Those of us who choose to be identified with religion are forced to deal with the question of how to live our lives while facing the issue that we are created in the image of God but that our acts of love are punishable by death by that same God. This punishment rests in the book of Leviticus and some of us have chosen to ignore the writings therein.
Leviticus is the third book of the Five Books of Moses which contain the history and the beginnings of the legal system as we know it today. Traditionally these books are understood as revelations–God’s words written down by Moses and are considered a record of the past as well as an explanation of God’s will for the world. The laws which appear in these five books are the ultimate source of authority and a starting point for what later becomes legal. Bur there is also symbolic power here as well.
What is written in Leviticus cannot be dismissed lightly–the concepts presented are vital to our daily lives–to love our neighbors, dealings with strangers and seeing ourselves created in God’s image. But how do we live when the same text that tells us we were created in God’s image also berates us by saying that our acts of love are punishable by death?
It is here that we must establish a way to come to terms with the holy texts. We can, as so many others have done, interpret the writings to enable us to function with it on its own terms. We can treat the text as historical record and draw conclusions based on the way it functions in a given context. Or we can encounter the writings directly with our emotions and our self-knowledge, allowing it to move us to anger and ultimately to action.
In modern times gay men and women have made themselves a presence in community. If we understand the text historically we have a strong prohibition against homosexuality. The fact that we are told in the book of Genesis that we are created in the image of God, we must assume our identity cannot be an abomination. Others interpret the text as referring to certain sexual acts but not to same sex relationships. By this the text is not relevant to a style of life and love and family of which it was ignorant.
Biblical scholars maintain that in the time of the Bible homosexual acts were forbidden but this does not encompass the reality of the modern world. One of the major problems is the meaning attributed to the Hebrew word “to’evah” or abomination. For some reason this word which was originally meant to connote a forbidden act of idolatry has been used to denote certain sexual practices. In Leviticus the references to homosexuality dealt with cultic practices of same sex relations and not to society at large.
In our encounter with Leviticus, we experience pain, terror and rage. We can imagine the unnecessary damage done to generations of people who were forced to feel shame and guilt and had to hide their feelings while wallowing in shame, guilt and fear all of their lives. But if we can get past the rage we can see the admonitions of Leviticus as tools to educate people about the deep rooted history of oppression and in turn we can use this to break down the wall of silence that surrounds us. By doing this we can transform the Bible from a stumbling block to a path of entry. We become more honest with ourselves and with our community about barriers to our involvement, about our need for separate places of worship and our demand to be accepted as an intregal part of life. To be whole we must acknowledge with what great difficulty how those pieces of our lives fit together. But it is also necessary to demand–of ourselves and of the people around us–that those pieces be made to fit.
It is indeed amazing that words written thousands of years ago still have enough power to affect us today. Words are powerful but it is up to us to make the words that will transform our lives and give new meaning to our existence as gays and Lesbians.
In future blogs I want to look more specifically and in more detail at Leviticus as well as the chapters in Genesis on Sodom and Gommorah and see what can be learned from them.