Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who Decides What’s Right or Wrong?

We all know the Bible appraises self-worth according to strict sets of laws and hierarchies: Go to Hell if you covet the neighbor’s house, kill the neighbor, or take off with the neighbor’s wife.  It runs moral meanings smooth over broken fine lines that fall somewhere between fact and fiction and good and evil. God still hates figs and shrimp, right? It also often hides contradiction and its very own accommodating history under stories that once upon a time were not its own: Remember, Christmas and Easter grew from Pagan roots.

Unfortunately for us, the Bible and people's interpretations of it can brew misguided thoughts about homosexuality. But it does deserve our attention. Its words read just like modern humans behave: We wake hand-in-hand with dissension; we evolve, yet still keep patterns of judgment close. And we all at some point in time ask, “Where did we come from? What’s the point?”
So where do the gays go from here?
Well, former United Methodist minister and Duke University seminary scholar, Jimmy Creech, suggests that maybe it’s time we re-evaluate what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
In Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays, straight-identifying Creech defends same-sex love against the Church’s dangerous distortion of homosexuality as sin. He digs deep into Biblical texts, mines credible sense from scripture and history, and writes passionately about his decision to reconcile his stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage even though these things ultimately led the Church to revoke his ordination credentials.
What would Jesus do? Jimmy Creech might know.


Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?

No, it’s actually not possible for the Bible to say this in any way. First of all, the writers of the Bible had no understanding of the innate human trait of sexual orientation. Consequently, there were no words for homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. These words were coined in the late 1800s when the young science of psychology studied human sexuality and discovered that sexual orientation is an innate aspect of human personality. We’ve come to understand these three sexual orientations as equally normal, natural and healthy. There are a few references in the Bible to same-gender sexual acts, though all of them are condemned because of the context in which they are found: violent rape, idolatry, and promiscuity. There is, by the way, no condemnation in the Bible of same-gender loving relationships. However, because of the fear and prejudice against same-gender loving relationships, church leaders have used these condemnations of violence, idolatry and promiscuity to condemn same-gender loving relationships. If the logic used against homosexual sex acts was used in the context of condemned heterosexual sex acts, one could claim the Bible says “heterosexuality is a sin.” But, of course, no one does. 
Another issue at play is patriarchal culture. Men are considered the masters (the Hebrew for husband actually means “lord”) and women are inferior and subservient. Consequently, for a man to have sex with another man as men have sex with women violates the rigid gender roles and threatens the patriarchal culture. Such an act puts the submissive man in the woman’s role which from the biblical perspective is “abominable.” Interestingly, there’s only one biblical reference to women having sex with women (chapter one of Romans), most likely because the writers of the Bible (men) weren’t concerned about that – it didn’t threaten their patriarchal culture. 
The few references to same-gender sexual acts have thus been interpreted and used in ways to justify the persecution of LGBT people. In similar ways, passages in the Bible were interpreted in ways to justify slavery, white supremacy and racial segregation. The Bible denies equal rights to women because of its patriarchy and allowed the persecution and mass murder of Jews. Modern society has rejected the misuse of the Bible to justify these injustices even though each case is a form of abuse. Using the Bible to justify the persecution of LGBT people is no less an abuse and can no longer be tolerated. It’s intellectually dishonest, pure bigotry.
Can you explain how the word “homosexual” is misused in Biblical texts?
In First Corinthians and First Timothy, the Apostle Paul used Greek words that no one else had ever used – either before him or after him.  These words came to be associated with homosexuality in the late 13th Century after Thomas Aquinas condemned same-sex sexual acts in his writings. From then on, the Greek words in these two passages were understood to mean, a “man who has sex with a man.”  Because there was no Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek words (the three languages in which the Bible was written) for a “man who has sex with a man,” the term Sodomite was invented.  It is often found in translations, but has no basis in the languages of the Bible – it’s purely an example of bigotry written into those translations after the fact.
Aquinas was the first church teacher to associate the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with same-sex acts.  Before then, the destruction was attributed to the violent inhospitality and greed of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  A similar thing happened when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published in 1952.  Instead of using “a man who has sex with a man,” or the King James version, “them that defile themselves with mankind,” or Sodomites, the translators chose to use the modern term homosexual – even though there was no basis for it in biblical languages. Consequently, people who do not know this history innocently claim that the Bible says “homosexuals can’t inherit the kingdom of heaven” because First Corinthians says so; and, that “homosexuals” are contrary to sound doctrine. 
While careful study of these passages reveals no condemnation of same-sex loving relationships, the mass of people who read these passages without the benefit of careful study feel justified in condemning homosexuals. The harm that has been done to LGBT people by this scandalous scholarship cannot be exaggerated. 
Do you think Christianity will eventually embrace LGBT people in the future, however near or far?
Yes, mainline Christian communities will fully embrace the LGBT community with equal standing and participation in the nearfuture. Christian communities actually have come a long way toward this goal in a relatively short time. The Unitarian Universalist Association was the first in this country, soon after Stonewall. And now the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, USA, the Episcopal Church, USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have all embraced the ordination of clergy in same-sex committed relationships and marriage for same-sex couples.
Even though the ecclesiastical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church remains adamantly against sexually active LGBT people, more than 74% of Catholic laity support same-sex marriage or civil unions with support for their full civil rights and equal protections. There will be some who will never accept same-sex relationships, but they belong to the past of fear and hatred, not the future of acceptance and equality.
What do you say to non-believers, atheists and agnostics? Do you see religion as something essential and necessary to humanity’s place in the universe?
No, I don’t believe religion is essential and necessary. Religion is an organized or structured expression of the innate wonder and awe human beings have about life, nature and time. This wonder and awe and the beliefs people have about it are not dependent on religious language and concepts. I find common ground with anyone who explores those big questions about life.
Being religious doesn’t guarantee a person will be good, nor does being a non-believer make a person bad. These are just two ways humans approach the mysteries of life. But, I do believe everyone who is aware and sensitive to what’s happening in the world, in their lives and the lives of others, has a keen sense of wonder and awe about it all. What really matters is how we treat each other.
Your memoir, Adam’s Gift, is about the United Methodist Church's decision to revoke your ordination credentials after you performed same-sex commitment ceremonies. But what do you think the real gift was for you? 
Adam’s gift was the truth about himself – a truth he’d concealed for nearly 50 years of his life. It was a gift because it opened my eyes to a reality I’d not seen before – a persecution of LGBT people in which I unknowingly was complicit. It was his humanity, his dignity and integrity, his gentleness and humility that would not allow me to rely on my conventional stereotypes and prejudice about the gay community. While there was much study and understanding I had to pursue afterward, Adam transformed me in the moment he revealed to me his true personhood and personal history. He gave me his most precious gift: His personal truth. 
How do you feel about Christianity’s position in US politics? It’s sad, but a holier than thou attitude still marginalizes the LGBT community.
It’s not possible to speak of “Christianity” as if it is one set of beliefs and values. Today, Christianity is not a term that has meaning because of the diversity within and among Christian groups. The Christians with whom I’m aligned are progressives. There are large numbers of moderate Christians too. And, there are Christian reactionaries who have found a political home in the Republican Party. The attack on LGBT people by many Christian reactionaries is sincere – meaning, it is an expression of their real fear and prejudice. However, right-wing politicians cynically exploit this bigotry for political ends (Karl Rove and George W. Bush). I believe that the political strategy of exploiting anti-gay bigotry is coming to an end. With marriage equality in a growing number of states, with the repeal of DADT, and the current discussion of the Respect for Marriage bill, the momentum is toward inclusion and acceptance, not exclusion.  Even some right-wing Republicans are saying their party should no longer talk about gay issues. 
How do you think we can change the way other people less understanding think about LGBT people?
People I know who’ve changed their hearts and minds about gay people have done so because they got to know someone who is gay. They didn’t change because of a good argument or debate about the Bible. They changed because they couldn’t reconcile their fear and hatred with the dignity and character of someone they discovered to be gay. Sometimes, this is a new acquaintance whose respect is earned over time.  Sometimes, it’s someone loved for a lifetime. So, the gift Adam gave to me is a gift all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can give to someone – a parent, sibling, child, neighbor, pastor, friend or colleague. LGBT people should not undervalue the power of their own dignity and integrity. There are, of course, some people whose minds and hearts will never change.
In addition, those of us who are straight must challenge anti-gay bigotry and malice whenever we encounter it and challenge elected officials who perpetuate persecution. An unjust world belongs to all of us, and all of us have an obligation to end the injustice.

