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The Truth, Mainly - 02/26/1996

Leviticus reconsidered: Here's a more inclusive interpretation

I don't want to make trouble by raising irreverent questions during this holy season of the presidential primaries, but sometimes I just don't get it.

I got it during the Iowa caucuses when all the GOP candidates except Richard Lugar (isn't he in the wrong party?) either attended or said nice things about the gay-bashing rally in Des Moines. The Christian Coalition was one of the rally sponsors and the candidates want Christian Coalition votes.

And I got it earlier this month when the NY Times reported that four churches in California were expelled from the American Baptist Churches of the West for welcoming gay members. The Bible opposes homosexuality and Baptists take the Bible very seriously.

But I don't get it when the Rev. Robert Rasmussen, executive minister of the ABCW, says that how churches should respond to homosexuality is "unlike any other issue" in its gravity. More grave than how they respond to murder and mayhem? To plunder and pillage? To TV evangelism?

Well, the religious right says, just take a look at Leviticus 18:22.

So I go to my King James translation to take a look. And there it is: God tells Moses, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

My trouble is that once I start reading Leviticus, it's hard to stop and my momentum carries me into Chapter 19. The more I read, the more I wonder why church response to homosexuality is "unlike any other issue." Because God goes on at great length to warn Moses away from lots of other awful practices. To wit:

"And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest" (19:9).

"Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee" (19:19).

"Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard" (19:27).

Here's what I really don't get: why doesn't the Christian Coalition bash sinners for violating those instructions in the same way it bashes gays?

Oh, sure, their ushers would have to get some assertiveness training to head off the wicked at the church door.

"Say, Brother Billy Bob," they'd have to tell the guy with the sunburned face and white forehead, "I noticed you cutting the wheat in the corners of your field, so you're gonna have to fry in hell. OK?"

Or: "Those weren't Charolais-Angus I saw in your pasture, were they? God doesn't like it when you let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind. And He's gonna get you good for planting that mingled seed for your hybrid corn."

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Or: "Have to check the label on the suit. Polyester, heaven; linen-wool, hell."

Or: "Did Satan give you that haircut? You can't come back till the corners of your head grow out again."

But it won't happen. The Christian Coalition has apparently decided that those Levitical instructions don't count. They're for another time, another place.

Maybe so. Who can read the mind of God? Not me.

I can't even read the minds of godly men who have the gift of distinguishing between the Real Stuff and the stuff that doesn't count.

A cynical friend of mine says it's simple: you just pick out the scriptures that agree with your bias and call them the Real Stuff. That way, he says, you recreate God in your own image. It's a great power trip.

I can understand that because it's what I do sometimes. If my wife wants me to help clean out the garage of a Sunday afternoon, I tell her I'm busy remembering the Sabbath and keeping it kind of holy, per Biblical instruction. But if I want to go to Nebraska City for apples on a Sunday afternoon, I tell her I'm giving womankind a second chance to resist the temptation of a nice crisp Jonathan. Then I read Genesis 3:6 aloud and she bonks me on the head with a skillet.

But I'm an admitted dirty rotten secular humanist. Surely we can hold the Christian Coalition and the presidential candidates to a higher standard. Those folks wouldn't stoop to a selective reading of Holy Writ to make it fit their own ends. Would they?

And what if—O impious thought!—they're wrong in singling out Leviticus 18:22 as God's priority denunciation? What if it's one of the others? Beards with marred corners, maybe. Until we get this straightened out, we should play it safe. So here's the plan:


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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