Monday, November 16, 2009
"A Gay Bible Study, Part Two"
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:26-27, NIV)
These verses were written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome, a church he had not yet visited. If we take theses verses alone and out of context they appear to condemn same sex relationships. This is what right wing conservatives do, but as I stated before a proper understanding of scripture starts with an historical perspective of what was going on at the time in the church at Rome. Also vital in understanding scripture, is consideration of the period’s culture, the apostle’s intent of the letter, how the meaning relates to other scripture, and finally Paul’s understanding of sexual orientation. After reading what I wrote, I would encourage you to read the whole letter to the Roman’s with my thoughts in mind.
Let’s understand Paul first. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a Jewish rabbi on a mission to persecute and stamp out Christianity. He was strictly trained, orthodox and legalistic in nature. He believed Christianity to be an evil sect, Christ to be a fraud, and both from satan and against the one true Hebrew God. Many Christians were jailed and persecuted for crimes against the Jewish faith due to Paul. His own conversion took place on the road to Damascus, legal letters in hand and on a mission to arrest more followers of Christ. Paul was feared by the Christian community. On the road to Damascus Paul saw a vision of Christ which caused his life to change, do an about face and become one of the most vocal and influential followers of Christ. Paul was imprisoned in Rome and executed for refusing to renounce Christ and worship the Roman emperor and Roman gods. I think it is also important to note that Paul had one or two splits with the other apostles over their teachings and one with a close companion of his; over feeling this person did not meet his expectations. He seemed to regret both toward the end of his life after his journey and interactions had made him a softer and less legalistic man.
So we have a reasonable understanding of Paul, now let’s look at the situation in the Church of Rome at the time of Paul’s letter. The Roman church was primarily made up of Jewish converts and a moderate number of gentiles. So the audience Paul is writing to had an understanding of Hebrew law, tradition and the teachings of Moses. Set in Rome the church was in close proximity to the many temples set up for the gods Romans worshiped. This is the problem for Paul and the Christian Church of Rome and the true purpose of his letter.
In the earlier verses of Romans I, Paul makes it clear that the church has fallen into idolatry and renounced God and Christ. He speaks of the building of god’s out of wood and metal in the forms of animals, birds and humans, and worshiping these gods. One can assume he was referring to the Roma emperor at the time as they were viewed as deities. Specifically Paul is addressing idolatry and something called “shrine prostitution”. Shrine prostitution occurs when worshipers of an idol pay prostitutes to have sex at the temple as a form of worship to the god. Shrine prostitution involved both same sex and opposite sex couples. Paul speaks of both and in later verses talks about all the negative, and in his view sinful practices that God turned them over to because of their idolatry. God did this by withdrawing his spirit from them which caused them to fall deeper into sin. In the verses we are studying, Paul states that men and woman exchanged natural relations for the practice of homosexual sex. Within the context of the letter he also criticizes heterosexual sex used in the worship of idols. So Paul is not addressing those who believe in the true God (Paul’s), he is not addressing those who worship the true God. He is not speaking of homosexual or heterosexual people in committed relationships. He is speaking to the practice of idol worship and temple prostitution where people were paid to have sex with anyone or anything even if it was not their “nature”, orientation. Given the historical context and environment at the time of the writing, Paul is talking about sex for money in the worship of idols. Paul could not possibly be speaking of homosexual couples, homosexual people who worship his God or homosexually oriented people in general. It would not be against the nature of a homosexually oriented person to have sex with a member of the same sex. To Paul it was unnatural to have sex for money as worship to idols. His litany of other offenses shows that Paul was being thorough and legalistic in trying to name every possible offense.
So what Paul rails against is idol worship and the practice of shrine prostitution. Being Jewish, and knowing his audience is primarily Jewish, Paul uses references to Jewish law like those found in Leviticus. As one continues to read the letter Paul goes on to state that those who believe in Christ are no longer bound by this law. So even if Jewish law stated all homosexuality was wrong, and I don’t believe the intent of Leviticus is to say that either, then homosexual Christians are free from that law. It is also important to remember that 2000 years ago the understanding of homosexuality was limited. Today scientific evidence proves that people are born with this orientation and it also exists in other forms of nature. Conservatives would argue that God never changes so what was understood back then and prohibited back then is still true today. I would agree that God does not change. It’s humans that evolve and God reveals secrets about nature as we are able to understand them.
Here is an example of God’s edicts changing as people grew in understanding. The Jews were prohibited from eating pigs and shellfish. Looking back now with the knowledge of today, we know that the diseases from eating these foods undercooked or spoiled had a higher risk of illness and death. God was imparting a survival technique to an unrefrigerated and at the time nomadic Jewish population, a people that would fined fresh food in short supply. In the New Testament the apostle Peter sees a vision of these foods being lowered in a sheet from Heaven. A voice commands him to take and eat. Peter tells the voice that he can not eat the animals because Jewish law says they are unclean, and hence will never touch his lips. The voice commands him and says.” What God calls clean do not call unclean, take and eat.” Peter agrees and eats. He then goes on to expand this premise into realizing the gospel is not just for the Jews but also for the gentiles who God has deemed it should be preached to. Previously, Peter had refused to preach to gentiles as he believed they were unclean due to Jewish law and tradition.
In addition,other parts of scripture are not always viewed as all or nothing as is Romans I. An example is tax collectors. The Bible speaks harshly against tax collectors, but it is not interpreted as condemning all tax collectors or the practice of collecting taxes by right wing conservatives. Here they are right, it is simply condemning the specific practices of tax collecting in the historical time when it was written. This is further evidence of Paul condemning the specific practice of paid prostitution as a form of idol worship and not all homosexual or heterosexual sex. It is inconsistent to pick and choose when and when not the Bible is to be taken literally based on human judgment, lack of study, politics and ignorance.
Another premise found in scripture is that God will never put a desire in you that is against something God deems wrong. If we are born with a Homosexual orientation then by scripture’s definition it can not be wrong as God created us this way.
Lastly is the basic premise of both the Old and New Testament that states we are created in the image of God. If we are created Lesbian,Gay men, Bisexual, Transgendered, Intersex, male and female,then God must be all those things as we are created in God’s image. You can’t have it both ways. Conservatives would have you believe God hates a great deal of his/her own creation and that God must be a white male, but scripture itself contradicts this as it clearly states God created them male and female. In the New Testament Jesus speaks of how God even cares for the birds of the air and the Lilies of the field. He goes on to state, “How much more then does God in heaven care for you who bear God’s image?”
We don’t know why God or Nature creates heterosexuals or homosexuals’. There are many things in nature we don’t understand, like why we have two kidneys. I suppose one could be upset by the function of the urinary track and write a letter saying that the second kidney was a sinful organ and practicing bodily functions that went against God and Nature. I think a fair number of people who would not take the time to study the working of the urinary track, out of love for God, and unfortunate ignorance, might run to have this feared organ removed. The thinking segment of the population would probably do their homework and conclude that like many creations we don’t know God or Nature’s intent for making a second kidney but perhaps we are not ready yet to understand, and if God created it, we best just accept it, and treat it well until we do, because it might be more vital then we know.
With Love, M.T.