Tag Archives: Scripture

The Idol of Heteronormativity (Daniel 3:16-18)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to Nebuchadnezzar, “Great Ruler, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to overcome the blaze and rescue us from your hand. But even if God does not rescue us, we want you to know, Great Ruler, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

 

“Captian Moroni”
illustration from the Book of Mormon

My image of the Sacred does not fear sex and sensuality. The Holy does not consider it shameful to express a love that cries out to be celebrated. This sense of God and what God is about in creation, needless to say, gets me in trouble.

I consider myself steeped in the long and rich spiritual traditions of judeo-christianity. Yet, I freely admit that the god concepts that inform my relationship to the Sacred are different. Straight god images have only served to block access to the Holy as they are often used as instruments of spiritual bullying.

In one incident it was suggested that I should be immediately fired – not because I’m gay, but because I publicly joked about being a gay man married to a straight woman. On another occasion I was vehemently told that I was setting “the cause” back because a retreat team I was a part of named our event “QueerSpirit.”
– read the full reflection at “The Bible in Drag
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Ruth & Naomi, 20th December

The story of Ruth and Naomi is widely quoted by queer writers as an example from Scripture of possible lesbian love: but how relevant is it? Superficially at least, it is just a simple story of exceptionally strong family affection and loyalty, between mother- and daughter- in-law. Whether in any way “lesbian” or not, the story is relevant, but not perhaps in the way usually told. To unravel the lessons it may hold for us, let’s begin with the simple story.
Naomi was an Israelite widow, living for a while (on account of famine) in Moab, where she married her two sons to Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The sons later died, leaving Naomi “all alone, without husband or sons” ,
She did have two daughters-in-law, and when she heard that conditions back in Israel had improved, she returned, initially taking her two daughters-in-law with her. She then had a change of heart, and encourages the two women to return to their own home in Moab. After some persuasion, Orpah did so, but Ruth refused.

Do not press me to leave you
Or turn back from following you!
Where you go I will go,
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people will be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die –
There will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you
.
(Ruth 1: 16-17) Continue reading Ruth & Naomi, 20th December

Three Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

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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Trans in Scripture

The Ethiopian Eunuch is our most famous trancestor. However, there are many more scattered through the Bible, both visible and invisible. We shall meet many more later.

-Lewis Reay

The Many Eunuchs Hidden in Scripture

There are numerous trans themes and characters in Scripture. If these are not immediately familiar to us, this is because often, they are simply hidden in plain sight – invisible unless we take the trouble to open our eyes and look. However, I do not wish to reflect too deeply on an experience which is not my own. Instead, I simply share with you some more extracts from a piece byLewis Reay, “Towards a Transgendered Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs, printed in “Trans/formations” (edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood).
First, I wish to consider Jesus’ extraordinary saying in Matthew 19 (v 12 -13) about different types of eunuchs.  To my transgender ears and eyes the meaning of this text is plain …… I would suggest that the Matthew 19 verses are the clearest statement that Jesus makes about the inclusivity of the new realm. This is a realm where no-one is excluded, even the most marginal outsider.
To see the hidden trans people in Scripture, we need to be sensitive to the words as understood when they were written – not as we use them today. A key word here is “chamberlain”, which to modern ears, refers to a senior political or government official. This ignores the significance of the first part of the word – “chamber-“. Reay elaborates:
The Greek word eunocoi comes from the root eune, a bed, and the verb achein, to hold: thus a eunuch is a “bed-keeper”, or more literally a “bed-companion” or “chamberlain” who was responsible for taking care of a monarch’s numerous wives. It also appears as a court “official”. The secondary meaning of the word is an emasculated man, or one naturally emasculated from marriage or having children, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word çârîyç or saris means “to castrate”l it also means a eunuch or official. The word appears 13 times translated as “chamberlain”, 17 times as “eunuch” and 12 times as “officer”.

And so, many of the trans people in the Bible are hidden behind descriptors like “chamberlain”, or (as other writers have explained) “cupbearer” – which includes Nehemiah.

