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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leviticus 17-20 and Homosexuality

Today in Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class, we continued our discussion of homosexuality. Today's class began by focusing on the section of Leviticus that includes its two mentions of the prohibition against "lying with men the lyings of women", usually understood to prohibit same-sex male intercourse.

It was crucial to begin by pointing out that some of the things in this part of Leviticus we do not consider necessary. And in spite of slogans that affirm belief in the whole Bible, it should be clear to those who have actually read the whole Bible that those who claim to do so in fact don't. We need to be honest that we not only are not doing everything the Bible says, but deep down we don't think that we should. And so a key question becomes was whether there is any underlying rationale for why some things continue to be practiced while others do not.

One route that is sometimes followed is to defer the matter to the New Testament: those things that are reaffirmed there remain in force, those things that are set aside there do not. But apart from the question of whether all the New Testament authors agreed about what did and did not remain in force, it must be asked whether there is an underlying rationale for what is and isn't maintained in the New Testament. We will, at any rate, discussion Romans 1-3 next time.

Whether we are dealing with homosexuality, shaving, tattoos or other subjects mentioned in this part of Leviticus, we are not given a clear rationale explaining why these things are prohibited. Sometimes attempts have been made to give a rationale - e.g. pork was prohibited to prevent disease, tattoos were prohibited because infection as a result was far more likely back then. But it must be asked whether such concerns are likely to have been in the minds of the Biblical authors.

A number of issues were touched on but set aside until we can consider them in their own right in a well-informed way. These included whether homosexuality's acceptance in society threatens traditional marriage, whether this is an issue about which Christians ought to agree to disagree, and whether, even if Christians agreed in viewing homosexuality as a sin, that would necessarily translate naturally into an attempt to impose Christians' views on others through legislation. The historic Baptist committment to the separation of church and state seems to point in a particular direction on this last point.

Perhaps the most important point to note, however, is how those who claim to be "defending traditional marriage" or "defending Biblical morality" in fact are picking and choosing in ways that suggest ulterior motives on their part. This part of Leviticus includes laws about honesty in business, payment of workers' wages, and treatment of foreigners living in one's territory. Why are such topics ignored by some in favor of a focus on homosexuality? Clearly it is not a desire to be faithful to the Bible that is at the heart of this, since the other matters mentioned are scarcely less pressing issues today. Why do those claiming to "defend marriage" not focus more on divorce, which is the subject of much clearer Biblical teaching and is more obviously a threat to heterosexual marriages? It seems obvious that there must be other motivating factors than those claims. Indeed, one possibility is that this simply reflects an instinct we all have, if we are honest, namely the tendency to focus on that which others are doing, to shift blame, find scapegoats, and see the shortcomings of others more clearly than our own. But on this matter the teaching of Jesus is clear: our focus ought to be on the beams in our own eyes, not on the splinters in others'.

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