“In the Beginning Was the Word”: Hearing the Rainbow Scriptures

For the Christmas “Mass During the Day”, we heard the opening words John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word:

and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.

For today, the feast of John the Evangelist, let us reflect a little deeper on this, and the importance for LGBT Christians.

We begin with the Word – or should do.

rainbow cloth with bible

The problem, for so many :LGBT Christians, is that based on our experience of so much textual abuse, scripture used as a weapon to support bigotry,  discrimination and even direct persecution in the name of religious faith, that we tend to approach the Christian Bible with a great deal of caution, even at times. hostility. But for all people of faith, including those who identify as “queer”, in the beginning, should be the word. (more…)

A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

At Bible – thumping Liberal, the straight ally and evangelical Christian Ron Goetz asks a crucially important question:

HOW DO I RECONCILE PAUL WITH MY SUPPORT FOR LGBT FOLKS?

August 27, 2013

I just got an email from Harold, one of my PFLAG friends. He asked the following question.

“How do you reconcile Paul’s words and yet support LGBTs?”

There are several good ways of approaching this question. One way looks at Paul’s specific words, what they mean and don’t mean, and then discover that Paul is not as anti-homosexual as fundamentalists make him out to be. Another way is to look at Paul as a man who was working out his theology, literally, as he went along. Another way is to see how Paul treated other issues of some disagreement, that have been puzzling or unclear to us. Finally, we can look at some of Paul’s own attitudes and interactions, and adopt some of them as our own.

-more at  Bible-Thumping Liberal.

This is important, because Paul’s words in Romans and in Corinthians are the most disturbing of all the Biblical clobber texts for lesbian and gay Christians. The story of Sodom in Genesis should not be troubling at all, as the Bible itself makes clear that the infamous “sin of Sodom” is about injustice, and pride, and has nothing whatever to do with homoeroticism. There are numerous responses to the verses in Leviticus, but the simplest one is just to note that these are part of the Jewish purity laws, like the dietary restrictions, the prohibition on clothing of mixed fibres and shaving one’s beard, and the obligation of male circumcision. As such, they simply do not apply to Christians – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The letters of Paul are another matter, less easy to reconcile with our experience of a same – sex affectional orientation.

So, how can we do so? In his post, Goetz goes on, to elaborate on each of these ways of looking at Paul. There is also another, simpler still: the words simply do not mean what they are popularly supposed to mean. I’ve already discussed how this is so for Corinthians, where the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” have been mistranslated as referring to homosexuals. (They don’t). For Romans 1, I suggest that the key is simpler still, hiding in plain sight – in the title. 

This is the letter to the Romans after all.

Hadrian and Antinous

Roman Emperor Hadrian and His Beloved, Antinous

Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and would surely have understood something of how his words would be interpreted. So let’s look at them: (more…)

Biblical Love – Lost in Translation?

The dangers inherent in translating texts are obvious to anyone who has attempted to use Google Translate. Professional linguists and translators fo better, but difficulties remain, especially with literary and biblical texts. For LGBT people, the consequences have been profoundly damaging.

The widely held belief that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality underpins both religious and secular opposition, but this belief is unfounded. The word does not exist in the original text, for the simple reason that in Biblical times, the word and concept as we understand them, were unknown. What we have, is a set of modern interpretations of a series of translations from what are now dead languages. It is now widely recognized, for instance, that the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokotoi” that occur in Corinthians, do not in fact simply refer to “homosexuals”, as some translations imply. There has been less attention paid to the Hebrew texts of the First Testament.

Love Lost in Translation, front cover

In a new book, “Love Lost in Translation“, the biblical scholar and linguistic specialist  Renato Lings argues convincingly that in fact, all of the damaging texts of terror that have been so widely used to object to homoerotic relationships have been similarly distorted, with their original sense badly corrupted. In a fascinating opening chapter, he describes how these difficulties have affected not only modern translators, but even the writers of the Gospels and Pauline letters, in their understanding of the Jewish scriptures.  These were written in a classical Hebrew over hundreds of years, so that by the time of the Second Testament, it was no longer the common speech, having been replaced by Aramaic and Greek. To make the Hebrew bible more widely accessible, it had been translated from classical Hebrew into Greek (the version known as the Septuagint).  The Second Testament itself was written directly in Greek – and for its quotations and  references to the Hebrew prophets, depended on the Greek translations in the Septuagint. A few centuries later, the Greek bible, both Septuagint and Second Testament writings, were themselves translated into what had since become the common language of the people – Latin, in Jerome’s Vulgate version. (more…)

“Biblical Marriage”: EIGHT Models.

All those arguing against marriage equality legislation on the grounds that they are defending “traditional” marriage, “as found in the Bible”, should be challenged to clarify just which biblical model it is they are supporting. As found in the Bible, there is not just a single form of marriage, but eight distinctive models.

