Hypocrisy is a tricky affair. It is easy to accuse someone of it and easy to fail to see one’s own hypocrisy.
In the course of the ongoing debate about homosexuality references in Leviticus often come up. As a result, so does the accusation that Christians pick and choose those laws they want to force on others and those they want to ignore.
Let’s note a few facts:
- Fact 1: There are only seven passages in the entire Bible that directly address homosexuality.
1 Timothy 1:8-11
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Thus, it is hard to avoid the Levitical passages.
Let’s look at all seven briefly.
The first two in Genesis and Judges are historical passages, recounting events that occurred that involved homosexual behavior.
The next two (Leviticus) are legal passages. They are nearly word for word the same and are a strong condemnation of homosexual behavior. However, in the same context there are also legal codes that condemn eating pork, oysters, and rare meat, among other things.
The final three passages are all found in letters of Paul in the New Testament. The Romans passage is the most condemning of all, and it is the only time in which female homosexuality is directly referred. The last two are found in what are known as vice lists – lists of sins. These lists are all behaviors, and it is worthy to note that homosexuality is not singled out as a sin above all others. It is one of a list.
Fact 2: Homosexuality is only addressed in these passages as a behavior. The concept of orientation is not addressed.
The reason this is not addressed is because this concept is foreign to scripture. In scripture there are only two sexual orientations – male or female. Homosexuality is not an orientation; it is a behavior. A person’s feelings toward someone of the same sex is not considered relevant, only their behavior.
The charge of hypocrisy results because in the Leviticus legal codes, homosexuality is just one of many behaviors being discussed.
The question is, are Christians being inconsistent when they say homosexuality is a sin but ignore the other behaviors condemned in the legal code?
Fact 3: All legal codes are not the same. In the legal codes of the Old Testament there are four different kinds of laws.
1. Moral laws. These are universally true and express absolutes. Sometimes they are called principles. These constitute a sense of “oughtness,” that is, this behavior is wrong even if it were not written in some code. For instance, thou shall not steal. It doesn’t have to be written down for people to know it is wrong.
2. Civil laws. These are the laws of governments for the betterment of life for all people. They are based on moral law or principle, but they are not universal and are not absolute. Civil law often requires a court and a judge to adjudicate their application. Civil laws are for the protection of individuals and society. As society changes and evolves the civil laws change and evolve, but not the moral principle that is behind them. In a sense, the civil law is an application of moral law to a specific time and place.
3. Ceremonial laws. These are regulations placed on the priesthood and the people to give order and form to expressions of worship. Some of the Old Testament ceremonial laws were representative of spiritual truths that foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ. Thus, Christ fulfilled them and they are no longer needed. Most were tied to practices in the Tabernacle and Temple and are no longer relevant to religious practice today. For example, they were forbidden to eat blood.
In the Old Testament, blood was a critical part of the sacrificial system. It was shed for the remission of sin. The penalty was severe because the ceremony was considered particularly sacred. After Christ’s death for us on the cross, there was no longer the ceremonial need for the shedding of blood for the remission of sin. With the ceremonial significance removed, soon the prohibition was dropped.
4. Circumstantial Law. These laws were given to address specific circumstances and were applicable as long as those circumstances existed. For example, there are specific laws for the handling of the manna from heaven. When that miracle ceased, the law was no longer relevant.
Many of the food laws are either ceremonial laws or circumstantial laws, and they simple are not applicable today.
What kind of legal code are the two Leviticus passages on homosexuality? Most biblical scholars agree that they are civil laws based on moral principles. The severity of the prescribed punishment indicates that this behavior was considered a particular danger to society.
Homosexual behavior was considered a serious threat. While they have certainly been modified since ancient times, as most civil law is, the principle behind the law remains the same. We would never expect or support a death penalty for homosexual behavior in today’s society, yet such behavior is still considered to be a threat to society.
In what way is homosexual behavior a threat to society you might ask?
How should society respond to behavior that results in a 20 to 25 year decrease in life expectancy; a suicide rate three times the national norm; frequency and severity of depression at five times the national norm; an inability to maintain any long term relationships (the average gay male has over 50 partners in a life time); multiple major health problems, significantly above national norms; drug and alcohol problems significantly above the national norms; fatal diseases that are a direct result of the behavior; a very low likelihood that the adverse effects can be eliminated unless the behavior is eliminated?(from Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.,) 1994)
Compare that list to this one. A five to ten year decrease in life expectancy; a much higher rate of suicide; a higher rate of depression; serious mental disabilities, many of which are reversible once the behavior is modified; multiple health problems, including chronic, potential fatal liver disease; difficulty in maintaining long term relationships; a higher likelihood of criminal behavior; a very low likelihood that the adverse effects can be eliminated unless the behavior is eliminated. This is a description of alcoholism.
We have civil codes that regulate and in some cases prohibit the use of alcohol because it is a public health risk.
Until just recently we had laws condemning homosexual behavior because it is a public health risk. But now we are being told this behavior is normal, and if we object, we are bigoted and hypocritical.
A Christian is not being hypocritical when he or she upholds the prohibition against homosexual behavior while supporting the eating of pork. And a Christian is not being homophobic nor bigoted when he or she rejects the notion that this behavior is normal.
A Christian is clearly wrong if he or she attacks or degrades a person who practices homosexuality.
We are all the same – sinners in need of God’s grace.
Dr. Carl White