Category Archives: Bible

Queering the Song of Songs

Gay men and women could be excused for feeling more than a little ambivalent about the Song of Songs as recommended reading.  On the one hand, it is very emphatically and clearly a frankly erotic love song between two unmarried lovers. It is a celebration of physical love, and an important counter to the common religious view that sexual expression must be confined to procreation. The Song is the strongest possible proof that Scripture does not support that view (there are others, too.)




Continue reading Queering the Song of Songs

The Queer Lesson of Nehemiah: “Rebuild God’s Church!”

Through the fog of millenia, foreign language, and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is easy for Christians in the twenty first century to miss the specific relevance of some passages in Scripture, especially the books of the “minor prophets” in the Hebrew Scriptures, expecially the queer references. When, with the help of suitable guidance, we do explore these, we may find some powerful material for reflection. I have found precisely that in a piece by Michael S. Piazza, “Nehemiah as a Model for Queer Servant Leadership” (In “Take Back the Word” , ed Robert Goss)
The first likely question from those unfamiliar with the background (let alone even the basic story of Nehemiah), is what makes this a “queer” story? The answer depends on appreciating the cultural background, and in turn casts some light on several other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Nehemiah was one of many Hebrews taken to Babylon as a slave, where he was engaged as a “cupbearer” to the Persian king Artaxerxes (the Persians had replaced the original Babylonians as rulers) . The purpose of a cup-bearer was not simply to carry the wine glass – it included the responsibility for tasting and testing all the king’s food and drink, against the possibility of poisoning. As such, it was a position of great responsibility, and personal intimacy – and it was standard practice for slaves in positions of such personal intimacy in the Royal household to be castrated. It is likely, then, that Nehemiah was a eunuch. (According to one historian, cupbearers to the king were always the most attractive men). Living in such close proximity to the king, and sharing in his meals, also meant that he shared in a life of great luxury – almost as much as the king himself.
That’s the background. The point of the story in the Bible, is that some years after the first wave of Hebrew exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, where the temple and the city walls had been destroyed. Without the walls for defence, the city was vulnerable to repeated attacks by its enemies.  Nehemiah became convinced that the Lord was calling him, too, back to Jerusalem, to do something about it.  Now, remember that Nehemiah was a cupbearer, used to luxury,  and not a soldier, a politician, or a religious leader. Nevertheless, he responded to God’s call, and secured permission from the king to return.
When he returned, he was initially ridiculed  for his presumption in undertaking such a preposterous task – he, who had not the skills or experience to undertake such a great project. But he set to regardless, and ultimately succeeded.
Michael Piazza, in his reflection on the story, uses it as a metaphor for the task that we as lesbigaytrans people in the church can face. There is asense in which the wider Christian church, having lost its way in rejecting its own people, and placing (possibly mistaken) biblical literalism above the more fundamental lesson of love,  can be seen as a church which is broken and in need of rebuilding, just as Jerusalem needed to rebuild its temple.
Like the eunuch Nehemiah, we are sexual outsiders, and can easily be dismissed by the church for our lack of approved skills and insider accreditation as pastors – but we too are called by God to help in rebuilding God’s church. With application, prayer and God’s help, we too can prevail – just as Nehemiah did.
Adding to the power of Piazza’s telling, is his own record with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, where he is the senior pastor. This was founded in Dallas in 1970 – hardly the most obvious place for a gay friendly church. But in the years since, it has become the world’s largest gay and leasbian megachurch. Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem against the odds, and the Cathedral of Hope defied its location and prospered as as church serving an LGBT congregation.
We can and will do so for the wider church.
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What The Bible Says About Sex – Queer Theology

What the Bible really says, is not what you think!

Whenit comes to sex and your faith, I know that you want to get it right.

Our sexuality is tightly woven into who we are — it’s one part who our soul connects with and one part what our body feels.

And for modern Christians, our sexuality is also a battleground. There are so many people telling us what we should believe and how we should act.