For a light – hearted treatment of the subject, watch this You Tube video by Betty Bowers, “America’s Best Christian”:

It’s a serious matter though, and deserves serious treatment. For that, see a useful description of the eight types of marriage at Religious Tolerance, which describes each of these, together with examples and references for to the biblical verses.   From the extended analysis, I offer here just the introduction to each (for the more complete analysis, follow the link).

biblical marriage

Type 1: The standard nuclear family: God is recorded as promoting the this type of marriage in Genesis 2:18: Referring to Adam, “…the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (King James Version – KJV) “Help meet” also appears in the Jerusalem Bible. It is translated “helper” in many other translations (e.g. Amplified Bible, An American Translation, James Moffatt Translation, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New International Version, New World Translation, Revised Standard Bible, Young’s Literal Translation.) The Living Bible, New Living Translation, and Today’s English Version use a phrase like “a suitable companion to help him.

Type 2: Levirate Marriage: The name of this type of marriage is derived from the Latin word “levir,” which means “brother-in-law.” It is called “yibbum” in Hebrew. This involved a woman who was widowed without having borne a son. She would be required to leave her home, marry her brother-in-law, live with him, and engage in sexual relations. If there were feelings of attraction and love between the woman and her new husband, this arrangement could be quite agreeable to both. Otherwise, the woman would have to endure what was essentially serial rapes with her former brother-in-law as perpetrator. Their first-born son was considered to be sired by the deceased husband. Before the details of conception were determined, such a belief made a lot of sense. It lives on in some version of Sharia law among Muslims which state that a woman can conceive any time up to seven years after engaging in intercourse.

Type 3: A man, one or more wives, and some concubines: A man could keep numerous concubines, in addition to one or more wives. These women held an even lower status than a wife.  As implied in Genesis 21:10, a concubine could be dismissed when no longer wanted.

Type 4: A male rapist and his victim: According to the New International Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 requires that a female virgin who is not engaged to be married and who has been raped must marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings were towards him. A man could then become married by simply sexually attacking a woman that appealed to him, and paying his father-in-law 50 shekels of silver.

Type 5: A man, a woman and her property — a female slave: As described in Genesis 16, Sarah and Abram were infertile. Sarah owned Hagar, a female slave who apparently had been purchased earlier in Egypt. Because Hagar was Sarah’s property, she could dispose of her as she wished. Sarah gave Hagar to Abram as a type of wife, so that Abram could have an heir.

Type 6: A male soldier and a female prisoner of war: Numbers 31:1-18 describes how the army of the ancient Israelites killed every adult Midianite male in battle. Moses then ordered the slaughter in cold blood of most of the captives, including all of the male children who numbered about 32,000. Only the lives of 32,000 women – all virgins — were spared. Some of the latter were given to the priests as slaves. Most were taken by the Israeli soldiers as captives of war

Type 7: Polygynous marriage: A man would leave his family of origin and join with his first wife. Then, as finances allowed, he would marry as many additional women as he desired and could afford. The new wives would join the man and his other wives in an already established household.

Type 8: A male and female slave: Exodus 21:4 indicates that a slave owner could assign one of his female slaves to one of his male slaves as a wife. There is no indication that women were consulted during this type of transaction. The arrangement would probably involve rape in most cases. In the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, Israelite women who were sold into slavery by their fathers were slaves forever.

 

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“Clobber Texts” – Resource Page Updated

When I first began to grapple seriously with the tensions between life as a practicing Catholic, and living honestly and with integrity as a gay man in a committed, stable partnership, one of the discoveries that helped me enormously was a Quest pamphlet given to me by a Catholic priest, which showed me for the first time that far from being “obviously” against homosexuality, the Bible includes only a half dozen verses that even appear to be critical, and that the relevance of even these half dozen is seriously disputed by many modern scholars. That was twenty years ago:  since then, many more scholars and theologians have been revising their views on the biblical take on same – sex relationships – and coming down on the side of acceptance.

So when I began to write at Queering the Church, in an attempt to share with readers the ideas and materials that had helped me, one of the first subjects I tackled was this question of the “clobber texts”, in a basic introductory post. Conscious of its limitations, for a long time I intended  to return to the subject, with more detailed reflections on each of these troublesome texts, drawing on and summarising the key arguments about them – but held back, feeling intimidated and inadequate to the task. Later, as my own knowledge matured, I became less interested in the defensive approach to the texts of terror, and more interested in identifying the far more numerous supportive and affirmative passages, both those featuring specific peoples that LGBT Christians could identify with (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the “Beloved Disciple”),  and the more general passages emphasising love and inclusion, and warning against legalism or passing judgement on others . So, as I began to expand my back pages at the site into a collection of resource pages, for the pages on scripture I have added extensive links to material on the affirmative texts – but added very little on defence against the nasties.

