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


  1. Good post. The most important aspect of biblical interpretation is CONTEXT. The 2nd most important aspect is CONTEXT. The 3rd most import aspect is CONTEXT.

    It is interesting that the most frequently overlooked aspect of biblical interpretation is also CONTEXT!

    Comment by DaNutz | February 14, 2007

  2. My main problem with the usage of Jonathan/David and Ruth/Naomi as possible examples of homosexuality is that it seems to equate love with lust and thereby debases the entire concept of love.

    Comment by Looney | February 14, 2007

  3. Looney, you keep allowing your prejudices to determine what you see in the text, i.e., your belief that all same-sex relationships are ones of lust. Lust happens with both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and so does love.
    My purpose in bringing up these narratives was merely to show that they do not show what revisionist interpreters hope–even if the relationships were same-sex romantic in nature.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 14, 2007

  4. Why not admit the texts say what they say and mean just what they appear to mean, and that the Bible is fiercely homophobic from beginning to end?

    Why not just admit much of the moral outlook of the Bible is patriarchal, superstitious, homophobic, xenophobic, pro-genocidal, downright cruel, and just wrong?

    Most people already admits it’s wrong on cosmology and natural history.

    Many admit that some of its many different strands and fragments of theology are seriously defective, and most liberals reject all of its miracles, as well as pretty much all the doctrines Catholics refer to as ‘mysteries’ like the Incarnation and the Trinity.

    And who among your readers accepts the full-blooded, Catholic view of transubstantiation?

    So let it go. Yes, the texts are all against the gays. But they’re against women, too, as equals in marriage and society, let alone in the church and in the clergy. Who follows Paul and the rest on that stuff, anymmore?

    And who accepts that divorce should either be impossible or possible only in case adultery can be proved?

    Let it go.

    Comment by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus | February 15, 2007

  5. That is not a view I share.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 15, 2007

  6. “the Bible is fiercely homophobic from beginning to end?”

    Well, for one reason: The Bible is largely silent on homosexuality from beginning to end. There’s certainly a case to be made that the few (handful) places where the Bible does appear to address homosexuality, it does seem fairly hostile towards it.

    But one question some have is, IS the Bible addressing homosexuality itself OR is it addressing specific types of sexual immorality?

    As to the Bible and women, I’d disagree that the Bible is uniformly against women. It strikes me as a document of its times, with the corresponding prejudices and belief sets, but it is oftentimes quite progressive in its treatment towards women.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | February 16, 2007

  7. What Dan said.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 16, 2007

  8. I did not say the Bible was against women. I said it is against women as equals in the family and the church. I think I’ll stand by that.

    As to homosexuality, it’s true the Bible does not mention it a lot. But it’s always disgusted and hostile when it does. A bit much, don’t you think, what God did to Sodom for its penchant?

    So I’ll stand by my claim the Bible is homophobic, too.

    Comment by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus | February 16, 2007

  9. I think, Gaius, that you need to read the previous posts in my series. I am arguing that Scripture does not really deal with the modern understanding of “homosexuality” as a sexual orientation at all. I deal explicitly with the Sodom story.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 16, 2007

  10. For Gaius and others who need to review this whole series to see why I am taking the approach I am (a plodding, careful approach for a revisionist case for full inclusion/equality for GLBT folks in church), see the following:




    and http://anabaptist418.blogspot.com/2007/01/glbt-persons-in-church-case-for-full_30.html

    For those who like to skip straight to conclusions similar to mine, see Kim Fabricius great post, here:

    That should catch everyone up before I go next to the New Testament writings.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 16, 2007

  11. […] forgotten it. For the previous posts in this series, see one, two, three, four, five, and this one. We come, at last, to the New Testament.  We shall have to spend much time (I anticipate 2 posts) […]

    Pingback by GLBT Persons in Church: The Case for Full Inclusion,6 « Levellers | March 23, 2007

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