Let me introduce you to some of my spiritual trancestors – Carcas the severe, Mehuman, the faithful. Hegai, the eunuch, Zethar, the star, Harbona, the ass-driver, Abagtha, the God-given, and Biztha, the booty, all eunuchs of King Xerxes (see the book of Esther).
Ebed – Melech, the servant of the king, an Ethiopian eunuch in the service of King Zedekiah, through whose interference Jeremiah was released from prison; Ashpenaz, the chief eunuch of King Nebuchanezzer, Teresh, the strict, who plotted to kill King Xerxes, Sarsechim, the prince among eunuchs, and Shaashgaz, the servant of the beautiful.
Meet some rabsaris, chief eunuchs and high-ranking Babylonian officials: Hatach, the truthful, Bigthan, the juicy, and Bigtha, the juiciest.
And, not least, the famous Daniel, and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and the defiant Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego (see the Book of Daniel). Finally, our Ethiopian cousin, from Acts, who opens up the possibility of full inclusion into Jesus’ realm to all, not simply the Jewish world.
Most of these transectors named by Reay are minor characters, bit parts in the Biblical story. That’s not the case with his main argument.

The Genderqueer Jesus

Mollenkott (“Omnigender”) proposes that Jesus was chromosomally female (because of the virgin birth) …….. but phenotypically male. Mollenkott ties this in to the Genesis narrative of a God who is both male and female an neither, and therefore a Jesus who is equally both and neither, encompasing the breadth of “natural” human gender and sex diverstity….it is intersex people or female-to male trans-people who come closest to a physical resemblance to Jesus, being  chromosomally female and socially male.
Moxness (“Putting Jesus in His Place”) suggests that Jesus occupied queer space by virtue of his social location and th he location of his followers. Jesus’ followers put themselves outside the norms of society by leaving their homes and and their social gender roles to follow Jesus. By leaving their place in the household, ..they rendered themselves liable to the accusation of being eunuchs – their very gender identity was put into question for upsetting the gender norms of their time.
Jesus’ queer identity is not simply to be read in terms of sexuality, but he is truly gender queer. Jesus is our own trancestor: the challenge of eunuchs was that they could not be securely placed, they were in a position of ‘betwixt and between’, in a permanent liminal position (Moxnes).”
Moxnes’ discussion of the famous passage from Matthew 19 observes that in Jesus’ day, the word “eunuch” may have been used as a term of abuse (rather like “queer” or “faggot” today). This puts a special light on Jesus’ response.
Bohache argues (“The Queer Bible Commentary”) that if, as Moxnes suggests, the term”eunuch” was used as a slur against Jesus and his disciples, then we have hit upon an essential concept for a queer understanding of Jesus:  today there are many for whom the term “queer” is a volatile word, since it originated as a slur among our opponents, but activists and others ahve reclaimed the word and used it proudly.

Isaiah’s Welcome For All.

The Promise of “a house of prayer for all people”  in Isaiah is not simply a promise that eunuchs would be allowed. Rather, it is an unrestrained revolution to the existing order of who can approach God. 
Koch (in “The Queer Bible Commentary”) suggests that the last chapters of Isaiah commencing at chapter 56 present many instances of gender dissent and social queerness. 
The Matthean eunuch verses are a mirror to the Isaiah 56 passage which extends the kingdom of God to eunuchs with a special place greater than that of sons or daughters. …These verses encapsulate the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ message – there is no one who is marginalised in God’s eyes, all are included.

And so, I conclude with the celebrated and important words of Isaiah 56:

“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.
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD
to minister to him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Books

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach


Related Posts at QTC:

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The Gay Beatitudes

I missed these  when the Catholic priest Wild Hair first posted these at “A Piece of My Mind“, then came across them earlier this week. There is nothing that makes them any less relevant two months later, so draw your attention to them now:

Blessed are they who stand naked and shame free
before God and one another.

Blessed are they who celebrate the rich diversity of all people
as spiritual & sexual beings.


And they continue. Read the full set at A Piece of My Mind

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Lazarus, The Man Jesus Loved.

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)
These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.
Martha Mary and Lazarus
Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (Williams, Wilson, Goss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuart understands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.
Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”
I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:
“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)
The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.
So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?
It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.
It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)
Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.

“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).
Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:
She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.
Conclusion
I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.



