Category Archives: 10 Bible

Parable of the Gay Samaritan

At his personal blog a few years ago, Fr Geoff Farrow published a post called  Delivery “Salvation”, in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”
In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.
 
He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book “Know My Name“. I summarise his telling here:
Cleaver imagines a modern traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked by muggers and left for dead in the gutter. A bishop comes past  in his Cadillac, which had been given to him by a car dealer, one of the most generous financial supporters of the diocese. Seeing the half-dead body at the roadside, he first thought it was just a pile of litter. Realizing it was a human body, he considered stopping, but decided against: he saw that the body was naked, and feared that taking a naked man into his car might cause a scandal. So, he drove on, consoling himself that these kinds of social services were better left to the professionals.
He then describes another traveller passing by, a prominent Catholic layman. He too thought of helping the man by the wayside, but then considered the implications. If the man was already dead, it was too late for help, and he would find himself caught up in endless bureaucratic red tape. If he was not dead and recovered, there was a danger that the injured man might find a reason to sue him for any mishap en route to the hospital. There was also the problem of the man’s nakedness –  what had happened to his clothes? There was an assumption that the man obviously was not a man of god to be in that state, or must have done something to bring about his own misfortune. So he, too, went on his way.
Then a third traveller came past, a gay man returning home from his head office in Jerusalem, where he had just been fired, because someone had discovered he was gay, after his lover had beaten to death in a gay-bashing. When he saw the injured man, he immediately stopped, and was reminded of his lover’s beating and death. Realising the man was still just about alive, he applied what first aid he could, loaded him into the car and drove him to the nearest hospital.
“Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him.  The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.
At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with this arm around the good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to the neighbour in distress. This act, he concluded, showed a true Christian spirit. He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”
“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons. It just seemed to me like the human thing to do. I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the football team.” The gay man smiled at the cameras.
The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.”

The Queer Christ: Same Sex Desire and Biblical Exegesis (Keith Sharpe)

Jesus Queer Family: the household of Martha and Mary
Jesus Queer Family: the household of Martha and Mary

This paper explores the idea of queer theory generally and queer theology specifically as a set of techniques for the radical deconstruction of all normative sexual identities and social categorisations. It is argued that these techniques resonate with the praxis of Jesus who was essentially crucified by the Jewish religious and Roman political authorities for his queerness in this sense, because in his life and teaching he subverted all the main institutional structures and taken-for-granted realities of his time in order to reveal the transcendent truth which ‘sets us free’.  Since the Bible is witness to Christ as the Word it follows that it can and should thus be read as a queer-friendly text through the lens of the queer Saviour.  Biblical exegesis should take account therefore not only of the multiple contexts of textual narratives but also the inescapable queerness of the worldview which their authors took for granted. Continue reading The Queer Christ: Same Sex Desire and Biblical Exegesis (Keith Sharpe)

The Gospels’ Queer Values.

Jesus & Family

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to do with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as certainly “queer”, if not quite as specifically gay.  In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the ‘family’ as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus’ own ‘family’ in childhood and maturity,  at His actions, and at His words.

The Jewish Family.

It is important to recognise that traditional Jewish society did indeed place enormous importance on the idea of family, both in the narrow sense of the immediate biological family, and in the broader sense of the ethnic Jewish community.  This was so important that on the one hand, everyone was expected to marry and produce l, and on the other, that those outside the narrow ethnic group were regarded as inferior, even unclean.  The  detailed dietary and other regulations well -known from the Old Testament were part of an elaborate legal structure to maintain the ‘purity’ of the Jewish nation. The Jewish family, however, was very different from our modern conception, deeply patriarchal, and with uneven treatment of men and women. Women were were expected to show rigorous sexual fidelity to their husbands, and were thought of as the ‘property’ of their men.

In the broader social environment, the Jewish state in Jesus’ day was under Roman military occupation.  Like the Greek society of the time, the Romans too had a deeply patriarchal society, and one in which there was not the modern distinction between ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ activities.  Distinctions were drawn rather, on the social class of one’s sexual partners, and male citizens would routinely have sex not only with their wives, but also with other lovers, prostitutes and slaves of either gender.

Jesus’ Families.

My reflections on this theme were initially prompted by a posting on “Nihil Obstat” for the feast of the Holy Family, in which she pointed out how very atypical for the time was the Lord’s own childhood family, so often quoted as a model for all Catholic families.

