Biblical Homophobia and Christian Pastors

As we contemplate the political and religious implications of Mississippi GOP lawmaker Andy Gipson citing Scripture to suggest that lesbians and gay men be "put to death," a position he has since walked back even as his original post on Facebook remains, we are left wondering about the moral health of not just the GOP but also of Christian pastors such as Charles L. Worley, who recently joined the chorus of hate by urging that gays and lesbians be put in electrified pens for extermination. Such sentiments, voiced by Christian ministers, lead us to ponder other passages in the Bible calling for sundry members of the population to be slaughtered even as the sixth commandment in Exodus is unequivocal in opposition: "Thou shalt not kill."

Gipson, who is both a Republican lawmaker and a Baptist minister, cited Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 20:13, which reads: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." However, the prohibition in Leviticus comes after a slew of similarly worded ones, including (20:9) that children failing to respect their parents be put to death ("For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him"). The exact same sentence is pronounced on those who commit adultery: "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (20:10, KJV). Similarly worded death sentences in Leviticus tellingly await those who worship the deities of other religions.

Meanwhile, Exodus 31:14-15 explicitly recommends the death sentence for anyone caught working on the Sabbath: "for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death." And, despite the commandment against murder in Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:21 insists that young women (and only young women) who have sex before marriage be stoned to death: "Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die."

Lest we imagine that the New Testament is somehow immune to such violent pronouncements and threats, consider Luke 14:26, where Jesus appears to overturn Leviticus 20:9 in insisting that parental and marital hatred is in fact a precondition for those following him: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

The list of prohibitions enforced by death is so extensive in Leviticus alone that Matthew Henry's celebrated six-volume commentary on the Bible, dating from 1706, felt the need to gloss why disrespectful children should be slaughtered: "Are we shocked at the unnatural cruelty of the ancient idolaters in sacrificing their children?" Henry asked. "We may justly be so." Still, he thought the example would be salutary and beneficial to all concerned, especially the surviving children: "let children remember that he who cursed father or mother was surely put to death."

We are living not in the 18th century or ancient world, but in the 21st century, and to see a Republican lawmaker and a prominent Christian pastor try to outdo each other in their bigotry and murderous hate puts in unpleasant but clear relief the moral health of the organizations they represent. It is disgraceful that such claims could be uttered in 2012, including by those professing to be Christian, a religion that claims to represent and foster love.