The Bible And Homosexuality
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Many Christians who say they believe in the literal truth of the Bible express deep compassion toward people who are homosexual. Others are more strident in their opposition. But just about all fundamentalist Christians say they cannot accept homosexuality because the Bible condemns it. But just what does the Bible say about homosexuality? One local attorney began researching that question and the result is a new book. I'd like to welcome San Diego author Linda Patterson, here to talk about that book titled “Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality.” And, Linda, welcome to These Days.
LINDA PATTERSON (Author): It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.
CAVANAUGH: I’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you think the Bible’s conjunctions against homosexuality are used out of context? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Now, you give a story at the beginning of your book, “Hate Thy Neighbor,” about why you decided to write this book, and share that with us, Linda.
PATTERSON: Well, I decided to write – the book started out as a personal project just for myself. After many years of being Christian and growing up homophobic myself, and then coming out as a lesbian about the age of 28, the issue had been on my mind for a number of years. The impetus for writing the book came a couple of years ago at Gay Pride Parade where there was a preacher standing on the street corner with a bullhorn, ranting and raving about Sodom and Gomorrah and we’re all going to hell. And it seemed to me it was to the preacher’s great delight, and I was completely appalled by his demeanor, his attitude. It was a, you know – people were walking through the parade holding hands, laughing, and here was this purported preacher telling us we’re all going to hell.
CAVANAUGH: Right. And…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, go ahead.
PATTERSON: Oh, sorry. So I went to meet my friends for brunch and we were sitting around sort of talking about what does the Bible say, and none of us really knew. So I decided to look into it myself, and was so shocked by how badly misinformed people are on the subject that I decided to write a book about it.
CAVANAUGH: Now, how well did you know the Bible before you began researching for “Hate Thy Neighbor?”
PATTERSON: Well, I went to a Christian university. By way of background, I grew up Christian, like I said, and was so devoted to the faith that I attended a Christian university. That’s, in fact, where I lost my faith after reading the scriptures in great depth but I did not study this particular issue.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And so describe what happened after you read the scriptures in great depth. Why did that cause you to back away from the Christian religion?
PATTERSON: Well, I was quite surprised by much of what was in the Bible. And not only are people misinformed with respect to the issue of homosexuality in the Bible but people are very misinformed with respect to what the Bible is and is not, and what it says and doesn’t say in general. And growing up, I had sort of been told here’s what the Bible says. I’d been sort of spoon fed the good bits and the inspiring passages. When I went to college, I was quite horrified by some of the actions attributed to God.
CAVANAUGH: And so basically you were – you stepped away from Christianity before, indeed, you came out as a lesbian. And I wonder, though, do you think that being raised Christian contributed to the suppression of your sexuality?
PATTERSON: Oh, very much so, and that’s another reason I wrote this book, is I know there are people out there who are suffering. There are people who’ve been disowned by their own families—I’m fortunate that didn’t happen to me—people fired from jobs, denied the right to marry the person we love, in some cases beaten and even killed. And it’s just because of this widespread misconception about what the Bible says. And, yes, I did grow up homophobic, I’m embarrassed to say. And what a shock it was for me to discover at the age of 28 that I myself am a lesbian, after being homophobic myself for all those years and in large measure, like you say, because of my upbringing. Like most Christians, I was taught homosexuality’s a horrible sin, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality, and that it’s an abomination according to the Book of Leviticus.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Linda Patterson. She’s a San Diego attorney who has written a book, “Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality.” So let’s talk specifically about what you found in your research. What does the Bible say in reference to homosexuality?
PATTERSON: Well, there are six verses that many Christians use to condemn homosexuality. Of those six, one of them, which is the story about Sodom and Gomorrah, does not condemn homosexuality at all. Neither the story itself not the 20 passages that refer back to the story mention homosexuality. The other five verses, which do appear to condemn homosexuality, are far too contextually and culturally removed to warrant a modern day condemnation. That’s one of the main arguments in my book.
