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Homosexuality

September 6, 2009 1 comment

[Excerpt from an upcoming book. Title as yet undecided.]

Now, into the breach!, to the issue of universal controversy: homosexuality. The Hebrew laws against homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) specify that a man “shall not lie with another man as with a woman.” This phrasing seems to refer to anal intercourse as opposed to oral or manual. Let us begin there.

Returning to our desert people with poor hygiene, why might anal sex be banned? it does not take much imagination to come to an understanding of the rapid spread of diseases caused by anal sex without the benefit of hot and cold in-house running water and ample supplies of antimicrobial soap. I feel no need to go into the gruesome details. This is simply not a factor in our day and place. Despite the stigma of HIV as a “gay disease”, it is not homosexuality which passes diseases around; it is heedless promiscuity and the objectification of oneself and others (leading to lack of care in sexual hygiene) which spreads sexually-transmitted diseases today. Loving, committed homosexual couples are no more a moral problem than responsible pet ownership or—I’ll be flayed alive for this comparison in some circles—loving, committed heterosexual couples.

Other Hebrew Bible passages often used to condemn homosexuals are the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19-29) and the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:1-20). The latter is a much simpler tale (though no more gruesome), and can be dealt with simply: lack of hospitality is bad, but violent rape (of man or woman, by men or women) is very bad. The horror of the story is compounded by the callous treatment of a woman by the Levite, followed by his carving her up to serve as an example to others who lack hospitality (as if that were the greatest crime of the Benjamanites!). Let us summarize the moral of this hideous tale: Rape and murder are wrong! Now onward.

“Sodomy” is often used as a legal and cultural term intended to bludgeon people with the “evil of homosexuality”. In truth, however, Sodom and Gomorrah where not destroyed merely for harboring homosexuals. The narrative itself simply tells us of God responding first to a general “outcry” by sending angels to investigate, rescue the righteous of the area (which turned out to amount to only one family, that of Lot, his wife, and their daughters), and then to destroy it once these steps had been taken.

The Sodomites saw these angels, who appeared as (likely attractive) men, and not only did they not offer them food and beds, they actively tried to rape them! The crimes of Sodom, then, were greed, violence, lack of charity, and rape—the supreme act of human objectification. Lot went so far as to offer to the Sodomites the bodies of his own daughters in order to save the two strangers. The angels of God, not being ones to allow young women to be raped in their stead, put a stop to the whole proceeding by blinding the Sodomites just in time to circumvent violence, and made Lot and company abscond to yon mountains while Sodom was judged and sentenced.

Before I move forward, I would like to make an important point. Some may interpret the above to imply that the Hebrew purity laws were not “God-given”. In fact, that is the view of many liberal Jews, Christians, and secularists: the purity laws were totally man-made, and were put into God’s mouth either by tradition, or a need to legitimize them on the part of the clergy. More conservative elements of the faith community, however, state that not only are these laws the words of God Himself, but that they are therefore immutable and eternal laws. Why, then, do we Christians not follow the vast majority of them?

In answer, many Christians have looked to a middle way: the Law is certainly God’s Law, but laws change. It is not we who get to change them, but they are still dynamic. Jesus himself pointed to this fact multiple times, such as His pronouncement in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath[.]” All of the laws and commandments, in fact, exist for us and for creation, not as arbitrary dictates of a cosmic tyrant. A Jewish friend of mine put it thus: the Law exists to preserve life and to encourage love. Whenever it gets in the way of those things, it must be suspended. It seems, then, likely to me that God would give us laws to protect us from certain avoidable dangers, rather than just to give us “holy busywork”.

It is easy to move forward from here to the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus had little or nothing to say on the subject. That silence proves nothing on its own, and likely means that as a first-century Jew, he did not have to answer the question. It just wasn’t that pressing. Still, given his track record, I have a feeling that Jesus would have rebuked us for our judgments, had dinner with that nice lesbian couple on the next street over, and had done with it.

That sort of approach, though, is never enough for modern Christians, and it wasn’t enough for first-century Christians either, which is why Paul had to say a few words.