It was always my intention though, to include as many links to useable posts elsewhere on these clobber texts,  as I could find.  Earlier this week, I was asked by a reader for some help in this area, and as I did not yet have the summary of links that I have planned but not put together, I was forced to do some digging about from scratch. In the process, I finally began the process of adding an extensive list of links to my “Defence Against the Clobber Texts” page (a subpage of the “Rainbow Bible” section, in the navigation bar above). It’s still not exhaustive – I know that I have seen many more on-line articlues on these than I have included. These are just the ones that I was able to track down in the short time that was then available to me.  I will continue to add to it – and would welcome any further suggestions from readers.

This directory of links is permanently housed at the page on “Clobber Texts“, a subdivision of the “Rainbow Bible” pages but as an introduction and for convenience , here it is, as it stands today. (For balance, also see the far more extensive pages on “LGBT Affirmative Scriptures“)

*****

General: Overview

For a general discussion of these “Texts of Terror”, see Countering the Clobber Texts here at QTC,

and also:

The Bible and Homosexuality, ByRev. MonaWest,Ph.D. (at Metropolitan Community Church), with the sub-headings:

  • Sexuality in the Mediterranean World
  • The Story of Sodom in Genesis 19
  • Leviticus
  • The Writings of the Apostle Paul
  • Romans 1:26 ‐ 27
  • Issues of Biblical Authority

Also at MCC,

At Bridges Across the Divide, Homosexuality and the Bible  by Walter Wink

For more detailed discussions on each, see:

Genesis

Genesis 1 & 2:

Genesis 19 (Sodom):

Leviticus / Judges

Leviticus 18:19-22 and 20:1-18

Judges (relevant for the additional insight it gives to Genesis 19 and Sodom)

Romans

Romans 1

And for a really exhaustive treatment, focusing on the historical context and emphasising shrine prostitution, see GayChristian101:

Romans 1 – What Historical And Religious Context Did Paul Address In First Century Rome? including:

Corinthians, Timothy, Jude

Corinthians, Timothy

Corinthians

Timothy

Jude

 

Books:

(Links to Amazon.co.uk, UK).

Boswell, John: Christianity, Christianity, social tolerance and homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century  (University of Chicago Press, 1980) 424 pages

Coulton, Nicholas, (ed) The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality(Darton Longman Todd, 2005)

Countryman, L.WilliamDirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today (Fortress Press 2007 (revised edition) 290 pages)

Helminiak,Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (Alamo Square Press, 1994 ) 149 pages

Karslake, DanielHelen Mendoza, and Nancy KennedyFor The Bible Tells Me So [DVD]  New York: First Run Features. (film)

Lings, K; Renato : Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible

Martin, Dale B. Sex and the Single Saviour: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Miner, Jeff, and John Tyler Connoley. The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships (LifeJourney Press)

Patterson, Linda J. Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality

Rogers, Jack Bartlett. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Sharpe, Keith. The Gay Gospels: Good News for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People O-Books.

Stone, Ken: Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex, and Bible in Queer Perspective   T & T Clark International.

Truluck, Rember S:  Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse Chi Rho Pr

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible

Via, Dan Otto, and Robert A. J. GagnonHomosexuality and the Bible: Two Views Fortress Press.

Wilson, Nancy LOur Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible (Updated and revised in 2000.)

 

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“Traditional Biblical Values” – Rev Susan Russell Sermon (Video)

In the Episcopal Church (and wider Anglican communion), the next to last Sunday of the year is known as “Bible Sunday”, with a collect that reads:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

At “An Inch at a time”, Rev Susan Russell has placed a video of the sermon she delivered on how to approach the bible sensibly – with respect, and also rationally, with a post titled “On taking the Bible too seriously to take it literally“. Her words are filled with abundant good sense. Watch, listen – and reflect.

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

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Religion and Gay Rights: A Preacher’s View

Watch this video, from an appearance by a preacher before a Springfield city council hearing on gay rights.

In the words of my daughter Robynn, who alerted me to it – “(Watch to the end, it’s not what it seems!)”

 

Catholic Theologian Bill Hunt on Homosexual Relationships.

Bill Hunt is one of many Catholic theologians who believe that sexual doctrines need to be changed – including those dealing with same-sex relationships. As a “peritus” (theological expert), and having taught a graduate theology course in sexual ethics, he has substantial pedigree in the field, and views that deserve to be taken seriously. At Progressive Catholic Voice, his article  ”Homosexual Relationships: Another Look” presents his case. It’s well worth reading in full (follow the link), but as it’s a little lengthy, I offer here an outline, followed by a short thought of my own.

 

The Biblical Condemnation of Homosexuality

Unlike many others, he does not challenge the traditional view on the biblical evidence. He accepts the prohibition on male – male sexual activity in Leviticus, noting that by its location in the Torah, and by invoking the death penalty, it  is “on a par with” the ten commandments. The prohibition carries particular authority, as it is repeated in the New Testament, in Paul’s letter to the Romans. (However, he does not refer to the Genesis story of Sodom, which probably refers to violent rape or to a failure of hospitality, not to homosexuality, nor does he refer to the two Pauline texts based the Greek words “arsenekotoi” and “malakoi”, for which the traditional translation as sodomites or homosexuals is controversial). Although he agrees that Jesus did not say anything against homosexuality, he makes the important point that he also said nothing directly to contradict this important Jewish prohibition.

