Sunday, June 8, 2014

Naturally, Romans 1

Now comes the fun part of this series: The New Testament.

In my last post I talked about Leviticus and how we need to be careful how we view the Old Covenant in regards to Christianity today.

Now we're gonna start digging our teeth into the real bread and butter of the gay Christian debate.

Romans 1:26-27:
"Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. 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 for their error."

For a lot of people, this verse is the closing argument against gay relationships and can not in any way be proven otherwise.

I want to remind everyone that this blog I created is not to change your belief or your opinion of the Bible itself. I've stated before that I believe the Bible is the true Word of God and should be used as an absolute guide for Christian's lives. I'm simply trying to shed some light on how tricky interpretations can get, how important context is, and how little time people actually spend studying key verses.

I'm not in any way trying to disprove the Bible, I'm simply doing my best to create an educated answer and interpretation that I believe God is trying to share with me.

That being said, lets talk about Romans 1.

To give a little background, these particular verses are included in a letter written by Paul to the early churches of Rome. In the verses leading up to 26 and 27, Paul talks about the evilness of mankind, and some of the wicked things people are doing. Let's start there. To truly understand what Paul is referring to, I think it's crucial that we know in detail what Paul's world looked like.

One example in Brownson's book Bible Gender Sexuality is referring to a very prominent character in Roman life: Gaius Caligula, the emperor who was in power not long before Paul's letter to the Romans. Neil Elliot, author of The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of an Empire points out that everyone to whom Paul was writing would have certainly known the story of this man and the details of his life. After studying the language in the Bible and the language used in early works detailing Caligula's life, Elliot notices several similarities that certainly cannot be brushed under the table. Because they are so strikingly similar, one wonders if this isn't specifically what Paul was referring to without mentioning it.

To give a very, very brief history of Gaius Caligula, he was a horrible emperor who was closely linked to adultery, out-of-control lust, lived in incest, and raped countless men, women, and children who served under him. There are many accounts of him engaging in violent same-sex behavior. Remember my blog post about Sodom? I discussed how men in ancient times would use sexual intercourse with other men to humiliate and dominate them. This is reflected to a T in the story of Caligula, who, by the way, was married to a woman. One specific example was when he raped his military officer. This officer then joined a conspiracy to murder him, which happened four years into his reign. It is recorded that Gaius was stabbed in the genitals.

Brownson writes:
"One wonders if we can hear an echo of this gruesome story in Paul's comments in Romans 1:27: "men committed shameless acts with other men and received in their own person the due penalty for their error." Gaius Caligula graphically illustrates the reality of which Paul speaks in Roman 1: the movement from idolatry to insatiable lust to every form of depravity, and the violent murderous reprisal that such behavior engenders."

I recently watched a sermon given by gay-affirming pastor Danny Cortez, who goes into detail about this story of Gaius and its connection to Romans 1.



Pastor Danny stresses the importance of historical context by comparing this to the Clinton scandal. If someone were to write to the church in detail about having relations with an intern and then lying about it, everyone would know what he was referring to, and why it was wrong. Does that mean no one should ever have any type of relationship with an intern? No. It means that the specific events and details of this story are an example of turning from God and letting our own sinful nature take over.

If Paul is referring in any way to the story of Gaius Caligula, he is certainly referring to insatiable lust and dominance when he refers to "men committing shameless acts with each other." There is still no concept of same-sex committed, loving, respectful relationships.

Now that we have some historical context of what Paul's world looked like, lets talk about the concept of "nature."

Many people like Robert Gagnon love to talk about this word in regards to human sexuality. They use verses 26 and 27:

"...women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones...men abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another."

As stated above, this is almost certainly not referring to the same sex relationships we see now-a-days, because of the obvious connotation of insatiable lust and passion and the historical context of same-sex relations at that time (slave owners, men and young boys, emperors and military officers, temple prostitution, etc.)

So what about nature? (See my early blog post Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve to learn more about human design).

Paul uses the word "nature" more than once in his letters [Strong's Number G5449 matches the Greek φύσις (physis)].

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 where he is instructing women to cover their heads:
"Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?"

The words "nature" and "disgrace", as Matthew Vines points out in his book God and the Gay Christian, are the same words used to describe the same-sex behavior in Romans 1.

Is Paul suggesting that hair does not naturally grow? Wouldn't everyone have long hair if we were trying to live as naturally as possible?

Why don't we follow the 1 Corinthians rules anymore? Because it is widely regarded as referring to a customary practice of that day. Paul is God's middle man remember? It's his job to spread the Word of God while trying to make Christians look good and behave in their societies. Perhaps if the Bible were written NOW it would say things like "Don't text and drive. Don't spend hundreds of dollars on make-up." How can anyone take the teachings of the Bible seriously without understanding the world it was written in (where there is no mention of respectful same-sex relationships)?

COME ON PEOPLE.

My last point is very simple, but very relevant. In Romans 1 Paul talks of people "exchanging" one thing for another, right? They knew God, but worshipped idols, they claimed to be wise, but became fools, exchanged their natural relations for unnatural.

Paul is saying they knew in their hearts what was right and who they were, and yet they "exchanged" these things for something else, something unnatural to them, and that was a terrible sin. For gay people, same-sex attraction is natural. Trying to marry a man would be just as unnatural to me as it would be to a straight man. Perhaps all those years I spent trying to be attracted to the opposite sex was an insult to God. He clearly made me this way for a reason, and I would hate to "exchange" that or force someone else to live unnaturally, which is exactly what many Christians are trying to do.

Thanks for sticking through this post. To sum up my points:

  • The history of the Ancient world shows us that Paul's letter to the Romans certainly could have been referring to events such as Gaius Caligula's evil reign and "deserved" death.
  • There is still no mention of loving, committed same-sex relations in these passages (they are only referred to in the context of violence, excessive lust, and passion).
  •  The word "natural" is also used by Paul to describe hair length on men (men should have short hair, even though the word "natural" as Christians use it today, would suggest hair to "naturally" grow long)
  • If we are truly talking about nature and not exchanging truth for lies, gay people should be able to love who they choose, because that is the "natural" way God created them



5 comments:

  1. Good job, Missa, very well researched and articulated. Naturally ;)

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  2. I appreciate your thoughts on this a lot. This is the passage that I get stuck on the most.

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    1. Thank you for reading! This is the passage that has the most weight in this discussion. It's also the one I spent the most time on and will probably be one of my longest posts in this series.

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