It Does, It Must and It Will Get Better.

Last week Dan Savage the founder of the It Get’s Better Campaign lashed out at the Bible and some of the students during an anti-bullying conference at a high school in Seattle. In his statements he clearly went over the line and became that which he most despises: A bully. In his statements Mr. Savage attacked the Bible, belittled the beliefs of others and used a slur to attack the students who disagreed with his statements by simply walking out. This is a transcript of the portion of the speech in question:

“We can learn to ignore the bullshit about gay people in the Bible the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waived Bibles over their heads during the civil war and justified it.”

“If the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong, slavery, what are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100 percent.”

Afterward, Savage remarked: “You can tell the Bible guys in the hall they can come back now because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny as someone who is on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-ass some people react when you push back.”

While I vehemently disagree with Mr. Savage’s attack on the students because of their protest, I do believe that he can be forgiven. He has issued an apology for the “pansy-assed” comment saying it was “insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it.” Therefore, he gets a second chance. I have certainly spoken in the heat of a moment words I wished I could retract as soon as they left my mouth. I am sure you have too.

I also disagree strongly with Mr. Savage’s view of the Bible as I read it. I do however think that some things people have used the Bible to say and do are BS. And honestly when I think of the way the church has used and in some cases still uses the Bible as an excuse or even an encouragement to bully, hate and abuse the GLBT community as a whole and individual GLBT people I can easily figure out how  Mr. Savage ended up on a stage calling bulls%#t on the whole thing. Sometimes I actually want to stand up and join Dan Savage in calling BS for the way people use the Bible for purposes which I believe were never intended. After all, this is the same Bible that says that Jesus came not into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. This is the Bible that says  people will know we are Christians by our love. Today is a day I am going to call BS. Today I call BS on Pastor Sean Harris of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Currently the state of North Carolina is in a battle over Amendment 1 to their state constitution which states in part:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

This past Sunday was declared “Marriage Sunday” by Vote for Marriage NC, a political action committee. Their purpose for organizing the day was:

Marriage Sunday is an early voting awareness campaign focused on equipping churches and citizens to vote FOR the Marriage Protection Amendment during the 4/19-5/5 early voting window. Churches participating in Marriage Sunday are encouraged to preach a marriage themed sermon on April 29th, and encourage congregants to vote early on Monday April 30th.

This is the United States of America and this is the way we decide things here. We vote. I am for voting. The good people of North Carolina get to go to the polls and decide how they will define marriage in their state. What I am not for, what is complete BS, is the hatred and abuse that was spewed out in the name of my Lord Jesus and my God. I will not be silent. I teach my children to stand up and speak out in defense of the weak and the oppressed and today I will do the same thing.
http://www.goodasyou.org/player.swf

If you are unable to listen to the audio, here is a transcript (emphasis added):

So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,” you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.
Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting to Butch you reign her in. And you say, “Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.
You say, “Can I take charge like that as a parent?”
Yeah, you can. You are authorized. I just gave you a special dispensation this morning to do that.

Well, you are going to need more than a special dispensation because Jesus authorizes you to do no such thing.

In fact, I would assert that parents treating their children in this way does not prevent one person who would have grown up to be gay to suddenly become heterosexual. Just ask any number of people in the GLBT community. I bet you can find many who were treated in exactly this fashion by their parents. My guess is that not only did it not stop them from becoming gay it also made them think that God didn’t love them, didn’t come to be near them, and doesn’t offer them salvation. All I know to say is, God forgive them for they know not what they do. Forgive me for the times I know not what I do. This has nothing to do with whether or not people have the right to believe whatever they want about homosexuality. It has to do with the fact that Jesus does not give you the option to hate, bully or abuse your child or anyone else ever. You don’t have that right, Sean Harris doesn’t have that right and Dan Savage doesn’t have that right. So far Dan Savage has apologized for bullying the kids, I wonder if we will ever hear an apology from Sean Harris? I hope so. I pray that the radical love of the Jesus who died for us all grips the hearts of Harris and Savage. Today I shout at the top of my lungs that it does and it will get better. Lord, let your Kingdom come.

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Homosexuality and God: Conclusion

For the last several weeks we have been going through the passages in the scriptures that have been used to condemn gay marriage, convince gay individuals that they need to “pray away the gay”, and sadly, by some to bully LGBT persons.

It is my contention that these verses have been either misinterpreted, misunderstood or misapplied.

