Monday, July 5, 2010

That Abominable Word

Here is my column in the July edition of "the Triangle," a new publication serving the LGBTQ community in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area. The publication and other resources can be found at

If 25 years of preaching taught me anything it is this: words matter. Every minister who saw Four Weddings and a Funeral laughed nervously when the inexperienced priest declared “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spigot.” Been there, done that. Maybe not calling the Spirit a plumbing device, but all clergy have made equally dumb mistakes. I once did a funeral for a man named Ed and called him Earnest throughout the service. You can just imagine how pleased his family was.

Years later I can laugh at that gaffe and realize it wasn’t intentional or fatal. We all make mistakes with words and names. It’s just that those who do public speaking for a living get many more opportunities to screw up.

However, there is a more sinister misuse of language in the church that is neither funny nor unintentional. There is a word that gets used a lot from pulpits, that comes spewing out of mouths filled with loathing and invective. It is a word I hate because it shames, and denigrates, and breaks the spirit of good people. The word is abomination.

Everyone in the LGBTQ community has heard the word. Preachers and other religious folks are quick to quote from the book of Leviticus in the Bible these lines: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Those who use the “a” word do so with the intent of declaring there is nothing more detestable than two men having sex. The problem is, those who use the word in this ugly fashion don’t realize how badly they are misunderstanding it.

The book of Leviticus declares a lot of things abominations: eating shrimp, cutting your hair, wearing a cotton/polyester blend, having a ham sandwich, and much more. Funny how we never hear what an abomination the ham sandwich eaters are. But this weird list of “abominations” should at least make us wonder what the word actually meant.

The Israelites were a people living amongst other tribes who had their own religious practices. In order to distinguish their religion from their neighbors, the Israelites adopted codes of conduct. In Leviticus the list of rituals is called the Holiness Code. The main purpose of the code was to keep a person ritually pure so that she or he could worship and participate in the life of the community. All manner of things could make one unclean, or, an abomination. Yes, the word doesn’t mean “the worst thing in the world.” It means ritually unclean.

Now here is where it gets weird and personal for me. I have a gorgeous teenage daughter who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She also happens to have been born with a rare condition that discolors her skin on certain parts of her body. Many people do not even notice this condition, and it does not take away from her stunning good looks. Yet, if we read the book of Leviticus literally, and apply this ancient code like some narrow-minded people do, then my daughter is also an abomination.

You see, shortly before one arrives at the two short verses in Leviticus declaring man-on-man sex an abomination, there are two long chapters describing the “ritual impurity” of people with certain skin conditions. That’s right. Leviticus spends much more time dealing with the religious problem of permanent skin discoloration than it does same-gender sexual activity.

If all of this seems absurd it is only because it is. Selectively misusing an ancient religious code to condemn any group of people is cruel and tragic. But when that selective misuse becomes so normal that the condemned group internalizes it and accepts it, well, that makes me furious.

Calling something that is beautiful an abomination is one of the worst uses of language imaginable. My beautiful daughter is anything but an abomination. My beautiful LGBTQ friends are anything but abominations. And don’t let anyone tell you different.


  1. What robe and stole were you wearing when you wrote this? No matter, I still read it and say amen.

  2. Thank you, Jack. No mistaken words in this one. Your name and input into my life made my last post; did you see it? :-)



About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (; married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology