Sermon - 10th January 2016
The Bible and sexuality 1: Love versus Law
Scripture - Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Ruth 1:14-18
[An audio version (mp3) of this sermon is available via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.
I have not been a Christian all my life. I was not brought up with any religion or faith. I was christened into Church of England but neither of my parents were church goers.
In-fact the only person in my family that was religious was my Nana. She was born in Malta, which is a small island in the Mediterranean, just near Italy and Sicily and so she was raised a strict Roman Catholic. Her religion impressed and intrigued me but at the same time as I got older and I realized that I was gay, it also then terrified me because I didn’t know how she would react to me being gay. She was the only person that I couldn’t come to because I was so apprehensive.
When I was 17, I started to attend an independent Christian church and it was here that I seriously began to consider God and what it meant to be a Christian. A year later, I also realized that I could no longer ignore my attraction to women. I knew I had to come out to my family and friends and this included the church I belonged to at the time.
My family and my friends were brilliant; the church however was not. I was asked to leave, told I was sinning and that I should never have been working with the youth group.
I can still remember walking home in such a confused and angry state because there was this huge internal conflict. How could I be told God loves me but then be asked to leave a church?
How could I be treated like this. Is this what God’s love looked like?
I suspect that if I went around this room that most of us have a similar story about our faith and our sexuality.
I know now that God has made me a lesbian and I was completely comfortable in that and if Christianity is about love, well then how could any of us be treated in such a way.
Unfortunately, quite often it is this that creates divisions. (hold up a Bible).
The Bible has been quoted to me numerous times, not just by people who want to tell me that I am wrong but by people who love me and are concerned that I am going to hell and they don’t want me to.
Over the next 5 weeks or so, we are going to be looking at some of the passages in the Bible that allude to homosexuality and hopefully be able to look honestly at them, good or bad.
The first ones are from Leviticus
[Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13]
So – the abominations! The definition of an abomination is a thing that causes disgust or loathing or a feeling of hatred.
That is some pretty harsh language – when for us this abomination, that is quoted to us, actually means love for us.
But we have to put into context…the society in that day had a very strict code of uniformity and anything seen to deviate from that was seen as an abomination.
This text is 3500 years old and the world and society were very very different to now. This text was written in a society that was completely dominated by men and its rules were structured for men. Women were just the property of men and when it comes to sex then the rules were that men are to penetrate and women are to be penetrated.
If a man penetrated a married woman then it was viewed not as unfaithfulness but instead that there had been a violation of the property – the woman. Men literally proved ownership by penetration.
In both of these passages from Leviticus the lying described is talking about penetration and not homosexuality. It is alluding to anal penetration between men. It is discussing this sexual act, not love.
Penetrative sex in this culture was all about the dominance and possession of females by males. So if a man were to be penetrated by another man, then the one who had been penetrated would have assumed the role of a woman and gender roles were definitely something that were not be confused because it would undermine the rules of which the whole society works upon. To mess about with this would be threaten the stability of that culture.
So it is a pretty big deal – but nothing to do with homosexual love and everything to do with the hierarchy and rigidness of the society.
Also – most of the other abominations we discredit with ease, for instance – if my kids don’t do what I say – I don’t kill them, I may consider it on occasion!
I am not too worried about the fabric mix of my clothes but yet somehow this passage about sexual relations between men is always used by fundamentalists and often by people in authority from the countries of which some of you have had to flee in order to try to say that God doesn’t approve of homosexuality.
But most of the other abominations can be discredited as out of date and irrelevant. So why can’t people get passed this passage!
I wonder how we have felt about this passage – is it something we as LGBT people feel we have to avoid or do we dread it being brought up. I know when we tackled these passages in my university class – it was the one session that I felt so very uncomfortable to attend. No more though.
This passage was written to underpin a society that we would not accept today. How women are treated as property and something to be penetrated in order to own.
We would not accept this today and so nor should be accept these passages as God’s word on LGBT people.
The abominations – the serious ones are often repeated through out the Bible, like for adultery. This isn’t repeated or mentioned again. There is no mention of lesbians at all. Perhaps because the hate and discrimination of LGBT folk is purely man-made and as nothing to do with God at all.
There are many texts in the Bible though that can be viewed as positive for LGBT people.
We are going to look at one of those now. The story of Ruth and Naomi – is found the Old Testament book of Ruth.
[Ruth 1 14:18]
Naomi had had to leave her native Judah and her and her 2 sons moved to Moab because of a terrible famine. Her sons married Ruth and Orpah who were both born in Moab. Tragically both sons and Noami’s husband all died and so at the beginning of this story Naomi has decided to go back to Judah and both Orpah and Ruth want to go with Naomi.
She persuades Orpah to stay because she will have a better chance of remarrying in their native land. Ruth however will not leave her. She is completely devoted to Naomi as we can hear.
When Ruth says:
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
This is interpreted by many as more than love for her mother-in-law but that these women were in fact lovers.
Indeed at the beginning where Ruth Is described as clinging to Naomi – the Hebrew translation of the word 'clung' is the same as the word that describes marriage. This text feels like a devotion to a lover, not a mother in law. In-fact it is often used in weddings to declare the depth of love and emotion that they have for one another.
Ruth would have been much better to have stayed in her homeland of Moab but she insisted on going as an immigrant with Naomi. Later on in the book, Naomi finds a new husband for Ruth in the wealthy but old, Boaz. This is often interpreted as a marriage to cover up their lesbian relationship.
Ruth is so blessed by God that she bears a son who is a blood relative of both King David and Jesus. What a huge blessing – very interestingly though in chapter 4 when Ruth has bore her son – we are told that it was Naomi that took the child and started breastfeeding him. And, as it was tradition that when the women of the neighborhood gave him a name – it was announced that the son had been born to Naomi…?!Not Boaz
Why on earth would they put Naomi’s name in the announcement in place of Boaz. It was like they were announcing Naomi as the father and she was already breastfeeding the baby – so actually in this family picture Boaz appears to have been nothing more than a sperm donor and Ruth, Naomi and the baby were a family.
God has nothing to say about this what so ever – in fact they were greatly blessed.
This story is interpreted differently by different people; some recognize it as a lesbian love story in the Bible. Others recognize it as Ruth being devoted to Naomi.
I think we have to be as careful and not leap to an interpretation that suits us because we are just then doing the same as the other but just in reverse. But it feels so much more accepting and loving because it affirms a love that is not laid out by the rigid rules of the patriarchal society that we experience in Leviticus. Where love and devotion far from being judged, are rewarded by God.
And as for my Nana who I was so terrified about telling I was gay because she was such a strict Catholic – well – I told her on a fishing boat in the sea when we were in Malta together. Just in case she shouted at me – she couldn’t go anywhere!
She told me she loved me, no matter what, instead. And surely that is the point!
Will you all please pray with me …
God of love,
We pray as we carry on throughout this series, that our hearts and minds will be open.
That as we grapple with text that has been painfully and so costly to so many – that we can move forward with truth, mercy and a better understanding perhaps of the Bible and the truths that lie within it.
We pray for those who use the Bible as a weapon against LGBT people,
that instead of fear and hate that love shine into the darkness of hate.