I received an email which voiced numerous objections to the idea that Jesus accepted some sexually active gays and lesbians, which I document from Luke 17. I replied to him, “You’ve covered far too much ground to answer in one email. Let me answer one point from your first paragraph.” He had written
But I’ve seen posts from you that say that Jesus “taught” on gay and lesbians. And that from Luke 17:34-35, that God “accepts” gays and lesbians. But that is NOT what Jesus said. All Jesus said was “there are two men in a bed… two women grinding” (if you are correct). Jesus didn’t “teach” ANYTHING in these verses. Jesus didn’t say whether it was wrong or right.
True. Jesus didn’t say whether it was wrong or right. What he said was that it didn’t matter, that it was irrelevant.
You left something out. In verses 34 and 35 we read, “one shall be taken, and the other left.” One member of each pair is acceptable to God, and one is not. Based on the testimony of Luke 17, then at least some sexually active gays and lesbians are acceptable to God, and delivered from judgment. (I’ve had some literalists ask me if I believe that 50 percent of gays and lesbians are going to heaven, which is quite silly.)
I tell you, in that night,
there shall be two men in one bed;
the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
Two women shall be grinding together;
the one shall be taken, and the other left.
(Luke 17:34-35, KJV)
It is the separation of the righteous and the unrighteous that is the key point of my thesis. The fact that some sexually active gays and lesbians are acceptable to God is the point I am making.
The point of this passage is that homosexuality and homosexual activity are not factors in a person’s acceptability to God. God does not take sexual orientation into account. Jesus ignores it.
-read more at « Bible-Thumping Liberal.
- The Gospels’ Queer Values (queersaints.wordpress.com)
- Ron Goetz: Straight Ally in Faith, “Bible – Thumping Liberal” (queeringthechurch.com)
As gay men, we all know about the importance of practicing safe sex. When it comes to the Bible and sexuality, especially homosexuality, Ken Stone says we must practice safe texts, too. I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read this book and cannot comment personally on its quality, but the advice in the title is sound. We must read and respond to isolated Bible verses with extreme care. Failure to do so can be dangerous to our mental, emotional and spiritual health. “Everybody” knows that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as an abomination, goes the popular wisdom, which in turns fuels the opposition to LGBT equality and gay marriage, and at worst encourages prejudice, discrimination, bullying – and even murder. The popular wisdom is wrong.
At Newsweek, Lisa Miller introduces her discussion of two new books by Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan with an important reminder: the Bible devotes an entire book to a clear celebration of human sexuality, without any consideration of procreation or even permanent commitment and fidelity:
The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”
The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”
This frank Biblical erotica has too often been overshadowed in religious discussion of biblical sexuality by the modern puritanical perceptions of biblical sexual ethics. These modern perceptions are a severe distortion. Miller writes:
What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.
Some conservative commentators are outraged. “You cannot selectively twist the Bible to suit your purpose” is a common response – which completely overlooks the fact that this is precisely what the defenders of “traditional marriage, as found in the Bible” are doing all the time. The popular conception of “traditional marriage” is a relatively modern invention, very far removed from sexual ethics of the bible – as found in the actual text, and not in some befuddled pseudo-religious imaginations.
To really get to grips with biblical views on sexuality, “practicing safer texts”, requires proper study and reflection. Scholars who have done this have been reconsidering the traditional presentation for decades. Jennifer Knust (a professor of religion and an ordained Baptist pastor) and Michael Coogan (who trained as a Jesuit priest) have taken what is now common parlance among some academics, and made it more accessible to a wider audience.
