How to Love Your Neighbor and Love Yourself by Reading the Bible for Pride

Many conservative Christians use June as a month to get out there, get some vitamin D, and harass LGBTQ+ people. They show up at Pride parades with huge signs that are just lists of scriptures out of context, they protest in front of progressive churches, and work extra hard at being extra annoying. And I hate it. June is the month when many people finally feel safe enough to come out because of the excitement of Pride. It’s one of the only months of the year that it’s possible for a newly out person to gather in a public space with a large group of other queer people and be celebrated! And for someone to ruin it in the name of my God really grinds my gears. It makes me sad; I’m not big on evangelizing, but I do think that Christianity is there for those who want it, and for some to behave as if the Bible teaches us otherwise is wrong. When these Christians use the Bible to spread hatred, to judge people who are marginalized, and to maintain their positions of power in society, it makes me remember when I was thinking about coming out and then eventually came out, and how hurt I felt by the things I saw people saying in the name of Christianity.

As I grew in my queerness and my faith, I decided that I had to read the Bible for myself if I wanted to really understand what they were saying. Taking the time to read through the passages that made me uncomfortable wasn’t easy. Some of the things that are written in that collection of books feels hurtful on first, second, or even on a third read. But I wanted to read them. I wanted to read the whole Bible. But it’s not easy! It’s thousands of pages, covers thousands of years, and in English alone has over 50 translations to choose from. It’s a lot of information to take in at one time and different groups have been interpreting the Bible for their benefit since it was written, y’all. (If you’re looking for translations, I’m totally into the NRSV and the CEB; both of which consulted many progressive denominations in their creation).

I took about a year to read the Bible, and what I learned was this: at its best, the Bible is a story about a God that loves their creation so much that they will do anything to let that creation know that they are loved and treasured. It’s a story for people who have been gaslit into believing they aren’t whole; it’s for people who have been told that they are inherently wrong or bad; it’s a story for rebels and revolutionaries who hope and work for a future they probably won’t ever see. If we were to believe conservatives though, the Bible is a rulebook meant to keep people out. I didn’t want to believe that though, so I made sure be especially critical when reading some of the most controversial scriptures.

In the long list of passages from the Bible conservatives use to discriminate against queer folks, I think Leviticus 18:22 is the most well known. In the CEB it reads, “You must not have sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman; it is a detestable practice.” Most other translations read similarly, many replacing “a detestable practice” with “an abomination” or “abhorrent.” An especially conservative translation (New Living Translation) even says “homosexuality” in the verse. It doesn’t sound promising, I will give it that.

When I recently came upon this passage in my daily devotional, I almost skipped it. But I hate not knowing things for myself, and I realized that I’d never really read that verse in context with the entire book of Leviticus. When I read it in relationship to the entire book, my perception of the passage changed. The whole book of Leviticus is introducing this new “law” for the Israelites. And basically, the law is saying if you want to be righteous, “think about God first, then others, then yourself.” This just seemed like a continuation of that message, applied to sexual behavior. If God wanted these people to be thinking of God in every aspect of their lives, then that obviously included sex.

I journaled next to the passage after reading it: “It feels like God is saying, ‘Hey, so I recognize that I’ve created different cool bodies on different people and it would be cool if you also recognized that and made love to them being mindful of who they are and what their body wants and needs. Doing otherwise would be detestable.'” And maybe it’s because I’m a bisexual non binary human who reads the Bible with those intersections in mind, but I think that all God is saying here is to honor the body that you’re having sex with. If God is telling Moses to have his community think about others before themselves, is it such a stretch to think that extends to sexual behavior? God wanted the Israelites to think about their partner when they were having sex, and less about themselves. I believe this is a passage about sexual selflessness and respecting bodies as a way to live the life God wants us to live. How rad is that?

Not only was it comforting to read the passage in a fresh way, it also made more sense when thinking about the law that’s being introduced throughout the book. Later in the Old Testament, we see the law spoken about in different ways that all essentialize love, honor, and respect. Deuteronomy 6:5 distills it this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength” (CEB). Part of loving God is honoring those around you and treating them with respect.

