Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever.org: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Her commentary was written in response to the recent story of a 70-year-old man who was stoned to death.
John Joe Thomas, the 28-year-old man accused of "stoning" to death 70-year-old Murray Seidman, claims he was simply following the Bible's directions to kill "homosexuals”* after he said Seidman made a sexual advance toward him.
As a pastor I have worked hard to try to educate those around me about the Bible and what it does and does not say about same-sex relationships. Thomas' first mistake is that the Bible prescribes stoning for "homosexuals." Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, the word "homosexual" is not even mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures at all.
Mark Jordan, in an essay for Religion Dispatches (“Who Wins When Bible is Blamed for Gay Bashing?”), points out that even though the Hebrew Scriptures have long been touted as condemning people who are gay, when read in context, the passages only talk "about acts, not identities.” He elaborates, “There are no sexual orientations in Leviticus. As the Anglican theologian D.S. Bailey first argued more than fifty years ago, there is nothing in the texts of what Christians call the Old and New Testaments that corresponds with modern categories like homosexual or gay. The horrifying prescription of Leviticus 20:13 (and its correlate, 18:22) are not directed against classes of persons, but against acts committed by Israelite males (and males only). Moreover, it's a matter of lively dispute even among fierce textual literalists exactly which acts are intended."
The same-sex acts that the Bible does refer to, in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, are acts of aggression, acts of rape, or acts of using another person sexually. The Bible does not, anywhere, condemn loving, committed unions of two women or two men. Some scholars have even celebrated the relationships of Ruth and Naomi (their words of love and commitment to one another are regularly used in the wedding ceremonies of straight couples) and David and Jonathan as examples of loving, committed, same-sex relationships. Sadly, many gay and lesbian people have rejected their Christian faith because of the erroneous arguments made against them from the Bible, or the equally erroneous conclusion of many to simply "love the sinner, but hate the sin," which still casts sexual orientation into the category of "sin" which makes any sort of "love" still feel a lot like hate.
The controversy over whether or not the Bible condemns people for being gay will certainly not be settled in this article or any other. People will disagree. The Bible is meant to be a book that invites dialogue instead of endless argument. It is a collection of writings from wildly different times, cultures and points of view. To say, "The Bible says …" as if it settles an argument once and for all is a terribly simplistic way to read a very complicated text. Instead, one must be trained to actually read the Bible in a responsible manner, preferably within a community dedicated to taking the Bible seriously – which most often does not mean interpreting it literally.
As Jennifer Wright Knust writes in her latest book, Unprotected Texts, "The only way the Bible can be regarded as straightforward and simple is if no one bothers to read it. The Bible was not a collection of policy statements that had to be obeyed or a weapon designed to enforce particular views about morality, but an invitation to think about who God might be and what it means to be human."
Thomas' alleged "the Bible made me do it" excuse, however, seems to be just that – an excuse, if the victim's brother is right in his belief that the true motive may have been a much more compelling one: greed.
*Here and throughout this piece (with the exception of a direct quotation), the term “homosexual” appears in quotation marks because that’s the term law enforcement have attributed to John Joe Thomas in his stated justification for taking the life of Murray Seidman. Otherwise it would be more appropriate to use the phrase “gay people,” given that “homosexual” has a clinical history and is aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.