Editor’s Note: Below is an op-ed I submitted to the local paper. It did not get picked up, and I am getting the impression that your typical mainstream newspaper finds it much safer to steer clear of this topic even when the information would shed light on a news story that many find perplexing and personally hurtful.
The Sodomite Suppression Act initiative has left many political observers perplexed: What could possibly have motivated attorney Matt McLaughlin to propose capital punishment for homosexuality?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly to some, is the Bible.
Many would like to interpret McLaughlin’s initiative as a Swiftian satire and that he was trying to make some ironic point. The more compelling explanation actually comes from Cervantes: McLaughlin, having read a few too many ancient writings, is on a quixotic quest, tilting at windmills that only he sees as monsters.
McLaughlin, by his own account, has been a daily reader of the Bible since first grade. In 2004 he proposed and failed to qualify a ballot initiative that would have required California public schools to provide a King James Bible to every student.
McLaughlin’s latest initiative claims that God commands us to suppress the “monstrous evil” of sodomy or face “our utter destruction.” It takes its inspiration directly from Leviticus 20:13:
“If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.”
I should explain my own particular interest in obscure Bible verses like this one. Around the time of McLaughlin’s Bibles-in-schools initiative, I started to hear more and more talk from Bible literalists like McLaughlin who sought to compel prayer in public schools. Out of curiosity, I decided to read the Bible cover to cover to learn what was really in it, focusing my attention on the verses that rarely get mentioned by preachers. What I discovered was that there are countless cringe-worthy passages that have conveniently been swept under the rug and that few people know are part of their own religion’s sacred texts.
For example, I discovered that the God of the Bible orders capital punishment for more than just male homosexuality. The Bible explicitly requires the death penalty for the following:
• Cursing your parents
• A man who fails to impregnate his widowed sister-in-law
• Gathering sticks on the sabbath
• A man sleeping with his step-mother
• And at least 20 other less-than-capital offenses
By singling out gays and letting stick gatherers go free, McLaughlin reveals that he is motivated more by his own biases than he is by God’s ancient dictates.
Few Bible aficionados seem to be aware of these wholly unholy Bible passages, but to ignore their existence and their effect on some believers like McLaughlin is a danger.
Bible quotes like Leviticus 20:13 helped inspire Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to famously place partial blame on “the gays and the lesbians” for causing the 9/11 attacks. A few years back, some American fundamentalist Christians supported “kill the gays” legislation in Uganda. The Army of God is an American terrorist group that has promoted Bible-inspired violence against gays. Other Bible passages are complicit in the deaths of dozens of children who die each year from being denied medical treatment because of their parents’ interpretation of scripture. If you need more examples of the damage caused by literal interpretations of Bible verses, plenty of heartbreaking stories can be found at whatstheharm.net/religiousfundamentalism.html.
Unquestionably these fundamentalists do not represent your average believer, but they are on the airwaves and in pulpits spreading their extremist views and influencing eager believers like McLaughlin.
It is crucial to understand the Bible’s key role in inspiring this ghastly initiative. McLaughlin’s Bible literalism should be a warning for anyone attracted to such simplistic answers. Uncritical acceptance of any dogma fosters group-think and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.
This kind of absolutist outlook played out on a national scale gives us extremists championing the use of the Bible as a legal blueprint for America. Played out on a global scale, it is a poison that has the potential to endanger us all with endless religious wars.
Fortunately, few Bible literalist interpret the Bible quite like McLaughlin does, though many may be surprised to find that the genesis for his horrific initiative can be found in the often overlooked passages of the best-selling book of all-time, the Bible.
Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.