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The Old Testament book of Leviticus prohibits gay sex for a very different reason than modern evangelical Chicken Littles usually imagine. Understand gay sex from the Ancient Near East to see that it makes no prohibition against gay sex or same-sex marriage as we understand them today.

But before we get to the scholarly critique of Leviticus that makes this argument, let’s warm up with the conclusion of our critique of an article titled, “How gay marriage harms people.”

7. “Children long for and tend to be healthier when raised by their biological mother and father.”

And children tend to be healthier in a two-parent rather than single-parent household. So if a divorced lesbian is a single mother with a child and wants to marry another woman, step out of the way. (Or is the health of children just another smokescreen?)

It’d be great if every marriage were strong, divorce was unnecessary, and every family lived in a safe and nurturing neighborhood and had no financial worries. But it’s an imaginary world where every family is perfect, and some children grow up without their biological parents. We need to get out of the way of institutions that could help, and the newly expanded definition of marriage is one way to do that.

8. “It should not be surprising that, once gay marriage is declared legal, those who oppose it are seen as enemies of the law.”

How? Because no longer can you write an anti-gay article without risk of prison? I think you’ve just falsified that fear.

If you want to speak out against same-sex marriage, I will support your right to do so, even as I write articles to show how hateful, agenda-driven, and thoughtless your arguments are. If you don’t like the fact that the public square is a challenging place for those with flawed arguments, then stay away.

But if your complaint is about the Kim Davises of the world unable to impose their religious views on other people or Christian bakers punished for telling same-sex couples “We don’t serve your kind here” when asked to bake a wedding cake, then I have no sympathy. Christians don’t get an exemption from the law.

9. As Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Do what you have to do. But know that in the real world, the secular Constitution is the foundation of the laws in the U.S. Violate those laws, and you’re punished, even if you’re a Christian. Remember that being a Christian and being able to share your moral opinions are legal in the U.S. thanks to the Constitution, not God.

See also: Does the Bible Reveal Objective Truth About Homosexuality?

If the prohibition in Leviticus is so important, we should understand what it meant

The article that explains gay sex from an Ancient Near Eastern perspective is “When a Man Lies with a Man as with a Woman” by Stephen J. Patterson (published in The Fourth R, May – June 2012). Dr. Patterson is a professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University.

This article outlines three meanings of male-male sex in the Ancient Near East. The first meaning was domination during wartime, as seen today in rape in prison. This was violence, not gay sex.

The second meaning was sexual pleasure, something a man might do with a slave or servant in the absence of a female partner. A man wasn’t debased by this activity as long as he acted as a man, not a woman—that is, that he was the actor, not the recipient.

This activity was sometimes considered exploitative, however, both because the servant might not be able to refuse and because it demeaned him to be the recipient in homosexual activity.

When gay sex is a religious ritual

The third meaning was religious. In the Ancient Near East, where a successful harvest was uncertain, fertility rituals were common. Priests were the gods’ agents on earth, and fertility was ensured by planting one’s seed in a priest, who was imagined to be androgynous like the god he represented.

In none of these cases of male-male sex from biblical times was homosexuality a factor. Indeed, the opposite was assumed. In the case of rape during wartime, the actor was taking the role of male, humiliating his opponent by forcing him into the feminine role. In the case of recreation, the man is acting as a man, with the servant assuming the role of the woman. And in the case of the fertility ritual, the man is planting his seed in an (imagined) female. While gay sex as we understand it today—sex between two men who identify as homosexual—was likely practiced, it isn’t part of these three meanings and isn’t discussed in the surviving literature.

Given this background, let’s apply it to the prohibition “don’t lie with a man as one does a woman” in Leviticus. Patterson says that most scholars think that this kind of homosexuality is in the third category, the fertility rite, because of the word used to condemn it, “abomination.” This is the word used for religious offense. Judaism had no fertility rite like this, and a rite that called on other gods, as this one did, would obviously be offensive to Yahweh.

What about the issue at hand, using the Bible to criticize homosexual relationships as we understand them today? Patterson says that while we can’t be certain that we understand the original meaning of the relevant passages in Leviticus,

We can say very clearly what the Levitical prohibition does not mean. It does not forbid falling in love with another man and having intimate sexual relations with him. Male-male sex just did not have that connotation in the Ancient Near East. . . . Male-male sex in the Ancient Near East does not mean “I love you.” It means “I own you.” Today, of course, it is different. Male-male sex can mean “I love you.” To such a thing Leviticus offers no comment.

Not only have Christians themselves dispensed with the Levitical ritual laws, but even if they were still in force, they say nothing to inform the Christian of the correct response to modern homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

Christian fundamentalism:
the doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful,
infinitely knowledgeable, universe spanning entity
that is deeply and personally concerned about my sex life.
— Andrew Lias

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2017-8-2.)

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...