Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has been one of my favourite religious teachers for a few years now. Recently she’s written up two posts exploring what she calls “clobber” texts: verses in the Bible (Hebrew Bible in this case) that are used to clobber the LGBTQ community and justify homophobia / transphobia.
Links to the two articles:
- God loves you gay gay gay (clobbering THE clobber text)
- Big Dyke Energy (On The Patriarchy, Women’s Sexuality, and the Invention of Heterosexuality)
Her analysis is useful (and entertaining) and I imagine I’ll be coming back to these if I ever find myself in a discussion with someone trying to justify homophobia based on the Bible.
Beyond her unpacking of these verses and ways to interpret them, two things stood out to me. First: the role of scripture teachers in a world where religious fundamentalism is taking hold again. She lives in the USA where fundamentalist Christians are gaining significant political power and shaping laws to force their worldview onto others. The reality in Australia’s politics is different, but you see the same religious fundamentalism play out in power structures at the level of families and schools and communities.
Because in the days when drag bans are getting passed and gun bans aren’t, knowing your text inside and out matters.
We have to fight against the encroaching theocracy in many ways at once. One of those ways includes disemboweling bad readings of sacred texts—especially the bad readings that are used to harm people—at every available opportunity.
The other thing that stood out was her willingness to criticise the patriarchal and homophobic ideology when that’s what is in the text. Growing up evangelical, I had been taught “all scripture is God breathed”, and when something in there was completely out of step with our contemporary values, we either tried to change our values to match, or tried to reinterpret the text in some way that downplayed the parts we disagreed with. The Rabbi on the other hand isn’t afraid to question and criticise the scripture itself and the major rabbinic commentary through history – acknowledging it as tainted by human prejudices – even while somehow approaching it with care, treating it as sacred, and allowing it to speak.
As much as I love to hold up the more optimistic texts in my corpus, it’s still a very patriarchal tradition and we have plenty with which to reckon.