I set out in the beginning that I read the Bible as a library of God inspired books that together tell the story of God and humanity. It is a collection of books that contain the truth as it was seen and told from different points in history in the ways and words of the people of that time and culture. God spoke in each era in a way that the people of that time could understand and apply. I believe that God revealed himself little by little, all the while drawing humanity into a more and more reconciled and connected relationship with him. The story of God with humanity in the Scriptures begins with a beautiful poem about the beginning of our story: God and individuals. As the story develops, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca and Jacob & Leah & Rachel are added along with the 12 Tribes of Israel: God and the Nation of Israel. Soon Jesus arrives on the scene and expands the story to include previously excluded or marginalized people and give them a voice and a place at the table: Gentiles, women, adulterers, drunks, tax collectors, prostitutes and all others: God and all of humanity. As it turns out God’s story has ALWAYS included ALL people and inviting them in. The blood of Christ covers all. His perfect love and sacrifice is enough for all sin for all time. As we like to say at Novitas, if you want to stand on a street corner with a big sign it should say, “Your sins are forgiven.” The forgiveness, grace, mercy and love of Jesus is big enough to include Pharisees and Homosexuals, Jews and Gentiles, Saints and Sinners.

You can read all the posts in this series at the following links:

Homosexuality and God: A Weekly Exploration
Homosexuality and God: Part 1 – Lev
Homosexuality and God: Part 2 – Genesis
Homosexuality and God: Part 3 – Jude
Homosexuality and God: Part 4 – Eunuchs Who Have Been So From Birth – Matt
Homosexuality and God: Part 5 – Romans
Homosexuality and God: Parts 6 & 7 – Pornoi, Arsenokoitai, and Malakoi – 1 Tim & 1 Cor

God and Homosexuality: Parts 6 and 7 – Pornoi, Arsenokoitai and Malakoi – 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11 NKJV)

knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, (1Tim 1:9-10 NKJV)

Today we are looking at two passages together because they deal with the same concept and Greek words; malakoi and arsenokoitais.  Let’s start with the 1 Timothy passage.  Justin R. Cannon, an Episcopal Priest and the founder of  Inclusive Orthodoxy,  covered the topic so well I am going to simply share what he wrote in his article, The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality:

1 Timothy 1:8-10

“Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…” (RSV)

Let us keep in mind that the word translated sodomites is the Greek word arsenokoitai. Our question right now should be, “What is this talking about?” In order to answer this question, we will begin by breaking up the phrase into its structural pairs. You will see these groupings reflected below in the English as well as the Greek. (The New Testament, by the way, was originally written in Greek) 

1 Timothy 1:9-10 (ENGLISH, RSV)

A: Lawless and

disobedient

   
B: Ungodly and sinners    
C:   Unholy and profane    
D:  Murders of fathers  /  murders of mothers / manslayers
E:   Immoral persons  / sodomites / kidnappers
F:   Liars  /  perjurers  / and whatever else

As we see in the English there seems to be a relationship between the words in each rows A, B, C, D, and F. What about row E, though? What do “immoral persons, sodomites, and kidnappers” have in common? To answer this question we will need to explore the Greek. The three Greek words present in line E are: pornoi (pornoiV), arsenokoitai (arsenokoitaiV), and andrapodistai (andrapodistaiV).

Some commonly read Bible translations include King James Version (KJV), New International Version (NIV), New King James (NKJ), Revised Standard Version (RSV), and New English Bible (NEB). These words were, respectively, translated in the following manner:

  pornoi      arsenokoitai  andrapodistai
KJV:    them that defile  
  whoremonger  themselves with men-stealers    
    mankind  
NIV:  adulterers  perverts slave traders
NKJ: fornicators sodomites kidnappers
RSV: immoral persons  sodomites kidnappers
NEB: fornicators   sodomites kidnappers

As we see there is no clear-cut agreement as to what these words mean, though the above translations agree on the general sense of such words. To determine the precise meanings, a lexicon will be used. A lexicon is a scholarly dictionary used to determine the meaning of biblical words. A search through the online Greek lexicon available at searchgodsword.org gives the following information on the Greek term pornos, which is the stem of the word pornoi, the first of the three words:

Pornos derives from the verb pernemi meaning “to sell” and the following three definitions are given:

  1. a male who prostitutes his body to another’s lust for hire
  2. a male prostitute
  3. a male who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, a fornicator

Andrapodistes, the stem of the word Andrapodistai, the third word, returns the following definitions:

  1. slave-dealer, kidnapper, man-stealer
  2. of one who unjustly reduces free males to slavery
  3. of one who steals the slaves of others and sells them.

