Tag Archives: Books

Are Evangelicals Embracing LGBT Inclusion?

For years, there has been evidence that major sections of the US Mainline Protestant churches, and Protestant denominations in Europe, have been substantially reconsidering their attitudes to same – sex relationships. The evangelical churches on the other hand, like the Vatican oligarchs,  have seemed much more monolithic in their continuing opposition. Appearances can be deceptive. I have noted before a few indications that some Evangelical leaders, like some key Catholic bishops and theologians, and in the secular world, some conservative politicians in the GOP, are not simply reconsidering, but becoming active straight allies for queer inclusion in church, and social equality.

Jay Bakker: Not Your Typical Evangelical

At the Huffington Post, there is a useful analysis of the “Evangelicals’ Great Gay Awakening” by Cathleen Falsani, herself an Evangelical who writes that when as a student she learned that some of her classmates had come out as gay, her first response was to pray for them.

For most of my life, I’ve been taught that it’s impossible to be both openly gay and authentically Christian.

When a number of my friends “came out” shortly after our graduation from Wheaton College in the early ’90s, first I panicked and then I prayed.

What would Jesus do? I asked myself (and God).

That last question, so fundamental to young Evangelicals’ thought processes, was crucial. She realized that although Jesus in the Gospels is not reported as having said anything at all about homosexuality, he did say a great deal about love. So, she determined to love, and to love unconditionally, even as she remained unsure if homosexuality is indeed sinful.
Now, her views have been transformed – just like those of other younger Evangelicals – heavily influenced by a growing band of Evangelical theologians who are concluding, just like their more liberal Mainline counterparts, that the traditional view of homosexual relationships as strongly condemned in scripture is mistaken.  Much of her account is based on the new book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society, by Jay Bakker, the son of Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Messner. The arguments she repeats will be familiar to my regular readers:
  • Leviticus condemns (male) homosexuality – but likewise eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law. Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.
  • The New Testament words that are commonly translated in the Bible as “homosexuals/homosexuality” actually refer to male prostitution, and not to loving relationships.
  • The few texts that even appear to be critical of homosexuality are heavily outweighed by the abundant verses emphasising God’s love for all his creation. Bakker’s conclusion is clear: homosexuality is not a sin.
“We must weigh all the evidence,” Bakker writes. “The clobber scriptures don’t hold a candle to the raging inferno of grace and love that burns through Paul’s writing and Christ’s teaching. And it’s a love that should be our guiding light.”
Bakker is not alone among Evangelical leaders.  Falsani says that
Tony Jones, a “theologian-in-residence” at Minnesota’s Solomon’s Porch, one of the pre-eminent “Emergent” churches in the nation, echoes many of Bakker’s arguments. Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo, has been saying this kind of thing for years, despite her husband’s disagreement.
I have named several others in previous posts on these pages.
In the ongoing struggle to achieve full welcome and inclusion in church for queer Christians, the struggle on the ground may appear long and fruitless, with some small visible signs of progress overshadowed by the continuing hostility of so many. We must never forget though, that in the longer term perspective, progress has been remarkable over just the last twenty years – a mere blink of an eye in the time scale of salvation history.
Progress in the Mainline and European Protestant churches has recently become visible and noteworthy, but it is not that long ago that they too seemed to be intractable in their opposition. While the Catholic and Evangelical establishment views right now seem permanently fixed and unlikely to change, they are not really all that different from that of the more liberal groups twenty or thirty years ago, when voices for reform existed, but seemed to be a small minority, unlikely to make any impact.
The record shows that minority groups calling for reform have steadily increased in influence, and are achieving notable landmarks for inclusion one after another.
Is it really so unlikely that over the next twenty or thirty years, Catholics and Baptists will similarly see dramatic increases in calls for reform, and achieve some victories? We must take heart from this, and use it to boost our determination and fortitude as we continue to push for full LGBT inclusion – even in the face of apparent hopelessness, and some inevitable setbacks.

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The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

Under the heading,  “A Way Back Behind Christian Homophobia”, Adam Kotsko writes at the blog “An und fur sich” about a trilogy of books by Ted Jennings: Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament, and the third in the set, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia:

“The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance -of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself.”

