How Can Someone be Both Christian and Homosexual?

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Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 10:27:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]

ae606 3/19/96:

How Can Someone be Both Christian and Homosexual?

By the Rev. Dan Geslin

    [Dan Geslin is a minister of the United Church of Christ, and pastor of Liberation Church in Cleveland, Ohio.]

Traditionally, the Christian Church(es) have condemned homosexuality and cast gay and lesbian people out of their communions. This prejudice and oppression has varied in form and intensity through the ages. But it is only quite recently in Christian history that a true affirmation of gay and lesbian people–indeed of human sexuality in general–has come into the light.

Interestingly, the basic thesis of John Boswell’s book, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, is that there is nothing intrinsic in Christianity which condemns homosexuality as we understand it today. Rather, he posits, homosexuals (as well as Jews and women) have fared better or worse during the course of Western civilization depending upon whether the society in question was basically urban or rural, regardless of religion. He argues that rural cultures value procreation and homogeneity in order to survive, while urban cultures with dense and varied populations value social creativity and heterogeneity.

Generally speaking, Old Testament proscriptions against homosexual behavior are culturally bound, not universally true. They stem from the times of the Hebrew tribes wandering in the wilderness and settling in Canaan. The Hebrews needed strict moral laws governing social behavior, dietary habits and social interaction for tribal survival. These proscriptions were later codified during the crisis of the Babylonian Captivity, when the Jews needed strict religious laws to insure their cultural survival as a separate (“holy”‘) people in an alien land.

St. Paul was, of course, a product of that Holiness Code. He was a Pharisee, which was a school of Judaism dedicated to the importance of the Law during the Roman captivity. The fact that Paul’s conversion carried him as far as it did from a theology of salvation by law to a new theology of salvation by grace was miraculous. The fact that Paul had some cultural “blind spots,” most noticeably regarding women and gays, is understandable.

Just as Paul of Tarshish traveled to Rome and was horrified to see things he considered “unnatural,” St. Augustine traveled from his native North Africa to “the big city”‘ three centuries later and had a similar reaction. Unavoidably influenced by the Stoic and Gnostic mind-body dualism of his era, Augustine’s theology included a concept of sin which was physiological, not psychological. “Original sin”‘ was thus not “the human condition” (in 20th-century terms), but a sexually-transmitted fallenness. In St. Augustine’s words, we are each “spiritual souls trapped in a mass of damnation.” The saving grace of human
sexuality, then, was only that it included the birthing of souls.

In the thought of Thomas Aquinas we find both the genius of Scholasticism and the absurdity of pre-scientific theology. For example, he believed that female humans were crippled males, the crippling caused by having intercourse while a southwesterly wind was blowing. Neither Paul nor Augustine nor Aquinas understood human sexuality adequately enough to understand homosexuality. In Aquinas’ time, women were thought to be the “passive garden” into which the man planted a minuscule but complete human being. Any sexual act which “wasted the seed” was actually an act of murder “against nature.”

Gradually, post-Enlightenment theology has come to accept and incorporate the true complexity of human being and thus increasingly reflect the real diversity of God’s good and natural creation. Just as Paul interpreted the Scripture in a new way, Augustine used Plato, and Aquinas was dependent on Aristotle, so too Modern Theology uses the social and pure sciences to inform its understanding of God’s creation, God’s purpose for us, and God’s all-inclusive love.

God is calling gay and lesbian Christians, I believe, to be a new chosen people. Just as Jesus’ love for and ministry to outcasts and foreigners broke down cultural barriers and universalized God’s covenant with the Jews, so gays and lesbians challenge today’s churches to break down their culture-bound prejudices; truly preach the Good News of faith, love and grace; and truly become the Church Universal.

The “Bible Bullets,”

“None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a [female] prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the LORD your God.” – Deuteronomy 23:17-18

One of the major emphases of the Holiness Code was to protect the Israelites from idolatry and help them distinguish between magical and faithful thinking. Cult prostitution was commonplace in Canaanite temples. Ritualized sexual intercourse was believed to stimulate the heaven-god to rain and the earth-goddess to fertility. This has nothing to do with homosexuality as we understand it today.

