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August 8, 2012

Civil Rights Protections for Gays and Lesbians

A longer version of this blog appeared in the Springfield News-Leader on August 16, 2012, page 5B under the title “Bible doesn’t say much about gays.”

Read/Post Comments (3)

The News-Leader Editorial Board gets it right in supporting civil rights protections for gays and Lesbians and encouraging the City Council to include them in the ordinance prohibiting discrimination (8/5/12 E3) (Springfield News Leader). The rationale is simple. Homosexual citizens should enjoy the same civil rights as heterosexual citizens.

     A “homosexual” is someone sexually attracted to persons of the same gender. Why should anyone be hostile toward someone who is attracted to another of the same sex? People can’t control what arouses them sexually, although all of us must control sexual behavior. Erotic attraction, however, is pretty much automatic—built into our genes, as it were.

     Someone who feels threatened by homosexuality is called a “homophobe” (fear of one and the same [gender]). Homophobes do not usually fear physical harm from those erotically aroused by others of their own gender. What they primarily fear is their “difference.” This different sexual orientation threatens what many regard as the dominant sexual morality of modern society. The “difference” is imagined as an attack on the social bedrocks of heterosexual society: marriage, family, home, conventional morality, traditional male and female roles, etc. In short, homosexuality threatens the homophobe’s own masculinity or femininity.

     Church folk argue that the “Bible” condemns homosexuality. But the Bible actually says very little about homosexuality. Only three texts speak specifically on point about homosexuality: Two in the Jewish Bible (Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13) and one in the New Testament (Rom 1:26-27). Other texts, frequently cited in denouncing homosexuality, must be nuanced to make the biblical texts applicable. In other words, when other texts do not specifically refer to homosexuality, they are made to do so by how they are explained.

     I have often pondered why religious people feel the need to be so aggressive about these three texts, and ignore the many other strange moral ideas found in the Bible. For example, the Bible also says: Don’t wear garments made of blended material (Lev 19:19); put adulterers to death (Lev 20:10); parents have your stubborn and rebellious sons stoned (Deut 21:18-21); women keep silent in church (1 Tim 2:11-12); only sea life with fins and scales can be eaten –everything else is an abomination (Lev 11:9-17). Oddly this last denunciation is exactly what the Bible says about homosexuality! Eating shrimp and homosexuality are equally weighted offenses and both are denounced as “abominations”! So why ignore the religious law related to sea life, but make an issue of homosexuality? Homophobes lose the moral edge of their argument when they are selectively outraged over one issue and ignore the rest of the Bible’s frequently peculiar ideas about morality.

     Paul had a problem with homosexuality—but Jesus did not. Jesus does not mention homosexuality. Jesus did, however, recommend castration “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:11-12)—Today very few accept the challenge to become a eunuch for the kingdom. A related idea is found in Paul’s writings; Paul recommended celibacy (i.e., stay single, 1 Cor 7:1-8, 36-40). In short, heterosexual coitus and heterosexual marriage were both concessions to human weakness. Paul condemned homosexuality, and he didn’t think much of heterosexual marriage either.

     These three texts condemning homosexuality are today used to deny many citizens full participation in civil society and in faith communities. Jesus, however, was inclusive, and invited everyone to participate (Matt 11:28-29) in the kingdom. Only those who thought of the kingdom as their own special possession (Matt 8:11-12) were excluded. But there appears to be no particular social status (viz., Matt 21:31) that automatically excluded anyone from the kingdom of God.

(An earlier version of these comments on homosexuality were first posted on the blog 3/26/09)

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 9:00am

Thanks again for your decent thoughts!
Gloria Doan
Every good wish for you today!
Posted by Gloria Doan on 8/16/2012 at 6:54am

Thank you for this valuable posting, Charles. This issue is often shrouded in opinion unfettered by biblical facts. I appreciate you setting the record straight so that I can accurately refer to the biblical references. It is heartening to read that Springfield leaders are acting in a progressive manner.
Cliff Schuette
Posted by Cliff Schuette on 8/14/2012 at 10:31am

Much of the talk these days regards civil rights that include marriage, with some proposing the “biblical view of marriage.” If one examines the “biblical view of marriage,” we find that it includes polygamy, selling daughters and wives to others, taking captured women (who are beautiful) for oneself, in the case of David having a husband (Uriah) killed so he could have Uriah’s wife, and belief that a husband’s rule over his wife or wives, is supreme. Like all of those views except the last one, which is still “lagging,” I have hope that, despite religious hurdles, equality will some day extend to homosexuals, women, and others who are marginalized. If marriage is a religious matter, let the religious work out their fear without cowering behind the state for support of their bigotry. If it is a civil union, the state has a responsibility to sanction the union of two people who would marry. Period. The weddings of gay and lesbian friends I have attended were not sanctioned by either religion or state. They were sanctioned by love, love not recognized by the state, scorned by the major religious sects.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Posted by Dennis Dean Carpenter on 8/8/2012 at 2:48pm