Ch.9. – The “Clobber” passages – Genesis and Leviticus.

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As promised, we now turn our attention to the passages commonly used to keep the knee on the neck of the LGBTQ+ community.  They have been used to suppress the community for the last fifty/sixty years, or so, and tend to get referred to as the “Clobber passages”, because Christians have used them in a “whack-a-mole” manner to prevent gay and trans Christians from contributing to church life, and indeed, frequently used them to justify their rejection, turning them away from churches, and frequently, from Jesus.

These passages were picked up and used in America by the “religious right” (or “Christian right”), and Moral Majority in the seventies and eighties, as they campaigned for “traditional family values.”  Moral Majority was set up by Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1979 and associated with the Christian right wing which was aligned with the Republican Party.  If you watched the TV mini-series “Mrs America”, you’ll have a good idea of the background to this period.  And if you didn’t, you can find it on BBC iPlayer.

Inevitably, because so much of our Christian theology and study material comes from the USA, this “traditional family values” thinking came over here as well.  Most Christians knew nothing about Homosexuality or sexual orientation, and we had been fed lurid stories in the press about predator sexual perverts, so when the Aids crisis developed and there were campaigns for traditional family values, we swallowed it hook, line and sinker.  We were so wrong, and so naive.

Why does so much from America wash up on our shores?  Basically, there is a lot more money available, many more publishing houses, and many renowned speakers.  So, top US speakers would get invited here for speaking engagements and tours, and we would buy into their message.  But it doesn’t really work the other way – British speakers have to be exceptional to get invited on an American tour.  For example, you only have to think about the music industry where artists feel they have to make it in America before they receive proper recognition (and the really big bucks!).  Artists can be big here but fail to make it stateside. Consider Cliff Richard, Blur, Girls Aloud, Robbie Williams, and others.  All were very successful here, but no more than a ripple in the States.

Getting back to looking at the key Old Testament “clobber” passages, it might be right in some instances to challenge people about things they have done wrong – if they have indeed gone wrong, but we must be very careful how we do it, and check our attitude before we open our mouths. We must make sure we don’t “have a plank in our eye, as we remove the speck from someone else”.

By that I mean, I am happy for someone to quietly take me aside and point out something I might have said or done wrong – providing it is a friend – someone I know and trust, and I know they truly have my interests at heart.  If someone just wants to vent at me, that is not of God, whatever they say, and I will ignore their comments.  Speaking for myself, I would also find it hard to respect that person in the future, and I’m sure I’m not alone.  That means that if we try and correct someone, we must be very careful, not just with what we say, but how we say it.  We must also be very sensitive to how they respond, as it’s easy to be misunderstood, even if we think that what we are saying is crystal clear and 100% true.  Sometimes it is better to say nothing, even if we are right. To this point, Churches have been appalling in the way they, and their members, have dealt with the sexuality debate. They have damaged so many people, and have blood on their hands, with the way they have treated them.

The key passages used to “challenge” the LGBTQ+ community are Genesis 1-2 and 19; Leviticus 18: 19-22 and 20: 1-18; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6: 9; 1 Timothy 1: 9-10 and Jude 1: 7.  In this chapter, and therefore this Blog, I look at the Genesis and Leviticus passages.

The chapters of Genesis 1 & 2 are basically the two slightly differing Creation narratives, and they talk about God making male and female in the likeness of the Father, Son and Spirit.  The point of the passage is not that God created male and female, which is what traditional non-affirming Christians argue.  The point is that we are all created in the image of God. 

I hope you noticed that being female is also regarded as being made in the image of God, although traditionally we have seen all the members of the Godhead as male.  I have previously talked about how none of the usual criteria we use to describe a male are present in God the Father, or the Holy Spirit.  (Sex organs, body shape, chromosomes, hormones, body hair, physical size, brain size, bigger lung capacity, walk differently, stronger, and so many more!)  Obviously, Jesus was male, and Scripture makes that indisputable.  So, gender has nothing to do with whether you reflect the image of God, and remember, gender is only relevant while we live out our time on Earth.  When we get to heaven where there is no marriage, what will be the point of gender?  Will we need it?  What will it be used for?  What do you think?

Genesis 19 is the next one, and is our go-to passage about Sodom and Gomorrah.  Scarcely a month goes by without my reading or hearing a comment usually in the Christian media where someone is linking the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality – and it’s wrong, very wrong.  I really want people to go back and read the story through slowly and ask themselves some questions: What do we know about Sodom prior to the visit of the angels? When did God announce the judgement?  Was it because of the angelic visit?  If the attempted attack was homosexual, is this a good illustration of typical homosexual behaviour today?