Setting aside the weapons of hate

Even discounting the possibility that Jesus had a male lover (there are at least two candidates:  John, the “apostle Jesus loved”, and Lazarus), this is an approach I love.  Given the way in which queers have for centuries experienced Scripture as a weapon of hate, it is understandable that after one has overcome a natural antipathy to dealing with Scripture at all, the first enquiry from lesbigay people is to  find ways to respond to the infamous clobber texts, to learn to set aside the weapons of hate.  This is technically relatively easy – the actual texts are few, out of 30 000 verse in a Bible written against a cultural background where homoeroticism was commonplace, and many scholars have shown how they have either been misinterpreted, or are of limited relevance to modern gay relationships.

More difficult is dealing with the residual emotional baggage: this is where books pointing to positive interpretations of Scripture are so valuable. Again, this should be easy – the fundamental message of the Gospels has nothing to do with hatred against anybody, but stresses love and inclusion for everybody – most especially social outsiders and the otherwise afflicted and oppressed.  Still, for people with a homophile orientation, we can go well beyond the simple message of generic inclusion. Writers on Scripture have pointed to specifically queer values in Scripture, while historians have shown that the roots of popular hostility did not lie in Scripture at all:  the Church followed popular prejudice, not the other way around.

I do not yet have personal knowledge of Jennings’ books (but will explore further). There are other writers though who have covered much the same ground, with whose work I am more familiar.

Setting aside family values

Chris Glaser, in his excellent book, “Coming Out as Sacrament”, has a chapter on “Coming out in the Bible”, in which he reads several well known Scripture stories, from Adam & Eve in Genesis to Pentecost in Acts,  as coming out tales.  Among these, he presents the story of Jesus Himself as “Coming out of Family Values”.  The evidence he produces in support of this argument is that:

  • “his mother Mary was told that Jesus’ own coming out would mean “that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword shall pass through your own soul too (Luke 2:35)”;
  • At twelve years of age,  Jesus ignored his family’s departure from Jerusalem to sit  in the temple, his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:49);
  • He left His family and as far as we know, never married and never “begat” children;
  • He called his disciples away from their families (9:59:62), told them he had no home (9:57) ,, and claimed that His gospelk would “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Mathew 10:35-36);
  • When His family came to see  Him, He declared, “Whoever does the will of god is my brother and sister and mother”(Mark 3:35);
  • Members of the new faith community addressed each other as brother and sister;
  • Jesus’ own family of choice were three unmarried people – Martha, Mary and Lazarus;
  • In the New Testament, the biological, polygamous, prolifically procreative family of the Old Testament was superseded by the more vital, eternal and extended family of faith, a family to be expanded by evangelism and inclusivity rather than mere procreation;
  • Jesus had a special word of defence for the eunuch, who was an outcast in Israel because his body was mutilated, but more importantly because he could not procreate. “

I don’t know about you, but to me, but none of this, neither Old Testament nor New, sounds particularly like the “traditional family values” that the fundies claim to be protecting because they believe them to be at the heart of Christianity.

Urban gay men as role models

Going beyond queer values in the Gospels to queer lives today, the American theologian Kathy Rudy argues that this Scriptural denial of modern “family values” implies that modern urban gay culture is more in tune with the Gospel message than the biological family which Christ’s teaching rejected

“The church needs the model of gay sexual sexual communities because Christians have forgaotten how to think about social and sexual life outside the family”.

Writing about Rudy’s work, Elisabeth Stuart notes that

“The church has forgotten how to be a community, how to be the body of Christ and perhaps gay men have the grave task of teaching it to be a community wider than a family.”

Wow!

How far have we come?  Instead of simply sitting back and accepting the knee jerk, unfounded  accusations of “Sodomy”, we find that there are serious, credible Scripture scholars and theologians who have first, shown that the traditional use of the clobber texts to atack us is at best inappropriate, or possibly totally unfounded; that there are positive role models in Scripture, in both the Old Testmament and the New;  that far from encouraging traditional family values, the Gospel message opposes themwith what are quite frankly queer values, and that far from the fundies being in a position to lecture us on how to behave, we should be teaching them a thing or two about the Gospels and how to move beyond an unChristian “Focus on the Family” to a wider “Focus on Community”!

Beyond gender.

Rudy continues, says Stuart, to “construct a sexual ethic which is communal in nature and queer in its politics.”  Because in recent centuries there has been so much emphasis on first reproduction and then on complementarity as the sole purposes of sex, the result is that “celibacy, singleness and communal life, which have been valued for so long in Christian history, no longer have a place in Christian life.”

