Part 3: Jesus And The Bed Guard
by Josh Gould
Who exactly said homosexuality is a sin? We learned in Part 1
that Moses didn’t and we found out in Part 2
that Paul didn’t either. I think the big question on everybody’s mind is what did Jesus say about it? Well, if you were to read through the English Gospels it would appear that he said nothing about it. There are however, a couple passages I want to dig through a little more thoroughly and see what we can uncover. What better place to start then the Old Testament?
We’ll start in the Book of Ester chapter 2. We pick up in the story of King Xerses, the king of Persia (who is called Ahasuerus in Hebrew) Xerses has suffered two defeats against the Greek army and is returning home to continue the building of his palaces in the cities of Persepolis and Susa. While this was underway his servants noticed he was sad and lonely so they suggested a new queen, who would end up being Ester. His servants went through all the provinces to find young woman to be gathered to the king’s harem and placed under custody of the king’s eunuch, Hegai, who was in charge of the woman.
Here we find the word “eunuch.” The word in Hebrew is “cariyc
.” In English we would say “saris
,” and it will be spelled this way from here on out. Saris
is an interesting word and is has caused quite a bit of confusion over the years. “Saris”
is not a Hebrew original. In fact it comes from Assyria as what they call a “loan word” and has several different meanings. It is often used as a title for the king’s royal palace officials ranging from chamberlains all the way to governors of province. It also is a word used for men who have been castrated. It is true that most of the king’s servants were castrated men.
Castration in Assyria was almost certainly done by the crushing of a boy’s testicles before he reached puberty. While this seems barbaric, it was much less risky and painful than cutting off the testicles. The Assyrian word “marruru
” (to castrate) is thought to relate to “maraqu
” (to crush) and “marasu
” (to squash.) An ancient historian documented that the tradition of using eunuchs for royal service passed down from Assyria to Babylon and to Persia. It’s likely that the majority of eunuchs were foreign captives but it is also possible that some of the high-ranking officers were from Assyrian families, who would have one of the younger boys castrated to serve the king for financial compensation. It is also important to note that eunuchs weren’t necessarily effeminate, as some would become military generals. Eunuchs were also social outcasts, and so their loyalty could easily be bought in exchange for food, shelter and the King’s protection. Eunuchs played many roles within the palace, one in particular we see illustrated in Ester chapter 2.
Part 2: Romans
by Josh Gould
Greek is a strange language. It’s very difficult to translate, let alone interpret. It’s no wonder the idiom “it’s all Greek to me” is a popular phrase because Greek is literally a pain to understand. I personally prefer to study in the Hebrew language because it’s a bit easier to understand. Greek is just messed.
In this article we’ll be looking at the Book of Romans, which is delightfully written, in Greek. Oh joy! In my last article
, we looked at chapter 18 in Leviticus and discovered that verse 22 is directly linked to sexual temple worship and involves male prostitutes. Not exactly a prohibition of homosexuality. Like Leviticus, Romans contains within its pages one of the most commonly used passage in all of scripture to condemn homosexuality.
The Book of Romans is in reality a letter (aka an epistle) written to the congregation in Rome by the Apostle Paul. This included Jews who followed Jesus’ teachings, Gentiles who converted to Judaism to follow Jesus and Gentiles who were pagans until hearing about Jesus. Most scholars agree that Paul wrote the letter while staying in the city of Corinth before travelling to Rome.
Paul sets up his letter to Rome by discussing his calling as an apostle to spread the Gospel of Jesus to them. (v.15) He wastes no time getting to the heart of the chapter and immediately begins talking about the sin of the people. Verse 26 and 27 is where we read what Paul has to say about apparent homosexual behavior.
“…Even their women exchanged natural sexual 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 shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty of their error.” (v.26, 27 TNIV)
The TNIV translation isn’t an inaccurate translation like the Leviticus passage is; however, it isn’t the best translation either. I won’t bore you with the entire Greek rendering of the two verses because we’re only going to look at a couple of words that might help illuminate the passage.
The first word we’ll look at is the word “exchanged.” In the original Greek language it is the word “metallasso.” Its root words are “meta” which is a primary preposition that generally denotes the channel of an act. In this instance it means “with.” The second root word is “allasso,” which means “to change,” so “metallasso” literally means “to change with.” As it turns out, “exchanged” is an accurate translation. This will come in handy later.
The next word of interest has caused a great deal of controversy but is fairly simple to translate. “Natural” in the Greek is the word “phusikos.” It translates as “produced by nature” and finds its roots in the Greek word “phusis” which is literally “nature” or sometimes translated as “birth.” So while “natural” is not wrong, it doesn’t fully capture the essence of the word in the original language. The simple idea is that “phusikos” is the way something or someone has been created.