CAVANAUGH: And what about the popular understanding of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they were corrupt cities and sexual libertinism was part of the reason that those communities were destroyed by God. It’s not in the Bible?
PATTERSON: Well, certainly they seem to have been involved in some sexual indiscretions. That was one of the reasons listed among many others, oppression of the poor, adultery, men and sons having sex with the same women, these sorts of things. But nowhere is homosexuality mentioned. And people – In fact, Sodom and Gomorrah was not viewed as a story about homosexuality until the first century when a Jewish historian, Josephus, and a Jewish philosopher, Philo, first came up with that notion. Before then, it was not used to condemn homosexuality.
CAVANAUGH: Now there is that famous verse from Leviticus that is used by many people to say, look, it says it here in black and white. And perhaps you can share that quote with us and then we can talk about it.
PATTERSON: The quote from Leviticus?
PATTERSON: Yes. According to Leviticus 18:22, ‘it is an abomination for a male to lie with another male as with a woman.’ That language ‘as with a woman’ is significant. The reason it’s significant is because people in this culture, it was an extremely patriarchal culture. We live in patriarchy but we have nothing on these people. I mean, it was extremely oppressive of women. And they were very concerned about active and passive gender roles and sex roles, so the reason that language ‘as with a woman’ is so significant is because it was viewed as demeaning and degrading for a man to take on the – what was perceived to be the inferior role of a woman in – during sex.
CAVANAUGH: So in your book, not only do you look at this particular quote in context but you look at the prohibitions, the many, many, many prohibitions in Leviticus in its entirety in its context. And what do you find when you read the Bible that way?
PATTERSON: You mean with respect to, for example – Well, one of the main problems, I think, is a lot of Christians haven’t read the holiness code. The folks who say that my sexuality’s an abomination, I don’t think they know in that same – or many of them don’t know that in that same holiness code…
CAVANAUGH: What is the holiness code?
PATTERSON: Oh, it was – For the ancient Israelites, it was viewed to be law from God delivered to Moses, directly – You know, all Israelites had to abide by this code essentially.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And so we – we’re not familiar with it now, is what you say, most Christians.
PATTERSON: Right. They selectively say homosexuality’s an abomination and yet in that same book, eating shellfish is also an abomination but we don’t see people going to, you know, from the Gay Pride Parades with their signs ‘it’s an abomination,’ they don’t go across the street to the Red Lobster, you know, Surf ‘n Turf, it’s an abomination. I mean, to me, that points out the lunacy of it.
CAVANAUGH: I am speaking with author Linda Patterson. Her book is “Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality.” We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s hear from Yahia in Spring Valley. Yahia, welcome to These Days.
YAHIA (Caller, Spring Valley): Good morning. How you doing? Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.
YAHIA: I think that the young lady may be right in a lot of the attitudes with religious fanaticism in terms of people – of God condemning human beings and – But where I do differ with her and that is this, while God does not condemn people, He does condemn the actions of people. And homosexuality is clearly against the laws of God and society, you know, and that’s condemned in all scriptures. Now just to give you an example—and I’ll try to make this as brief as I can—and that is that – now, I’m a Muslim. It says in the Holy Quran that God created human beings or human society in pairs. And the word ‘pairs’ come from – means the definition of the word ‘pairs’ in the Quran and the same applies in the Bible, as male and female are partners. Now you can have two men together, that does not constitute a pair.
CAVANAUGH: I understand, Yahia.
YAHIA: Like you can – like you…
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
YAHIA: …can have two left shoes. That does not constitute…
CAVANAUGH: Two left shoes.
YAHIA: …a pair of shoes.