Arsenokoitai, as previously indicated, is made up of the Greek words for male (arseno-) and beds (koitai). In Greek, the word koitai, literally meaning beds, is commonly used as a euphemism for one who has sex. Arseno- is an adjectival prefix, thus literally we could translate this as “male bedder.”

We should now be able to derive an exact understanding of the word arsenokoitai based on the two words that surround it. We have, first of all, the enslaved male prostitute, the “male-bedder” (arsenokoitai), and the slave dealer. The New American Bible offers a footnote that might shed some light on the historical context of the time:

“The Greek word translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e. boys or young men who were kept for the purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world. In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamus…” (NAB)

There was a common practice in which men of Paul’s time would have slave “pet” boys whom they sexually exploited. These boys were prepubescent and without beards so they seemed like females. Today, this practice is referred to as pederasty. Regardless, however, the pornos is clearly a prostitute.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look back at what we have so far: the enslaved male prostitute, the “male-bedder” (arsenokoitai), and the slave dealer. This contextual dynamic leads one to understand arsenokoitai as being the one who sleeps with the prostitute, the man who literally lies on the bed with him. It is as if Paul were saying, “male prostitutes, men who sleep with them, and slave dealers who procure them…” Not only does the syntactical and historical context point to this understanding, but also the very literal sense of the word arsenokoitai itself.

If this translation of arsenokoitai is correct, it should also make logical sense where it is also used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, either confirming or refuting our understanding of this word.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (RSV)

The term translated “sexual perverts” in RSV is actually two different words. The first word is malakos, which is the singular form of the word malakoi, and the second term is arsenokoitai.

Some commonly read translations include…

  malakos   arsenokoitai
KJV: effeminate abusers of  themselves with
    mankind
NIV: male prostitutes homosexual offenders
NKJ: homosexuals  sodomites
RSV1952:

                                  homosexuals

RSV1977:                                  sexual perverts
RSV1989: male prostitutes sodomites
Jerusalem Bible: catamites     sodomites

The term malakoi, as an adjective, literally means “soft.” In Matthew 11:8 it has been used as an adjective in reference to clothing. In this text, however, it is used as a noun and its meaning is debated. Does our understanding of arsenokoitai as revealed in 1 Timothy 1:10 as “men who sleep with male-prostitutes” make sense next to this word malakos which is translated by both NIV and RSV as male prostitutes? The Jerusalem Bible even translates the term malakos as catamites, those young soft prepubescent “pet” boys mentioned earlier. The syntactical and historical context of 1 Timothy 1:10 reveals the meaning of the word arsenokoitai as men who sleep with prostitutes, and the fact this also fits the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9 seems to confirm that we have found the meaning of these obscure words. It makes perfect sense that Paul would rebuke not only the prostitute, but also the “male-bedder” or the man who sleeps with that prostitute.

It is also worth noting that the second edition of Tyndale’s New Bible Commentary points out some people believe the Greek word arsenikoites, which some Bible translations say is homosexual, might be “restricted” to male prostitutes. Leon Morris, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians observes, “The inclusion of idolaters may point us to the immorality of much heathen worship of the day.” Charles Errdman, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians indicates, “The practice of impurity formed a feature of idolatrous worship.”

The Catholic Study Bible also indicates that these verses may be in reference to religious prostitution or as a symbol of any sexual relationship that conflicts with Christ’s claim over us. These verses are a call to gay and straight Christians to maintain only relationships that strengthen their relationships with God. Any relationships, be they sexual or non-sexual, that weaken our bonds with Christ should be terminated. Relationships at work that harm our connection with God need to be changed. 

In conclusion I believe that these scriptures are best explained by Rev. Cannon’s work which would have the 1 Timothy read like this,

Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, male prostitutes, men who sleep with them, and slave dealers who procure them, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…”

And the 1 Corinthians passage read like this,

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes or the men who sleep with them, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”


Other reading:
Malakoi is NEVER used in the Bible to Mean Homosexual
Arsenokoites
No Femmes? No Fairies?

