Tag Archives: Books

The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

The remarkable thing about the Christian tradition that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of the sin of homoerotic sex, is that this was never part of the Jewish tradition: not in the Hebrew Bible (First, or Old Testament), not in the Apocrypha, not in the Pseudepigrapha, and not in the Rabbinic tradition that followed. The obvious question that follows, is quite how did the Christian theologians get it so wrong, using a strong condemnation against oppression, injustice and lack of hospitality to strangers, to justify their own persecution, oppression, and explicit refusal of hospitality in Church to sexual and gender minorities?

sodom

In tracing the historical development of what is clearly a distorted tradition, Renato Lings draws on the commentaries of the story from each historical tradition – and simultaneously describes how changes in language over those centuries meant that later commentators, up to the medieval scholastics, were depending on texts which had been through multiple translations, losing some of the subtlety and nuance of the original, and also had suffered corruption from copying errors.

A long church tradition may have led to errors of misinterpretation end errors of translation, some of which continue to affect todays versions of the Bible. Since the issues addresses by the Hebrew prophets are idolatry, pride, social injustice and oppression, it is indeed remarkable that today’s scholarly consensus emphasizes sexual violence.

Continue reading The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

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. Continue reading Biblical Love – Lost in Translation?

The Homoerotic Catholic Church

That’s right:  not homophobic, but homoerotic.  Sure, there is homophobia, especially in the official teaching, but if you peer beneath the surface, scratch the veneer, lift the skirts of the priestly vestments at what lies beneath and within, you find a very different picture. It is a common observation that the most virulent homophobia often masks a closeted gay interior. This may well be the case with the institutional Catholic church: there is much in the Church’s history, institutional character, liturgical style, church decoration, and mystical tradition that is way more than just gay-friendly:  much of it is at least camp, or even frankly homoerotic.

Let us begin with the fun stuff.

In his wonderfully funny but also pointed and touching bit of memoir, “Since My Last Confession“, Scott Pomfret adopts a delightfully camp tone to describe the personnel, priestly vestments and equipment of the Mass. (In an extended metaphor, the Mass becomes a white linen restaurant, the priest is the chef, Eucharistic ministers are waiters, the chalice is the wine glass.)

This camp tone is entirely appropriate: there is much in the liturgy itself, in church architecture and decor, with its blend of high art and low kitsch, which is itself high camp, and appealing to the gay sensibility (if such exists). Elsewhere, Pomfret notes that Sunday evening doughnut supper in a particular Boston parish, is the best place outside a gay bar to pick up a man on Sunday night.

On a similar theme, Mark D Jordan (“The Silence of Sodom”) describes a certain type of Catholic gay man who tends to get deeply involved in the minutiae of liturgy planning.  These men he describes as “liturgy” queens, drawing a clear comparison with that other well-known stereotype, the opera queen.  (In this context, the well-known Marian prayer, “Hail Holy Queen” takes on a whole new meaning!)

On the other hand, what is one to make of the display of the near naked Christ on the cross, and the depictions of the passion in the “Stations of the Cross” found in every Catholic church?  Do these have a special frisson for the SM /Leather sub-group of gay men?  It is certainly so that renowned mystics such as St John of the Cross have developed a whole school of spirituality on the idea of contemplation on the body of Christ – and couched it in language that is remarkably sensuous, even erotic.

Priesthood & Training

It’s not only the gay men in the congregation that respond to the camp. It’s well known that an astonishingly high proportion of Catholic priests are gay.  There are no reliable statistics, but the guesstimates I have seen tend to cluster around the 50% mark, give or take 20% either side. Nor are these all in the lower ranks, nor should we assume that they are all celibate:  rumours and allegations of sexually active gay bishops, cardinals, Vatican officials  and even popes are commonplace. (Some conservative factions in the Church even claim that all three popes immediately after Vatican II were gay, and that Paul VI in particular ushered in a “homosexual mafia” to the Vatican staff – possibly explaining the reactionary lurch under John Paul II and Benedict XVI?)

