Live! Love! Serve!
- NOT Religion
Linda Hertzer tells a story about a person who was going through some inner struggles with depression. Wanting to find some comfort, the person turned to one of the places I go in those situations, the Bible.
“The Good Book fell open to Mathew 27:5, ‘He [Judas] went out and hanged himself.’ Not finding that particularly encouraging, the person decided to try again. So, they put their finger down on another random page and read, ‘Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Surprised, they tried a third time, opening the Good Book to John 13:27, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’”
Context is everything.
The Focus Verse
The Ancient Story
At first glance, it seems as if our focus verse sticks out like a sore thumb in the chapter containing it.
4 You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.
5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.
6 If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.
8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.
9 You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.
10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
11 You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
12 You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.
13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.30 A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights.
Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story
Deuteronomy 22:5 comes in the midst of rules for helping others. When a neighbor’s livestock goes wandering down the road, we are to help them fetch the animal. When we see a nest on the ground with eggs or young birds, we are to help get the nest back into the tree.
This sounds like common sense to us. Generally, it simply sounds like being good neighbors.
And then there’s this verse about wearing someone else’s clothes.
How the Story Got Twisted
Some would say that this verse is a clear prohibition against cross-dressing. But let’s look at it carefully.
If we decide that the verse should fit here, then how is it a verse about helping our neighbors with anything?
Let me offer this perspective…. You can bet that there was at least one person in the neighborhood … way back then … who kept dressing up in different-gender clothing in order to deceive people. At the market, the shopkeeper didn’t know who he was dealing with and, when asked, could only give a wrong description of the patron.
Dressing up as someone different didn’t allow a neighbor to really get to know another neighbor. It was deceptive in a way that was detrimental to the whole community. Deceiving a neighbor was, obviously, harmful to that neighbor.
That being said, there are a number of times in the Hebrew Testament that people disguised themselves, and God blessed them for doing so.
- We’ve already mentioned Jacob’s disguise that was used to obtain Esau’s birthright. God obviously blessed Jacob and his descendants.
- Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute in order to get around an old Levite custom. See Genesis 38.
- King Saul tried to disguise himself when he wanted to consult a fortune teller. See 1 Samuel 28.
Plus several other examples. Everything turned out well in most of those instances.
We are NOT talking about the harmless, costumed frolicking that occurs in our Community on Halloween and shows playful creativity and dramatic flair. We might not even be talking about the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. We ARE talking about the willful act of deceiving another person for personal gain or profit. That is what the biblical stories tell us that God detests.
Deuteronomy 22:5 is completely surrounded by instructions about keeping us from damaging our relationships with our neighbors. When Moses came down from the mountain to find the Israelites worshiping the golden calf in Exodus 32 – some of whom were disguising themselves and cross-dressing, we know how much God … through Moses … detested them, too.
Nitpicking the Hebrew Words
There is another wrinkle in understanding this passage.
Setting the Stage for Our Story
It certainly is possible that when a member of our Community cross-dresses, that the person is trying to deceive others about who they really are. They might be trying to rob us or do other kinds of real harm to us.
But that’s not how those who would use this verse to abuse our Transgender people are using it. They seem to think that Transgender people are trying to deceive them or God.
In fact, what our Transgender community is trying to do is the exact opposite. They are trying to dress authentically according to their understanding of how God created them. They are often trying to rectify a lifetime of living in disguise.
So, the real purpose of Deuteronomy 22:5 is to tell us to be authentic – to come out of whatever closet we are in. To quit trying to deceive others about who we are or about whom we love. To overcome years of undeserved guilt and from toxic shame.
Who are you afraid to “come out” to and why?
What might happen to you if you don’t come out to them?
How is your reluctance to come out damaging your relationship with them?
While there ARE legitimate reasons a person can choose to stay closeted that cannot be denied, many of us have found that the benefits of being authentic far outweigh the costs.
Yet, this is a personal decision that only you can make. And we will respect your decision.
