Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bible No Block to Gay Rights

The outlook for human equality is a bit rosier these days.

Recently, the Conservative Jewish seminary in Israel ignored long-time opposition and approved ordination of gays and lesbians. This seems like something new, but it really isn’t.  Four years ago, the U.S. branch of the denomination permitted gay and lesbian students into its seminaries and already has a lesbian rabbi.

The difference is that this latest step occurred in Israel, the Jewish homeland.  This is akin to when the Irish and the Italians, both staunchly Catholic, legalized abortion in defiance of church teachings.

Conservative Jews fall midway between the more liberal Reform and the stricter Orthodox.  At this point, Orthodox denominations have shown no interest gay rabbis.  Of course, members also don’t believe the Reform or Conservative Jews are really Jewish.

They maintain tight borders on their belief, stifling dissent.  That puts them in good company with a host of other religious diehards.  However, the walls are falling elsewhere.

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Some members of the Church of Latter Day Saints recently announced that they were no longer adamantly anti-gay.  That’s a huge change in attitude. Leaders of the Utah-based church have publicly objected to gay marriages and the homosexuals in general.  Mormons continue to be ardent opponents to civil unions and put tons of money into the successful California campaign to ban gay marriages.  For example, Alan C. Ashton, the grandson of a former president of the Mormon Church, chipped in $1 million at the last minute to underwrite the necessary advertising.

However, as Mitch Maybe, a California LDS leader, noted, “Here in the Bay Area … we are no longer seeking out LGBT members of the church and excommunicating them. Our role is to bring people closer to the Savior, so if we are routinely excommunicating people, then we are really not doing our job.”

These small breaches in hard-line attitudes reflect the problems of pushing against entrenched tradition.  For some reason, many people find it hard to accept that tradition has been created by humans and is, therefore, hardly immutable.

Ironically, pro-life advocates insist that pro-choice rules were created as a result of legislation and legal decisions.  Therefore, they can be changed.  It’s a two-edged sword.  That’s also true for traditions, which have changed.

The Biblical laws are no exception.  They still exist, but reality has changed.  No one, to my knowledge, regularly sacrifices a bullock to God as required in the Bible.  No one avoids wearing clothing with mixed wool and linen (Lev: 19-19), shuns menstruating women (Lev: 15-19) or stones adulterers (Lev: 20:27).  Cursing is banned in the Bible (Ephesians 5:4), but that doesn’t seem to deter today's rap performers or teenagers, among others.

Do you keep the Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8)?  Probably not, since the definition of holy is rather elusive.

Many other laws no longer considered remotely valid.  Biblical punishments after all including burning at the stake (Lev: 21:9). The disabled are specifically prohibited from go to the “altar of God.” (Lev: 21:17) People who convert are liable to be stoned (Deut: 13:6-10).  In fact, anyone from a different religion faces capital punishment (Deut: 17-2-7).

No one would consider such nonsense these days, nor are they violating any divine rules by not obeying biblical dictates.  Noted biblical scholar Richard E. Friedman explained: “An act or an object that is not a to'ebah (offensive thing) can become one, depending on time and circumstances. The word to'ebah does not automatically mean that something is immoral. Depending on the context, the period and the persons involved, it means that it offends some group.”

The Bible separates divine law from human law by adding the phrase “offensive thing to the Lord” when a rule carries a heavenly sanction.  That’s not the case with most of the biblical laws, including those regarding homosexual behavior.

Friedman added: “…whatever position one takes on this matter, left or right, conservative or liberal, one should acknowledge that the law really does forbid homosexual sex between males but not between females. And one should recognize that the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive.”

Clearly, based on polls, a majority of Americans no longer condemns homosexuality.  In 2010, for the first time, a Gallup poll on Americans’ acceptance of gay relations found that 52 percent of us find them morally acceptable. “Notably,” the report said, “there has been a 16-point jump in acceptance among Catholics, nearly three times the increase seen among Protestants. Acceptance among Americans with no religious identity has expanded as well.”

Perhaps, more people are finally realizing that people, lifestyles and a variety of other realities have changed since the Bible was codified.  We now know a lot about genetics, information that helps clarify sexuality as well as other behaviors.  There’s no question that much of what we think and do is dictated by our genes.  The biblical authors were smart enough to recognize that ideas and attitudes could be different centuries later.

It’s about time those opposed to equality do the same thing.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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