When I was about eight years old I concocted a plan to get my hands on a free Bible.
Not because I was into religion but because I loved books. This one had vellum-like paper, black leather binding, gold printing on the spine and a built-in red silk bookmark. It was beautiful.
And best of all it was free. All I had to do was attend Sunday school seven times in a row and it was mine!
I convinced my younger brother to come with me.
On the second Sunday, during a lesson on that story about all those animals trying to squeeze into a ridiculously small boat, my brother felt compelled to ask a question. Despite my instructions to keep quiet and follow my lead, his curiosity got the better of him.
“Who is that naked man and why is he dangling from that piece of wood?” he asked.
I was too embarrassed to return to Sunday school so I never got my Bible.
But the desire to be the owner of a Bible stuck with me. I sensed this was an important book. After all, it has shaped the course of history for at least the last 2,000 years.
I especially needed to see what this book had to say about being gay. I was aware of the general point of view-gays are evil and all who go down that path are going to spend eternity in hell-but I needed to see the words for myself.
So I got myself a copy and I read it. From beginning to end. I came to the conclusion that some passages, taken literally, were very damning indeed.
But I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t supposed to be read literally-that there must be a deeper, more important meaning interwoven among the centuries-old stories.
I became incensed by the use of this literal translation to condemn homosexuals. Every time an evangelical Christian pontificated on the place of homosexuals in God’s world I got angrier. Deep down inside I knew their literal interpretation was wrong.
And as it turns out, it is wrong.
A colleague recently gave me a copy of What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A Helminiak. It examines those passages in the Bible usually used to condemn homosexuals and debunks the myths. Apparently God doesn’t give a damn if we’re gay. He just wants us to be nice to each other!
Helminiak explains in detail how the literal interpretations used to condemn homosexuality are wrong. The historical culture of when the passages were written needs to be taken into account, he says, adding that some words have also been incorrectly translated. When you interpret the stories with this in mind, you get a very different meaning than those preached by Fred Phelps, Jimmy Swaggert or Stockwell Day.
For example, we have all been told that the city and citizens of Sodom were destroyed because of homosexuality-specifically male anal sex. And a flippant reading of the text might give you that impression.
But upon closer examination, the story reveals a much different reason for God’s apparent wrath.
You see, there was a rule well known in Semitic and Arabic cultures. People were required to welcome strangers into their homes and offer food, shelter and comfort to travellers as a night in the desert could be fatal. This idea of offering hospitality and treating others the way you would expect to be treated is repeated throughout the Bible. You may have heard of it, it’s called the Golden Rule. This rule of hospitality even applied when the traveller was your sworn enemy.
The story of Sodom tells how Lot and his family, following this rule, offered shelter to visiting strangers. But the people of Sodom felt threatened by these visitors. They surrounded Lot’s house and demanded he send the visitors outside so that they could rape and humiliate them-their way of showing the strangers that they were unwelcome. This action undeniably violated God’s cardinal rule of hospitality.
Clearly this story is not about gay sex. God punished Sodom because the city did not treat others with respect and dignity. According to the culture of the time, the people of Sodom broke the rules of hospitality by attempting to humiliate strangers seeking shelter and treat them as inferior. That was Sodom’s sin. They were a mean-spirited nation who did not treat others with respect.
And this is my Bible, the one I was so eager to get from Sunday school. It says nothing about God hating gays. It only talks about treating others with respect, dignity and equality.
As Helminiak eloquently illustrates, there is a sad irony to the word sodomite. Some may call me a sodomite but, according to the Bible, sodomites are those that treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens, deny us equal access to basic human rights, denounce us from the altar and halls of government, vilify us in the name of God, taunt us in the school hallways, beat us to a pulp in the schoolyard, and kill us in city streets and parks.