This is where it gets exciting. Because if we read the law this way, then every other homophobic argument in the Bible just sort of falls apart. The story of Lot and Sodom in Genesis can be read as a warning against sexual harassment and assault, or as an allegory against discussing the importance of hospitality. It’s read the way it was intended to be read – not as a literal historical narrative, but a parable that’s useful to help a culture understand their laws and customs.

Even Paul, who is like the ultimate jerk in all the New Testament, becomes more palpable. Paul says at least three things in three different letters that have been used against queer people. In 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, and Romans, Paul pretty crudely associates having queer sex with depravity. And, y’all, I don’t know. There are some experts who read it as a condemnation of lustful behavior associated with prostitution in the Roman empire. Some people read it as being against pederasty. But I don’t know. Because I wasn’t there, and so I don’t know the culture Paul was writing in, or the people he was writing to, or what there experiences were. I only know what I’ve been told, but all history is subjective, so I’m cautious to wholly believe any single interpretation.

Here’s the thing about Paul: he maybe says that queer sex is sinful, but he also is very clear that all people are sinful, period. And he says that because of that, we can’t trust things that are said to us by people who claim that they have the power to judge us, because no one can judge anyone anymore. He also says that acts such as those are against nature and the law, but that Christ came to replace the law, and that if one follows Christ, they are following the law. So, to quote Oprah, “What’s the truth?”

I’m not an expert at the Bible or religion or Christianity, but this is what I think is the truth. In Romans 14, Paul recognizes that all Christians won’t agree with each other, and warns that we don’t judge each other in our disagreement. I think he understood early on that in the spread of information, there are bound to be different interpretations. And I think the truth he wants us to understand is this: no matter who we are now, because of Christ, God is for us. I think he wants us to love each other as a way to show our love of God.

I can’t make every passage better. There are some passages that are still, even after months of study, hard to accept. But I try to remind myself that it’s okay to be critical of what’s written and that questions can help my faith grow. I remind myself that it’s okay to have my own interpretation because everyone is interpreting the Bible all the time. I think the best interpretations of the Bible are ones that encourage us to love one another deeply as a way to love God. And I remind myself that love is one of the most mentioned words in the Bible and it is the core of my faith. And even if I can’t figure everything out, I can still love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how queer Christians read the Bible during Pride and how we practice the tenets of our faith. What does loving God look like for me as a queer person? Even though I still won’t agree with everything he wrote, Paul does say this, “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other” (Romans 12:9-10, CEB). As an action, this love looks like caring for God’s creations. It means that I’m listening to trans women of color, protesting unjust laws, showing up for queer youth, or sending silly mail to my friends to encourage them. This is how I follow Christ. I take care of creation, I don’t judge, and through giving love, I am able to feel Christ’s love all the more in my own life.


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Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 190 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this. I’m not sure that I consider myself a Christian anymore, but Christianity was at one point a very big part of my life, so stuff like this still matters to me.

    I saw Brian and Shay from Queer Theology dot com speak at a UMC Reconciling Ministries conference one time, and they said that “queer and trans people have more to offer the church than what we are not,” which was really moving to hear. This reminds me of that. Your interpretation of the Leviticus passage is one of the most impactful ones I’ve ever read.

    So, again. Thanks so much.

  2. I’ve been an avid reader/creeper on this website for three years but I’ve only now registered for an account simply to comment on this article. That’s how much I loved it.

    Loved your interpretations so much since I struggle with the Bible constantly, especially over that pompous jerkface Paul and his letters, which is somehow still the sacred word of God? Can’t wait to share this way of contextualizing Leviticus at my next bible study.

  3. You’ve succeeded in doing two things I didn’t think possible: making me comment here (joining new online communities is hard) and making me want to–maybe–read Leviticus again.

    I’m no super well-read scholar, I just had to read it for a class once. And it was boring. But even that class, which was taught by a UU guy, helped me down a path of reading the Bible critically and not just with the mindset and interpretations given you by others.

    I’m still very influenced by others when I read the Bible (just picking a translation is an exercise in figuring out how you’ll be influenced today) but I’m always happy to come to AS for articles like this to add to all the other voices talking about the Bible in my mind. Thank you so much!

