I’ve been intrigued recently (again!) by how freely the word “abomination” is thrown around in any discussion dealing with homosexuality. It is often seen as the “conversation stopper” that ends any further discussion of understanding scripture in context.
Today “abomination” is defined as “a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc.” or “corruption, depravity.” But is that the meaning intended when it was used in Leviticus? I don’t think so.
There it is part of what has come to be called the “Holiness Code.” That has an interesting background, too. According to its location in the scriptural writings, Leviticus developed as a set of rituals and rules that the people–fairly newly freed slaves!–needed in order to know how to relate to each other and to God. They had been a people used to someone else telling them what they had to do every hour of the day. Now they were free to choose for themselves…how were they to choose wisely?
In their travels they made connection with other societies as well as bringing the Egyptian traditions with them. What was to keep them from being swallowed up in those other traditions?
According to the scripture, they were to “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The rules and regulations in Leviticus were to set them apart from the cultures around them. And so, how were they to do this?
The website http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh2.htm has an interesting article dealing with this question. It points out that the Holiness Code permits slavery (25:44). It requires
- a child to be killed if they curse their parents (20:9)
- persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)
- a priest’s daughter who becomes a prostitute to be burned alive (21:9)
- a priest’s bride to be a virgin (21:13)
- ritual killing of animals…cattle, sheep, and goats (22:19)
- keeping 7 feasts: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles (23)
- killing a person who takes the Lord’s name in vain (24:16)
Seems to me that if we believed this to be applicable today, there’d be a lot fewer people around!
The Holiness Code prohibits
- heterosexual intercourse during a woman’s time of menstruation (18:19)
- harvesting a field completely, even to the corners (19:9)
- eating fruit from a young tree (19:23)
- cross-breeding livestock (19:19)
- sowing a field with mixed seed (19:19)
- shaving or getting a haircut (19:27)
- tattoos (19:28)
- letting even a mildly disabled person become a priest/minister (21:18)
- charging interest on a loan (25:37)
- wearing clothes made from a blend of fibers (i.e., cotton and polyester today) (19:19)
- eating non-kosher foods (which would include shrimp) (20:25)
Many of us would be out of luck here as well.
We are called to be people who follow God as we understand it. But in my faith tradition we also have a song that has been a favorite for many years whose last line is “The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.” Maybe…just maybe…it’s time for us to let God do just that–and for us to understand that all scripture grows out of specific times and specific situations. There are general principles that can be understood from those specific laws…but, in my understanding, those can (and should) be based on the foundation of the two great commandments that Jesus gave. (This version of Matthew 22:37-40 is from a contemporary English translation, The Message):
Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”