I greatly admire and respect good, influential, powerful writing. So it recently hit me that if a collection of stories dating back as much as 3,500 years can remain popular and still evoke an interesting, potent, and diverse array of heated debate, hate, violence, war, judgment, love, empathy and kindness, then it must be a pretty great read. I decided to finally check out the Bible, and to be honest, I find it rather dry and tedious — similar to, but definitely not up to par with, say, Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Still, a lot of readers are devoted to the Bible. They use it to justify bullying, hatred, bigotry, oppression and even the killing of certain segments of society, including gay people like me.
North Carolina’s recent constitutional banishment of gay marriage, followed by President Obama’s public support for it, released a ferocious eruption of Bible verses and righteous rants (apparently speaking on behalf of God) reminding us what the Bible says about our current events. “Watching the moral decline of our country causes me great concern," wrote the Rev. Billy Graham in his endorsement of North Carolina’s ballot initiative. "The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.”
I’ve read that pastors in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and other swing states are readying Sunday sermons inveighing against same-sex unions, while religious activists have begun laying Bible-based plans for social media campaigns, leafleting drives and other get-out-the-vote efforts. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tweeted this to the world: “Romney for natural marriage, Obama for unnatural marriage.” (“Natural” and “unnatural,” I assume, being his interpretation of terms from the Bible, and not Mother Nature herself.) And all over the blogosphere, I‘ve seen “Leviticus” and “Romans” passed around like Thanksgiving turkey with hefty toppings of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”
I decided to find out for myself what the Bible says and if the righteous claims of people like Rev. Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. and his faithful Westboro flock are true: Does God really hate me?
I started, of course, with an old gay-hating favorite, Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
It doesn’t seem pertinent to me. There was a time when I tried to be straight and “liethed” with a few womankind. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “abomination,” but it certainly wasn’t very fun or satisfying for anyone involved. One thing’s for certain, as I eventually and pleasantly discovered — the way I lieth with mankind is nothing whatsoever at all (thank God) like the way I lieth with womankind. There’s no comparison. So I figured I was safe; no death or blood upon me.
But then I read Leviticus 19:19: “You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” And Levitcus 11:12: “Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.” This concerned me.
A few weeks ago I bought myself several pair of new briefs, of assorted and fabulous colors. I looked at the labels: 89% nylon and 11% spandex. Apparently, God hates my underwear. God also hates most farmers, ranchers, and people who eat scallops and shrimp — and still no persuasive evidence, thus far, that God hates me for who I fall in love with and sleep with.
But then I saw an article on a homophobic Christian website steering me toward Romans 1:24-27: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." Others also use Romans 9:13 to explain God's hatred for gays: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated," which ties into Malachi 1:3, where God explains that he turned Esau's "mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals" because Esau "sold his birthright for a mess of pottage."
This, according to some people (like Rev. Fred Phelps), serves as proof that God is capable of hatred. Hence, if God can hate, surely he must hate gay people. It all seems open to various interpretations (some more rational and logical than others), and lots of smart, knowledgeable, so-called “Bible experts” have debated and disputed the various meanings for a long, long time. I see it this way: Some guy named Paul wrote a few ambiguous words more than 1,950 years ago (about 50 years after Christ supposedly lived) and people use those words to justify hatred for, and non acceptance of, an entire segment of people who are just trying to be themselves and love whom they love.
The power of words? Last year an 18-year old Texas man was slain by a classmate for being gay, and a 24-year old Florida lesbian was killed by her girlfriend’s father. According to the U.S. government, hate crimes rose 13% in 2010, and there are an annual average of 191,000 hate crimes each year with 18% of those committed against gays and lesbians. And since we gays and lesbians make up a small percentage of our population, crimes against us are six times higher than the overall rate.
Young people are affected, perhaps more so. Nine out of 10 gay and lesbian teens report being bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gay teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other teens, five times more likely to miss school out of fear, and 28% do, indeed, drop out.
Much of this, no doubt, derives from misinterpretations of ancient ambiguous words of Leviticus and Romans passed on by the likes of Rev. Phelps, Rev. Graham, Bryan Fischer and many others.
Those are the Bible’s only passages I have found thus far that can even vaguely be considered “antigay.” Yet I have run across hundreds of tiresome redundancies about love, peace, compassion, kindness, gentleness and not judging others. Luke, John, James, Matthew, Peter and even Paul himself seem to repeat, over and over, things like: “Judge not least ye be judged,” “Love one another,” “Love they neighbor as thou would love yourself and God,” “Let him without sin be the first to cast a stone,” “Wish what others would do to you, do so to them,” “Live in harmony with one another,” “Do not speak evil against one another,” “Put away malice and hypocrisy,” and so on.
So why all the obsessive focus on gays? Here’s the funny thing: There’s no evidence in the book that Paul ever met Jesus, at least not while Jesus was still among the living. There is an exciting scene where Paul is walking along the Damascus Road and sees “a bright light” and hears a “voice.” Other men with him also hear a “loud sound” but don’t see anything. Though Paul never claims to have seen Jesus at the time, many readers have interpreted it that way. Paul does claim to have met the resurrected Lord in another scene, later in the story. It’s not so clear what they talked about, or if they talked at all, but one thing’s for certain: Jesus never once says anything at all about homosexuality, at least nothing that is mentioned in the book. You would think if it was so damn important he would have mentioned it, at least once, instead of going on and on about love, compassion, nonjudgement and acceptance.
Since so many people enjoy adding their own twist to the story, here’s mine: I’d like to think that when Paul reached the Pearly Gates, God looked at him and said, “Paul, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, so please don’t take this the wrong way. But that whole 'Romans 1:24-27' thing; What the hell were you thinking? Did you listen to anything my son said?”
I do like what Paul wrote in Romans 9:20: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”
I used to hate what the molder molded of me — if there is indeed a molder. But not anymore. Now I prefer to believe what I read in Song of Solomon 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” Certainly ignorance and crazy interpretations of a book won’t quench nor drown love, even if that love is the love of a man for a man, or the love of a woman for a woman.
Sorry for all the redundancies in the use of the word love, it’s something I picked up while reading the Bible.
DAVE STALLING is a formerly closeted, former Marine. He is a writer and passionate advocate for gay rights, and a professional wildlife conservationist. He lives in Berkeley, California. Read more of his work at his blog, “OUT Into the Wilds.”Read more of his work at his blog, “OUT Into the Wilds"