He also accepts that homosexuality was clearly condemned by Thomas Aquinas as “unnatural”.

However, he asserts that this does not necessarily mean that the biblical and medieval rules should still apply today. To reach this conclusion, he says we need to consider the question in a developmental perspective, considering the historical and cultural context, and considering how society and conditions have changed since biblical times. To illustrate, he draws a parallel with usury, which was even more strongly condemned in scripture and church tradition.

The Example of Usury 

Hunt observes that there are only half a dozen biblical texts that appear to clearly condemn homosexual acts – and only the two from Leviticus, and one from Romans, which have not been fiercely challenged by modern scholars as mistranslated or misinterpreted. In contrast, there are “more than a dozen” texts from the Hebrew Bible (in Exodus, Leviticus, Ezekiel and Psalms) which condemn taking any interest at all on a loan. Unlike the case of homosexuality, on which Jesus was silent, the words “Lend expecting nothing back” in Luke were interpreted as condemning usury. Aquinas condemned it under the same rationale he did homosexuality, as being “unnatural”, and although no ecumenical council of the church ever condemned homosexual acts, usury was the ecumenical Council of Vienne (1312) . Yet the Church today no longer condemns charging interest. (We could add that the Vatican itself uses the practice, through the Vatican bank and in its own financial dealings the world over).

To understand why what once so clearly condemned is now widely accepted without questioning, Hunt explains, we need to consider the historical changes over two millenia in the understanding of the nature of money. In Biblical times, money was seen as inert, simply a medium of exchange with no intrinsic value. To charge interest was seen as taking advantage of the borrower’s poverty, and in an overwhelmingly agrarian society, there was widespread suspicion of merchants and traders. However, as economic conditions evolved, perceptions of the role of money, and of those using it for business purposes, evolved. People came to see that money filled an important and useful economic purpose in financing business enterprises, and so came to appreciate that charging a fair rate for the use of money, was reasonable. The emphasis changed, from condemnation of charging any interest at all, to condemnation of charging an excessive rate.

 Biblical Understanding of Homosexuality: Honor, Reproductivity, and Purity 

To  assess whether changing conditions and understanding of homosexuality justify a change in doctrine, Hunt continues by an exploration not of the fact of biblical and Church condemnation, but of the reasons behind it. He summarizes the view of modern Biblical scholars as identifying three strands in the Biblical rationale: the concept of honour, the  emphasis on reproducing the population, and the importance of the Jewish purity code. None of these continue to be applicable to modern Christians. Honour was seen as an essentially masculine attribute in a patriarchal society, requiring men to take dominant roles in all things – including sexual intercourse. The objection to sex between men was that it required one partner to take a woman’s part, so dishonouring himself and being dishonoured by his partner. Hunt describes the importance of reproductivity as a Jewish cultural expectation that sons would reproduce to continue their father’s line for posterity. We could add that in an overwhelmingly agrarian society simple family survival demanded plentiful farm labour that children could supply. As Countryman and others have shown, the Biblical condemnation is closely tied up with the Jewish purity code, which also includes restrictions on diet and clothing. Hunt points out that the  importance of the purity code lay in its demonstration of the Jewish people as a race set apart from others, and free of the idolatry that they associated with their neighbours.

We no longer see women as inherently inferior to men, nor do we see their roles as dishonourable ones. In an urbanized, industrial world where overpopulation is a greater threat than underpopulation, that requirement no longer applies. Like the requirement of circumcision, the purity code restrictions are freely ignored by Christians, as not applicable to Gentiles.

Questions Raised by the Behavior of Jesus

For Christians, the message of Jesus is of vastly greater importance than the Jewish purity code. We know that he had nothing directly to say about homosexuality, so Hunt attempts to infer what Jesus might have thought about the matter, from his more easily discernible views on the three reasons behind the traditional Jewish prohibition – (male) honour, reproduction, and purity.

It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus simply did not treat women with the same disdain that was usual in Jewish society, radically undercutting the traditional distinctions and roles between the sexes, including them among his disciples and companions, talking and dining freely with them, and including them in serious discussions of religion. In denying the value of biological family (encouraging his disciples to leave their families behind to follow him), he radically undermined the importance of reproduction. In both words and example, he frequently rejected automatic compliance with the purity code.

Conclusion

Hunt concludes:

The biblical condemnation of male same sex sexual activity was based on ancient cultural presumptions of honor, reproductivity, and purity. The ministry and teaching of Jesus radically undercut those presuppositions. Today we no longer take it for granted that men are superior to women, that the main purpose of sexual activity is to beget male children to carry on one’s father’s name, or that all purity rules are mandatory.

What is the status of a moral condemnation when its cultural underpinnings have been removed? Given the “Copernican” revolution in our understanding of human sexuality during the past century, and given the radically changed circumstances of our time, it seems that the blanket condemnation of every kind of homosexual activity goes too far.