God and Homosexuality: Part 5 – Romans 1

Hey everyone! Sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday but it is a big passage and I wanted to make sure I spent enough time on it. Blessings my lovlies. Enjoy.

Today we will be discussing the passage from Romans 1. This passage has traditionally been the one that people point to as being the strongest argument against homosexuality. It is also the one that people point out, has direct application to today because it is located in Romans and written to the first century believers in Rome. While I agree that this text is the passage which most directly addresses homosexual behaviors I believe that Paul is very specific here as to who and what he is talking about. Let’s look at the scripture.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  (Romans 1:21-32 ESV)

In their book, The Children are Free, Jeff Miner and John Connoley write the following:

…Paul, in his classically trained style, thoroughly explains the factual assumptions and rationale behind his condemnation of the behavior described here. This makes it easy for us to answer our question: Does this passage apply to inherently same-gender-attracted people who are living in loving, committed relationships?

If we follow the passage, step-by-step, we find Paul is moving through a logical progression. He is talking about people who:

  1. Refused to acknowledge and glorify God. (v. 21)
  2. Began worshiping idols (images of created things, rather than the Creator). (v. 23)
  3. Were more interested in earthly pursuits than spiritual pursuits. (v. 25)
  4. Gave up their natural, i.e., innate, passion for the opposite sex in an unbounded search for pleasure. (v. 26-27)
  5. Lived lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, disrespect for parents, pride, and hatred of God. (v. 29-32)

The model of homosexual behavior Paul was addressing here is explicitly associated with idol worship (probably temple prostitution, and with people who, in an unbridled search for pleasure (or because of religious rituals associated with their idolatry), broke away from their natural sexual orientation, participating in promiscuous sex with anyone available.

There are, no doubt, modern people who engage in homosexual sex for reasons similar to those identified in Romans 1. If someone began with a clear heterosexual orientation, but rejected God and began experimenting with gay sex simply as a way of experiencing a new set of pleasures, then this passage may apply to that person. But this is not the experience of the vast majority of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

Miner and Conolley go on to point out that the people being discussed in this passage, because of whatever specific actions they have taken (much of Christendom would say because of their idolatry and homosexual activity), “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

I know and have known many homosexual people in my lifetime and this describes almost none of them. As a matter of fact there are many homosexual people who have grown up in the church, who love God and wanted nothing more than to follow Jesus and to love their neighbors who were met with evil, malice, strife, gossip, slander and several other things listed here simply for saying they were attracted to members of the same gender. How does that add up? On the web site gaychristian.net Justin Lee says in his essay:

Notice that Paul talks about homosexuality in connection with the fertility rites (look for the “therefore” in v. 24 and “because of this” in v. 26), and not in the list of sins at the end of the passage.

Rome was known at the time to be a society full of idol worship. Sex acts were almost always a part of the temple worship of these false gods. This section is clearly written in that context. Even in Roman society as a whole sex was thought of in a way that would be totally foreign to us today.

Wikipedia notes regarding the attitudes regarding sex in the Roman world,

No moral censure was directed at the adult male who enjoyed sex acts with either women or males of inferior status, as long as his behaviors revealed no weaknesses or excesses, nor infringed on the rights and prerogatives of his male peers. While perceived effeminacy was denounced, especially in political rhetoric, sex in moderation with male prostitutes or slaves was not regarded as improper or vitiating to masculinity, if the male citizen took the active and not the receptive role.

We should also discuss the “due penalty for their error” clause. Many Christians teach that the “error” is homosexuality and that the “due penalty” is sexually transmitted disease or AIDS. This really just doesn’t make sense on its face. Heterosexuals get sexually transmitted diseases and lesbians have the lowest risk of contracting AIDS. It seems obvious to me this is talking about something else. In What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak, he states,

…what is translated as “in their own persons” reads differently in Greek. A better translation would be “among themselves.” The reference is not to individuals and their persons but to the Gentiles as a whole, to their culture.

Moreover, the word “penalty” offers a loaded translation; it carries a negative connotation which is not in the Greek. The Greek word simply means “recompense, “desserts,” or ” payment,” which could be positive, negative or neutral.

Given what we already understand about the first chapter of Romans, a very easy explanation of verse 27 arises. The error Paul refers to is not homosexuality but Gentile idolatry. Idolatry is his concern throughout the whole of that chapter: they knew God but did not worship God. And the recompense that comes to the Gentiles for not worshiping God is the uncleanness that is a regular part of their culture.