  4. When religion pops up, it still makes me wanna vomit or leap from the nearest 3rd story window. But, I’m sure I’m not the only queer kid who feels this way. That’s why I was so surprised I read your article in it’s entirety. Not only that, but I think I may have actually enjoyed it (gasp!)

  5. I grew up in a really conservative Christian environment and heard a lot of those verses used against queer people. It’s a really wonderful thing to see that there are queer Christians who read the Bible and take something very different away from those passages.

  6. Thank you for this, Alaina. It’s so important to read carefully, not just excerpted verses that are used against us out of context. Queering our readings can be so powerful, so thank you for sharing your ideas on Leviticus and Paul.

    It reminds me of two times I had to cantor psalm 128 and sing that line “your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home.” The first time, it was because my sister wouldn’t do it out of feminist frustration, so I sung it thinking “spouse,” as I’d heard in another version. The second time, I had just started seeing a girl for the first time ever, so you bet I thought “wife”! It was an epiphany: could the psalm be speaking to me and not some generic guy? One could hope…

    One thing I’m still wrestling with, as a queer Catholic specifically, is how much weight to give to tradition as well as scripture. Obviously, regarding tradition, there is some room for change and variation among places and cultures within the church, but the force of tradition is also quite strong and in some ways, valuable. Biblical scholarship has certainly had room to grow over time as well. Thoughts, anyone?

      • Yeah, that’s the tricky part. It feels like biblical interpretation can only get us so far, and in some ways the passages from the catechism and that Halloween letter bother me more than the Bible passages.

        • I mean there are certainly upsides to not just relying on biblical interpretation (less literalism, less fundamentalism, stability), but on the other hand, what can we say about tradition other than that the specific negative teachings do not have the level of authority or infallibility as, say, the immaculate conception?

    • YESS. I had such a hard time figuring out how to be queer and Catholic because so many of the sources seemed to say “here’s a queer-friendly reading of the Bible, you’re good now!” Which is great, but the Catholic church isn’t sola scriptura, and I was still stuck with all of Church teaching on marriage and sex and procreation. I did run into Dignity back when I thought I was straight, though, and their reconciliations of Catholicism and queerness stuck in the back of my head nagging at me for a while.

      I love Alaina’s emphasis on recognizing and honoring who people are, and one thing I’d like someday is all of the theology of the body stuff rethought in a way that recognizes all bodies, not just some Platonic ideal of straight cis fertile bodies. (there is a thing about “the” body/”a” body that needs to be unpacked there and I don’t really think Christopher West has a handle on it.)

  7. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the book “Gay is Okay” written by a Chinese Malay Christian pastor, Rev. Dr. Ngeo Boon Lin. It’s relatively obscure, but a super great book that hits on a lot of your points and comes at the Bible from the stance of social justice. He takes a stand against literalism, but he also cites a great deal of scholarly evidence that the verses usually lobbed at queer people are taken out of context and did not mean what they were later reinterpreted to. Every modern translation is founded on those misconceptions, but he argues that the originals never made remotely the same claims since the writing at the time was in response to Roman Pagan social norms and had nothing to do with sexuality outside of the context of worship. In fact, the concept of homosexuality as a thing rather than a behavior didn’t really exist until the 19th century. He covers several of the arguments you site above in depth (including temple prostitutes and pederasty). I could go into much greater detail (I took tons of notes), but it is worth trying to find it if you can. He makes a great case, IMHO, that also matches the work of other scholars I’ve read. I just recently lost out on a great job here in Asia due to refusing to stay closeted to match the employer’s “Christian values,” and it took everything in my power to not start citing scholars and evidence that proves that God does not support his bias. There is also a lot of evidence pointing toward the fact that a great deal of the rhetoric written by Paul was actually written by others, though this is still a contentious position. Either way, when considering Paul’s pre-conversion background and training, it has also been argued that he was trying to sneak back into Christianity some of the very same dogma that Jesus was trying to outright reject. There is lots of writing on all of the above, and I think in some (perhaps unusual cases), it is even taught as part for the course in theological programs. His final argument boils down to a) if homosexuality was not a religious prohibition or was not just a religious ban but a morality issue, then no one should be referring to any sacred scripture when defending their homophobic position. If one opposed homosexuality solely by referencing the scriptures or the name of God, the issue does not belong in the domain of public morality. It belongs only to personal religious conviction, and b) if homosexuality is nothing but a religious ruling, homophobes should refrain from imposing the ban on the public in a culturally and religiously diverse society.