Now, the word that gets translated as “sexual relations” is the word “chresis.” Chresis literally means, “use,” but more specifically, the sexual use of a woman. This is the same word used in verse 27 when it says men abandoned natural relations. Strange. It’s also strange to note that in verse 27 the verse continues to say natural relations “with women,” but there is no mention in verse 26 of women exchanging relations with men. Why is this?
I think the key is in the word “chresis.” Chresis is the sexual use of a woman. What is, or was, the sexual use of a woman in the first century? As we discussed in the last article, a woman’s primary sexual function was to be a carrier of life and that all of life was in the man’s seed. They were essentially storage containers for a man’s child. It would have been no different to Paul. He would have understood that the sexual use of a woman was to carry a child for a man. To exchange that would be to engage in non-procreative sex with men, either with some sort of contraception or possibly through anal sex.
Perhaps this idea can carry over into verse 27. Men abandoned sexual use of a woman and were “kindled with desire” (the more accurate translation of “burned with lust”) for one another. Note that it doesn’t say burned with lust for other men. That’s just an assumption that has been subtly woven into the exegesis of the passage. Considering that men abandoned the natural function of a woman, i.e procreation, it makes much more sense that they still desired woman and craved non-procreative sex with them, which connects with the previous verse. Again, we see the idea of non-procreative sex, such as anal sex or with some sort of contraceptive. How does this all tie together?
Let’s look at the broader context of the passage. Verse 21 through 25 helps illuminate this for us. Verse 23 states that they exchanged the glory of God for images of humans and animals. Verse 25 continues this theme and says they worshipped and served created things. Interesting. This sounds a lot like the idolatry found in Exodus and Leviticus. Golden calf anyone? We see in verse 24 that the worship they conducted was of a sexual nature. What exactly was sexual worship like? It was similar to that of the Canaanites, but a little different.
There was a saying floating around the Greek and Roman empires at that time. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food.” Paul illustrates this in his first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter six verse thirteen he addresses this catch phrase directly by saying “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” What does food have to do with sexual immorality? The idea is this. You have a stomach and food satisfies hunger. You also have a sex drive and sex satisfies that desire.
The Greek culture of Corinth believed that people were a collection of physical needs and sexual desire was a hindrance to walking with God. There was no distinction between physical necessity and physical pleasure. If you were sexually distracted then you were unable to be fully present with God so all you had to do was go to the temple and become sexually involved with the temple prostitutes. Paul mentions this in verse fifteen of chapter six. Once this urge was dealt with, you could continue to serve God at a more intimate level.
The sexual culture in Corinth echoed what went on in Rome. So it’s no surprise when Paul says they sexually degraded their bodies with one another. (Rom 1:24) The key here is to remember that Corinth and Rome were alike in their sexual worship and that the sexual acts referenced by Paul in verse 24-27 involve temple worship.
Rome worshipped a fertility goddess named Cybele. Cybele is an interesting deity because of her back-story with Attis, her lover. Cybele was believed to be a virgin and Attis castrated himself out of guilt from infidelity and consequently died. Now, priests and priestesses strived to be like their gods in all religions at that time and Rome was no exception. Woman remained virgins and men castrated themselves. In those days a virgin was not a woman who has not had sex like it is in our culture, but a woman who had not given birth. So it was very simple for priestesses to engage in sex and not conceive (remain virgins) by the means of anal sex.
Likewise, for men, the castrated priests (called “galli”) would serve as male prostitutes for other men. Sound familiar? Is this why Paul says men committed shameful acts with other men? Is he making a connection to the “zakhor”(male with religious duties) of Lev. 18:22? Perhaps Paul saw men sexually engaging with castrated priests in the temple for worship and called it shameful because he knew such a practice was prohibited in the Law.
However, there is one more word we should consider. The Greek word used for “shameful acts” is the word “aschemosune.” It certainly does mean shameful acts, but has a specific implication to the “pudenda,” which is a technical term for a woman’s genitals. So the phrase is actually “shameful acts of a woman’s genitals.” Men performed shameful acts (or unseemly deeds) of a woman’s genitals with other men. Perhaps this is a reference to the orgiastic celebrations that went on in Rome as part of the cultic rituals to worship Cybele.
Let’s sum everything up. Considering the historic culture of Rome and surrounding nations we know that there were all kinds of sexual perversions circulating within the cities. Woman gave up their natural function of childbirth and instead chose to remain childless (a virgin) by engaging in anal sex with men. Simultaneously, men who participated in the anal sex with these female priestesses were also abandoning the natural function of childbirth. Orgies were a strong part of this cultic religion and so it would be common to see multiple men committing shameful acts with woman as an act of worship. It was also common for men to have sex with castrated male priests, which is exactly what the prohibition in Leviticus eighteen forbids.