It can be difficult to keep your head on straight when you’re trying to balance what you heard at church once, what you think you’re supposed to think, what your heart desires, what your body craves, what your friends tell you, what you see in movies, and on and on and on …

So let’s cut through all the noise, right? Let’s go straight to the source… let’s take a look at what the Bible says! That will tell us what to think and how to act, right? (Spoiler alert: it won’t)

Source: What The Bible Says About Sex – Queer Theology

To Christians arguing ‘no’ on marriage equality: the Bible is not decisive

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Christians who call on the Bible to support their arguments against marriage equality are on shaky ground.
Shutterstock/The Conversation

Robyn J. Whitaker, University of Divinity

As Australia faces a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, we are seeing a steady stream of articles arguing the “yes” or “no” case. Many on the “no” side are prone to citing the Bible or appealing to “biblical values”. But what does the Bible actually say about human sexuality and homosexuality in particular?

What follows represents a summary of critical biblical scholarship on the issue. Critical biblical scholarship draws on a range academic disciplines including literary criticism, archaeology, history, philology, and social science to offer the most plausible, historically grounded interpretation of the Bible. It is not simply a matter of personal belief or citing official church doctrine.

Australian scholars are among leaders in the field when it comes to sexuality and the Bible. William Loader has written several books on the matter and this Anglican collection of essays is also excellent.

When it comes to homosexuality there are, at most, six passages of the Bible that are relevant. So what do these passages say?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is well known. This is where the terms “sodomite” and “sodomy” originate, and it has long been associated with biblical condemnation of male homosexual sex. It is, however, actually about gang-rape.

In this story, the men of Sodom seek to rape two visitors (who are actually angels). Their host, Lot, defends them and offers them protection in his house, but offers his virgin daughters to be raped in their place.

It is a deeply problematic and complex story that warrants an article of its own, but what is clear is that sexual violence and rape is harshly condemned, and so God destroys the town with sulphur and fire. Despite the linguistic history of the word “sodomite”, Genesis 19 has nothing to say about homosexuality or mutually consenting adults of the same gender expressing their desire and love.

Two of the laws of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) seem more pertinent. They call a man lying with another man instead of his wife an “abomination”.

We should note first that the imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male. It is not describing what we would understand to be a sexual orientation. We might also note the inherent sexism here: women apparently don’t have the same desire or their sexuality is deemed too insignificant to be worthy of comment.

Again, we need some context. Yes, this verse clearly condemns adulterous homosexual sex in calling it an “abomination” (to’ebah), but here some of the other things also called an “abomination” in the Bible:

  • Egyptians eating with Hebrews;
  • having an image of another god in your house;
  • sacrificing your child to the god Molech;
  • having sex with your wife when she is menstruating;
  • taking your wife’s sister as a second wife; and
  • eating pork.

Banned likewise is wearing mixed-fabric clothing, interbreeding animals of different species, tattoos, mocking the blind by putting obstacles in their way, and trimming your beard.

As you can see, there is quite an assortment of ancient laws, some of which seem to make good sense (such as no child sacrifice) and others of which the majority of Christians no longer keep (such as eating pork and wearing a wool-silk blend).

To claim one set as timeless truths while ignoring the others is patently hypocritical and goes against the grain of the text itself.

These two verses in Leviticus are the sum total of what the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) says about same-sex activities. The remainder of the biblical references occur in the New Testament, written between approximately 50 and 110 CE in the context of the Roman Empire.

The attitudes and norms of Graeco-Roman culture are critical in understanding these texts. In Graeco-Roman society, there was an acceptance that men might be attracted to other men. Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner.

In educational settings, several ancient authors comment on the male-male mentoring that often included pederasty (sex with boys). The main ancient objection to male-male sexual activity was that one partner had to take the “woman’s role” of being penetrated.

In a patriarchal society, to be masculine was to be the active partner, whereas to be passive was deemed feminine and shameful.

These attitudes find their way into the New Testament in various forms. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 list a wide group of people who will not “inherit the Kingdom” without changing. Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.

Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).

The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.

The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.

In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses is as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.

It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se. As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarises:

Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.

We need to put all this in perspective. These are six verses out of more than 31,000 verses or roughly 0.016% of the text. In contrast, the Bible contains more than 2,000 verses about money (and related issues of greed, wealth, loans, and property), and more than 100 specifically on one’s obligation to care for widows.

In other words, monitoring and proscribing human (homo)sexual activity is not a particular concern of the Bible when compared to the overarching demand for justice, economic equality, and the fair treatment of foreigners and strangers. For certain Christian groups to make this the decisive Christian issue is simply a misreading of biblical values.

