Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Can someone queer the air?
My church is "Open & Affirming," which means that gays are welcome at every level, from the pew to the pulpit. Good. In the name of Jesus and God's Grace, I'm for it.
See this big "God vs. Gay" article in The Advocate about a lesbian Presbyterian deacon trying to become an ordained minister.
What does this mean? Romans 1: 18-32. Open question.
IOWA?!? I can just see all the fundies running around, "Oooh we got trouble!! With a capital T and that rhymes with G and that stands for GAY!" I've been having "Music Man" songs running through my head for days now (and annoying my blog readers with them.)
The Romans interpretation isn't tough. Paul's talking about idolaters, not his readers. He's making an us vs. them distinction, which he does not only in this chapter, but the next one, and throughout the rest of the letter. And the natural vs. unnatural distinction is the same one he uses throughout the letter, vis a vis the natural sons of God (ie. the Jews) and the unnatural sons of God (ie. the "adopted" sons, the gentiles). It's the same word used throughout, translated a couple different ways, and it doesn't have a moral or natural law connotation. Among the points Paul is trying to make is that we (ie. the Jews) can't just exclude the gentiles because they aren't natural sons of Abraham. That's not the sign or mark of inclusion into "The Way". Instead, the us vs. them is anyone who follows Jesus vs. those that ignore Him, in spite of the evidence.
Anyway, Paul is talking about people who don't believe in God, even after God has made Himself obvious to them ... so whoever he's talking about isn't me. People like to contort this verse to make it mean whatever they want, but the context is clear, and the meaning is simple.
That's kind of what I thought, too. But it *is* used so regularly by peeps WMNBN ...
Alan, I'm glad you jumped in here. I'm surprised no one else has. Maybe it's that much of a nonissue among the ER regulars ... ?
1. The historical critical approach:
- Paul is writing to a very young church living in the capital of the known world where all kind so religious practices have temples.
- Paul is arguing all points about the reasonableness and experiential truth of the Christian faith: it makes for more ordered citizenship for the empire is part of his approach here by negatively portraying how other adherents behave. And soon he will also say it offers better existential truth about, and better religious practice for, the inner conflict between sensual desire and moral desire.
- He is describing in general terms the behaviors of a broad swath of religious movements centered on Roman gods and others. This is not a passage that is talking about the private lives of individuals, personal ethics, or any sociological reality outside of the group practice of religious communities. He is talking about people in their lives as corporate believers and the deleterious effect (he believes) their religion has on their ethical lives and as citizens of the empire.
- He is drawing a picture that ties religious faith to its effect on how people want to live and argues for his young church that Christianity will take them to a better place that makes sense for their public lives and their private experience of life together. In this way they gain salvation and serve as models in society.
- However, Paul’s understanding of natural religion is in the background: “… since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
And doubtless Paul is talking about male with male sex. What that means specifically is unclear. Is this pederasty? Adult male sex with prepubescent boys was rampant throughout the wealthy and powerful in the ancient world. Or is this temple worship practice just among adults. And what the women were doing he is less specific.
But the real point is that he is talking about behavior in the context of specific religious belief and practice. Paul believes these practices fly in the face of thinking along natural theology and rational reflection that is available to every one and should have lead them to a better understanding of God. Look how differently he speaks to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Acts 17:16ff.
2. The authority of scripture for me:
- No doubt Paul would not have been sympathetic early on to our understanding of sexuality. And there are other passages where he is talking about personal conduct and wants to recommend celibacy for all. He was entirely concerned with the Christ coming and finding his church in order. He was, in the end, always a lawyer in recovery. Flights of human passion were rarely his thing; we can read better NT intuitions in John and Peter, not to mention the OT.
Paul’s natural religion thinking is based so much on completely different understanding of the natural world and human nature that only the more poetic and existential-like passages reach any feeling for us. This part of Paul is not authoritative.
- But Paul is helpful in reminding us that Christian faith has more than just personal experience or interest at heart. Christian faith is about how one is a neighbor, a citizen. If a religion makes of its community one that focuses solely on one attitude or faculty or experience of human nature, then it is bound to shape people who are unable to be agents of anything good in the world.
So, in this sense, Paul is really saying, “by their fruits you will know them” (unintended pun recognized but left there) and it is in this sense that in my worship life with brothers and sisters who are gay, bisexual, transgendered – not to mention the bishops – I find faithful, sacrificing, world bettering Christians. In this sense, reading the passage as if Paul were singling out any one behavior, instead of comparing the effect of religious faith on ethical practice, that reading would be grossly wrong and completely miss the biblical intention.