For those who have followed the re-evaluation of the bible’s supposed pronouncements on homosexuality in particular, it is easy to recount the counters to the half-dozen or so clobber texts, or “texts of terror”, on Robert Goss’s phrase. What I like about the accounts of these books, is that they move beyond the arguments around specific verses, and on to a more holistic view of Scripture as a whole, and approaches to its overriding message – strictly in accordance with the Pontifical Bible Commission guidance on biblical interpretation, with its emphasis on context – of the passage and the entire bible, as well as the historical conditions, the modern context, and with a careful eye to linguistic accuracy and literary conventions :
The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”
It is a discussion of the literary conventions that produces the greatest surprise for me: Coogan’s claim that Biblical language may use the term “foot” as a euphemism for genitals. This recognition leads to some completely novel and surprising perspectives on familiar passages:
When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”
However, it can also lead to some dangerous traps for the unwary:
When he is teaching to college students, he writes, someone inevitably asks about the scene in Luke, in which a woman kisses and washes Jesus’ feet—and then dries them with her hair. Is that author speaking about “feet”? Or feet? “As both modern and ancient elaborations suggest,” Coogan writes, “sexual innuendo may be present.” Scholars agree that in this case, a foot was probably just a foot.
Newsweek, What the Bible Really Says About Sex
We all know that “The Bible” is widely used as a cover to oppose legal protections for LGBT equality, or for full inclusion in church. Too often, as Candace Chellew Hodge points out, these arguments are made by people who have not actually read the bible, or if they have, they have, they have made not attempt to understand it with due consideration of its meaning, in the full scriptural, literary and historical context.
Over at Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, blogger Jenny Tyree isn’t surprised at Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain’s support for marriage equality. “It’s rather easy for 20-somethings—or millennials—to jump on the very tidy-looking ‘rights’ bandwagon that proponents of same-sex marriage have made marriage to be,’ she writes, rightly observing that the majority of people aged 18-29 support marriage equality.
What these darn kids are missing, Tyree says, is a real appreciation of biblical marriage. Instead, they’ve grown up “breathing air thick with a cultural disregard for marriage. Experiencing the personal benefit of having a married mom and dad doesn’t change what they witnessed—willful divorces and the suffering of the children of divorce. The result is a generational embrace of sex as a right and marriage as one of many lifestyles, rather than as the best family structure for children and a stabilizing force for society.”
-Candace Chellew-Hodge, Religion Dispatches
Chellew-Hodge goes on to point out (quite correctly )that what these people are proposing is emphatically not the supposed destruction of marriage and family, but its strengthening – by extending its protection and coverage to all families.
She also goes on to report on a Knust’s book, saying that it beautifully counters the tired argument that same-sex marriage undermines “biblical marriage”. Marriage in the Bible takes many forms. Which variety, exactly, are the defenders of “traditional” marriage thinking of?
When one actually reads the Bible (something a majority of “traditional marriage” supporters have obviously not done), one finds a myriad of models for marriage—most of them involving one man and many women—and all of those women are property of the man they are married to. Women were subservient to men in every way and had no voice or rights of their own. By the time we arrive at the Christian scriptures, we find Jesus openly discouraging marriage for his followers, requiring them to leave their families and follow him exclusively.
“From Jesus’ perspective, then,” Knust writes, “the family is made up of fellow believers, not kin with formal ties outsiders might recognize.”
Saying that one supports “biblical marriage” then is to say that one supports polygamy, or owning women, or leaving one’s family altogether and dedicating one’s life exclusively to following Christ. What millennials like Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain understand is that the tradition of marriage has evolved into a more inclusive institution encompassing mixed race marriages, and non-procreative marriages. Marriage today is not a matter of familial arrangements to enlarge land holdings or status. Marriage today is about the love and commitment between two people—as well as the government perks bestowed on the couple. Adding gays and lesbians to the mix does nothing to weaken marriage—it’s simply another evolution away from “biblical marriage” that was more about property rights than love.
Biblical marriage, according to Knust, looked like this: “women belong to men; male honor is tied, in part, to how well men supervise the women in their care; and men demonstrate their wealth and success by the number of legitimate wives and children they are able to acquire.”
Actually, given religious right preaching about how men are the head of the household and women are subject to the rule of the man, perhaps the religious right does believe in “Biblical marriage” after all.
