How Bacon Proves that Homosexuality isn't Sinful

Thanks to an ancient, shared history.

I used to laugh at Christians who supported same-sex relationships. The Bible was so clear it was inexplicable how anyone could claim to be a Christian and not confess that homosexuality was a sin.

Arguments in favor of it usually amounted to "a loving God would never condemn any form of love" or "the Old Testament is full of outdated xenophobia and racism". In other words, Christians who endorsed gay marriage simply dismissed Scripture to make their case. And being a fairly reasonable person, I wasn't about to accept such an irresponsible hermeneutic.

I wanted someone to prove to me, biblically, that homosexuality wasn't a sin. And for years, I was unconvinced because even the biblical arguments were terrible. Matthew Vines, an outspoken gay Christian, made a noble attempt with his book God and the Gay Christian, but his insistence that monogamous gay relationships were not within the Bible's purview felt weak and a bit desperate.

I needed something irrefutable if I was going to be swayed from the church's historical position on homosexuality. What I found was bacon.

The Mosaic Law specifically forbids eating pigs, yet Christians love bacon more than they love gay people. We quote Jesus' words about defilement coming from within and go right back to condemning Matthew Vines without batting an eye at our own inconsistency. Of course, there is no complimentary verse affirming homosexuality, but don't let that distract you from what just happened.

Why would God prohibit eating pigs only to allow it a few centuries later? What changed?

Old Testament dietary laws are usually explained with disease. Most of the animals on the "unclean" list occasionally ate dead animals making them prone to transmitting various pathogens. So the argument goes that prohibiting pork was God's way of protecting his people from illness before the advent of modern medicine.

Obviously, people don't die from eating pigs today because we prepare the meat better and we have antibiotics. But Jesus didn't. If the purpose of restricting the Israelites' diet was for their own health, then it makes no sense why God would expose them to those risks again long before the discovery of penicillin.

A better explanation for the dietary laws can be seen in the ancient religious practices of rival nations. The Egyptians were known for eating pigs as part of an annual sacrifice to Osiris, the god of the dead. And the Hittites, one of the nations Israel drove out, had a pig festival and revered it as magical and a symbol of fertility.

Canaanite fertility cults proved to be a problem for ancient Israel as the numerous biblical references to fertility gods like Ba'al and Asherah bear witness. Interestingly enough, the prophet Isaiah associates the eating of pigs with these mountaintop rituals. While Jesus makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with pigs themselves, Isaiah explains that the problem was with how they were used.

God set apart the Israelites to bear witness to him, so most of the Mosaic Law was designed to do just that: create a distinction between his people and everyone else. But these weren't arbitrary distinctions. We might not understand the context of all of them, but most of the rules and rituals distinguished Israel's God and worship from Canaan's gods and worship.

Thus, if pig consumption was prohibited by virtue of its cultic associations rather than intrinsic properties, then it follows that homosexuality was prohibited for similar associations, not intrinsic immorality.

The first recorded prohibition makes the cultic connections abundantly clear. Along with homosexuality, the same passage in Leviticus also prohibits incest, menstrual sex, adultery, and bestiality. We could assume that the common denominator is immoral sexual behavior, but one other act is included in this seemingly coherent list: child sacrifice.

Child sacrifice and homosexuality share one thing in common and that is both of them were rituals in ancient fertility cults. God rarely makes unconditional prohibitions, but rather as Paul reminds us, all things are lawful--they're just not necessarily profitable. In this case, he prohibited homosexuality because of how it was practiced in Egypt and Canaan where human sacrifice was the all too frequent culmination.

The Old Testament prohibitions were designed to protect God's people from the deadly practices of their neighbors, but instead, the law was abused and the sacrifices were seen as payment for bad behavior. Though the prophet Micah testifies that this was never the intent, God's elegant solution was to write the law on our hearts and make our devotion to him one of action, not prohibition.

The Israelites were known by their dietary restrictions, but Christians are known by their love for one another. We have the freedom to eat what we will and love whom we will so long as we're loving others in the process. There is no other metric by which we must measure our love for God.

Therefore, just as the time to eat bacon is always now, the time for cultic associations is past. Like Peter heard in a vision, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean," which he understood to mean, "I should not call anyone impure or unclean." This includes gay people.

