Editors' Note: Guest blogger Father John McNeill is a pioneer in the gay liberation movement. John helped found Dignity New York City, a spiritual support group for gay and lesbian Catholics, in 1972. In 1976 he published The Church and the Homosexual, the first major theological critique of traditional church condemnation of lesbian and gay relations. In 2007 he was awarded The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce lifetime achievement award "for leading the way in understanding that being gay is a gift from God."
The recent effort of evangelical pastor Martin Sscampa, under the tutelage of American Evangelicals, to pass a "kill the gays" bill in the Uganda parliament and the extensive persecution of GLBT people throughout eastern Africa is based primarily on a highly questionable interpretation of a passage in Leviticus 18: 22.This passage has been traitionally translated to read: "If any man lies with another man as with a women let them be put to death!"
The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of Vatican Council II deals with how to interpret sacred scripture:
Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in a human fashion, the interpreter of sacred sripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.
This cautious investigation of the intention of the human author is especially called for dealing with biblical passages which traditionally have been accepted as dealing with homosexual activity.
We are keenly aware that back in the days of slavery, slave owners routinely used passages from scripture to justify owning slaves as in accordance with God's will. There is a real probability that the homophobia of the translators and their culture has led to a distortion of the meaning of these passages.
The Hebrew scholar K. Renato Lings has offered a philological/literary analysis of Leviticus 18.22. Lings points out that most modern translations present this text as self-explanatory, which contrasts sharply with its opacity. The ambiguities embedded in the wording have received limited intention. There is no satisfactory method for converting the unusual hebrew phrase: "with a male you shall not the lyings of a women" in good idiomatic English.
Based on a careful analysis of the hebrew wording of the text Lings argues that the text does not prohibit all erotic expression between men.
The overall context seems to indicate that the scope of this verse is far more restricted. If the text is analyzed and translated carefully, there is reason to believe that Lev.18.22 is proscribing incest bwteen male family members.
A primary examole of what kind of activity is proscribed is Ham's act of sexual sodomy with his drunken father Noah as recorded in Gen.9: 18-27.
The best way to arrive at an understanding of what the author means by this text is to read it within the overall context of Leviticus. "Just as the overall aim of Leviticus is to ban incestuous heterosexual practices, Lev.18.22 may well be there to insure that homosexual incest is added to the list of proscriptions."
"A reading from this angle restores the verse to its biblical context, enabling Lev.18.22 to fulfill a logical purpose amid a series of ancient indictments of transgressive sexual practices. To use a paraphrase...that outcome may sound like something to this effect: you shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female. If this approach is correct... it would seem the issue of incest deserves to be taken into account whenever Lev.18.22 is discussed."
This understanding of Leviticus frees us from making the blasphemous assertion that God wills the death or imprisonment of all those humans whom God created with a gay orientation.