Monday, December 30, 2013

The Bible and Homosexuality, Part 2: The Miseducation of Marc Hill

The title of this post is a play on former Fugees member Lauryn Hill's debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and not meant as a personal slight towards the subject of this post, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. I have the utmost respect for his charitable work, academic achievements, and legal advocacy. However, during a previous post, I pointed out where he was in error for making several statements including the following: (I've included the full quote without ellipsis for contextual purposes, the full video is provided here as well)

Dr. Hill: If you're saying that [Jesus] is confirming the Old Testament, well the Old Testament is far from clear around gay marriage or around gay acts.
Dr. Brown: Are you sure about that?
Dr. Hill: If you let me finish I'll tell you how I'm sure about it. The book of Leviticus according to most biblical scholars is not about being gay. If you're talking about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for example it's really about being inhospitable to neighbors, it's about prostitution, it's about many other things. (emphasis added)
So I took to Twitter and posted my opinion of his appearance on the Piers Morgan Show. A few days later I followed up with the Tweet that became the subject of a back and forth between me and Dr. Hill.

My hypothesis is that Dr. Hill is grossly incorrect regarding his Old Testament interpretation. To wit, that "the Old Testament is 'far from clear' on homosexuality." Given the limitations of a tweet (140 characters) I did not provide a link to my previous blog post nor did I provide Dr. Hill the additional context of him saying "most biblical scholars" so to be fair we will examine only the context provided within the tweet. But I will address the other parts of the full quote because he had access to both the video of his statements via the parent tweet and I'm sure he remembers what he said.

Dr. Hill is correct in stating that the book of Leviticus is not about being gay. This is a straw man argument though as no one said Leviticus was about being gay.
Leviticus means "things pertaining to Levi." The book ... is a manual for priests, detailing the religious rules and procedures the priests had to observe and enforce for the covenant nation of Israel. ... The laws in the book were given to help the Israelites worship and live as God's holy people. - KJV Reference Bible (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994)
Rather, specific laws within Leviticus address homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Dr. Hill also seems to imply that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is in Leviticus. It is not. The story is in Genesis 18:16-33 and Genesis 19. He should be given the benefit of the doubt that he knows this so the inference is not germane to this critique. I only note it to clarify the transcript listed above.

Dr. Hill responded to my challenge by referencing three separate "biblical scholars." I'll note later why I put the term biblical scholars in quotations.

The first reference is to Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas. There is one glaring problem with this citation. Kelly Brown Douglas is not a biblical scholar! In fact, she says so herself.
Before addressing this issue of biblical interpretation in our multicultural and ever-changing world, the first thing that I must say is perhaps that which many of you already know: I am a theologian and not a biblical scholar. While scripture is typically a significant source for much of our Christian theologies, and while our biblical interpretations inevitably have theological implications, the language, the tools and the overall nature of the disciplines are quite different. While I have a profound respect for the delicate and intricate hermeneutical skills required in the field of biblical scholarship, it is important for me to approach this timely issue as a theologian and not a biblical scholar. That said, however, there are some methodological concerns that I believe are germane to both theological and biblical interpretation and certainly significant to our discussion this afternoon. (emphasis added) - Douglas, K. (2001). Marginalized People, Liberating Perspectives: A Womanist Approach to Biblical Interpretation. Anglican Theological Review, 83(1), 41.
This is a non-trivial mistake by Dr. Hill. He mistakenly misrepresents his sources as biblical scholars when they clearly are not. Not only is Dr. Douglas not a biblical scholar, but neither is Cornel West (Philosophy, African American Studies). Dale B. Martin (Religious Study) is a biblical scholar. In fact, Dr. Martin "specializes in New Testament and Christian Origins." At first, I wanted to dismiss this as a semantic argument and move past it. However, Dr. Douglas clearly states that "the disciplines are quite different." Far be it from me to ignore the "highly regarded" expert that he cites or dismiss her "profound respect for the delicate and intricate hermeneutical skills required in the field of biblical scholarship" just because Dr. Hill seemingly does. Besides, it is possible that I'm missing something that isn't publicly available concerning Douglas and West. I think it crucial to point out this conspicuous error in his rebuttal to my request. I can only surmise that Dr. Hill was completely unaware of the difference as this is outside his field of expertise. As Thomas Sowell says in "Intellectuals and Society"
The fatal misstep of such intellectuals is assuming that superior ability within a particular realm can be generalized as superior wisdom or morality over all. - Sowell, Thomas: Intellectuals and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2009) Ch. 2
I also happen to be out of my realm of expertise (Business Systems Consulting) so rather than ending the analysis at this point I will continue as there are other significate deficiencies in the cited works.