Lest readers think the Bible is against sexuality generally, there is an entire biblical book devoted to celebrating human sexual desire. Written in the style of a Mesopotamian love poem, the Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), speaks positively of both female and male sexual yearning.

Serious Christians cannot ignore the Bible. They can, however, make sure that they interpret it with all the tools available to them, that they examine their own biases, and stop over-simplifying the issues.

The Bible offers a wide variety of marriage arrangements, many of which we no longer condone. It never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly.

The ConversationIt does, however, give us an ethic to guide how we treat one another: an ethic based upon God’s generous love and a profound concern for justice.

Robyn J. Whitaker, Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity College, University of Divinity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Note to Margaret Court: the Bible isn’t meant to be read that literally

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Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality do not reflect those of most Christians.
The Conversation/Shutterstock

Robyn J. Whitaker, University of Divinity

Margaret Court is wrong to claim marriage is “a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible”, as she did in her open letter to Qantas, or that a “biblical view” of marriage is between one man and one woman, as she did on Channel Ten’s The Project last week. She is even more wrong to suggest she is being persecuted for her views. Here is why.

Reading the Bible to determine the shape of contemporary marriage is not an easy task. It is an ancient collection of 66 books, written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic), and spanning over 1,000 years of human history. Much of the Bible was written 2,500 years ago, when family life was very different.

In the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham fathered children with his concubine as well as his wife, and Moses likely had two wives (one of whom is presented as problematic because she was a foreigner). Famous biblical kings, like David and Solomon, had entire palaces full of often dubiously acquired wives and concubines who served as symbols of their power and status.

The reality is families in the Bible reflect the patriarchal structures of their period. Women were considered commodities to be married off for political alliances, economic reasons, or to keep families connected. They had no autonomy to choose their partners.

Polygamy was common, as was the use of slaves as sexual concubines. I don’t hear anyone advocating a “biblical view” of marriage suggesting we return to those particular scenarios.

In the New Testament, Jesus said nothing about homosexual relationships or marriage, except that people should not divorce. This teaching is widely ignored by many Christian denominations today. Most likely, Jesus’s concern in speaking against divorce was for the vulnerable place in which it left women, given they could not usually earn their own money or inherit.

Marriage was allowed in the New Testament, but the most prolific writer, Paul, thinks celibacy is preferable for a Christian. When Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), he presents an ideology profoundly disruptive of patriarchal family structures, gender roles and hierarchy.

This kind of Christian teaching led, if anything, to a breakdown of traditional marriage structures (in ancient terms). For example, the option to remain celibate and live in community (such as a nunnery or monastery) was a radical, attractive and liberating alternative to arranged marriage for women in earliest Christianity. Jesus’s own mother, who is an example of faith in the church’s tradition, appears to have left her husband and other children at home to follow her itinerant son.

Not all opinions are of equal weight. While Margaret Court remains one of the most phenomenal sportswomen in Australian history, this does not qualify her as a spokesperson for Christianity on marriage equality. Nor does being a self-appointed leader of a church she created.

Indeed, if Court applied the literalism with which she reads Genesis to the whole of the Bible, she’d find herself in hot water, since 1 Timothy 2:12 explicitly forbids women teaching or having any authority over men. This kind of culturally bound ideology is precisely why biblical scholars and mainstream Christian churches do not adhere to a literal interpretation of this ancient and diverse text.

To criticise and expect a higher level of discourse from a public figure is not bullying nor persecution. Court willingly put herself into the public space by writing an open letter to Qantas. She could have lodged her complaint privately with the company if she wished to remain free of public comment.

There is nothing inherently Christian about the so-called traditional arrangement of the nuclear family. You can find that model in the Bible if you look for it, but it is not the dominant view. Nor does the Bible condemn what we understand to be loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today.

There is nothing like the contemporary concept of sexual orientation in the biblical text. Where the Bible does appear to condemn homosexual acts it condemns same-sex acts that are rape, adulterous or represent imbalanced power dynamics, such as an elite male with a youth.

Interestingly, these same power dynamics are not critiqued when an elite male takes a young woman as a sexual concubine. It’s a sobering reminder of the patriarchal worldview that lies behind the text and ancient fears about penetration and masculinity.

Concepts of family and marriage have evolved and changed throughout human history, including within the church. Modern Christian families can be made up of gay couples, straight couples, single people in community, childless adults, foster parents, step-parents, grandparents and biological parents. It is their faith that makes them Christian, not their family structure nor sexuality.