Books:

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

Related Posts at QTC:

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“Practicing Safer Texts”: The Bible and Sexuality, Homosexuality

As gay men, we all know about the importance of practicing safe sex. When it comes to the Bible and sexuality, especially homosexuality, Ken Stone says we must practice safe texts, too. I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read this book and cannot comment personally on its quality, but the advice in the title is sound. We must read and respond to isolated Bible verses with extreme care. Failure to do so can be dangerous to our mental, emotional and spiritual health. “Everybody” knows that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as an abomination, goes the popular wisdom, which in turns fuels the opposition to LGBT equality and gay marriage, and at worst encourages prejudice, discrimination, bullying – and even murder. The popular wisdom is wrong.

At Newsweek, Lisa Miller introduces her discussion of two new books by Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan with an important reminder: the Bible devotes an entire book to a clear celebration of human sexuality, without any consideration of procreation or even permanent commitment and fidelity:

The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”

The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”

This frank Biblical erotica has too often been overshadowed in religious discussion of biblical sexuality by the modern puritanical perceptions of biblical sexual ethics.  These modern perceptions are a severe distortion. Miller writes:


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What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.

Some conservative commentators are outraged. “You cannot selectively twist the Bible to suit your purpose” is a common response – which completely overlooks the fact that this is precisely what the defenders of “traditional marriage, as found in the Bible” are doing all the time. The popular conception of “traditional marriage” is a relatively modern invention, very far removed from sexual ethics of the bible – as found in the actual text, and not in some befuddled pseudo-religious imaginations.

To really get to grips with biblical views on sexuality, “practicing safer texts”, requires proper study and reflection. Scholars who have done this have been reconsidering the traditional presentation for decades. Jennifer Knust (a professor of religion and an ordained Baptist pastor) and Michael Coogan (who trained as a Jesuit priest) have taken what is now common parlance among some academics, and made it more accessible to a wider audience.

For those who have followed the re-evaluation of  the bible’s supposed pronouncements on homosexuality in particular, it is easy to recount the counters to the half-dozen or so clobber texts, or “texts of terror”, on Robert Goss’s phrase. What I like about the accounts of these books, is that they move beyond the arguments around specific verses, and on to a more holistic view of Scripture as a whole, and approaches to its overriding message – strictly in accordance with the Pontifical Bible Commission guidance on biblical interpretation, with its emphasis on context – of the passage and the entire bible, as well as the historical conditions, the modern context, and with a careful eye to linguistic accuracy and literary conventions :

The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”

It is a discussion of the literary conventions that produces the greatest surprise for me: Coogan’s claim that Biblical language may use the term “foot” as a euphemism for genitals. This recognition leads to some completely novel and surprising perspectives on familiar passages:

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

However, it can also lead to some dangerous traps for the unwary:

When he is teaching to college students, he writes, someone inevitably asks about the scene in Luke, in which a woman kisses and washes Jesus’ feet—and then dries them with her hair. Is that author speaking about “feet”? Or feet? “As both modern and ancient elaborations suggest,” Coogan writes, “sexual innuendo may be present.” Scholars agree that in this case, a foot was probably just a foot.

Newsweek, What the Bible Really Says About Sex

We all know that “The Bible” is widely used as a cover to oppose legal protections for LGBT equality, or for full inclusion in church. Too often, as Candace Chellew Hodge points out, these arguments are made by people who have not actually read the bible, or if they have, they have, they have made not attempt to understand it with due consideration of its meaning, in the full scriptural, literary and historical context.

Over at Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, blogger Jenny Tyree isn’t surprised at Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain’s support for marriage equality. “It’s rather easy for 20-somethings—or millennials—to jump on the very tidy-looking ‘rights’ bandwagon that proponents of same-sex marriage have made marriage to be,’ she writes, rightly observing that the majority of people aged 18-29 support marriage equality.

What these darn kids are missing, Tyree says, is a real appreciation of biblical marriage. Instead, they’ve grown up “breathing air thick with a cultural disregard for marriage. Experiencing the personal benefit of having a married mom and dad doesn’t change what they witnessed—willful divorces and the suffering of the children of divorce. The result is a generational embrace of sex as a right and marriage as one of many lifestyles, rather than as the best family structure for children and a stabilizing force for society.”