The other thing I love that no one talks about is what immediately follows this section in Romans 2 (please also remember that Chapter breaks and headings were added to help people find their way around scripture and have no authority). Let’s look at Romans 2 where Paul makes sure that the Roman believers know who is the righteous Judge.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  (Romans 2:1-4)

So, right after Paul discusses idol worship, having no other Gods, turning against God and who he made you (for some people this means homosexual) and living lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, disrespect for parents, pride, and hatred of God, he turns around and says, “Hey, don’t be too quick to judge though, because you have done the same things!” Hmm.

In the book Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality, Jack Rogers, points out several errors people make when interpreting this passage.

(1) they lose sight of the fact that this passage is primarily about idolatry, (2) they overlook Paul’s point that we are all sinners, (3) they miss the cultural subtext, and (4) they apply Paul’s condemnation of immoral sexual activity to faithful gay and lesbian Christians who are not idolaters, who love God, and who seek to live in thankful obedience to God.

You can read more at:

gaychristian.net
Would Jesus Discriminate?
Gentle Shepherd MCC
Amazon Book list

God and Homsexuality: Part 4 – “Eunuchs Who Have Been So From Birth” Matt 19

* WARNING* Today’s post is rather lengthy but, in my defense…it needed to be. 😉

Another week has gone by and it is time to discuss another passage from the scriptures that relates to homosexuality. Today I want to cover Matthew 19:3-12 mainly because of the discussion about whether or not people are born homosexual as well as whether it is “natural” or against nature. it is vital to have this discussion as we move into the New Testament verses regarding same sex relations.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The context of this section is marriage and divorce, let’s start with that. Jesus is approached by the Pharisees about whether or not the divorce practices of the day were lawful. Jesus answers  by telling them what God said to Adam and Eve. The Pharisees are unsatisfied with this answer and say, “But what about Moses?”  Jesus tells them that the law of Moses in regard to divorce were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts not because God wanted people to get divorced. Jesus has in essence brought marriage back to before the law and said the ideal is for people to get married, become one and not to separate and return to the homes of their families. Once again, Jesus makes it about the law of love.

Now the disciples decide to get involved in the conversation, they say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” What comes next has always seemed really odd to me. Jesus starts talking about eunuchs! What do eunuchs have to do with it? Is Jesus just changing the subject or what? No, he isn’t changing the subject he is just expanding it to include the sexual minorities of the day. This appears to be a list of the people who should not marry members of the opposite sex. So the disciples say to Jesus, “this is hard, maybe its better for men and women not to get married” and Jesus says, “No, this is hard but the reason not to marry isn’t because it is difficult but rather is because of: how one was born, something that was done to them, or their choice not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom.”  These three groups are listed as: #1. “eunuchs who have been so from birth”, #2. “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men” and #3. “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”.

Ok, now let’s address these three groups in reverse order.
#3. “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” – This phrase is also translated as, “others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven”, “some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”, and “others have decided to be celibate because of the kingdom of heaven”. It seems clear that these are people who have decided to abstain from sex with women for the sake of the Kingdom.

#2. “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men” – This phrase referred to castrated males. This was a very common practice and was frequently done “early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences” and was “carried out on the soon-to-be eunuch without his consent in order that he might perform a specific social function.”

#1. “eunuchs who have been so from birth” –  AHA!!! Now we get to brass tacks! What exactly does this mean? Some say it means that Jesus is acknowledging that men can be born homosexual and some say that Jesus is merely referring to people who are born without testicles or who are impotent.

According to the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon, the Hebrew word for eunuch is saris and its derivatives. Saris is believed to be an Assyrian loan word. A secondary meaning of saris, from the Hebrew, is to castrate but Jesus speaks with divine authority when He teaches that not all eunuchs are castrated, Matthew 19:12. According to Jesus, some eunuchs are born that way, in distinction from a man who has been physically castrated.

Prominent evangelical professor, Dr. Robert Gagnon who believes all homosexual practice is sinful, put it this way,

Probably “born eunuchs” in the ancient world did include people homosexually inclined, which incidentally puts to the lie the oft-repeated claim that the ancient world could not even conceive of persons that were congenitally influenced toward exclusive same-sex attractions…

John J. McNeil, is a Jesuit Priest and also earned his PhD in Philosophy from Louvain University in Belgium asserts,

The first category, those born as eunuchs, is the closest description we have in the bible of what we understand today as a person with a homosexual orientation.