So… this is precisely how Bubba, Eric, Marshall, and Mark are incomprehensibly wrong, disastrously wrong, unfaithfully wrong. They have bad faith.
Because the key witness of this passage is “what may be known about God is plain… because God has made it plain.” And what is plain in the life of my church – and not only my church but in the Christian church around the world and down through the ages at least since documentary evidence from the eleventh century – is that gay and lesbian folks have built the church in faith and served the world in love.
So if one cannot see this “making-plain of God, what should we say of him or her?
“… the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
Well, the issue is whether one approaches scripture with an intent to learn something from it, or whether one approaches scripture with the intent to form it to one's preconceived notions.
But ven if I am wrong and he's not talking about Roman practices, but is speaking about Christian believers of his time, then the verse is still obviously speaking about people who are going against their created nature, ie. heterosexuals involved in homosexual prostitution, for which they receive their reward (ie. $$)
But even if I'm wrong and he's not talking about heterosexuals practicing homosexual acts against their created nature as heterosexuals, then he's still talking about prostitution.
The number of assumptions one has to make in order to read this as an anti-gay screed obviously demonstrates the desire of the reader to read that into the text. And indeed, as Feodor points out, that's the real problem. It isn't gay people, it is the people who read this as an anti-gay screed, even though God has made the meaning plain to them.
Rather ironic that those folks set heterosexuality up as an idol to be worshipped on the basis of a passage that condemns idolatry.
"I'm surprised no one else has. Maybe it's that much of a nonissue among the ER regulars"
I can't imagine why it would be, unless they're planning on becoming temple prostitutes. :)
And yes, the title was pretty funny, BTW. :)
Why is this so enigmatic? Perhaps because as Paul explains he is teach two ways at once. One group see one message and the other group sees a different message.
Let me share an alternative view from the 1st and 2nd century via Pagels and the Nag Hammadi documents and Irenaeus' on Heresy.
The first part of the passage is about turning the demiurge Jehovah into El and worshiping him as though he were the true God instead of the symbolic substitute for the true God that he was meant to be.
The "homosexual" part is a metaphor for the unnatural separation of the Literal Christians (Psyche) from the Gnostic Christians (Pneumatic Elect). Adam is separated from Eve although The True God meant them to be One. The two levels of Christian understanding can not function separated from one another. When not working together they become unnatural in their relationships. The Gnostics only hobnobbing with themselves and not providing their spiritual understanding with the Psyche Literalist and vice versa means that both are wrong and usless and will not produce what needs to be done within the Kingdom of God.
The Gnostic would read this knowing that as Paul said, that in Christ "... all things are permitted." That would include anything at all in the way of sexual behavior. Thus only the Literal/Psyche Christian would would see this a letter about unnatural sex, where as the Gnostic would understand it to be a metaphor.
As such it stands as a very pertinent lesson for those "Spiritual Knowledge Based Christians" of the 21st Century that to isolate themselves from the "Literalist" of our time is unnatural in God eyes. Both are guilty of the same crime.
When each rejects the other and clings only to those who believe like they do, then they are doing it wrong.
How that for something different?
On the second paragraph, I have a problem, though, with ontologizing the gender divide into a representation that male-ness, thus, represents half of god's qualities and female-ness the other half. I find that to be sentimental new age pablum.
Regarding the third, it seems to me that reading this passage as a plea for unity simply destroys the first level of understanding: Paul writes what he means, and not under a coke haze. When the allegorical, or anagogical, or mystical reading destroys rather than builds on or expands the one which takes a writer like Paul at his literal words, then I am highly suspicious of a agenda which has gotten out of reason.
It does not keep the whole sweep of Paul's writings in mind as they reinforce each other about his consistent stance toward polluters of the faith that should shape well behaving and ordered followers. In short, it is a coercive reading of Paul that does not pay attention first to Paul before interpreting Paul.
F:"In short, it is a coercive reading of Paul that does not pay attention first to Paul before interpreting Paul."
Ah the pot is claiming the kettle is black again.
F: "It does not keep the whole sweep of Paul's writings in mind as they reinforce each other about his consistent stance toward polluters of the faith that should shape well behaving and ordered followers."
It does if you read the "whole sweep of Paul's writings" from a gnostic exegesis.
F: "Paul writes what he means, and not under a coke haze. When the allegorical, or anagogical, or mystical reading destroys rather than builds on or expands the one which takes a writer like Paul at his literal words,..."