The ConversationMany Christians are not represented by the views we’ve recently heard from Margaret Court, nor those espoused by the so-called Australian Christian Lobby. In fact, quite the opposite. Christian values of love, justice and inclusion found throughout the Bible are why so many Christians support marriage equality.

Robyn J. Whitaker, Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity College; Lecturer, University of Divinity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

The Gospel of John is of particular interest to queer people of faith for its repeated references to the “beloved disciple”, or to “the disciple that Jesus loved”. These references make clear that whoever he was, this disciple had a relationship with Jesus of particular intimacy. There’s the well-known scene from the Last Supper where he rests his head on Jesus’ breast (or lap), and at the crucifixion, he is the only man standing among the women at the foot of the cross. He is the one to whom Christ entrusts the care of his mother – rather as a surviving spouse in marriage would assume some responsibility for the care of a mother-in-law. The existence of this special relationship  provides much of the argument for the proposition that Jesus’ sexual orientation may have been what we call “gay”.

The beloved disciple is not explicitly named, but is often assumed to be John himself. I have written before on these lines, using “John, the Beloved Disciple” as a jumping off point for a reflection on the gay Jesus:

Continue reading John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

To Christians arguing ‘no’ on marriage equality: the Bible is not decisive

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Christians who call on the Bible to support their arguments against marriage equality are on shaky ground. Shutterstock/The Conversation

Robyn J. Whitaker, University of Divinity

As Australia faces a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, we are seeing a steady stream of articles arguing the “yes” or “no” case. Many on the “no” side are prone to citing the Bible or appealing to “biblical values”. But what does the Bible actually say about human sexuality and homosexuality in particular?

What follows represents a summary of critical biblical scholarship on the issue. Critical biblical scholarship draws on a range academic disciplines including literary criticism, archaeology, history, philology, and social science to offer the most plausible, historically grounded interpretation of the Bible. It is not simply a matter of personal belief or citing official church doctrine.

Australian scholars are among leaders in the field when it comes to sexuality and the Bible. William Loader has written several books on the matter and this Anglican collection of essays is also excellent.

When it comes to homosexuality there are, at most, six passages of the Bible that are relevant. So what do these passages say?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is well known. This is where the terms “sodomite” and “sodomy” originate, and it has long been associated with biblical condemnation of male homosexual sex. It is, however, actually about gang-rape.

In this story, the men of Sodom seek to rape two visitors (who are actually angels). Their host, Lot, defends them and offers them protection in his house, but offers his virgin daughters to be raped in their place.

It is a deeply problematic and complex story that warrants an article of its own, but what is clear is that sexual violence and rape is harshly condemned, and so God destroys the town with sulphur and fire. Despite the linguistic history of the word “sodomite”, Genesis 19 has nothing to say about homosexuality or mutually consenting adults of the same gender expressing their desire and love.

Two of the laws of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) seem more pertinent. They call a man lying with another man instead of his wife an “abomination”.

We should note first that the imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male. It is not describing what we would understand to be a sexual orientation. We might also note the inherent sexism here: women apparently don’t have the same desire or their sexuality is deemed too insignificant to be worthy of comment.

Again, we need some context. Yes, this verse clearly condemns adulterous homosexual sex in calling it an “abomination” (to’ebah), but here some of the other things also called an “abomination” in the Bible:

  • Egyptians eating with Hebrews;
  • having an image of another god in your house;
  • sacrificing your child to the god Molech;
  • having sex with your wife when she is menstruating;
  • taking your wife’s sister as a second wife; and
  • eating pork.

Banned likewise is wearing mixed-fabric clothing, interbreeding animals of different species, tattoos, mocking the blind by putting obstacles in their way, and trimming your beard.

As you can see, there is quite an assortment of ancient laws, some of which seem to make good sense (such as no child sacrifice) and others of which the majority of Christians no longer keep (such as eating pork and wearing a wool-silk blend).

To claim one set as timeless truths while ignoring the others is patently hypocritical and goes against the grain of the text itself.

These two verses in Leviticus are the sum total of what the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) says about same-sex activities. The remainder of the biblical references occur in the New Testament, written between approximately 50 and 110 CE in the context of the Roman Empire.