At CNN, Jennifer Knust herself elaborates on the bible and homosexuality in particular, rebutting a key argument against gay marriage – that God created two distinct sexes. In fact, she points out, in the earliest versions of the creation story, it was accepted that the original human was androgynous:
We often hears that Christians have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin– that Scripture simply demands it.
As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing.
“I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them” is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability.
Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged.
In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.
Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.
Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.
According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”
When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”
From these perspectives, God’s original plan was sexual unity in one body, not two. The Genesis creation stories can support the notion that sexual intercourse is designed to reunite male and female into one body, but they can also suggest that God’s blessing was first placed on an undifferentiated body that didn’t have sex at all.
Jennifer Knust, CNN Religion Blogs
I do not propose that my readers should simply adopt the views expressed above simply on the strength of some third-hand reports of books that I have not yet had the opportunity to read myself. Biblical exegesis is a tricky matter for those of us without proper training. As the critics of these books are quick to point out, we do need to be guided in our interpretations of the texts by reliable scholarship. What the critics overlook though, is that scholarship itself is no longer supporting the traditional interpretations.
Ever since the early pioneers like Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, scholars who have re examined the evidence with an open mind have found that the traditional assumptions about the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality are unfounded. Bayley was followed by the historian John Boswell, with a chapter on scripture in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, and the detailed analysis by the Episcopal theologian William Countryman. This early trickle of works demonstrating the flaws in the traditional misinterpretations has become a flood, so that those denominations which have set up formal study programs have agreed that there is at the very least substantial room for disagreement. This is why we are now seeing a strong movement towards accepting even the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy, and even same sex weddings, in the US Mainline Protestant and European Lutheran churches. This re-evaluation by scholars and religious professionals, however, has not yet reached the popular mainstream, not in any significant numbers.
These latest additions to the range of available titles are welcome, and deserve to be widely read and reflected on.
Bailey. Derrick Sherwin: Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition
Coogan, Michael: God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says
Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed and Sex
Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
Knust, Jennifer Wright: Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire
Thelos, Phil: Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition
My Related articles
- Magisterium and Scripture
- What Part of the Gospels, Bishop Soto, is “Hard for Gays to Accept?”
- The Gospels’s Queer Values
- Queering the Song of Songs
- What Was the Real Sin Of Sodom?
- A New Reading of Leviticus
Related articles elsewhere
- What the Bible Really Says About Sex (Newsweek)
- God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, by Michael Coogan (Globe and Mail)
- The Bible’s surprsingly mixed messages on sexuality (religion.blogs CNN)
- Unprotected Texts: Bible has mixed messages on sex (Jesus in Love)
- Promising New Popular Discussions of Bible and Its Cultural Use: Jay Michaelson and Laura Miller (Bilgrimage)
- Jennifer Wright Knust Takes Down Argument That Bible Condemns Homosexuality (Bilgrimage)
At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibility and coming out.
After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject. So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome: Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.
First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society . For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society. He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .
To do so, he points to the well-known costs of not coming out: psychological self-oppression, increased suicide risk (especially in the young), and the arrests for sexual activity in restrooms / cottages of men who are usually married or otherwise closeted. Against that, he contrasts the personal rewards of coming out. After speaking the truth to ourselves, the next stage, of meeting with others like ourselves,
“is generally even more of a transforming moment than the private recognition and acceptance of our gayness….Coming out publicly (a continuous process, not a single event) brings a sense of freedom that must be experienced to be believed. Coming out is one of our many seasons of joy.”
This is a sentiment which, from my own experience, I heartily endorse, and to which I would add the observation that “Joy is an infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.”
He then turns to some possible costs of coming out: active discrimination, including in employment; difficulties in securing adequate access to children; a misguided steering into inappropriate marriage, in the expectation of a ‘cure’; and finally the hostility or even misguided interference of the churches. This leads to a stinging repudiation of the Church’s involvement:
“It is no surprise that whether we leave or stay, we react to the church with suspicion. Something about what the church is teaching, something about how the church conceives itself, is not right. In the case of the church’s relation to gay men and lesbians, we can dissect out two particular explanations for this suspicion.
