Sunday, February 16, 2014

It's not the 1950's anymore

If I were following the six "gay condemning" verses in order, like I said I was going to do, I would go on to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, because of recent events in the Kansas legislature, I feel it necessary to post something more relevant.

This is such an exciting time to be a young gay person in America. A few months ago I had the opportunity to march around our capitol building in Springfield alongside hundreds of other LGBT people and allies (the picture below). That experience was truly life-changing, reminding me of other historic turning points like women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Thankfully, Illinois passed the marriage equality law, allowing gay couples the right to marry and my experience to be even more rewarding.


So that's good for Illinois! Unfortunately, quite the opposite is happening in Kansas.

For those of you who don't know, the house in Kansas passed House Bill 2453, stating that if it goes against someone's religious beliefs concerning gay people/marriage, no one is required to:

"(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;"

It still has to pass the senate and be signed by the governor, but because the senate is majority ruled by republicans, and the governor is very conservative, it is expected to pass. If you want to see the full bill, it's amazingly short, so click here and give it a read.

Here we are, back in the 1950's, living in a segregated world, deciding who can eat at what restaurant.

Not only is this in absolute violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment, it completely goes against the teachings of the Bible:

Mark 12:31
"The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'”

Matthew 7:12
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

Christians can be some of the most un-Christian people in the world.

For me, I can't help but think of the parallels with the abolitionist movement of the 1800's.

Countless Christians were against the abolition of slavery and used scripture to defend their position that owning another human being was, indeed, fine and biblical.

And why wouldn't they? According to blueletterbible.org, slavery appears 834 times in the Old Testament and 130 times in the New Testament (ebed and doulos). Not a single one of these almost 1000 verses is condemning the practice. There were rules regarding slaves, and of course the Bible tells slave owners to treat them well, but there is no notion in the entire Bible that hints at slavery eventually ending. Because it was the norm, abolition was not something the authors considered or could possibly foresee in their future (just like the internet, technology, etc.). Most of the verses are simply stating the fact that many people in the Bible had slaves and here are some interesting examples:

Leviticus 22:11
But if a priest buys a slave with money, or if slaves are born in his household, they may eat his food.

Wow. How nice.

John 8:35
Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

Ephesians 6:5
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

Obviously I'm not condoning slavery. Recently Christians have come to a consensus that owning another human being is simply not Christlike and no longer applicable to modern times. Of course, not ALL Christians agreed on this drastic change in thinking, and they had some pretty strong Biblical backing.

"Every hope of the existence of church and state, and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of Negro suffrage."
—Robert Dabney, a prominent 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor
"[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."

           —Jefferson Davis, President, Confederate States of America

The translation of the word "slave" or "servant" in the Bible (according to blueletterbible.org/Vine's Dictionary) is "originally the lowest term in the scale of servitude, came also to mean 'one who gives himself up to the will of another.'" There is very little room for interpretation here. The Bible is, I think we can agree, talking about one human owning and controlling another human, which is obvious if you read the 900+ verses.

It seems pretty straightforward.

In contrast, the word that is used for "men who have sex with men" in the list of vices stated in 1 Corinthians is much more difficult to translate.

1 Corinthians 6:9
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men...

In several versions of the Bible the word "homosexual" is actually used here, even though that word wasn't even coined until the 1800's. The Greek word to describe "men who have sex with men" is arsenokoites. This word is used a total of two times in the entire Bible. The other use is in 1 Timothy 1:10, also written by Paul, basically echoing the 1 Corinthians verse. The word can not be found in any other literature of that time, so scholars believe Paul was the first person to use it.

Let's break the word apart: arsen means "man" and koite means "bed." Okay, so definitely something involving men that probably has a sexual connotation. There has been MUCH debate over what the actual meaning of this word is, and for good reason--Paul says they aren't going to inherit the kingdom of God!

A few interesting facts about the word's Biblical translation throughout the years:

-Martin Luther's 1545 German translation uses the word "Knabenschänder" (from "Knaben", boys or young children), which implies that "arsenokoites" was interpreted as pedophilia as early as the 16th century.