Paul specifically condemned a lot of things. He mentioned homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and again in Romans 1:18-29. According to Gordon Atkinson, preacher at Covenant Baptist Church, lover of New Testament Greek, and all around swell guy, the words used by Paul do not translate simply as “homosexual”, but instead refer less generally to young make prostitutes, and the older men who frequent them (a topic designed for daytime talk TV if ever there was one).* The picture painted here is not one of homosexuality, but of promiscuity and human objectification. And that about does it for the biblical sources. The rest is up to human prejudice and our devilish tendency toward Justice miscarried and aborted late-term.

*http://reallivepreacher.com/node/868

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Idolatry

Unfortunately, it is scorn for others that often marks religion’s public face in America, leading me to suspect that one of the most popular idols around today is still the Pharisee’s prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Luke—when he prays, it’s to thank God that he is not like other people, who don’t go to church, or if they do, don’t say the right prayers. Idolatry in this sense is the original equal-opportunity employer, and anyone can play: the Protestant fundamentalist looks down on the mainstream one as not “really” Christian, the conservative Catholic despises the “cafeteria” one, the self-proclaimed spiritual seeker sneers, “You go to church? I find God in nature.” (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, 1999 Riverhead, pg. 92)

Biblically speaking, idolatry is a pretty strong word. It doesn’t refer merely to worshiping created things (though it does refer to that), but perhaps especially to worshiping human concepts. “Idea” and “idol” share a root. Neither one is evil, of itself. Graven images and concepts are never dangerous of themselves. Always, always it is the use to which humans put them that comes to either good or ill. The created gods (Apollo, Thoth, etc.) are no more demonic than the Archangel Gabriel; studying their ways, the myths and stories about them, and the ideals for which they stood is a powerful experience, and God can speak to us through the created gods as well as (and more easily than) he can do through our fellow humans who often lack faith and put up obstacles to God’s grace.

Our human concepts are more harmful still, as they themselves are the obstacles we place between ourselves and grace. These ideas include the comparisons of which Kathleen Norris speaks. Since becoming a Christian, I have heard many times from my friends and acquaintances something along the lines of, “Church is so dead. I can find the Divine Force in the woods and flowers.” Before I was a Christian, I often heard, “God is beyond trees and rocks, not in them. Those of us who worship in a church can look past mere pantheism.” They both hate it, but they’re both right.

The religious life is not about dictating to one another where God can and can not be found, least of all telling God where he may or may not go. Instead, it is about gradually coming to the realization that God can be found anywhere if we are willing to open up to his Presence. It is best, of course, if we all begin where we most easily sense God’s Presence by temperament. For some people, it is the church in which they grew up, or at least a church or temple of the same religion or denomination. For my girlfriend (a Pagan) and I, we share a sense of the divine at our local botanical conservatory (Phipps Conservatory), the deep woods, fire spinning events, art and natural history museums, and Easter Vigil at her grandmother’s Byzantine Catholic parish. We are not limited to those places and times, but each have our own as well. We share meditation, but I also find God in the Bible, while she finds him instead in the act of creating art. Am I wrong for not finding God in drawing or painting? Perhaps I am, and maybe that will change as I try my hand more and more at those arts. Is she wrong for not finding God in the pages of the Bible? Certainly not, for reading the Bible is as much an art as writing poetry or drawing, and just like poetry and drawing it can require a lifetime from those not born with something of a knack.

Heaven and Earth are not coterminous, are not the same. They are also not separate. God’s dimension meshes with our own, combines with it, dances with it and unites with it in Love in an infinity of ways, many of which we cannot begin to guess or imagine. We must not blaspheme the Holy Spirit by trying to tame it, placing it in a box labeled “Christianity” or anything else, and claiming that God cannot minister with the Holy Spirit to those who have never heard the name of Christ or even those who have heard the Name and despise it. We will be forgiven our curses of the Son, our blasphemies against the Father, but if we live, think and speak in a way that says, “God cannot reach people of those religions,” we have set ourselves up for the fall of pride and have forgotten some of our most precious missions. The religious life is not about dictating to one another where God can and can not be found, but instead making of ourselves one of those place-time junctures wherein God dwells in our universe.

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