Creating Healthy Communities (Leviticus)

Monday, May 2, 2022


Thank you to Kayla for this wonderful transcript!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.  We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at

[00:01:23] Hi friends. Welcome back. Today, we are in the book of Leviticus. And when I say that we're in the book of Leviticus, I mean that we are in the entire book of Leviticus for the dates May 2nd through May 8th. So happy that you're here. So happy we get to spend this time together and I just also wanted to say in last week's episode,  I made a mistake when I said that week was supposed to cover the remaining chapters of Exodus.

[00:01:56] Technically, according to the manual, those chapters, chapters 35 through 40, don't get covered until this week. But in hindsight, I still am really glad that we covered all of those chapters last week because the manual only assigns three of the chapters from the book of Leviticus for the entire book of Leviticus. So we're just going to go on an adventure today and explore an entire book of scripture in one episode. If it sounds impossible, it's because…

Channing: It is.

Elise: [00:02:30] Yes it is. That's right. 

Channing: [00:02:36]  So author's Jeffrey Stackert and Samuel L. Boyd wrote in an introduction to their essay title “Leviticus” for the journal Oxford Bibliographies, “The book of Leviticus is part of the priestly source of the Pentateuch and not in itself a discreet [or individually separate or distinct] literary unit.”

[00:03:02] Thomas B. Dozeman also wrote in Oxford Bibliographies. He defines the Pentateuch as including the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Dozeman continues saying, “The literary category of the Pentateuch reflects the traditional Jewish grouping of these books together as the Torah. The thematic design of the five books can be divided into two unequal parts: Genesis (as the entire first part) and Exodus through Deuteronomy (as the second part).” Dozeman continues, “Exodus through Deuteronomy recounts the Israelite salvation from Egypt, the wilderness journey, and the revelation of law at the divine mountain. These books are a mixture of narrative and law, with Moses emerging as the central character. The story is framed by his birth [in Exodus] and death [in Deuteronomy] and recounts his leadership of the Israelites over two generations. Moses liberates the first generation of Israelites from Egypt, leads them into the wilderness, and mediates divine law at the mountain of God. He repeats the revelation of law to the second generation on the plains of Moab [in Deuteronomy].”

[00:04:23]. So returning back to talking about the book of Leviticus, Stackert and Boyd continue to say, “Set at Mt. Sinai during the thirteenth month of the Israelites’ wilderness journey, [Leviticus] is dominated by divine laws delivered to Moses for the Israelite community. The primary concern of these laws is to establish the requisite circumstances for the deity’s habitation among the Israelite people. The priestly authors claim that following the commandments in Leviticus will ensure the tangible benefits and protection of the divine presence in the Israelites’ midst. Failure to adhere to these laws will result in the deity’s departure from the Tabernacle and the loss of divine benefaction.” 

[00:05:11] So in other words, the book of Leviticus is one of the five books in the Torah. Its primary focus is on divinely ordained laws given by God, through Moses, to the Israelites. These laws are intended to provide the means, which by God can dwell amongst the Israelites and bless them. 

Elise: [00:05:33] We really like what Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney says about Leviticus. She writes “Leviticus is the heart of the Torah. It is a text that strikes fear in the hearts of many; yet it is simply (and not so simply) a text about how to live in relationship: how to live in relationship to God and how to live in relationship to others in the community. The ritual acts of Leviticus help to maintain proper boundaries and categories and, in so doing, maintain the health of the community and its individuals. Leviticus can also be viewed as a public health text; many of its provisions are designed to prevent transmission of diseases. Leviticus suggests that good health - physical, spiritual, and societal - starts with the individual and spreads to the community; likewise, the ill health of an individual can affect the community.” 

[00:06:24] Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney also identifies four public health policies that are contained in Leviticus. The first being hygiene with ritual bathing, second nutrition, and we see the law of kosher show up here, which expands the law from a mere code of can and can't eat to include ease of food accessibility and ecological considerations.

[00:06:46] The third public health policy is about quarantine, which is intended to diagnose and also limit the spread of disease. And finally, the fourth policy: ethical standards pertaining to sexual partners and sexual activity, which Gafney argues attends to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases within the committee.

Channing:[00:07:05]  There are 27 total chapters in the book of Leviticus, but the Come Follow Me manual only assigns three of them for the entire book for our study. It assigns chapters one and chapters 16, which focus generally on animal sacrifice as forgiveness for sin, and also on chapter 19, which is a collection of commandments, which echo and add to the original ten.