Just as over the centuries the Church found a way to distinguish between different kinds of interest-taking, so also it seems that contemporary Christians are in a position to review the condemnation of homosexual activity found in the biblical passages and to distinguish violent, exploitative sexual activities from those that are loving, adult, and free. This enables us to see homosexual relationships in a positive light and even envisage same gender unions blessed by the Church.

 We could add to Hunt’s analysis the observation that Aquinas’ dismissal of homosexuality as “unnatural”  has been shown by modern understanding of sexuality to be as flawed as his understanding that charging interest on money is unnatural. In precisely the same way that the rejection of all interest on loans has given way to a consideration of the nature of that interest, we need to move from an automatic rejection of all same – sex genital acts, to one which takes into account the nature of those acts – and in particular, the nature of the relationships in which they take place.

This is an exploration receiving widespread attention in many Protestant denominations, which are engaging in extensive serious investigations on the subject, grappling with the issues of recognition for openly LGBT clergy, and honouring their relationships in a manner comparable to those of their heterosexual colleagues. Similarly, they are facing up to the challenges of recognizing and honouring the relationships of all their members without discrimination, whether by blessings for civil unions, or by full marriage ceremonies.

The tragedy for the Catholic Church is that although most ordinary Catholics in fact do not agree with Vatican doctrine on same – sex relationships (or on much of the rest of the sexual rule-book), and many or most moral theologians, like Bill Hunt, agree that the teaching must change to accommodate changed social conditions and understanding of sexuality, the Vatican insistence that no sexual activity not open to procreation can be licit, coupled with their intolerance of any dissenting views, simply stifles open, honest discussion – as with Professor Tina Beattie, who had a planned lecture in Clifton diocese cancelled simply because she was a co-signatory to a public letter stating that it is reasonable for Catholics, in good conscience, to disagree with the bishops on gay marriage.

The problem is that as long as we avoid all discussion on the issue, we cannot engage with the really important questions – just what kinds of activities, in what kinds or relationships, are acceptable, and how can we as a faith community honour those relationships? Unless and until we do engage in those questions, there is a real danger that LGBT Catholics, especially young people, will respond by simply leaving the Church, possibly rejecting the need for any kind of restrictions on sexual behaviour – or attempt to remain in it, embracing the dangers of the closet, and the many dangers that entails, for mental and physical health.

I close with a pertinent quotation from the feminist theologian, Sister Teresa Forcades, found at Catholic Anarchy

Sister Teresa Forcades on the expression of doubt

No Roman Catholic—whether a theologian or not—should be afraid to publicly express reasonable doubt about a point of doctrine, with the trust and freedom that belongs to the children of God, as one who feels and knows that he or she is among family, without fear of being denounced or discredited. To express one’s doubt in a prudent and reasonable manner is a sign of loyalty and trust. It is also a sign of humility and it is taking seriously one’s own membership in the Church and the co-responsibility that it entails.

– Sister Teresa Forcades
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Gays for Jesus: Catholic and Evangelical

“Can gays, lesbians and transgender people be evangelical Christians? ” is a question asked at Huffington Post, introducing a preview of a forthcoming cover story at Maisonneuve magazine: “Gays for God: The Queer Evangelical Movement is Coming out of the Closet”. The simple answer to the question is of course “Yes!”  - LGBT evangelicals do exist, in great numbers, in organized groups for every denomination, in all regions of the world, and have done since the 1970′s. There are more important and more interesting questions to be asked (and to be fair to Maisonneuve, it appears to be these that the article in fact addresses, not the rather simplistic one presented by Huffpost).

In it’s own publicity material (see below), the magazine presents these questions as:

  • Was Jesus gay?
  • Why should it be controversial to portray Jesus as a gay man?
  • How can we explain the paradox of the evident existence, and growth, of the LGBT evangelical movement?

 

Was Jesus gay? That’s the implicit question posed by our cover, which depicts the Son of God wrapped in a rainbow shroud. The image, photographed by Kourosh Keshiri and designed byAnna Minzhulina, is arresting and provocative. But that raises another key question: why should it be controversial to portray Jesus as a gay man? Christ is love, after all—and, as Clancy Martin reports in “Gays for God,” Maisonneuve’s Fall 2012 cover story, a growing movement of queer evangelicals seeks to permanently banish homophobia from the American religious right. Although many liberal churches promote gay rights, this movement is uniquely ambitious: it challenges conservative evangelism from within the faith, putting itself on a collision course with the country’s most right-wing religious leaders. As the US presidential election approaches, cultural issues like same-sex marriage have galvanized voters on both sides, but gay evangelists offer a third way: it’s possible, they say, to be both queer and Christian. After all, God made us who we are.

-Maisonneuve 

As the article has not yet been published, I’ve obviously not yet read it. They are important questions though, for Catholics and other Christians as well as for evangelicals, and I offer here my own thoughts in response,  prompted by my current reading of some thought – provoking books dealing with them, directly or indirectly.