17 comments:

M@rvin said...

Apparently, even the word 'abomination' is a sort of mistranslation. So sayeth the (still Christian) author of 'The Rise and Fall of the Bible' (cf. p. 59), Timothy Beal, anyway.

Jay M. said...

Super post! It's a shame that the "governing body" of Jimmy Creech's "church" can't see the reality of this research.

Some day, one day, it will all be moot.

Peace <3
Jay

JoeBlow said...

M@rvin, I am going to have to look into 'The Rise and Fall of the Bible.' It sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks, Jay. I do believe that some day it will all be moot. I love the gay marriage sign that says "Jesus hung out with 12 guys and a prostitute. He was more like me than you.' LOL. One day these people will realize just how true that is.

becca said...

once again i read your post and learn more then i thouhgt i could though some of it i don't understand i love that i can still learn. part of the reason i no longer go to church is because i get so annoyed at how people bend the bible to fit whatever they feel is wrong. i mean i've been told many times that the reason i am dying is because i'm being punished. which is fine just please tell me what it is that i did that was so wrong becuase i can't seem to remember. anyways thank you once again for a great post i am going back to reread it several more times so i really get the whole meaning..hugs

JoeBlow said...

Becca, life is an experienced where we learn something new everyday. As I read in a book not too long ago, "Churches have been filled with hypocrites since before the time of Christ." Religious authorities have always bent religion to their needs.

One thing more that I want to tell you is this, God does not punish us in this life. You are most certainly not being punished, and from what I have seen and read from you, I think you are a wonderful loving woman, friend, mother, and wife. I can't fathom how anyone could judge you and say that are being punished. Anyone who says that does not understand the nature of God and his love. Thanks as always for your comment, Becca.

Dean Grey said...

JoeBlow!

Well, I'm gay and while not a devout Christian, I was raised Catholic and still try to do the best I can.

Sometimes we have to ignore the "bad parts" of the bible and focus on the loving parts instead.

Sounds like a good philosophy for life!

-Dean

JoeBlow said...

Dean, I think that doing the best we can is what we should do. If you are interested in the topic, you can click on the religion tag and see all of my posts on the subject. I think the main thing to focus on is God's love, the rest is up to interpretation. Thanks for your comments.

Schweigsame said...

"Liberal" Christianity can try and sugar coat what they're selling (or--more accurately--what they're trying to sell, since fewer and fewer people are buying it these days) but the fact remains that 99% of what is preached under the label "Christianity" is anti-life, destructive and detrimental to the rights and dignity of human beings.

I was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home and was very involved with a much more liberal church for years as a young adult, even seriously considered becoming an Episcopal minister for a while. But the older I get, the more convinced I become that any organized religion is one of the great plagues on humanity.

JoeBlow said...

Schweigsame, it is sad that so many fundamentalist religious leaders give religion such a bad name. Instead of being anti-life, destructive and detrimental to the rights and dignity of human beings, I have always believed that they should be life-affirming and promote the rights and dignity of human beings. I don't believe that all organized religion is a great plague on humanity, but I do think that too many fundamentalist religious leaders who take a stance that it is their way or the highway to Hell, are one of the greatest plagues on humanity. It is too bad that they are often the face of Christianity. What so many misunderstand is that the Bible was written in a way to speak to the individual. It is purposely vague in some areas. Besides, these fundamentalists forget that Jesus said that the Greatest Commandment is LOVE.

