Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leviticus: Holiness Code

I have wanted to avoid discussing the Leviticus passage, only because I find it to be an outdated argument (along with Sodom and Gomorrah) that you only see on the signs of the Westboro Baptist Church, but recently, it's been appearing in emails and messages to me more frequently than has in the past.  I received a video response on YouTube to my "Bible and Marriage" video that decided to focus entirely on Leviticus 18 (click here to watch the response), so I decided that I would finally write on Leviticus and share what my own thoughts and perceptions are of the text.

Let's start with a background of Leviticus and the Torah:  sorta of a historical, local, and cultural contextual analysis.
  • Covenant with Abraham:  There were 3 parts (Genesis 15:5, 18; 17:11)
* Progeny, promised land, circumcision as symbol
  • Genealogy:  Abraham - Isaac - Jacob (Israel)
  • Captivity, liberation and exodus - 10 weeks to Mount Sinai, where they commit idolatry
  • The Israelites were made to wander for 40 years post-exodus
* formation of spiritual identity
* desert culture, importance of reproduction
* Carthaginian culture (Phoenicia and Canaan)
- Amorites, Hittites, Jebusites, Girgashites, Perizzites, Amalckites
* Distinguish: Moabites and Ammonites
  • Composition of Leviticus
* Priestly Code: 1-16, 27 (ritual/ceremonial purity)
- 1-7, sacrificial regulations
- 8-10, consecration, practical application
- 11-16, purity laws
- 27, commutation of vows

* Holiness Code (Leviticus 19:2):  17-26 (miscellany of laws)
- idolatry, sexual conduct, celebration rites
- information about familiars, strangers, promises, penalties

Now, I know these are just some very basic notes about the background, but really, there is so much information out there about the Torah and the background of the Google culture that I don't really need to go too much into depth about, only because it's all only a search away. Basically though, the Israelites has been slaves in Egypt; they had wandered in the desert for a long long time.  They needed cohesiveness, cleanliness, and order in every aspect of their lives.  they needed a establish a social contract that would give them their own identity; they needed a code for living.  In response, they developed a Holiness Code to define their religious, civic, and cultural identity.

The Holiness Code's purpose was to help this community achieve the "holy purity" that they were seeking.  So how would they try to achieve this holy purity?
  1.  Israel's worship practices had to be different from their neighbors.
  2. There could not be an mixing of any kind with other groups, because they were to maintain and preserve the purity of their community.
  3. Male gender superiority had to be maintained
Number 3 is what is going to bring us to the infamous, "Thou shall not lay with mankind as with womankind it is an abomination" verse found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.  But lets focus on why this was an issue.  Why condemn men that were having sex with other men?  Well, first of all, engaging in homosexual acts was punishable by death, because that would mean that man was assuming a "passive' role and was being penetrated, which was a role that was only to be assigned to women.  This was a culture that valued machismo ideologies and subjugated women because they were viewed as "less than."  Thus, the issue with men having sex with men was really a result of their oppression towards women.

But what about this word "abomination" that appears in the text?  The Hebrew word toevah, that is being used for "abomination," actually refers to something that is ritually impure, such as pork or having sex with a woman while she is menstruating.  So, "abomination" is synonymous with unclean.

There are other ways of addressing these texts.  One could even bring up the issue and contrasts of the old and new covenants.  But this is a could jumping board for addressing Leviticus.  There are many great resources out there if you want to read more on Leviticus.  I personally recommend, "Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality" by Jack Rogers, which has received excellent reviews for his scholarship.  I welcome conversation on this text.  I know I gave a very basic opinion and that was intentional, only because there are other resources out there for those that are more interested in this part of the Bible.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

District of Columbia will recognize same-sex marriages

On the same day that Vermont rose to the bar of marriage equality, the District Columbia also made the decision today to that will introduce legislation that will recognize same-sex marriages from other states.  It is still a very great day!

Washington City Council voted 12-0 Tuesday in favor of allowing same-sex marriages performed in other states to be recognized in the nation's capital.

Congress may vote on whether Washington will allow same-sex marriages to be accepted in the nation's capital.

But nothing is set in stone yet.

The Washington council is expected to hold a final vote on May 5. The bill would then go to Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat who supports gay marriage but told Tuesday that he has yet to review the legislation.

If approved, the measure would then encounter its biggest potential hurdle: It would be sent to Congress for a legislative review and vote, setting up what would amount to a straight up-or-down vote on same-sex marriage.

Because Washington is not a state, its legislation must pass congressional muster. Some measures approved by overwhelmingly Democratic Washington voters, including a restrictive gun law and a proposal decriminalizing medical marijuana use, have been vetoed by Congress in recent years.

"This is a right that should be enjoyed by all of our citizens," Council Member Jack Evans, a Democrat, said in an interview with WTOP. "Today is another major step toward the ultimate goal of all of us living in a city and a country where everyone is treated equally."