I would suggest you start reading from Genesis 14.  You don’t need to read chapters 15-17, but I suggest you do, for continuity, and to read about Abram’s conversations with God by way of background, but definitely read chapters 18 and 19.

In the essay I list all the Biblical passages that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah which will help you answer that first question.  I go through some of those key passages referring to Sodom, and look at the sins they describe as being prevalent at the time.  In Ezekiel, the sin of Jerusalem is referred to as being worse than Sodom.  So, what on earth were they getting up to in Jerusalem?  There is no record in the Bible, or elsewhere, that homosexuality ever played a part of the sinful life of Jerusalem.  I analyse many of the passages and conclude that there is no evidence whatsoever, to point at homosexuality being the grievous sin causing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Furthermore, when you read the story through there are a huge number of problems completely ignored in the traditional narrative of the story:

  • What is the back-story explaining why the angels were targeted?  This isn’t a case of men lusting after the angels.
  • Exactly who gathered outside Lot’s house?  The original text can have two meanings. It can mean the ‘men of the city, even the men of Sodom.’ But it can also mean ‘the people of the city, the people of Sodom.’
  • How many attackers were there?  The traditional view was that all the men of the city were there.  But that is wrong.  If it was literally every man (or person) in Sodom, how could Lot hold them off on his own, given the violence we assume was in the air?
  • Why did Lot offer his daughters to be gang raped?  If the attackers were all homosexuals, and the attack sexual in nature, offering women would have just inflamed the anger.  The far more obvious interpretation was that these were normal heterosexual men determined to exert their dominance over these visitors, who were seen as deeply suspicious.
  • What about the pledged husbands of Lot’s daughters?  They don’t appear to be gay.  Why weren’t they outside Lot’s door if all the men of Sodom were there?  If they weren’t there, was life going on as normal in other parts of the town? What did they think of their future wives being offered as substitutes for the angels, to be offered for gang rape?
  • If there was such a huge crowd outside Lot’s door, why was it so easy to go out and visit his future sons in law?  If you have been in a football crowd leaving a stadium, imagine turning around and going back in – even if they were all blind!

My suspicion is that this was probably just a small group of troublemakers who had seen the men/angels arrive earlier and weren’t happy about it. This is a story of potential sexual violence and sexual domination and nothing to do with a loving, caring, mutual, consensual relationship.

As I say in the chapter, “If the idea of the passage was to condemn homosexuality, you would expect several clear unequivocal references to it in the text, and you wouldn’t therefore expect all the other Old Testament passages … to describe every sin other than homosexuality, as the reason for the Judgement.”

In my view we can completely, and logically, dismiss this story as having nothing to say about homosexuality, because it doesn’t.  I can say that with a clear conscience.

Then we come to the Leviticus passages, which I take together because they are so similar.  In the chapter I go into a bit of detail about the background, but I don’t have that sort of space available here.  However, I want to pick out one or two problems as highlights.

Firstly, there is nothing about women/lesbians, which is a problem if we are to take the passages as seriously anti-gay.  And you can’t just say that because it applies to men, it also applies to women, because that reasoning adds to Scripture something that just isn’t there.  That would be theologically erroneous.  A few days ago, I came across some notes of a Bible Study I led in early 2013 where I made exactly that error!  It was interesting to read how far I have moved, but comforting to read some of my thoughts, which were showing I was already dismissing one of the other clobber passages, though I still saw homosexuality as wrong.

Secondly, the second verse adds the death sentence to anyone found guilty (both parties) of breaking this law.  Now, sometime between the writing of this verse and today, “we” (humanity) have decided that the death penalty doesn’t apply because it’s unjust and unpalatable.  The same goes for the adulterer, those caught in incest, and several others.  Many of the Laws of Moses we simply ignore, because, we say, “we are under grace, and no longer subject to the law”.  So why do we still turn to these verses and say they still apply and yet ignore others in the same chapter?  We like to bully those who are weaker than ourselves, don’t we?

Thirdly, we have no idea that what Moses was talking about, is what we picture, when we read these verses.  The original Hebrew words used are unclear.  When we read these verses, we immediately jump to a conclusion because the wording looks so clear. 

But, to understand these verses you need to try and put yourself in a place where you have been living in tents for years, you are living in a place where food and water is sufficient, but not plentiful, so you need to be cautious.  The people up in the hills hate you and fear you, because you are looking to move in on where they live.  You have a God that you think is only with you in these dry flat lands, and you want to know about the gods that are up there in the hills, and what you must do, to please them.  You are fearful because you aren’t sure whether you’ll live through the battles that lie ahead. But your leader Moses, says Yahweh will go with you, and ahead of you, into the new lands, up into those hills, but you aren’t so sure, although some of your friends are much more confident. 

So, when Moses uses the words here in Leviticus, what ideas was he trying to convey, and what did his hearers understand him to be saying? He would have spoken clearly, and they would understand him.

In this week’s accompanying chapter, I quote from a Blog post written by Alex Haiken (who holds a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and is, among other things, a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker), and he writes:

One never arrives at truth by asking of the Bible, “What does it mean?”  The reason is that’s the wrong starting point. You’re really asking, what does it mean to us today, individually?”  And that’s why we end up with thousands of different answers.  Exegesis always asks, “What DID it mean?”  There’s a vast difference in those questions as a starting points.  Unless we have some idea of what the text meant THEN, we’re left to only guess at what it might mean for us NOW.

Exegesis requires that if we wish to interpret the Bible responsibly, we must seek to draw out FROM the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading INTO it the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it.   The reader today must somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying.  https://jewishchristiangay.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/leviticus-18-what-was-the-abomination/

That whole blog post is really worth reading in full, so please read it.  Only once you know what the original text meant to the writer and the hearers can you move forward and ponder what it might mean for us two-thousand years later. 

We have a responsibility to do all we can to make sense of the words in the Bible.  That might involve researching difficult passages in Commentaries.  It might involve doing searches on the internet, or talking to a more knowledgeable Christian than yourself.  There might be no clear answer to all that, and so you sometimes have to ask of these choices, which is most in line with the character of God as I understand it at present.  Several times a week I visit https://www.biblegateway.com because I can look up verses in almost any translation I want, which is so useful and helps me understand it.

Because the Leviticus passages are so important to the argument about sexuality, if you just read the words with a 21st century western cultural mindset, they look very clear, but that would be a false clarity.  So, in this week’s chapter, I have included quotes from a number of sources and have kept my own commentary down towards the end because the other writers were doing a better job than I.

Near the end of the chapter, I say: “Finally, I want to bring the Apostle Paul into the debate around Leviticus 18 and indeed the whole Law.  Let’s look at Galatians 3: 10-14:

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

In verse 10 Paul is quoting from Leviticus 18 verse 5 (“Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.”) and turning it through 180 degrees.  Basically, the implication of the Leviticus passage is that things will go well for you if you obey the Law, so if you don’t obey the law, things won’t go well, and Paul is picking up on this.  Throughout Galatians he is arguing that you put a smile on the face of God if you have faith in him, however small that is.  However, Paul very stridently asserts here that all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse so if your argument against the LGBT+ community is based on the Old Testament Law (Any passage from Genesis through Deuteronomy) you are in grave peril.  Note the significance that Paul is quoting from another verse of the very passage we have been exploring.

Addendum.
After I finished writing this blog, my friend Don who I quoted in an earlier Blog, drew my attention to an article published last week in Pink News: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/05/05/catholic-church-lgbt-gay-relationships-bible-wigngaards-institute-study-mary-mcaleese/

In that article they report the publication of an 80-page report compiled by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, called “Christian Objections to Same Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment”.  The authors were “20 biblical scholars, theologians, ethicists, evolutionary biologists and sociologists [who had] come together to disprove the foundations upon which the Catholic Church built its anti-LGBT+ stance.” Since the Catholic stance and the traditional evangelical stance are the same, this document could prove very significant.  It was only published a few days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to read it in full, although I have quickly read the section on Leviticus.  However, I will update my essay with a few extracts, and as a taster I include their summary of the two Leviticus passages here:

Recent research has undermined the traditional interpretation of the two OT verses in Leviticus, interpreted as condemning every instance of consensual male-male sex.  Those verses likely condemned incest and adultery between males, rather than male homosexuality itself.  Male with male sex outside the forbidden categories was neither forbidden nor condemned.

 Although it is written by experts in the field, parts of it are very clear and I was blown away by its thoroughness and clarity.  I truly hope this will get a widescale reading and will help to bring this awful chapter of church history to a close.  I’m looking forward to reading more of it as soon as I can, and I feel sure I might refer to its contents again in future blogs!   To download it for yourself, go to: https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/christian_same_sex_relationships__interim_report.pdf

So, where do you stand?  Has what I have written here or in the essay made sense to you?  Do you still have questions?  Do you feel happier now having looked at these passages more deeply? The next chapter will be noticeably shorter and will look at some of the other Old Testament passages that sometimes get referred to, as part of the debate.  In the meantime, you can download the latest chapter here, or here, or from the Download page.