I was raised Church of Christ, which is about as far from liberal Christian as you can get. I still am a member of the Church of Christ because my church congregation is one that is life-affirming and promote the rights and dignity of human beings.

Thanks for your comment.

becca said...

thank you for youe kind words

JoeBlow said...

You're welcome, becca. Anyone who is as sweet as you deserves all the kindness in the world.

naturgesetz said...

"Can you explain how the word 'homosexual' is misused in Biblical texts?
In First Corinthians and First Timothy, the Apostle Paul used Greek words that no one else had ever used – either before him or after him. These words came to be associated with homosexuality in the late 13th Century after Thomas Aquinas condemned same-sex sexual acts in his writings. From then on, the Greek words in these two passages were understood to mean, a 'man who has sex with a man.' Because there was no Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek words (the three languages in which the Bible was written) for a 'man who has sex with a man,' the term Sodomite was invented. It is often found in translations, but has no basis in the languages of the Bible – it’s purely an example of bigotry written into those translations after the fact."


This is highly misleading, if not downright dishonest. The word (not words) that appears only in these passages is arsenokoitai , and although it may be true that it only appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, that is not the end of the story. The word is a compound of two Greek words, arsen, which means "male," and koite, and these words are found in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22, which Paul knew: "kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos." I don't see how anybody can seriously argue that St. Paul didn't have in mind exactly the same thing Leviticus is talking about, when he took the two words from Leviticus and made a single word of them. I think it must be obvious to any unbiased reader that when St. Paul says aresnokoitai he means men who have sex with men.

naturgesetz said...

Forgot to say that koite means "bed."

JoeBlow said...

Naturgesetz: First of all, these are the arguments put forth by Jimmy Creech in his book "Adam's Gift." I did not go into further explanation about the word(s) used by St. Paul, because I had done so in a previous post(http://closetprofessor.blogspot.com/2011/06/abusus-non-tollit-usum.html). Paul does in fact use two different words: “Malakois” and “Arsenokoitai.” In that previous post, I explain what that “Malakois” is used in reference to young male prostitutes and that Greek scholars don’t know exactly what “Arsenokoitai” means — and the fact that we don’t know is a big part of this tragic debate. Some scholars believe Paul was coining a name to refer to the customers of “the effeminate call boys.” We might call them “dirty old men.” Others translate the word as “sodomites,” but never explain what that means.

I see your point that it could have come from the Septuagint translation, and I thank you for bringing that to my attention. However if taken into the context of what he is writing and to whom, I do believe that he is discussing male prostitution and their clients. The fact, which I do not believe is misleading, is that homosexuality in the modern sense was not understood in the ancient world by St. Paul, nor was it understood by Thomas Aquinas.

One final statement, the word koite often renders "marriage bed" not just "bed." It is unmistakeable that Lev. 18:22 is contrasting the use of "arsenos" (not andros) with that of "gunaikos" (not thelus). It is forbidding a husband to sleep with a *male* on the bed of his wife, a specification of adultery, not a general condemnation of homosexual behavior.

Thank you for your comment.

naturgesetz said...

The reason that I said "word, not words" is that, unlike arsenokoitai, malakoi is not exclusive to Paul.

I went back and looked at the post you linked. You write, "No one has really ever known what to make of the Greek word arsenokoitai that Paul seems to have originally came up with. The exact meaning of this word is lost. It seems to have been a term created by Paul for this verse. Rick Brentlinger, of GayChristian101.com, says:
Arseno is the Greek word for man and koite is the Greek word for bed, used euphemistically to mean having sex. We say 'he slept with her' when we mean, had sex with her. In the same way, koite-bed was a euphemism for having sex.
It does seem to be a compound word in which the original meaning has been lost to us."
It seems to me that what Brentlinger writes makes it obvious: arseno means man (or male) and koite is a euphemism for sex. The inescapable conclusion is that it's about men engaging in sex.

