GENERAL CONVENTION 2003


A NEW LOOK AT Leviticus

I offer this faith statement, as an effort to draw out some of the
context of Leviticus, in hopes of explaining how a serious
Anglo-Catholic can see the Holy Spirit moving the Church into new understandings through Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Agricultural History and LGBT Issues

We all know the story. Some of the first European settlers in North America nearly starved to death because their first crop of
maize/corn was a failure. When the Native Americans taught the
settlers to put some pieces of fish in the ground with their seeds, the next crop was successful.

That story is directly linked in my mind with the passages in
Leviticus that are quoted against LGBT persons and their faithful relationships.

The proud Europeans, thinking the Native Americans were godless savages, didn't give a second thought to adopting the Native Americans' agricultural practices. How many decades or centuries was it before some of us began to honor the Native Americans' sense of connectedness between themselves, the earth and the Creator? Neither the European settlers nor the Native Americans understood how the pieces of fish fertilized the ground. They just knew it worked. I wonder if the settlers would have been willing to die of starvation rather than accept the worship practices of the local residents, if they had recognized the fish-and-seed planting as an act of worship
on the part of the Native Americans.

When the Israelites came out of the desert into the land of Canaan, they had to learn how to farm the land, just as the European settlers did here. Their Canaanite neighbors were willing to show them how to assure themselves of fertile fields and good crops. The problem was, the Israelites saw the Canaanite practices as acts of worship of Baal, and great efforts were put into keeping Israelite farmers from using the Canaanite practices. The evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures is that that effort continued for several centuries.

The problem was that the Canaanite gods, the Baalim, were fertility gods. In order to assure themselves of fertile fields and good crops, their custom was to do two things. First, they made an offering (grain, money, or whatever) at the local Baal temple. Second, they had an act of sexual intercourse with the priestesses in the temple.

Since they didn't know that women's bodies produced egg cells, they assumed that human procreation involved the same process as agriculture did. The seed was planted into a fertile field (the womb, for humans) and the crop (or baby) grew. The act of sexual intercourse with the priestess was a "model" for the planting and growing that they hoped for in their fields.

It made a lot of sense in those days, and every year that an
Israelite farmer didn't do that and happened to have a poor harvest, sneaking over to the Baal temple the next spring was pretty tempting.

But the Canaanites were so committed to the practice that something they noticed happening made them pretty scared. Some of their men simply couldn't manage to have an act of intercourse with a priestess. What were those men to do? Would their crops fail every year, and would they and any family members dependent on them starve to death?

Somehow they figured out (maybe centuries before the Exodus?) that if some of the ones who couldn't manage intercourse with the priestesses were made priests of Baal and other men who couldn't manage intercourse with the priestesses went to these priests of Baal, the "model" seed planting in honor of the Baalim could be accomplished, and the fertility of their fields would be assured.

Meanwhile, the Israelites were very committed to taking over the land -their "Promised Land" - and so they were determined to have as many children as possible and to outnumber and crowd out the Canaanites. They knew that success in farming meant having a large enough grain harvest so that they would have enough to make into bread from one harvest to the next, plus enough more to plant as seed for that next harvest. Seed was a very precious commodity. According to their limited understanding, a man's "seed" was just as limited. Therefore
any wasting of a man's seed was as dangerous and forbidden as wasting the wheat grains that were needed for the next planting season. Masturbation, "Onanism", and male-to-male intercourse threatened not only their conquest of Canaan but the very survival of their people.

I believe that this scenario is the context of the Levitical laws
against male-to-male sexual intercourse. I believe that those laws were about keeping Israelites from Baal worship and from "waste" of limited and precious seed and from failure to be fruitful and multiply the Israelite tribes.

I don't suppose we will ever know if the Baal worshipers had a word for men who could not accomplish intercourse with women, but they saw it as a reality and accommodated it in their worship. People in the
Judeo-Christian tradition did not see fit to create a word in our
language to put a name to that phenomenon until the middle of the 19th Century. I do believe that the Biblical writers, both in the
Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, had completely different
understandings of human sexuality than we now have. What they condemned was something very different from what many of us now believe can rightly be declared to be blessed by God and by the Church.

I'm sure someone will say that I'm promoting Baal worship. That
probably is inevitable. But if that is what you think I'm saying, you aren't listening.

(By the way, I hope we eventually quit using the term "temple
prostitutes" in reference to the priestesses and priests of Baal.
People who went to Baal worship did not "pay for sex". They made an offering to their god and performed the act which they believed they were supposed to perform, to assure the fertility of their fields.)

Bill Fleener, Priest of the Diocese of Western Michigan, retired

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