Dr. Douglas does indeed question the Bible's admonition of homosexuality. However, she also uses a different term - homoeroticism - in her work Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective.
The irony is, however, that the Bible does not present as clear a position on homosexuality as is often self-righteously asserted. The meaning of the biblical stories customarily referred to as proof against homosexual practices has generally been misconstrued or distorted. Biblical scholars have painstakingly shown that the Leviticus Holiness Codes (Lev. 18:22; 20:13,) the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-9), and Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1:26-27) do not present a compelling case against homoeroticism. - Douglas, K.:Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999) p.90
Homosexuality and homoeroticism are not synonymous. I'm loathed to cite Wikipedia, but for expediency sake, I'll note the difference.
Homoeroticism refers to the sexual attraction between members of the same sex, either male–male or female–female. The concept differs from the concept of homosexuality: it refers specifically to the desire itself, which can be temporary, whereas "homosexuality" implies a more permanent state of identity or sexual orientation. - Wikipedia article on Homoeroticism
It's a crucial distinction because it connotatively distinguishes between homosexual acts and deeds and is Dr. Hill's best case for proving my theory incorrect. In short, there is nowhere in the Bible - Old or New Testament - where it says that merely thinking about homosexual sex is prohibited.

However, that can be said for every law of mankind and is thus a meaningless distinction! Thought-crime is a concept of science fiction (e.g., the movie Equilibrium), not reality. Furthermore, the concept is encapsulated in the common religious phrase "hate the sin, not the sinner." Even Dr. Douglas cites "homosexual practices" in her rebuke of the Bible, so we shall remain in that realm and not in the realm of fantasy. Some may say that hate crimes fit within this realm but a crime must be committed before the hate crime intent can be applied.

Dr. Douglas also argues that the New Testament is silent on homosexuality.
As John Boswell accurately points out: 'No effort is made to elaborate a comprehensive sexual ethic: Jesus and his followers simply responded to situations and questions requiring immediate attention.' Therefore, as is the case with the Old Testament, the New Testament provides no indisputable position on homosexuality. op. cit. p.90
I cite this because her mention of John Boswell is crucial as you will see later.

Dr. Douglas end notes each of the above statements, citing the following as her proof of what biblical scholars have to say on this issue. The first three citations concern her Old Testament statement and the last one justifies her New Testament statement. I've found evidence to suggest that some of these references are biblical scholars but as stated above I have already stipulated the taxonomy ad arguendo.
  1. Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983)
  2. John McNeil, The Church and the Homosexual (Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1976)
  3. L.D. Scanzoni & V.R. Mollencott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A positive Christian Response, rev. ed (San Fran: Harper and Row, 1994)
  4. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 117
Initially, I had no idea why she would list a book about the New Testament in a discussion about the Old Testament. After further research, I realized that this is a common theme in the theological practice to discount the Bible's admonition of homosexuality because Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are crystal clear. Why anyone would use text written over a thousand years after the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) to refute its meaning is sophistry in my humble opinion. But I decided to give the first citation a fair reading and I'm very glad that I did.