1 Theresa Scott, “My Thoughts on Transsexualism and Christian Theology,” Theresa’s Place-E.
While the previous verses from Leviticus had everything to do with the problem with participating in the religious rituals of other faiths, the rules specified in Leviticus 21 specifically target the Levites – the Temple priests and staff.
The Focus Verses
Some would say that verse 20 would preclude trans women who have had a surgical procedure or are taking hormones from being included in the holy people of God.
The Ancient Story
The rules in Chapter 21 sound really harsh and insensitive to us.
No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives, 2 except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother; 3 likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her. 4 But he shall not defile himself as a husband among his people and so profane himself. 5 They shall not make bald spots upon their heads, or shave off the edges of their beards, or make any gashes in their flesh. 6 They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the Lord’s offerings by fire, the food of their God; therefore, they shall be holy. 7 They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God, 8 and you shall treat them as holy, since they offer the food of your God; they shall be holy to you, for I the Lord, I who sanctify you, am holy. 9 When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
10 The priest who is exalted above his fellows, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the vestments, shall not dishevel his hair, nor tear his vestments. 11 He shall not go where there is a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother. 12 He shall not go outside the sanctuary and thus profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord. 13 He shall marry only a woman who is a virgin. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin, 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his kin; for I am the Lord; I sanctify him.16 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. 23 But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them. 24 Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.
Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story
Just because someone was a member of the Tribe of Levi didn’t mean that the Hebrew community wanted to trust them with the treasures of the Temple or the privileges that came from serving there. There were folks who nobody liked, and while they were permitted to eat dinner with the rest of the Levi family, there were many things they just couldn’t do.
I promise you that for every one of these rules that sound so exclusionary to our contemporary ears, there was at least one person who the rule specifically describes. There had to be a diplomatic-sounding reason to keep them out of the Temple, so these rules were established. There is no easier way to deflect responsibility for arbitrary rules than to say, “God told me this!” And it’s just too bad if another likeable person comes along who gets excluded, because God’s Law is God’s Law.
Over time, more people needed to be excluded “for just cause,” and so more and more specific characteristics of those undesirables were added.
How the Story Got Twisted
In preparing for this study, I spoke with several of my Jewish friends about their religious leaders – their rabbis – who are the descendants of Aaron and serve as present-day Levites. When I read them this chapter, most of them stopped me before I finished.
“You mean to say that God forbade the Levites from all of that? Why, I don’t know many rabbis who don’t wear glasses! And so what if they are in a wheelchair?! Their teaching is still good. And there’s a height requirement? Please! If we followed those rules for ordination to be clergy and staff in our faith community, we wouldn’t have anyone capable of leading us at all!”
And that’s the point.
To our Western civilization ears, the rules of Leviticus 21 sound arbitrary, harsh, and unjust. It’s no one’s fault if he or she needs glasses, wears a cast on their broken foot, has arthritis, spina bifida, or scoliosis, or even needs to walk with a cane. And we think it is wrong to discriminate against people because of those conditions. In fact, we have laws that prohibit such discrimination.
So how in the world can we get away with discriminating against a trans woman because she has had or wants corrective surgery?
We simply can’t.
To target anyone who lives today using rules that were designed for an ancient tribe – and not even followed by that same tribe today – is pure folly.
Setting the Stage for Our Story
Yet, there is something to be said about establishing appropriate guidelines for people we trust. We need to come to a deeper understanding of what it takes to be worthy of leading us – what the Levites called “holiness” and “purity.”
Is it appropriate for someone convicted of embezzlement to become our church’s treasurer? Probably not. Even if two signatures are required on checks.
Is it appropriate for a person who has been convicted of child abuse to be put in charge of a youth or children’s program? Certainly not!
Is it appropriate for a habitual speed demon to be hired as a bus or taxi driver? Of course not!
Should a habitual felon be allowed to serve as a police officer? How about an arsonist in the fire department? Or what about a 14-year-old untrained kid doing surgery in a hospital?