But our childhood families are not the only ones we live with.  More important as we grow older are those adult families we make for ourselves, usually by forming couples in marriage or out of it, and with or without children.  As LGBT people we are also very conscious of how often we may remain single, but still form looser groups of friendship, who may in a real sense become our ‘families’ of a different sort.

So what were the adult ‘families’ that Jesus made for himself?

First, and famously, He did not marry.  This alone is remarkable, given the expectation in Jewish society of marriage and procreation.  So, what were His other relationships – what informal ‘families’ did He form?  We get the answer to this easily enough by looking at the Last Supper.  The Jewish Sabbath meal, and most especially that of Passover, are the occasions above all when Jewish people get together as families.  It is significant then that the Lord spent his own Passover meal – which we know as the ‘Last Supper’, with the 12 apostles:  these were the people we must take to represent His closest family.  Who were these men?  If they ever had wives and families of their own, they had been set aside to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus.

Think about it:  on the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, when it was customary for all Jewish people to share a ritual meal with their closest family, Jesus and the apostles spent the evening as a group of single men.  Does this not sound remarkably like a modern group of urban gay men spending our equivalent family festivals sharing meals together, away from biological families?

Single people know, of course, that the concept of “family” can be fluid. In addition to our closest, most intimate circle, there are often others who might be very close, almost family, but not quite in our innermost circle. Who represented this ‘almost family’ circle to Jesus Christ?  The most obvious candidates to me are the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with whom He had an obviously close and special relationship.  What was the nature of this household?  Once again, very far from the expected “traditional” family.  The two women are described as ‘sisters’ and come across to me as the stronger, more vividly drawn characters:  Lazarus is famed more for his death and rescue from it, than for anything in his life.  Even at face value, this is an unusual household:  Jewish women would typically have been married off at an early age, not still living as adults with their brother.  Where such households did exist, it would normally be the brother, as the only male, who would be expected to dominate the household and be the focus of attention.  For a clearer understanding of the household, it is worth remembering that the word ‘sisters’ may have been used euphemistically: it is at least possible that Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple, living with a gay friend as lodger.

So: in His families of choice, the Lord spent His time either with a band of single men, or with a household of two single women  (possibly a lesbian couple), and yet another unmarried man. Even in the broader social circle, I am not aware of any instance where He is reported as spending time with a a conventional married couple with children.  Thus far, in examining the Lord in His own family context, we have found not an endorsement, but a repudiation, of the traditional family.

I still need to show that this repudiation of the traditional family is continued in His words and actions.  That I will do later in a  follow-up post.

The Sin That Cries to Heaven For Vengeance

For a long time, I’ve been thoroughly irritated by those sanctimonious Catholics (and others) who tray to remind us (for our own good, they would claim) that homosexuality is “the” sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.  However, as I had never myself come across any such reference, I did not know the origin of the claim, and could not respond.  Finally, I got my act together and investigated. What I found was useful, and worth sharing.

First, as one might expect, there is not such thing as “the” sin that cries out, but several: depending on your source, there are four or five of them.  The claims for grouping these together come from old sources, and are based on a shared interpretation of Biblical verses.  Apart from the allegation that “homosexuality” is one of them, the others are:

Murder (not surprising):
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gn 4:10)
Oppression of Widows and Orphans
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” (Ex 21-23)
Now, I would have thought that a failure to provide health care to widows and orphans counts as “oppression”.
Cheating Laborers of Their Due
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be a sin in you.” (Dt 24:14-15)
So, paying unfair low wages is  also a sin crying out to the Lord.
Sodomy
Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me.” (Gn 18:20-21) The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of homosexual activity. So far gone were they in this vice that the men of the town would not even accept heterosexual license with Lot’s daughters, both virgins, as a means of sating their lust (see 19:8-9).
Ah, there it is – the old canard that homosexuality is the sin of Sodom. It is not – as any actual reading of the Bible, and not the endless commentary that abuses it, makes clear. I will return to this below.
The four cases listed above are the four given at the  “Catholic Doors” website, which also warns us (ironically to interpret these carefully, free from cultural conditioning.  Yet their interpretation of the Sodom story is entirely based on cultural conditioning.  It is not Scripture, but popular prejudice that has associated the sin of Sodom with homoeroticism. History shows that religious opposition to same sex relationships has followed  popular bigotry, not led it.
Another source , the blogger Douglas Lawrence, adds to the above list a fifth, the “oppression” in Egypt:.
Q. 1. How many sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance?