CAVANAUGH: Got it. Thank you. Thank you so much for your call, Yahia. And I know that you did not study the Quran but…
CAVANAUGH: …in the Old Testament and the New Testament, Yahia is talking about, I suppose the implied idea that, you know, man – Adam and Eve were created in order to multiply and to inhabit the earth and to have the animals and the earth and their dominion and all of that. I know I’m not getting these quotes correctly. But that overview of what is the correct way that the world should operate is really suffused in the Bible, isn’t it?
PATTERSON: Well, I think we have the being fruitful and multiplying down. In fact, I think we have it down…
PATTERSON: …a little bit too pat. It took thousands of years for us to reach the first billion people. It’s only taken us 200 years to get to six billion. That’s clearly not sustainable. And I think it’s – to me, it makes intuitive sense that God or nature would have created people that do not procreate. But aside from that just practical aspect of it, the creation myth that Yahia refers to, Adam and Eve, as I discuss in my book, is one of two inconsistent myths. And the people back then wrote these stories as a poetic expression of how creation – what happened during creation. They had no way of knowing. Their cosmology was extremely primitive. They thought the world was flat and held up by pillars. Also, they were part of a very patriarchal society which, again, viewed men having sex together as an abomination, and they’re also part of a society that was focused on procreation because they had very low birth rates and high mortality rates so, certainly, that would have been their focus.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Pauline is calling from Murrieta. Good morning, Pauline, and welcome to These Days.
PAULINE (Caller, Murrieta): Yes, she’s not too familiar with Rome. Now, she’s referring to the Hebrew scriptures. She needs to refer to the Greek scriptures as well because in First Corinthians, Chapter I, verses 26 all the way down, and also Romans 26. First Corinthians 6:9, I’m referring to, and then Romans 1:26 where it does say that that is why God gave them a ungrateful sexual appetite for both their female changes, the nature use of – into their – contrary to nature. Like, likewise, even males left natural uses of the female and became violently inflame (sic) in their lust towards one another, male with male, and so on and so forth. And First Corinthians says the same thing, that they will not inherit the kingdom of God. It says men who kept unnatural purpose nor men who lie with men; that refers to women, too.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
PAULINE: But that’s also included with idolatry, homosex – I mean, fornication, so that’s all included. So God does not approve of two males together or two females because He created male and female to procreate.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Pauline. Thank you very much. You do talk in depth about the New Testament as well, Linda.
PATTERSON: I do. Yes, I do, indeed. And I’m – Yeah, I’m quite familiar with Romans. Paul, the apostle Paul, refers to sex between men as a degrading passion but before he refers to it as a degrading passion, the entire passage before that is referring to idolatry. So basically what Paul is saying is that people who worship other gods don’t understand sexuality and they’re given up to these degrading passions. The obvious flaw with that argument is that there are millions of Christians who are homosexual so Paul’s logic simply does not make sense if one takes that into account. God would not give up His own followers to degrading passion, so that’s the first argument I make in the chapter, and there are many more if Pauline would like to take a look at my book.
CAVANAUGH: And that book is “Hate Thy Neighbor.” Linda Patterson is my guest. She’s the author of that book. One of the things that you do in the book is you equate the Bible’s use to condemn homosexuality with the way the Bible was used to support the institution of slavery.
PATTERSON: Correct. And many people have a problem, and I understand the problem that they have, with LGBT community, you know, using slavery as an example of the oppression that we are experiencing now. But I do believe there are some important parallels and one of the most important parallels is the fact that the Bible was used to condone slavery in our country’s relatively recent history. And the Bible can be used to support slavery. There’s no condemnation in it. The – Well, I set forth in my chapter that there’s specific – let’s see, just looking at my book here. If you look at the Ten Commandments, it provides that no man shall covet his neighbor’s male or female slave or anything else that, quote, belongs to your neighbor. I list a number of other laws and regulations with that same perspective.
CAVANAUGH: So the overall idea, it seems to me, Linda, is that – what you’re saying is that the Bible is a very contextual book and that when you pick and choose words out of it, or lines out of it, that you’re really not getting perhaps to the heart of what was actually meant in the ages past when this book was written.