First, the church has allowed itself to subordinate the commandment of love to the demands of heterosexist culture, defying Paul’s injunction, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Rom 12:2) ……It is.. the result of the church’s long-standing obsession with sexual activity, which leads to a reduction of the lives of lesbians and gay men to the realm of sexual experience.”
“This brings me to my second suspicion about the church, which is why it is willing to accommodate itself to the mind of the age, to compromise with bourgeois culture: it hopes to maintain its authority and thus its institutional power in society by preventing lesbians and gay men from speaking about their own experiences. The institution benefits.. from a theology that permits it to hand down decisions without any data even being collected, let alone examined“. (Emphasis added).
To which I add once again that this is why I am convinced we need to be out and visible in the church. As long as we remain closeted and out of sight, as long as we refrain from speaking of our own experiences, we are complicit in our own oppression.
Cleaver then goes on to discuss several well-known Gospel stories, drawing from them important lessons for us in the LGBT community.
Reflecting on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, he avoids some of the better known observations, and makes two other points. He notes that while recognising her sexual noncomformity, Jesus notably does not admonish or condemn her, nor does she express repentance.
“Jesus is no welfare caseworker… his goal is to transform society, not to ‘fix’ those who suffer injustice so that the existing social order may run more smoothly.“
The second point is that after the initial exchange, the woman proceeds to put to Him some “theological” questions on worship. The story, notes Cleaver, is not about promiscuity at all, but about “who is capable of doing theology” .
This point on doing theology is made again when he looks at the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10). While Martha works, Mary sits and listens to Jesus speak. Mary complains, but the reply is that Mary “has chosen the better part”. In Jewish society, women were expected to do the domestic work, only the men participated in religious study or debates, and the sexes sat apart when guests were present for meals. It would have been unheard of for women to participate in religious discussions, yet Christ not only condones this, he commends her for it. Jewish women and other social outcasts were expected to be invisible: but for the Lord, no-one is invisible, all are welcome to join in making theology.
In telling of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 -31), Cleaver compares Lazarus with the LGBT community “outside the door” of the church, while the rich man is compared with the institutional church, which even by its indifference contributes to our oppression.
His final biblical reflection is an extended discussion of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32: 22-32). For Cleaver, there are two important themes in this story: the wrestling itself, and the act of naming. From this he reflects on the importance to us of naming honestly our oppression. Noting that
“We learn to name our oppression by struggling with it”,
he insists that we should present ourselves in full frankness and honesty, implying that we should resist the temptation to mimic conventional patterns of morality out of a mere desire to avoid offence:
“The strategy of putting forward only “acceptable” images of ourselves is doomed to failure… We should be forthright about who we are.”
For me, the 3 key lessons from Cleaver, all of which I endorse whole-heartedly, are:
In spite of the obvious dangers and costs, coming out publicly is invigorating, liberating and life-giving;
We need to extend the “coming out” process into our lives in the Church, where we should expect to be fully visible, and to speak out frankly and honestly of our views and experiences;
and that by doing so, we will be exercising our right to share in making theology, in spite of the efforts of the institutional church to exercise a monopoly.
“We must speak with our own voices, in all their imperfections, when responding to God’s overtures. Moses stuttered; Israel limped. What matters is not image but integrity. If God calls, we must know who answers. We answer to our true names, because these are the names God calls us by. The cost of learning them is wrestling with the divine.”
Amen to that.
The problem with attempting to deal with the Magisterium of the Church is that it is so vast, that the only way to do it is as one would eat an elephant: one piece at a time. I propose to do just that. Today’s contribution represents just the first course – more will follow.
As the people who insist we follow the Magisterium often also refer us to the Bible, I thought it would be helpful to begin with a look at what the Magisterium has to say about the interpretation of Scripture. Even this is a vast topic. One good starting point is to look at the useful report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (which may be read in full at the excellent “Catholic Resources” website of Felix Just, SJ).
