Thursday, June 18, 2020

Christian Homophobia: Hypocrisy over the Bible and Secular Law (again!)

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that companies can't discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. Several self-professed conservative Christians have complained, typified perhaps by Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, who said "People of sincere faith who stand on God’s Word as their foundation for life should never be forced by the government to compromise their religious beliefs."

At least two objections to this should be obvious, but seem to be rarely talked about.

Firstly, if "standing on God's Word" means "following the Bible literally", then people are forced by the government to compromise their religious beliefs the whole time. As an obvious example, consider Leviticus 20:10, "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." (KJV). In the United States, you are allowed to believe this - because one of the great benefits of religious freedom, you can't be persecuted for believing or not believing something. But you are certainly not allowed to carry out the threat - it's murder, and the claim that a particular belief led you to commit murder is no defense. The Supreme Court decision says that the same argument applies to firing someone because you discover that they're gay. It's legal to believe that they shouldn't be gay, but it's not legal to fire them.

Secondly, we should once again confront the cherry-picking hypocrisy of Biblicist homophobia. The level of discussion here is typically poor: someone whose stance is largely anti-religious is likely to point out that the Bible also bans tattoos, the eating of shellfish, or clothing made from mixed fabrics; someone who's been taught to defend Biblical homophobia says that those other laws are obviously ceremonial; there is no meeting in the middle, no real discussion. Or someone whose stance is more liberal-religious points out that some of the words translated as anti-gay are quite ambiguous, like the debate about the word "ἀρσενοκοῖται" ("arsenokoitai") in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which could refer to pedophilia, and has only been translated as against homosexuality for less than a century. But quibbling over a word in translation never really helps (it might convince someone who won't learn any Hebrew or Greek that educated pen-pushers are out to trick them). Picking particular words to focus on, or particularly outdated verses as a compare-and-constrast, doesn't make for much of a discussion.

However, looking at the (actually very few) anti-gay verses in the Bible in their surrounding context does reveal a much clearer picture of cherry-picking. Take the Leviticus 20:10 example above - punishment for adultery. It's just 3 verses before the condemnation of "man lying with man", which is quoted much more often. And it's part of a whole list of taboos, particularly against adultery and incest, and followed in the next chapter with a ban on marrying a divorced woman. Or the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 - the very same list that condemns ἀρσενοκοῖται also condemns πόρνοι (pornos) and κλέπται (kleptos). It's pretty clear what those mean - the author condemns pornography and theft. One of those is illegal in the USA, one isn't (though it is in several other countries). Taking the Bible in context, the passages of laws and punishments in Leviticus are often arranged as more detailed working-out of the laws given in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5). The clear sexual commandment is "Thou shalt not commit adultery", and the subsequent passages banning incest, homosexuality, remarriage after divorce, and so on, are arranged as matters related to this. Passages against homosexuality are few, ambiguous, and always placed alongside other condemnations. Passages against adultery are frequent, repeated, used as the basis for other condemnations, and have their own dedicated place in the Ten Commandments.

So, if Mr Graham and his allies were to demonstrate that they believe adulterers should be persecuted at least as much as gay people, then they would be giving more than lip-service to their claim to follow the Bible. But they won't. They are homophobic hypocrites, preaching selective bigotry in place of equal justice, degrading the Bible by weaponizing verses and ignoring the chapters and books from which they come.

Questions Asked Later

Adding a Q&A section of things close friends and family have asked so far.

Aren't you saying that homophobic beliefs are OK?
Not OK: just not illegal. Personally I detest homophobia. But I wouldn't introduce an Inquisition or a Thought Police to make sure those beliefs can't exist.

Isn't there more context about Corinth behind Paul's letters?
Yes. There's plenty of discussion about what the contemporary practices were and whether Paul was condemning committed relationships or licentious parties.

Are you saying that homosexual relationships are as bad as adultery?
Personally I don't think that homosexual relationships are anything at all like cheating on a partner. I am saying that if someone is really following the Bible, they can't honestly condemn homosexuality without condemning adultery at least as strongly.

What about the Biblical bans on working seven days a week, lending money and charging interest, bearing false witness, and so on?
Quite right. If we made a complete list of practices banned (and punished) in the Bible with notes about how often they're mentioned and how harshly they're punished, that would be a very long essay. The reason I focused mainly on adultery in this essay is because it's the ban in the Bible that's most clearly related to homosexuality - the Bible discusses homosexuality as a footnote to adultery. If you want to investigate this area more generally, start by reading the Ten Commandments themselves and ask "Which of these would we recognize as laws today?" It is a very interesting mixture.

Why do you think that the very same Christians who denounce homosexuality give a free pass to leaders who practice serial adultery, abuse, financial fraud, and lying?
It's not about Christianity and the Bible really, that's just an excuse. (I'm sure they do believe it's about Christianity and the Bible, though you can't keep believing that if you read the Bible honestly.) It's about being angry and afraid that the world is changing, and the sort of people who for centuries were in charge (wealthy white European and American men) might not automatically be in charge in the future. This is frightening, and when things frighten us we're all predisposed to say that they're morally wrong. It's not about being in any way harmed by gay people: it's all about being frightened that they might no longer be the arbiter of who gets a free pass in spite of hurting people, and who gets persecuted in spite of hurting nobody. Never expect people to be rational when they're scared.

Why do you care so much about the Bible and homosexuality?
I'm a Christian, and I care passionately about the religion that motivated the spread of literacy on several continents, the founding of schools and universities, the abolition of slavery, parts of the Civil Rights movement. The history of Christianity isn't all good, but it certainly has good parts. I don't want to see its future potential ruined for generations by outdated bigots using it to defend their own personal bigotry.

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