A. There are five sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

Q. 2. What are they?
A. Based on # 1867 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are:
(1) Wilful murder – the blood of Abel, [Gen. 4:10]
(2) The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]
(3) The cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, [Ex. 3:7-10]
(4) The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22] and
(5) Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4]

So, what is this “sin of Sodom”?  Canon Bailey, writing half a century and more ago, did extensive research in Scripture, in the Apocrypha, and in the Pseudepigrapha, and came up with some clear answers.
Genesis 19, which tells the story of Sodom’s destruction, is remarkable vague on the subject of the precise sin that had brought down this dramatic penalty. I had read previously (in Boswell, and elsewhere) some of the texts from other books of the Hebrew scriptures that tell us more, but Bailey has an impressively long list. Gay men in particular,who have for so long been beaten over their heads for their supposed “sin of Sodom”, would do well to absorb these, and understand just what the true sin is.
Jer 23:14
In the prophets of Jerusalem also I have seen a horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies, and they strengthen the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them become unto me as Sodom , and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Ez 16: 49-50
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease…..; And they were haughty, and committed abomination (to ‘ēbhāh) before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Wisd 19: 8
Whereas the men of Sodom received not the strangers when they came among them; the Egyptians made slaves of the guests who were their benefactors.
Ecclus 16: 8
God spared not those with whom Lot sojourned, whom he abhorred for their pride
3 Maccabees 2:5
“Thou didst burn up with fire and brimstone the men of Sodom, workers of arrogance, who had become known for all their crimes
Jubilees 13: 17
The Men of Sodom were sinners exceedingly
Jubilees 16: 5-6
The Lord executed his judgement on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the regions of the Jordan ad he burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh...
Jubilees 13: 17
And Abraham told of the judgement of the giants and the judgement of the Sodomites, how they had been judged on account of their wickedness, and had died on account of their fornication,  and uncleanness…..
Josephus, Antiquities
About this time, the men of Sodom grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust toward me, and impious toward God…… they hated strangers
Josephus, Antiquities
Now when the Sodomites saw the young men [the angels] to be of beautiful countenance, and this to an extraordinary degree, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence.
Bailey has more, but I leave it there.  It is clear that only the last of the list refers to sex with men – and the emphasis there is not on gender, but on force and violence.  Otherwise, apart from some generic statements about “wickedness”, or “fornication”,  the sins specified are about pride, injustice, indolence, and hostility or lack of hospitality to strangers.
Now that we have a clearer understanding of the sin of Sodom, we can now return to the “sins crying to heaven”.  In addition to murder, all the sins crying to heaven are about injustice and oppression.  Not one has anything at all to do with voluntary sexual relationships between men.
We as gay men are not the perpetrators of sins crying to heaven – we are their victims.

Water into Wine: Jesus’s Gay Wedding at Cana.

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops’ opposition. “Take Back the Word” (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the “texts of terror”, to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ” (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.

Who was getting married?

In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the “water” of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the “wine” of celebration?  This, I thought, is what Elizabeth Stuart does in a short piece “Camping Around the Canon”, which (as it happens) she ends with some thoughts on weddings. Stuart’s point is that we need to be able to approach Scripture with laughter, which is too often absent from religious practice. After a concise exposition of the historical and theological justification for the approach, she offers just one illustration of what she means,  discussing Ephesians, 5:21-33 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”), which is so often used at weddings, and which for women can so easily become a text of terror. Hearing it read at weddings, she says, left her “churning with anger”. But an analysis by Gerard Loughlin changed her reaction from tragic to comic, as the “heteropatriarchal” readings are

undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as “groom” and “husband”; to the “bride” and “wife” of the other, whether it is to a man or woman.  For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does.”

-Gerard Loughlin, “Baptismal Fluid“, unpublished paper quoted by Stuar

Stuart comments:

Loughlin’s reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the “original” reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.

-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss “Take Back the Word

I remember a comparable insight and laughter from my own experience. Once on retreat, I found myself reflecting on the familiar image of the Church as the bride of Christ, and realized that as a gay man, I was spared the oddity (for straight men) of imagining myself as “bride”, and instead was able to picture myself in my meditation as “groom” of Christ – a meditation that became extremely powerful. Looking  back on it later, I found satisfaction and humour in the realisation that my orientation had given me a unique advantage in my prayer.

