Sometimes the collision of contrasting beliefs generates enough friction to cause pain, which appears to be the case with at least one reader of our Feb. 5 editorial, in which we praised a pending decision by the Boy Scouts of America to eliminate its national policy banning gay membership.
In that editorial, we observed that public opinion – in various cultures, places and times – has embraced everything from cannibalism to denying women the vote to believing the sun travels around the Earth.
We described those practices and beliefs as having their roots in fear, superstition and ignorance, and noted that most (but not all) have been outgrown.
We added that the persecution of gay members of society, based on “old false beliefs,” is one enduring practice that dies hard, especially in revered institutions such as the church and the Boy Scouts.
Those words stung a prominent member of Sonoma Valley’s clergy (see the Valley Forum below) who took them as personal insult. He is a deeply religious man leading many acts of good works in the Glen Ellen community and beyond, while inspiring a congregation with his faith.
The fact that we do not agree with all the articles of his faith, does not diminish our respect for him and the work he does. But it does reflect the fact that there is widespread disagreement within the religious community on many issues, gay rights being just one, and that seeking definitive answers in literal, and often selective, verses from the Bible can be a contentious course to follow.
Consider the afore-mentioned historic belief that the sun travels around the earth.
Not long after the death of Nicolaus Copernicus, who developed the revolutionary model of a heliocentric universe with the sun, not the earth, at its center, the Catholic Church launched an attack on Copernicus’ work, using Holy scripture as its guide. In a 1616 decree, the church announced that heliocentric thinking was “false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture." That position led to the 1633 heresy conviction of Galileo, who spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Eventually, of course, the church modified its Biblical interpretation of celestial reality .
Biblical condemnation of homosexuality rests prominently on half a dozen “clobber” passages, including Leviticus 20:13 which, in the English Standard Version, states, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them."
The Old Testament is, admittedly, rife with bloodletting, but if we are to take this passage as the literal word of God, are we not also required to support the wholesale execution of everyone who performs a homosexual act?
Such is the Biblical trap set by literalists who must, in the end, make selective choices of the passages they lean on. Otherwise, they would also be compelled to agree with the Old Testament dictates that polygamy is sanctioned by God, as is stoning new brides to death if they cannot prove they are virgins.
A far more relevant guide for daily living – and for the treatment of gay citizens – is the beloved passage from 1 Corinthians 13, that concludes, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”