Category Archives: New Testament

"Relax, Let Go, Trust" (Luke 12:22-31)

from “The Bible In Drag:”

Then (Jesus) said to the disciples, “That’s why I tell you, don’t worry about your life and what you are to eat. Don’t worry about your body and what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Take a lesson from the ravens. They don’t sow or reap. They have neither a food cellar nor a barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds? Can any one of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why worry about the rest?

“Notice the flowers grow. They neither labor nor weave, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was robed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass in the field – which is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow – how much more will God look after you! You have so little faith!

“As for you, don’t set your hearts on what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink. Stop worrying! All the nations of the world seek these things, yet your Abba God well knows what you need. Set your sights on the kin-dom of God, and all these other things will be given to you as well.”

(Luke 12:22-31)

by AlicePopkorn

I start with a confession – I have always wrestled with these words: don’t be anxious, don’t seek to control, trust. This advice is hard enough in general, yet from a queer perspective they seem to have even more weight. There are a thousand things to fret about. For those just discerning their orientation the whole issue of managing the closet, of who knows, who doesn’t know, when do we want someone to know, and each and every individual with which a potentially difficult conversation needs to take place with the risk of rejection. For those yearning and fighting for marriage equality and the constant and seemingly unending battle for respect and legal justice. For those who’ve mourned quietly over a break up, or even the death of a lover – not understood, or simply ignored by others.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.November 11, 2013

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The Lord Seeks Out Outcasts, Dining With Us. (Luke 19:1-10)

The story from Luke’s Gospel, telling of Zacceus in the sycamore tree, has a direct parallel with the situation of gay men and lesbians in the Christian churches. Zaccheus is a tax collector, and so seen as an outcast, an obvious sinner, in Jewish society. Yet even so, Jesus not only accepts him, he invites himself to Zaccheus’ home.

zacchaeus in the sycamore tree

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

Conventionally, when people speak of “Romans 1” in the context of homosexuality, they are thinking in terms of the end of the chapter,verses 26 and 27,  with their apparent condemnation. of homoerotic acts. There are two basic flaws with this assumption. As James Alison and others have pointed out, the division of the text into chapters and verses is relatively modern, and arbitrary. It is inappropriate to read these verses in isolation, without consideration of the full context. Reading the whole of Chapter 1, immediately followed by chapter, gives quite a different perspective on the intended lesson – that the passage as a whole, as of the full letter to the Romans, is a condemnation of hypocrisy.in judging others.

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul's letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)
Part of a Syriac ms of Paul’s letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

Continue reading Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

"Meaning Making" (John 18:37-38a)

From “The Bible In Drag”

Pilate Said, “So you’re a King?

Jesus replied, “You say I’m a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.”

“Truth? What is truth?” asked Pilate.

John 18:37-38a

debate-peter-heydeck

This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Roman Procurator of Palestine during the trial which will send Jesus to the cross. The Gospel of John gathers up several of it’s threads here. Jesus is from outside this world and has come into it. Jesus bears witness to God (referred to in this passage as “the truth”), and every who responds to Jesus is in fact responding to God.

But when I read this interchange as a queer person, other themes seem to rush forward, especially Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” No longer do we perceive truth to be eternal as the writer of John did. Now days truth is much more contextualized as an understanding which arises within a particular social location and is open up to critique by the experience of those who live in other settings. I wrestle with this more fully in my exploration of the “truth” of Jesus as Christ in the post entitled A Queer-Centric Christology.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.October 16, 2013

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"The Civil Partnership Celebration at Canaa".

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (although the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2, 1-11; Gospel for Sunday, January 17.
For a specifically gay reflection on the Gospel, Gospel for Gays” is exactly what it says:  a site with a particular focus on Gospel  reflections by Canadian Catholic blogger Jeremiah. For this week’s Gospel on the wedding at Cana, Jeremiah asks us to imagine the scene as a “gay” wedding.

This is not as far-fetched as it might at first appear. There is an intriguing little bit of history buried in the name of the village – “Cana”.  This is not the same as the “land of Canaan” we know from the Old Testament, but if it were, the idea of a miracle at the gay wedding feast would have been entirely feasible.. Canaan is one of several middle eastern lands where it is known that same sex marriages were recognized in law.  (Egypt and Mesopotamia were some other examples). We must also remember that for Jesus Himself, it is highly unlikely that a same sex marriage would have bothered him in the least.  We know for example, that he did not hesitate to heal the Roman centurion’s “pais“, or slave almost certainly used for sexual purposes, and probably with an emotional component added to the relationship;  among his closest friends were the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who at the very least represented a most unusual household by the strictly gendered standards of the time,  but for whom the reported relationship of “sisters” may have been a euphemism for a lesbian relationship; He explicitly stated that “eunuchs” (the closest equivalent to the modern idea of “gay men”) were welcome in the Kingdom of heaven.  At this evening’s LGBT Mass in Soho, our celebrant, Fr Sean Middleton, introduced his homily with a (jocular) reference to the “civil partnership” at Cana.
Fr Middleton also raised some important points which struck a chord with me, in connection with the reading from Paul, and the recent observations of Pope Benedict on creation and homosexuality.  Recall that the reading from Paul to the Corinthians was the well-known passage on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Listening to the words, I remembered how many psychotherapists and spiritual directors state clearly that sexuality is a gift, and that to is a gift that comes to different people in different forms – one of which is a homoerotic orientation. Elsewhere, Paul teaches that celibacy too is a gift, not given to all. Referring briefly to Benedict’s claim that “homosexuality” is a threat to creation, because if the whole world were gay, humankind would become extinct, Fr Middleton pointed out that exactly the same argument applied if the whole world were to embrace celibacy (and I’ve never read that Benedict has condemned celibacy as a “threat to creation”. )
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Sex and Relationships: The Woman Caught in Adultery

In several recent posts where I discussed pairs of lovers who might be thought of as gay or lesbian saints, (Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan, Jesus and John, the Beloved Disciple), I have had to face the question of whether these really were “gay”, were these clearly erotic relationships, was there physical expression?  In each case, I suggested that the question was largely irrelevant.  Colleen (and others) in the comments thread pointed out the importance of the quality of the relationships instead.