The attitudes and norms of Graeco-Roman culture are critical in understanding these texts. In Graeco-Roman society, there was an acceptance that men might be attracted to other men. Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner.

In educational settings, several ancient authors comment on the male-male mentoring that often included pederasty (sex with boys). The main ancient objection to male-male sexual activity was that one partner had to take the “woman’s role” of being penetrated.

In a patriarchal society, to be masculine was to be the active partner, whereas to be passive was deemed feminine and shameful.

These attitudes find their way into the New Testament in various forms. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 list a wide group of people who will not “inherit the Kingdom” without changing. Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.

Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).

The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.

The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.

In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses is as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.

It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se. As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarises:

Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.

We need to put all this in perspective. These are six verses out of more than 31,000 verses or roughly 0.016% of the text. In contrast, the Bible contains more than 2,000 verses about money (and related issues of greed, wealth, loans, and property), and more than 100 specifically on one’s obligation to care for widows.

In other words, monitoring and proscribing human (homo)sexual activity is not a particular concern of the Bible when compared to the overarching demand for justice, economic equality, and the fair treatment of foreigners and strangers. For certain Christian groups to make this the decisive Christian issue is simply a misreading of biblical values.

Lest readers think the Bible is against sexuality generally, there is an entire biblical book devoted to celebrating human sexual desire. Written in the style of a Mesopotamian love poem, the Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), speaks positively of both female and male sexual yearning.

Serious Christians cannot ignore the Bible. They can, however, make sure that they interpret it with all the tools available to them, that they examine their own biases, and stop over-simplifying the issues.

The Bible offers a wide variety of marriage arrangements, many of which we no longer condone. It never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly.

It does, however, give us an ethic to guide how we treat one another: an ethic based upon God’s generous love and a profound concern for justice.

Robyn J. Whitaker, Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity College, University of Divinity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

JESUS: NOT “GAY”, BUT GENDERQUEER.

So: according to Michael Ruse at the Guardian, there could be new evidence that Jesus was openly and unambiguously a gay man. So what?

When I wrote about this news item, it was already late (after midnight UK time) and I had been on the point of going to bed, so I omitted any attempt at serious comment of my own. Stimulated by the swift responses from some readers (see their thoughts and my response in the comments thread to yesterday’s post), I can now begin to offer some personal reflection and reaction.

The interesting thing about this story is that while it will take time to authenticate these codices and their reported content, it actually makes very little difference to the core statements in the report: all (except for the unspecified parable, and the alleged quarrel with Joseph about manliness) are already known to us from the existing Gospels.




The Sexuality of Jesus

The absence of any direct reference in the Gospels to Jesus’ love life,  sexual or emotional, has led to the unfortunate modern assumption that he did not have one, that he was in effect asexual. This is a bad mistake. We know that he was fully human, and do will also have had the full range of human bodily and emotional drives. We also know very little about his eating habits, hygiene practices or bowel movements – but this does not imply that he did not have any.  We may not know how Jesus responded to his sexual feelings, but we can be certain that he had them – just as we do.

The repeated references to a “beloved disciple” (whoever he is) are clear evidence of a special, even intimate,relationship. This evidence comes from the words used, but also from the privileged position given to him, physically and symbolically, at key points in the Gospel narrative (for example, at the last supper and at the crucifixion). It is widely assumed that the term applies to John the Evangelist, but this may not be so. Another candidate is Lazarus. Some scholars draw attention to a supposed Second Gospel of Mark, which supposedly tells that after raising a young man (Lazarus?) from the dead, Jesus spent the night in bed with him. There is also a peculiar story in Mark’s Gospel of a night-time encounter in the garden with a young man covered only in a linen cloth, who then ran away naked.  We do not know who this mysterious young mas was, or what they were doing in the garden, but it too could have been Lazarus – and what do you think they were doing, in the dark and with one at least almost naked?

Personally, I reject the idea that Jesus was gay in any modern sense – the word is totally anachronistic, and there is in any case comparable evidence of a relationship with Mary Magdalene, which would make him at least “bi-” (in modern terminology. Intriguing as the evidence is that he may have had same-sex attractions or involvements, this evidence is at best supportive, but not conclusive proof.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Rubens)

What can we say for certain?

