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“The Bibles” and Homosexuality

In Biblical History on August 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Jesus Cures Centurion's Servant. Wikimedia Commons Image.

First, a couple of important points.

As the late Reverend Peter Gomes pointed out in The Good Book, (Morrow, 1996)  what we call the Bible is actually many books: the testaments of Matthew, Mark, Peter, Luke, Paul, and John; the many letters Paul wrote to fledgling congregations called the Epistles, and Acts, a re-telling of some of the events involving the apostles, and so forth.  These were written at various times by various authors.

And I have not even included the Hebrew (Old) Testament — itself written by many authors over many centuries.

Why is this important?

How can there be one way to interpret something written by so many people at so many different times?

So, “the Bible” is not a book, it is many books.  For the purpose of this posting, I will refer to it as “the Bibles.”

Secondly, translation is important.  Regarding the New Testament, the words of Jesus were spoken in the language he spoke, Aramaic. This was translated into Greek so that the Gentiles (mostly Greeks) could understand it.  When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 A.D., the many books of the bible were translated into Latin.

So far, we have the words of Jesus interpreted and recorded in Aramaic, then, Greek, then Latin.  English is still a ways off.

The point is, the Bibles should be approached with a measure of tolerant openness to interpretation.

Third, like everything ever written, the Bibles were written in the context of their time and place.  Just as we would not expect to read about iPods, we should not expect to read about a modern, loving, marriage between same-sex partners.

Neither existed at the time when any of the Bibles were written.

Picking and Choosing What to Believe

I hear a voice saying — “wait, you can’t just pick and choose what to believe.  It is either true or untrue.  And if it is written, then it must be true.”

Okay, how about this from Leviticus?

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to you children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I am going to “pick” that passage out as something I reject because I “choose” not to support slavery.

Let’s try a passage from the New (Christian) Testament from Paul.

Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says.  And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (NASB, 1 Cor. 14:34-35)

Like the woman who is Senior Minister at my church, I choose not to support that statement, either.

This brings us to another important point about the Bibles.  Even though Paul is named as the author of this statement on women, did he really write it?

Maybe, but maybe not.

When you realize that the Bibles were written over the course of centuries, you are not surprised to learn that they are layered documents, that is, they were added to, and edited by people other than the original authors. These people were the heads of the Church with much to gain or lose when it came to interpreting the bibles.

The Layering of the Bibles

Some scholars see a hardening of Paul’s later writings that was not there when he was younger.  His early views were much like those of Jesus who spoke of liberation and inclusion of all marginal groups, including women.

Might a later officer of the established Church have added to Paul’s writings for reasons having more to do with political and economic control than theology?

Sounds plausible to me.

Testaments Contradict Each Other

Another problem with taking the Bibles as inerrant, is that they often contradict each other, forcing the reader to pick and chose what to believe.

Why is the length of Jesus’ ministry just one year in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but three years in the gospel of John?

Why does Jesus’ demonstration at the Temple (throwing over tables, blasting greed) at Jerusalem take place during the last week of Jesus’ life in Matthew, Mark, and Luke while it happens toward the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel?

These contradictions, at least to me, do not challenge the credence of the gospels. They are like the re-telling of any story.  If three people see the same car accident, they will remember it differently.

The contradictions make the Mark, Luke and Matthew testaments more credible even as they contradict each other, because they are so unpolished. They had every opportunity to get their stories straight and did not.  The gospel of John came later and it does seem to attempt to “sell” you more than explain what happened.

Whew!  That’s a lot and we haven’t even gotten to homosexuality. Here goes.

Jesus Had Nothing To Say About Homosexuality

First, what did Jesus say about homosexuality?  This is important because after all, he is the center of the New Testament.  Surely, His words would carry weight over the other figures quoted in the bibles — at least for Christians.

Here’s what he says — nothing.  He never mentions it.  He mentions the poor over and over.  He hangs out almost exclusively with the poor and working class, single men, single women — all marginalized groups at that time. He condemns greed, murder, faithlessness, hoarded wealth, and most of all, unkindness.