This left me with a predisposed receptivity to Loughlin’s main ideas concerning the wedding at Cana.  Instead of considering the miracle of transformation, he asks instead, “Who is it that was married?”. He answers the question in stages.

First, he points out that the story should be read as a parable, with distinct anticipation of the Last Supper,  Passion and Resurrection. The wedding takes place on “the third day” (anticipating the resurrection) after He has talked with Nathanel (John 1:43 -51), and the transformation of water into wine anticipates the transformation of wine into His blood. In a liturgical setting, the Mass recalls these three days. So, it is a standard idea that symbolically, in the church’s recollection of the story, we are all guests at the wedding, where Christ is marrying his Church.   At one level closer to the literal, it is Christ marrying his disciples. Loughlin then goes on to discuss a fascinating more literal idea from the early and medieval church – that it was indeed Christ who was married – to John, the beloved disciple. This idea was articulated in the apocryphal Acts of John, in which it is said that John broke off his betrothals to a woman to “bind himself” to Jesus. This was apparently a common strand in some German medieval thinking, right up until the Reformation, and is visually illustrated in some surviving art.  In a  “Libellus for John the Evangelist”, a painting of the wedding feast is said to feature a bearded Christ seated next to a beardless, androgynous John – whom, says Loughlin, he appears about to kiss.  In the “Admont Codex” illustrated manuscript of  St Anselm’s “Prayers and Meditations”, an illustration in two parts shows John’s story. In one, John is seen leaving his female betrothed. In the companion piece, he is lying on the ground with this head on Jesus’s breast, while Jesus himself is tenderly caressing his chin.

Is this tradition “true”? We cannot know. Like so much much else in Scripture, it is impossible to get through the mists produced by unfamiliar language, a different literary tradition, and remote historical /cultural context to get close to the literal “truth” behind the text.   No matter. Even without accepting  this idea literally, it is enough for me to know that it was once widely accepted in the mystical tradition, and to incorporate it into my reader response.

It is when Loughlin moves beyond the “meaning” of the text to its multiple ironies that the fun starts. This where, in sympathy with Elizabeth Stuart, I found myself quite literally laughing with Scripture.  For if it is true that the consecration of Eucharistic wine into Christ’s bloods is prefigured in the Cana transformation of water into wine, then we can see that in every Mass we are commemorating  Christ’s own wedding with His (male) disciples. Every Mass can be seen as a mystical gay wedding.  That Mass is celebrated by a priest who has committed himself to celibacy, and so forswears procreation himself, but is expected to preach against gay marriage or others – because homosexual intercourse, being unable to procreate, is “intrinsically disordered“. The priesthood in turn, is run by a a similarly celibate coterie in the Vatican which reproduces itself by recruitment not biological reproduction – and castigates the homosexual community for its own social, not biological reproduction.

The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men – named “fathers”- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men – a veritable palace of “eunuchs”for Christ  – that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity – the celibate lifestyle – not also a threat to family and society?

-Loughlin, introduction to “Queer Theology”

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

Loughlin, Gerard (ed): Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (BBPG)

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Magisterium and Scripture

The problem with attempting to deal with the Magisterium of the Church is that it is so vast, that the only way to do it is as one would eat an elephant: one piece at a time. I propose to do just that. Today’s contribution represents just the first course – more will follow.

As the people who insist we follow the Magisterium often also refer us to the Bible, I thought it would be helpful to begin with a look at what the Magisterium has to say about the interpretation of Scripture. Even this is a vast topic. One good starting point is to look at the useful report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (which may be read in full at the excellent “Catholic Resources” website of Felix Just, SJ).

This important document discusses several different approaches to biblical interpretation with their strengths and weaknesses, and offers an overall evaluation of each. Broadly, the commission finds some difficulties and strengths with each, although some seem to find more favour than others. I have no intention of attempting to provide a comprehensive review in a short introduction, but I do want to pull out some specific quotations which seem to me to be especially relevant to any discussion of sexuality and Scripture.

Possibly the most important single sentence to me comes right at the beginning of the Preface:

“The study of the Bible is, as it were, the soul of theology…. This study is never finished; each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books.

(Which is why I insist that we need to take seriously the findings of modern scholars on the old clobber texts, which cast an entirely new light on their interpretation.)

