Monday, June 01, 2009

Blogging for Equality


Wow, June got here right quick didn't it? I am excited to be posting for the 4th Annual Blogging for LGBT Families. In October, I wrote a little thing about why Same-Sex Marriage should be legal. I mentioned in that post that I don't believe homosexuality is a sin. A friend asked me why I believed this but at the time I was worn out and didn't feel like looking it all up again. (Kinda shitty of me, I know. I plead post-partum) Sometime during my college years I started wondering if there wasn't more to this whole "gay" thing than I had always been taught. I remember wondering how it was a perversion if it came so natural to people. The more gay people I came across the more I wondered and the more my conscience ate at me. So I looked it up. On the internet. I found Religious Tolerance and read everything they had and whatever else I could find around the web. That was how I came to my conclusions.
I set out to do some re-research last week in preparation for this post. This time I came across the hands-down BEST article I've ever seen on the topic. I'm going to mention bits of it here but I HIGHLY recommend you all read it. The article was written for Soulforce by one of its founders, Reverend Mel White. He approaches the text with reverence and sincerity.
I'm not all that interested in the OT references. The story of Sodom is clearly not about homosexuality. The passage in Leviticus...well, Jed Bartlett covered that for us. I'm embedding in case you haven't seen it. It still gives me a chill but that may just be my president-crush. (you know, like girl-crush only with presidents? shutup)

Romans 1:26-27 is a bit trickier. Reverend White explains the context this way:

Paul is writing this letter to Rome after his missionary tour of the Mediterranean. On his journey Paul had seen great temples built to honor Aphrodite, Diana, and other fertility gods and goddesses of sex and passion instead of the one true God the apostle honors. Apparently, these priests and priestesses engaged in some odd sexual behaviors -- including castrating themselves, carrying on drunken sexual orgies, and even having sex with young temple prostitutes (male and female) -- all to honor the gods of sex and pleasure.

The Bible is clear that sexuality is a gift from God. Our Creator celebrates our passion. But the Bible is also clear that when passion gets control of our lives, we're in deep trouble.

When we live for pleasure, when we forget that we are God's children and that God has great dreams for our lives, we may end up serving the false gods of sex and passion, just as they did in Paul's time. In our obsession with pleasure, we may even walk away from the God who created us -- and in the process we may cause God to abandon all the great dreams God has for our lives.

Did these priests and priestesses get into these behaviors because they were lesbian or gay? I don't think so. Did God abandon them because they were practicing homosexuals? No. Read the text again.

After this, the reverend tackles 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 and the meaning of the words, "malokois and arsenokoitai." These words are included on a list Paul gives of behaviors the Christians should avoid. Here's what Reverend White says:

Greek scholars say that in first century the Greek word malaokois probably meant "effeminate call boys." The New Revised Standard Version says "male prostitutes."

As for arsenokoitai, Greek scholars don't know exactly what it means -- and the fact that we don't know is a big part of this tragic debate. Some scholars believe Paul was coining a name to refer to the customers of "the effeminate call boys." We might call them "dirty old men." Others translate the word as "sodomites," but never explain what that means.

In 1958, for the first time in history, a person translating that mysterious Greek word into English decided it meant homosexuals, even though there is, in fact, no such word in Greek or Hebrew. But that translator made the decision for all of us that placed the word homosexual in the English-language Bible for the very first time.


Fascinating stuff. Here's more:

In the past, people used Paul's writings to support slavery, segregation, and apartheid. People still use Paul's writings to oppress women and limit their role in the home, in church, and in society.

Now we have to ask ourselves, "Is it happening again?" Is a word in Greek that has no clear definition being used to reflect society's prejudice and condemn God's gay children?

We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the married men who hired hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure just as they hired smooth-skinned young girls for that purpose.

Responsible homosexuals would join Paul in condemning anyone who uses children for sex, just as we would join anyone else in condemning the threatened gang rape in Sodom or the behavior of the sex-crazed priests and priestesses in Rome. So, once again, I am convinced that this passage says a lot about God, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.

