New Series: The Bible and Homosexuality

John BoswellBeginning June 1st, I’m starting a new series and invite my blog readers to join me in a book study and discussion regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality. Issues surrounding Gay Rights and the morality of same-sex marriage as well as homosexuality itself will remain front page news as more and more US States accept same-sex marriage, and everyone who cares about this Justice issue ought to be able to converse about what the Bible does and doesn’t say, even those who do not believe in the importance of the Bible.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage and the general acceptance of the LGBT Community, claim that what the Bible says is crystal clear, but there is scholarly work done that sheds different light on the subject. John Boswell’s seminal work, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century” calls into question many of the ideas scholars and theologians have had about the subject. His book is not the easiest read, full of footnotes and written with a depth that allows it to be considered solid scholarship. But it is a valuable read none the less. So, get a copy of the book, and join me! Each week or so, I’ll post as I read through the book, cover to cover, exploring Boswell’s ideas. Read with me, or merely join the discussion offering your comments each week to my blog posts.

One might say, that what the Bible says is irrelevant given that here in the US, the Constitution is the basis of our laws and civil culture. But 100% of the vitriol and opposition to the full respect and equality for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer persons is rooted in and supported by the use of this ancient text. We can expect the opposition to remain vocal, loud, and will grow only more hostile as same-sex marriage gets accepted everywhere. But full respect, inclusion, and equality is not a done deal here in the United States, and across the globe, there are many places more hostile towards LGBTQ folks. Our ability to counter the opposition is essential.

I’ll be using an electronic ebook from the University of Chicago Press. The book is available from them as a paperback, or as a download. It is also available for rent from your local library as well as purchase from other sources. You may be like me and have an original copy on the bookshelf as well. Get it down and read along with me.

Boswell died too soon, and I don’t believe anyone has really followed his lead in this area of scholarship. I won’t simply take his word as if he is definitely correct and thousands of years of the status quo are simply wrong in their understanding, but asking why Boswell has arrived at his conclusions and how they differ from traditional ideas will be the basis of discussion.

Are you ready for this series? I hope so! Summer is a perfect time to sit back with a book,so I hope you will choose this one and read along. Then each week participate in our discussion here about what I’ve read.

 

Some thoughts on some thoughts on gay marriage

Tom Holmes, a pastor writes some great commentary in the linked post below, and I encourage everyone to read it. But there are a few points I want to draw attention to. As I read his thoughts, I am struck by what seems like a path be respectful and fair to various viewpoints on the issue of homosexuality. I applaud the effort, but in doing so, a few things get missed that deserve mention.

Now many people relieve the tension between the two by dismissing one side or the other. That is to say, the Bible has this one wrong or they affirm their belief that the authority of the Bible always trumps our limited experience.What I want to encourage you to do is to find some way to tolerate living in the tension. For those who condemn homosexual behavior on the basis of Scripture, talk to – no, better yet listen to – the stories of at least five LGBTs. Hear how they struggled to come to terms with a sexual orientation they never wanted. Better yet, find a healthy same-sex couple which is raising kids and see if you can observe anything except mainstream child-raising behavior.

The Bible vs Homosexuality

Holme’s comments suggests that there are two options when it comes to Biblical teachings about homosexuality: either one accepts the “authority of the Bible,” or one believes “experience trumps Scripture and the church.” I would contend that there is another option that Holmes misses. Too often Scripture is treated as if it is words and meaning that have been set in stone and the meaning is crystal clear, and this just isn’t so, especially when it comes to relating to gay people today. He believes that “what little the bible does say… is all negative.” I personally don’t agree with that at all. Just look at the story of Jonathan and David or that of Ruth and Naomi. In neither case are the story characters identified as “gay” but that doesn’t negate how these are powerful stories of same-sex love, commitment, and devotion. And these qualities are exactly what make the gay people and the gay couples Holmes speaks about what they are. In my opinion, the Bible is as pro same-sex love as it is pro opposite-sex love. In fact, some scholars believe that Jesus himself blessed a gay couple.