  8. I’m a queer Jew, but I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home. I deeply appreciated this, Alaina. I’ve been trying to reconcile with my former faith. Not in the sense of rekindling or rejoining it (I found my Jewish identity years ago and it has been a profound part of my life), but in making peace with it and connecting with Christians like you. It helps me heal old wounds and gives me a different perspective on my history as well as on the Christians I want to be friends with.

    Jesus stands out to me as a remarkable (human) rabbi who was rooted in traditional teachings to spread a progressive message. Social justice is at the root of the Tanakh and God’s laws. Seeing him through your eyes, as your God, is relieving compared to the God of my parents. He’s a worthwhile God and His people can make a positive impact. Thank you for this… and may you continue to share your love and this message. 🙂

    • thanks for this Joanna!

      your comment made me question if I really do consider jesus to be my god…and i’m not sure i do? I think god is god, but i do believe christian doctrine that god is triune, and that jesus is a part of that. but like, i consider my god to be the same god as jewish folks, but also think for me that god is made up of both jesus and the holy spirit. i’m not sure if that’s biblically true???????? but i’ve always considered god to be a genderless spirit/deity, and jesus was the chosen manifestation of that on earth, but after his death, he became a part of that trinity (creator/christ/holy spirit), but also maybe is not gendered??? i don’t know. it feels weird for me to think of god as a man, because he’s not! but jesus was! but also, only his flesh was a dude, not his spirit?????? like, how on steven universe, many gems use she/her pronouns but aren’t women??? like that. but i don’t know!

      boy oh boy i bet you did NOT expect this response, but it made me think! i’m gonna go into a wormhole figuring out where i stand on this now, so thank you! 🙂

      • This is something I’ve wrestled with too. On the one hand, I kind of love the idea of Jesus being God incarnate. Because I feel like there is a profound difference between experience and knowing and it would mean something for God to choose to live the human experience. But, obviously, that raises a whole world of questions. SO!

        But I could see looking at God as genderless, even if Jesus was seemingly embodied as a man. Like, look at how effing hard it is for a female leader or teacher to get any respect in 2017. If you were God and planned to live as a human in the hope of getting other humans to learn from you about how to be nicer people, well… (plus, probably more practical to be able to pee standing up when you’re wandering the dessert and such).

        But gender, as we know, is not a simple binary determined by biology. Jesus lived in a body identified as male, but as God (if you consider Jesus to be) perhaps that didn’t really mean anything to Jesus? It’s not like Jesus walked around shouting, “Saturdays are for the boys!” while he taught his disciples.

        anyway, this was not a terribly well-fleshed out comment but I like all the interesting ideas you raised, Alaina! 🙂

      • Thank YOU, @alarae! I consider God to be genderfluid myself. After all in Hebrew there’s masculine (Elohim) and feminine (Adonai) forms. God is whatever God feels like in the moment and I think about it a lot as I’ve become more fluid myself, alternating between feminine and non-binary.

        I’ve always drawn a distinction between the Hebrew God and Christian God, precisely because of the Trinity. Even as a fundamentalist Christian, I struggled with the concept of how three persons could be one and how it could still possibly be considered monotheistic.

        Maybe thinking in the same terms as I do with God’s fluid gender identity and presentation? Your God is whatever person of the Trinity God feels is appropriate in the moment? It’s not like any of Them are a different person, but how God presents and approaches us may change to suit Them? I’d love to know your thoughts and know how this develops for you. If you want to keep discussing it, I’d be thrilled. I’ve been considering rabbinical studies after I finish my first master’s degree. 🙂

  9. This is really lovely. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us.

    I’ve been musing on being queer and Christian lately – they’re both identities that I’ve reclaimed in the last few years. If I someone had told me 10 years ago that I would march in the Pride Parade with my church wearing a t-shirt with “Proud to be Bi and Christian” written across my chest in 2017, I would have not believed it – I would not have believed that I’d joined a church, let alone the rest of it. I grew up Episcopalian – but I was a teen in the 80s and the Episcopal church was not as welcoming then. It still feel miraculous to me that I found a church home in my 40s and that not only my congregation but my diocese and the national church accept ALL of me.