The INTRODUCTION then continues with an important warning:

“The Bible itself bears witness that its interpretation can be a difficult matter. Alongside texts that are perfectly clear, it contains passages of some obscurity “

(which is why we must be cautious of glib and superficial references to single verses or passages taken at face value.)

One of the reasons for the difficulty, of course, is that

“Readers today, in order to appropriate the words and deeds of which the Bible speaks, have to project themselves back almost 20 or 30 centuries”.

(Which is exactly what our critics seldom attempt to do.)

The first specific approach considered is that of the “Historical-Critical” method:

“Textual criticism….. begins the series of scholarly operations. Basing itself on the testimony of the oldest and best manuscripts … textual-criticism seeks to establish, according to fixed rules, a biblical text as close as possible to the original.”

(To which I would simply point out that the most explicitly erotic book in he Bible, the ” Song of Songs“, is seldom mentioned by religious conservatives discussing homosexuality. But there are good reasons to believe that it was written as a love poem spoken by two men. At least one scholar believes that the oldest available manuscript has a text with language that is unambiguously and exclusively masculine – and that later texts were effectively censored to hide the homerotic element. See the The Song of Songs: the Bible’s Gay Love Poem at The Wild Reed for a useful discussion and review of this book.)

“The text is then submitted to a linguistic (morphology and syntax) and semantic analysis, using the knowledge derived from historical philology”

(No translation which followed this principle would ever have inserted the modern term “homosexuality” anywhere in the Bibple. Not only the word, but even the concept as we understand it, would have been unknown in Biblical times.)

The report continues with a discussion of three forms of literary analysis: rhetorical, narrative, and semiotic.

“Applied to the Bible, the new rhetoric aims to penetrate to the very core of the language of revelation precisely as persuasive religious discourse and to measure the impact of such discourse in the social context of the communication thus begun

 

“With respect to the narrative approach, it helps to distinguish methods of analysis, on the one hand, and theological reflection, on the other.”

 

“Connected with this kind of study primarily literary in character, is a certain mode of theological reflection as one considers the implications the “story” (and also the “witness”) character of Scripture has with respect to the consent of faith and as one derives from this a hermeneutic of a more practical and pastoral nature”

This approach of literary analysis as a basis for pastoral reflection surely supports the kind of Gospel reflections from a gay/ lesbian perspective offered by writers such as Richard Cleaver (“Know my Name“), Michael B. Kelly in “The Road from Emmaus” (reprinted in “Seduced by Grace”) or on -line by Jeremiah at “Gospel for Gays” – and many others.

The next group of approaches discussed are those based on tradition, including the “canonical” approach, which begins

“within an explicit framework of faith: the Bible as a whole.”

to which I can add only, “Hear! hear!”)

We then go on to approaches from the human sciences, particularly the sociological and cultural anthropology approaches, which require

“as exact a knowledge as is possible of the social conditions distinctive of the various milieus in which the traditions recorded in the Bible took shape”.

and seeks

“to define the characteristics of different kinds of human beings in their social context….-with all that this involves by way of studying the rural or urban context and with attention paid to the values recognized by the society……. to the manner in which social control is exercised, to the ideas which people have of family house, kin, to the situation of women, to institutionalized dualities (patron – client, owner – tenant, benefactor – beneficiary, free person – slave)….”

(and, I should not have to add, to prevailing ideas of “normal” sexual relations. I do however, have to stress this point, because this is precisely what the standard view of the Bible and homosexuality ignores. When one does indeed consider the social context of the times, the extraordinary thing about the Bible is not what it says about homosexuality, but how very little it says: no more than six or seven verses, of dubious relevance, in the entire Bible – none of them from the Gospels- this when most societies in the Mediterranean world did not disinguish between the morality of same sex or opposite sex genital acts. )

Of “contextual approaches“, the commission examined only “liberation theology” and “feminist theology”. Since 1993, however, there has been an explosion of writing in areas known variously as gay & lesbian, queer, or indecent theologies, which are of particular relevance to us. As these have largely developed out of other contextual theologies, the remarks of the commission may be easilty extended to them too.

Liberation theology had its roots in Vatican II, and found its most famous expression in Latin America, later also in South Africa and Asia.

“…starting from its own socio-cultural and political point of view, it practices a reading of the Bible which is oriented to the needs of the people, who seek in the Scriptures nourishment for their faith and their life.

It seeks a reading drawn from the situation of people as it is lived here and now. If a people lives in circumstances of oppression, one must go to the Bible to find there nourishment capable of sustaining the people in its struggles and its hopes.”

