Let’s Look at Leviticus
Exciting, huh? I know that for most people, the mere mention of a book like Leviticus brings on either a bored yawn, or an amused smile, wondering what odd piece of trivia will be introduced. That is true unless, of course, the subject is homosexuality, and the speaker is quoting Leviticus to prove that God abhors homosexuality. Then, of course, the speaker is in dead earnest. So bear with me as we take a first, quick look at this ancient text.
Two verses from Leviticus are often produced to prove God’s disapproval of LGBT folks. Leviticus 18:22 tells us, “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman: it is a detestable practice.” The other verse goes even further: “If a man has sexual interourse with a man as he would with a woman, the two of them have done something detestable. They must be executed; their blood is on their own heads.” (Lev. 20:13)
Ouch! Sounds like there is no way around these verses.
Unless, of course, you put them in context.
So, what is the context of these poisonous statements? I will be exploring this more in future posts, but for the first one, I would point out that these verses come from a time in the history of Israel in which it was attempting to distinguish itself from adjoining tribes, with their different gods, and to set Israel apart as a special tribe, uniquely in God’s favor. If you look back at the beginning of chapter 18, you read this: “The Lord said to Moses, speak to the Israelites and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You must not do things like they are done in the land of Egypt, where you used to live. And you must not do things like they are done in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. You must not follow the practices of those places.” (Lev 18:1-3)
Why does this matter? Because those “other nations” often believed in a connection between the fertility of the land and human fertility, or sex. And at times, sexual acts were incorporated into the rituals of planting and harvest in the hope that demonstrations of human fertility would help to insure the fertility of the soil.
The lack of sexual fertility rites was only one way in which the people of Israel were to be distinguished from other tribes. Other ways they were to be distinct from their neighbors included: not crossbreeding cattle; not planting a field with two kinds of seed; not wearing clothes made from two kinds of material; not participating in fortune telling; not cutting off the hair on their foreheads; not clipping the ends of their beards; not having tattoos; and more.
Obviously, there is more to be said about this, but for the moment, you might want to ask your Leviticus-quoting friends how they single out the two verses that seem to condemn gay sex and ignore the rest. More to come on this topic, but that’s enough for now.