In the book, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Jack Rogers makes some very insightful points about this passage.

Many commentaries focus on the discussion about divorce and miss the larger point of the passage. But look carefully: Jesus is asked a question about heterosexual marriage and divorce and immediately broadens the conversation to acknowledge three different types of sexual minorities in that culture…That is stunning, especially given that “the eunuch was persona non grata both socially and religiously” in that culture.

It is clear that Jesus did not see humanity as universally heterosexual.  Jesus recognized and acknowledged many types of sexual difference–even in a society in which such difference would have been downplayed, hidden, or even punished.

…the text which immediately precedes Jesus’ discussion of eunuchs, Jesus stands up for women. As Boheche observes, “Jesus counsels mutuality between husband and wife, rather than affirming the traditional laws of divorce which favored the husband.” And in the text which immediately follows our text, Jesus blesses the little children, another group who would have been largely ignored at the time.

Rogers also ties this passage to the story of Philip and Ethopian eunuch. He makes several good points here as well. First that an “angel of the Lord” directed Phillip to go down the road that led him to the encounter. Then the Holy Spirit directed him again to, “Go over to the chariot and join it.” He goes on to point out that this eunuch was the first Gentile to be baptized, and he was not just a Gentile but was a foreigner of a different race and ethnicity who also belonged to a sexual minority who was not fully welcome in the worship community. His baptism signaled a seismic shift in who was allowed to be a part of God’s Kingdom (The True Magic Kingdom).

It is also significant that the Eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. Theodore Jennings Jr., professor of biblical and constructive theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, discusses this fact extensively. He makes the point, “The Isaiah being read by the eunuch is the same prophet who specifically includes eunuchs in the divine dispensation.” Let’s look at the passage from Isaiah that the eunuch was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Isa. 53:8)

Nancy Wilson of the Metropolitan Community Church says,

The term ‘cut off’ is a reference to the curse that was placed on anyone that was exiled, executed by capital punishment, or did not reproduce. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading a prophesy of a Messiah with whom he could identify!”

Isaiah is also significant because it reverses previous prohibitions against eunuchs in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In Isaiah 56:4-5 it says:

For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,

I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

The Eunuch had been visiting the temple in Jerusalem to worship, he was reading his own copy of the book of Isaiah (which would have been very rare) so it is quite likely he was aware of this text.
He was a man of faith and God honored it. The Holy Spirit could have chosen anyone to be the first Gentile convert and the Holy Spirit chose an black, African, sexual minority and his story was a picture of faith and commitment that was met with radical grace and inclusiveness.

In these two passages along with the parable of the good Samaritan we see God over and over expand the story. First he includes a hated, alien, outcast, “half-breed” Samaritan who exemplifies what it means to love your neighbor. Then he takes a question about heterosexual marriage and divorce and expands the conversation to include sexual minorities. Finally, the Holy Spirit guides Phillip to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch! In all three cases the formerly marginalized are welcomed and honored just as they are. That is the good news. Jesus welcomes the outcast, the marginalized, all races, all peoples, women, children, the disabled, the poor, the widow and even sexual minorities. The trajectory of scripture moves toward redemption. Isaiah makes it clear that eunuchs are being included in the Kingdom and Jesus makes it clear that there are “born eunuchs”; People whose natural attraction is not toward the opposite sex. From these passages we can conclude that at the very least, that Jesus was aware of sexual minorities, he didn’t condemn them, and that we are to welcome them into our worship communities.

a Better way to read the Bible?

I am out of town this week and am reblogging some favorite stuff from recent weeks while I spend time with my family at the happiest place on earth! See you on the other side.

 

Today’s installment comes to you from Bo Sanders and was originally posted on 3/9/12.

 

A better way to read (read) Admittedly, this is not how I learned to read the Bible. In fact, I’m not sure that I learned to read the Bible at all. I just read it. I read it like you would read anything else. I just read it and took it at it’s word. It was there in black and white.

However, there were some things about the Bible that made it different than everything else I read: it didn’t have a single author (or even a stated author for many of it’s ‘books’), it was written thousands of years earlier, and it was not written in English – it was translated.

None of that is a problem necessarily. I still got the main point of the book (I think) and was able to pick up on most of its important themes (at least they were important to me). In fact, the more general my reading and the more generic my intent, the better that way of reading works.

The problem comes when you want to either make bigger and broader claims bases on Scripture or the more narrow and specific you want to get.

For instance, if you want to make a big claim about how the universe works or the fate of every human soul throughout history, you end up doing something with the text that it may be unsustainable under further review. If you want to get specific and say that this word in the original text says ____ and therefore women can not ______ , or ministers must ______ … using the text that way may become an issue.

I put forward an idea in my previous post that gives us permission to update, revisit, and re-engage the texts of scripture based on two things:

  1. we do not have a pre-modern mind and therefore have a very different relationship to story, text, idea, and experience than people of the pre-modern world.
  2. we live in a world that is so different, has changed so much, has gone through such radical and traumatic experiences that we would be blind not to acknowledge and account for it.

In my clearest language: I am advocating for a more sophisticated way of reading the Bible and to move away from a simple reading. Like I said at the beginning, I was not taught to read the Bible, I just read it – or so I thought. I had to get rid of the illusion that I was ONLY reading. It is a simply awakening and only requires one thing to get started! You must admit that you are translating when you read. You are not simply reading , you are doing something else – even if it subconsciously  or unknowingly. There is a hermeneutic (way of reading) that is being employed by all of us and we have to come to terms with the idea that our way of reading is not (and can not be) the same way of reading as the ancients did.

Here are four advantages to awakening to the presence of interpretation:

  • We can read the creation stories in Genesis and call God ‘creator’ without discounting or disregarding contemporary science (and especially emergence theory).
  • We can take the story of Jonah or Job and recognize that they are more like movie scripts or plays than they are newspaper reports and not get bogged down in the details.
  • We can believe that the incarnate Jesus calmed a storm (the miraculous) without making the leap that God sent Hurricane Irene or directs tornadoes.
  • We can see that the Book of Revelation is a political commentary (prophetic imagination) about the first century C.E.  and not an exacting prediction about the end of the world.

I believe this to be a better way to read the Bible. It is both more authentic to the text and has more integrity in the world that has developed since the text was written. We are not limited to only the physics and metaphysics of antiquity but we also are not abandoning the whole project and going out on our own. We are providing continuity with the historic trajectory and honoring the tradition.

You can call this a ‘new kind of christianity‘ if you want, or something else, but it is a way a being in the world that honors Christ and engages the world as it actually is. It allows us to believe in miracles without being superstitiously ‘super’natural.  It lets us listen to the wisdom of the ancients without being stuck to their ‘three-tiered’ universe. It provides a dynamic engagement between the classic themes and the world we find ourselves in.

God and Homosexuality: Part 2 – Genesis 19

Genesis Chapter 19
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earthand said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.”But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

This passage is one of the passages most often used to condemn homosexuality. If you read the passage through you will notice that it says “the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.” Think about that, young and old to the last man. In San Francisco, almost 20% of the males over 15 years old gay. Are we to believe that 100% of the males over 15 years old in Sodom were gay? Hold that thought. Now think about this, Lot knows people in this crowd, he lives in this town. If these men (and boys) were all homosexuals why did Lot offer them his daughters? If you wanted to appease a crowd made up entirely of homosexual men would you try to appease them with the offer of sex with beautiful women? It doesn’t seem plausible.

Ok, so if the sin of Sodom is not homosexuality what is it?

Perhaps mob violence and the mistreatment and rape of those most vulnerable, in this case, strangers. I have been reading a book called “The Children are Free” by Rev. Jeff Miner and Rev. John Connoley. They use a rather brutal example to illustrate their point; in 1997 two white police officers used a broomstick to sodomize a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima. While they perpetrated their violent act they yelled things like “We’re gonna teach you n****rs to respect police officers!” No one accused these officers of being homosexual. People understood that the assault was motivated by hate and fear. There is “no better way to demean and humiliate an enemy than to sexually violate them.”

Archeologists and historians teach us that it was common practice in the Near Eastern cultures of ancient times to use homosexual rape to humiliate and subdue conquered enemies.  This brutality was not motivated by homosexual desire but rather hate and the desire to humiliate.

This practice is still carried out among the prison population and even in the Abu Ghraib torture and humiliation of prisoners.