-Candace Chellew-Hodge, Religion Dispatches

Chellew-Hodge goes on to point out (quite correctly )that what these people are proposing is emphatically not the supposed destruction of marriage and family, but its strengthening – by extending its protection and coverage to all families.

She also goes on to report on a Knust’s book, saying that it beautifully counters the tired argument that same-sex marriage undermines “biblical marriage”. Marriage in the Bible takes many forms. Which variety, exactly, are the defenders of “traditional” marriage thinking of?

When one actually reads the Bible (something a majority of “traditional marriage” supporters have obviously not done), one finds a myriad of models for marriage—most of them involving one man and many women—and all of those women are property of the man they are married to. Women were subservient to men in every way and had no voice or rights of their own. By the time we arrive at the Christian scriptures, we find Jesus openly discouraging marriage for his followers, requiring them to leave their families and follow him exclusively.

“From Jesus’ perspective, then,” Knust writes, “the family is made up of fellow believers, not kin with formal ties outsiders might recognize.”

Saying that one supports “biblical marriage” then is to say that one supports polygamy, or owning women, or leaving one’s family altogether and dedicating one’s life exclusively to following Christ. What millennials like Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain understand is that the tradition of marriage has evolved into a more inclusive institution encompassing mixed race marriages, and non-procreative marriages. Marriage today is not a matter of familial arrangements to enlarge land holdings or status. Marriage today is about the love and commitment between two people—as well as the government perks bestowed on the couple. Adding gays and lesbians to the mix does nothing to weaken marriage—it’s simply another evolution away from “biblical marriage” that was more about property rights than love.

Biblical marriage, according to Knust, looked like this: “women belong to men; male honor is tied, in part, to how well men supervise the women in their care; and men demonstrate their wealth and success by the number of legitimate wives and children they are able to acquire.”

Actually, given religious right preaching about how men are the head of the household and women are subject to the rule of the man, perhaps the religious right does believe in “Biblical marriage” after all.

At CNN, Jennifer Knust herself elaborates on the bible and homosexuality in particular, rebutting a key argument against gay marriage – that God created two distinct sexes. In fact, she points out, in the earliest versions of the creation story, it was accepted that the original human was androgynous:

We often hears that Christians have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin– that Scripture simply demands it.

As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing.

“I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them” is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability.

Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged.

In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.

Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.

Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.

According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”

When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”

From these perspectives, God’s original plan was sexual unity in one body, not two. The Genesis creation stories can support the notion that sexual intercourse is designed to reunite male and female into one body, but they can also suggest that God’s blessing was first placed on an undifferentiated body that didn’t have sex at all.

Jennifer Knust, CNN Religion Blogs

I do not propose that my readers should simply adopt the views expressed above simply on the strength of some third-hand reports of books that I have not yet had the opportunity to read myself. Biblical exegesis is a tricky matter for those of us without proper training. As the critics of these books are quick to point out, we do need to be guided in our interpretations of the texts by reliable scholarship. What the critics overlook though, is that scholarship itself is no longer supporting the traditional interpretations.

Ever since the early pioneers like Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, scholars who have re examined the evidence with an open mind have found that the traditional assumptions about the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality are unfounded. Bayley was followed by the historian John Boswell, with a chapter on scripture in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, and the detailed analysis by the Episcopal theologian William Countryman. This early trickle of works demonstrating the flaws in the traditional misinterpretations has become a flood, so that those denominations which have set up formal study programs have agreed that there is at the very least substantial room for disagreement. This is why we are now seeing a strong movement towards accepting even the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy, and even same sex weddings, in the US Mainline Protestant and European Lutheran churches. This re-evaluation by scholars and religious professionals, however, has not yet reached the popular mainstream, not in any significant numbers.

These latest additions to the range of available titles are welcome, and deserve to be widely read and reflected on.

Books:

Bailey. Derrick Sherwin: Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Coogan, Michael:God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says

Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed and Sex

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Knust, Jennifer WrightUnprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire

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

Stone, KenPracticing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective

Thelos, Phil: Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition

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