There is much more in the article and I would again recommend you read it, especially if you are interested in this conversation. I am happy to open this up for discussion.

And let me end with this. No matter what you believe about homosexuality, same-sex marriage has to be, and will be, legal. I am dead certain that I don't want my sins to be legislated. Have you seen this video? How would you feel if your rights were limited to what someone else believed was a sin?

*UPDATE-edited to include the link for the article and a few other things I decided to toss in just because I was back in edit and I could.

16 comments:

  1. If you really want to get hardcore in your reading about homosexuality & the Bible, I very highly recommend Ted Jennings' trilogy:

    1) Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel2) The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament& 3) Plato or Paul? The Origins of Western Homophobia (soon-to-be-released)

    A friend of mine put together the index (and helped w/ a lot of the research) in the last book, and he says of it: "The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: [Jennings] absolutely abandons the defensive stance of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about, and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself. Once this ground is cleared, the question then becomes how a Scriptural tradition that is so overwhelmingly affirming of same-sex eroticism came to be read as the legitimation of homophobia. This final book is an attempt to answer that question."

    It's all on the "academic" side, sure. But, you're no slouch, so I'd imagine you could handle it fine. Stuff like this news to make it to the pews.

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  2. The links for those books got mangled a little:

    1) http://www.amazon.com/Jacobs-Wound-Homoerotic-Narrative-Literature/dp/0826417124/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243712566&sr=8-3

    2) http://www.amazon.com/Man-Jesus-Loved-Homoerotic-Narratives/dp/082981535X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243712566&sr=8-2

    3) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0829818553?ie=UTF8&tag=theweblog-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0829818553

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  3. Wow, thanks. There's only so much you can find online. And I HATE the way it sounds like I'm trying to make something fit where it doesn't even though that's not really the case.

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  4. Jennings really pushes against the traditional interpretation in provoking ways. He's not simply trying to show "the right way" to look at the Scriptures, but more generally to say that the way we've traditionally accepted as "the right way" is definitely not.

    Unfortunately, in my quick look through library catalogs in the area, they are not readily accessible. Could be worth using the public library's inter-library loan system ($5 p/ book). That, or whenever I'm next around I can hook you up.

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  5. My God, that's disgusting! Brad, there are better ways to accept gays than to blatantly lie about the Bible to the point of making Jesus a homosexual.

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  6. Did you read the book he's referring to? It's always good to get another set of eyes on something even if you don't agree with it. Disgusting??

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  7. Yes, because clearly Jesus loooooved the ladies. He was the straightest Messiah ever.

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  8. "Straightest Messiah EVER!!" I had to read that with a Tracy Glick sort of voice.

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  9. Yes, He was quite straight, and the indication otherwise in order to promote a gay agenda is disgusting. I read the article the blogger linked to and, like all of its type, it was pitifully paltry and see-through. I don't mind homosexual people, but I DO mind the blatant promotion of their lifestyle.

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  10. What makes him 'quite' straight? I've read the NT backwards and forwards hundreds of times, and I see no clear cut proof of this. The point of Ted's research is not to definitely make Jesus gay. It is simply to question the basic assumption that homosexuality -- including the oh so disgusting behavior and lifestyle -- is automatically vile and evil, as well as the parallel idea that heterosexuality is the default setting for non-disgusting behavior.

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  11. Well, I'm glad to know that. I don't think homosexuals are disgusting, at all; I think they're born with something slightly different in their brains and that they, as people, are to be accepted and loved. This does NOT mean, however, that their lifestyle is to be celebrated and loved. Most genuine homosexuals just want to have their private lives left alone; it's usually the ones who are in it solely for sexual experimentation that feel the need to shove their promiscuity down people's throats, and promiscious heteros are the same way. I think trying to force pro-homosexuality in the Bible is a dangerous precedent. I don't know why God allows some people to be born that way, but writing answers into the Bible won't help; I just wish some Christians wouldn't do that. They should take Anne Rice's example.

