Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has, of course, received much media attention since passed into law last week. According to the Huffington Post, “The goal is to give business owners a stronger legal defense if they refuse to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers and want to cite their faith as justification for their actions” and was supported primarily by conservative Christians. Now I am not a lawyer and will not pretend to understand all the specific ins and outs of this law. It is not a rare occasion to see and hear conservative Christians voice their views when it comes to the LGBT community and while I cannot say for certain, since I do not personally know those whom voice such opinions, my gut tells me they hold such opinions because their views on homosexuality is rooted in Leviticus 18: 22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such thing is an abomination.”
It’s easy to harp upon this law to legitimize one’s position on the LGBT community when taken in its singularity. That is, when it is taken out of context. I wonder how many of those in support of this view read the verse prior to and immediately afterward, which read “You shall not offer any of your offspring for immolation to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God” (18: 21), or “You shall not have sexual relations with an animal, defiling yourself with it” (18: 23). Of course most moderns will have no idea who Molech is (a Canaanite god) and bestiality is, of course, quite a taboo subject. But homosexuality! That gets all the attention. The issue I focus on here is not so much the verse, but the use of it to legitimize discrimination of the LGBT community and to situate such within a larger social setting.
First off, I can only guess as to how many who do harp upon this ANCIENT JEWISH LAW actually understand its context. It is situated within a series of laws which are established to differentiate the Israelite community from the Egyptians and Canaanites, for as the text says, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you once lived, nor shall you do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you; do not conform to their customs” (Lev. 18: 3). Two chapters later, those who commit such “abominations” are to be put to death (20: 13). Such laws regarding sex occur within a particular context: various lists, such as clothing, dietary, and sacrificial rules which “distinguish the people of the covenant from all others” (Jensen 3). So while conservative Christians are at it in their condemnation and discrimination of the LGBT community, let them ask
themselves if the meat they eat is only from a cloven-footed animal that chews its cud (Lev. 11: 3). And whoa to those who eat bacon, for as we all know a pig does have a cloven-foot, but does not chew its cud. And I am 100% positive that no one who espouses such views has ever had an extramarital affair because the law against such is very clear, as is the punishment: “If a man commits adultery…both the adulterer and adulteress shall be put to death” (20: 11). And surely damned be those who wear clothes made of more than one material, for as God’s Law says, “Do not put on garment woven with two different kinds of thread” (19: 19). And if you keep a beard, you may not trim it, for as the Lord says: “do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard” (19: 27).
I could, of course, go on. The point of the above is just to highlight the hypocrisy, the inanity, of those who harp upon a single verse, a single law, and claim its universality while ignoring the others, to say nothing of isolating it from its larger context. While rooting their positions in the biblical text may serve to legitimate an anti-LGBT stance, such does not, however, necessarily explain the homophobia characteristic of modern American society. In The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport, Professor Vanda Burstyn locates such in conjunction with femininity:
“The fear of femininity and the equation of femininity with homosexuality became established in the popular imagination and cultural production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Kevin White observes, ‘in many ways, but the 1920s, men’s fear of effeminancy, which had characterized the “masculinity crisis” of the progressive era, was diffused into a a fear of the new category, the homosexual'” (100).
Professor Burstyn details the changes in gender as well as the development and growth of homophobia. In short, her analysis goes as follows: with the industrial revolution “working fathers became absent figures….Throughout much of the 19th century, the father’s involvement in domestic and childhood life became limited largely to matters of authority and discipline” (51), whereas prior to the industrial revolution which took fathers from the home, fathers “were expected assume the responsibility for the moral supervision of male children beyond toddler age” (51), As a result, young boys “were either left with their mothers, sisters, and nannies until puberty or sent to boarding school” (51). In other words, boys experienced “the ‘overpresence’ of the mother and women in childhood life” (52). Upon reaching the age of needing to go to work, these boys now men, so “dominated” by women, and thus femininity, would leave home to go to work with other men of similar stock. The argument goes as follows: with the industrial revolution boys didn’t get the fathering necessary to raise men and in being raised by women, were “victim” to effeminization, creating, as the rhetoric went, “soft men.” Such would result in what Burstyn calls the “hypermasculine” as an overcompensation against a perceived effeminization of men. Soft men were weak men since, of course, women were the weaker sex. So developed homophobia in relation to the role of giver and receiver in a heterosexual relationship: the man the giver; the woman the receiver. Thus the male homosexual relationship, requiring both the giver and the receiver, where “masculinity and sexual assertiveness” is conveyed “through penetration” (99) while the receiver is placed in the feminine position. In other words, to be penetrated is to be a woman and of course no “proper” man wants to be a woman. When we understand the rise of capitalism in conjunction with the “progress” of the industrial revolution, we can, perhaps, understand homophobia as just one more “benefit” of modern capitalism. Yay progress!
