THE BLOG
06/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Homosexuality an Abomination? Wrestling with Leviticus 18:22

The issue of homosexuality is among the most polarizing issues in our society. Without addressing what the "right" answers are, there is no question that there are few issues over which we hurt each other more than how we address homosexuality in general and, far more importantly, gay men and women in particular. How can we stop hurting each other?

Why raise this now? Because sitting in synagogue this past Shabbat, people listened as the words of Leviticus 18:22 were read as part of the weekly Bible reading. The words of that verse, responsible for so much angry debate, read as follows: "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination" (sometimes rendered as "abhorrence").

Sitting there I thought about this one law, so often described as being of particular importance because it forbids something that the text specifically calls an "abomination." I also thought about the 118 other times that the word to'evah (Hebrew for "abomination"), or words with the same root, are used in the Hebrew Bible.

Why are those who hold it to be legally binding so obsessed with this prohibition? Is it a reflection of the prohibition's being somehow unique by virtue of being abominable? Clearly not. If something being an abomination were our concern, then we would also be equally concerned about the other sexual, ritual, and ethical transgressions that are also described as such.

For example, I don't see people losing sleep over the consumption of pork, also prohibited by the Bible. And the same can be said for the relative calm over those who wear garments that weave together strands of linen and wool, also biblically prohibited. People do not make up ugly terms of derision for those who commit these transgressions as they do for gay people. Nor do they ask that the government intervene in limiting people's freedom to do these things as they do when it comes to providing full legal equality for gay people.

I am not suggesting that for one to be a good and compassionate reader of the Bible, one must let go of the notion that homosexual sex is biblically prohibited. I am simply suggesting that our culture's obsession with this issue probably says more about us than it does about either the Bible or our commitment to honoring what we see as its demands.

I wonder what would happen if whenever this issue arises, all those involved, regardless of their views, would start with something other than an explanation of this verse and "what it really means." I wonder if instead of doing that, we began by explaining why this issue is important to us -- by addressing what is at stake for us personally regarding this issue, if things wouldn't be more productive. Actually, I don't wonder about that at all -- I know that they would.

Let's stop hiding behind texts, interpretations, claims about what God wants, and what it means to be compassionate (however well-meaning those actions are), and see each other as human beings struggling with what is for many of us a complex issue. And if it is not complex, then explain why it is not for you, instead of beating up those for whom it still is.

Human sexuality, definitions of family, and so much else, have changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous millennium. It would be odd for us not to have real divisions about the implications of those changes. But when things are most divided, especially because of their relative newness, lifting them from the ideological to the personal always helps. Compassion for an idea is hard to generate, but compassion for a real person is less so. And whatever one's views, it seems to me that we could all treat each other with a greater measure of compassion as we think about living with Leviticus 18:22.