If the Bible is “a radically pro-slavery document” (Dan Savage), how is it that Christians who successfully fought for the abolition of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries based their opposition to slavery on that very same Bible? The answer is simple: The Bible is actually not “a radically pro-slavery document.”
According to Savage (following atheist Sam Harris), “the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong. Slavery! What’re the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100% percent.”
To be candid, it’s easy to see where Savage and Harris are coming from. After all, in the Old Testament, the Law of Moses didn’t outlaw slavery, it legislated slavery. As for the New Testament, instead of renouncing slavery as an unjust and cruel institution, the authors taught slaves to obey their masters. So, the argument goes, if the Bible got the issue of slavery so terribly wrong, how can it be trusted on the complex issue of human sexuality? And if Christians today are willing to ignore what the Bible says about slavery, what gives them the right to quote the Bible when it comes to the prohibition of homosexual practice?
These are serious questions, and they deserve serious answers. (Dan, remember that I’m here to help!) In short, it was through a misuse of the Bible that Christians justified slavery (along with segregation and the oppression of women) whereas it is by a proper use of the Bible that Christians oppose homosexual practice, while affirming gays and lesbians as people created in God’s image who are objects of Jesus’ love.
Read rightly, the Bible is actually a book of liberation for slaves, a book of equality for the races, and a book of emancipation for women. It celebrates the liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, teaches that in God’s sight, people from every race are equal, and has many glowing things to say about women (did you ever read Proverbs 31:10-31?). Women also played a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church. (There are whole books written on these subjects, but this 2008 lecture provides lots of useful information.) In contrast, there is not a single positive reference to homosexual practice in the Bible, while every reference to homosexuality in the Scriptures is decidedly negative.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.