PATTERSON: Right. Or in some cases, you are getting to what’s actually meant but by an author in a particular time. For example, the apostle Paul, who I was talking about earlier and who Pauline was mentioning, said it was a degrading passion for males to have sex with one another and that it’s unnatural. Well, Paul viewed a number of things as unnatural that we perceive to be perfectly natural. He perceived it to be unnatural for women to be in church without their head covered. He viewed it as unnatural for a man to have long hair. Christians don’t seem to enforce those views but they’re very adamant that the few verses that refer to homosexuality are timeless and should be read literally.
CAVANAUGH: I think one of the most instructive parts of your book is the descriptions in the Old Testament that you point out of two very close and loving relationships, one between David and Jonathan and the other between Naomi and Ruth and you don’t necessarily say these relationships were homosexual. But I wonder why you have included them in your book.
PATTERSON: To be honest, I wasn’t originally going to include them in my book and a friend – well, a couple of friends of mine insisted that I do because there is a widespread view that they did have intimate relationships. I didn’t want to include it because it’s pretty much speculative but then the more I thought about it, the more I thought they can be interpreted that way, so I thought they should be included even though you can’t definitively say one way or the other. Regardless whether they were romantically involved, I think they’re great stories of same sex love, platonic or otherwise.
CAVANAUGH: And one of the ironies, it seems, is that the – this effusive description of love and loyalty that is used in the relationship between Naomi and Ruth actually has become something that’s pretty standard in a lot of heterosexual wedding ceremonies. Read us a little bit from that, from the Old Testament.
PATTERSON: Sure. Ruth said to Naomi, ‘do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you. Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die. There will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me and more as well if even death parts me from you.’
CAVANAUGH: And that, of course, from the relationship between Naomi and Ruth in the Old Testament. Let me ask you, Linda, you basically are what Christians would say have fallen away from the faith and I wonder if that – In any way, do you think that undermines the power of your argument here? Because obviously a lot of Christians are able to take the inconsistencies, understand that this is a very context – you know, this book was written a long, long time ago. They honor it as the word of God, and they’re interpreting it literally. So where do you meet? Where is your area of real argument with people who are just taking everything in the Bible as absolutely literal.
PATTERSON: Well, and as you point out, there are millions of Christians who love all their neighbors, heterosexual, homosexual alike. I know many of them. Some of them are the biggest supporters of my book. But I felt that it was very important to have an agnostic perspective on this issue, which had been missing. There are many Christian books on the subject and I feel that they tend to skirt around or avoid some of the troubling texts, for example, the text that I discuss in the last chapter of my book that supports slavery. I don’t find a real detailed discussion on that topic in these other books, as a for example.
CAVANAUGH: What was the most surprising thing you found out doing this research?
PATTERSON: Well, there were many surprises; that’s why I wrote the book. I was just – I describe it to people as jaw-droppingly shocked at how badly misinformed I was and many people seem to be on this subject.
CAVANAUGH: Is it – Would it be your advice, besides reading your book, that more people actually do read what’s in the Bible?
PATTERSON: I think that’s critically important and I think very few people have, and I say that based on my own experience. As we were discussing earlier, you know, I go to church and hear, well, here’s this inspiring passage—and there are many inspiring passages in the Bible—but I was never really directed to really troubling passages, like Numbers 31 comes to mind, where God, you know, basically supports genocide and having 32 virgins offered to Him. It appears as a burnt offering. Things like that. Pretty horrifying.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you. We are out of time but I want to thank you so much for coming in and telling us about your book today, Linda. Thank you.
PATTERSON: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Linda Patterson, and the name of her book is “Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality.” We didn’t get time to take all the phone calls of all the people who wanted to join our discussion. I encourage you to go online with your comments, KPBS.org/TheseDays. Stay with us. Hour two of These Days is coming up right here on KPBS.