Malaysiakini Letter

Bible used to justify discrimination

Rev O Young  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to It's not a gay church, explains pastor and would like to clarify that I have inadvertently been misquoted and thus my idea distorted inevitably. However, perhaps as a writer, I should have been more articulate. Thus, I would like to apologise to my readers, my opponents as well, for not being clear enough.

Since homosexuality is a highly sensitive topic and homosexuals perhaps are the least understood minority in our country, I deem it is important for me to clarify this. In my original press statement ‘It is not a gay church,’ I wrote:

‘Many contemporary Biblical scholars now realise that the word ‘homosexual’ in the Bible were mistranslated from the original Hebrew or Greek. In those instances, the original words actually meant ‘male temple prostitutes’, ‘male pimps’, ‘molesters’ or ‘morally weak men’ – the prohibition was against pagan rituals, sex without consent and weak moral will. The tale of Sodom and Gommorah, traditionally taken to mean God's wrath against same-sex behaviour, is also now regarded as suggesting instead God's wrath toward the sin of inhospitability, arrogance, xenophobia and selfishness. But early Biblical translators did not have such historical insights and thus easily mistranslated the words and stories, inadvertently resulting in centuries of persecution against homosexuals.’

However, the report paraphrased it to: ‘He also argues that the traditionally accepted Biblical condemnation of same sex behaviour was a result of mistranslation of the Sodom and Gomorrah episode from its original meaning, which he says referred to ‘male temple prostitutes, male pimps, molesters or morally weak men’ and was a condemnation of ‘inhospitability, arrogance, xenophobia and selfishness.’

What I was trying to say in my original statement is that, if we examine and scrutinise the biblical texts (Romans 1:26-27, i Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10) in the literary and historical/cultural context of the texts, the word ‘homosexual’ in most English translations of the Bible actually meant ‘male temple prostitutes’ or ‘male pimps’ or people who engaged in exploitative same-sex behaviors.

And, regarding the story of Sodom and Gommorah, it is not about the condemnation of homosexuality, but rather inhospitality, arrogance, xenophobia and selfishness. Thus, these are two arguments. I did not mean the Sodom and Gomorrah episode was about male temple prostitutes nor male pimps.

Regarding the interpretation of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is not only my personal interpretation or the interpretations of most biblical scholars but also the interpretations and understanding of the biblical writers such as prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isaiah 1:9-10, Ezekiel 16:49-50); even when Jesus mentions the city Sodom, he has in mind not the sexual sins, let alone homosexuality, but the inhospitality of its people (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:20-24; Luke 10:10-12).

Harvard biblical scholar Mark Jordan has also brilliantly argued and demonstrated in his highly scholarly book The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology that the term sodomy was coined by eleventh-century theologian Peter Damian and has been used to condemn homosexuals in our modern context which initially has nothing to do with homosexuality. What happened in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah is same -sex rape.

To condemn same-sex rape should not be understood as condemning homosexuality, just like no sensible heterosexual person wold characterise opposite-sex rape as heterosexual. Thus, to equate the sin of Sodom to homosexuality by a lot of Christians is to read our prejudice and bias into the Bible.

For so long, the Bible has been used to justify discrimination and to perpetuate prejudice. Many people have mistaken my position as attacking the Bible. I am not attacking the Bible, I am merely challenging the interpretations of many people of the Bible. The Church in the past had used the Bible to persecute and burn scientists alive, to oppose the abolishment of slavery and to justify slavery by teaching the slaves to willingly accept punishment and not to challenge their masters (1 Peter 2:21).

Many have used the Bible (1 Peter 13-14) to criticise Rev Dr. Martin Luther King when he challenged the racist and evil laws in the US in the civil rights movement. We need to learn from the history. But unfortunately, many are repeating the same blunder when they use the Bible to go against our lesbian, gay and transgender brothers and sisters.

In addition to this, please allow me to remind my fellow Malaysians and politicians that Malaysia is a secular state, neither Christian laws nor Islamic laws should be imposed onto its citizens, especially onto non-Christians or non-Muslims.

Last but not least, as a Christian theologian by training and an ordained Christian pastor, I would like to emphasise that we must allow the research and new discoveries of the natural science and social sciences to inform our interpretations of our religious scared text. And it is not a blasphemy to do so as we have allowed Galileo to change our view of the universe and how certain passages of the Bible should be read and interpreted. If we were to believe our God is God of mercy, love and justice, then our interpretations of the Bible should reflect the natures of God by promoting love and justice.

To condemn or to criminalise homosexuals and our transgender brothers and sisters simply because of who they are, and without being able to articulate what harm they do to themselves and to the society at large with sound and valid arguments that are bolstered by unequivocal facts without compromising logical consistency, but simply appealing to the religious text, is appallingly wrong and it is a form of discrimination that does no justice to God's creations. And if anything is blasphemy, this is blasphemy.

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