Archive for September 24th, 2007

Save the Children

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Please read Leviticus 18:21-23 (NRSV) (KJV) out loud if possible.

As you read, consider these questions: What might God be saying to me in this passage? What jumps out at me? At the end of the reading, try to summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts on this passage (Tyler Connoley):

Probably none of the Clobber Passages is as terrifying to gay men as Leviticus 18:22. It seems so clear when taken at face value, and the Fred Phelpses of the world are always quick to throw it at us with a disgusted twist of their mouths on the final word: “it is abomination.” But what if I told you Fred Phelps was one of the most prominent violators of that very verse? When read in its historical context, I believe Leviticus 18:22 should strike fear into those who would destroy our queer youth in the name of God.

In unpacking the meaning of Leviticus 18:22, my first question is why women aren’t mentioned. If God intended this verse as a condemnation of all same-sex relationships, then wouldn’t it make sense to add, “Women, do not lie with womankind as with mankind”? Doesn’t this seem like a big oversight if same-sex relationships are so abominable?

The most common response to this is to point out that women are pretty much ignored in the Hebrew Bible. The laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were written for the ruling patriarchy and not for women, people say. However, the very next verse includes women. Leviticus 18:23 prohibits sex with animals and specifically states, “nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it” (NRSV). So, it looks like the author intentionally left women out of verse 22. This leads to the question, “Why would sex between men be prohibited if sex between women wasn’t?”

Here we need a little science lesson from 2,000 BCE. In ancient western Asia, where Leviticus was written, people believed semen contained little people. At the time, no one knew about women’s eggs, so they thought men provided the children and women provided the incubator. The man would implant the tiny person in the woman’s womb, and it would grow there until it was big enough to live on its own. Then it would be born.

This notion of how human life begins led to some other beliefs. Masturbation was thought of as killing one’s children before they were born. And offering one’s semen to a god was thought of as sacrificing one’s children to that god. The most common way this was done was by having sex with the priests who represented a god or goddess.

With this in mind, one possible explanation for the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 is that it is a prohibition against child sacrifice. God didn’t want men having sex with temple priests and thereby offering their children to false idols. The context of this verse makes that interpretation seem even more likely. Leviticus 18:21 says, “You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (NRSV). Molech was a god of fire worshipped by the Canaanites, and one of the ways they worshipped him was by sacrificing their children through burning. Since authors tend to lump items in a list together in groups, it makes sense that this prohibition against child sacrifice would be followed by another prohibition against a different form of child sacrifice.

This leads me to ask, “How should this text be applied to our day and time? Do we still sacrifice our children to false idols?” And the answer is most definitely, “Yes.” We no longer burn our children on altars or have sex with temple priests, but we sacrifice our children in more subtle ways. I know many people whose parents forced them into professions they hated and weren’t suited for by threatening to cut them off. Like the Canaanites who wanted their families to be prosperous and so sacrificed their children to false idols, modern people sacrifice their children on the altar of medicine or law, believing a good-paying job is the most important thing in the world.

Other people sacrifice their children to false images of God. My spouse used to serve as the director of Indiana Youth Group, the LGBT youth group in Indianapolis. In that job he worked with homeless youth. And he discovered that, although LGBT people make up a small percentage of the general population, LGBT youth make up between forty and sixty percent of the homeless youth population. He also found that between fifty and seventy percent of LGBT youth have seriously considered suicide — not just thought about it, but planned how and when they would carry it out.

Parents throw their children out of the house in the name of an incorrect reading of Scripture, and God says, “Do not sacrifice your children to false idols.” Parents abandon their children to hopelessness and suicide, telling them they’re an abomination, and God say, “Do not sacrifice your children to false idols.” Parents force their children into ex-gay therapy programs based on dubious science, and God says, “Do not sacrifice your children to false idols.” Fred Phelps assaults our queer youth with cries of “God hates fags,” and God weeps and shouts, “Stop! Stop! Have you not read Leviticus 18:22? Stop sacrificing your children to false idols!”

Thought for the day: Don’t let Leviticus 18:22 scare you. Instead let it give you a passion for saving our children from being sacrificed.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to start, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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