 Was Jesus gay?

As I’ve argued several times before, it’s entirely inappropriate to claim that he was “gay” in any modern sense, which is completely anachronistic for Biblical times. It’s also completely inappropriate, as Dale B Martin points out (Sex and the Single Savior), because we simply have no firm evidence of Jesus’ specific sexuality. Martin believes that he was sexually ascetic and so celibate, Theodore Jennings (The man jesus loved) argues that he had a sexual relationship with the “Beloved Disciple”, others have argued that he had an intimate relationship with Mary of Magdalene. The fact is though, these are arguments in support of propositions, not conclusive evidence that can settle the matter one way or the other. It is no more valid to state categorically that he had sex with men, or with women, than it is to insist that he was totally celibate. We just don’t know for certain.

However, by adjusting our terminology, there is something we can assert with great confidence: to adopt a modern term, Jesus certainly may be thought of as “queer”: in both queer theory and queer theology, the whole point of the concept is that it moves beyond thinking of people in simplistic terms of fixed identities – beyond a male/ female dichotomy, beyond gay/lesbian / bi or straight, beyond ethnic, religious or class labels. A prominent theme coming through José Pagola’s “Jesus: an Historical Approximation“ is that this is one dominant lesson in the Gospels, evident in both Jesus’ example and explicit teaching. One could argue that issues of sexuality, or specific sexual behaviour, are simply irrelevant to him.

As queer theorists and queer theologians like Susan Cornwall observe (Controversies In Queer Theology), “queer” is a much broader term than just that covered by the acronym LGBT – or LGBTQI, or any other, which by specifying what is included, automatically excludes all others. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for a conventionally married heterosexual to identify as queer (just as Cornwall herself does). No matter what sexual pigeon – hole we try to force Jesus into, whether gay, straight and sexually active, celibate or asexual – we would still have to think of him as essentially queer, in that he simply looks beyond all arbitrary labels, to treat all people equally, and demands that we do the same.

Can we portray Jesus as a gay man?

It follows immediately that even leaving aside Jesus’ personal sexual orientation or practice, we can and probably should think of him, and so portray him, as queer – and the rainbow flag denotes all queer sexualities, not only the familiar four “LGBT” variants. At Jesus in Love blog, Kittredge Cherry offers another example, where she wrote recently about the artist Carlos Latuff’s  portrayal of Christ wearing a rainbow flag instead of the more usual white loincloth. The point, she notes, is not to suggest that Christ was gay, but to show his solidarity with the oppressed:

He created the digital artwork to show Christ’s opposition to religion-based prejudice against queer people. “I support LGBT movement 100 percent,” Latuff told the Jesus in Love Blog.

Latuff’s gay Christ is related to liberation theology, which states that God sides with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience. By becoming one with oppressed people through Jesus Christ, God feels pain wherever people are attacked and humiliated. The gay Jesus embodies God’s solidarity with queers.

But there is also a strong case, at least for gay men, for portraying him not only as queer, in the sense of a straight ally looking beyond sexual identities to the person within, but even as specifically gay in the modern sense. This is because in portrayals of Jesus, we are not necessarily attempting to present an authentic image of who the historical Jesus really was, but also we are presenting how we think of him in our prayer and relationship with him, or for other theological reflection. If thinking of him as gay helps in this, we should use it.

This may sound offensive to some people, but there is excellent precedent: Dale Martin demonstrates in “Sex and the Single Savior” how so much of the conventional image of Christ is in fact based on heterosexual assumptions. If there is no conclusive evidence that Jesus was gay (either celibate or sexually active), there is equally no conclusive evidence that he was straight –  either celibate, or otherwise.

If this is difficult to accept immediately, there is another important precedent, which will be more immediately recognizable. In “Christology from the Margins“, Thomas Bohache traces the development of a specifically queer Christology,  by considering the earlier examples of Black and feminist Christology. When Black artists and theologians began to portray or write about Christ as Black, there was an outcry from those who had come to think of him automatically and necessarily as White – just as many centuries of European artists had portrayed him. This Eurocentric image however, was clearly inaccurate for man from the Middle East, who would certainly have been ethnically Semitic rather than Caucasian.  And so, portrayals of a Black Jesus, or a Black Madonna, are at least as valid as their “White” counterparts – as in Lawrence Scully’s “The Madonna and Child of Soweto“, which hangs in the church of Regina Mundi, Soweto.

In similar vein, others have prepared portrayals of Christ which clearly do NOT represent the historical figure, but which are nevertheless valuable in their own way – like the “Christa” images promoted by some feminist theology (see “Female Christ in Arts” for a selection).

