A reader forwarded me an article from Advocate.com decrying those who interpret the Bible literally, and the article actually does a reasonable job of explaining how we do so. The author, Charles Hammer, seems to be pretty familiar with Christianity, and the main problem with his position is that he gives little justification for his casual dismissal of conservative reasoning on the matter. He lists a lot of commands from the Old Testament that most modern Christians don't advocate enacting into American law, then he explains why we believe that way, and then he dismisses the reasons.
Conservative Christians also struggle against God’s order, passed down through Moses in Leviticus 20:9, which reads: “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death: He has cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.” These conservatives are too kind to kill such children, nor would they—unlike the witch-burners of Salem, Mass., in 1692, obey Leviticus 20:27: “A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones.”
Conservatives ignore Deuteronomy 22:21, which dictates the fate of the bride whose parents cannot bring forth the cloth that would serve as a token of her virginity: “Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die...so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.”
The Bible also condemns to death many different classes of sinners, including “he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord” (Leviticus 24: 10–16) and “whosoever doeth work” on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).
Today’s conservatives disregard Leviticus 25, which commands that we buy bondmen and bondmaids of the heathen around us and of strangers that sojourn in our land.
It's pretty clear that these commands were given to Israel and the Jews and not to modern Christians (or ancient non-Jews), and that's exactly what Mr. Hammer goes on to point out.
Conservatives do not explain why—defying Biblical commands—they refuse to stone wizards, homosexuals, and nonvirgin brides. Instead, they justify today’s more humane ethics by speaking of the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant,” the supposed harsh Biblical law before Jesus and the gentler era after. As if the enduring, eternal God had reinvented himself and his laws between the Old Testament and the New.
That's basically what we believe, however it's not that God "reinvented" himself; rather, he changed the way he deals with humanity, expanding his scope from Israel alone to all mankind.
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, however, the Bible contains no article specifying how it can be amended.
On the contrary, the Old Testament is entirely focused on this eventual "amendment" -- namely, the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The whole point of the OT is to point to Jesus, and if Mr. Hammer misses that then it's no wonder he's having trouble understanding what's going on.
With conservatives it also comes down to the same picking and choosing among scriptures, the same dreaded interpretation they decry in mainstream Christianity. They choose to absolve Sabbath-breakers, blasphemers, remarried “adulterers,” and nonvirgin brides—but not homosexuals, who are condemned if not to death at least to damnation.
This argument is disingenuous, since Jesus explicitly absolved New Testament believers from the Sabbath laws and other ceremonial laws regarding food and worship that were only applicable to (and only fulfillable by) ancient Jews living under the Temple system. Furthermore, there are New Testament scriptures that specifically condemn homosexuality (along with many other sins!).
Romans 1: 26-32
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
I've taken the liberty of emphasizing "deserve death" above, and an astute reader will quickly realize that homosexuals are not the only people condemned. In fact, I doubt anyone would be exempt from the list of evil-doings that Paul listed above.
Which is exactly the point. No person can be "good enough" to escape God's death sentence.
We are all liars and thieves, we have all been disrespectful to our parents, we have all committed idolatry, we are all boastful and arrogant, we are all gossipers and slanderers. We are all condemned by our own actions. The point of the New Testament is that we don't have to stay condemned, because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for us.
We have each earned death, but God has provided a way for us to escape, no matter what we've done in the past. We can't undo what we've done or pay back God or buy forgiveness, but Jesus already died in our place to cover the debt. That's what the Old Testament points towards, and that's what the New Testament reveals. We can be forgiven because of Jesus, and all we have to do is admit our sin and ask God to forgive us because of what Christ did.
The rest is details. Do Christians tend to elevate the sin of homosexuality as being particularly evil? Yes, and probably unjustifiably so. Because of this attitude, many homosexuals whom God loves enough to die for have hardened hearts and have no desire to hear about the forgiveness that's available to them.