So, what should our standards be? How do we go about establishing them?
For all of those prospective jobs, there are clear hurdles that must be crossed before we will trust a person to do them. The thing is, though, that anyone who wants to become a surgeon knows what she or he will need to do (and avoid doing) in order to become one.
It isn’t arbitrary, and it isn’t unfair. For most people, those goals are attainable.
Think of someone you respect. What “standards” do expect them to have met? How hard is it to meet those standards? Are they arbitrary?
Think of someone you have a hard time respecting. What expectations are lacking? Are they arbitrary expectations? Is there a potential path the person can follow to meet your expectations?
As you feel comfortable, please share your thoughts with the group.
While the expectations that the Levites had for membership in their inner circle were unusually harsh and intolerant, our expectations for other people today can show much more mercy and grace.
Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Ancient Law
Our Christian Testament tells us clearly that we are no longer bound by Leviticus 21 or anything else in that book. See Acts 15, Galatians 3, and Hebrews 8-10. A growing number of denominations also have transgender individuals among their ranks of ordained clergy, including the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the American Baptist Convention. 1
Jesus taught us that it isn’t something we eat, drink, or do that defiles us.
8 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
Jesus also teaches that we should be less judgmental with people. See John 9.
Let’s quit trying to exclude people because of our irrational fears. Let’s find ways to include them instead.
1 Matthew Maule, “Who are America’s Transgender Clergy,” July 28, 2015, The Christian Post, www.christianpost.com/news/who-are-americas-transgender-clergy-141997.
We often call ourselves “GLBTQQA” or “LGBTQQA” and those letters stand for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and straight Allies, etc.… We are a very inclusive Community that tends to include more people than we would exclude. In fact, the only thing we tend to allow as an excluding factor is one’s attitude toward our Community. If one thinks that people within our Community are “Going to Hell,” then we don’t want to hang around with that person very much.
Another acronym we often use for our Community is LGBTQI. That stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex. We often say all those letters at once, but maybe we shouldn’t.
The first three letters, standing for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual, are talking about who a person loves or is attracted to. The final three letters, standing for Transgender (someone was assigned the wrong gender marker at birth), Questioning (feeling as if something isn’t as it appears or should be), and Intersex (having physical characteristics of more than one gender), are talking about who a person is.
It isn’t the purpose of this class to help people understand the Transgender, Questioning, or Intersex experience – what psychologists call “Gender Non-Conforming” people. There are great classes that explain the psychology and science of all of this, such as Trans 101, 102, and 103, that help with that, and we encourage you to take those classes.
Some of the verses we will examine in our sessions will have more to do with who we love and are attracted to. For the most part, those sections were a part of the original Bible Study, Freed from Guilt – Freed from Shame. You’ll see this symbol for those sections.
In contrast, some of the verses will deal more with who we are as individuals. Those sections are brand new. We’ll use this symbol to identify those sections.
And some, of course, deal with all of us … Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and straight Allies. This symbol identifies those sections.
Having said that, all of the sections have to do with Our Community, so we think it is important for everyone to understand them. People ask all of us questions, so we need to be able to respond appropriately. By dispelling the fear that people have regarding Our Community, we believe that we can quell the hatred that surrounds us. That is a good thing.
When Caitlyn Marie Jenner revealed that she had always thought of herself as female, America suddenly had a new hot topic of conversation. Here was an honored, decorated 1970s Olympic athlete who many of us saw as the very definition of perfect masculinity at the time. She had six children which added fuel to the notion of her masculinity.
Yet, throughout all of that, Caitlyn questioned being a man.
Sometimes, when I sit down with friends, Caitlyn still comes up in conversation. People don’t understand. Caitlyn’s experience is so far out of their comfort zones that they can’t grasp the idea of Caitlyn being female. Many of us are afraid of the things we don’t understand.
And the very first thing that people say is, “Well, ‘In the beginning, God created man and woman,’” quoting the first Creation Story in Genesis.
