The church and homosexuality [July 12, 2006 {0516}; An e-Review Florida UMNS Commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker]

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Were there no voices out of the Reformation that rose to the level of scripture? When liturgies were shaped in the 13th century, should not the account of that have been incorporated into our sacred story? If the book of Acts that chronicled events in the first century or epistles that addressed issues in the Church in the first century were thought of as sacred scripture, why not events and issues that shaped Christianity in other centuries? Next there is the issue of the voices that were excluded from the Bible by our prejudices. No voices of women are heard in the Bible. Did 50% of the human race never think a thought or say a word that we might call "The Word of God?" There are no voices of ethnic minorities. Does the word of God come only through Middle Eastern males? Should Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" be read as an epistle to the Church? I consider it a tragedy that the Bible was closed to all new additions in the early years of the second century, when Christianity had just begun its journey through history. What does the Bible really say about homosexuality? Actually, very little. Most significantly, Jesus said nothing at all. Considering the relatively small amount of attention the Bible pays to the subject, we must ask ourselves why this is such a volatile issue. Other subjects about which the scriptures say a great deal (e.g. judgment, pride, hypocrisy) receive much less passionate attention. Before looking at specific passages, it is important to note that everyone understands the scriptures based on, and through, the light of what they have been taught. The Bible was not written in a cultural void, and many of its instructions and laws are simply classified as less relevant today (e.g. prohibition against eating pork). Nowhere does the Bible actually address the idea of persons being lesbian or gay. The statements are, without exception, directed to certain homosexual acts. Early writers had no understanding of homosexuality as a psychosexual orientation. That truth is a relatively recent discovery. The biblical authors were referring to homosexual acts performed by persons they assumed were heterosexuals. The Sodom Story: A chief text used to condemn homosexuality is the Sodom story (Genesis 19:1-29), often interpreted as showing God's abhorrence of homosexuality. In the story, two angels, in the form of men, are sent to the home of Lot in Sodom. While they are there, the men of the city “both young and old, surrounded the house - everyone without exception” and demanded that the visitors be brought out “so that we might know them.” (Genesis 19: 4-5) Lot begged the men to leave his guests alone and take his daughters instead. The men of the city became angry and stormed the door. As a result, they were all struck blind by the angels. Genesis 19, Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed: 1 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning." "No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square." 3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." 6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." 9 "Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. There are several problems with the traditional interpretation of this passage. Whether or not the intent of the men of Sodom was sexual, the inhospitality and injustice coming from the mob, and that generally characterized the community, were “the sin of Sodom.” (Ezekial 16:49-50, Isaiah 13:19, Jeremiah 49:18; 50:40) Jesus himself refers to the inhospitality of Sodom. (Luke 10:10-13) If the men were indeed homosexuals, then why would Lot offer them his daughters? What is threatened here is rape. The significant point, then, is that all rape is considered horrible by God. The story deserves another reading. Ezekiel 16, An Allegory of Unfaithful Jerusalem: 44 " 'Everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb about you: "Like mother, like daughter." 45 You are a true daughter of your mother, who despised her husband and her children; and you are a true sister of your sisters, who despised their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 Your older sister was Samaria, who lived to the north of you with her daughters; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you with her daughters, was Sodom. 47 You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they. 48 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. 49 " 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. 51 Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done. 52 Bear your disgrace, for you have furnished some justification for your sisters. Because your sins were more vile than theirs, they appear more righteous than you. So then, be ashamed and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous. 53 " 'However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them, 54 so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in giving them comfort. 55 And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before. 56 You would not even mention your sister Sodom in the day of your pride, 57 before your wickedness was uncovered. Even so, you are now scorned by the daughters of Edom [h] and all her neighbors and the daughters of the Philistines—all those around you who despise you. 58 You will bear the consequences of your lewdness and your detestable practices, declares the LORD. Isaiah 13:18-20 (New International Version) 19: Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' [a] pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. Luke 10, Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-two: 8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. It should be noted that not all of the men of Sodom could have been homosexual or there would have been no need to destroy them. If they had all been homosexuals, they would have all died off leaving no heirs. Quite likely, they were a mixed group of evil men attempting to be abusive to people who were different. Ironically, lesbian and gay people are often the victim of that same sin. Although the traditional interpretation of the Sodom story fails as an argument against homosexuality, there are several other Old Testament passages that do condemn homosexual acts. Again, it should be noted that these passages do not deal with same-sex orientation nor