Has anyone ever asked you why you insist on getting involved with groups, belief systems, subcultures… you don’t belong to or apparently have nothing to do with? I’ve heard that question in regards to mental illness, Jesus, child rearing, country music, veganism, and often when addressing the issue of homophobia and the Bible.
Well, I trust most omnivores will be okay without ever finding out why vegans reject the use of animal products. Heck, the entire world might be able to lead fulfilling lives without knowing why country music rocks my world. However, I doubt that an individual can make sense of our world without having, at the very least, a basic understanding of certain issues and how they might affect the behaviors of our social majority. This is the reason why I, a heterosexual Witch, pay special attention to topics such as homophobia and the Bible.
Homosexual relationships are demonized by many individuals of the Christian faith. According to some, the Bible teaches that amorous relationships between same-sex couples are sinful. Much smaller, and typically marginalized, Christian groups suggest that certain sections of the Bible portray homosexual relationships as beautiful and courageous (Karnan 1994). They also imply that the homophobic behavior of most mainstream Bible followers might be rooted in the negative ways Bible stories have been interpreted, and perhaps rewritten, over the centuries.
I asked a Baptist Minister and a Unitarian Universalist Church Pastor this question: How does the source of the Bible’s Golden Rule, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the prophets,” (Matthew 7:12) explain behaviors like homophobia?”
The Baptist Minister said, “Genesis 19 shows God was so disturbed by homosexuality that he destroyed cities to get rid of the filth. I get sad when I think some people feel they must live this way, but it is still unnatural.” On the side of the argument, the Unitarian Pastor told me that “Any God loving Christian knows that one of the Bible’s most passionate love stories was that of Ruth and Naomi,” two women.
I must say that I asked the question hoping for a miracle. Why couldn’t my Baptist and Unitarian interviewees quote the same Bible story, and make my life easier? I guess because in spirituality, like in life, different people use the same tools in very unalike ways. A heart surgeon can use a scalpel to perform the operation that saves a patient’s live; the same blade can mortally cut the person’s throat.
It seems that in the case of mainstream Christian society, most Bible followers tend to go for the throat. I read Genesis a few times, and although there is quite a bit of smiting going on, I didn’t find any specific passages saying that the Christian God wanted anyone’s body scourged to death because he was upset about their choice of bed partner. The book suggests that the population of Sodom is wicked, they are not particularly good to each other, have forgotten about their god and so on; there is nothing about homosexuality being a disturbing sin, or the reason for the Christian God’s wrath.
Someone might be inclined to argue that the same can be said about Ruth’s and Naomi’s story; there is no explicit statement about the two women being lovers. It can even be claimed that the fact that the Bible uses the same verb, “cling,” to describe how Adam felt about Eve and to speak of Ruth’s feelings towards Naomi (Karnan 1994), mean nothing. But I, and maybe a bit of ancient history, would have to disagree with that notion.
In his 1994 article, “Homophobia and the Bible,” Robert Karnan proposes that during the times the story was written, single women depended on the male heads of their households. Ruth gave up the safety of her homeland plus the support she would have gotten from her family, in order to maintain the companionship of another woman (Karnan 1994).
Further argument can be made over the fact that Ruth married a man and gave birth to a child, and to that I will say that people have evolved and so has society, but at the core we retain some of the same basic needs: people must eat, and they will do things for convenience too. Ruth married an old relative of Naomi’s family. This man got to keep the family’s possession—women, cows, crops, land and anything without a voice during that era—but where was that man when his child is born? The Bible story doesn’t say. Why? Probably because as Robert Karnan explains, the man isn’t important to the tale; The Book of Ruth tells the story of two lovers, and what they have to do to stay together. It is not the tale of a strong woman who finally finds a husband to care for her, or who sacrifices everything for the wellbeing of a really good friend.
I am not a Christian, I’m a Witch, but the teachings of the Bible affect our society in such a powerful way that I have taken the time to read it, and have tried my best to understand its myths. The answers of the Baptist Minister and the Unitarian Pastor, in this essay, explain how Bible knowledge, and the way its interpretation influence its followers, might be imperative in the battle against homophobia.
When I began writing this essay, I believe I titled it, Homophobia Might Be Caused by the Bible. I realized how inaccurate that statement was, made a third cup of coffee, and reconsidered my interviewees’ responses; specifically, about the focus of their answers. This close reexamination helped me recognize that Bible stories are too vague to be held responsible for its reader’s homophobic behavior.
Nevertheless, there is a connection between the Bible and homophobia. The negativity many of its followers choose to see, in the ambiguous ancient stories contained in their Holy Book, is indeed at the roots of many Christians’ intolerant—and sometimes criminal—attitudes toward individuals in same sex romantic relationships.
Care to share your thoughts?
“Homophobia and the Bible” by Robert Karnan
King James Bible Online