genetic abnormalities sounds too easily applied to things like prohibition of people with Downs Syndrome being allowed to reproduce. They also have a high risk of passing on abnormalities, but the whole thing smacks a little too much of eugenics for my comfort.

        Concerning polyamory, note that I said “polyamory” rather than “polygamy” advisedly: a biblical case could be made for tolerating polygamy, but not polyandry or family units consisting of multiple husbands and multiple wives. I’d expect that a church which supports homosexual couples would be equally supportive of polyandrous or polyandrogynous relationships? But if so, how does one support polyandry and also treat the Bible respectfully?

        I may be late to the party: I understand fully that your approach to scripture is not fundamentalist (and neither is mine), but I also understand that you generally take a respectful stance toward scripture. So I’m supposing that you have (or are looking for) a way to treat scripture respectfully when reaching conclusions such as supportiveness for homosexual relationships, and I’m interested in what that might be. If I’m making unwarranted assumptions along the way, please do call them out.

        • Would you agree that one reason for the asymmetrical laws in the Old Testament regarding marriage is because of patriarchal values that were simply assumed in that time? Men could marry multiple women but not vice versa, a woman sleeping with a man other than her husband was committing adultery but not vice versa (a man only comitted adultery if he slept with another man’s wife), laws about divorce and captures women and so on. And so either having monogamy or allowing both polygamy and polyandry could be ways of adapting our laws about marriage to a situation in which women are not viewed as property and men and women are viewed as equal in matters related to marriage.

    • Gary

      “Or can someone propose a coherent approach whereby a Christian can promote lifelong monogamy with marital fidelity, and discourage things like…” I think you would have to use some different standard than the OT. The OT cannot be used to establish anything along those lines. Not just Leviticus. Try Gen 19. OK, a righteous man, Lott, offers his daughters up to a mob, to save two strangers. Then his daughters sleep with their father… no one can be that drunk, that he doesn’t know what he was doing, since his equipment wouldn’t work. And where did they get all that wine, anyway? Bottom line, the OT was written by such a diverse group of people, (and sorry, with limited inspiration from God), that it can hardly be used as a basis for much of anything, in my opinion. So for a coherent approach, first thing to do is check NT, and ignore as ridiculous the OT. Leviticus 14 is my next health care plan.

      • Bhante G

         I think the general approach of this blog and the community that reads it would generally be more nuanced than chucking the OT out the window. A fair amount of energy is spent reading Genesis in a respectful way that accommodates what we know about evolution, for example–none of which would be necessary if we’d already chucked Genesis out the window.

        • Gary

          “chucking the OT out the window”…Only for moral determination, not for scholarly study.

  • domy

    “…because of concerns about genetic abnormalities being passed on. Laws addressing that could be justified in terms of the welfare of society.”…

    Mr. McGrath there is not this problem for two gay brothers!
    So you should agree that two gay brothers could marry.