Category Archives: Bible

The faith of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12:1-9)

The text  describes  how Abraham was called by the Lord to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, and journey to a new land – a call which he dutifully followed, together with his household. This passage from chapter 12 is only part of the story. The continuation in the opening of chapter 18 describes how as a result of his hospitality to three strangers (angels in disguise), he is given a promise that Sarah will conceive a child, in spite of their advanced age. Then in chapter 21 the child, Isaac, is born,

Jan Provoost – Abraham, Sarah, and the Angel (Source: Wikimedia)

The phrases / verses that “speak” to me:

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abraham is the one in this passage who is called by the Lord, but in fact we are all called to holiness. Just as the Lord says to Abraham that he will bless all who bless him, and curse all those who curse him, we should understand that we too are addressed in the same way, if we follow that call.  As gay men in the Church, we know what it is to be cursed by those who assume that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron, an impossibility. The Lord promises that such curses will themselves be cursed. But many of us have also experienced a welcome in church, “blessed” by welcoming parishes and other groups. Those too, will be blessed.

And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Just as Abraham embarked on a journey to the promised land, we too are on a journey to full inclusion in the Church. Just as his journey was conducted in stages, so we too must understand that our own journey to inclusion will not be concluded in a single step, but will take many stages, some of them difficult.

Here are the bishops’ questions, with some responses:

  • What does it mean for Abram to ‘have faith’? How does Abram listen to God? How does God challenge? What does God promise? How do the family respond? What are their hopes?
  • What hopes do you have for your family?

My hopes for my family are the same as others – that we can continue to flourish, enjoy each others’ achievements and celebrations, and support each other in times of difficulty or sadness. 

In addition, we hope for something other families do not think about – that we can be treated by society, and especially by the Church, with the same dignity and respect as other, more conventional families.

  • What are the ways in which your family ‘listen to God’?

In the past, my partner and I participated together in a CLC (Christian Life Community) group, meeting weekly and sometimes in formal retreats to reflect on where we have God in our lives, and using techniques from Ignatian spirituality to  discern the path He was wanting for us. 

In addition to numerous valuable insights we found about our daily lives, we also found through these evenings and weekends of prayer together, profound affirmation of the value of our relationship

  • What ‘impossible’ things happen in families? In our families, how do we show our ‘trust’ in God and in one another in tough times?

Sometime after my (formal) marriage had broken down, and I had started a new, same – sex  (informal)  marriage, my ex – wife began to make it extremely difficult for me to see my children, and absolutely impossible to see them in the company of my partner.  In this, she was egged on by her family, who were convinced by Catholic teaching that our relationship was obviously sinful, and so I would be a morally unsuitable influence on the girls. As any father will know, to be deprived of access to one’s children is extremely painful, as it was to me.

The outcome however, was the reverse of what mother and her family had intended. As the girls grew older, they insisted on not just access to myself, but even asked to come and live with me – and my partner – , instead of with their mother (which at different times, each of them in fact did, for a period).  Today, they and their own children both have far stronger relationships with me and my partner, than they do with their mother.

As for the fears about my supposedly “poor moral influence”, I take immense pride in the conclusions of my younger daughter. While living with us for some of her high school years, she compared the example she was seeing in our relationship, with what she observed in her classmates’ families . Looking back later as a young woman, she concluded that the grounding in morals and values she had received from our same – sex relationship, was in fact superior to that of many others raised in more conventional families. On that basis, she has stated in print and on-line that “Gay parents? I recommend them” , and has told me that when she sees a young child out with two dads, her instinctive response is “lucky kid”.

  • What does having children, or not having children, bring to a family?

More important that what “having” children brings to the family, is what “raising” children does. 

  • What promises do we make to each other in families?
  • Through this story, what can we know and believe about the promises God makes to us in our own family lives, whatever our circumstances?