While on the surface it seems that Paul is calling out the homosexual sin of the Romans, but if you dig a bit deeper and understand the culture in which the words are written you quickly realize that not only did Paul not utter a single word about homosexuality, it wasn’t even on his radar. Just like Leviticus chapter eighteen, Romans chapter one is dealing with very specific cultic worship.
Rome isn’t the only place this sort of worship took place. As I mentioned before, the city of Corinth echoed these rituals to their goddess Rhea, who is the Greek equivalent to Cybele. Similar practices also occurred in Ephesus with regards to the “galli” and worship of Artemis.
Once again we see that the underlying theme in a “clobber passage” is in reality about cultic worship (idolatry) and not homosexuality at all. If you’re like me, you’re beginning to wonder if the Bible condemns homosexuality at all and if it doesn’t, how in the world did it ever enter our mainstream exegesis? Regardless of how, it has bred all kinds of hate and division among our LGBT brothers and sisters and as Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes says, is invalid.
by Mark Sandlin
Fear will be the death of me. That's what I hear denominations trying to tell us, “Fear will be the death of me.” Until today, I've restrained from calling people “homophobic." I've called their laws homophobic, their ideas homophobic, their words homophobic, but never them. So, today I'm coming out as a person who calls other people homophobic.
Why? Well, because they are. Homophobia is the fear of homosexuality. At this point, it is impossible for me to believe that most people who hide behind the Bible or denominational polity haven't had more than ample time to recognize that those two things simply don't support their belief that homosexuality is a
I've written on the topic from time to time and have produced what many say is the one of the best resources online to combat biblical gay bashing
(there are plenty of other equally good resources). There are also some exceptional books on the topic
which go into much greater depth about the very few places the Bible makes any mention of same-sex relationships. All of them show clearly that using the Bible to condemn homosexuality is an act of misreading the Bible. For anyone who has been exposed to this very clear research, using the Bible to condemn homosexuality is a willful
misuse of the Bible and, as I point out in my piece on the “clobber verses,” it is also exactly what the Bible considers “using God's name in vain to be.”
by: Mark Currey
I pastor a small community in the heart of the Bible-Belt. The following email conversation occurred a couple of weeks ago. Given the conversation and the much deserved push-back from my friend, I read the following to the community I pastor a few Sundays ago…
I got this e-mail from a friend that I work with today. I know the friend that she is talking about. Read this and let
me know what you think. I'd like to give her your e-mail address if you say it is okay. Peace!
| || |
“…do any of you guys know of a gay-friendly church in the central Arkansas area? A friend of mine wants to be baptized and she stepped out on faith, to ask my extremely Pentecostal father-in-law if he would do it, but he’s not comfortable with that. So, I’m trying to find somewhere she might feel valued and included. Would you let me know if you know of someplace that might be a good fit?”
sure... have her contact me.
our "church position" is somewhat nuanced - will explain when i have a little more time but, bottom line, everyone is welcome.
by Rev. Zinn
In 1973, William R. Jones wrote the book, Is God a White Racist?, to question whether, in the experiences of black persons, one could decide that God harbors malicious intent towards a whole community of people. In lieu of the past few weeks of discussions regarding the place of communities of GLBTQ persons within the larger society, it might be safe to ask whether the “God” that many Christians worship on Sunday mornings is no more than a thuggish goon who delights in seeing whole groups of historically oppressed persons attacked by those who lift the Christian banner the highest.
Whether it is the video
of the pastor in North Carolina who has come up with what some might call a final solution to the problem of GLBTQ’s in the United States or the other North Carolina pastor who “joked
” (apparently forgetting that jokes are supposed to be funny and not horrifying) that if one’s son began to “drop the limp wrist” one should “crack that wrist” or the now downright passé Westboro Baptist Church offering their single note message that “God Hates Fags” it is not tough to determine that the God that they worship must be a total bigot in the manner in which She has decided to be in relationship with persons of differing sexual and gender identities.
But let’s be honest, most of us would have no problem declaring these incidents of hate towards GLBTQ’s hate. Or crazy. That’s not the problem. The problem comes from those of us who will remain silent and by our silence imply agreement. In a nation in which to be Christian increasingly means to believe that those of differing sexualities should be treated like subhuman species, to not declare an alternative view of God’s love and concern only serves to mean that there is no other way of being Christian.
by Rev. Mark Sandlin
Yes sir, we grow 'em on trees in these parts. Yet another NC minister
has gone all “king of crazy town” when it comes to talking about homosexuality and the Bible. The idea that two people of the same sex could actually be in love seems to be some powerful mojo when it comes to NC ministers. It is like it sends them into a testosterone induced fervor that completely blinds them to the greatest hits of the Bible like, “thou shall not kill,” and “love thy neighbor.”