Vermont passes gay marriage bill

Today (April 7, 2009), Vermont became the fourth state to allow same-sex marriage (well technically fifth, if you count California).  The governor initially vetoed the bill, but state legislatures overrode the veto and now Vermont joins the ranks of states that recognize marriage equality.  It is a beautiful day for celebration!

The Vermont House of Representatives passed the bill by a 100-49 vote after it cleared the state Senate 23-5 earlier in the day. In Vermont, a bill needs two-thirds support in each chamber to override a veto.

Vermont's vote comes just four days after Iowa's Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that barred gays from marrying to make that state the first in the U.S. heartland to allow same-sex marriages.

Vermont's gay marriage legislation looked in peril after a vote Thursday in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives that failed to garner enough support clear a veto threat from Republican Governor Jim Douglas.

California briefly recognized gay marriage until voters banned it in a referendum last year.

Vermont, which became the first state in the country to allow full civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000, joins New England neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Maine and New Hampshire are also considering gay marriage bills.  Now if only the California Supreme Court Judges could get on board!!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gays Killed in Baghdad

In most parts of the Middle East, homosexuality is prohibited, and in Iraq the amount of violence against gays and lesbians has reached new heights after the US-invasion.  Two young men were killed this past Thursday in Baghdad and after police found four more bodies.

'They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor,' a Sadr City official who declined to be named said.

The police source who declined to be named said the bodies of four gay men were unearthed in Sadr City on March 25, each bearing a sign reading 'pervert' in Arabic on their chests. 

Sermons condemning homosexuality were read at the last two Friday prayer gatherings in Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad slum of some 2 million people. The slum is a bastion of support for fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia.


Many young men who might have cut their hair short and grown beards when religious gangs controlled much of Iraq now dress in a more Western style as government forces take back control.

Some are now accused of being gay, and residents of Sadr City say at least one coffee shop has become a gay hangout. 

A member of the slum's Sadrist office said the Mehdi Army was not involved in the killings, but said homosexuality was now more widespread since the Mehdi Army lost control of the slum.

Last night I was talking with my partner about a gay bar that we have here in Riverside that is set in between two non-gay bars.  Apparently someone was shot while coming out of the gay bar a few years back.  It is still shocking to me that people are still violently abused and even murdered just because of the sexual orientation.  I personally don't feel safe coming out of that particular bar at night time because I don't know if someone is going to be extremely drunk from one of the neighboring bars and might decide to address the fact that they don't like homosexuals.

A couple days ago I went for a walk by myself (during the day) just to get some fresh air and to take a study break, and I saw these very large men get out of a car, but I thought nothing of them really.  Next thing I heard was, "Look at that gay ass faggot!"  I turned around.  They were pointing and laughing at me.  In most cases I usually say something when I hear people using anti-gay epithets or using "gay" as a synonym for stupid, etc.  But this time I was speechless.  I had nothing to say.  I was the one being targeted and attacked here.  Besides, even I wanted to say something, it was the two of them and just me, it was definitely not the safest thing for me to do.  But I took time to pause and to make eye contact with them, so they could look into the eyes of the person they were dehumanizing.  And I continued my walk, feeling empty, feeling broken, and feeling like my entire identity was reduced down to just one word, "faggot."

I know being called "faggot" does not compare to being shot for being gay, but words can lead to actions.  Homophobia can start with calling someone "faggot" and then lead to physically violent attacks, it does happen in our country, and it certainly happens in California (it's not as liberal as some would think it is).  But what do we do to end homophobia?  What do we do to end people getting shot for being themselves?  What do we do to make this world a safe home for all people?

(Hat tip to Towleroad for the news story)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

F*cking the Binary

Everyone, say hello to Carmen!  For those of you that don't know, I recently made my drag debut at the University of California, Riverside's Annual Dragalicious Drag Ball.  It was certainly a lot of fun and my wig even fell off, so yea, great times!  I was asked some questions by our student newspaper about the event and one question stood with me after I answered:  What is the purpose of tonight?

When I got home someone had sent me a message on Facebook asking what is the purpose of drag, since he was under the impression that it meant that I was trying to fulfill my desire to be a girl because I must feel like I'm really a girl inside (so basically asking if I was transitioning).  My answer to him was my answer to the student newspaper:  The purpose of drag is first and foremost to have fun!  But also, to deconstruct the gender binary structure that society has locked all of us into.  Or as one of my friends said, "To f*ck the gender binary!" Drag allows people to play with gender and rip up the binary table!  One of our drag king performers actually did a great performance of that actually!  Click here to watch that.

I offer a workshop/presentation called, (trans) it, that focuses on transgender and gender diversity where I discuss the gender spectrum and how there is a brick wall that separates masculine from feminine.  The wall exists because society has lead us to believe that we always have to know which is which.  In the beginning of the presentation I share a YouTube video from Chris Crocker.  I share it with you now: