Updated: Jun 27
When Scripture is Weaponized to Dehumanize
“Stop cherry-picking the Bible!”
This comment gets thrown at me any time I speak on why being gay is not a sin, how you can be spiritual and not religious or why Christianity does not “own” the rainbow, much less God. This tired, overused sentence that’s intended to be a religious smackdown rings hollow and yawn-worthy. Why? Because anyone who reads the Bible is cherry-picking.
It all comes down to intention.
If you set out to find homophobic, patriarchal, white supremacist passages that support the idea of manifest destiny, you will indeed find them. If however, you are like me, and looking for verses that focus on building a bigger table of humanity that supports justice and equity for all, you can find those as well.
When someone accuses me of cherry-picking, my response of, “Yes I do” gives them pause. It bursts their bubble and the hope that I’ll engage in an online war, as if doing so is somehow productive and fruitful. It generally quells their thirst for digital blood.
Resisting the comment wars
They’re a distraction -- one that I rarely dive into lest I become distracted as well. The original intent of my post can be lost by spiraling into unproductive arguments that move the conversation away from my message.
Whenever I use scripture to reinforce a point I am making, I don’t pick them randomly from the Bible cherry tree. They have been researched not only for context but how they have been translated -- or mistranslated -- over time.
This is important, because mistranslations have caused great harm to marginalized people throughout history. As someone who grew up believing that the King James Bible was the only valid version, I recall how unsteady my religious foundation became after I learned the truth. How it was translated thousands of years after the first council voted on which books would be included -- a “selection” process wrought with back-office meetings where bargaining, intimidation and outright threats were used to ensure the outcome -- a process that mirrors government politicking more than an act of sacred service.
Just with this bit of history, it should come as no surprise that certain words were added that drastically changed the original meaning of scripture.
Which brings us to our topic for today. We will focus on the word “abomination” and its use in the infamous “clobber verses” - passages used to condemn the LGBTQIA+ community.
But first, the backstory:
I’m writing this blog during June - Pride Month. A time that recognizes the harassment, bullying, abuse and terror the LGBTQIA+ community has endured throughout history. Pride month invites the Queer community to celebrate their sexual and gender authenticity loudly and proudly. For those who choose -- or sometimes are forced -- to remain silent about their true identity, it’s a chance to be affirmed and reminded that they are not alone -- that millions love and see them. For allies, this is our month to become educated, inspired and empowered so that our ally-ship becomes action and a demand for equal rights.
A few days into June, a social media creator* posted a video sharing their feelings about being labeled an “abomination” because they were gay. I could tell the attacks they’d endured for simply posting content to celebrate Pride month were causing deep pain. They took that pain and turned it into a teaching moment, assuring their followers that even if Christians saw them as an abomination, it didn’t change the fact that LGBTQIA+ people were deserving of respect, equal rights and love.
Abomination is a mistranslation
I applaud this creator’s rejection of Christian judgment. There is also an invitation here to explore the deeper meaning of “abomination” and how its use has weaponized Biblical scripture.
To dive into the sordid history of the word “abomination” and the multitude of mistranslations could be an entire teaching series -- and perhaps someday that is exactly what we will do.
But for now, it’s important to know this: the King James translation of the Bible is when the word “abomination” was first used as the translation for multiple Hebrew words, many of which had distinctly different meanings.
For instance, if we focus on Leviticus 18:22, which in the KJV reads, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination,” the Hebrew word “toevah” has been translated to abomination. However, this is misleading. “Toevah” is found over 100 times in the Bible and almost always refers to the rituals, customs or practices of other cultures and traditions. It’s also important to note that Leviticus is primarily focused on religious ritual and law. Chapter 18 and 20 fall squarely in the section that scholars call “The Holiness Collection” which focuses on rules surrounding sacrificial offerings, meat consumption, ethical laws, annual observances and rituals. Because the Israelites were now entering the promised land, rules needed to be established that would continue to set them apart from other tribes and nations, specifically those who worshipped other gods.
Temple prostitution, which included sex with multiple partners, partners of the same gender and sadly even children, was a common practice by other cultures. Levitical law was clarifying, in no uncertain terms, that Jews were forbidden because they were “set apart” by God.
The Hebrew word “toevah,” which became “abomination” in the King James Version and has been picked up by other Bible translations, is a gross mistranslation. It never meant to imply “a vile, shameful, or detestable action,” as is the definition of abomination.
It’s worth noting that within Levitical law are also laws related to sexual relations while a woman is menstruating, what meat can and cannot be consumed (including seafood), what fabrics can be worn together, and so on -- all of which are ignored by the modern Christian who still remains hyper focused on condemning LGBTQIA+ people.
By translating “toevah” and other Hebrew words as “abomination”, the Bible has become a weapon to dehumanize the LGBTQIA+ community.
Whenever I see a video celebrating Pride month, I pause and hold the space for those who are embracing the true essence of who they are - a privilege cisgender, heterosexual people have had for thousands of years. I too have witnessed an increase in verbal attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community, primarily by Christians who believe it is well within their right to condemn others because their cherry-picked scriptures are the only ones that matter.
It is our responsibility as allies to stand up and speak out for our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Never forget - unless you are a white, cisgender, heterosexual male, someone, somewhere at some point in time, did the same exact thing for you.
Human rights do not fall into one’s lap. They are won through blood, sweat and tears.
As we continue to navigate Pride month, ask yourself as Maya Angelou would, “How am I using my freedom to help free others?”
So in the middle of celebrating, flying our rainbow flags, and wearing our Pride pins…
Happy Pride Month.
*Within the first few days of Pride month, several LGBTQIA+ creators that I follow have abandoned their platforms because the bullying and harassment they’ve endured has exhausted them. People fear what they don’t understand, and that fear manifests as hate. We are working for a more compassionate world. Join us.