Oddly, there was a time when the same
kind of fervor blinded the same
kind of preachers here in the South and, because of it, a lot of people who were different from them ended up hanging from trees. Maybe it's not so odd. Maybe it's completely to be expected.
Yep, in certain Southern churches, gay is the new black. Realistically, it's not just Southern churches, but with North Carolina's recent passage of Amendment One and the viral YouTube video of the knock-the-gay-out-of-your-kid pastor
, it wouldn't be surprising to find a few arborists diligently searching the hillsides of the gorgeous North Carolina foothills for the mythical Tree of Homophobia (which, ironically, I hear has leaves the colors of the rainbow). Just looking at the news over the last several months, while it would seem that all states have ministers that preach exclusion (and even violence) toward our LGBT brothers and sisters, North Carolina does simply seem to be better at it. “We're #1! We're #1! We're #1!”
So, the latest in the parade of “a-minister-REALLY-said-THAT?” circus here in N.C. is Pastor Charles L. Worley (please note my restraint in guessing what the “L” is for... clearly not “love” - okay, my near restraint
). He believes, one assumes biblically, that “lesbians and queers” should be locked up inside an electrified fence until they die out. As I understand his argument, up until this point LGBT folk have been reproducing and creating little baby homosexuals and if all the “lesbians” are inside one fence and all the “queers” are inside another, well, they could no longer reproduce and hence - no more homosexual babies.
Part 1: Leviticus
by Josh Gould
There’s an ancient quote that says, “any interpretation of scripture which leads to hatred or disdain of other people, is illegitimate.” Some of you might recognize this quote from The Charter of Compassion that was launched a few years ago by Karen Armstrong. Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes who lived during the second century first uttered it and made it famous. St. Augustine also came to the same conclusion, but said it in different words.
So what does this have to do with homosexuality? Well, it doesn’t take much effort to see how evangelical Christians oppress and discriminate against someone who identifies as homosexual. These Christians claim that marriage is between one man and one woman and that anything else would destroy the sanctity of marriage, as God established in the Bible. They go out of their way to stand up against issues like same-sex marriage to the point where they pass amendments to ban such an idea. The media especially enjoys plastering their networks with video and pictures of people holding up signs that say, “God hates fags” and “God says fags should die.” Where do they get these ideas from and how can they be so bold as to speak on God’s behalf?
These ideas and interpretations about what God speaks through the Bible come from a place of hatred and, according to Rabbi Meir, this makes them illegitimate. But what exactly are they interpreting? Within the pages of the Bible, there are six verses that are commonly used across the board by Christians opposed to homosexuality: three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at the one that is arguably the strongest, most used verse in the Old Testament. We’ll find this verse in chapter 18 in the Book of Leviticus. It might be helpful to follow along in your own Bible, so feel free to turn there and skim down to verse 22. It reads, “do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, it is detestable” (TNIV). Before we begin breaking down the verse, a little context on Leviticus might be helpful.
The Book of Leviticus is found within a collection of books that make up what is called “Torah.” Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible and God’s law for the Hebrew people. Within it are two creation accounts, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, a little bit of history and various laws and rules for the people to abide by, the latter accounting for the majority of the Torah. Leviticus is specifically a law book and there are five major movements within the book. It starts off with laws for sacrifice, then moves to the institution of priesthood, followed by laws for cleanliness, holiness (called the Holiness Code) and it concludes with the redemption of offered gifts. These movements are discussed in great detail, chapter by chapter as you move through the book. Chapter 18 falls within the Holiness Code section and deals with sexual prohibitions.
by Jack McDevitt
I want to go on record that I support a straight person’s right to equality.... but do they really have to kiss and hold hands and be all over each other night after night for millions to watch on a reality show?
Now I want all of you straights out there to know I support and love you but please keep it in PRIVATE okay? Showing affection in public really makes uptight miserable love-less prudes feel really UNCOMFORTABLE! Also, when you straights make an un-necessary show of your affections for all to see, there may be people who are normal but are struggling with having feelings for the opposite sex… and really do not understand yet that it is just as okay to be attracted to the opposite sex as it is to be like everyone else. My point is that these people may find that your hand holding or “sucking face” in public stirs up feelings they are not prepared to deal with.