This important document discusses several different approaches to biblical interpretation with their strengths and weaknesses, and offers an overall evaluation of each. Broadly, the commission finds some difficulties and strengths with each, although some seem to find more favour than others. I have no intention of attempting to provide a comprehensive review in a short introduction, but I do want to pull out some specific quotations which seem to me to be especially relevant to any discussion of sexuality and Scripture.
Possibly the most important single sentence to me comes right at the beginning of the Preface:
“The study of the Bible is, as it were, the soul of theology…. This study is never finished; each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books.”
(Which is why I insist that we need to take seriously the findings of modern scholars on the old clobber texts, which cast an entirely new light on their interpretation.)
The INTRODUCTION then continues with an important warning:
“The Bible itself bears witness that its interpretation can be a difficult matter. Alongside texts that are perfectly clear, it contains passages of some obscurity “
(which is why we must be cautious of glib and superficial references to single verses or passages taken at face value.)
One of the reasons for the difficulty, of course, is that
“Readers today, in order to appropriate the words and deeds of which the Bible speaks, have to project themselves back almost 20 or 30 centuries”.
(Which is exactly what our critics seldom attempt to do.)
The first specific approach considered is that of the “Historical-Critical” method:
“Textual criticism….. begins the series of scholarly operations. Basing itself on the testimony of the oldest and best manuscripts … textual-criticism seeks to establish, according to fixed rules, a biblical text as close as possible to the original.”
(To which I would simply point out that the most explicitly erotic book in he Bible, the ” Song of Songs“, is seldom mentioned by religious conservatives discussing homosexuality. But there are good reasons to believe that it was written as a love poem spoken by two men. At least one scholar believes that the oldest available manuscript has a text with language that is unambiguously and exclusively masculine – and that later texts were effectively censored to hide the homerotic element. See the The Song of Songs: the Bible’s Gay Love Poem at The Wild Reed for a useful discussion and review of this book.)
“The text is then submitted to a linguistic (morphology and syntax) and semantic analysis, using the knowledge derived from historical philology”
(No translation which followed this principle would ever have inserted the modern term “homosexuality” anywhere in the Bibple. Not only the word, but even the concept as we understand it, would have been unknown in Biblical times.)
The report continues with a discussion of three forms of literary analysis: rhetorical, narrative, and semiotic.
“Applied to the Bible, the new rhetoric aims to penetrate to the very core of the language of revelation precisely as persuasive religious discourse and to measure the impact of such discourse in the social context of the communication thus begun
“With respect to the narrative approach, it helps to distinguish methods of analysis, on the one hand, and theological reflection, on the other.”
“Connected with this kind of study primarily literary in character, is a certain mode of theological reflection as one considers the implications the “story” (and also the “witness”) character of Scripture has with respect to the consent of faith and as one derives from this a hermeneutic of a more practical and pastoral nature”
This approach of literary analysis as a basis for pastoral reflection surely supports the kind of Gospel reflections from a gay/ lesbian perspective offered by writers such as Richard Cleaver (“Know my Name“), Michael B. Kelly in “The Road from Emmaus” (reprinted in “Seduced by Grace”) or on -line by Jeremiah at “Gospel for Gays” – and many others.
The next group of approaches discussed are those based on tradition, including the “canonical” approach, which begins
“within an explicit framework of faith: the Bible as a whole.”
to which I can add only, “Hear! hear!”)
We then go on to approaches from the human sciences, particularly the sociological and cultural anthropology approaches, which require
“as exact a knowledge as is possible of the social conditions distinctive of the various milieus in which the traditions recorded in the Bible took shape”.
“to define the characteristics of different kinds of human beings in their social context….-with all that this involves by way of studying the rural or urban context and with attention paid to the values recognized by the society……. to the manner in which social control is exercised, to the ideas which people have of family house, kin, to the situation of women, to institutionalized dualities (patron – client, owner – tenant, benefactor – beneficiary, free person – slave)….”