Queer and Catholic

In spite of the poor messages coming out of the Vatican and strenuously promoted by their loyalists, the sexual rule book is not central to Catholic teaching or values. Service to others, including a commitment to justice, equality, and the preferential option for the poor, is – just as these ideas are pervasive throughout the Gospels. On the other hand, Christ had almost nothing to say about sexual ethics, beyond criticism of divorce and adultery. In considering them in cultural context, however, Pagola shows clearly that this criticism is not because they are sexual offences, but because Jewish law was so one-sided in favour of the man. Men were given substantial freedom to divorce their wives, which would often leave them destitute, but women had no similar recourse against abusive husbands. Adultery was punished as a crime of property against her husband, and in the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery, it was the woman, not her male partner, who was threatened with stoning.  So, Christ’s words on these, says Pagola, had more to do with equal treatment of women and men than with puritanical standards of sexual behaviour. We may deduce further, that just as Christ was promoting equality between women and men, and between a range of other social categories without passing judgement on any of them, he would have promoted equality of treatment between all sexual identities, without distinction – a very queer outlook.

In the development of first gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology, it is striking how many Catholic theologians have been prominent. The Jesuit John McNeill was one of the first, with “The Church and the Homosexual“, Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology ” was one of the first as gay theology took on board the ideas of liberation theology, and another Jesuit, Richard Goss, in “Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto” and “Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up” pioneered the transition from gay liberation theology to queer theology. Significantly, Goss rooted this transition firmly in a fresh emphasis on Christology. Later notable Catholic contributions to queer theology include Elisabeth Stuart (“Religion is a Queer Thing“ and Gerard Loughlin (“Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ”), among many others.

So, it is easy and even necessary to accept that queer (in its broadest sense) and Catholic are perfectly compatible. But to be specifically gay or lesbian is also compatible with Catholicism. Our counterparts have featured throughout Church history, as saints and martyrs, popes, bishops, abbots and abbesses. Contrary to popular belief, there is no biblical evidence against loving same – sex relationships, and a substantial amount in favour. Most ordinary Catholics are more supportive of LGBT equality than other people, and reject the Vatican prohibitions – just as they reject the Vatican rules on contraception, cohabitation and masturbation. A substantial proportion of professional Catholic theologians (possibly a majority of those not directly dependent on the Vatican for their livelihoods) agree that the doctrine must be changed. Even some bishops are now promoting a shift in emphasis from genital acts, to the quality of relationships.

Queer and Evangelical

For evangelical Christians, the challenge is more difficult, with the pressures substantially greater: whereas Catholic support for equality is greater than for the population at large, research consistently shows that Evangelical Christians are the most hostile. This puts huge pressure on those who identify as both LGBT and Christian.  Maisonneuve’s editor-in-chief Drew Nelles notes that

They identify with the broader evangelical movement in the U.S. But it’s a huge problem because the evangelical movement is arguably the most powerful homophobic force in the country.

and

Although many liberal churches promote gay rights, this movement is uniquely ambitious: it challenges conservative evangelism from within the faith, putting itself on a collision course with the country’s most right-wing religious leaders.

It’s not an easy road for these activists, as Martin explains in the piece. Their sexual orientation makes them targets within their church and their religious beliefs make them distrusted among the LGBT community. Martin also writes about the differences of opinion that exist among LGBT evangelicals on matters as thorny as religious doctrine and how they should relate to other gay activists and other Christians.

They call themselves LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) evangelicals. They are among the kindest, gentlest people I know. They are also among the most unwanted and unrecognized. But they are determined—and their numbers are growing.

-quoted at Huffington Post, Canada

This growth, in the face of so much hostility, would seem inexplicable – until we recognize that as with the Catholics, the hostility comes from people in the churches, not from fundamental evangelical principles, which point in the other direction. My (admittedly limited) understanding of evangelical faith is that it is strongly grounded in a firm commitment to Jesus Christ, as personal saviour and model – exemplified in the familiar question “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD), and faithful adherence to the biblical message, through personal reading and study.

“What Jesus Would Do”, on LGBT inclusion, should be clear, as already discussed above. The man who had almost nothing to say about sexual matters, who famously went about with prostitutes and tax collectors, who warned against judging others, and who deliberately sought out the most marginalized people in the community, would certainly not have excluded us. So it is that in addition to LGBT people themselves, a growing number of evangelical Christians, especially from the younger generation and from groups that have experienced discrimination themselves, are concluding that the clear example  of Jesus Christ himself overrides their own personal misgivings on gay marriage, and have instead become straight allies.

At  Everyday Citizen, an article by Angelo Lopez on Evangelicals for Gay Rights bundles together quotes from a wide range of sources dealing with the subject, including:

To Latino evangelicals, says Mr Salguero, caring for the poor and “the stranger among us” are moral and religious issues, and collectively they trump similar issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, on which they might find common ground with white evangelicals. “We’re a pro-life community,” Mr Salguero says, “but when we talk about being pro-life, we’re also talking about quality of life, which includes quality of health care, standing against the death penalty, against torture and against pre-emptive war.”

