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President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.
In just 937 words, Professor Helminiak debunked virtually all the religious right’s supposedly bible-based anti-gay arguments, beginning with “the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics”:
The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
In relation to other favorite passages cited by those using the Bible to condemn gays and argue against civil equality – Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27 – Professor Helminiak had this to say:
The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; itshould read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.
Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. … An unusual thing to do – atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.
Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor – for preaching Christ. …
In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness – in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."
But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity – varied cultural traditions – do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.
“Purity of heart.” An interesting phrase when applied to those using “Christianity” to campaign against civil equality and line their coffers. On May 17, my in-box contained a message from Tom Minnery, Executive Director of the American Family Association, a theo-political right-wing organization identified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of their repeated use of stereotypes in combination with bogus “research” to demean and degrade gay and lesbian Americans:
President Obama has finally confirmed what we long suspected: He is no friend of America's FAMILIES.
With his announcement of support for same-sex marriage on Wednesday, May 9, it's now absolutely clear that President Obama wants to redefine marriage in America. We cannot count on the leader of this great nation to champion, let alone defend, marriage.
Please send a generous gift now to support marriage — and bring pro-family Americans to the polls in record numbers on Nov. 6. …
Please stand with me now in support of marriage with a generous gift to reach voters with the information and rally cry they need to elect leaders who will stand up for family, faith and freedom this November.
Thank you and God bless you. [emphasis in the original]
Apparently, Mr. Minnery doesn’t consider same-sex couples and same-sex couples with children “FAMILIES.” How’s that for blatant blind bigotry and the denial of obvious common sense? Mr. Minnery’s plea for money is, however, akin to other groups that use Christianity as a means to make a buck, such as ChristianMingle.com. Their trademarked corporate logo claims “Find God’s Match for You.” Do they really think “God” intervenes and orchestrates their on-line dating service?
And speaking of blatant blind bigotry and preposterous statements as a way of “making a living,” right on cue AFA’s ridiculously rabid homophobe Bryan Fischer chimed in with another of his diatribes. Mr. Fischer is a biblical literalist, at least in regards those passages of the Bible he can use to promote hate and his political agenda. He began his May 16 posting with his usual arrogant pomposity:
There are three purposes for marriage: companionship, sex and children.
When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper for him.” That would be Eve, someone who completed him and complemented him and met his need for a companion, someone to relieve his loneliness and be his mate for life.
Mr. Fischer believes he absolutely knows the “purposes of marriage,” and there are only three. Apparently, he never took a history course, or a family studies course, a sociology course, or a science course. If he did, he obviously chose to replace knowledge (as well as common sense) with bumper sticker simplicity: the hallmark no-thinking-required biblical literalism and religious fundamentalism. He concluded his piece with another statement at odds with history, archeology, anthropology, and common sense: “God defined marriage at the dawn of human history and has never changed his mind. What God has defined, man must not redefine.”
At the “dawn of human history” there was no such thing as “marriage.” The institution evolved as civilizations in Sumer and Egypt developed, and it evolved as a civil contract the primary purposes of which were to guarantee lineage and property rights. Moreover, as Stephanie Coontz so well documented in Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, most of what we associated with “marriage” today – love, fidelity, intimacy, commitment – are relatively new in the history of the institution. Contrary to Mr. Fischer’s bumper sticker mentality, as Dr. Coontz and others have documented, “man” has periodically redefined “marriage,” most recently by doing away with laws prohibiting marriage between races. It must be noted that those who supported miscegenation laws also used to Bible to plead their case.
As for Adam and Eve – the “dawn of human history” couple to which Mr. Fischer refers – they’re mythological figures. The texts describing them were written long after human civilizations – in Egypt, for example – were already ancient. Adam and Eve were conjured by “tribal” people to explain human origins and create a “religion ”: both of those terms and the facts they denote are important in understanding the Bible as a biblical scholar would, not as the cherry-picking literalist uses it. Dr. Helminiak explained in What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality:
the literal approach reading [of the bible] … has disadvantages. Since this approach has no elaborate [hermeneutical] guidelines, different people can arrive at different meanings for any text they consider. All can claim that the text means what it means to them. … Popularity decides what the Bible means. An influential preacher could even impose a personal view on a whole congregation.
Contemporary examples of such a potentially lethal situation are noted below. But to continue with Dr. Helminiak’s analysis:
But the fact that many people believe something, doesn’t necessarily make it right. The long history of slavery is a clear case in point. So the serious disadvantage here is that people may well end up believing not what God requires but simply what makes them comfortable and secure.