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  12. You say 'allows' them to be that way? So, homosexuality, even if the homosexual doesn't flaunt his or her sexuality, is somehow a mistake or askew. You also say a homosexual reading of the Bible sets a bad precedent, and yet embrace the precedent that Jesus is 'quite straight'. This seems a little disingenuous on your part.

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  13. "So, homosexuality, even if the homosexual doesn't flaunt his or her sexuality, is somehow a mistake or askew"

    I wouldn't know; like I said, I DON'T know why they're born that way. I do know from the Bible that man and woman were designed to fit together.

    "yet embrace the precedent that Jesus is 'quite straight'"

    That's a fact, not a precedent, and all serious scholars will tell you that. He could have been asexual for all I know, but making Him homo would have been even more pointless than making Him hetero. No serious scholar, however, will tell you that the Bible is pro-homosexuality; the only people who do are reduced to twisting what the Bible says AGAINST it and/or actually claiming that it's "not mentioned" and therefore must be okay. God does have a design for sexuality and He wouldn't form His own Son to contradict it.

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  14. "That's a fact, not a precedent, and all serious scholars will tell you that. He could have been asexual for all I know, but making Him homo would have been even more pointless than making Him hetero"

    Okaay, that sounded like a major contradiction on my part; very badly worded indeed. Let me put it this way: if we really wish to look closely at the question of His sexuality, it's possible He was asexual, since He was never meant to reproduce and therefore sexual activity or the desire to commit it would be useless. However, if being hetero could be considered useless for Christ, homosexuality would be even more so.

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  15. A couple of related comments in response:

    1) I'm assuming homosexuality would be even less useful for Christ, in your view, because homosexuals do not reproduce. This opens a whole new can of worms, but this seems to beg the question whether sex (and sexual desire) is only (or even primarily) concerned with reproduction. At the very least, I have Song of Songs on my side this.

    2) I would very strongly resist your characterization of what serious scholars are doing. I am very actively in the world of biblical and religious scholars, some more serious than others, and most of them do not share the consensus view of sexuality that you suggest exists. Yes, there are academics (& non-academics) who take aggressively pro-homosexual views of the Bible, but in my experience these views typically emerge as a reaction against the built-in hetero-normative views that are traditionally brought to bear on the Bible. (These hetero-normative views are so systemic that they often take hold without us knowing or wanting them to, which we even see in your comment here -- e.g., your acknowledgment of the contradiction in the previous comment). A common strategy of those resisting a dominant/traditional perspective is to "read-against" it; and in so doing, create a reading that aggressively challenges this dominant perspective, by arguing precisely the exact opposite (i.e., Jesus is not only NOT 'quite straight', but 'very gay'). This is a kind of twisting, definitely. And ultimately, if it stays at this level, pretty banal. But it is not necessarily non-serious. These readings, Jennings's being a great example, are evolving quickly, and are advancing on the implications surrounding the idea that you conclude with in your last comment: that sexuality itself is not central to what's going on in the Bible. Now, the thing is, those who already privilege the heterosexual perspective, silently or not, would absolutely LOVE for us to be at this point right now. Why? Because it effectively shuts down the conversation, and more or less keeps the existing interpretive power brokers in place. Which is to say, they end up with a token gesture in the direction of sexuality not mattering, but maintain underneath the traditional interpretation that re-entrenches heterosexuality as normative -- we see this most often when they insist on the presupposition that the role and importance of sex is primarily procreative. (You see the same thing, too, when white people insist we're post-race now, and black people should just quiet down about it.) It is no coincidence that the 'powerful' tend to be the first who conclude things like this are no longer worth talking about, and complain endlessly when the those who remain relatively powerless/voiceless keep harping about it.

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  16. Wow, quite a load to think about! I admire your honesty and accuracy in presenting the case from both sides, Brad; you bring up fascinating points involving the state of certain scholars that I was completely unaware of. What I'd like to know now is, basically, what is your take on the matter? What do you think the Bible's stance on this issue is?

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