Why should this be so?  It is probably simplistic just to blame it on the desire to wear the priestly drag (where else can a gay men get to wear skirts public outside the theatre or drag shows?), but the camp style probably does have something to do with it.

More important though, as Mark D Jordan has persuasively shown, is that the entire culture of priestly training in all-male seminaries is deeply supportive, even encouraging, of a gay orientation, just as it discourages

straight men. Jordan also shows, scandalously, that it is not just the students in these institutions who are, or first become, sexually active in the seminaries: many staff members are sexual predators, taking advantage of the students in their care – even as they warn against forming “particular friendships” with each other.

History

In the Church’s long past, carefully airbrushed out of official history,
are hidden numerous examples of gay, lesbian and even transvestite (FTM) saints, bishops, and popes. Fortunately, modern scholars no longer depend on clerical approval, and this gay past is now being recovered for us(See the work of John Boswell, Alan Bray, and Bernadette Brooten just for starters.)

Far from opposing gay marriage, for many centuries the church recognised and liturgically blessed same sex unions:  at the start of the relationships, by the ceremonies of “adelphopoesis” in the Eastern church, and by the “ordo ad fratres faciendum” in the West.  Both these terms referred to the making of “sworn brothers”, and may have been largely about contracts of property arrangements – but that is exactly what opposite-sex unions were about at the time.  The concept of marriage as the consummation of romantic love is a modern invention.  Many same sex unions have also been recognised in death, right up to the 19th century, by being buried in shared graves, often inside church buildings, or with grave monuments, memorials and inscriptions inside the churches comparable to the memorials to married couples buried together.

Does it matter?

That there is at least a strand of homophile or homoerotic culture, sensitivity, and activity in the Catholic Church is clear.  So what?  Should we care?  For those of us in the Church who are gay, I believe it matters immensely.  By recognising the hypocrisy, it becomes easier to stand up to the theological bullying, and to counter the lecturing with rational argument.

Further reading:

Books
Jordan, Mark D:  The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
Boswell, John Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Alan Bray, The Friend

Brooten, Bernadette : Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism
Engel, Rangy: The Rite of Sodomy Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church

Pomfret, Scott: Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir

“Christianity is a Queer Thing” – Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart’s wonderful “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, which presents a ‘genealogy’ of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of “Queer theology”.  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.

gay-and-lesbian-theologies




As I went through Stuart’s rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my ‘Wish List’, which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super – brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them.

Strangers and Friends (Michael Vasey)

Vasey argues from an historical presentation of the sexuality and the family.  He points out that far from being the ‘tradtional’ model, the family as idealised  by modern Christians, especially the evangelicals,  is a relatively modern invention.  The gradual development of this model as normative, has largely been responsible for the parallel development of a distinct gay identity, largely in reaction.  (The campaign against the ‘homosexual’ is attacking what it has itself created.) Conversely, the early church idealised male friendship and community life, rather than the family as now understood.

Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics (Kathy Rudy)

Rudy also looks at the historical development of the family, from a feminist perspective.  Her conclusion is that LGBT people are mistaken in looking to mimic heterosexual families, suggesting that urban gay male culture offers a model of human relationships modelled on community. She denies the argument that Christian sexuality needs to be procreative – Christianity reproduces itself not by procreation, but by conversion.  What matters is not whether two people can produce children, but whether they can embrace outsiders – the key characteristic of Christianity.

Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach (Virginia Ramey Mollenkott)

Mollenkott shows that many features of God’s incarnation and manifestation to humans, and many practices of the church, fall outside socially approved, binary ideas of gender. She also discusses numerous examples of canonised saints who have defied gender roles.

Indecent Theology: (Marcella Althaus-Reid)

Althaus-Reid’s starting point is within the framework of liberation theology, but she points out that this has often proceeded from within a traditional approaches to gender and sexual identity. She “foregrounds a Christ outside the gates who is the eternal Bi/Christ who always gives us something to think about.”