The Centurion Miracle 

Here is a favorite miracle of mine.  Jesus performed a miracle for the servant of a Roman centurion that at the least, should give comfort to LGBT people.

In Matthew, we are told that the centurion came to Jesus to plead for the healing of his servant. Jesus said he was willing to come to the centurion’s house, but the centurion said there was no need for Jesus to do so — he believed that if Jesus simply spoke the word, his servant would be healed. Marveling at the man’s faith, Jesus pronounced the servant healed. Luke tells a similar story.

The Greek word used in Matthew’s account to refer to the servant of the centurion is pais. In the language of the time, pais had three possible meanings depending upon the context in which it was used. It could mean “son or boy;” it could mean “servant,” or it could mean a particular type of servant — one who was “his master’s male lover.” (From the website: wouldjesusdiscriminate.com)

We can argue all day about whether the centurion and his servant were lovers but the important thing, at least to me, is that Jesus did not ask about the nature of their relationship; he simply healed a sick man based on his master’s faith.

Leviticus

Scary Leviticus.  It is a book from the Hebrew Testament that is essentially a list of laws governing the lives of Jews at that time, about 4,500 years ago. The time it was written is an important point. Since we no longer approve of slavery or of women “keeping quiet,” are we permitted to interpret rather than blindly obey what we are told the meaning of these passages are?  I say emphatically, “yes.”

Here are the two passages in Leviticus regarding homosexuality:

8:22 Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

20:13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Remember the statement at the beginning about iPods and modern, loving gay relationships? Neither existed at the time when the Bibles were written, therefore, neither is written about here.

You Are an Abomination

Can you imagine being 13 and realizing that you are an abomination?

Ever hear the wilting, sarcastic and even caustic humor of a gay teenager?  It comes from being told you are an abomination.  Fortunately, most stick with the sarcasm but some opt for suicide.

The word “abomination” sounds strong these days but in the time when this passage was written, it meant essentially “unclean.” Leviticus was a list of acts to avoid as they were “unclean.”

Another law in Leviticus bans the eating of shellfish.  If I went down to the Union Oyster House here in Boston and reminded the patrons leaning against that great, marble oyster bar about this passage, they might laugh or say, “I am not Jewish, so it does not apply to me.”

If that is the case, than why do so many Christians think Leviticus pertains to gay people of any religion?  Why should Leviticus be so important when it comes to gay people but you never hear the Pope mention that den of Satan, the Union Oyster House?

Still another Leviticus law forbids wearing more than one type of fabric. This rules out wearing blends which pretty much means the end of Marshall’s, Filene’s Basement, and any other clothing store I can afford.  Thanks, Leviticus.

Another says that if your wife sleeps with another man, you should stone her to death. We’re too civilized for that.  I submit that it is high time we became too civilized for the gay-related sections in Leviticus as well.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Ah yes, Sodom and Gomorrah.  The story goes this way.  God was unhappy with the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah because they were living in sin.  Just what sin is unclear but Ezekiel (see below) mentions arrogance and unwillingness to take care of the poor (remember that abusing the poor is a grave sin according to Jesus).  God sends two apparently male angels to visit the cities. They are either raped by the townspeople (how mere people rape angels is left unaddressed).

At one point, Lot begs the people to rape his daughters instead (and he’s the good guy in the story).  The men elect to rape the apparently male angels — and what angers God the most (according to anti-gay theologians) is not the rape but that the rape was homosexual. Isn’t all rape wrong?  Isn’t that the point?

Here is Ezekiel’s interpretation:

Ezekiel 16:49-50: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.Therefore I removed them when I saw it.

In any case, it is a horrible story.  That Lot offers his daughters for rape invalidates the story’s moral authority, at least to me. Do we really need a lecture from Lot on anything after that?

Paul

Paul mentions homosexual activity in two places.