(and, I should not have to add, to prevailing ideas of “normal” sexual relations. I do however, have to stress this point, because this is precisely what the standard view of the Bible and homosexuality ignores. When one does indeed consider the social context of the times, the extraordinary thing about the Bible is not what it says about homosexuality, but how very little it says: no more than six or seven verses, of dubious relevance, in the entire Bible – none of them from the Gospels- this when most societies in the Mediterranean world did not disinguish between the morality of same sex or opposite sex genital acts. )
Of “contextual approaches“, the commission examined only “liberation theology” and “feminist theology”. Since 1993, however, there has been an explosion of writing in areas known variously as gay & lesbian, queer, or indecent theologies, which are of particular relevance to us. As these have largely developed out of other contextual theologies, the remarks of the commission may be easilty extended to them too.
Liberation theology had its roots in Vatican II, and found its most famous expression in Latin America, later also in South Africa and Asia.
“…starting from its own socio-cultural and political point of view, it practices a reading of the Bible which is oriented to the needs of the people, who seek in the Scriptures nourishment for their faith and their life.
It seeks a reading drawn from the situation of people as it is lived here and now. If a people lives in circumstances of oppression, one must go to the Bible to find there nourishment capable of sustaining the people in its struggles and its hopes.”
It is of course true that liberation theology has drawn some strong criticism from the Vatican, particularly in some of its later excesses, and the Commission notes these “risks”. Still, it observes,
“Liberation theology includes elements of undoubted value”.
Both of these observations (of risks simultaneoulsy with value) apply equally to Queer Theology.
Feminist readings, which began in the late 19th Century with the “Women’s Bible” but took on fresh vigour in the 1970’s, especially in the US, emphasises the patriarchal conditions in which Scripture was written, and the resultant biases , requiring that one adopt a position of suspicion about the texts as they stand and instead look for
“look for signs which may reveal something quite different.”
We in the LGBT community would do well to adopt this attitude of suspicion not so much to Scripture, which was not writen with a specifically heterosexual bias, but to much of the traditional commentary, which certainly applied later prejudice retrospectively onto the text.
On the final approach, of fundamentalist interpretaion, the Commission is scathing in its criticism
“The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language”
Of fundamentalism, I say no more.
Where does this leave us?
I freely acknowledge that in going through the Commissions report, I have necessarily been seleective and certainly display my own biases. This was unavoidable given the limitations of time and space. By all means, go through the full report yourelf, or if you want a full discussion on the contents, see “Interpreting the Bible: Three Views“at First Things“
- Biblical interpretation is tricky, and must be undertaken with care. Simplistic use of isolated texts is particularly dangerous.
- No single approach is complete and sufficient to itself. To one degree or another, all have weaknesses., and so need to be used in combination.
- Particular sections, let alone single verses, must be evaluated in the context of the entire passage, or even of Scripture as a whole.
- Careful attention must be paid to the social and cultural conditions of the time, and to the precise linguistic meaning of the words used.
- The techniques of literary and contextual analysis are useful in providing pastoral reflections appropriatae for our conditions and oppression as LGBT Christians in the Church. There are however risks, and approaches such as queer theology need to be balanced also by other approaches.
Finally, having considered what the Magisterium (as formulated in this one report) has to say about Scripture, I would like to reverse the question: what does Scripture, and specifically the Gospels, have to say about the Magisterium?
Noting the observations about context and the Bible as a whole, I ask you to consider the religious conditions of Jerusalem during Christ’s ministry there. Consider the powerful Sanhedrin, the rabbinical hierarchy, the pharisees, sadducees and scribes who feature so prominently. Now consider Christ’s response to their challenges to His failure to follow the letter of religious law. Time and again, He insisted that adherence to the fundamental law of love, love of God, of one’s neeighbour, and of oneself, took precedence over merely literal adherence to religious regulation.
Now what do you suppose would be His response to those who insist on our blind obedience to the Catechism and to canon law, where it makes religious outlaws of people who are simply following their natural and god -given sexual orientation?
Just a thought.
The decisions of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) this week have rightly received a lot of attention, and are clearly significant to Lutherans, and to the rest of us: but not only for the obvious reasons.
