It was January 1990, my first semester at Princeton Seminary. Our campus was buzzing with protests and demonstrations about gay. New to theological conversations, my first question was, “What does the Bible say?”
And the answer came back, “Abomination.”
“Where?” I stammered, “And what does that mean?” “Look it up,” I was commanded, and directed to the King James translation.
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Lev. 20.13)
Wow, there it was. I had never seen it, never heard of it. So, I kept reading, curious, struggling a little with what I did not know.
“He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Lev. 24:16)
As children, we had been taught not to call the Lord’s name in vain, but who knew we could be stoned to death for doing so!
“And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Lev. 11.7–8)
Wait a minute, what? All of those Memorial Day barbecues? That Easter ham? Those pork chops breaded and fried, with a little fat around the edge—so delicious! Unclean?
My head was swimming. It seemed it was not in the stars for me to enjoy my BBQ or my shrimp cocktail, which was also an abomination. And knowing what is in the stars was punishable by death. I was distressed that while eating shrimp and lying down with a man were both abominations, only one was causing riots on campus. Only one was splitting the church.
Young people were not committing suicide about shrimp.
And right there in the midst of prohibitions was this about how one should purchase slaves.
“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever.” (Lev. 25.44–46)
And there were some pretty harsh words about people who are differently-abled, and how they should stay away from temple and church.
Keeping the law can be a confusing and distressing venture. And this is also true: we look in the Bible and seek the texts that support our biases and prejudices. I admit, I am biased against any text that seems to stand in contradiction to love.
When Jesus was asked about how best to keep the law, he said to love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself.
Six hundred thirteen laws, some of which make no sense—that’s kind of tough to hang on to, right? I grew up with 10, the 10 Commandments. But look at Jesus making it simple and plain, portable and bite-sized.
Love God. Love Neighbor. Love Self.
In other words: Love. PERIOD.
I think we can lean into that, don’t you?
I am about to put on a red silk and cotton dress, with my little “keep-it-firm” underthings on, then I will go to Middle Church and hug the people with walkers and tattoos. I am praying that the sermon I will preach for Pride Month about how each of us is wonderfully made—no matter who we lie down with—will warm someone’s heart. And then, when worship is over? I am going out for BBQ with my husband John.
P.S. Citing 1 Timothy 2:12, some Princeton colleagues said I should not talk in church. I’m just saying, I’ll be breaking that “rule” on Sunday.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of Middle Notes. Click here to read the newsletter.