One can argue whether it is more clearly translated, "abusers of themselves with mankind" (KJV), "liers with mankind" (Rheims), "homosexual offenders" (NIV), or any of the other translations. IMO the major problem with "homosexuals" as a translation is that the word can mean one who has a homosexual orientation or one who engages in sexual activity with someone of the same sex. IOW, "homosexual" is ambiguous, whereas the Greek word clearly refers only to people who engage in certain sexual activity. And as I said above, "The obvious conclusion is that it's about men engaging in sex."

If the scholars White cites were right that Paul considers arsenokoitai the customers of the malakoi then both words should appear in 1 Timothy as they do in 1 Corinthians. The appearance of arsenokoitai alone in 1 Timothy indicates that it and malakoi are not simply the two parties to the same transaction.

naturgesetz said...

"One final statement, the word koite often renders 'marriage bed' not just 'bed.' It is unmistakeable that Lev. 18:22 is contrasting the use of 'arsenos' (not andros) with that of 'gunaikos' (not thelus). It is forbidding a husband to sleep with a *male* on the bed of his wife, a specification of adultery, not a general condemnation of homosexual behavior."

The question, of course, is not precisely what Lev 18:22 is saying, but what St. Paul meant when he coined a word which had those two elements in it.

That said, I think the more specific possible meaning of "marriage bed" actually reinforces the point that it's about engaging in sex. But since gunaikos refers to "a woman, married or unmarried" (Manual Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Abbott-Smith) the meaning of the verse in Leviticus can't be restricted to adultery.

JoeBlow said...

Naturgesetz: You state on your own blog, "I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, and I hope to help people understand what those teachings are and are not. I offer my story and my views for purposes of discussion among people of faith and people of good will. I hope to be thought-provoking, respectful, and illuminating and so to be helpful to you on your way." I wholeheartedly agree that your arguments and discussion of homosexuality are thought-provoking, and I do hope that you will see my disagreement with you as respectful.

One of the obvious problems here, (and though you may take offense to this, it is not meant to be offensive) is that we are having an argument that has essentially been fought since 1519. It is an argument over Catholic interpretation of the Bible and Protestant interpretation of the Bible. As a member of the Church of Christ, I believe that the Bible speaks to me in a more personal way than Catholic dogma says that it should. That being said, let me refute some of your arguments in the comments above.

You use various English translations of the Bible that all have inherent problems. If you look at the changes in the words used in these translations you do not get a more scholarly opinion of the words, but instead get the prejudices of the translators.

Furthermore, you state "If the scholars White cites were right that Paul considers arsenokoitai the customers of the malakoi then both words should appear in 1 Timothy as they do in 1 Corinthians. The appearance of arsenokoitai alone in 1 Timothy indicates that it and malakoi are not simply the two parties to the same transaction." I believe that the reason he did not use both words when writing to Timothy is because there would not have been a need to be more explicit with Timothy since Timothy was both with Paul in Corinth and would have been quite familiar with the writings of Paul. The Epistles of Timothy are written to add further instruction to Timothy.

Just so that you do not mistake me for agreeing with your last comment about adultery, I do disagree with you that the meaning of the verse in Leviticus can't be restricted to adultery. Hebrew is an imprecise language in which one word can have several meanings. Likewise, the Septuagint was written by Hellenistic Jews who also had doctrinal differences from the Jews of Judea and Babylonian Jews of the time that it was influenced the Greek words they used in their Septuagint translation. For at least the last three millennia, there have been disagreements over the interpretations of God's word, and I do not see this as changing, no matter how much Catholicism wishes it to, until Christ himself returns and is able to set the record straight once and for all. That being said, we will just have to agree to disagree as a homosexual Protestant to a homosexual Catholic. I think that we should agree that we are both Christians who interpret the word of God differently. My personal relationship with God leads me to believe that I am correct, whereas your relationship with God obviously says the opposite.