You mean when uses words in his original Greek such as Sophia the name,and demiurge, and pleroma, and psyche, and pnuematic he actually means those gnostic terms and not the bland "literalist interpretations"?
"...Coke haze..." Jesus, Feodor be an adult and stop with the gratuitous innuendos.
F:"On the second paragraph, I have a problem, though, with ontologizing the gender divide into a representation that male-ness, thus, represents half of god's qualities and female-ness the other half. I find that to be sentimental new age pablum."
This "new age pablum" is a central element of the first century A.D. Gnostic Christian thought. The interpretation I demonstrated may have no "truth" what so ever, but it is an accurate depiction of the Paulian Gnostic interpretations of the early Church. It is however curious the gnostic approach seems to be perennial even though the Orthodox Church keeps ripping it out by it roots. Why I wonder.
So does Paul condemn Homosexuality in these verses? Is that not inconsistent with the statements he made about nothing being forbidden to the pnuematic christian?
Or is this an exercise of applying a thoroughly gnostic interpretation?
I'm not clear now what you are saying.
I don't think Paul can recognize modern homosexuality. I don't think Paul could quite recognize modern heterosexuality for that matter.
But I would think his natural theology would war against seeing gay life as normative.
In other words, there is not way to make Paul argue for what we are talking about in terms of gay life. One can only point to Paul's vision of liberation, freedom that Christians gain by commitment to Christ and apply it to our own theological reasoning in the context of the church's experience in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Or premodern! It's "better to marry than to burn" ain't exactly a ringing endorsement.
But if the wait was going to kill someone, i.e., drive them to foreNYkation, then better they marry.
It was not a long term vision thing.
Nonetheless, if Paul was ever married, I can't think it was much of a mutual sharing relationship.
Me? No, I'm just following what Ireanus said the early gnostic heritics thought. They taught that Paul was one of their Apostles and read him that way.
Now really guys, sex hasn't changed since the 1st century.
By the way Eastern Oklahoma City is burning down right now. Wild fires and fire storms.
Didn't he travel with a spiritual Sister/Wife on occasion.
Only a man could say that.
DrLBJ, I am glad to hear that you don't think Paul was writing gnostic scripture by intention ("in a coke haze"). Since the rhetoric of at least this passage seems far from intending an allegorical, spiritualized reading.
As for applying a gnostic interpretation, a gnostic can certainly apply such a reading to any text. I was thinking this morning of D.H. Lawrence, a gnostic novelist if there ever has been. He was taken with German myth and mytho-poetic ideologies, northern-gothic spiritualities, psycho-sexual ideals that heavily influenced Weimar artistic and bohemian culture.
Elements of all of these restless wanderings (he died too young to synthesize it all; though such may have never been his interest) can be found in his masterpiece duo of The Rainbow and Women in Love. One can certainly apply a gnostic interpretation to these novels.
And have been. But, in the end, while sometimes fruitful and spicy, they don't satisfy fully. They take off too soon, thereby missing the man and the characters. They fly with an empty cargo hold.
That is much like how I find so much of gnostic writing. They hold one truth of the incarnation so hard, they squeeze the man and me right out of the message.
Heresy is the isolation of one truth only in reaction to the Church shifting too far to the other ones.
Problematically, what they see as your heresy is actually the original scandal of the Gospel to the world. They miscategorize the Christ, the very center of the faith.
How incredibly screwed is that?
Actually I'm not persuaded that he did or didn't. But you have to consider the Gnostic's argument that he was "teaching two ways at the same time". A technique not unknown in other written genera.
Of course Irenaeus went nuts at that statement.
F:"But seriously, I think their approach is that you take the grace of Jesus Christ way too far. You forget the judgment of God as well as the behavioral ethics of 1st century antiquity (as they understand it), among other things like how to read scripture."
Ditto, ditto, and ditto.
A Gnostic would say that as Psyche Souls that they are steep in the law and sin of the demiurge Jehovah and everyone who ever lived/lives must be judged and punished under the law. Jesus the human must have been begotten by Jehovah as the Christ, he had to be sacrificed like a lamb under the Law, and he had to overcome the Grave and Death with a physical bodily Resurrection and establish the Church and an Apostolic succession tradition to head it. Only in this way may Jesus act as Christ and substitute himself for them.
Grace, well Grace does not require all of that. A Gnostic Grace would not even require Jesus to have ever lived. So Grace Orthodox, Gnostic,(or just plain without icing) seems wrong to them somehow, unless it fact Grace does require all of that. That of course, kinda negates a lot of what Grace means.
So ER, your attitude is irritating a weak spot in their turtle shell dogmas.