is there any reference to genital love between lesbian or gay persons. Homosexual Acts: Of thousands of Old Testament passages, only two make explicit reference to homosexual acts: Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. Both of these passages are a part of the Levitical holiness code, which is not kept by any Christian group. If it was enforced, almost every Christian would be excommunicated or executed. It has been logically argued that science and progress have made many of the Levitical laws irrelevant. For example, fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye states that, although Levitical laws prohibit intercourse during menstruation, medical authorities do not view it as harmful, and, therefore, it should not be viewed as sinful. He further explains, “Those laws were given 3,500 years ago before showers and baths were convenient, before tampons, disinfectants and other improved means of sanitation had been invented.” (The Act of Marriage, p.275) With that, LaHaye makes this law irrelevant and rightly so. Ironically, though, in his book, The Unhappy Gay, the Levitical laws are one of the chief cornerstones of his arguments. Much of the holiness code is now irrelevant for us as moral law. Thus, having children, which was of exceptional importance to the early Hebrews, is now made less relevant by overpopulation, just as the prohibition against eating pork and shellfish has been made irrelevant by refrigeration. Leviticus 18:22 (New International Version): 22 Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 20:13 (New International Version): 13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. The Bible never addresses the issue of homosexual love, yet it does have several beautiful examples of same-sex love. David's love for Jonathan was said to exceed his love for women. (2 Samuel 1:26) Ruth's relationship with Naomi is an example of a deep, bonding love, and Ruth’s words of covenant to Naomi are often used in heterosexual wedding ceremonies. (Ruth 1:16-17) The Bible clearly values love between persons of the same sex. 2 Samuel 1: 15 Then David called one of his men and said, "Go, strike him down!" So he struck him down, and he died. 16 For David had said to him, "Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, 'I killed the LORD's anointed.' " David's Lament for Saul and Jonathan: 17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar): … 26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. Jesus' Attitude: In the New Testament there is no record of Jesus saying anything about homosexuality. This ought to strike us as very odd in light of the great threat to Christianity, family life and the American way that some would have us believe homosexuality is. Jesus saw injustice and religious hypocrisy as a far greater threat to the Realm of God. Episcopal priest Dr. Tom Horner has written that the Gospels imply in two places that Jesus' attitude toward lesbians and gays would not have been hostile. The first is found in the story of Jesus healing the Centurion's servant. (Matthew 8:5-13) The word used for the servant is “pais,” which in the Greek culture referred to a younger lover of an older, more powerful or educated man. Clearly, the story demonstrates an unusually intense love, and Jesus' response was wholly positive. Matthew 8:5-13 (New International Version) The Faith of the Centurion: 5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." 7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour. Paul's statement in Romans 1:18-32 has been taken as the strongest New Testament rejection of homosexuality. He is concerned about the influence of the pagan culture on the Roman Christians. After giving a detailed description of a world that “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator,” he continues, “Therefore, 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 lusts for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty of their perversion.” A complete reading of these passages, in their original context, clearly shows that what Paul was actually referring to was homosexual temple prostitution, which was performed by various cults (though far more cults used heterosexual prostitution). Again, Paul is not referring to same-sex love, and he clearly has no concept of persons for whom this lifestyle is “natural.” Paul's other reference to homosexual acts in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is similar to 1 Timothy 1:8-11. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (New International Version): 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (New International Version): 8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law[a] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. Footnotes: a.1 Timothy 1:9 Or that the law These two passages contain lists of persons to be excluded from the Realm of God. The interpretation of these passages depends on two Greek words that have always presented a problem for translators. In the King James Version, they are translated “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” In the Revised Standard Version, they were combined and rendered as “homosexuals,” however, these are not the Greek words for homosexual, so these translations reflects the scholars' bias. The New International Version illustrates the difference in these two words by translating them “male prostitute” and “homosexual offenders.” The Jerusalem Bible uses the terms “catamites and “sodomites.” Catamites were youth kept especially for sexual purpose, who were usually paid large sums of money. Neither passage refers to persons of same-sex orientation but to people who used their sexuality for personal gain. The Love of Christ Jesus did a great deal to change many social customs and ideas. He elevated the position of women, and, ultimately, they were his best and most faithful disciples. He did this by example and by commandments that were absolutely inclusive of the rights of all people. Yet, in the name of the Christ whose love encompassed all, the Church has been the most homophobic of all institutions. This should not be surprising when we realize that the Church is still the largest institution which is primarily racially segregated. The final, and central, message of the New Testament is that ALL persons are loved by God so much that God's Son was sent as a means of redemption from a disease by which we are all afflicted. The cure for this disease cannot be found in any set of