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Detestable

By Jesse Taylor
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 16:35 EDT
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imageOh, the beauty of unintentional truths:

“Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?” referring to the civil rights leader.

Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”

“Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles,” Obama said.

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.

“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said.

“… He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.”

Dobson’s absolutely right here – Leviticus has virtually no bearing whatsoever on Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. That, in turn, makes it a real shame that he’s never followed his own interpretation of Leviticus.

KING: But if you’re gay and he calls it an abomination, you might feel hurt by that statement?

DOBSON: Well, you do have to understand that is in the scripture and so Jerry [Falwell]‘s ultimate commitment was to the Bible, to the scriptures. If it was there, he was going to talk about it. And that is written in the Book of Leviticus.

If you’re sniffing a double standard here, give that nose a…whatever you reward a nose with that isn’t an illegal substance. Leviticus 18 is very, very clear about what it is – a series of dictates about the nature and composition of the Jewish family and relationships, focused in no small part in the preservation of distinction both from the Egyptians and the Canaanites and of blood family from non-blood family. It defines those actions which preserve and promote the covenant between the Israelites and God, and also serves to lay down a series of severe punishments for breaking from that covenant.

Even most of what’s in chapter 18 (and each subsequent punishment in chapter 20) is discarded by the same ethic that Dobson lays out above – codes that no longer apply to the new relationship between God and humanity because Jesus fulfills the covenant and, subsequently, its restrictions on the population of believers. The adoption of homosexuality as the only part of Leviticus which appears to have survived the crucible of salvation is cherry picking of the worst sort, and decidedly ignorant both of the Christian Testament and even of God’s initial hierarchy of Levitical transgressions.

The entirety of the injunction against homosexuality is as follows:

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

The etymology of “detestable” is interesting – its first appearance in Leviticus is in 7:21, and I’ll quote verses 19-21 here:

19” ‘Meat that touches anything ceremonially unclean must not be eaten; it must be burned up. As for other meat, anyone ceremonially clean may eat it. 20 But if anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the Lord, that person most be cut off from his people. 21 If anyone touches something unclean – whether human uncleanness or an unclean animal or any unclean, detestable thing – and then eats any of the meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the Lord, that person must be cut off from his people.

“Detestable” is not a specific condition of homosexuality, but rather a general category requiring anything from excommunication to death – including the selfsame dietary codes that are so obviously discarded by the new Christian promise of salvation.

It’s one of the strengths of Leviticus as a text of laws: it ties together a rather large series of injunctions as a strain of the same fundamental dichotomy of cleanliness vs. uncleanliness, and recommends a rather narrow set of punishments for violating them (either fundamental excommuncation, or the end of that line through forced celibacy or death). It’s also something that fundamentalists have failed to reconcile even as they declare the great homosexual menace is ruining our families. How can we say one transgression in a line of hundreds survives an otherwise complete break with the entire canon, short of blatant cherrypicking?

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
 
 
 
 
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