[00:07:30] And today we'll be focusing our attention on other chapters. So not one, 16, and 19. We found in our study that our feminist hearts and our interests were being pulled to other chapters, which focus on other topics, including ciswomen's issues specifically. And we'd like to spend more of our time there.

[00:07:50] This same approach will likely continue as we walk through the texts for the next couple of weeks, because the manual only assigns a handful of chapters for one single week dedicated to the study of entire books in the Hebrew Bible, including Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. 

[00:08:09] So, for, like, the next month and a half, we're going to be covering entire books of scripture in one episode, in order to keep up with the breakneck speed that the manual is asking us to move through the Hebrew Bible. So, as we do so and move through these texts, we want to recognize that there are stories and topics that have specific relevance for feminist readers in every single one of those books that, unsurprisingly are not covered by the manual.

[00:08:42] So, it goes without saying that because we are covering entire swaths of text in a single week, we won't be able to discuss everything, but we are committed to continuing to focus on topics with special importance and relevance to the feminist reader. We'll be spending our time in Leviticus, discussing laws and commandments, addressing uncleanliness for menstruation, purification for Israelite women after childbirth, and marriage and sexuality laws. So we have lots of things to cover today, but we're excited to dive into the book of Leviticus. 

Elise: [00:09:20] I think the first place that we want to start is in Leviticus, chapters 12 and 15, which is where we encounter laws pertaining to menstruation and childbirth. These laws state that when women “have a blood issue, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean. And everything she lieth or sitteth upon in her separation shall be unclean; and whosoever toucheth anything that she sat upon shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water; and if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of her issue shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.” When a woman's bleed is over, she's then instructed to take a sacrificial offering of two doves or pigeons to the priests.

[00:10:09] The text states that one is for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering and the priest will make an atonement for her. We see this in cases of childbirth too. For example, in Leviticus chapter 12, verse two, it says, “If a woman have conceived seed and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; 4: and will continue her separation for 33 days.” 5: “But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, and will continue her separation for sixty six days,” which is double the time.

Channing: [00:10:42]  So we see from the text here, that there are very specific recommendations or expectations  for separation after a period of menstruation or after childbirth.

[00:10:54] And we also see in these laws that if, we see in the texts that if the baby is a male or is assigned male at birth, then the woman is considered unclean for seven days. And she has to separate herself for 33 days, which is just a little over a month. But if the baby is assigned female at birth, then the woman has to separate herself for 14 days as unclean and then be apart from the community for double the time at 66 days. So we definitely see some sexism show up there pretty explicitly in the text. And as we were working through and figuring out what, what do we do with this very familiar sexism that shows up here in the Hebrew Bible? 

[00:11:42] And I was really appreciative of Wil Gafney and her book “Womanist Midrash of the Torah.” In the chapter for these sections, she states, “The traditional language that has been employed in translating the text, conveys a particular image of women as impure and dirty, if not sinful.” In this chapter, Gafney illustrates the challenges of translating the original Hebrew into English, which ends up leaving us with words like “unclean” and “purification” that have a lot of baggage to those words.

[00:12:16] Luckily for us, Wil Gafney is a savvy reader of the text and is able to differentiate for us two Hebrew words, which both appear in Leviticus and relate to uncleanliness and holiness. These words are “tamei” and tahor. Gafney defines tahor as “cleanliness in a hygienic sense, but in its broadest sense, it means “ritually fit” and, after a period of quarantine, “restoration.” Tamei means “taboo” or “contagious”. Gafney suggests, with notes to the work of Rabbi Phyllis Berman, “that tahor and tamei represent different kinds of holiness. Berman's teaching resonates with the biblical notion that the holiness of God is so powerful that it is destructive, just like radioactivity. If one is too close or improperly clothed or prepared, or does not maintain appropriate distance or perform the necessary preparation rituals to come into contact with divine holiness, then one will not survive the encounter.” 

Elise: [00:13:24] In this sense, the quarantine and taboo around menstruation and childbirth are intended as, kind of, like protective measures.

[00:13:32] We find this to be a really generous reading of the texts that accounts for errors and baggage of translation as well. It also seems to provide some context for an unfamiliar and offensive perspective to menstruation that is again, unfamiliar to a modern day reader. We also really appreciated what Heather Farrell wrote about this as well.