The Focus Verse
The Ancient Story
This verse comes near the end of the seven-day story that explains how the world was created. It is a beautiful story steeped in tradition that many people can quote – at least the outline – without notes.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together God called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God, God created them;
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.
Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story
Every faith tradition has its Creation Story. They come from sitting around the campfire or the dinner table and someone asks, “Father, how was the earth made?”
Not wanting to look ignorant, we learn a creation story so we can have an answer to this most fundamental of questions. We tell it with dread … knowing that the next question might be, “Yes, but how was I made?”
When the compilers of the Hebrew Testament were deciding which faith stories to include, the two Creation Stories that were most popular at the time were chosen: Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-3:24 (which also includes the “Fall of Humanity” story). Even though the two stories give different details about the Creation, they tell us how much God cared for God’s people.
They are important to us, and we are right to treasure them!
How the Story Got Twisted
But, it is highly arrogant of us to assume that these two stories are the ONLY stories of creation that God blesses. To do so would be to say that there are no new revelations from God that will ever be given to us. To think that would be to invalidate every other faith story in the Bible! They are all “creation stories” in one way or another. The first two stories were never intended to be the End of the Story.
Setting the Stage for Our Story
Every character in the biblical faith stories had their own personal creation story. I believe that each and every one of us has our own unique Creation Story. Each one of us is a new creation by God. And, until we die, those stories are not the End of the Story either. Many of us are being newly created every day.
Is it okay if my story is different from yours or from Adam’s? Of course, it is! And it’s perfectly okay for Kaitlyn Jenner’s story to be different from yours or mine.
Is my story any less valid because it isn’t included in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis? Of course not! It’s MY story, and, believe me, it is truly blessed by God!
What’s your creation story? Where did you come from?
If you feel comfortable, share highlights of your story with the group.
Other Questions from around the Table
“But, Bruce was a man and then he decided that he was a woman…,” my friend offered.
Notwithstanding the fact that one of the matriarchs of the Kardashian clan has been known to be a bit over-dramatic (I say with tongue firmly planted in cheek), and the fact that one of the best ways to keep people talking is to throw in some controversy, I admit that Kaitlyn’s revelation took me off guard as well.
So, doubt about the validity of Kaitlyn’s claim seems almost normal. But the more I sit with the “new” normal, the more I realize that I’ve been asking the wrong question. This wrong question, the one that begins with “… was a man and he decided…,” needs to be changed. It is a matter of perspective.
“Here is this person who, from the time that this person was born, has felt as if something just isn’t right. This person feels like there has been some mistake about this person’s gender assignment. What should this person do about it?”
The answer to that could vary greatly. It would be perfectly acceptable for the person to decide to just live with it. But there are other answers. The person could…
- begin asking questions about gender assignment and gender roles.
- ask what happened at the person’s birth. Was there anything unusual about it?
- begin living a life that better corresponds to their own internal feelings.
- consult medical professionals about alternatives.
- change their name to correspond to their sense of normal.
And the list goes on. That is what makes life wonderful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all adapt to this new normal in a way that validates God’s love for each and every individual?
Since the concept of homosexuality didn’t exist in either Old or New Testament days, we already know we won’t find any of the LGBTQI words in the Hebrew or Greek texts. But that doesn’t mean that LGBTQI people weren’t in our Bible stories. They were! Lots of them!
First, there was Jacob himself, otherwise known as “Israel” – the patriarch of the Jewish nation, who changed his preferred gender role as a stay-at-home, fair-complected, smooth-skinned young man to look more like his ruddy, hairy, go-out-and-earn-a living brother Esau in order to fool their father, Isaac, into giving Jacob his birthright. See Genesis 27. In Isaac’s family, Esau was living in the gender confirming, cisgender role; not Jacob.
And then Jacob’s youngest son, Joseph, was prone to dressing up in colorful, attention grabbing clothing which, along with his dreams of becoming a ruler, earned him the ire of his brothers. See Genesis 37. Perhaps Jacob saw something of himself in his youngest, favorite son, so he gave Joseph that famous “coat of many colors.”
