When I read stories like this, two things come to mind.
First, that I can file this away with all the other people who criticized me for something I never said (it does get tedious). And second, this isn’t a college dormitory, and we’re not high 19 year olds. No one in the real world is going to be convinced, or care, about a 1,277 word explanation as to why the Bible doesn’t REALLY say to kill gays (even though on its face it does). Do you really think the old man, who was stoned to death by the guy who claimed the Bible made him do it, could have held off his attacker with a treatise on the nuance between “acts” and “identities” in Leviticus?
Don’t get me wrong. I think the current translations (and interpretations) of the Bible’s over-a-dozen different English versions are wrong. And I said so in my post. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most people committing hate crimes don’t have PhDs in theology, so the whole nuance over the difficulty of translating 4th century Greek into modern English, and how the entire concept of “homosexuals” (as opposed to “homosexual acts”) didn’t come into existence until around 100 years ago, tends to elude homicidal homophobic murderers.
And not just them. Far too many people, normal people, read the Bible and say “gosh, it says to kill the queers, so I’m guessing, at the very least, passing civil rights legislation for them is off the table.” In fact, I know incredibly gay friendly people who still are having a hard time coming to terms with what the Bible says on its face. And again, I get it. I read up on the “true” meaning of the Bible as it pertains to gays a good almost twenty years ago. I have John Boswell’s book. But one thing that working in gay politics for two decades – and I mean actually working in the trenches, fighting actual battles, winning actual gay rights victories as opposed to teaching college and writing books, is that the over-intellectualization of political strategy by those on the left is a loser. No politician is going to change their mind on DOMA because of a long-winded essay, full of arch-liberal buzzwords, by a college prof on the history of Leviticus. (E.g., What does this sentence even mean:
“I am tempted to ask Aravosis whether what he counts as progress in gay politics (say, around Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) owes more to the liberationists or to their homophile predecessors.”
Feel free to ask, but I speak five languages and sadly that isn’t one of them.) Those of us on the front lines have to deal with political reality. We don’t have the luxury of thinking that a long and tedious intellectual debate is somehow going to convince our enemies to be nice to us.
That doesn’t mean Biblical scholars have no worth, and that they shouldn’t continue their work attempting to explain the true meaning of Leviticus. It does mean, however, that we should stop pretending that we don’t have a “Bible problem” holding back our civil rights, and that to the extent we do, we can simply explain it away with a scholarly treatise.
And in fact, I’d suggest that my approach will likely win more converts than the prof’s. I think we should ask anti-gay bigots who quote the Bible whether they agree with Leviticus that gays should surely be put to death. Short of Fred Phelps, no one is going to say “yes.” And then we have them. We have even the most strident anti-gay bigots admitting that you can’t take the Bible at its word, that not everything that’s written is 100% truth on its face. And that maybe just maybe the rest of what the Bible (supposedly) says about gays isn’t 100% accurate either.
Or you can lecture them about your scholarly interpretation of Leviticus, peppering your text with words like “liberationist” and “homophile” – and by the 1,277th word I have a sneaking suspicion that all they’ll be hearing is blah blah blah.