[00:13:54] Heather Farrell's an author who writes “The Hebrew word that is translated as “unclean” in the King James Version is tuma, and it does not mean “dirty or contaminated.” The word tuma is a complex word that can’t be directly translated into English. The simplest explanation is that tuma is the energy of death that fills the world. It comes from the word tamai, which means “spiritually impure,” as in being separated from the presence of God. In fact, according to Jewish teachings, tuma is what Adam and Eve brought into the world when they took the fruit.” We think Farrell’s perspective helps me appreciate better the intentions around the menstruation and childbirth laws in Leviticus.

Channing: [00:14:36]  Yeah, I agree. And yet I still feel every time I come up against this text, or even in this week, as I was spending time with it, I was like, “Is this still really necessary?” It really seems that menstruation and childbirth regulations feel pretty ridiculous outside of a hierarchical and sexist framework.

[00:14:59] We know that the Israelite spiritual and social frameworks employ sexism. The evidence of it is scattered throughout Leviticus and other books of scripture. Only a God who has never menstruated could be offended by the perceived foreignness of a menstruating body. If spiritual impurity is that which separates us from the presence of God, my question is how can an innate process inherent to a body made in the image of that same God be a separating force? Indeed, would not such a process bring one closer to God rather than separate? These are rhetorical questions, of course, because we don't think that menstruation and childbirth separate us from the divine.

[00:15:45] When I read it, it makes no sense when I base it on the text at large. And it definitely hasn't been my experience. I remember really fondly when I gave birth to my second child. And it was such a spiritual and transcendent experience for me. And so it feels really jarring to approach a text that says that after childbirth a mother is unclean and unfit to approach God and is separated from God.

[00:16:18] It just doesn't match my real lived, actual experience. And so I definitely struggle, as a cisgendered woman reading the text as a person who's given birth, reading the text, this is definitely  a pain point for me, for sure. And also when we read further and encounter the verses that offer the differing separation times based on whether the child is male or female, it’s really hard to name it as anything other than sexism. We can try to talk our way around it or explain our way around translations or whatever it is, but at the end of the day, sexism is sexism. And I really, really loved what Gafney said about the book of Leviticus and these regulations around menstruation and childbirth.

[00:17:13] She writes, “I see deep ancient sexist beliefs and practices in and behind this text. The belief that women are less than men - less competent, less capable, less intelligent, less capable of contributing meaningfully to society, a lesser reflection of the image of God - finds good support in some parts of the scriptures. This is one such place. I [Wil Gafney] name it and preserve it as scripture, teaching that all of our human institutions, including and especially religious ones, are flawed. Sexism is one of those ancient, enduring flaws.” Oh, Wil Gafney. She's such a powerhouse. 

Elise: [00:17:59]  As we continue throughout the book of Leviticus, thinking about childbirth and menstruation and women in the text we also come to chapters 15, 18, 19, 20, and 21, all that deal with sex. Whether that's sexual activity, being a sex worker, committing adultery, or exploring your sexuality. And again, many of our thoughts are based off of the fantastic work of Wil Gafney. So generally speaking, Leviticus, I don't know, generally approaches sexual activity by focusing on communal boundaries, relationships, health, and wellbeing, like we said, at the introduction of this episode. So when we think about sexual activity in the book of Leviticus, the text really focuses its attention on hygiene and quarantine from community, from the community after a sexual encounter. So this means that the people that are involved in this sexual encounter need to be quarantined from the community, but not necessarily from each other, so they can be quarantined together away from the community.

[00:19:00] There's also some ritual bathing that's involved to make sure one stays clean and Gafney notes that there might be degrees of quarantine. Right, so it's not necessarily like there was a specific quarantine room that maybe we're really used to thinking of post COVID, but Gaffney suggests that there, this quarantine is mostly a set of practices or things to avoid, like not handling food or not having physical contact with other people after this sexual encounter.

[00:19:29] One of the things I really like about this conversation around sexual activity is that Gafney suggests that maybe we should be talking about sexual ethics as a way to approach these sections of Leviticus. We might want to talk about equality between partners, consent, how to have safe, healthy sex. We could talk about intimacy as an element of sexual activity.

[00:19:50] And I really liked this reworking of the sections because it makes it feel less, I don't know, robotic rules and more like a way that we can recognize that people are having sex in the community and how can we keep both the people having sex and the community at large, really safe and able to engage in healthy practices.

