Reading Ancient Texts in Our Time
Rehka Basa - 10 March, 2012
It was standing room only in Olmstead 312, and when there was no room for that, newcomers sat down in the aisle. The workshop, “Lost in Translation: Re-reading the Bible, Re-claiming Love,” took a contemporary look at biblical passages most often used by anti-gay crusaders. It was offered at Thursday’s Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
The conference had not been on my radar until I read Bob Vander Plaats’ Iowa View essay Monday, chiding Gov. Terry Branstad for allowing “Governor’s” to be in its title. He wrote: “Our leaders, led by our governor, are handing out sex devices, which undoubtedly promote promiscuity among our teens. They are allowing boys to use the girls’ restroom and vice versa.”
Unable to pass up the chance to see Branstad dispensing sex toys, and maybe run into him in the Ladies’ Room, I went. I never saw him, but made it into the Bible workshop. Those of us who promote gay equality invariably collide with opponents drawing their ammunition from its pages. You remind them of the separation of church and state, but can you debate them on the Bible?
Jennifer Harvey believes so. An ordained minister, she teaches religion at Drake. She’s not denying that passages like the Codes of Leviticus depict same-sex encounters as an unnatural abomination. But she views them in the context of their times. Leviticus also forbids mixing fabrics and touching pigskin, notes Harvey, but you don’t hear purists up in arms against footballs.
In Romans, Paul’s view of what is natural included male authority over females and slavery. “It’s absurd to import these to (2012),” said Harvey. “Paul would look at our classrooms and think something was wrong with female teaches teaching boys.”
Then there’s the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sexual predators come to Lot’s door demanding sex with his out-of-town guests. A good host, Lot refuses to turn over the men, so the townspeople have their way with him instead — but first he offers up his two virgin daughters. In Judges 19, men surround a house demanding the master send out his male guest. But he sends his virgin daughter and concubine, saying, “Ravish them and do whatever you want to them, but against this man, do not do such a vile thing.”
Harvey rightly wondered if that attitude should be held up. “Why aren’t we talking about the fact that they’re shoving women out in the streets to be raped?” she asked. And why should deploring gang rape of any sort lead to opposing mutual, consensual sex between same-sex couples?
The Bible deals with the sex part. “The sex part is not even 5 percent of my relationship with my boyfriend,” said Adam Gragg, a panelist who spoke of facing prejudice in Christian schools, resulting in several suicide attempts. Because it so permeates American culture, even non-religious young gays and lesbians can be deeply harmed by certain biblical passages, Harvey said. Politicians use them to argue against same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and even school anti-bullying provisions.
Most holy books were not written for our times and people learn to make accommodations. Catholics are not supposed to divorce, but many do. Sikhs are not supposed to cut their hair, but many do. The Torah tells Jews to keep kosher, but many don’t. If you’re going to be a purist, then include everything in the book. But don’t use it to demean other people for being who they are.
What young people heard Thursday may have saved a few lives.