Another disadvantage is selective use of the Bible. That is, this [literal reading] approach tends to emphasize one text and overlook another. Preachers condemn lesbians and gays because the Bible mentions same-sex acts in passing. But the same preachers do not advocate slavery even though many long passages support it … They do not encourage people to gouge out their eyes or cut off their hands even though Jesus’ literal words suggest that remedy for temptation (Matthew 5:22-29). Those preachers often allow divorce even though Jesus’ teaching taken literally condemns it (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18). They allow women to teach in Sunday school or to speak in church even though 1 Timothy 2:11-14 clearly forbids that. … They do not believe the earth is flat as Genesis 1:1-17 suggests. The literal approach is almost forced to pick and choose as it applies to the Bible. Otherwise some very unaccountable situations arise.
Finally, the literal approach is hard pressed to address new issues – nuclear energy, surrogate motherhood, environmental pollution, the use of outer space, genetic engineering, regulation of the Internet. The Bible never imagined these things, so it never really addressed them.
Of course, some will insist that God did speak of these things in hidden and symbolic ways. … But if this is so, in some cases a symbolic interpretation is allowed, and the rule of literal interpretation is abandoned. Then what is the rule for knowing when to interpret literally and when to interpret symbolically? Without changing rules in the middle of the game, the literal approach cannot use the Bible to answer pressing questions of our day.
As celebrated religious historian Karen Armstrong documented in A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all religions are made-up, created by men to explain their world and their existence. Every religion has claimed its sacred texts were “the word of God,” but what they are are the words of men written millennia ago: men who had a different worldview and different concerns than those that face us in the twenty-first century. Their purpose in writing those ancient texts has similarities but also critical differences from the task of civil lawmakers today.
Ancient writers – like those who penned the texts selected for inclusion in what we now call “the Bible” – were primarily interested in promulgating their beliefs (and their power) and increasing their tribes, so of course any sexual activity that did not offer the possibility of new tribal members would be discouraged. Masturbation, homogenitality, and any form of primitive contraception would be discouraged and, given the culture of the times, deemed “against God’s will.” Nothing worked better than fear of “god” for primitive peoples who saw gods everywhere and, according to their “prophets,” were beholden to – and should fear – them as is so well expressed in the First Commandment:“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
Aside from the absence of any archeological evidence that the Exodus as recorded in the Bible ever really happened, note that Jehovah does not deny the existence of other “gods.” He’s just a jealous fellow who demands he be first with “no other gods before me.” But therein lies one of the purposes of such ancient texts: they were meant to provide a sense of cohesion for their societies, a worldview and yes, “moral” codes consistent with that worldview as well as their socio-political and economic realities. The problem, of course, with taking biblical texts literally is that those Bronze Age tribal societies are not our societies. Their worldview is not one that coincides with twenty-first century knowledge and realities, and their sense of “morality” is not ours. They condoned slavery. We do not. They saw women as inferior. We do not. They saw children as property a parent could do as he wished, whether it be selling a daughter into slavery or sacrificing a son to that “jealous god.” We do not agree. The cohesion they may have provided for Bronze Age tribal societies have become violently divisive in our cosmopolitan society:
By Neal Broverman
May 21 2012
Pastor Charles Worley of Maiden, N.C.’s Providence Road Baptist Church recently told his congregation that lesbians and “queers” should be rounded up, placed in camps with electrified fencing, and left to die.
Worley believes that placing gays in camps will ensure homosexuality dies out since gays “don't reproduce.” Worley isn't apologizing for his sermon, saying, “We offer NO apologies in believing the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. …”
“Inerrant word of God.” One has to wonder when Pastor Worley will start advocating the murder of people who wear clothing made of two different threads, eat shellfish, or work on the Sabbath… as he does. Not surprisingly, the pastor has a long history of preaching hate and encouraging murderous violence:
By Michelle Garcia
May 22 2012
Decades before antigay pastor Charles Worley said lesbians and “queers and the homosexuals” should be rounded up, placed in camps surrounded by electric fences and left to die … the pastor described other violently homophobic acts against gay people during a sermon.
“...Forty years ago, they would've hung ‘em -- bless God -- from a white oak tree,” Worley said in a 1978 sermon that the Providence Road Baptist Church has posted on its website, according to Good As You.
Another biblical literalist was even more direct:
By David Edwards
Wednesday, May 30
The pastor of New Hope Baptist Church [Curtis Knapp] in Seneca, Kansas says President Barack Obama has gone too far in supporting same sex marriage and it’s time for the U.S. government to begin killing gay men and lesbians.
And still another “Christian” pastor and his congregation gleefully taught and applauded hatred when voice by a child:
By Lucas Grindley
May 30 2012
An Indiana church congregation was caught on video wildly standing in ovation as a young child sings, “Ain’t no homo going to make it to heaven.”
The cell phone video was posted on YouTube and has sparked an outrage that has angry commenters flooding a Facebook page for the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle. The Indy Channel reports that it is pastor Jeff Sangl onstage with the boy as he is cheered on by a raucous congregation.
“I know the Bible's right, somebody’s wrong,” the child sings. “Romans 1 and 27, ain’t no homo going to make it to heaven.”
“That’s my boy!” someone yells from the pews.
Two boys are at the microphone in front of the church, and one is seen running off the stage at the end and high-fiving an adult near the front of the church.