Channing: [00:20:10] Yeah. Even listening, even listening to share about this, I am just noticing so many thoughts come up. First off, I do think that it's a really liberating way to read the text when we approach it with a recognition that these are guidelines given to the community that recognizes what is already happening in that community. 

[00:20:34] And isn't necessarily saying like, I mean, yes, and some points, it says do this and don't do that. But to understand the ethics underneath it. One thing that Wil Gafney also presented in context of Leviticus, is that generally, obviously not every single time across the boards, like we've already discussed, but generally Leviticus treats the community as pretty egalitarian.

[00:21:02] Like, these are instances and happenings within interpersonal relationships that just happen generally. In this episode, of course, we're focusing mostly on the chapters that relate to women's experiences that are named in the texts. These are like, a handful of chapters out of the entire 27. And so in the context of the entire book of Leviticus, all of these things are happening in attempts to preserve and care for the health and wellbeing for the community.

[00:21:37] And so you're right. It does feel less like, really robotic, like, law of chastity, young women's lessons-esque reading of Leviticus and more of a, “Hey, what can we do to care for ourselves as individuals that are interdependent on relationships with other people in our communities?” And I, I really, really liked that.

Elise: [00:22:03] Yeah, hearing you say that it makes me think about like sex education too, and like two different approaches to it. One being just like abstinence only and never talking about it and thinking that that's the best way to keep both individuals and the community safe. And often that's not the case, almost ever.

[00:22:21] Versus recognizing: okay, you know what, like for many people having sexual experiences and is an important part of their wellbeing and their life. So let's, so let's approach that head on and make sure that we can equipped the individuals and the community with safe sex practice practices so that everyone can find pleasure and enjoyment in their expense.

Channing: [00:22:43] That actually reminds me of a documentary that I was watching a couple of weeks ago. It's on Netflix. It's called the Principles of Pleasure. And I really actually think that it's super relevant to our audience because it's a documentary by women for women about sexuality and sex education and intimacy and body positivity.

[00:23:06] And just this whole conversation around an abstinence only sex education and education around sex and intimacy that actually incorporates what is a really like common human experience. And I appreciate, I am actually really excited that we have a book of scripture that explicitly discusses sex and discusses the consequences of sex, like childbirth and other bodily functions like menstruation. And I'm a little disappointed that we don't get to discuss those in, like, a church context. Can you imagine the conversation that would happen in, like, a Sunday school class? I think that there's a lot of growth potential there.

[00:23:55] But unfortunately we skip over all of this when we focus only on, like, animal sacrifice for atonement and we move through the book of Leviticus in one week. So yeah, I'm just, I'm so thrilled that we're able to have these conversations and yay, yay. 

Elise: [00:24:16] Yeah. Very much: Yay. And if you think that all of the sex just stops there you are wrong because Leviticus also addresses sex work.

[00:24:25] And this is a great time for you to reflect and think, “Wow, is my feminism sex-worker-inclusive?” And I hope that your answer is yes, and if your answer is no we would encourage you to ask yourself why not, and then push back and challenge yourself. So, yes, of course sex work is kind of generally scorned in the Bible.

[00:24:42] We see lots of slurs about prostitutes and harlots and whoredoms that not only refer to literal sex workers, but also are just slurs more generally about people worshiping other gods or the land as a result of foreign worship. But we also see that sex work is kind of in the same turn, it's also tolerated. A few weeks ago, or a few months ago, we talked about the story of Judah and Tamar and Tamar was posing as a sex worker.

[00:25:10] However, we see verses in Leviticus like chapter 19 verse 29 that says, “do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute. And the land will not become prostituted and full of premeditated wickedness.” In chapter 21, verse seven, “it says the sons of Aaron shall not take a woman who is a prostitute or has been penetrated. Neither shall they take a woman driven away from her man for they are holy to their God.” And these verses seem to speak less to adult sex workers and instead these verses seem more of a condemnation against prostituting your daughter AKA fathers selling their daughters into sex work and slave. And we've already seen echoes of this, like in this story of Lot.

[00:25:57] And Lot's daughters who, when Lot is so willing to put these daughters out and allow them to be gang raped. Gafney writes, “These pieces of legislation are necessary because these practices exist in the community. There were men selling their daughters as sex slaves- designated for the use of one partner, which was permitted with some minor regulation- and there were men who sold their daughters as sex workers to an unknown number of men.”

