Those who look to religious scripture for guidance should support the rights of the LGBTQ community not despite their religious convictions, but because of them, said author Jay Michaelson in his talk “God vs. Gay” on Thursday night at Hillel.
Michaelson is the author of the bestseller “God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality” and the founder of Nehirim, a national organization of LGBT Jews and allies. Michaelson’s work focuses on religion, spirituality, sexuality, and law, according to his website. Michaelson argued that present understandings of the Bible’s views on homosexuality are based on an overly narrow reading.
“Only six verses out of 31,000 even talk about same-sex intimacy,” said Michaelson. “But even those are obscure and subject to interpretation.”
There is no definitive answer to how narrowly or broadly biblical passages should be interpreted, said Michaelson. He pointed to the sixth commandment–thou shalt not kill–as an example.
“Two chapters later there is a discussion about the death penalty,” he said. “The Bible is not an answer key, it’s a question key.”
In addressing Leviticus 18:22, the controversial passage that reads “thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” Michaelson again emphasized the applicability of range of approaches.
The Hebrew word “Toevah,” since translated into “abomination” in today’s Bible, originally meant “a culturally relevant taboo,” said Michaelson. The broad term was used to describe same-sex acts, but it was also used by Egyptians to describe the act of eating with Israelites, among other things.
“I am onboard with the Bible being literally true,” he said. “Yet the Bible still has to go on to define the scope. We have to determine what is the wrong part, and what is the right part of this passage.”
Michaelson ended his lecture with a scene from Huckleberry Finn in which Huck is concerned that he will go to hell if he does not turn in Jim, an escaped slave, but ultimately decides to protect his friend.
“This isn’t a moment Huck is going to hell. This is the moment Huck becomes an adult and overcomes his prejudices,” said Michaelson. “By defying the teaching of his church, he’s actually fulfilling the highest aspirations and intentions of the religious community of which he is a part.”
Nicholas J. Mendoza, a Harvard Divinity School student, said that Michaelson’s religious approach fills an important gap in the gay rights discussion.
“I think by arguing theologically instead of politically, Michaelson meets an important need,” said Mendoza. “It is absolutely an original approach, and it speaks entirely in terms of religious thought.”