Page 18


Reclaiming the Bible BY RALPH C. LASHER CHRISTIANITY IS a religion based on the ministry and teachings of Jesus, whose life was clearly one of love, heal ing and forgiveness. He summarized his own teaching: “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourwas inclusive: “For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish Yet we all know that atrocities have been cloaked in Bible verses and committed in Christ’s name. Several examples include: The Crusades, in which men, women and children were slaughtered in Jesus’ name; The Inquisition, which tortured and murdered and called itself “Holy”; The enslavement of people throughout the world by “Christians”; The burning of witches in the name of the church. Today, another injustice, cloaked in Bible verse, is being committed against people for whom Christ lived and died. It is the oppression, bashing and sometimes even murder of gays and lesbians. Those who seek to justify their homophobia and the behavior it encourages cite several Biblical passages, which they claim condemn gays and lesbians. Most often they quote from the King James Version. I was raised on the King James and can recite large portions of it. I love its poetry and beautiful language. But I don’t use it or recommend it for study. For study, I prefer the New International Version. Before it was written, the Bible circulated in oral form, some parts of it for several hundred years. The Old Testament was first written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The King James, written in 1611 when James I was king of England, is not the oldest English translation of the Bible, which was first translated into English 229 years earlier in 1382, by a man named Wycliffe. Rev. Ralph Lasher, who holds a master’s degree in divinity, was an Episcopal priest who was asked to resign from the church 35 years ago after he announced he was gay. He is executive director of Houston’s Montrose Clinic and serves as a volunteer member of the clergy staff of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Resurrection, where he teaches a course in “Homosexuality and the Bible.” Modern Biblical scholars generally do not regard the King James as the most accurate English translation. They cite its numerous misspellings; the use of a variety of English words to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word; the overuse of terms derived from the Latin, which resulted in inaccurate translations; and the obscurity of Elizabethan English to today’s speakers of English. In addition, more accurate Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible have been discovered since the mid19th century. But perhaps because of its longevity and poetry, the King James is still the best known and most used, though more and more churches today also use the newer, more accurate translations. Accuracy becomes an issue, for example, when the King James uses the word “homosexual,” although there is no such word in the original languages. Respected English translations such as the Revised Revised Standard Version \(completed about which is not the same as “homosexuals.” The Sodom Story People who use Scripture to condemn gays and lesbians usually begin with the Sodom word Sodom has given birth to the word “sodomy,” which as a legal term usually refers to sexual activities between two males. But the Sodom story could more accurately be called the story of Lot. Whatever else it is, it is not a condemnation of a loving relationships between men, or even of consensual sex between men. Lot, a good Hebrew, invited two men traveling through his town to spend the night in his house. In those days, there was no Holiday Inn, and it was customary for good Hebrews to be hospitable to Hebrew travelers. Shortly after he had taken the two strangers into his house a mob of men began banging on Lot’s door, demanding that he send the two guests out so they could be raped so the mob could “know” them. The Hebrew word for “know” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Rape of a man was a custom usually reserved for prisoners captured in battle. It was an extreme humiliation since it treated a man like a woman, and women were considered inferior. Lot, a good Hebrew, had a different suggestion. He told the mob they shouldn’t rape his male guests because as his guests they were under his “protection.” Instead, Lot suggested they rape his two virgin daughters. Lot and his family were allowed to escape from the city before it was destroyed. Scripture contains two explanations for the sin of Sodom, neither of which refers to anything having to do with sex between two males Scripture says the sin of Sodom was failure to meet the needs of the poor, and the worship of false gods. To complete the story, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Then Lot and his two daughters had sexual intercourse, and both daughters became pregnant. The story is one of rape of men and women, violence and incest. It has nothing to do with same-gender love and clearly does not condemn gays and lesbians. Levitical Holiness Code The Levitical Holiness Code comprises a large part of the Book of Leviticus and specifies what a Jew had to know in order to live a righteous life. In the heart of this codification of laws are two verses, both of which say the same thing: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. It is detestable.” \(Leviticus “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done It is these verses that the Religious Right quote as “proof’ that homosexuality is an “abomination” and is “detestable” to God. The Hebrew word variously translated as “abomination” or “detestable” is the same word and simply means ritually unclean. In the context of the Holiness Code it referred to practices associated with idol worship, that is persons who worshipped a god other than the Hebrew god. The practice condemned in the two cited passages of Leviticus is male prostitution in the temple. Pagan cults often had male and female prostitutes working, so to speak, as members of the temple staff. It was this practiee, rather than loving relationships between persons of the same gender, that the Holiness Code condemned. Yet those those who claim “God’s Law” condemns gays and lesbians never claim that the the hundreds of other provisions of the Holiness Code also apply to today’s to Christians. Other provisions of the Holiness Code forbid such things as: eating shrimp, clams, craw THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25