-A modern German translation uses "Kinder sexuell missbrauchen" ("to abuse children sexually").

-The 1649 Giovanni Deodati Bible in Italian says "quelli che usano co' maschi." The term "maschi" can refer either to men or boys, but has a more general sense of boys, as in the traditional Italian expression "Auguri e figli maschi" (literally, "Congratulations and may you have many male children.")

And here's an interesting point from James Brownson in Bible, Gender, Sexuality:

"Many interpreters also note a third term, which appears next to arsenokoites in 1 Timothy 1:10: andropodistes. Literally, the word means "slave-dealer" or "kidnapper." A number of revisionist interpreters have connected this word to the ancient sex trade, where young boys were captured, castrated, and sold to be used as sexual slaves. These and many other revisionist interpreters argue that the negative portrayal of these abusive ancient practices cannot be used to justify the condemnation of consensual, committed, and loving same-sex unions today."  

My point is this: There are two major problems with using this verse to condemn homosexuality. Problem 1 is that the actual translation is VERY unclear and has a lot of room for interpretation (unlike the 900+ verses on slavery).

Which brings us to Problem 2: Even if the translation was straightforward and clear, it's important to look at the historical context and realize these ancient situations may not be applicable or similar to modern times.It clearly does not go along with the teachings of the Bible that simply tell us to love our neighbors and treat everyone in the same way we wish to be treated.

To break it down, I've created a chart on how the church has changed it's thinking regarding just a few controversial issues that make a certain group of people less important.

Slavery:
Word: doulos in Greek and ebed in Hebrew
Mentioned: almost 1000 times in the Old and New Testament
Definition/examples: "the lowest term in the scale of servitude, came also to mean 'one who gives himself up to the will of another.'" Mathew 25:30, John 8:35, Titus 2:9 Ephesians 6:5
Early views: Slavery was a good and necessary thing.
Debate: In-depth research, extensive arguments
Recent views: It is not Christlike for one human to own another.

Women being inferior to men:
Word: ishshah and gyne 
Mentioned: over 20 times in the Old and New Testament (in regards to being inferior to men)
Definition/examples: It is shameful for women to speak in church, men are heads of households, men have control over their wives, etc. 1 Timothy 2:11, Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18.
Early views: Women are inferior to men and not permitted to teach.
Debate: In-depth research, extensive argument
Recent views: Women are equal to men and encouraged to teach.

Men having sex with men:
Word: arsenokoites
Mentioned: twice in the New Testament
Definition/examples: Definition unclear. 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10
Early views: They will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Debate: Little research and debate in comparison to women and slavery
Recent views: They will not inherit the kingdom of God (no change).

Although the Supreme Court will never allow House Bill 2453 to actually become law, it's very interesting to see how hard Christians will fight to hold on to what they believe the Bible says, even when it goes against the entire theme of the Bible to be loving, non-judgmental, and welcoming to ALL of God's children.

Perhaps a change of heart (and theology) is on the horizon for the church again. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve

Let's do a quick recap of all the things I hope you've learned from my previous blog posts:
I'm gay.
I'm a Christian.
I was born this way.
I am fine with it.
I believe God is fine with it.

If you didn't know all of these, I have failed as a blogger (or maybe you just can't read).

So that's all fine and dandy, but now you're all wondering how in the world I could ever read those six passages in the Bible and still feel confident in who I am and who God created me to be.

So I want to start digging into these six verses and see what I can find. I encourage you to do the same. I will be using a website called blueletterbible.org which is a very handy Bible study tool. It has the verse you search for, and for every word there is a translation, a definition, cross references, and some other tools.

That being said, I will be documenting everything I learn, but I challenge you to do your own study. It's fun and very simple.

I guess the best place to start is, well, the beginning. Genesis, where God in all of His mighty power created everything from absolute nothingness. And then He created man, and for man He created woman, and both were made in His image.

THERE YOU HAVE IT. Done. He created ONE man and ONE woman and they were made for each other and God told them to fill the earth and subdue it. How can anyone argue and say this is not God's design for us?

Let's dissect Genesis verse by verse right before Eve comes into the picture...

