Saturday, September 08, 2012

Leviticus: Religion can lead to violence

“Leviticus” by Ron Richard Baviello

“Leviticus” by artist Ron Richard Baviello shows eyes narrowed by hatred based on the Biblical book of Leviticus, which has been misused to condemn LGBT people.

The angry glare is intended to make viewers stop and think about how unquestioning religious faith can instill hatred and lead to violence. Attacks on LGBT people are only one example of aggression motivated in part by religious fundamentalism. The issue is especially timely now with the upcoming Sept. 11 anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Baviello, a gay artist based in Maryland, uses an unusual long, horizontal format so the eyes seem to stare through the slit of a peephole. He named his painting after the book of Leviticus, which is basically a set of ancient laws. It contains two “clobber passages” that are often used to condemn homosexuality.

“I was inspired to do this painting because so much hate has been generated from this book of the Bible,” Baviello told the Jesus in Love Blog. “So many gay people have been damned and ridiculed by religious people who never stop to think who actually wrote this passage over 2000 years ago. Most people don’t even know how the Bible was put together and who was responsible for it. This was my attempt to get people to stop and think and to seek the truth. If they believe in God, and that God created us all, and God is love, then it shouldn't matter who we love, but whether we can.”

Baviello’s art includes many gay couples and male nudes as well as landscapes, abstractions and other subjects.  Raised in the Bible Belt of North Carolina, Baviello counts himself among the many LGBT people whose connection to God was disrupted by Christians quoting anti-gay Bible verses.

“I felt close to the presence of God as a child, but then they tried to convince me that God hated me, and I was condemned to hell for being who I am. As a child I couldn’t understand why God would create me and hate me all in the same breath. I didn’t create myself, or even ask to be born. It took me long time to discover it was all a lie. I was just one of the many victims of human ignorance. I hope it will be better for future generations.”

Progressive religious leaders and Bible scholars give two main reasons why Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should NOT be used to condemn homosexuality.

First, these passages refer specifically to sex acts with male temple prostitutes in the fertility cults of the neighboring Canaanite nations. The rules were intended to stop Jews from adopting the idolatry of other nations, not as a blanket prohibition on same-sex intercourse. The scriptures are part of Israel’s Holiness Code, but the idea that they apply to today’s lesbian and gay relationships has even been rejected by the Reform Jewish movement, the biggest branch of Judaism in North America.

Second, Christians should not even try to enforce laws from Leviticus because these laws no longer apply to followers of Jesus. A basic belief in Christianity is that salvation comes from faith in Christ, who replaced the old laws with a new commandment to love. The New Testament firmly rejects imposing the old purity code on Gentile Christians. Many of the other laws in Leviticus were abandoned by Christians long ago. In addition to its sexual rules, Leviticus also outlaws many practices that are commonly accepted by Christians today, including tattoos, eating shrimp, reading horoscopes and wearing blended fabrics.

A full explanation of Leviticus and its impact today is provided in Dirt Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today by William Countryman, New Testament professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

“The creation of its own purity code has been one of several ways in which the church has at times allowed itself to become a barrier to the gospel of God's grace,” Countryman writes. “A Christian sexual ethic that remains true to its New Testament roots will have to discard its insistence on physical purity.” More of this excerpt is is available online at

For more LGBT-affirming info on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, visit these links:

Special thanks to Stephen Mead for alerting me to the art of Ron Richard Baviello!

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.


Colin Smith said...

While I agree that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should NOT be used to condemn homosexuality today, I disagree with the reasons given in the blog.

First, a plain or literal reading shows that the passages refer to all penetrative sex activity between men (men having sex as if one were a woman). There is no direct or indirect reference to “sex acts with male temple prostitutes in the fertility cults of the neighboring Canaanite nations”. Other commentators, such as Miner and Connoley, have tried to show that there is a contextual reference but have failed.

They tried to work out the meaning of the Leviticus prohibitions on homosexual behavior by looking at what form such behavior commonly took in Egyptian and Canaanite societies. They concluded that it was homosexual temple prostitution. However while this may have been the most publicly visible form of same-sex behavior, they ignored that such behavior would also occur in everyday life outside the temples.

Therefore when Leviticus 18:3 says that the Israelites are not to follow the Egyptian and Canaanite practices, it is prohibiting sex between men under all circumstances – secular and religious, not just homosexual temple prostitution.

Second, it is untrue that the Leviticus laws no longer apply to followers of Jesus. The question of which Old Testament commandments of God still apply to Christians was discussed by the early church. It was decided that non-Jews who became Christians would have to follow some, but not all, of the Old Testament (Jewish) laws. The non-Jewish Christians were not to eat food offered to idols and certain meat and they were not to be sexually immoral. Therefore they had to follow the Old Testament laws on sexual conduct, including no incest, adultery, bestiality or sex between men. All the other Old Testament commandments (such as eating shrimp or pork) did not apply to Christians. See the full story in Acts 15:13-30. These laws on sexual conduct still apply to Christians, except for those relating to sex between men.

The Old and New Testament laws against sex between men no longer apply today because they were mainly based on the ancient cultural view that a penetrated man was acting like a woman (instead of like a man) in sexual intercourse. This was a shameful and degrading thing for a man to do. The male penetrator was condemned for helping the penetrated man to act like a woman during sex.

As this homosexual prohibition was culturally based, it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Greek-Roman cultures of Bible times, and it does NOT apply today.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thank you for providing more reasons NOT to use Leviticus to condemn homosexuality today -- and for affirming women’s equality in the process. I appreciate your detailed and scholarly explanations. I hope that those who want to know more about the Bible and homosexuality will visit your website.

Mistermoman said...

Hi, my name is Maurice and I'm a liberal rabbi and author of a new book on Leviticus that comes from an LGBT-positive perspective. It also addresses some of the questions (and knots) that can come up in interfaith discussions among progressive Christians and Jews working with the difficult parts of Leviticus. The book is called Leviticus: You Have No Idea, and you can see more about it at Thanks for permitting me a moment of book promotion - which I hope won't seem inappropriate since it's on topic!

Rabbi Maurice Harris

Kittredge Cherry said...

Rabbi Harris, I like the way you are grappling with Leviticus from a progressive viewpoint instead of simply avoiding it as many liberals do. I like your contemporary metaphors, such as “impurity as Kryptonite.” It looks like your book explains other parts of Leviticus that trouble me, such as animal sacrifice. If you let me know when your book is available at, I can add a ad with a photo link to the end of this blog post.