The key questions to draw the conversation together:

  • How does this story ‘speak’ to us about our ‘call’ to be a family?
  • How does it speak to our ‘journey’?
  • How does it speak to us about our ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ as a family?
  • What support do we need from the Church?

For queer families, what we need above all is simple: acceptance and appreciation that same – sex couples can and do, make as good a job as others in raising children. Even though such couples are obviously not capable of creating babies, they are definitely capable of the more challenging task or raising and guiding them to maturity.  Many such couples are successfully engaged in that task, either with the biological children of one partner, or with adopted children.

It is hurtful and offensive to those parents, and especially to those who are sacrificing their lives to raise children whose own biological parents have failed them, that the Church opposes gay adoption and claims, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, that children are somehow harmed when raised by gay parents. 

For the sake of the children, It is essential that the Church should now end its hostility to gay adoption. 

  • What is already available? What needs to be developed?
  • From our family life experience, what do we offer that could enrich the life of the Church?
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Reforming Nineveh (Jeremiah 3:1 – 5)

1st Reading, 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B:

In today’s reading, we learn how Jonah was sent to preach to the people of Nineveh, and by reforming them, to save them from the Lord’s destruction:

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.   God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
Well – great. Terrific. But what, if anything, does this say to queer Christians? The key lies in seeing the greater context, the prequel. Jonah had not wanted to go to Nineveh, at all. He tried to resist the Lord’s command, and boarded a boat to sail away, in the opposite direction.  But the Lord’s command is not so easily resisted, and after his familiar troubles at sea, he ended up washed ashore – on the coast of Nineveh. That is where today’s reading begins.

Continue reading Reforming Nineveh (Jeremiah 3:1 – 5)

Three Queers of the East: Thought for the Epiphany

Earlier, I wrote that some Bible stories are so familiar, we do not stop to consider their significance. I could also add, that some others are so familiar, we do not stop to ask if they are accurate. A case in point is that of today’s feast of the Epiphany, which we routinely celebrate as the visit of the three kings of the East to the infant Jesus – but the Gospel text does not specify that there were three, nor that they were kings.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
 

It is the term “magi” that has been traditionally adapted to “wise men”, or corrupted in popular imagination to “kings”. Astrologer-magicians, in the Zoroastrian religion, would be a more accurate translation. (Note the obvious linguistic connection between “magus” and “magic”). Kittredge quotes Nancy Wilson and Virginia Mollenkott, to suggest that the Magi were probably either eunuchs, or trans.

A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

At Bible – thumping Liberal, the straight ally and evangelical Christian Ron Goetz asks a crucially important question:

HOW DO I RECONCILE PAUL WITH MY SUPPORT FOR LGBT FOLKS?

August 27, 2013

I just got an email from Harold, one of my PFLAG friends. He asked the following question.

“How do you reconcile Paul’s words and yet support LGBTs?”

There are several good ways of approaching this question. One way looks at Paul’s specific words, what they mean and don’t mean, and then discover that Paul is not as anti-homosexual as fundamentalists make him out to be. Another way is to look at Paul as a man who was working out his theology, literally, as he went along. Another way is to see how Paul treated other issues of some disagreement, that have been puzzling or unclear to us. Finally, we can look at some of Paul’s own attitudes and interactions, and adopt some of them as our own.

-more at  Bible-Thumping Liberal.

This is important, because Paul’s words in Romans and in Corinthians are the most disturbing of all the Biblical clobber texts for lesbian and gay Christians. The story of Sodom in Genesis should not be troubling at all, as the Bible itself makes clear that the infamous “sin of Sodom” is about injustice, and pride, and has nothing whatever to do with homoeroticism. There are numerous responses to the verses in Leviticus, but the simplest one is just to note that these are part of the Jewish purity laws, like the dietary restrictions, the prohibition on clothing of mixed fibres and shaving one’s beard, and the obligation of male circumcision. As such, they simply do not apply to Christians – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The letters of Paul are another matter, less easy to reconcile with our experience of a same – sex affectional orientation.