Economist, “Lift Every Voice

So what it is that would bring someone from a place where he once declared himself a “Jesse Helms Republican,” a man who condemned homosexuality as a threat to children and society, told his own son that being gay is a ticket to hell, to travel from Hickory, N.C., to the West Lawn of the Capitol building on Oct. 11, 2009? How can one travel from the seemingly impossible road of bigotry to one of acceptance and love for our LGBT brothers and sisters? The answer is one that I hope religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson (and most importantly, their followers) will hear.

It’s because something deep inside told me that I needed to step out in faith onto a bridge of knowledge and understanding. I didn’t know where this bridge would take me but something was telling me it was a path I needed to walk. My own mother challenged me in 2003 to look at my beliefs and the true intent behind the teachings I held in blind faith. “Do you think your views are Christ-like?” she asked me. Her question was dead on: once I walked away from the Church’s teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau. I realized an unparalleled sense of spiritual clarity when I opened my heart and mind to a genuine expression of love, compassion, and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Evangelical Christian Brent Childers,  in  Newsweek

…We who are Christians must love our homosexual neighbors. We must treat them as we would want to be treated. We must remember that as we do to them, we do to Jesus (Matt. 25:31ff.). We must oppose their harassment and bullying in schools, churches and clubs—everywhere. We must rebuke any Christian who speaks or acts hatefully toward gays and lesbians. We must teach Christian parents of gay children to communicate unconditional love and under no circumstances evict them from either their hearts or their homes, no matter what they believe about the moral significance of homosexual inclinations. We must seek opportunities in the church to build relationships with those who so often have encountered Christian hatred.

-David P. Gushee, professor of Christian ethics , for the Christian Century (June 2, 2009)

 This change can be seen in the growing number of Evangelical Christians who are supporting gay rights. Several Evangelical groups, like SoulforceFaith In America and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists are dedicated to fighting religious based bigotry. On February 25, The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and The Alliance of Baptists began its “Many Voices, One Love” campaign by hosting three LGBT marriage equality conferences throughout the country. Last year the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) began a serious conversation on homosexuality within the Baptist church. Faith In America has recently called upon Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to apologize for incendiary speech that compared affirmation of gay and lesbian people to Nazi propaganda during World War II.

-Angelo Lopez, Evangelicals for Gay Rights

Books

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Bible and Homosexuality: Does it Matter?

For Christians, the Bible is obviously important, but on homosexuality, responses differ. For traditionalists, it is a given that scripture “obviously” condemns all forms of same – sex activities, and that sodomy is “the sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance”. For an expanding pool of revisionist biblical scholars, this is a false reading of scripture, based on mistranslations or mistranslations of the original texts, and distorted by a heteronormative interpretive bias. Canon Derrek Sherwen Bailey first questioned the traditional readings back in the 1950′s, have challenged the traditional interpretations of the clobber texts, even labelling them as textual abuse, and more recently begun to promote affirmative, LGBT inclusive passages as an alternative.

But there’s another view,  that even if it is true that the Bible really does condemn homosexuality, it could be simply wrong – just it has been wrong on slavery.

The argument is neatly put by Dan Savage, in his widely reported debate with Brian Brown, of the NOM:

The Atlantic reports it so:

The Bible, if it got something as easy and obvious as slavery wrong, what are the odds that it got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? I put those odds at about 100 percent. Pat Robertson was recently asked about this. He was asked, “If America was founded as a Christian nation why did we allow slavery?” And his answer was, “Like it or not, if you read the Bible, in the Old Testament slavery is permitted.” That’s a half-truth. In both testaments slavery is permitted and sanctioned. But then Robertson said something uncharacteristically profound: “We have moved in our conception of human beings until we realized that slavery was terribly wrong.” And so what he’s saying there is not just that we realized slavery is terribly wrong. Also, we realized the bible was wrong about slavery. I don’t think LGBT Americans are asking American Christians to do anything that you haven’t already done.

Move in your conception of the value of human beings.

Here’s the full debate, courtesy of YouTube:

Boswell, John: Christianity, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Carden, Michael. Sodomy: The History of a Christian Biblical Myth .

Coulton, Nicholas, (ed) The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality

Countryman, L.WilliamDirt, Greed, and Sex

Goss, Robert: Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Guest, DerynMona WestRobert E. Goss, and Thomas Bohache, (eds)The Queer Bible Commentary

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality

Jennings, Theodore W. The man jesus loved

Jennings, Theodore W: Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia

Karslake, DanielHelen Mendoza, and Nancy KennedyFor The Bible Tells Me So New York: First Run Features. (film)

Martin, Dale B. Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Noort, Edward, and Eibert J. C. TigchelaarSodom’s Sin: Genesis 18-19 and its Interpretations  Leiden: Brill.

Nyland, AnnStudy New Testament For Lesbians, Gays, Bi, And Transgender

Rogers, Jack Bartlett. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church

Scroggs, Robin: New Testament and Homosexuality

Sharpe, Keith. The Gay Gospels: Good News for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People

Stone, Ken, editor. Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies)

Stone, Ken: Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective  

Vasey, MStrangers and friends: A new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible

Wilson, Nancy LOur Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible

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