5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday morning and I’m relaxing over my third cup of coffee and just ridiculously happy that I didn’t have to drive a carpool to school. My family is still asleep and I’m celebrating the solitude by reading my favorite blogs and posting goofy, fun things on Facebook (Star Wars for my boys, photos for Mom). It’s gloriously quiet. I can hear the birds singing.
Our dogs go nuts at the front window. I tell them to hush which they do and I walk over to congratulate them on being good puppies. They wag and whine to express their fervent desire to continue their barking frenzy. I shush them and we look out the window together. And then I kind of wish I had let them keep barking.
An unfamiliar car is parked in front of our house and four people are getting out. They are all dressed in their Sunday best and toting Bibles. Great, I think. They all head down the street, and I suppose their intention is to work their way back to the car. At least I don’t have to deal with them right now. I call the dogs to the kitchen to get a treat.
Have you ever tried to debate a Bible-toter who came knocking on your door to spread the Word of God as they see it? I did once about 20 years ago and never will again. Why? You know why. Zealots of the kind who will actually go door-to-door in their eagerness to preach at people can’t be debated for two reasons that I can see. First, because they believe in a way that has nothing to do with logic or evidence that theirs is the one true way. And second, because they have no respect at all for your right to believe something different. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. It won’t matter. They’ve come to your door to preach at you, not to listen.
Nothing you say is going to change that. You can point out that the word “Bible” does not refer to one text agreed upon by all Christians – that not only do the content and order of the individual books vary among versions, the Biblical canon (the books actually included in the Bible) differs as well. The contents of complete Christian Bibles vary from 66 books to 81 books. “Which is the true Bible?” you might ask. Your zealot will simply answer, “Mine is.”
You can dispute the idea that the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired and therefore infallible. What evidence do you have, you might ask, that God guided the authors to write down his word? “Look,” your visitor will say, opening his Bible and pointing. “It says so right here.”
You can ask about the translators. Were they divinely inspired too? Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Early Christians wrote the New Testament in Greek and translated the Bible into several other languages. St. Jerome by order of the Pope translated the whole mess (with help) into Latin. Much later, after the Protestant revolution there were an incredible number of English language translations. Seems like a lot of room for error there, doesn’t it?
And, you might ask, how about the scribes who hand-copied the early books complete with errors and edits? Over time, different versions (each with their own set of omissions and additions) evolved in different regions. Were they all divinely inspired? “The Bible,” your self-righteous visitor might tell you, “is the word of God and free from errors in spiritual matters.”
“So let’s talk interpretation,” you might say to your uninvited guest. To understand any written work, the reader must have some understanding of the context in which it was written. That’s why an average American can’t just read through one of Shakespeare’s plays without being terribly confused. Unless you have some really good footnotes and a primer on the history of Elizabethan England, you aren’t going understand the original intent or meaning. And you’re going to miss out on all the good jokes. But your guest won’t laugh, only smile beatifically.
You can argue that Old Testament contains more murder, rape, depravity, general cruelty, and wanton violence than a Quentin Tarantino movie and how a strictly literal interpretation of such a text is dangerous and a bit like your kid continuing to believe in fairy tales once he’s grown up. You can point out that the harsh God of the Old Testament who seems to either perpetrate or instigate much of the violence and demands unquestioning obedience and sacrifice from his subjects doesn’t seem much in line with the forgiving God of the Gospels at all. And you can note that the Gospels themselves were written until decades after the fact, that the original texts were lost, and that other apocryphal gospels have been found that were left out of the Bible altogether. Your porch-preacher will just smile and tell you that you have obviously misinterpreted the word of the Lord.
So I’m not going to talk about the Bible because it just won’t matter. I’m not going to argue that for every seeming admonishment against homosexuals in Leviticus, you will also find prohibitions against tattoos, eating rare meat, wearing clothes made from a blend of textiles, or eating pigs, rabbits and any seafood that doesn’t have fins and scales. It’s all a part of a Holiness Code that is no longer used by Christian churches. I’m not going to mention passages in Deuteronomy or Romans or others that are also used as truncheons to bash gay people in God’s name, or point out the problems with the translations and interpretations of those passages. I won’t remind you all that a true study of the Bible must involve an attempt to understand the languages and historical context. If you approach the Bible with a preconceived idea of what you will (or want) to find there, you will likely find it. So I won’t ask, “Is it a ‘Christian’ thing to do, to weaponize the Bible?
None of this really matters, anyway. What really matters is how you decide to treat the people you share the planet with. And if you really want to use a Christian Bible as your moral compass, it seems best to me to focus on the parts that define a Christian – the words of Jesus as reported by the Gospels. Turn the other cheek. Treat others as you would be treated. Compassion, tolerance. This seems pretty straight forward to me. So don’t you think it’s time for Christians to take the Bible back from the bigots and the haters?