So, how can we do so? In his post, Goetz goes on, to elaborate on each of these ways of looking at Paul. There is also another, simpler still: the words simply do not mean what they are popularly supposed to mean. I’ve already discussed how this is so for Corinthians, where the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” have been mistranslated as referring to homosexuals. (They don’t). For Romans 1, I suggest that the key is simpler still, hiding in plain sight – in the title. 

This is the letter to the Romans after all.

Hadrian and Antinous
Roman Emperor Hadrian and His Beloved, Antinous

Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and would surely have understood something of how his words would be interpreted. So let’s look at them: Continue reading A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

The Queer Holy Family and the Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15,19-23)

The Sunday after Christmas is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family – an occasion which all too often is used in homilies as an excuse to commend the modern nuclear family – thereby leaving the substantial proportion of Catholics who are single, divorced, married but childless, gay, lesbian, trans or otherwise queer distinctly excluded. How are LGBT people of faith to respond to this, how can we truly participate in a great feast which so leaves us excluded?

I have reflected on this twice before. The first time, in “Christ’s Queer Family”, I noted that the Biblical Holy Family was not, as it is usually presented, an example of the “traditional” family beloved of the Christian right, but in fact has much more in common with queer families.

holy-family-with-st-john-the-baptist-297x3001 Continue reading The Queer Holy Family and the Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15,19-23)

Three Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace

Today, the church celebrates the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7
If there is any group more likely to have the bible-pumping conservatives frothing at the mouth more than gay and lesbian Christians, perhaps it is the trans community. Yet this is entirely misplaced, as Isaiah makes clear elsewhere:

4For this is what the LORD says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

-Isaiah 56: 4- 5
The three young men, forcibly castrated as slaves, are clearly not directly comparable to the modern trans community, but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt, from them and from others in Christian (and non-Christian) history. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read

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 Babylonian slaves were clearly among those who have been made so by others. Those who made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven may be a reference to the common religious practice in the societies surrounding the Jews of men who castrated themselves to serve as priests, especially in the cult of Cybele , and also in some other religions. (Some commentators believe that is this practice of castration that is meant by the words mistranslated in some of the clobber texts as “homosexuals”, lines which more accurately refer to castrated gentile priests. In this view, it is the association with pagan idolatry, not the sexual practices themselves, which made them taboo). The idea of making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of God later led some early Christians to adopt the practice, notably the early theologian Origen, who castrated himself in. Metaphorically, it is the same idea of emasculation which underlies the Catholic church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for priests in the Roman rite.
Modern trans people are also not directly comparable to this third group – but they are arguably included in the first group:  made so by birth. Less directly, some scholars argue that the biblical term “eunuch” is the closest parallel in biblical language to the modern term “homosexual”, and so the welcome promised by Isaiah may be said to apply to all who are queer in church –

a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters; 

I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever

Even if we reject this connection, there remains a fundamentally important lesson for us all in the story of the three young men, a story that has relevance and resonance for us today that goes way beyond the children’s illustrated Bible pictures of men who could not be burned by the flames. To see this, remember why it is that they are commemorated. They were commanded by the king to eat the forbidden meat – to conform. It was for their refusal to knuckle under and give in to the pressure to abandon their fundamental religious identity that they were sentenced to death by burning.
But in their faith and loyalty, they were protected from the flames. Centuries later, it was the Christian Church that again turned to burning as a punishment for those who refused to conform, either to orthodox religious belief, or to heteronormative sexual standards. We continue to live with the legacy of that prejudice, which masquerades as religious obligation. Like the three men in the Babylonian fire, we too must stand firm in our commitment to the truth. In our steadfastness, the flames of prejudice and religious bigotry will likewise be unable to destroy our queer Christian community.
(The image used is a window by John Piper as a memorial to Benjamin Britten, whose “Burning Fiery Furnace” told the story of the three young men as one of his three “parables for church performance” – one act operas, although Britten himself avoided the term).

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