  10. Thank you so much for that part about Leviticus- I’ve heard people giving various explanations for it before, but they were all couched in various forms of violence, and none of them rang true. This is the first one I’ve seen which holds love at its heart, and the first which makes sense.

  11. I absolutely loved this, Alaina. Thank you for writing it! I spent a lot of time thinking about these problematic passages in college and wrote a couple of papers on the subject. I was raised Catholic, so it’s been liberating to read interpretations of scripture apart from what the Church teaches. Thank you so much for this!

  12. I have always found solace in the words of Jesus Himself, who says in Matthew 19:12

    “For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some, because they were born that way; others, because men made them that way; and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let him who can accept this teaching do so.”

    Thank you for writing this article <3

  13. Thank you for writing this, Alaina. It spoke to me deeply as a queer and genderqueer person still figuring out how I’m making my Christian (Episcopal) faith my own, and I know I need to read the Bible more to reflect on it for myself. It’s really helpful and beautiful to see you model that so thoughtfully and affirmingly here.

    Somewhat related to the discussion a few comments up re: Jesus and the Trinity and gendering the divine, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, too. I recently attended a service at a different church than I regularly do and heard the rector refer to the Holy Spirit by She pronouns in the sermon. It moved me so much more than I expected it to; I’ve become so accustomed to my usual twinge of irritation at hearing God consistently referred to with only he pronouns that I forgot what hearing someone else calling God by She could mean to me.

    It led me to reflect on Trinity Sunday about what way of gendering God could ever sit right with me, and came up with kind of a rough configuration of God the Creator as a nonbinary person in the Trinity (and I loved reading you use they pronouns for God in this piece), Jesus as a masculine human embodiment of the divine, and the Holy Spirit as a feminine element/presence. It might be a little rudimentary, but I really like the balance that that seems to allow for, as well as a refusal to gender God in God’s entirety in any settled way. I don’t know if this is helpful for anyone else, but thinking of God in this way makes me feel so much more affirmed in my nonbinary personhood, and as a child of God.

    Once again, thank you for writing this wonderful piece!

  14. The catechism that was taught to me in Catholic school included the historical story of the bible, the Septuagint, the Pentateuch (aka the Torah). And this concept that the Old Testament is the letter of the law, and the New Testament is the spirit of the law, the love which I think Alaina kinda mentions as while as other stuff my brain is too cottony to gather at the moment.

    But uh I do not identify as a Christian, it doesn’t connect with me or click at all. Never has (save for some Marian things) that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen or felt the glory and the beauty in people connected with it. The people vibrating with that radical love.
    I want to be logical, rational and un-spiritual, but I have felt beyond my meatsuit senses SOMETHING there and it was beautiful, indescribably beautiful full of love.
    Y’all are beautiful.

    Also like toss Galatians 3:28 at the haters, love watching them sputter and scramble.

  15. I had trouble bringing myself to click on this article. Anything that has to do with this subject brings back memories of having nightmares for weeks each time I went to my grandparents church as a child. I can still feel the hardness of the bench, the bright lights and a preacher pointing directly at me screaming I am going to hell and knowing he is right. I can still feel the gut wrenching fear, and internal self loathing that ate away at me for years to come.
    It took a long time for me to overcome this, to rise above, and to move away from this. In many ways I am still struggling, I wish I had someone as loving as you to just take my hand and tell me that God is Love and to let me know that I didn’t have to accept someone else’s fear mongering hatred as my own personal damnation.
    To this day I am terrified of the Bible, but maybe it is time that I face this fear.

  16. The thing about Leviticus is, it was written specifically for the Israelites in that time and place. Hence the extreme focus on dietary restrictions (basically, “Don’t eat something that will make you sick while you’re wandering around in the desert”). The law was never intended to be for everyone for always; this is why Jesus said that the old laws were no more. So anyone who tries to use Levitical law to condemn someone in today’s world is just plain wrong; either they don’t know what they’re talking about (in which case one should at least try to educate them), or they know and don’t care (in which case one should just ignore them).

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