Channing: [00:26:26] Yeah, again, it always just continually fascinates me. You probably heard me laugh like just a minute ago, but it's so wild to me, how when we first approach the texts we’re like: yeah, you shouldn't be selling your daughter's into sex work. But then to read the texts a little bit more closely and realize, “oh, this regulation, this law, this commitment is in here because this is already happening and there needs to be some kind of guideline around it.”

[00:26:55] What it just provides such a more nuanced viewpoint of the text in being able to say there's so much more going on here behind the scenes that we don't think about when we're just like scanning through the book of Leviticus to find verses to weaponize or to point at particular people. And, oh gosh, like this is my favorite part of being in the scriptures. Right? They're so contradictory. And it always comes back to that Rachel Held Evans quote,  where she talks about how, whatever you're looking for in the scriptures, you're going to find it. If you want a verse to justify sex work, you're going to find it. If you want to a verse to villainize sex work, you're going to find it.

[00:27:42] And it really all depends on what you're looking for. And I really appreciated your reminder at the beginning of talking about the sex work topic to really examine what it is actually, that we're looking for. And so broadening our viewpoint about sex, sexuality, intimacy, interpersonal relationship, and where sex work fits into that piece of the puzzle.

[00:28:08] Not just in our own personal experiences or our own personal opinions, but also broadening those perspectives to include people and experiences that are different from ours, but no less valid and important. 

Elise: [00:28:27] Yeah, and the other thing that's coming up for me too, is the role of consent. So if you are looking for a way to engage this book of scripture with your Sunday school classes or young women or family, or just for yourself, like, think about the role that consent plays here.

[00:28:42] And I think one of the shared values of feminism is agency and self-determination. So agency and self-determination look different in someone who is choosing sex work as a vocation or a career versus the lack of consent, agency, and self-determination when one is being sold or prostituted out.

Channing: [00:29:04] Totally. Yes. Thank you for naming that. As we move further into the book of Leviticus, we come across verses about women who commit adultery. In Leviticus chapter 20 verse 10, it reads, “And the man that committed adultery with another man's wife, even he that committed adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

[00:29:30] And so from here, we think at first read through, “wow, this is actually like a pretty egalitarian way to treat adultery because men and women are both subject to the same punishment.” But Gafney pushes back on this a little bit and points out that even though this punishment is egalitarian, we can't forget that this is still a patriarchal society and beneath this rule, we understand even outlined in the book of Leviticus that married men still have legitimate options for multiple sexual partners in ways that married women did not. For example, men had access to the women that they enslaved. They also had the opportunity to engage with professional sex workers.

[00:30:17] In the text, neither eliciting sex work nor having sex with the slave constitutes adultery for men. And we also see in the text separate consequences for having sex with a virgin girl intended for someone else to marry. Gafney writes, “There is no allowance for Israelite women to have sex with male slaves or to capture men in battle for the purposes of breeding and there's no mention of female sexual abuse of subordinate males.”

Elise: [00:30:49] I think something else worth noting is again, like you said, it's contradictory. And one thing that Gafney points out is that there are in the Torah, there are no texts in which women or men are actually executed for having sex with someone else's spouse or with someone other than their spouse, even though that's the, like, formal rule and regulation that they should be put to death.

[00:31:12] So she kind of lays out the example that, aside from the book of Genesis, like, we're going to put that aside because it comes before the revelation at Mount Sinai, there are many of texts where the penalty of execution should have been applied, but it just never ends up happening. She references Second Samuel chapter 12, where Nathan doesn't invoke execution as the penalty for David's sin against Bathsheba.

[00:31:37] Second Samuel verse 16, where Absalom rapes his father's secondary wives in public, and no one calls for his execution. Later in Proverbs, there are many adulteresses that are addressed explicitly without any threat of execution. And in Hosea sex worker and adulterous, Gomer is never executed. Gafney writes, “If indeed these toroth (or these regulations or rules) were widely known and available, the lack of application of this penalty may suggest that the Israelites heard and understood their own Scriptures with nuance rather than literalism.”

[00:32:13] That is such a fantastic way, I think, to approach the book of Leviticus. Yes, it is about rules and regulations, public health, and safety and yet we are, as a responsible reader, we need to recognize the ways that we show up with nuance and thoughtfulness, as opposed to this being the literal end-all-be-all rule of the land. 

