What About Calabash Shrimp and Pulled Pork Barbecue?

calabash shrimpI’ve been spending the last couple of days pulling some of my old books on the issue of homosexuality off the shelf and skimming back through them. I did so because of a recent comment here at Southern Reformation that I thought deserved a full post in response, rather than just a quick note in the com-box.

When the subject of homosexuality comes up, it’s almost worth having a stop watch handy to see how long it takes someone to throw out what I call “the shrimp and barbecue argument.” Since Leviticus forbids both homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) as well as eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10) and Christians ignore the prohibition against eating shrimp, they should therefore ignore the prohibition against homosexuality as well.

That certainly makes us homophobic, shrimp-eating Christians look inconsistent, now doesn’t it?

This argument has been made more than once and by more than one author, but perhaps the best example of it is found in the work Is the Homosexual My Neighbor by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, so I’ll quote them directly. Commenting on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, they write:

“These verses are part of Israel’s Holiness Code, which includes commandments not to eat meat with blood in it, not to wear garments made of two kinds of yarn, not to plant fields with two kinds of seed, and not to be tattooed as well as specific instructions on sexual matters. Forbidden activities include bestiality (sexual conduct with animals), incest (sexual conduct with relatives–children, parents, siblings, in-laws, and so on), male homosexual acts, adultery, and sexual intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period. The reasons given for these proscriptions involve several factors: (1) separation from other nations and their customs (Lev. 18:1-5), (2) avoidance of idolatry and  any practices associated with it (Lev. 20:1-7), and (3) ceremonial uncleanness.” Mollenkott and Scanzoni, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, 60.

The question that is being raised is whether or not it is blatantly inconsistent for Christians to believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality while discussing the subject over a dinner of Calabash shrimp while wearing polyester blend clothing. Are Christians in the contemporary church selective and hypocritical in their opposition to homosexuality?

This argument really takes on two forms: one that claims that Christians are inconsistent and hypocritical, and the other that claims that the prohibitions found in Leviticus are obsolete or inapplicable to the controversy.  So then how should we respond?

We should begin by noting that this approach conflates and confuses the various aspects of Levitical law. To refer to the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and observe that they are no longer practiced by Christians, doesn’t justify disregarding what Scripture says concerning homosexuality in Leviticus. The question that must be asked is, “Why are the dietary laws God delivered in Leviticus no longer observed?”

The answer is simple: we no longer observe the dietary laws of Leviticus because we see that God, in His own Word, has repealed them, and we know this from other passages in the Bible, not from our own preferences. The restrictions of eating pork, shellfish, or rock badger are no longer binding because Jesus removed them and declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). Furthermore, there is no place is Scripture where we read of God judging the nations surrounding Israel for their failure to observe the dietary regulations––but we do see God judging the surrounding nations for homosexuality. The text of Leviticus 18:24-30 clearly reveals that God judged the non-Jewish nations who previously lived in the land because they violated His judgements and engaged in the type of sexual immorality that is listed in Leviticus 18:6-23.

After listing practices such as incest, intercourse during menstruation, adultery, offering one’s children as a sacrifice to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality, Leviticus is more than clear: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.” According to Leviticus, God judged the surrounding nations by way of the sword for practicing “these things”, of which homosexuality is included. The passage goes on to state, “for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations” (Heb. תּֽוֹעֵבֹת֙). Undeniably, these men “who have been before you” were not Jewish, and they had committed these “abominations”––the very same Hebrew term used to describe homosexuality in v. 22. The men who had lived in the land prior to the Hebrew had engaged in homosexual practices, and God judges them for it. God’s disapprobation of homosexuality is not in the same category as His dietary regulations for the Hebrews.

I think I have amply demonstrated that the regulations concerning diet never applied to the Gentiles to begin with, but that the commands not to engage in homosexual activity are perpetually binding. Given this reality, the charges of inconsistency and hypocrisy are manifestly false––but I’m sure that won’t stop misinformed individuals from continuing to make the charge. But when they do, at least you’ll be able to respond.