The New Testament and Homosexuality by biblical scholar Robin Scroggs a professor of Biblical Theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York break down the arguments concerning the Bible's position on homosexuality into six different categories, four opposing homosexuality and two not opposing homosexuality. I shall include all six to avoid a counter-argument of taking Prof. Scroggs out of context, but only the last two are relevant to my hypothesis.
  1. The Bible opposes homosexuality and is definitive for what the church should think and do about it.
  2. The Bible opposes homosexuality, but it is just one sin among many. There is no justification for singling it out as more serious than other sins castigated in the Bible, but because of which ordination is not denied.
  3. The Bible opposes homosexuality but the specific injunctions must be placed in the larger biblical context of the theology of creation, sin, judgment, and grace.
  4. The Bible opposes homosexuality but is so time and culture-bound that its injunctions may and should be discarded if other considerations suggest better alternatives.
  5. The Bible does not oppose homosexuality because it does not speak of true or innate homosexuality but rather of homosexual acts by people who are not homosexual.
  6. The Bible does not oppose homosexuality because the texts do not deal with homosexuality in general.
What jumps out from page 16 of the book is Prof. Scroggs quote of Dr. John Boswell, the same Dr. Boswell that Dr. Douglas cites above.
"In sum, there is only one place in the writings which eventually become the Christian Bible where homosexual relationships per se are clearly prohibited - Leviticus - and the context in which the prohibition occurred rendered it inapplicable to the Christian community, at least as moral law." (emphasis added) - Scroggs, Robin: The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983) p. 16
Did he just say what I thought he said? Based on my research Dr. Boswell clearly believes that the Bible does not oppose homosexuality. However, even he readily admits that homosexual relationships are clearly prohibited in Leviticus and there is no doubt that Leviticus is in the Old Testament! At this point, it seems clear that Dr. Hill is utterly incorrect in stating that the Old Testament is far from clear around gay marriage or around gay acts. Though it might be considered torment to continue my deconstruction of Dr. Hill's statement, I want to make sure that I give his citations due diligence and a fully objective review.

To continue with the analysis of Prof. Scroggs, I found the text very educational and am very happy to enhance my knowledge of the Bible. His analysis is thorough, presents both sides of the argument equally and provides clear and concise conclusions. I intend to thank him for his work. What's most relevant to this analysis is the statement I found on page 99.
Today's denominational debates about homosexuality revolve around the pronouncements in the New Testament. Granted, the laws in Leviticus are unequivocally opposed to male homosexual activity. Since the Old Testament is emphatic about many issues ignored or discarded by the Christian churches, however, it cannot be said that the Old Testament alone would control contemporary decisions, were it not for the fact that the New Testament repeats these negative judgments. (emphasis added) - ibid. 99
The highlighted statement ends this segment of the argument, unequivocally. How Dr. Douglas missed this I have no idea. To be completely fair, Prof. Scroggs suggests, and I agree, that biblical judgment against homosexuality are not relevant. Yet we agree for different reasons which aren't relevant to this discussion. Suffice it to say that, Prof. Scroggs concludes that pederasty was the issue of the biblical texts. Pederasty is by definition sexual activity involving a man and a boy and thus a homosexual act, so Dr. Hill will find no safe harbor in this conclusion.

We move next to former Father (he was expelled from the Jesuits in 1987 for ministry to gay people which I find abhorrent) and psychotherapist John J. McNeill. Please note that Mr. McNeill is also not a biblical scholar. He states this clearly on page 17 of his book by saying "I make no pretense to be a biblical scholar." Once again, how Dr. Douglas missed this I have no idea. Be that as it may, his opinion is relevant as he also cites Dr. John Boswell's work within his book.

With regard to the treatment of the biblical material, a special word of gratitude should go to Dr. John Boswell of Yale University. It was while reading his brilliant scholarly reflections, subsequently published in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980), dealing with the loci in the epistles of Saint Paul supposedly concerned with homosexuality, that I first became aware that the traditional scriptural basis for the condemnation of homosexual acts as contrary to the revealed will of God was open to serious question. - McNeil, John: The Church and the Homosexual (Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1976) p. 15-16

As we have already addressed Dr. Boswell's position it would be redundant to provide additional detail here. However, at this point, I'll mention another common theme of most of these critical texts. I like to call it The Magic of Liberal Context. Its precept is this: words on a page or spoken by an individual never have the explicit meaning that either the writer or the speak invokes. Rather, they must be analyzed "in context" and the liberal doing the analysis gets to define that context. Furthermore, the context is always favorable and supports their argument even if the explicit spoken or written words say the exact opposite. This is how Pastor Jeremiah Wright, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Senator Robert Byrd and many others of the political left can say the most hateful of things but be supported and held high as a positive influence because what they say is always taken out of context. There is no doubt that context is important. However, where Prof. Scroggs says the context of the Old Testament's admonition of homosexual acts is actually the rejection of pederasty, Father McNeill says the context is the rejection of idolatry and Dr. Hill says the context is the rejection of in-hospitality and prostitution. In fact, Father McNeill makes the following claim.

It would appear, then, that [the apostle] Paul treats of homosexual activities only within the context of idol worship. The Holiness Code (Lev. 18:22, 20:13) originally established the connection between idolatry and homosexual activity. The Code specifically warns the Israelites against accepting the idolatrous practices of the Cannanites. ibid. p. 57

Leviticus does no such thing and is in no way limited to the rejection of the Canaanites. The principle concept of Leviticus is the holiness of God and of humanity as referenced in Lev. 11:45

For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

If Father McNeill is correct, is it a stretch to suggest that the entire book of Leviticus is about idolatry such that Lev. 19:11 "Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another" is really about idolatry? How are we to know which verses are about idolatry and which aren't? They will tell us of course and rest assured it will be the verses that they don't like which by pure coincidence are Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, the only two verses explicitly condemning homosexual acts. How convenient! Logically this makes no sense but these are the lengths to which they will go to prove their point.

Next, we move to Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Sadly, neither is a biblical scholar. In fact, Ms. Scanzoni lists no formal degrees whatsoever and Ms. Mollenkott is an English professor emeritus at William Paterson University of New Jersey. The errors in their analysis are glaring likely due to their lack of scholarship. For instance, they cite the following:

To underscore the sin of inhospitality in Sodom, [John McNeill] reminds us of Jesus' words to his disciples in Luke 10:10-13: "Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you...I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town." - L.D. Scanzoni & V.R. Mollencott: Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A positive Christian Response, rev. ed (San Fran: Harper and Row, 1994) p. 60

Yet they miss the context of that chapter. Luke 10 is about Jesus sending out his disciples to tell the people that the kingdom of God is coming and they are to be judged. It even says that in Luke 10:8-9, the verses just before the citation (i.e., "And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things that are set before you: and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.") This mission is reiterated in Matthew 10:5-15 and Mark 6:6-12

Matthew 10:5-15
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha [sic] in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Mark 6:6-12
And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha [sic] in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent.

As is blatantly obvious from the biblical text the sin is not inhospitality. It's not because they didn't invite their visitors in and offer them tea and crumpets. In fact, there is no place in the bible where inhospitality is a sin and it's frivolous to suggest it as such. Hospitality is much too subjective to suggest it as a requirement of morality. Would any rational person suggest that during a home invasion if you didn't offer the robbers a drink of water you were doomed to Hell? Rather it is the rejection of Jesus' teachings and warnings that the kingdom of God is at hand that is the sin that will doom them on judgment day.

Scanzoni and Mollenkott also mention this ridiculous sin of inhospitality in reference to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis.

It should be noted that some Bible scholars do not believe that the intent of the men of Sodom was sexual. They have pointed out that the Hebrew word translated "know" may here simply indicate the townspeople's desire to find out who these strangers were and examine their credentials....Whether the intent was sexual or not, however, the strangers were treated abominably and the sin of inhospitality was committed. ibid. p. 57

This analysis is utterly ridiculous in my opinion! If the intent wasn't sexual, then why did Lot offer up his two virgin daughters in their stead in Gen. 19:8?

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Can we assume that Lot wanted to have his daughter's credentials examined as well? I think not and nor would any casual reader of the text. While I would agree that it's extremely inhospitality to gang rape visiting angels, I'm quite sure it's the threatened gang rape, once carried out, that is the sin and not the lack of handshakes, pleasant greetings, and offers of sugar with their tea.

