Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quoting Scripture to One's Purpose

A loyal reader passed along this link to a funny protest sign, headed "Gay People Can Quote the Bible Too." Why, sure we can; I'm fairly good at it myself. And many gay people are Christians, a detail as often forgotten by Barack Obama as by the Religious Right, so of course they quote the Bible. And it's good to remind Christians of all sexualities and denominations that there are parts of the Bible they'd rather forget, which I guess is the point of this sign.

But why do gay Christians so often pick on the Hebrew Bible, their "Old Testament"? It's not as if there aren't plenty of embarrassing passages in the New Testament, including the Gospels. This had occurred to me before, when I was writing a column in the student paper, and it might still be relevant today. It was originally printed on April 6, 2001.
"Dr." Laura Schlessinger's television show has ceased production, to the jubilation of many gay people. I'm not going to go into the free speech issues involved in the "Stop Dr. Laura" campaign, nor the misogyny in so many gay men's hostility to her.

I've noticed that many of the same gay men who railed against Schlessinger are now discovering that Marshall "Eminem" Mathers' antigay rhymes are really brilliant satire and are invoking the First Amendment to attack anti-defamation groups for criticizing him. I guess it's the rough-trade factor: a dirty-talking tough boy makes many gay men go all trembly. But I digress.

What I want to address is the severe selectivity with which Schlessinger's gay critics poked fun at her use of the Bible to prop up her bigotry. A widely-circulated bit of netlore, "A Letter to Dr. Laura," sarcastically asked Schlessinger's advice on application of certain Torah passages to matters such as animal sacrifice, slavery, sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman, the eating of shellfish and so on -- familiar topics from gay Christian theology. I suspect that the writer of this "letter" is a Christian, not a Jew; but even if I'm wrong, this sort of polemic, when circulated among Christians, has overtones that are absent when one Jew disputes with another.

Gay Christians generally attack either Judaism (identified with the Torah) or the Apostle Paul, a wicked Pharisee who supposedly sold out Jesus' simple and beautiful teachings by making Christianity conform to Judaism. They treat Jesus either as if he were not a Jew at all, or at least completely emancipated from supposed Jewish legalism and superstition. They stress that Jesus never directly spoke about homosexuality (true, in a narrow literal sense), and that he taught "love" -- unlike his fellow Jews, who presumably thought hatred was a good thing. Evidently they're unaware that when Jesus said to love one's neighbor, he was quoting the Torah in the book of Leviticus.

Gay Christians often say they follow Jesus' teachings rather than those of Paul or "the Old Testament." Fair enough. I submit here my own letter to gay Christians, asking for their help in following some of Jesus' commandments.

How, for example, am I to obey Jesus' command (Matthew 5:29) to pluck out my eye if it leads me to sin? Am I allowed to use anesthetics? What sort of tool should I use? And what if my remaining eye leads me to sin?

Similar questions arise from his order to lop off one's hand (Matthew 5:30) or his endorsement of those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12). Ouch. But what shall it profit a man if he keep his testicles, yet lose his soul?

According to Mark, Jesus refused to meet his mother and brothers, saying that his followers and disciples were his mother and brothers. Jesus forbade one of his disciples to return home for his father's funeral, ordering him to leave the dead to bury the dead (Matthew 8:22). He declared that he had come to cause strife among family members (Matthew 10:35-36); that anyone who came to him but did not hate his family could not be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Isn't this the sort of cultlike teaching that got the Moonies in trouble?

On several occasions Jesus said unkind things about the rich (Luke 6:24): that it is virtually impossible for them to go to heaven (Mark 10:25) and that, to become his disciple, they must sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor (Mark 10:21). He told his disciples not to bother providing for their futures (Luke 12:32): what they would eat, where they would sleep and so on. I don't see too many Christians obeying these commands. At most they let a few religious professionals live simple lives, but this has no basis I can find in Jesus' teachings. So, gay Christians, how about it?

Finally, Jesus taught that marriage was forever -- or at least, for a lifetime. A divorced person who remarried, he said, committed adultery against his or her former spouse (Mark 10:11-12). I haven't heard gay Christians say much about this in their quest for same-sex marriage: Are they ready to renounce divorce?

Some will protest that I'm taking these verses out of context. Perhaps, but so did the author of "A Letter to Dr. Laura," which many gay Christians considered a devastating and hilarious rebuttal. Or perhaps I'm taking these passages too literally? Dear gay Christians, I'm not taking them any way. I'm challenging you to live up to all of Jesus' teachings, as you challenged Laura Schlessinger to live up to the Torah.