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6 thoughts on “What About Calabash Shrimp and Pulled Pork Barbecue?

  1. Excellent. I’ve always pointed out that Leviticus calls homosexual relations an “abomination” and Paul in Romans calls them “against nature,” so clearly it was something God disapproves of because of the nature of the act and not for reasons of custom or ceremony. This follows the argument all the way through. I’ve never thought to see the connection to God’s judgment on the nations.

    • You’re not the only one who hasn’t noticed the connection between homosexuality and God’s judgement on those who occupied the land of Canaan prior to Israel. To some extent, I think it’s because most Christians are very poorly read in the Old Testament, generally––not to mention how little Leviticus gets read!
      Since I’m prepping for a debate on this subject, I hope that I’ll at least get a few posts out of the prep work over the next couple of weeks.

      • That’s definitely true of me. I’ve never read the whole New Testament. I’ve been working on that, but lately I’ve been pretty swamped with work. I’m in 1 Chronicles now. I actually enjoyed Leviticus a great deal, this time around (it was usually my undoing in these sorts of endeavors), with some decent commentary in hand. At the time, I was running with the study notes from the ESV Study Bible. I still like the ESV translation, but I’m increasingly discontent with the study notes. And last year I invested in some good Catholic commentary that I appreciate a lot.

        I’m looking forward to reading more posts. Keep it up!

        • I can’t say I’m surprised that you’re somewhat discontent with the substance of the notes in the ESV Study Bible. They’re too bent towards Reformed theology for anyone who’s not already on the Reformed team.

          On the other hand, I’m opposed to study Bibles as a general rule. Too often people wind up focusing more on the notes than the content of the Scriptures themselves, so I ordinarily tell folks to keep away from them.

          • When I picked the ESV Study Bible (the most expensive leather-bound edition), my 30th birthday present to myself, which I got my parents to inscribe to me and everything, I had no intention or notion of becoming Catholic, and thought it would serve me for a very long time. I really enjoyed it for a year or two, and I still am stubborn in calling it “my Bible” for personal study and taking places and won’t get myself another one.

            I don’t mind the Reformed perspective at all — often I find it helpful, and it brings me to interpretations I might have overlooked otherwise. My main gripe is that a lot of the commentary, particularly in the New Testament, is just bad. So bad that I wonder if it’s not being intentionally, misleadingly bad.. This post deals with the commentary on John 6 in particular. I can completely understand and respect giving a Reformed or evangelical interpretation of that passage — I expect it! But to completely gloss over the fact that the historical Christian reading of that passage, even many of the Reformers I suspect, and still of the majority of the world’s Christians today, read that passage as a proclamation of Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist and draw a direct connection to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, seems to me to be at the least unscholarly and at the worst misleading, to not even inform the commentary’s readers of a widely held alternate interpretation. (For fear, I wonder, that they might find it more convincing?) It was very disappointing. In other places — I don’t know if this is to blame on the commentators, or just on Protestant interpretations in general — the commentary seems to do gymnastics to evade the plain sense of the passage and the traditional reading. The commentary in other books will refer to a traditional, Catholic reading and then state why the commentator rejects it, and I really value and appreciate that. In some places, such as in the closing of 1 Peter, the commentary is so good that I like to cite it to people who argue that Peter was never in Rome, and say, “Look! This is what the well-respected, Protestant ESV Study Bible says!”

            I know what you mean about losing sight of Scripture by having one’s eyes glued in the commentary. For the past year or so, I’ve read the Scripture through first (usually a chapter at a time), and then gone back to look at my various commentaries to reflect on what I just read and pick up anything I missed. I bought the full set of the deluxe Navarre Study Bible, which comes in like 30 volumes, in digital form through Logos Bible Software, and I am really pleased with that.

            • I just read the post you linked to above, and I’d like to believe that the comments on the text got truncated due to space, but on the other hand, I just don’t know. That sort of omission is very out of character for Kostenberger as he usually does a much better job of portraying competing conclusions.

              Now I have the incredible urge to dig out my copy of D.A. Carson’s commentary on the Gospel of John from the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series and see if he does a better job of handling that text.

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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