Given that we are talking about Christianity, I’ll limit my review of the negative stuff to the New Testament where we find one passage in Romans that appears to be highly condemning of gay people or homosexuality. But the reality is that what we read as “homosexual” in modern English texts is not a direct translation from the original Greek. There is no one single word for homosexual in Greek, and the translation of two distinct Greek terms into one English term is inaccurate and not applicable to what today, we mean when we talk about gay and lesbian people. Yet Holmes like many, treat the modern English as if it is exactly what was written thousands of years ago in now-dead languages.

We know so much about the historical path that has led to what today we call the Bible. We know that there are stories in it that could not have happened as written, and there is text that today we totally ignore, such as Paul’s commentary on women speaking in church. Yet, when it comes to homosexuality, for some reason there seems to be no room for interpretation or correction. Here, Holmes fails the very same-sex couples that he encourages other pastors to meet and get to know.

(no such thing as) Gay Marriage

I am really disappointed that Holmes titles his post, and places the perspective on gay marriage and on homosexuality. First, there is no such thing as gay marriage as if it were different than other marriage. Same-sex couples seek the civil rights that a civil marriage license provides to opposite sex couples. Thats all, and why most times the more appropriate way to talk about it is to call it Marriage Equality. With marriage equality, same-sex couples simply wish to be treated equal by the civil government, which issues marriage licenses. In this regard, it really doesn’t matter what religious leaders or lay persons think, nor does marriage equality mean that churches must accept same-sex couples. It is nice when they do, and there are denominations and congregations very open and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bi, and trans persons.

Second, Holmes post teats homosexuality as if it is a thing. Much like some pastors talk about “the homosexual lifestyle.” This is fallacious.

Many years ago, Copernicus discovered and have the courage to say that the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth- an idea thought at the time to be anti-Biblical. Indeed, the Church forced Galileo to retract his truth and he lived under house arrest until hits death. Today’s dispute over sexual orientation may someday appear quite similar, as we learn more about complex biology and the true nature of orientation, attraction, and behavior. It took the Church 350 years to realize that Galileo had it right. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take the Religious that long to come to terms with accepting that sexual orientation is fluid and ranges from exclusively heterosexual, to exclusively homosexual, and the entire spectrum is normal and natural and a part of Creation.

 

 

 

via Some thoughts on gay marriage.

God’s Last Gasps for Air

The premise of this post has been on my mind for some time, as I have thinking about how to frame the ideas I’m about to set out there for all to read. A number of different ideas have resided in my mind, but none have appeared to offer the desired frame. Even this one may seem a stretch, but I’d rather start my dialogue on it, than continue the inner discussion within my mind. A letter to the editor and book review are linked below, that I believe spell out “the case” superbly. So, I wish to label them as exhibit A, B, and C, and request you read them before continuing. Since you may not, these excerpts may help set the stage:

Exhibit A, Book Review by Nicolas Wade:

Dawkins invites the reader to share the frustration of an imaginary history teacher, some of whose students refuse to accept that the Roman Empire ever existed, or that Latin is the mother tongue from which the Romance languages evolved. Instead of concentrating on how Western culture emerged from the institutions of the Roman state, the teacher must spend time combating a school board that insists he give equal time to their alternative view that French has been spoken from time immemorial and that Caesar never came or saw or conquered. This is exactly analogous to the plight of the biology teacher trying to acquaint students with the richness of modern biology in states where fundamentalist opponents of evolution hold sway.

From exhibit B, letter by Daniel Dennett:

What is going on at The New York Times? Why is it so bizarrely respectful of those who doubt evolution? In recent years The Times has published three preposterous Op-Ed articles by evolution-doubters (Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Michael J. Behe and Senator Sam Brownback). These no more deserved space in The Times than the opinions of flat-earthers or trance- channelers. In the wake of Judge John E. Jones III’s decision in the Dover, Pa., case that intelligent design is a religious viewpoint that may not be taught in public schools, one would think The Times would finally recognize that the intelligent design campaign is a hoax and dishonest to the core, and stop giving it respectability in its pages.

from Exhibit C, Letter by Alex Rosenberg:

Evolution is a fact, natural selection is a process and Darwin’s theory is that the fact is explained by the process. The facts of evolution are as evident as any facts about the past can be. So is the fact that blind variation and natural selection can produce a lot of adaptational change. Darwin’s theory about how it does so is indeed a work in progress, but one whose basic correctness is no more open to doubt that General Relativity. In “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and in a couple of other books, including “The Ancestor’s Tale” and “The Blind Watchmaker,” Dawkins has shown us how this process, which is entirely free from purpose, goal, intention or design, results in the overwhelming appearance of all four. Processes, of course, are facts. No twist in Dawkins’s knickers.

from Exhibit C, Letter by Eric Delson:

In his otherwise excellent review, Nicholas Wade draws a distinction among theory, law and fact in science. He notes that Dawkins, in reaction to “creationists, who like to dismiss evolution as ‘just a theory,’ ” insists that evolution is a fact. Wade correctly recognizes that in science a theory is more than a supposition, as does Dawkins, but while criticizing Dawkins for calling evolution a fact, Wade falls back on using the term “theory,” which surely connotes uncertainty to the nonscientist. Both authors ignore the third option, to refer to evolution as a “law” in the same sense that most people speak of the “law of gravity.”

Yes, this may appear to be simply all about evolution and creationism, but my purposes are different, so bear with me. This debate about evolution, is simply an illustration of the line drawn in the sand. And, if I’m honest from the start, my premise and ideas have nothing to do with God, except I thought the title sounded catchy. God is not gasping for air, or dying, or fading from relevancy. However, I believe it true to say that those humans who refuse to accept Science and the fact of Evolution are afraid that this is the case. To them, Science is an attempt to kill God. Their insistence to hold so tightly to a disproved myth, and develop ideas like Intelligent Design, at all costs, suggests that without it, they have no ability to believe in God.

How else can you explain the construction of a Museum of Creationism, where robotronic dinosaurs frolic with humans, in a way that scientifically could never exist, but must be constructed and sold as undeniably true so that the myth of the great flood can be aligned with scientific fact? Why else work so hard to hold the Bible as ultimate history, except that without it, they are afraid that God will cease to exist, or more accurately, never had existed in the first place. Personally, I don’t think the existence of God is up for grabs, and any discussion of it, is a red herring, designed to shift focus away from the bigger question: what is the validity of Religion, or more specifically- what is the validity of seeing a Judeo-Christian perspective as the only accurate and true expression of Religion. The Christian religion (lower-case “r”) is what is at stake of being disproved.

My intentional splitting of Christianity from the whole Judeo-Christian branch of history should not be minimized. Philosophers and theologians within the Hebrew tradition have, since the dawn of their faith tradition and ancestral beginnings, seen the value of interpretation. Volumes upon volumes exist as different individuals have chosen to explore sometimes subtle, and sometimes drastic explanations for scripture, practice, and belief. It has only been the comparatively recent Christians who seek to mold an understanding of fact into something that might fit within their locked-down scriptural words. In other words, only the Christian Church works so to declare the fact of the Holy Bible as more important and above all other fact, and even above the importance of Faith.

So, what the heck does this have to do with anything Queer, or Gay, or whatever words you choose? Can you believe I just wrote 1000 words as a set up to what I really want to say? Yes, I guess I did.

Virtually all of the backlash and opposition to full equality for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgenders, is rooted in a religious objection to homosexuality. While Christianity isn’t the only faith tradition to oppose homosexuality, it does hold a singular spot as the predominant religion of the advanced Western Culture. The attack on homosexuality from the Christian extremists is completely an effort to support their fallacy of the Holy Bible as Fact, and plays the same role in the perpetuation of this fallacious fact, as the attack on evolution. While in practical terms, the opposition to full equality for LGBT’s is the oppression of actual people, the goal of any of the Christian Far Right isn’t to harm people, but rather to defend their stronghold on the Fact of the Holy Bible, and thus, their own sole connection to God. This is partly how these Christians can claim to love the sinner but hate the sin, because to them, it isn’t about real people, but about actions and behaviors. They don’t set out to cause harm, even if for them, the ends justify the means. Not all Christians operate that way. Even some denominations articulate that Faith and Experience play key roles in understanding God’s plan. But in moments of fear, even the most moderate Christians can fall into the trap of the Bible as Fact.

The issues of the Fact of Evolution and the Fact of Homosexuality are both, at the core, issues of biology and science. The war raging between the Christian extremists and Science concerning evolution has been going on for some time, so it is easier to see and analyze a history for that struggle. It follows other similar battles with Science such as the struggle of the Church to condemn Galileo because his astrologic observations did not match their literal Biblical reading. The Battle against the science of homosexuality is relatively new. Previously the Church used only a moral argument against homosexuality, but in reality, it didn’t care if homosexuality was going on, as long as it was secret and hidden. However, as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people have become more visible, and want the rights that everyone else has, as out visible and happy people, this acceptance of secrets no longer functions, and the Church has lost most if not all of it’s moral authority.

So, The Christian extremists have nowhere else to turn except to their Holy Bible as fact.

The Holy Bible’s Last Gasps for Air

Therefore, the battle against Homosexuality is really the battle to save the authority of the Holy Bible. If they give in on this one, they have nothing left that they can see to justify the need for their religion. The rest of the things that they could possibly grab hold of as justification for Christianity have long since passed away. Greed and Coveting rule- look at how the Banking industry or the Health Care industry work to shore up their profits over the well being of our society as a whole. Gambling is everywhere; Divorce is prevalent; Lying almost the default behavior. The Golden Rule is tarnished and appears to look more like plastic that a precious gem.

Unlike the fact of evolution, the Science of Homosexuality isn’t as well understood. Not yet. Still so much that we don’t understand about genes, and proteins and hormones, and all of the various things that play into the biology of it. And we understand far more of the Biology, than we do of the sociology of Homosexuality- how culture and environment affect the Biology as well. In time these too will be well understood. But for now, we must accept that there is still much that we do not yet know as fact in the same way as we know about the fact of evolution.  This isn’t really any different than the process by which the fact of Astronomy and the solar system came about. It just takes time.

If I am right however, that this is the last big stand that the Far Right Christians have to support their Holy Bible as fact, then, the fact of homosexuality is likely to be even more dismissed than the fact of evolution. This last attack on the fallacy will be fought with greater blindness and zeal. So we have a real battle to look forward to.

Letters – The Fact of Evolution – NYTimes.com.

Screening of ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ by NW PA NOW

I received an message via Facebook and wanted to pass along the details:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajBR0dq0XXk&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Event: Screening of ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ by NW PA NOW

What: Exhibit

Start Time: Wednesday, November 18 at 7:00pm

End Time: Wednesday, November 18 at 9:00pm

Where: Frank G Pogue Student Center, Edinboro University, Edinboro PA

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:

http://www.facebook.com/n/?event.php&eid=153971228410&mid=14245b2Gd90731G3deab98G7

Website for the movie and book: http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org/indexb.htm

What is Murder?

Steven Anderson has recently been in the news. As a pastor, he prays for Obama to die. The other day, Sirius XM radio host Michelangelo Signorile had him on the air, and the linked blog is about that exchange, and it includes a Youtube video. What I found most intriguing about the exchange was the questioning about murder. According to Anderson, if someone assassinated the President, it wouldn’t be murder, but the legal abortion provider George Tiller  was a murderer.

I have written before critical of Christianity, and even been accused of “hating God,” but the reality is I think Faith is important, and I believe we all deserve to be free to follow the faith tradition that speaks to us. Yet, I have to wonder, how extremist views like this grow and are so easily expressed as if they are rational thinking?

I also think that the rhetoric surrounding homosexuality and GLBTQ issues is going to get far more intense. We are at a critical juncture in history, when Science and culture are at odds with somethings written more than 2000 years ago. As Faith Traditions have handcuffed themselves to the Holy Bible, almost in isolation of fact and reason, it is going to be a pretty bumpy ride. Even denominations which claim to include reason and other methodology to understanding the true Will of God, such as the Methodists (I actually thing John Wesley would be astounded that the denomination that has grown from him ministry has forgotten so much of where that denomination came from) now find themselves clinging only to this very, very old book.

It is true that even Science doesn’t have a full understanding of Human Sexuality, but at one time, nor did it have any awareness that all of the planets in our solar system rotate around the sun. I guess the church didn’t learn much over that mix up. I am not bothered that some preachers can speak with so much condemnation of gay people. They are ignorant and we don’t yet have the Science that makes it as clear as Galileo’s work began to make the movement of the planets clear.

But murder?

Is the Church (in the most general sense) and God’s Will really so conflicted about what is murder? I feel sad for anyone who follows this preacher.

Pastor Steven Anderson: “If you’re a homosexual, I hope you get brain cancer like Ted Kennedy” « From the Left.

Thoughts on God and Sex-Changes

I decided to post this here on Queer Look at the Bible because of the potentially theologic implications and scriptural basis of the underlying argument.

First, I’d encourage anyone to read both Earl’s post, and then all of the comments, for this is a really rich discussion. and then, after reading that, read through my comments. and then lastly, post a reply here or on Earl’s blog or both.

It is easy to think of Christian Thought as an oxymoron when you read any number of far right religious blogs, and then I find something like Earl’s blog and I fall in love, all over again with Religion, Theology, and all that comes with it. I think one of the reasons I have struggled getting my podcast going again is that I have lost some of the passion and curiosity that first stole my heart as I dug into religious issues, images and meaning more than a dozen years ago. So, to me this is such a gift for me!

Earl tears apart a basic religious justification against transgenders and the process of sex-changes, and succintly articulates a number of the issues involved in sorting this through. As he put it:

After all, if God has specifically and omnipotently designed each person then changing one’s divinely-designated gender may be understood as, ultimately, one’s dissatisfaction with God.

While some of his commenters don’t like his use of the idea of birth defects to illustrate his reasoning, it made perfect sense to me. He writes:

If birth defects exist as a part of nature, why then is gender a non-negotiable?

In other words, those who claim that each person is created exactly as God intended, and therefore, no alteration should be needed- that argument falls apart when you think of birth defects. Birth defects are natural occurring as part of nature.

I’m with Earl, but there is a scriptural basis for the non-negotiation of gender. Genesis:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

A strict adherence to scripture suggests that everyone falls into one of these 2 categories, even though we know that there are individuals born with both male and female sex organs, as well as individuals whose bodies are clearly one or the other, but for whom their sense of their gender does not align with their body. Frankly, I’ve always been suspicious of this passage where it says: “…man in our image, in our likenes” I never understood where the “our” came from.

Aside from that, however, this issue revolves on the purpose and connection of gender, and sex. What we are learning about these from Science suggests they are more complex than once thought.

One of the things this brings up for me, is the connection between exploring what it means for God to be the creator who creates in God’s own image, and what it means for us as human beings, to understand God based upon how we see ourselves.

The Wanderings of a Theological Vagabond » Blog Archive » Thoughts on God and Sex-Changes .

Resources:

Straight Guys Guide to Gender Identity

Queer Look Podcast to Return Soon!

It’s a long story why I stopped producing the queer Look at the Bible Podcast, but the short answer is that it is about to return! Each week, I’ll look at the week’s lectionary readings from the QP (the queer Perspective, and assign each a QP ranking. That is, just how “queer” is the scripture on a scale of 1 bible (not at all queer) to 5 bibles (way way queer!). Most consider that the Bible is condemning of homosexuality, but I think what we are going to find is that the vast majority of it has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, and will score a 1bible ranking. The passages that appear to be about homosexuality will be few and score a 5bible ranking. There is just the question about what to do with the issue of passages that appear pro-homosexual, and those which appear as anti-homosexual. In terms of my QP ranking, I won’t make any distinction/ for or against, it is still queer. but I will talk about each to see what we can learn about how pro- or anti the passages might actually be.

A Queer Look at the Bible isn’t intended only for the religious, but for everyone, even those who see themselves as atheists or agnostics. But I’m not trying to convert you. You are welcome here, no matter what your faith (or lack of faith) tradition. and here is why. If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, or transgendered person, the Bible impact your life today, here in 2009. Doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not. The Bible serves as the foundation of all of the opposition to GLBTQ rights, as well as many of the conservative movements, such as to deny a woman’s right to choice. The growing battle cry of this radical right movement, is Religious Liberties, as if they own the Bible, and everything in it is on their side. but they don’t, and it isn’t. and the more everyone knows about that the easier it is to see through the fallacious arguments that they put forth.

Let me say, as straight (ha ha) forwardly as I can. I am not anti-God. I am not anti-Bible. I am not anti-Faith. I just think that the Bible has been co-opted by the radical right, and t is time to take it back and put it out there for anyone to pick up and consider. And the best way to do that it to take a new look at it- a Queer Look. If I can rightfully be accused of anything, it may be that I can come across as anti-religious. Like many theologians since the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story, I ask that rather than simply wearing “religious” as an adjective to describe oneself, consider it a journey to be traveled. Consider it a puzzle to be pondered. consider it a question to be asked rather than answered. I am fairly anti- those who self-righteously think they have all the answers. I certainly don’t have them. But I have and can ask and explore questions. I think that when we are willing to ask, and see where the question takes us, we can find things we never anticipated. That for me, is about hearing God.

I’m going to start by producing an audio podcast in the iTunes enhanced podcast format, but there will also be an MP# file to download for other brands of players. Each week’s podcast will be a part of a blog post that has notes and stuff I want to share. Feel free to comment here, but please be warned. I have no patience for folks who can;’t do any more than tell me I’m going to hell, or can’t say anything except to quote scripture, or issue some blanket generalized statement with out anything backing it up. I will only accept comments from real people (no anonymous postings) who register for the site. If you don’t have the guts to have a name and an email, I don’t have the time for you. But feel free to disagree with me- just be man or woman enough to represent yourself authentically.

So you ready for a Queer Look! Great! Glad to have you along!

Changing Homosexuality or Suppressing the Self?

Years After Resigning in Disgrace, Archbishop Speaks Out – NYTimes.com

This piece from the New York Times contains a few very large issues to ponder. I can’t necessarily speak to all of them in this blog entry but will raise them at least. Over the next week, I hope to write a blog entry for each question. But weigh in- let me know what you think- leave a comment.

1) The organized Church’s role in maintaining the status quo. Who is benefitted by the status quo?

2) Do people change their sexual orientation or simply suppress their real selves and delude themselves about who they are and/or their orientation?

3) The problem of understanding God as a “loving God” when there are so many homosecxuals.

4) What is the nature of a faith journey?

I think the last 2 are the most interesting of the topics for me, however, all 4 are big and there can be valid or thoughtful viewpoints from divergent opinions.

Years After Resigning in Disgrace, Archbishop Speaks Out – NYTimes.com.

Toledo Bishop Bans Dissident ‘New Ways Ministry’ to Gays – Catholic Online

The link below is to www.catholic.org, so expect the tone of the article to be anti-gay, but it is a good read nonetheless. The article describes how the Bishop Blair forced a pro-gay catholic group, New Way Ministries from using a local convent for a workshop. The group has been cited for failing to provide the full catholic teachig on homosexuality which includes “the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.”

I’m posting it here, because I am struck by the faith and tenacity of the groups director, Francis DeBernardo. Bernardo has promised that his pro-homosexual workshop will take place in Toledo, saying “We might not be able to use a Catholic facility, but we’ll reach Catholic people.”

It is often easy for GLBTQ christians to just walk away from the church. For some, not so easy- they stay despite their opposition to the church’s teachings, and lead a double life, or may be in the closet to the church. Others leave and find a more accepting congregation like the MCC, but most just leave and lose their faith. I have much respect for those who work to change the Church, even in small ways- even when it seems unchangeable. In this, are lessons about true faith and conviction!

Toledo Bishop Bans Dissident ‘New Ways Ministry’ to Gays – Catholic Online.