This point is made very neatly in an observation I came across in “Living it Out”, a useful little book which describes itself as “a survival guide for lesbian gay and bisexual Christians, and their friends, families, and churches.”  Straight away, the title is instructive. There many books, websites and other resources which aim to offer help or guidance to queer Christians and there families. This is the first one I have come across to suggest that the churches also, need help. (The suggestion of course is sound – but I’m not following that up today.)

It is indeed a survival guide, and one of the features that makes ti useful is that it makes no attempt at complex theological argument or exegesis of Scripture, nor is it in any way preachy. What it does instead, is to draw on the thoughts and experiences of  a wide range of contributors, including lesbian gay and bisexual people, as well as family members, friends, pastors and simple straight allies. (Note also the word “bisexual” in that last sentence. We routinely parrot “LGBT”, but seldom specifically include the “B” or the “T”. This book does not profess to include “T”, but does have some useful observations on “B”.)  The material is not organized by contributor, but by theme, with the editors weaving together ideas from a selection of people for each section, fleshing it out with their own ideas, including frequent presentation of “top tips”, and action points and a prayer at the end of each chapter.

One reflection from a contributor “Bill” discussed the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery: (John 8 :3-11)

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.  They made her stand before the group  and  said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

“At this, those who heard begn to go away one at  a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they?  has no-one condemned you?”

“No-one sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The story of the woman caught in adultery is used by both sides of this sort of argument.  One side says “look, Jesus didn’t condemn her” and the other side says yes, but he told her to sin no more.”  The detail I find interesting is Jesus writing in the sand.  We go on and on about sex, either for or against.  It is so easy to latch on to it as an area where actions are unambiguous.  Some think (with good reason) that sex is dangerous and must be controlled. Some think it is to be celebrated and enjoyed (which may often be appropriate).  Both sides think it is unavoidable and of overwhelming importance  .  But Jesus just goes on writing.  perhaps he is bored by the whole idea of sex, as opposed to relationships.

Was Jesus Gay?

According to Sir Elton John, the answer is clearly yes.

Sir Elton John is facing a backlash from conservative Christian groups after stating in an interview that Jesus was a gay man.

The 62-year-old musician also opened up to US magazine Parade about the “life-threatening downside” of fame and his relationship with partner David Furnish.

But it’s the Rocket Man’s views on Jesus’s sexuality which have sparked headlines across the world.

In the interview, to be published in America on Saturday, Sir Elton said: “I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.

“On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East – you’re as good as dead.”

I don’t suppose Sir Elton has notable thological credentials for making this claim, but his fame alone will ensure that his remarks command wide attention. This is welcome, because the subjeect deserves more consideration than the easy assumptions that usually underlie thinking and speking about Jesus the man. Simply by raising the issue, Sir Elton has ensured that there will be amny voices raised in opposition and in support. Let us hope that some of these voices will offer some plain sense.
My own position here is simple.  I do not for a minute believe that Jesus was “gay”, certainly not in any sense of the word that is recognisable in the moedern world.  But I do believe he was undoubtedly “queer”, in that he emphatically did not conform to any usual expectations of sexual or gender conformity.
Let us begin with the obvious basics.  We know and accept as basic to theology, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  The divinity does not concern us here, but the “human2 part surely does.  As fully human, and specifically male, we know that he had a fullly male physical body, and all that that entails. We must also accept that he had human emotions, human feelings – and those would certainly have included sexual feelings.
What he did about those, we do not know.  Did he act on them? Did he sublimate them? Some argue on scanty evidence for a sexual relationship with John the Evangelist, or with Mary Magdalene, or with Lazarus. All this is speculation.  We have no way of knowing for sure, although in thee absence of hard evidence, any of these are possible – as is complete celibacy.
So instead of complete celibacy, let us look at some basic facts, as we know them from Scripture and from history, starting with the latter.  The Pontifical Bible Commission recommends that the interpretation of Scripture includes some consideration of the historical context.  In first century Hebrew society, that would have included an overwhelming social expectation that all should marry and raise families, in a strictly hierarchical social structure. That society assumed an inferior position for women, who were not expected to join in regious discussion or leadership, assumed the place of slavery in human conduct, with extensive rights of slave owners over their “property”, and followed a compleex set of purity regulations and taboos.
In his life and in his teaching, Jesus ignored all of these, and actively taught against some.  He never married (as far as we know), and exhorted his disciples to leave their own families to follow him. His closest friends outside the twelve were the houselhold of Mary, Martha and Lazarus – also all unmarried, living in a household that would surely have shocked many Jewish social conformists. On several occasions, he actively engaged with women in religious discussions.  And in his dealings with social outcasts of all kinds, including prostitutes, lepers, slaves or menstruating women, he ignored the purity taboos.  Doing so undoubtedly contributed to his getting up the noses of the religious leaders of the day, just as gay men, lesbians and transsexuals today continue to upset self-righteous and self-appointed religious leaders.
Jesus Christ – possibly not “gay” – but undoubtedly queer.

The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

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

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

Setting aside the weapons of hate

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

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

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

Setting aside family values

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

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

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

Urban gay men as role models

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

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

Writing about Rudy’s work, Elisabeth Stuart notes that

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

Wow!

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

Beyond gender.

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

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

How far from James Dobson is that?

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

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