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. 

6 comments:

  1. Keep preaching it, Missa! How I wish I had known all of this when I was your age and struggling to get out of the fundamentalist movement. I teach literature and American history in a small Christian school and I use every opportunity to just get students to think outside the box. It is young people like you, just like young people were used in the Civil Right Movement in the 1960s, who can lead us forward.

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    1. Thank you! Critical thinking is a dying practice. I'm glad to know there are teachers out there like you encouraging kids to step out of their conservative bubbles. After all, if someone's faith is strong enough, a little exploration shouldn't hurt it.

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  2. very good point though, even though people may not change their minds about the gay condemning verses yet, Christians should still treat their neighbours as they would like to be treated.

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  3. I want to start out by saying: truth is true no matter what we feel or think. Our motives are completely beside the point, we need to align them with the truth. I'm not writing to debate, I'm writing as a person who has experienced some of the same things you are going through and just wanted to tell you my experience and maybe Gods truth will shine through. Either the bible is Gods true word and should be the authority in every believers life, or it's not. And if it is, then we must live by it! Any person can rationalize and make verses say what they want them to mean. And that's what I was doing so then the word of God would fit what I wanted in life. My desires and my way. But doing that is believing the lies of satan. I'm not going to be able to convince you of anything nor do I want to. I just want you to run to Christ and submit yourself to Him and his word. I found that I wasn't born gay and I wasn't a lesbian. What I found was that I was simply sinning. Just because we have desires for certain things doesn't mean that we need to make labels or rationalize and say we are such and such. All I was doing was making an idol and worshipping it and that is a sin. I needed to confess my sins to God and ask for His help and clarity of His word. Seek Him out with all your heart, and you will find truth. I've struggled several times with same sex relationships only to find that it was idolatry. So I just wanted to share that with you. May you find truth dear one.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I agree that the Bible is God's word and should be the absolute truth in our lives. The last thing I would want to do is twist verses to mean what I want them to say. If you read my "Who I am"page, you'll see that that is not my motive here. I'm simply using basic Bible study tools to look deeper into an issue that most Christians refuse to do. It's been done with various topics over the years, and it's just now catching on that to truly understand the Bible we must look much, much further into the language and the context. I really appreciate your story, however it is not my story. I was born gay, I will always be gay, and Jesus loves me. I seek Him with my whole heart every day and I strive to make the world a more accepting, understanding place for all of His children. Thank you again for sharing, I hope you will continue to read my posts so we can continue this discussion!

      Missa

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  4. Quoting verbatim from http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-slavery.html:

    There is a tendency to look at slavery as something of the past. But it is estimated that there are today over 27 million people in the world who are subject to slavery: forced labor, sex trade, inheritable property, etc. As those who have been redeemed from the slavery of sin, followers of Jesus Christ should be the foremost champions of ending human slavery in the world today. The question arises, though, why does the Bible not speak out strongly against slavery? Why does the Bible, in fact, seem to support the practice of human slavery?

    The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw slavery altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What many fail to understand is that slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was more a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters.

    The slavery of the past few centuries was often based exclusively on skin color. In the United States, many black people were considered slaves because of their nationality; many slave owners truly believed black people to be inferior human beings. The Bible most definitely does condemn race-based slavery. Consider the slavery the Hebrews experienced when they were in Egypt. The Hebrews were slaves, not by choice, but because they were Hebrews (Exodus 13:14). The plagues God poured out on Egypt demonstrate how God feels about racial slavery (Exodus 7-11). So, yes, the Bible does condemn some forms of slavery. At the same time, the Bible does seem to allow for other forms. The key issue is that the slavery the Bible allowed for in no way resembled the racial slavery that plagued our world in the past few centuries.

    In addition, both the Old and New Testaments condemn the practice of “man-stealing” which is what happened in Africa in the 19th century. Africans were rounded up by slave-hunters, who sold them to slave-traders, who brought them to the New World to work on plantations and farms. This practice is abhorrent to God. In fact, the penalty for such a crime in the Mosaic Law was death: “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16). Similarly, in the New Testament, slave-traders are listed among those who are “ungodly and sinful” and are in the same category as those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, adulterers and perverts, and liars and perjurers (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

    Another crucial point is that the purpose of the Bible is to point the way to salvation, not to reform society. The Bible often approaches issues from the inside out. If a person experiences the love, mercy, and grace of God by receiving His salvation, God will reform his soul, changing the way he thinks and acts. A person who has experienced God’s gift of salvation and freedom from the slavery of sin, as God reforms his soul, will realize that enslaving another human being is wrong. A person who has truly experienced God’s grace will in turn be gracious towards others. That would be the Bible’s prescription for ending slavery.

    Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-slavery.html#ixzz2x9fOZ1dH

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