In The Children are Free the authors ask this simple question:

Suppose the two angels in the story had been women, but the story otherwise unfolded exactly the same: The men of Sodom clamored to have sex with the two female angels and God destroyed the city. Do you think anyone would conclude this story was a blanket condemnation of heterosexuality?  Of course not! Instead we would conclude (correctly) that the wickedness of Sodom was shown by their desire to sexually violate two strangers in their midst.

Good point isn’t it? We often say that rape isn’t about sex or sexual desire but power and violence. It doesn’t change whether the rape is homosexual or heterosexual in nature.

None of the almost 20 references to the city of Sodom in the scriptures mention homosexuality. In Ezekiel 16:49-50 it says, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” Why then do we assume Genesis 19 is about homosexuality? If it is about anything close, it could be called a condemnation of homosexual rape; however, I think the assertion that it is a condemnation of violence and mistreatment of those most vulnerable is most accurate.

Jesus also references Sodom and Gomorrah, where he warns those who do not receive them peacefully will be judged more harshly than those of Sodom and Gomorrah in Matthew 10:5-15.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

According to The Real Meaning of Sodomy by Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho:

the Wisdom of Solomon says that they “refused to receive strangers when they came to them” (19:14). On the other hand, and early Christian book 1 Clement states that Lot was saved “because of his hospitality and piety” (11:11).

He also points out that it is significant that in the Leviticus passages that we covered last Monday, it does not mention the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Miner and Connoley also make this brilliant observation:

It is ironic that the story of Sodom is now used by Christians to justify the hatred toward another vulnerable group – gay people.

It is also interesting to note that several of the leading voices in theology on the anti-gay marriage side of the conversation agree that this passage should not be used as a proof text against consensual marital homosexual intercourse. I found this list on gaychristian101

Dr Richard Hayes is a well-known evangelical author. He wrote The Moral Vision Of The New Testament,in which he defends the anti-gay viewpoint. Yet in spite of the fact that he regards all gay relationships as sinful, Dr. Hayes admits that:

the Sodom story “is actually irrelevant to the topic.” [of homosexuality].

According to Dr. Hayes, the attempted gang rape in Genesis 19 shows the depravity of the Canaanite people who lived in the cities of the plain but:

“there is nothing in the passage pertinent to a judgment about the morality of consensual homosexual intercourse.”

(From Dr. Richard Hayes, in an article entitled, “Awaiting the Redemption of Our Bodies”).

Dr. Robert Gagnon, of Pittsburg Theological Seminaryand perhaps the most prominent anti-gay author today, admits the same thing in The Bible And Homosexual Practice

Although he too believes all gay relationships are sinful, on page 71 of his book, Dr. Gagnon tells us,

The Sodom story in Genesis 19 is usually viewed by modern Christians, as the classic Bible story about homosexuality. However, to the extent that the story does not deal directly with consensual homosexual relationships, it is not an “ideal” text to guide contemporary Christian sexual ethics.

Dr. Mark Allan Powell, of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, OH expresses a similar view. Writing on page 23 of the book, Faithful Conversation – Christian Perspectives On Homosexuality,Dr. Powell says concerning the rape stories in Genesis 19 and Judges 19:

“Such stories reflect a mindset that regards the rape of men by other men as abhorrent, but with regard to current questions concerning homosexuality, these texts have little to offer. The stories speak only of the sin of homosexual rape and say nothing at all about consensual relations between persons of the same sex.”

Dr. William Brownlee, 1917-1983, of Claremont Graduate University, Claremont CA, an internationally renowned expert on the Hebrew language and the Dead Sea Scrollssaid about the Sodom story:

“The oppression of the stranger is the basic element of Genesis 19:1-9 [and] ‘sodomy’ in Genesis is basically oppression of the weak and helpless.”

Bob Davies, Former Executive Director of Exodus International, the largest Ex-Gay group in the world, in his book Coming Out Of Homosexuality, published in 1993.

“Pro-gay theologians are correct in saying that this passage [Genesis 19] does not provide a strong argument [for] prohibiting all homosexual acts.”

It is remarkable that one of the most theologically conservative national leaders of the largest Ex-Gay group on earth openly admits that the S@dom story does not provide a strong argument for prohibiting all homosexual acts.

Many scholars make the point that this is the first mention of any type of homosexuality in the scriptures and that it is featured in a violent and sin-filled story. While this is true, I believe that the foregoing analysis confirms one thing:  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah clearly has no significant bearing on whether or not God blesses consensual, marital, homosexual intercourse.

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