“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 pbs.org.
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.