Just last week, I attended a lecture by Amy-Jill Levine, who is a Jewish New Testament professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School. (Oh, and she’s straight, too.) It was my first time to hear her speak live, although I’ve enjoyed hearing her thoughts in many documentaries, including “Fish Out Of Water”. She is respected around the world for her contributions to religious studies, and I can now fully understand why; she was an absolute pleasure! From the moment she walked onto the platform, she was engaging us with Scripture, culture, and humor. I scrambled to keep up my notes as she continued to spout off point after interesting point. There’s no way I can capture everything, but I’d like to share a few key points that I found extremely provocative and profound. (Points are paraphrased. My thoughts are added in italics.)
We have to ask “what does it mean”?… not simply, “what does it say”? Translation issues are too expansive to even discuss at length here. However, it is helpful to know that the word “homosexual” was mentioned for the first time in English in 1892. Its origin only goes back to 1869, from Germany. “Malakoi” is found in I Corinthians 6:9. It means “soft” or “vulnerable”. In this text, it is commonly mis-translated into “men who have sex with men”. However, it shows up in other biblical texts, and is nowhere a reference to homosexuality. In Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25, it refers to clothing. In Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, it refers to illness.
Culturally, there will always be fierce arguments over biblical texts. In Jesus’ time, rabbis were already disagreeing over the topic of divorce. “Does a woman have to commit adultery in order for me to divorce her, or can I choose to leave her because she burned my dinner?” The Bible is more clear on divorce than it is on homosexuality. Yet, we don’t treat divorcees like 2nd class citizens. Some politicians claim that Scripture is the reason for their stance against homosexuality. Certain political parties will not support a gay candidate, but they have elected countless leaders who are divorced (sometimes multiple times). Those who say, “we must follow all of God’s laws as stated in Scripture” have set themselves up for failure, and not solely on the issue of divorce. After all, in the Holiness Code alone, we are forbidden to eat shrimp or pork, co-mingle our crops, or even wear clothing made from two different types of fabric. (Although I must admit, there are times when polyester can be a fashion faux pas.)
Anti-homosexual ideology often stems from misogyny or the subordination of women. When a coach wants to humiliate his all-male sports team, he calls them a bunch of girls. Why does this work? This notion goes all the way back to biblical times. In battle, hostages were commonly raped by their captors; it was the most intense form of humiliation. To a man, the most degrading thing that can happen is for him to be treated like a woman, or placed in the female role.
“It is not good for man to be alone”. This is God’s narrative from Genesis 2:8. If it is indeed “not good for man to be alone”, then why do we condemn homosexuals to a life of singleness? (Probably because people are too busy making the “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” debate.)
Natural vs. Unnatural. In Romans 1, “natural” means customary to the culture, and “unnatural” means uncustomary (or deviated from cultural norm). Paul uses this same “contrary to nature” terminology later on in Romans, when he discusses how the Gentiles obtain their salvation. “But if some of the branches were broken off, while you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them to share the richness [of the root and sap] of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches and pride yourself at their expense. If you do boast and feel superior, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root [that supports] you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken (pruned) off so that I might be grafted in!'” (Romans 11:17-19 AMP)
Statistics of ex-gay ministries. There is currently a 95-98% failure rate for organizations that claim to cure or reverse sexual orientation. (Levine didn’t spend too much time on this one. I suppose there’s not a lot left to say. However, she did humorously add that she wouldn’t feel comfortable with her daughter dating a graduate of an ex-gay program.)
These are just a few of her points that I found incredibly thought-provoking. Some I’d heard before, but never this in-depth. This recap doesn’t even come close to portraying how comprehensive Levine’s lecture was; but hopefully there are some things that you can glean from this cliff-notes lecture review.