Bible, child marriage and homosexuality
By Derek Matyszak | RAU |
BARACK Obama’s visit to Kenya and the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia, had the Herald’s columnists spluttering with indignation.
What hypocrisy, they claimed, that the American President should celebrate his roots as a son of Africa and Christianity and at the same time laud the recent US Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage.
Homosexuality, we are all supposed to know, is against African culture and Biblical teachings. Such temerity, we are told, to lecture Kenyatta on gay rights and then join in the singing of Amazing Grace immediately thereafter (see, for example: Obama Applauds Gay Marriage, Sings Amazing Grace The Herald 29.06.15; When a Son Returns Lauding Homosexuality The Herald 23.07.15; Obama Out of Touch With Africa The Herald 27.07.15).
What a contrast, the Herald writers tell us, with Zanu PF, a party of “afro-Christian” values, epitomized by its leader’s resolute stance against homosexuality as un-African and against Christian precepts (see, for example, Godly Counsel for Party of Christian Values The Herald 17.11.14).
Statements of the President of the Chiefs’ Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira are routinely trotted out to support the first proposition (unAfrican), and Bibles whipped off shelves to fall open readily at Leviticus 18:22, for the second, which sets the rule:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.
This Biblical injunction is supposed to foreclose any further debate on the matter of gay rights.
However, if the Herald was looking to expose the Pharisees of hypocrisy, it did not need to look to Obama’s Africa trip, and could have looked within its own pages. For at the time the righteous were fulminating against Obama’s support for gay rights, the same people were also directing their moral indignation against child marriage.
But unlike the case of their outrage against homosexuality, support for African traditions was abruptly abandoned in the case of child brides. And the Bible was left on the bookshelf, and wisely so.
Of course the injunction against homosexuality is just one of many pronouncements to be found in the Good Book on marriage, sex, sexuality and gender. The precepts in the Bible in this regard are not a pretty picture, especially in relation to child marriage.
It is worth noting at the outset, that the Bible does not unequivocally regard marriage as being “between a man and a woman” as the homophobic repeatedly tell us. The Bible frequently treats marriage as being between a man and women. Despite its many regulations on the matter, the Bible does not explicitly set a minimum age for a man’s wives as this seems to have been regarded as a non-issue.
However, Judaic Law, based on the Old Testament, and presumably drawing on the fact that Isaac married Rebecca when she was three, sets the age at which a marriage may be legally and sexually consummated at three years and one day – an age which might give even Johannes Tomana pause.
Of course at this time, under Mosaic Law, women and girls were regarded as property rather than people and could be, and were, given in marriage (for a suitable sum) when pre-pubescent. In passing, note Islamic moral precepts are no better. Mohamed married and had sex with Aisha when she was the Tomanaic age of nine.
Leviticus 25:44 states that owning slaves, both male and female is quite permissible, (and indeed sets the fair prices for them, with males worth more than females, of course) provided they are purchased from neighboring nations (something more or less obeyed with regard to Malawian farm workers in Zimbabwe).
But there seems to be an exception to the rule that slaves must be foreigners in the case of one’s own daughters, who may be cheerfully sold into slavery (Exodus 21:7) – a useful disciplinary tool for daughters then, like today, absorbed on their tables during family meal times. If the lustful eye of the son of the purchaser of such a girl should fall upon the daughter, the son could take the girl as his bride the Bible tells us. The girl, of course, had no say in the matter.
This approach to the female sex is positively enlightened compared to other Biblical permissions and encouragements. While civil society around the world (including RAU) fights against political gender based violence and rape as a weapon of war, they do so in the face of men being urged on to engage in this behaviour by the Good Book. Moses, presumably hyped-up after a particularly bloody battle, rewarded his troops with the following instruction:
Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Numbers 31:17-18).
Some of these undoubtedly prepubescent girls would have been kept as child brides. This not a solitary aberration caused by those who penned Numbers mishearing the word of the Lord. Similar sentiments appear in the Book of Judges. After Benjaminite women were killed during a battle, the Israelite leaders decided to give the remaining Benjaminite men new wives by stealing virgins:
“This is what you are to do,” they said “Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin” (Judges 21:11). …So the Benjaminites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh-Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them. (Judges 21:14).
Due to the unfortunate shortage, the Benjaminites went on to Shiloh to abduct more girls with the happy instruction:
“When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife” (Judges 20:21).
There was no internet dating at the time, recall.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 would have it that:
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
This probably cannot be read to mean that the woman may, however, divorce her rapist. The Bible, in its entirety, assumes that the readers will be exclusively male and only addresses men.
Levirate marriage of a wife by the brother of her deceased husband, is not only permissible according to the Bible, but in some circumstances obligatory – Deuteronomy 25:5-6. These last two moral injunctions should have a familiar ring in the ears of the custodians of traditional culture in Zimbabwe – even if the absence of a minimum age for marriage, polygamy and the payment of bride prices do not.
These are but a few of the available examples as to why those railing against child marriage did not reach for their Bibles as swiftly as they do when condemning homosexuality. But it is not only in relation to marriage that Mosaic Laws are outdated. Numerous other moral precepts relating to sex and sexuality are regarded as having no contemporary application.
Leviticus (especially 15:19-24) has verse after verse dealing with the problem of the “uncleanliness” of menstruating women who, it seems, should be sequestered during this stage of their cycle. Should any man be unfortunate to have any contact with such a woman, or even sit on a chair on which she has sat, an elaborate cleansing ritual must be undertaken and full cleanliness is only restored after the ritual sacrifice of some hapless pigeon.
Christians usually retreat into dispositionalism when faced with these Biblical moral laws. Rather than the word of the Lord being eternal and immutable, it seems that God allowed for different moral laws in different epochs. Thus while under Abrahamic Laws it was OK to marry your sister – as Abraham did Sarah (Genesis 20:12), under the Mosaic laws of Leviticus this attracted harsh punishment (Leviticus 18:9 and 18:29).
So given that these moral precepts are regarded as time-based and having no contemporary application, other than by some on the apostolic and fundamentalist fringes, why is it that Leviticus 18:22 is singled out as having been frozen in time and is not rejected as are the other Mosaic Laws – laws claimed appropriate for a civilization existing 3,500 years ago, give or take a millennium, but inappropriate today.
Why is this one Mosaic Law regarded as timeless and applicable but not the others? Why are Leviticus and other Old Testament chapters to apply in the case of homosexual relations but not in the case of heterosexual ones and child marriage in particular? Why are traditional “African” values to be applied in the case of homosexuality and not in the case of child marriages?
If you are looking for real hypocrisy, Mr. Herald Editor, look first at the log in thine own eye…