“But before they [two guests invited into Lot’s house] 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, so that we may know them.’ Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, `I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a 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’.” – Genesis 19:4-11

Although the story of the destruction of Sodom has been identified in the popular mind as a condemnation of homosexuality, it is in truth a condemnation of inhospitality. Ezekiel 16:49-50, Jeremiah 23:14, Wisdom 19:14, Ecclesiastes 16:8 and Luke 10:10-12 all refer back to the sin of Sodom as being inhospitality, pride and greed.

In ancient societies where there were no hotels, no rapid transport and little rule of law, cultural mores governing hospitality and respect for sojourning strangers were a matter of survival, and therefore of the utmost importance. In the mythology of Greece, next to hubris alone, inhospitality provoked the greatest wrath among the gods and goddesses. This was no less the case in ancient Israel.

The part of the story in which Lot offers his daughters to be raped in order to appease the crowd clearly demonstrates that there is not a sexual ethic for the 20th Century in this story at all. It abuses the dignity of women, and demonstrates that sexual orientation was not an operative concept at the time the story emerged.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. … If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” – Leviticus 18:22; 20:13

The operative cultural bias here is that it is an abomination to treat another man like a woman. Males were thought to be made in the image of God; thus homosexual behavior would be seen through the heterosexual majority’s eyes as violating the image of God. More primarily, the Israelites were instinctively concerned with maximizing the probabilities of procreation. Religious laws governing sexual practices reinforced that basic tribal concern.

Centuries later, when the Jews were enslaved in Babylon and the Holiness Code took the form we know today, such religious laws reinforced the Jews’ sense of being a people set apart from the cultural practices around them.

Today we understand the dignity of women, human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular in ways inconceivable to the ancient priests who compiled Leviticus. As Christians, we are freed from the Law and saved by grace (Romans 7:6; Galatians 5:4).

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers–none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” – I Corinthians 6:9-10, NRSV

“This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” – I Timothy 1:9-11, NRSV

These passages present abominable and almost insurmountable linguistic problems and historical errors in translation. Neither malakee (Corinthians) nor arsenokeeteh (Timothy) refer specifically to homosexuality in koine Greek.

Later translations into English gave us the translators’ cultural prejudices, but not St. Paul’s words. Malakee literally means “soft,” as in clothing, and was probably used here as “moral weakness.” The King James version translated that as “effeminate,” which in turn the RSV translated as “homosexual.”

Arsenokeeteh is even more linguistically obscure, and rarely used in contemporary Greek literature. As late as the 6th Century it still denoted “abusive sexual practices” in general, not homosexuality in particular. Contemporary usage indicates it probably referred to Greek temple cult prostitution. That in itself would have raised Paul’s ire.

“Therefore God gave them us to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading 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 degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” – Romans 1:24-27

Paul is writing about sexual activities which are idolatrous, which “worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.” Obviously, heterosexual practices can also be idolatrous; and homosexual relationships can be loving and caring and honor the image of the Creator in the beloved. As a pre-scientific man, Paul’s understanding of human psychology and physiological cause-and-effect is different from what we know today. Homosexuality in and of itself does not cause idolatry or disease, nor does idolatry cause homosexuality. Similarly, Paul’s use of the word “nature” does not refer to a scientific perception of nature, but to his own cultural heritage, as in men with long hair being “unnatural” (I Cor. 11:14).

Nevertheless, Paul’s basic moral-theological insight is still true for us today–whether gay or non-gay. If we abandon ourselves to godless lust and fail to respect the image of God in ourselves and others, we choose self-destruction. If we worship and serve our Creator instead of the creature, and experience life abundant, we can relate with each other as whole human beings–sexually, emotionally and spiritually.

Andy Lang                                        (216) 736-2215 office
United Church of Christ                 (216) 295-8280 home
Office of Communication                (216) 736-2223 fax
700 Prospect Avenue East            ANDY LANG EcuNet
Cleveland, Ohio 44115-1100         [email protected] InterNet

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  I am not the original author of this work, Permission to duplicate and/or redistribute this document in part or in full is expressly forbidden.  Please contact the original author for any permission requests.  The author or his representatives may request this work be removed if they so desire by providing the proper proof of identity and the request to the site administrator.

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