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The Bible and Sexuality: Letter to the Sun-Chronicle

Since we are on the topic of "queering" Christianity and Christ, I thought I'd post my guest column that appeared in the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle today.

I am amazed at how people who have studied no ancient languages and know nothing about ancient cultures can still proclaim that they know exactly what the Bible says about sexuality. Professional scholars who have studied the Bible for decades won't display the kind of hubris in biblical interpretation I have seen on the pages of The Sun Chronicle.

Actually, the Bible says absolutely nothing about homosexuality because there was no such thing as "homosexuality" in the ancient world. Rather, the Bible discusses specific same-sex acts in specific contexts.

Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit a specific act between two males. Some say that it is a purity regulation Christians can disregard, like the ban on sexual relations with a woman in her menstruation. Others suggest that the passage deals with cultic sexual practices of the Canaanites. Still others, such as gay-affirmative orthodox Jews, argue that the passage is just a proscription of anal intercourse but not other physical expressions of same-sex love.

When St. Paul discusses same-sex behavior (Rom. 1:18-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10), some suggest that he is dealing with orgiastic behavior associated with fertility cults, and others suggest that he is discussing same-sex relationships in the context of the slave trade. I personally believe that Paul's views on sex were based on ancient assumptions no one accepts today. (If anyone is interested in ancient notions of sexuality they should read "Making Sex" by Thomas Lacquer or Dale Martin's "Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32" in his most recent book "Sex and the Single Savior.")

That these verses are blanket condemnations of all same sex behavior in all contexts is one interpretation among many and is not the result of a simple reading of the texts. Rather it is a decision, informed by bigotry, to privilege one reading over another.

As a Christian, my ethics and values are informed by the Bible. But the Bible was written in societies that did not presuppose democracy, universal human rights, racial and ethnic equality, and other values I hold dear. That is why some biblical passages promote women's social inferiority (1 Cor. 11:3-15; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:9-15), slavery (Exod. 20:2-11, 20-21; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:18-20) and condemn protest and resistance to oppressive governments (Rom. 13:1-7). Simply applying biblical language and assumptions to the modern era is dangerous, as we have seen with the issue of slavery in U.S. history.

A truly ethical Christian worldview is informed not only by the Bible, but by important modern ideas that resonate with the true spirit of scripture - a spirit of love and justice. Those of us who approach the Bible with this spirit know that there are some ideas that we need to leave in the ancient world. And we stand in the tradition of the biblical prophets, who understood that new insights often meant leaving old interpretations behind (Ezek. 18:2-9; Jer. 31:28-30; cf. Exod. 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18 and Isa. 56:3-4; cf. Lev. 21:20; 22:24; Deut. 23:1).

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