First, it is hugely important to the openly gay & lesbian partnered pastors already serving the church, and to their congregations. In spite of the previous prohibition, there are many of these across the country, but because of the ban, they may not be officially recognised. The result is that there are listed “vacancies” where good people, who could not be recognised as legitimate simply because they were openly gay and partnered.
“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.” (NY Times)
Secondly, it is important for other recognised gay clergy who could not be open, or could not enter partnerships, for fear of losing their recognition. These people can now choose celibacy or marriage, as they prefer, without fear – provided they are serving, or can find, a supportive congregation (local approval remains important.) Note however, that the emphasis is on “committed”, as in legally recognised, permanent partnerships comparable to conventional marriage.
In essence, the vote puts gays under the same set of rules that have govern heterosexual clergy. They are required to be monogamous if married and to abstain from sexual relations if they are single. Individual congregations would not be compelled to take on pastors who are in same-sex relationships. (Washington Post)
The assembly also signed off on finding ways for willing congregations to “recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.” The church fell short of calling that gay marriage, but conservatives see that as the next step.(AP)
It will also pressure the Lutherans themselves to take further decisions on consecrating gay marriages in church. Else, how can they explain a requirement that gay clergy be married, but not allow them to be married in church?
Thirdly, it is important symbolically, encouraging gay and lesbian Christians, and lending momentum to similar pressures in other denominations and elsewhere. Over the past two years, American Presbyterians and United Methodists have declined to pass similar resolutions – but those votes will return in future years, and will be passed (sooner, rather than later, I would think).
“Those who have been actively campaigning for a change of this sort in the other mainline denominations will see this as a sign that they should intensify their efforts,” Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, said in an e-mail. (LA Times)
But the most important aspect of all, in my view, with the furthest reaching implications for all of us, has largely slipped under the radar. The biggest headlines have been on the clergy decision, and on the procedural vote before it, as these are the most clearly dramatic – but in effect, simply regularise an existing de facto situation. In this, the decision resembles the abolition in South Africa of the abhorrent Group Areas Act, which enforced residential separation, and other laws of so-called “petty apartheid”. By the time of the final repeal, these laws had fallen into such disrepute, that they were being widely ignored. Many of the people who could afford to move into the “White” areas had already done so. The law was not so much ground-braking change, as a simple attempt to come to terms with the plain reality. To some extent, so it is here.
No, the really important part for all of us as lesbigaytrans Christians came buried in just a few paragraphs in an earlier decision, approving a revised statement on sexual morality. This statement, after eight years of study and preparation, sets new parameters for the interpretation of Scripture in defining sexual morality.
“Barbara Wheeler, a former president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York who is now director of the school’s Center for the Study of Theological Education, praised the ELCA for laying a theological foundation for Friday’s vote by first approving a broad social statement on sexuality.
“It’s a completely theological argument toward openness to the possibility of faithful, committed same-sex relationships,” said Wheeler, who has played a central role in gay clergy deliberations inside the Presbyterian Church (USA). “What you’re seeing is two things: The society is in the process of changing its collective mind about the moral status of same-sex relationships, and there’s a parallel theological movement.” (AP)
For far too long, the struggle for gay rights has been seen as one that pits civil rights against Scripture. By taking these decisions after long deliberation, including careful consideration of Scripture in the light of modern scholarship, the ECLA has shown that he two are not inherently in conflict. This will lead other open-minded church people of good will to take a further look at Scripture for themselves, and some of hem too will find that the typical resort to Scripture as a basis for opposition is misguided. on the other hand, the bigots who continue to fall back on knee jerk calls to Scripture as a cover for their prejudice or hatred, will find that they no longer receive he automatic support they once did.
The Scriptural argument against same sex relationships is being defanged.
(See also The Wild Reed on the same topic;
and for exensive coverage of events from the inside, see Goodsoil)
Catholic Church Consecrates Gay Bishop ( Gay Marriage & Gay Bishops in History)