Jesus Rejected Modern “Family” Values

Well, we know very clearly what he was not. At a time when there were enormous social pressures on all Jews to marry and raise a family, he did not. He also encouraged his followers to leave their own families, lived with a same-sex band of single men, and selected his closest friends from single people.  Other than the men of “the twelve”, his closest friends were the two women Mary and Martha, two unmarried women living together (again in clear defiance of social expectations), and their unmarried brother, Lazarus. Much as the religious conservatives try to paint the Gospels as supporting their (modern) conception of supposedly “traditional” family values, the values found in the texts themselves and not the fundie imagination, are decidedly queer: This was not a devoted, heterosexual, family man.

We also know for certain that he rejected nobody. Inclusion for all was a hallmark of his ministry, to the extent of simply ignoring standard social taboos of all kinds. He freely engaged in religious discussions with women, he did not hesitate to go to the home of a Roman centurion to heal his servant and (probably) lover, he met with and healed lepers, and did not shrink from the menstruating woman. The example of the woman caught in adultery (and others) shows clearly that he was not particularly interested in peoples’ sexual acts – but only in the quality of their relationships (with others, and with God). This is also demonstrated by what he had to say on sex and sexuality : nothing at all.

Biological Sex and Gender Expression.

I was delighted by the timing of Michael Ruse’s Guardian report, which came just at the start of Trans in Faith week. The more I reflect on it, the more convinced I become that however one views Christ’s sexual orientation or practice, the most reliable descriptor that I can find is that he was/is very clearly, emphatically, genderqueer.

Consider first, the circumstances of his birth, and the implications if we are to accept the orthodox Catholic doctrine of Mary’s virginity. Then, without no human father, we must read his parentage as one human mother, with the Holy Spirit – often thought of as a feminine aspect of the Trinity. Two moms, then.

An observation by Susannah Cornwall in Trans/formations gives an even more radical view of the virgin birth. With no biological male parentage, he can have had no Y chromosomes, but only the female XX pattern. This will have made him externally male, but internally female – in other words, intersex.

Other writers in  Trans/formations draw attention to his gender bending behaviour: not only mixing socially with people from all backgrounds, reflecting sexual and gender diversity as well a ignoring class and ethnic divisions, but also reflected in his flouting of gender roles, freely engaging in many actions that were reserved to women in a highly gendered society.

Finally, as God and one person of the Trinity, he is clearly gender free, but also shares in theological descriptions which demonstrate extraordinary gender fluidity.

Welcome to God’s Queer Family

Michael Ruse concluded his post for the Guardian with the important words:

Finally, the most important news is that nothing in the newly discovered codices challenges in any way the essential message of Christianity. Jesus was the messiah; he died on the cross for our sins; and through his death and resurrection made possible our eternal salvation. Our overriding obligation is to love God and we do this by loving our neighbours as ourselves. Christianity will never be the same again. Christianity will go on completely unchanged.

That is, his sexuality and gender expression really do not matter. An response from a reader asked, if that is so, why bother to write about it at all?

But that is precisely the point. Biological sex, sexual orientation and gender expression clearly were of no concern to him, in his words and ministry. They really not be of any greater concern to us. As Bart put it his response here,

“Welcome to God’s queer family. All are invited”.

Books:

Althaus- Reid, Marcella & Isherwood, Lisa: Trans/formations (Scm Controversies in Contextual Theology Series)
Jennings, Theodore W: The Man Jesus Loved
Fiction:
Cherry, Kittredge: Jesus in Love

 

Related Posts at QTC

Related articles, elsewhere

WAS JESUS GAY? MARK, AND THE “NAKED YOUNG MAN”.

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, and similarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.

Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.

In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….

Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And they all forsook him and fled.

 

And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).

(Mark 14: 50 -52)

Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?

But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:

And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there.  and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “Son of David, have mercy upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad raised him, seizing his hand.  But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.  And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.  And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.

This passage has two literary connections to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.

Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?

The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”




LAZARUS, “THE MAN JESUS LOVED”

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)

These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.

Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (WilliamsWilsonGoss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuartunderstands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.

– Goss, in The Queer Bible Commentary

Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”.

I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:

“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)

Early Christian Writing

The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.

So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?

It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.

It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)

Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.




“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).

Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:

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>She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.

Conclusion

I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.

Books:

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

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary

Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships

Williams, Robert: Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian

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

Related Posts at QTC:

“Coming Out”: A Gospel Command

A Broken Church, and the Return From Emmaus