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photo credit: Lisa Zins Hungry Yet?? via photopin (license)

Comments

  1. It strikes me then that perhaps prostitution was prohibited because of the same kind of association with Greek/Roman temples and priestesses? Paul who was hard on Peter for leaving behind the freedom found in the gospel by trying to make the Gentile believers mutilate themselves, still pointed to homosexuality as akin to slave traders, adulterers, perjurers and other things not associated with the practices of their neighbors. Im just concerned that the only reason we are doing this kind of exegetical gymnastics is to align ourselves with the culture of our day. The last time we did this was to justify enslaving millions of people based on the color of their skin.

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    1. I tend to look at it from the opposite perspective. The literal, uncontextualized, assumed-universality reading has been the go-to for many human rights violations, including slavery. But understanding historical context is precisely what explains the OT condoning of slavery and the NT's lack of abolitionists.

      It's fair to say that many have capitulated for the sake of enjoying the affirmation of today's culture, but that has never been me nor have I arrived at this position thoughtlessly. And I think it's also fair to say that if Scripture can continue to allow slavery even in Paul's day, that homosexuality was still associated with cultic practices (just read Plato). Thus, if we're to assume that homosexuality was intrinsically immoral, we're handcuffed to assuming the slavery is intrinsically not. That and the fact that the words for homosexuality are contested by scholars (I know, not the strongest argument and it wasn't what convinced me, but it adds to the evidence).

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  2. So by that reasoning I go back to my opening line about prostitution. If homosexuality is not immoral unless it is for pagan ritual purposes, then prostitution could also be moral except for pagan ritual as long as we guard against abuse. Simple reading of First Timothy equates those who practice sexual immorality, homosexuality and slave trading among other law breakers. Seems to inducate a growing prohibition against slavery, especially abusive slave trade. Some scholars say that Christian post-roman Europe was largely free of slavery until trade and colonial times. Then it became a different issue of race based slavery. It still feels like reading into scripture what we want to see to find that homosexuality has been unfairly maligned for 2000 years or even twice that because we missed God's point about Baal worship.

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    1. The "reading into Scripture" argument is probably the most common on the topic which is ironic because that's exactly what most Christians do. By discounting things like Ba'al worship, we're reading the Bible as if it was written for 21st century Americans. Contextualized arguments may seem like cultural excuses, but they're really just an attempt to read the texts as they were originally heard. The assumed universality reading is honestly a very lazy hermeneutic because it requires nothing from the reader other than to read and regurgitate, not meditate. Of course, I also reject the perspecuity of Scripture, so take that into account as well.

      That being said, I think it's a leap to compare homosexuality and prostitution. The former is mentioned explicitly twice and possibly four other times (though this is contested). The latter is mentioned ubiquitously. In fact, it's God's go-to metaphor for his relationship with his people. But if we read it as simply paying for sex as movies like Pretty Woman tell us, then we're missing why he's so angry in Hosea.

      Prostitution, in God's mind, was unfaithfulness--adultery. It wasn't between single adults but at least one married party. It was a perversion of the oneness and unity that he desired with us and designed our relationships with each other to model. Thus, it would be difficult to make a case against monogamous gay relationships in that regard. Any form of polygamy is a perversion, but any form of monogamy is not (at least innately).

      So yes, you could use my argument to make a case for sex in exchange for money; however, you could only do this one time without falling into unfaithfulness/adultery. Even so, this is not a case against my argument because in order to do that, you would have to begin with the assumption that one of them is immoral (thus, allowing one and not the other is inconsistent). And since we can't demonstrate that biblically for either on an intrinsic level apart from other associated sinful activities, there is no logical argument that I can see against it.

      I should probably add that while I've wanted to hold this position for many years, I felt unable to do so without compromising Scripture. It never made sense to me why God would prohibit something that didn't appear to contradict the greatest commandments, but I couldn't get past Lev 18. Unlike the NT passages where semantics can be argued either way, the law was graphically and explicitly clear.

      So this was not a case of simply trying to force Scripture into my desired worldview; I fought with it and failed for a long time and had mostly given up that I could ever talk myself into supporting it--not without throwing out everything I believed. But I had a watershed moment that I mulled over for months and have only now felt confident enough to declare publicly. It was in no way flippant or I would have written about it a long time ago.

      I could care less what culture or anyone else thinks about my views. I only want to study to show myself approved. The arguments I grew up with simply felt hollow and the reading contrived. But now I have confidence in my position that it has considered all the options and arrived at the most logical one based on examining the culture and how God's laws evolved over time through different covenants. To me, this position feels the most biblically consistent.

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