Genesis 2:18:  
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

The word helper in Hebrew is `ezer and it means "fellow worker." 'ezer is used 22 times in the Old Testament and is most often used to describe God as our helper. Ok, so no argument there about whether it should specifically be a female. Let's keep going.

Genesis 2:19
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

I love this passage. I picture God pushing each animal towards Adam and encouraging him to be creative and call them what he wants. Of course, God could have easily picked names for His creations (they were, after all, HIS) but I think it's important to note here that God is giving Adam freedom and control. That's how much God respects and loves the human He created.

Genesis 2:20
So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

Here I picture God pushing the animals towards Adam, and after they are named, God raising His eyebrows at Adam, who shakes his head because he didn't find them "suitable." Just like God let Adam name the animals and rule over them, it would make sense that God also gave Adam the freedom to choose his own helper. If God had never intended for Adam to have a say in it, the phrase "no suitable helper was found" would be utterly pointless. God would have simply created woman from the start.

Genesis 2:21-23
So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

This is where I get very confused by traditionalist arguments. "SEE?" they say, "God made ONE man and ONE woman."

Well...duh. He made billions of MEN and billions of WOMEN. These are his two special treasures that He holds above all the other beasts in the world. There are many different variations of men and women, but these are the two generic prototypes for every human that has ever lived. And they were both made equally in God's image.

Then why did God create for Adam a woman, and not another man?

Because Adam was straight! Like most men in our world, a woman is what he desired and wanted as a life long "helper." If Adam were gay, maybe God would have made him another man. And then they would be able to reproduce, and our world would be filled with only men (I like the way God did it better). But like I said, these were the two generic prototypes of human beings. God had to start somewhere. He didn't make every race, every height, every eye color all on that one day. These are things that will come from His two special treasures. Adam and Eve represented and encompassed thousands of years and variations of people across time and cultures. If Adam and Eve were created in God's image, I think you can argue that EVERYONE is created in His image, not just the people who are exact replicas of Adam and Eve.

What about God's design for populating the Earth and having babies? Gay couples can't procreate so they must not be in God's design.

OBVIOUSLY God made man and woman able to reproduce, because at that time, they were the only two humans on Earth! How else would any of us be here?

Honestly I think we should all praise God that He didn't make ALL humans able to reproduce. Sure, during Bible times it was of the utmost importance, and I guess I can see why gay couples and infertile women were looked down upon in society. But now, when we are using the world's resources almost 30% faster than they can be produced, I think it's a little less urgent. And quite frankly, we would be in trouble if ALL couples EVERYWHERE were able to have children.

Genesis 2:24
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The word "united" here in Hebrew is dabaq. It means "to cling to" or "to stay with." Good! I agree that Adam set a good example for all couples who have chosen to commit to each other.


"...and they shall become one flesh." This trips a lot of Christians up. For some reason we are obsessed with the idea that one flesh has some sexual connotation regarding, in Robert Gagnon's words, a "complementarity of the different genders." If we do the TINIEST BIT OF RESEARCH we find really quickly that the word "flesh" here in Hebrew is basar. Which when translated literally means "kinship, blood-relations." We are talking about family here. The same word basar is used 264 times in the Old Testament. Just a few examples:

When Adam meets Eve for the first time and he makes a connection with her that he couldn't make with any of the other animals...

Genesis 2:23
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

Genesis 29:14
Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood,” (after Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month).

2 Samuel 5:1
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood."


etc. etc. It doesn't mean cookie cutter straight man/straight woman sex. It means having a relationship with someone that is stronger than friendship, characterized by mutual care, respect, and love. Being each others' "helper." It's hard for Christians to imagine gay people fitting into this plan, but if modern day Christians don't give it much thought (and trust me, most of them don't give it ANY), you can only imagine how far it was from their minds during ancient times when there were fewer people and no internet.

People argue that if homosexuality was okay, there would be more in the Bible about it than just the negative stuff.

That would be a good point if we could prove that the rare, erotic same-sex behavior described in the Bible is also referring to the committed, God-fearing gay couples we see today. But that's a topic for next week.