Channing: [00:32:34] And I think to, to like, you know, I dunno, lean on a very traditional Mormon phrasing that I've heard my entire existence in the church, the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. And I think that that same context can apply here again, if we lean into that reading of the book of Leviticus being applicable to the community for the community, for the benefit and the health, which would then like imply continued life and wellbeing, then it would be counterintuitive, I think, to kill people.

[00:33:16] I'm laughing because it seems so ridiculous. Right? It seems counterintuitive to kill people that you're trying to preserve and even yet again, it's so wild to me. Right? Like I even find myself here, like constantly trying to make an argument for one thing and then remembering every time the text contradicts itself. Right? So I'm here saying it's counterintuitive to kill a people that you're trying to protect. And yet, also in the book of Leviticus, we're not going to cover this story, but there's an example of two sons of Aaron being killed because they improperly offered a sacrifice to God.

[00:34:00] And so the text constantly contradicts itself. And I think, at least for me, that's one of the lessons that I'm walking away from Leviticus with is even within the same book of scripture, that seems to be written by the same author or authors, and seems to be pretty homogenous actually is never as clear cut and simple as we think it is at first glance.

Elise: [00:34:29] And I think as we move into the next portion that we want to talk about, it's also important for us to remember that there is a big temptation to read the texts literally, and to allow these verses to continue to perpetuate harm. And that brings us to two really, really homophobic verses and verses that have often been called “clobber passages” because they just continue to like clobber and beat down or attack and condemn homosexuality.

[00:34:57] Chapter 18 verse 22 and similarly, chapter 20 verse 13, read, Tthou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.” Now these verses have been some of the most powerful verses that have been used to condemn homosexuality to construct an anti-gay church and church culture. And it has had a longstanding past and present effect on the ways that, especially for the Mormon church, we continue to exclude and push away and withhold covenant paths or covenant type of progression for gay and queer folks and the LGBTQ+ community.

[00:35:38] And so with this said, I was really, really grateful because even with a basic Google search of these verses, there is a lot of necessary translation work and recovery around these verses to try and restore perhaps what the original Hebrew was getting closer to. And in each of the posts that I've found or in each of the articles that I found, I was so relieved because the authors were saying the way that it's translated right now into English is not the actual message of what was being said in Hebrew. For example, from the Queer Bible Hermeneutics blog, they make the argument that these verses are really about forbidding male incestuous relationships and not about homosexuality. They write, “Thus, the passage should be paraphrased: “Sexual intercourse with a close male relative should be just as abominable to you as incestuous relationships with female relatives.” And a paraphrase of  chapter 20 verse 13 “forbids male incestuous relations.” To this point, there's an essay by Rabbi David Greenstein in the book ”Torah Queeries” and it says, “But Greenstein suggests that the Hebrew can be read to mean something entirely different.”

[00:36:49] He writes, “The prohibition is against two males forcing themselves on a woman.” So even in two small examples of translation work, we see condemnation or a rule against incestuous relationships and also against perhaps rape or gang rape. And the final example that I found is from scholar Ed Oxford, who says that the English translation that we have now didn't even appear until 1983.

[00:37:18] And this 1983 translation was actually an edit of the 1946 version of the Bible. Prior to these translations Leviticus chapter 18 verse 22 read “man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” And so here again, another level or another layer of translation coming through to help us recognize the ways that the message has been completely distorted and used as a weapon against gay folks, as opposed to a rule against pedophilia and incest.

Channing: [00:37:53] I think this reclamation work of traditional interpretations of Bible verses that are, I think that name is so apt, “clobber verses,” that have been weaponized against certain marginalized communities. And in this case LGBTQ folks and gay men, it's so important to be able to reclaim them and return them perhaps to a more liberating reading that seems more in line with what the original intent of the Hebrew verse is. But like we often say on the podcast, there's a difference between the intent of the original verse and the impact that this verse or its poor translations have had, especially within Mormonism. And so, as we move through this week's text fully recognizing, especially for allies, recognizing that this week in our Sunday school classes, this verse might come up or even in future conversations, knowing that this is an often used clobber verse against our loved LGBTQ friends and family.

[00:39:05] We can employ a couple of tactics to work more toward a liberating reading of this text. One of our options is to call this what it is, name the homophobia present in these verses. We can also call to mind our own homophobia past and present. We can remember that homophobia is not just being scared of gay people as if they are monsters; it's about discrimination, prejudice, bias, assumptions, stereotypes and exclusion. And we can make amends with those that we have harmed through both honest apologies and our own changed behavior.