Another aspect of open heterosexuality that I feel I must address with my friends who happen to be straight, is just in the form of a suggestion. While I and many open minded people I know, think that “straight is great” and that you should be free to be yourself, there is sometimes a tendency of a small minority of straights to act in extremes.
Everyone who is reading this knows the hyper-masculine firemen and policemen who find is necessary to march in parades and act all non-emotional and militaristic and focused, when everyone around them is having a party! Not only does this look ridiculous, but it holds up traffic and business all just to say “hey I’m straight”... ok big deal and whoopty-doo.
by Rev. Zinn
While there is a part of me that remains hopeful for a better future, a growing part of my soul gnaws at me to relinquish that belief. Relinquish it in favor of a more cynical, perhaps more Calvinist, view of the world in which humankind exists more or less in cycles of brokenness that leave us constantly unable to hear or see the movement of the Spirit in our midst.
This ongoing battle between hope and cynicism rages as I consider the place in which the PC(USA), my denomination, finds itself when seeking to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in the GLBTQ communities. The struggle, and let’s not mistake it for anything else, exists between one side who sees God’s love as all encompassing and God’s creation as a beautiful cloth weaved with the diversity of many threads, and the other side seeking to preserve the hegemonic nature of the Christian faith which demands fealty to the single standard of being that has gained acceptance over the past hundred years or so. Because ultimately, it is not a question of preserving the holy tradition of marriage, even a cursory study of the history of the institution would reveal a complex and patriarchal story that rests at the base of the union between a
man and a woman. Nor is it a question of preserving some sort of sexual purity within the clergy.
At least in recent times, since the passing of G-6.0108b(1997), the church has never tried to out heterosexual clergy who have strayed from the bonds of holy matrimony or chastity in singleness. The only thing that is left for those who oppose inclusion, either in ordination standards or in covenantal relationships, is fear and hatred of the other. This was made clear to me at a recent meeting of my own congregation.
by Trevor Miller
So, I hear you’ve gone ahead and passed Amendment 1, putting a ban on gay marriage right into your state constitution. Well done, your decision will be remembered by future historians centuries from now. Of course, it will be remembered in much the same way as today’s historians remember your 1875 constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriages, but hey, you’re getting in the history books, and that’s what matters, right? I mean really, what would history be without the bad guys doing their thing to stir the pot? You wouldn’t have – oh hell, let’s just get it out of the way and move past the low hanging fruit – you wouldn’t have WWII without Hitler, and without WWII, you wouldn’t have most of the 20th century’s history, or at least the history you remember from the movies you’ve seen. You wouldn’t have had the Cold War without the Commies, you wouldn’t have had the Fall of Rome without the Huns, and you wouldn’t have had Gandalf without Sauron. All the best stuff from history comes as a direct result of people banding together and struggling against the bad guys of their age, marching to the drumbeat of history toward the future, against the forces that would bring oppression and hatred to the world. I mean, it’s no invasion of Poland or sacking of Rome, but Amendment 1 is a pretty good crack at the whole oppression and hatred thing, I have to hand it to you.
s. Oh, and the way you wrapped it up in your holiest robes of protecting religious freedom? That was your master stroke; I have to hand it to you. Nothing stirs up fear of the unknown and foreign like a solid appeal to “tradition” under attack, and the pompous self-righteousness you managed to get behind this amendment was one for the books, I have no doubt. Decades from now, people will be talking about just how much scripture had to be twisted or ignored in order to come up with a “biblical” definition of marriage. Never mind that St. Paul advised against getting married at all unless you simply couldn’t resist the temptations of your flesh, and may have himself been a “friend of Dorcas”, if you get my meaning. Never mind that Jesus himself never married, that all of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament were polygamous, that a fair few of the brides in that Old Testament were slaves or taken as prizes from conquered territories, or that pretty much all of them were viewed merely as chattel, not as equal partners in a state-sanctioned union which invested property rights and tax benefits. No, all of that is beside the point, and we should be looking at the First Couple, Adam and Eve (not, as they say, “Adam and Steve”); they of Genesis, he of the earth and she of his rib, given to him as his helpmate in life. And after he had lain with her, and she had born him two sons, one of whom killed the other, the younger son took for himself a wife who was totally not his sister, or maybe she was, but that’s ok, because who else was he going to marry, right? (OK, now the marrying your cousin but not your gay cousin thing starts to make a little more sense.) But forget about Cain; Adam and Eve, that right there is our model for marriage, one man, one woman, and that’s it. Of course, had there been more than one woman or man on the planet when that marriage took place, who’s to say what might have happened, but that’s beside the point, and quit bringing up bothersome questions.