actions. Neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is redemptive. God's love through Christ was given to all people. The Theological Reflection For the Christian, sin must be understood as a disease that results FROM a broken relationship with God and that results IN a broken relationship with one another and with ourselves. Hence, Jesus' supreme command is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Christianity is not a religion with new rules and laws but rather is a new relationship with God. Those things that the legalists are fond of labeling “sins” are actually just symptoms of the much deeper disease of alienation and estrangement. Much of the energy of the Church has been spent dealing with symptoms while leaving the disease intact. Jesus did not seem overly concerned about the legal transgressions of those to whom he ministered. Rather, he was much more concerned with healing the physical, spiritual, emotional and relational brokenness of people. Perhaps if the Church would again give itself to the healing/reconciling ministry of Jesus, then some of the symptoms about which we are so concerned would begin to disappear. That brings us to the question: Is homosexuality a symptom of brokenness? In a very few cases, perhaps. Yet, pointing fingers of blame and accusation is not Christ's way. Rather, Jesus accepted people as they were and allowed love and acceptance to work its miracle. However, most lesbians and gays have been lesbian or gay for as long as they can remember. For them, it is a much a natural characteristic as their eye color or their handedness. Kinsey Institute research (University of Indiana, 1981) has suggested that homosexuality may well be genetic or, at least, linked to some prenatal factors. (Sexual Preference, Bell &Weinberg) Certainly most competent psychologists would concur that sexual orientation is set prior to the age of five in most persons. It is, therefore, not a matter of choice, so it cannot be a moral or ethical issue. Many Christians insist that God can change/cure the homosexual. In the book The Third Sex there are six reported cases of homosexuals whom God has “cured.” Of these six, at least four are known to have returned to their gay lifestyle. (Christianity Today, February 1981) Many lesbians and gays spend most of their lives trying, with no success, to persuade God to change them. It is like trying to get God to change your eye color. What option, then, is left to these persons? They have been told that they can't be gay and Christian. Since all efforts have failed in their struggle not to be gay or lesbian, then their only recourse, according to the Church, is that they can't be Christian. So, the Church has discounted or discarded as much as 10% of the population. If they are excluded from the life of the Christian community, who, then, will tell them of God's inclusive love and of Jesus' reconciling death? Are they left to assume that God is so narrow-minded as to exclude them for something over which they have no control and for a choice they did not make? When will the Church finally be brave enough to say with Paul, “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female,” gay or straight? God has enough love for all! Your article remains rife with the tired old sentiment, couched in more scholarly terms, "love the sinner, hate the sin." In your essay, you offer the following observation: “Indeed, some social scientists contend that the very idea of a homosexual identity is the result of the organization of same-sex attraction according to a wide range of social and cultural dynamics in modern society, including urbanization (which erodes the communal guidance of young people in rural and village life) and science (which invites people to think about their feelings in deterministic ways). (See David Greenberg, “The Construction of Homosexuality,” University of Chicago Press, 1989).” This is a ludicrous assertion, and such arguments have been totally refuted by all serious scholarly research of the past eight to ten years. However, one can go back to 1989 and find references to support most any stance. At the end of this article I will offer you a reading list of more current material. Much research has been done in this area over the past ten years, and you should not be relying solely on research that is nearly twenty years old. I, like many gay people, grew up in a small town spending summers on my grandfathers very rural farm. You may perceive a concentration of gay people in urban areas, but that is the result of a need in previous years for the protection offered by anonymity of living in a large city. Your author tried to take a culturalphenomenon and turn it into a cause. You also infer that of great concern is that, should the Methodist Church change it’s “historical” stance on this issue, it will be viewed adversely by other major world religions. First off, many of the major Christians religions have moved beyond the Methodist Position towards greater acceptance and understanding of homosexual people. For those Christian churches that you are so concerned about, let’s consider one of the largest…the Catholic church. This is the same group that said: "Celibacy is the pathway to holiness." It is far more often the pathway to sexual guilt and to the sexual violation of the weak and vulnerable. This is the institution that said the ideal woman is a "virgin mother," reducing all women to a sense of inadequacy. They defined virtue in women as being a "permanent virgin." I suppose that made sense to the celibate males who did the defining, but it makes sense to no one else. This is the institution that tells us that birth control is evil, that condoms used to stop AIDS even among married people is sinful, that women are defective males and that homosexuals are morally depraved or mentally ill. Is that a track record to inspire confidence? This is the institution that wants to root out homosexuals from studying for the priesthood, but is not about to purge gay men from the ordained ranks, where they now serve at the highest levels and in numbers that are breathtakingly large but real. The debate on sexuality inside institutional Christianity is revelatory of the fact that this institution parted company with reality years ago. It is on the losing side of this battle. It is doing the dance of the dying, exhibiting the final shake of rigor mortis.

John Masters
Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, Tampa

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