The Common Good

Does God Hate Shrimp? When Biblical Citation Goes Awry

Date: August 5, 2014

One of the most popular “West Wing” clips on YouTube is President Josiah Bartlet’s biblically-based takedown of a conservative radio talk-show host (a thinly veiled Dr. Laura), who confidently justifies her opposition to homosexuality by citing the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, she refers to a so-called “clobber verse,” Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” In response, the popular fictional president excoriates her by asking questions about other verses surrounding this passage. “Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? … Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?” His pointed questions leave his interlocutor speechless.

This rhetorical theme isn’t limited to television. In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama addressed a conference hosted by the Christian social justice organization Sojourners. In addition to describing his own spiritual journey, Obama also questioned the biblical invocations of conservative leaders, asking, “Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination?”