In a neat inversion of the story of Sodom, “for Rudy the story of Sodom teaches us that what is ultimately pleasing to God about sexuality is the quality of its hospitality.  This is not to say that every stranger must be offered sex, but that sex must cultivate an openness  and warmth to strangers, it must open our hearts, break down our boundaries, and push us beyond ourselves.  Hospitality is procreative, it expands and widens the community.  When we open our homes to outsiders, the private space of the home becomes the public space of the Church, and so not only is gender collapsed but so is the dualism between private and public. The cult of domesticity is destroyed and replaced by an ethic which subverts worldy concepts of gender and understands sex in the context of building up the body of Christ.”

How far from James Dobson is that?

See also:
Queering the Church:
Books:
Althaus-Reid, Marcella: Indecent Theology
Horner, James: Johnathan Loved David
 
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey:  Omnigender
Rudy, Kathy: Sex and the Church
Stuart, Elisabeth: Gay & Lesbian Theologies

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Books: Where to Begin? January 1, 2009

One of the best ways to prepare oneself for the onslaught of religion-based hostility is to read some of the very many books on the subject that have  emerged over the last thirty years or so. But with such a wealth of titles available, and the field constatnly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?

The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for playpeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in scripture, or Church teaching, or both? From a gay male, lesbian, or trans perspective? All these questions, and more, will influence your choice. In my detailed posts for each book, I have attempted to provide answers to these questions. The labels included in each post will help you to find books on a specific topic. With time, I will be building in thematic lists, a search engine, and other means to access exactly what you personally will find helpful – but all these refinements take time, while I am simultaneously trying to expand the number and range of books included. I crave your patience.

In the meantime, I offer some suggestions of what might be the most useful for specific purposes.

For a very simple, introductory overview of Scripture and Church teaching, I was impressed by “The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality”, by Nicholas Coulton. Written from an Anglican perspective, but is also more widely applicable.

Also tackling both Scripture and Church teaching, but going into more detail, former Jesuit John McNeill’s “The Church and the Homosexual”, was one of the very first and is still a classic. “A Question of Truth” by the Dominican priest Gareth Moore covers much the same ground, and is much more recent.

On Scripture specifically, I think the best for the general reader is “Dirt, Greed and Sex”by the Episcopalian L. William Countryman. For a later, more Evangelical approach to the same subject, read Eugene Rogers, …If you are ready to tackle a more academic treatment bristling with footnotes, then read the chapter on Scripture in the landmark“Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” by John Boswell. (This is also of fundamental importance for gay church history, and the development of theology). If you are put off by the excessive footnotes and Greek & Latin quotations, you will find summaries of his arguments in many of the other books).

The Catholic priest, theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak has written that McNeill, Countryman and Boswell (noted above) were the three books that nmost influenced his own thinking and understanding. Helminiak’s “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality“. Helminiak’s book is often listed alongside those three.

It is important though not to get bogged down in biblical studies of homoeroticism by dealing only with fending off the oppressive texts of terror.  There are many ways in which we, like all other Christians, can read scripture for its positive inspiration. “Take Back the Word” (edited by Robert Goss) does just that.

An important set of books “from a perspective Catholic and gay” are more difficult to classify. These are the series by the theologian and former Dominican James Alison. These are undoubtedly works of “theology”, but the word is misleading, with its associations of ancient, scholastic tomes. Alison’s books are tightly reasoned, but presented in an informal, chatty style, as a series of reflections on God, and on what it means to be both gay and Catholic. These are all popular and highly recommended. Start with the first in the series: “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay.”

Faith is incomplete without prayer. The Presbyterian Chris Glaser has several books on prayer for gay men and lesbians. A good one to begin with is “Coming Out to God” – which is a good way to think of starting our queer faith journey.

Finally, two books by Catholic priests which offer a completely fresh, unfamiliar take on the awkward question of sexual ethics: “Sex and the Sacred” by Daniel Helminiak, and “Sex as God Intended”, by John McNeill.

(Note:

I realise that all the above titles are written by men, and have a clearly male focus, although all do also try to cover lesbian relationships as well as gay male. There are good books by women, but I am not aware of any (yet) that I can reommend at this general level. I will make a point of highlighting books written from lesbian, bi or trans perspectives when I discuss some more specialised topics.)

The full introductory list then, is:

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Coulton, Nicholas: The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality

Countryman, William: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

McNeill, John: The Church and the Homosexual

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality

Rogers, Eugene:  Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church