Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Pro-GLBT Over-Readings of Texts

I have been blogging a series arguing for the full acceptance of GLBT persions in the church with one sexual ethic (a choice between celibacy and monogamy) for all people regardless of sexual orientation (rather than the current double standard which gives heterosexuals the option of monogamous marriage but demands that gays & lesbians either be celibate or be “cured” and enter heterosexual marriages). In the progress of the argument so far, I have claimed that the Sodom story is about attempted male-on-male gang rape and inhospitality, not about loving same-sex monogamy and that the bans on male/male sex in Leviticus (which literally only indicate a ban on male-to-male anal sex) are dominated by purity and idolatry concerns. In both instances, I am claiming that the traditional readings of these passages read too much into them.

However, it would be dishonest to see such over-reading as purely a problem with traditionalists on this issue. Pro-GLBT revisionists have also been known to over-read some passages and I thought I should mention this briefly before the next major installment of my series.  There are two major examples of pro-glbt over readings in the Hebrew Scriptures:

  1. The relationship of Jonathan & David. In Tom Horner’s Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times, the author tries to argue that King David and Saul’s only son had a gay love affair. The King James Version says that David loved Jonathan “passing the love of women,” (2 Sam. 1:26) and in the stories of David’s long march to Saul’s throne, David and Jonathan repeatedly swear “covenants of love.” Sometimes they kiss. But this doesn’t really show what Horner and others hope it will: (a) In the Middle East and Africa (even today) and in much of the ancient world, male friends could kiss without it implying a romantic relationship, as women can in our culture. The kind of kiss (passionate Frenching vs. a peck on the cheek) is not described. And in cultures that are not as uptight as ours, deep male friendships can be described in terms that would set all our “gaydar” alarms going. (b) Or, the relationship may have been romantic. David’s marriages were for dynastic purposes and Jonathan may have been the one true love of his life. Even his heterosexual lusts (Abigail & Bathsheba) could simply mean that David was bi-sexual. But we don’t have enough information from our sources to be sure. (c) If the relationship between Jonathan & David WAS sexual, by itself this would say nothing about the morality of the relationship. There is no editorial comment in favor or against, but we know that David engaged in many actions that others (e.g., Nathan the prophet) condemned. Without explicit textual approval, this relationship, whatever its sexual nature, does little to advance a revisionist/inclusive case for GLBT persons in the church.
  2. Naomi & Ruth. Horner and others have also argued that the love of the Moabite woman Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi was a case of lesbian love. The case is even thinner, here. It is true that Ruth’s declaration of love for Naomi and vow to go with her to Israel (rather than seek a new husband in Moab) after the death of the men in the family is so passionate and so filled with overtones of covenant love that it has often been used in heterosexual wedding services with no reflection that this was a vow originally uttered between two women. Ruth’s faithfulness to the bitter Naomi is deeply moving. But there is no hint in the narrative that the relationship was ever physical–unlike the veiled references to Ruth’s seduction of Boaz at Naomi’s suggestion (to “uncover the feet” was a Hebrew euphemism for sex). So, though the plan to make Boaz fall in love with Ruth in order to become “kinsman redeemer” for both her and Naomi MAY have been completely utilitarian (for both women’s survival in a completely patriarchal society) and a cover for their deep love for each other–the text simply doesn’t say this or even hint strongly at it. Further, the editorial approval is of Ruth’s loyalty and of the actions taken to secure her marriage with Boaz (and thus become an ancestress of David). The narrator has no interest in the relationship of the women for its own sake.

Without strong editorial comments  by the biblical writers that would challenge a rule like the Levitical bans, narratives such as these can only hint that same-sex love was known in Scripture. It cannot challenge norms against same-sex relationships without explicit author/editor approval in Scripture. The most that could be said about such narratives is that they may reinforce the case that biblical condemnations of same-sex actions ARE focused on issues of purity, idolatry, and violence–not on issues of love. The positive argument for that case, however, is not greatly advanced by these passages.

February 14, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, GLBT issues, Hebrew Bible/O.T., homosexuality | 11 Comments