How long will it be until one of the members of these pastors’ congregations acts on what he’s been told is “the word of God”?
More murders motivated by anti-gay bias occurred last year than any year since the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs began collecting data in 1998, the national advocacy organization reported this week.
CNN ran a series of similar “specials” after Dr. Helminiak’s article. The May 21 “special” – “My Take: The Bible condemns a lot, but here’s why we focus on homosexuality” – was penned by Albert Mohler, Jr., “president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.” In his article Dr. Mohler once again demonstrated his skill at hermeneutical gymnastics, linguistic charades, and conflating fact and belief: as Dr. Helminiak pointed out, all of which are the inevitable consequence of biblical literalism. For example, Dr. Mohler makes the following statement: “Some people then ask, ‘What about slavery and polygamy?’ In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity. …”
True. The New Testament does not “command” slavery, but it does certainly support the practice: Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Peter 2:18. “Freedom and human dignity”? Then why are women consistently deemed second-class and commanded to be subservient to men?
Dr. Mohler has a mixed past when it comes to equal civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans: at once accepting marriage equality as “inevitable,” but yet despite his strong opposition to any prenatal fiddling, he voiced a willingness to do so if it would prevent gay people. On March 2, 2007, Dr. Mohler published an article titled “Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?” In the article he implicitly acknowledged that sexual orientation has a genetic component and/or is hormonally determined prior to birth, but he looks forward to the day when medical science can change that:
If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin…
In Dr. Mohler’s “thinking,” homosexuality is God’s punishment – selectively applied – for “original sin.” So he wants to use the sciences of genetic engineering and hormone therapy to repent for the “sin” of the mythical characters Adam and Eve. Does any of that make any sense at all? Moreover, Biblical literalists and dogmatic fundamentalists have repeatedly argued against any pre-natal meddling with a fetus, claiming that whatever the fetus was, was its God-given birthright. Funny how that thinking changes so radically when it comes to gay people. Mohler’s “genetic cleansing” proposal is nothing less than a twenty-first century theofascist program of eugenics which, if history serves as a guide, would not be limited to eliminating gays and lesbians. To wit…
On May 14, 2009 Mr. Mohler published another article. It was republished “by permission” on May 19, 2009 by American Family Association’s propaganda organ, OneNewsNow: “Should Christians ‘respect’ other religions?” Mohler’s answer:
… any belief system that pulls persons away from the Gospel of Christ, denies and subverts Christian truth, and blinds sinners from seeing Christ as the only hope of salvation is, by biblical definition, a way that leads to destruction. Islam, like every other rival to the Christian gospel, takes persons captive and is devoid of genuine hope for salvation.
Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves. … we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God’s Son, and takes millions of souls captive.
Witness the fundamental problem with dogmatic religion: “we’re right and you’re wrong.” What has happened all too often is bloodshed ad majorem Dei gloriam to determine whose “god” is “God.” While Dr. Mohler’s statement is not a call for a Jihad or an Inquisition, it is a blatantly self-righteous call to see others as “inferiors” and, therefore, worthy of suspicion and discrimination.
And let’s not forget Mr. Mohler’s incestuous “logic”: those parts of the Bible we want to be true are true because we say they are, and what those other people believe isn’t true because we and those “useful” parts of the Bible say they aren’t.
Biblical literalism. Religious Dogma. From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition:
Dogma n, [L dogmat-, dogma, fr. Gk, from dokein to seem] 1a: something held as an established opinion; esp: a definite authoritative tenet. B: a code of such tenents <pedagogical ~>. C: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. 2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.
“From dokein to seem… established opinion… a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds... formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church” (italics mine). Dogma is the unsubstantiated opinion of someone or some group that must remain as is despite ever-changing social, cultural and political contexts. In other words, dogma is little more than opinion. As one definition in the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, dogma is “an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion” which uses itself as its source of authority. Human history has documented over and over again that those who claim to KNOW “God’s will” and be acting dogmatically to enforce “His will” have brought nothing but pain, suffering, and hatred. And they screech doing it. From Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association:
Obama’s wicked marriage proposal
May 15, 2012
Someone described President Obama’s announcement that he is in favor of homosexual “marriage” as “shaking his fist at God.” I agree. There are many things in politics where good people can disagree or perhaps the Bible does not speak to specifically - but marriage is not one of them. …
Professor Helminiak offered a far more scholarly and much less screechy perspective:
As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.
The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” – pais, a Greek term for male love – of the Roman Centurion. [italics added]
What’s that old expression? “Actions speak louder than words.”
Professor Helminiak also noted that “Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.” The world did not end, but real world men and women – be they heterosexual or homosexual – have sexual and emotional needs. Many wish to marry and create families.
Daniel Helminiak offered what should be the last word not only on the marriage debate, but the whole debate about treating gay and lesbian Americans respectfully and as equal citizens deserving of equal civil rights:
Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.