In “Rain Man” from Encore! Eminem speaks to both the issue of legitimizing discriminatory views of the LGBT community based in scriptural reading as well as a certain level of hypocrisy in male, especially sports, culture. Listen:
In addition to the changes brought about in the 19th century, such saw the development of “Muscular Christianity,” defined in part as “The least of the muscular Christians has hold of the old chivalrous and Christian belief, that a man’s body is given him to be trained and brought into subjection, and then used for the protection of the weak, the advancement of all righteous causes, and the subduing of the earth which God has given to the children of men” (Hall 17).Muscular Christianity, in other words, developed as a means to turn “soft boys” into vigorous men. So too would images depicting Jesus as a muscled man became popular through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because of course, Jesus was a buffed ass dude and physical strength as well as a bad-ass attitude was central to the gospel.
And here we come full circle, for as much as conservative Christians root their discriminatory views in Mosaic Law, there is no basis whatsoever for such when it comes to the Gospel, despite what many an extremist says about how much “God Hates Fags,” just one of the myriad of absolutely ridiculous things that come out of conservative Christians’ mouths.
The above discussion on Mosaic Law is an example of modern picking and choosing: picking what applies, discarding what does not. Many conservative Christians it would appear, are often guilty of much the same when it comes to the gospel to serve their political and ideological stances. Many of such stances, despite their insistence, are precisely not gospel whatsoever.I wonder how many actually read the gospels in their entirety and if they do, how much of it is clouded by their own agendas.
The gospels tell us Jesus hung out and tended to those were were considered sinners. While they don’t tell us specifically Jesus hung out with homosexuals we can, considering the Levitical prohibition on such acts, assume such individuals would, in ancient Judaism, be considered sinners. Such opens up the likely possibility for their inclusion in Jesus’s ministry. Moreover, Jesus turned conventional logic of the time on its head: he said the Kingdom of Heaven was for the sinners.
And God Hates Fags? Where is that in the gospel? Nowhere. Rather, according to the gospel, God loves everyone. God is compassionate and merciful toward everyone. And Jesus admonishes one to do as God does. Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) form words based on roots consisting of particular consonants. And therein lies the rub, for in each of these languages the words for “compassion” and “mercy” are derived from a root word meaning “womb.” As such, compassion and mercy are linguistically (and conceptually) linked with feminine imagery. So much for the hypermasculine Muscular Christianity. So much for hypermasculinity in general it would seem, at least from a gospel perspective, which is supposed to serve as a witness to the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, it would appear, wanted people to embrace, at it were, what we typically consider “feminine” virtues. Moreover, Jesus’s message was one of inclusion, particularly to the alienated, disenfranchised, and those subject to exclusion and prejudice. So go ahead lawmakers, keep on making your laws, rooted as they are in fear, that discriminate in the name of religion, in the name of a religion and its values you so dearly claim to uphold. Keep on picking and choosing what applies and what does not to uphold your own social standing and your own bigotry.
Good luck getting through that needle eye, camels.
Any interpretation of Christianity that promulgates or promotes hatred, exclusion, or prejudice against any person or group of people is PRECISELY NOT GOSPEL.
In the end, if showing compassion and mercy is equated with being feminine and being feminine is equated with being gay, then what can we say about Jesus?
Burstyn, Varda. The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1999. Hall, Donald E. Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age. Cambridge University Press. Jensen, David H. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. Westminster: John Knox Press, 2013.