It is of course true that liberation theology has drawn some strong criticism from the Vatican, particularly in some of its later excesses, and the Commission notes these “risks”. Still, it observes,

“Liberation theology includes elements of undoubted value”.

Both of these observations (of risks simultaneoulsy with value) apply equally to Queer Theology.

Feminist readings, which began in the late 19th Century with the “Women’s Bible” but took on fresh vigour in the 1970’s, especially in the US, emphasises the patriarchal conditions in which Scripture was written, and the resultant biases , requiring that one adopt a position of suspicion about the texts as they stand and instead look for

“look for signs which may reveal something quite different.”

We in the LGBT community would do well to adopt this attitude of suspicion not so much to Scripture, which was not writen with a specifically heterosexual bias, but to much of the traditional commentary, which certainly applied later prejudice retrospectively onto the text.

On the final approach, of fundamentalist interpretaion, the Commission is scathing in its criticism

“The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language”

Of fundamentalism, I say no more.

Where does this leave us?

I freely acknowledge that in going through the Commissions report, I have necessarily been seleective and certainly display my own biases. This was unavoidable given the limitations of time and space. By all means, go through the full report yourelf, or if you want a full discussion on the contents, see “Interpreting the Bible: Three Views“at First Things

I, though, must work with my own conclusions:
  • Biblical interpretation is tricky, and must be undertaken with care. Simplistic use of isolated texts is particularly dangerous.
  • No single approach is complete and sufficient to itself. To one degree or another, all have weaknesses., and so need to be used in combination.
  • Particular sections, let alone single verses, must be evaluated in the context of the entire passage, or even of Scripture as a whole.
  • Careful attention must be paid to the social and cultural conditions of the time, and to the precise linguistic meaning of the words used.
  • The techniques of literary and contextual analysis are useful in providing pastoral reflections appropriatae for our conditions and oppression as LGBT Christians in the Church. There are however risks, and approaches such as queer theology need to be balanced also by other approaches.

Finally, having considered what the Magisterium (as formulated in this one report) has to say about Scripture, I would like to reverse the question: what does Scripture, and specifically the Gospels, have to say about the Magisterium?

Noting the observations about context and the Bible as a whole, I ask you to consider the religious conditions of Jerusalem during Christ’s ministry there. Consider the powerful Sanhedrin, the rabbinical hierarchy, the pharisees, sadducees and scribes who feature so prominently. Now consider Christ’s response to their challenges to His failure to follow the letter of religious law. Time and again, He insisted that adherence to the fundamental law of love, love of God, of one’s neeighbour, and of oneself, took precedence over merely literal adherence to religious regulation.

Now what do you suppose would be His response to those who insist on our blind obedience to the Catechism and to canon law, where it makes religious outlaws of people who are simply following their natural and god -given sexual orientation?

Just a thought.

Was Jesus Gay? Mark, and the "Naked Young Man".

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, andsimlarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.
Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.
In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….
Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:
And they all forsook him and fled.
And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).
(Mark 14: 50 -52)
Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?
But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:
And they came 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 upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad 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, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast 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 then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.
This passage has two literary connection to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.
Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?
The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”

God's Rainbow Covenant for ALL!

In Genesis 9:8-15,the first reading for the first Sunday of Lent (year B), we learn how God described the rainbow (his “bow in the sky”)as a covenant between God and all God’s creatures:

‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind.

a9c01-richmondpaulnoah27sgayweddingcruise
“Noah’s Gay Wedding Cruise,”, Paul Richmond

There is nothing in there to suggest that the Covenant applies only to opposite – sex couples in church – approved marriages. It is fitting, then, that in this image of the ark by  Paul Richmond, the homophobes and bigots opposed to inclusion and equality are left to drown in the flood waters.  Continue reading God's Rainbow Covenant for ALL!

Mary – the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56)

This passage, the third in the English bishops’ suggested texts for reflection on marriage as part of the consultation process for the Rome Family Synod 2015, is the familiar story of the Annunciation,  Mary’s subsequent visit to Elizabeth, and her song of praise, the “Magnificat”.  (The  text may be read  here, at Bible Gateway)

Fra Angeilico, “The Annunciation”

In my lectio divina practice, for the passage, I went through this as three distinct reflections. For each, I give the phrases that most struck me,  followed by my reasons. Continue reading Mary – the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56)

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?