A 28-year-old Philadelphia says he stoned a 70-year-old friend to death “because the Bible refers to stoning homosexuals.” John Thomas said he killed Murray Seidman with
stones inside a sock after the older man made “unwanted sexual advances.” From the AP report:
According to the complaint, “John Thomas stated that he read in the Old Testament that homosexuals should be stoned in certain situations. The answer John Thomas received from his prayers was to put an end to the victim’s life. John Thomas stated that he struck the victim approximately 10 times in the head. After the final blow, John Thomas made sure the victim was dead.”
But the full story reveals that Thomas’ “the Bible made me do it” excuse may just be that. Thomas had another, far older, motive for the killing: money. He was the sole heir to Seidman’s estate.
Yet Thomas’ excuse that the Bible supposedly sanctioned his horrific act should not be taken as a reason to dismiss the Bible wholesale. Gay blogger John Aravosis — like Thomas, not a theologian — agrees with the confessed killer that the Bible orders death for gay people and wonders: “How Christians get away with selling the Bible with those quotes still inside is beyond me.”
Both Thomas and Aravosis are right that the Bible (Leviticus 20:13, to be precise) prescribes death for homosexual acts between two men (never between two women because women, being property, were pretty much ignored). However, Thomas is incorrect about the method of death. The Bible never mentions stoning gay men.
Both arguments, though, miss the point. Bibles don’t kill people, ignorant Bible readers kill people.
Aravosis may find some solace from theologian Stanley Hauerwas who wrote a few years ago in his book Unleashing the Scripture, “The Bible is not and should not be accessible to merely anyone, but rather it should only be made available to those who have undergone the hard discipline of existing as part of God’s people.”
Which is to say that many people, like Thomas, who justify their conduct with a single quote from the Bible frequently don’t know what they are talking about. When one reads the Bible and takes the English version at face (and literal) value, they do terrible violence to the text. The Bible is not meant to be a book of answers where you can just open it up and find out exactly what to do next. It is not a Ouija board or a divining rod. Instead, it is a collection of writings from wildly different times, cultures, and points of view. In fact, it contradicts itself from book to book, and sometimes from chapter to chapter. To say, “the Bible says …” as if it settles an argument once and for all is a terribly naïve way to read a very complicated text. Instead, one must be trained to actually read the Bible in a responsible manner – preferably, as Hauerwas states, within a community dedicated to taking the Bible seriously.
As Jennifer Wright Knust writes in her latest book, Unprotected Texts, “The only way the Bible can be regarded as straightforward and simple is if no one bothers to read it. The Bible was not a collection of policy statements that had to be obeyed or a weapon designed to enforce particular views about morality, but an invitation to think about who God might be and what it means to be human.”