How I long for the day when we will collectively stop clinging fearfully to old, outdated interpretations of Bible scripture based on concepts of an angry, demanding and punishing God and embrace instead the infinitely loving, intimately expressing Presence and Power that Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated some 2,000 years ago.
No one quotes the Bible anymore to justify the institution of slavery—although they did so in the not-so-distant past. No one quotes the Bible to justify treating women as property intended by God to be submissive to men in all things—although they did so in the even more-recent past.
We have slowly come to understand that the power and importance of the Bible comes from its underlying spiritual message, not from its literal history of how life was lived in a primitive, nomadic culture thousands of years ago. Jesus himself was one of the first to call people to rise up from a literal obedience to the words and appreciate the message of scripture from a higher perspective of ever-expanding love.
[Leviticus is often cited by those who use the Bible to condemn homosexuality.] However, Leviticus is not the Law of God—that is pretty well covered in the ten basic Commandments. It is a detailed, meticulous interpretation of the implications of God's law in all areas of life. Life for the Israelites in a harsh desert climate, surrounded by enemy tribes who followed other gods, was difficult indeed.
Nothing was more important than that they stay united as a tribe; their very survival depended upon it. So anything that might cause disharmony, anything that did not help the tribe to grow stronger and more numerous to stand against its enemies, was to be forbidden.
Relationships at the time were not based on love but on necessity. People married as they were directed, to combine families into more powerful units and to produce children to help the nation grow. Homosexual relationships did not accomplish any of that, and were a potential source of dissension besides. So they were forbidden, along with literally hundreds of other forms of individual behavior. And, because it was a harsh and primitive world, the punishment (imposed by the tribe, not by God) was severe—usually some form of death.
So these passages directing that "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" are rooted in the collective attitude of the time—just as other passages regarding the institution of slavery or the subjugation of women. They made sense in the context of the times; no one had achieved a higher spiritual consciousness that would be able to see things in a deeper and truer way.
But achieving that higher consciousness is the entire point of our presence here as spiritual beings engaged in a human experience. We can't achieve a higher consciousness—we can't move higher in our ability to feel and express more of the infinite Love that is God—if we insist on staying locked in primitive beliefs.
Jesus was one of the first to call us to come up higher. "You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). He is quoting Leviticus 19:18 and saying that it is no longer enough to fearfully hate enemies. If we are to grow in spiritual awareness, we must replace fear of “the other” with love for the Oneness of all of life.
So if their literal meaning is archaic, what might these passages mean for us today? I think it has to do with lessons of consciousness and respect that we are still learning.
The statement is that “men shall not lie with men as with women.” At that time, women were property, empty vessels for the sexual pleasure of men. Their role in any intimate relationship was to be submissive and insignificant. For a man to be “treated like a woman” was for him to abandon his rightful role in the cosmos and assume an inferior station. It was the implied degradation that was the heart of the “sin.” Today we see all beings—male and female alike—as unique expressions of the Light and Love of God. If we are to honor the level of consciousness to which Jesus Christ calls us, we must ensure that all our relationships—heterosexual, homosexual, familial, friendships—are soundly based on a recognition of spiritual equality. No one is meant to be the inferior “submissive.” Every relationship, every intimacy, is to be a loving and joyful union of two creative expressions of God.