We have already talked about young David … before he became king of Israel … who had a torrid sexual relationship with King Saul’s much older son, Prince Jonathan.
Over the course of these classes, we will see many, many more of our people in the faith stories we hold dear.
The Focus Verse
One of the verses that some would use to abuse Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex members of our Community sounds rather clear. Deuteronomy 23:1 says,
The New Revised Standard Version says it in clearer language:
The Ancient Story
The New Revised Standard Version says that this chapter is about “Those Excluded from the Assembly,” and some would say that it is talking about people who God hates. Let’s look at the rest of that section.
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
2 Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
3 No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, 4 because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 (Yet the Lord your God refused to heed Balaam; the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.) 6 You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.7 You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. 8 The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
So, according to this, not only does God seem to hate people who are Transsexual, but God doesn’t like any children born “out of wedlock,” and God doesn’t like anybody who didn’t give the Israelites food and water on their journey out of Egypt. Since there is no one alive today who was hospitable to the Israelites during that journey, it would seem to mean that God doesn’t like anyone now – IF we were to take this literally.
Let alone any bastard children.
Setting the Stage for the Ancient Story
Eunuchs were as important in the ancient world as LGBTQI people are today. Society counted on eunuchs to provide many services with which straight people would never be trusted. Jesus acknowledged eunuchs in his society:
And, before we go too far away from this, let’s note that Jesus of Nazareth, himself, appears in the Christian testament to be a 30-year-old virgin.1 That isn’t gender-conforming either. Just sit with that for a minute or two.
Deuteronomy was the first book of the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Hebrew testament, to be written. It first came to notice in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, and it was the only book found by the high priest Hilkiah when he was cleansing the temple, as described in 2 Kings 22. This was in the year 621 B. C., or about eight hundred years after the death of Moses. The book had been written but a short time when it was found. Critics vary in judgment as to the exact time but all agree that it had been composed within the previous seventy-five years. These years were occupied by the idolatrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon, and the first eighteen years of Josiah.2
It was written as a summary of history of the Children of Israel at that time. A lot of the stories found in Deuteronomy were later expanded and additional narratives were collected to form the other four books of the Pentateuch.
This story is just one of many of the ones collected in Deuteronomy, and it was about how the priests were to decide who gets to partake of the generous support of the Temple and who doesn’t. There was only so much barbecue to go around on Friday nights. They had to have a way to decide who could come to the table.
Because of movies like The Ten Commandments, we have illusions of the Children of Israel being a huge group of people. But they weren’t. They were a very small tribe – or group of tribes – that had wandered into the land, and they were afraid that their cultural identity could be wiped away.
They were as protective of their children as we are of ours. They wanted their sons and daughters to find suitable mates who would raise their grandchildren up knowing about their history, language, and culture. So, they developed these Exclusionary Laws to make sure everyone understood who was In and who was Out.
How the Story Got Twisted
In order to use Deuteronomy 23:1 to tell a Transgender person that they are somehow not worthy of God’s love and care is to ignore almost everything else in the Bible.
Were these Exclusionary Laws meant to be enforced for all time? Certainly not!
Isaiah the prophet, who lived just a few generations after Deuteronomy was written, foresees a time when many more people would be added to “The Assembly.”
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.
3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
So, the very people who had to be Excluded in earlier days would soon be able to be Included … including the eunuchs.
By the time that Philip was teaching the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 a few generations later, it was clear that no one was to be excluded from God’s treasured people.
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Baptism, not one’s parents nor the existence of one’s testicles nor any other external rule, had become the symbol of Inclusion into the Assembly of the Faithful.
1 Chelsea Kingston, “Jesus, Eunuchs, and the (Almost) 30-Year-Old Virgin,” July 24, 2014. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-eunuchs-and-the-almost-30-year-old-virgin