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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Kentucky's Kim Davis, And Her Enablers, Need To Read, And Re-read, The Whole Bible.

Kim Davis Needs to Read the Bible Again
BY GREGG EASTERBROOK

Kim Davis and her supporters lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who, in the New Testament, offered unconditional forgiveness.
Kim Davis and her supporters lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who, in the New Testament, offered unconditional forgiveness.

Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, returns to her post soon, after spending five nights in jail and then a few more days recovering at home. A Pentecostal Christian, Davis says “God’s authority” instructs her not to issue licenses for gay marriage, even though the law compels her to. Presidential contenders, including Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, both fundamentalists, have praised her stance.

It’s undeniable that the earliest scripture books, the ones Christians call the Pentateuch and Jews call the Torah, don’t like same-sex relations. At the Garden of Eden, God decrees that a man will be the husband and a woman the wife. (See the second and third chapters of Genesis, ideally a scholarly translation such as the New Revised Standard; this article cites the N.R.S.V.) In Leviticus 18:22, the text states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” In 20:13, Leviticus specifies that both parties in male-male sex shall “be put to death.”


That seems open-and-shut, though one might wonder why Davis, Cruz, Huckabee and the like seek only to deny gays marriage, rather than execute them as God decreed.

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? For mainstream Jews, some ancient doctrine has been reinterpreted by rabbinical commentary or civil law; for Christians, premises of ancient scripture have been amended. This happened first via the middle prophets Isaiah and Hosea, who came centuries after ancient scripture—biblical tip: the key that unlocks the beauty of Abrahamic faith is the seldom read Book of Hosea—and then through the ministry of the Redeemer.

What does the New Testament say about homosexuality and gay marriage? Silence on the latter; on the former, there’s one reference. In his Letter to the Romans, verses 1:26-27, Paul observes of idol worshippers, “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Conservatives prefer translations, such as the God’s Word Bible, that substitute “perversion” for “error.” Yet many church-married, monogamous, man-woman, devout Christian couples engage in acts once thought perversion. Beyond this, Paul frowned on all sexual interaction, including by men and women married to each other. (I Corinthians 7:29.) The apostles evinced no interest in any form of carnality. Jesus never wed, and if he experienced erotic longing, the specifics are lost to history. The Old Testament is chock-full with lust and rape: by the New Testament, it’s as if sex has gone out of style. Those who beheld Jesus bathed in the glory of the resurrection believed the long-dreamt golden age about to arrive. Sex just didn’t seem terribly important compared to that.

At any rate, the key word in Romans is not “perversion;” rather, “natural.” The science of the question of what a person’s natural sexual preferences are is unsettled, but tends toward the idea that people are born that way. If we are born with our sexuality, either it is a gift from God or evolved naturally. And if same-sex attraction is natural, then it is in concord with the New Testament.


Of course, believers of all stripes pick and choose. Liberal Christians avert their eyes from Christ’s near-absolute ban on divorce, in Matthew 5:32. Wealthy Christians ignore their Redeemer’s warning that the rich are barred from heaven, in Matthew 19:24. Most Christians would rather not know that Jesus said to give to panhandlers, in Luke 6:30. Right now, the mainly Christian leaders of the European Union don’t seem concerned that Jesus said that only helping the destitute counts in the eyes of God. (Christ says, in Luke 6:33, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”) Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”) The Israeli right pounds the table about ancient scripture, but skips Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part?

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