1.) In 1 Corintians 6:9 he condemns prostitution between same-sex and different sex individuals.  He is not discussing equal relationships or even gay sex specifically.

From Chistiangays.com:

In Corinthians, two Greek words, malakoi and arsenokoitai, are translated by some as “homosexual.” The first, found in the Corinthian passage, means “soft”; the KJV translates it “effeminate.” The second, found in both passages “meant ‘male prostitute” until well into the fourth century.” There is no indication of orientation (nor of homosexuality).

2.) Romans 1:26-27

Here, Paul condemns women and men who no longer followed their natural inclinations but have sex with people they were not attracted to for various reasons (money, power, etc.)

The late historian John Boswell wrote:

The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual:  what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons….It is not clear that Paul distinguished in his thoughts or writings between gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior.  It is in fact unlikely that many Jews of his day recognized such a distinction, but it is quite apparent that–whether or not he was aware of their existence–Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons.  Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. Chicago Press, 1981)

Heterosexuals Are Not Left Out of Laws

People don’t talk much about the Bibles’ more questionable statements regarding heterosexual sex.  Here are a few published from Soulforce.org:

  • DEUTERONOMY 22:13-21
If it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, the Bible demands that she be executed by stoning immediately.
  • DEUTERONOMY 22:22
If a married person has sex with someone else’s husband or wife, the Bible commands that both adulterers be stoned to death.
  • MARK 10:1-12
Divorce is strictly forbidden in both Testaments, as is remarriage of anyone who has been divorced.
  • LEVITICUS 18:19
The Bible forbids a married couple from having sexual intercourse during a woman’s period. If they disobey, both shall be executed.
  • MARK 12:18-27
If a man dies childless, his widow is ordered by biblical law to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir.
  • DEUTERONOMY 25:11-12
If a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife seeks to rescue her husband by grabbing the enemy’s genitals, her hand shall be cut off and no pity shall be shown her.

So, that’s it.  That is what the Bibles have to say about homosexuality.  In the millions of passages on faith, war, famine, longing for God, only these few relate in any way to homosexuality.  And yet, you even mention the word “Bible” and people think of these laws.  It’s crazy, isn’t it?

Let us reclaim the bibles — not just for ourselves — but for any group after us who will be told they are excluded from this great love story.

Revolutionary War: Why We Fought (Zinn vs. Wood)

In American History on August 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

The New Yorker  briefly reviews Gordon S. Wood’s new book The Idea of America in its  current issue (July 25, 2011).  Wood, respected and decidedly mainstream, argues that “the Americans revolted (against England) not out of actual suffering but out of reasoned principle.”

George Washington. Wikimedia Image. From the National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/research/american-revolution/pictures/

The late, respected, and non-mainstream historian, Howard Zinn, saw it differently in his A People’s History of the United States.  Zinn portrayed the Founders as intent on wresting control of the vast wealth of the colonies from Britain and merely used high-flown rhetoric (“liberty for all,” etc.) to arouse the masses to assist them. Implementation of these principles was not the true end of the Founders, money was.

Zinn saw the American Revolution as a dispute between the upper classes of both countries for control of profits earned by the  labor force, including slaves.  Rhetoric about individual rights was a tool to inflame, not a goal of the Revolution.

Where do I stand?

Some of the wealthiest Founders (Washington was reputed to be the wealthiest man in the colonies) were indeed motivated by money but Thomas Paine, whose pamphlets inflamed more people than any speech made by the Founders, was of humble origins and background.  He believed what he published and so did thousands of his readers.

War can have many reasons, some of them contradictory.  World War II was good for munitions makers on all sides but this did nothing to diminish the moral clarity of the Allies’ determination to rid the world of Nazism.

In no way should this suggest that I view all or most U.S. wars as morally justified.  I don’t.  Indeed, the majority were of questionable necessity and many were  fomented by corporate interests and their Congressional servants.

The Revolutionary War and World War II were clear in purpose and therefore, exceptions.