Elise: [00:39:47] This would also be a great time to interrogate our assumptions and stereotypes that we have around the LGBTQ+ community and then make efforts to dismantle them.

[00:39:55] And one of Channing and my’s favorite ways to do that is by watching inclusive and highly representative films and shows that really lean more into representation as opposed to tokenism. And as a little refresher, representation is about values being built into an organization or a structure. It's about diversity and inclusion, but also making sure that marginalized folks are in decision-making spaces and also are able to write their own stories and play their own characters.

[00:40:26] Whereas tokenism is often a last minute thought. It is often performative to get recognition from the community without any structural or organizational change. It feels like a last ditch effort and just a check off the box. And when that happens, tokenism also means that there's usually only one character who is often stereotypically represented in the show.

Channing: [00:40:48] Yeah. I'm also remembering, Elise, a couple of weeks ago that I texted you and I was like, “I'm so proud of myself. I don't know that I can, like, I don't know that I'm ready to tell anybody else, but I'm ready now. I watched my first film about a lesbian relationship just a couple of weeks ago.” And it was really interesting to notice my own process of working up to this.

[00:41:09] It was something that I really had to create space for and be really intentional about. Even though I came out almost a year ago as bi, I've still felt a lot of trepidation and shame as I've kind of been working through my sexual identity and learning to embrace all of these gorgeous and amazing rainbow parts of myself.

[00:41:36] And so I really appreciated what you said even before of having the ability to look at our own homophobia and look at our own attitudes of discrimination and bias and assumptions. And, I share this in case it's helpful for the heterosexual, in case you're just kind of like, oh, of course I am not homophobic,

[00:42:02] I am bi and I still have homophobia. And I laugh because it sounds so ridiculous, but it's so true to recognize even in my identity that I still am having to work through so many layers of fear and bias and shame to really become inclusive even to my own self. So I share that because I want people to recognize that it's not just as easy as saying, “oh, of course I am loving and accepting, and I am not homophobic.”

[00:42:38] Because it's sneaky. Just like all systems of oppression are sneaky. So really get vulnerable with yourself. Find a friend, find some time to sit down, research, a good like gay or lesbian or bi film and just make some time to get some popcorn and watch it. Like, that's such an easy way, right?

[00:43:00] It's such an easy way to engage with activism and if you do, actually, honestly, I have time for this. If you do watch an LGBTQ film sometime this week, please DM me and tell me which one that you watched and we'll share them on our Stories. I have time for that and I have energy for that this week. So I would love to do that!

Elise: [00:43:21] And one of our last ideas when coming across these verses is really make a plan for how you're going to address these verses in Sunday School. So instead of waiting to see if they come up, we might consider talking about the history of violence against LGBTQ folks, and then pair it with the verse from chapter 19, verses 33 through 34 that says, “and if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, you shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you and thou shalt love him as thyself.” From here, we might ask questions in our class discussions like: how is our ward making LGBTQ+ folks feel like strangers? This would also be an important moment to center queer voices who are present and willing to offer their perspectives and ideas.

[00:44:11] They should be your first points of contact. So listen to them without overburdening them. This is also our work and our responsibility too. We might ask: In what ways do I continually vex queer folks? Vex is from the verse, just that we read above. And vex reminds us about attack or harassing, troubling or even annoying.

[00:44:32] So in what ways do I continually harass, trouble, or annoy queer folks? And finally: what are some immediate changes that I, or my ward, or this group of people can make to help our community feel like a dwelling place that's filled with love for everyone involved?

Channing: [00:44:48] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for this conversation about literally the entire book of Leviticus.

[00:44:55] We hope you enjoyed it, but we also hope that you use this podcast episode as a jumping off point and continue to engage further with the text. I mean, yeah, 27 chapters sound like a lot, but it's really not. So we hope that you'll go through and read the entire book and also engage with other educational resources and other content creators who are doing similarly placed work. 

[00:45:24] As always, we recommend the Beyond the Block podcast with Brother Knox and Brother Jones, they always do incredible work. And we really encourage you to just reach out, broaden your perspectives, and we'll see you next week for the book of Numbers.

Elise: [00:45:44]  Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of the Faithful Feminist Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

Channing:[00:46:03]  Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast.

[00:46:13] You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as the Faithful Feminists, we're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement.

[00:46:32] You love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye, friends.

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