Next, regarding Dr. Hill's cite of Cornel West's The Cornel West Reader, I have no earthly idea why this is included. Cornel West's book is autobiographical and not a critical analysis of Old Testament text. As he says in the preface "The primary aim of this reader is to lay bare the basic structure of my intellectual work and life." I am not about to embarrass or misrepresent Dr. West by doing a critical analysis of his personal life and why he feels the way he does. I happen to completely agree with his acceptance of the homosexual community. Furthermore, there is no detailed analysis of Genesis or Leviticus anywhere in his text. Further analysis would be imbecilic and a disservice to the intent of the book. I will rather apologize for his name being mentioned in the context of this analysis and move on to the next subject.

Dr. Hill's final citation is Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32 by Dr. Dale Martin who is indeed a biblical scholar! Unfortunately for Dr. Hill, Dr. Martin has absolutely nothing to say on the Old Testament other than "the first chapters of Genesis do not explicitly recount the beginnings of idolatry and polytheism." I knew that reading this was going to be a waste of my time. After all, the title explicitly describes the subject. Thankfully it was only 23 pages long. Dr. Martin's theory is that most biblical scholars are "heterosexist" even if they don't know it and, therefore, they generate heterosexist interpretations that are incorrect. I will stipulate that point ad arguendo. Nevertheless, this citation has absolutely nothing to do with the Old Testament and therefore is a gross non sequitur. Why Dr. Hill would bother to cite this work to prove his point is beyond comprehension and would be a waste of my time to offer an opinion for or against the contents.

So, if you've been keeping count five non-biblical scholars (Hill, Douglas, McNeill, Scanzoni, and Mollencott) have said the Old Testament isn't about homosexuality, two biblical scholars (Scroggs and Boswell) say it is about homosexuality, one non-biblical scholar (West) offers a philosophical reason for treating homosexuals as moral equals and one biblical scholar (Martin) offers no opinion in the citation provided by Dr. Hill. At this point, I must recount Dr. Hill's gloat and hubris.

Actually, no Dr. Hill I don't want you to keep going. I'm not an expert in the field of biblical scholarship but I feel that I have debunked your references and further references would likely only diminish your credibility on this subject. The flaw may be that you were supplying information "off the top of your head" because quite often that method is drastically inadequate unless you thorough know the subject matter. I still have the utmost respect for your charitable work, academic achievements, and legal advocacy. However, on this matter I believe your extemporaneous responses have been weighed, they have been measured and they have been found wanting. As I did before, I will again apologize for calling you a liar as that was grossly inappropriate. However, in the future might I again suggest that you refrain from biblical scholarship and stick to your intellectual specialty of African American Studies.

Once again, my hypothesis is that Dr. Hill is grossly incorrect regarding his Old Testament interpretation. To wit, that "the Old Testament is 'far from clear' on homosexuality." Comments are welcome as to the validity of this hypothesis given the above analysis as I welcome criticism. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not read all of the cited works in their entirety for expedience purposes. I wanted to respond while the issue was still fresh. I accept that I might be completely wrong but I think this analysis will hold and I will continue reading and provide corrections where appropriate.

I do not expect that Dr. Hill will change his position. In fact, social psychologists would suggest that cognitive dissonance would cause my critique to strengthen his beliefs rather than change them. Cognitive dissonance is a very strong psychological force and can partially explain why Heaven's Gate and other doomsday cults commit suicide rather than face the fact that their belief systems are incorrect.

I'm not suggesting that Dr. Hill will commit suicide, that's ludicrous. Rather, it's more likely that he won't read this analysis. However, my erudition has been enhanced by this exercise and I enjoyed the experience.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Marshall, good work - kind of heavy, but makes perfect sense. Although I am not a Bible Scholar, I did attend Bible College and consider myself pretty well read (not as well read as you apparently!!). I personally am not a Marc Lamount Hill, not just because he is on the extreme side of the liberal political spectrum, but he has made a lot of 'jokes' about sleeping with students while he was a guest on Red Eye that I found less than funny. No denying he is smart (although how you can be SMART and an PROGRESSIVE is beyond me). I am however a huge fan of Lauren Hill, "The education of Lauren Hill" is one of my favorite albums, even though she has a reputation of being a hater. In any event, loved the column keep up the good work!