Dennis the Menace and Marriage Equality

Last night I was reading an old copy of The Beano with my daughter in bed. She’s seven. The cover had Dennis the Menace and Barack Obama shooting people with a catapult in a storyline where Obama had hired Dennis to test his bodyguards to the limit.

There’s a funny thing that happens between the ages of about four and seven. Kids learn how to forget things. You start to have to remind them of things that were very significant only recently. So even though I vividly recall my girl coming down the stairs on the morning Obama had been elected and sighing at the television, ‘Not Barack Obama again‘, last night she had to ask who he was.

It was a coincidence we’d picked that comic, I had just taken it from the random pile in her drawer, but sometimes the teacher in me can’t help herself. A couple of days ago Obama went on record to say that he believes gay people should have the right to get married if they want to. I began to explain this to my daughter,

‘Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. A few days ago he said that he thinks everyone should be able to get married if they want to…’

I paused here.

It’s hard to tell your child about injustice in the world. I never know when it’s a good time to bring it up. I don’t want her to know how horrible we can be. I don’t want her to be afraid that one day a government or a church might be horrible to her. But I also need her to know that there will always be people on her side.

I went on.

‘You know how Peterson and Glen are getting married soon?’

‘Yep.’

‘Well, some people don’t think they should be allowed to.’

‘How?? Why?!’

It was that reaction that I wanted to write about. I didn’t labour the point or give her a lecture about the current debate over marriage (we needed to get back to Dennis the Menace, after all) but although I wasn’t surprised that she had reacted in that way it did cause me to take a breath and realise something; this is the reaction of someone who has come to this discussion from another planet. 

It’s not like my daughter hasn’t noticed that Peterson and Glen are two boys and not a girl and a boy. It’s not like she hasn’t noticed that most couples she sees are male and female and that many people talk to her as if they fully expect her to end up in a couple with a male at some point in the future. She noticed these things years ago and we have had to consciously teach her that not all couples are going to be male and female and that this is a good thing and that we wouldn’t be friends with the people we know and love if everyone was the same. But her reaction to the news that some people were actually *against* gay relationships was one of incredulity.

I had seen that kind of surprise before.

I had the privilege to teach for several years in an Integrated school here in N Ireland. For those of you not from this country you might be aware of how the Troubles here led to a segregated school system. That system remains today- most schools here are either Catholic schools or state schools (which end up being Protestant schools really). There are also a number of Integrated schools where not only are students educated together but they are also educated about being together– they learn about their own traditions and the traditions of other people.

I have many stories to tell about the experiences of teaching in that environment but the one I recalled this morning, when I was thinking about the chat about Obama, took me back to a discussion I once had with a class of mine where I told them that when I was their age I didn’t know what camogie was. I didn’t know what hurling was. I didn’t realise that when some people said ‘football‘ they didn’t mean ‘soccer‘. I wasn’t able to choose to learn Irish in school or to learn Irish dancing or to play Irish music. I also didn’t know any Catholics, apart from a couple of my aunties (and one of them was English and was afraid to visit NI so I never saw her). I had no Catholic friends until I was an adult. Not one.

When I told the class this they were genuinely stunned. You could see it in their faces, the, ‘How?? Why?!’ It occurred to me that my words were like another language- there was no way they could comprehend what it might have been like to simply not know someone of the other religion here. To not have anyone you could ask about their tradition. To have to rely on what your own lot told you about the other lot for (mis)information. They just didn’t get it.

Part of me wanted to explain to them what it was like- how working with them had been one of the greatest revelations of my life- how they had taught me more about integration and peace and difference than I could ever teach them about Shakespeare or when to take a new paragraph. And part of me just inhaled the moment- the recognition that those dreams of the future are sometimes realised in the now.

It was a bit like that last night with The Beano and my child and Obama. Some people are the revolution, even if they don’t know it. But this doesn’t happen by accident. Are you tired of people going on about LGBT equality all the time? They’re doing it so that in the future no-one has to talk about it, because it will be a given. Sometimes I get a glimpse of what that will look like, and it looks pretty flippin’ fantastic.

Advertisements

13 comments

  1. What a great post Shirley. I had similar experiences growing up in a strong Catholic community. I can still remember being shocked when I found out Guy Fawkes wasn’t a national hero to everyone!

  2. Shirley thank you for bring this post to our attention again. Isn’t it interesting how children seem to have a sharply attuned sense of justice. The simple logic in your daughter’s mind probably goes some thing like: If marriage is a commitment made between two people who love each other and want to pledge publicly that they will be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives then this is something to celebrate no matter who the two people are.

    Why then do some wish to challenge the simple logic of such thinking? What is it that your daughter in her innocence doesn’t get?

    Justice, or should we agree to use the word fairness here, is not always that clear cut. Occasionally it is appropriate to treat some individuals differently than others but this is only morally acceptable when there are legitimate grounds to do so. For example when it comes to marriage, it would be considered appropriate to deny the right to marry and found a family to a brother and sister on the grounds that there is a high likelihood that the children of such a couple are likely to suffer from a significant genetic defects.

    The issue that your daughter is being challenged to address is whether or not the fact that two people are of the same sex is a legitimate moral reason to deny them the right to marry which would have been available to a couple of different sexes, all other things being equal?

    We used an argument based on potential harm as a legitimate reason for denying a brother and sister the right to marry. This type of argument is less valid for the same sex couple as it is difficult to identify who is being harmed and to what extent.

    If there are no substantial grounds to justify discrimination based on undesirable consequences then is there a moral principle that your daughter is unaware of that might expose the error in her thinking?

    The discussion at this point tends to be around competing arguments as to what the will of God is in relation to the matter. These arguments tend to turn on how one reads and interprets holy texts. Similar debates occurred at the time of the liberation of slaves in America and the suffragette movement in the UK. They were resolved in favour of the oppressed and marginalised.

    It seems possible that your daughter has leapfrogged these approaches to moral philosophy. If these two people who she knows, wish to make this commitment to each other then that decides it for her. These is no legitimate reason to discriminate against them and she is happy to celebrate with them.

    It seems to me you have a very wise daughter.

  3. Shirley. Thanks for the lovely anecdote, and for the invitation to participate in the discussion. Our children do sometimes take us aback with surprising insight and analysis. They’re fantastic. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. (I don’t know about yours, but when mine were young they were sometimes naturally selfish and didn’t need to be taught it. I’ve no doubt I was the same, and sometimes still am). It’s also important to remember Jesus’ own words on how we should receive the Kingdom (like a child), alongside his own, ultimate, example of humility and obedience to his Father’s will. How often we fail to live up to that standard individually and collectively. It also bothers me greatly that, in the West, the first two things that folk outside the Church think of when they are asked to describe Christianity are that it is (a) “anti-abortion” and (b) “anti-gay.” I think the central message of Christianity is that God is FOR us all and has gone to unreasonable, and greatly sacrificial, efforts for all of us so that we could live the way He wants us to – a truly abundant life. It is a great shame that other issues often distract from this. Still, since the discussion is ongoing, and comment is invited…

    At present my own present view is that the state should NOT restrict marriage to heterosexual people (so I’m with Obama on this). However, personally I see a difference between Church and state on the subject i.e. I already acknowledge that all state marriages are not Christian marriages…

    I appreciate that folk from many different backgrounds may read your blog, and I acknowledge that what follows may be easily disregarded by those who have no particular commitment to Christianity or the Bible; but since a number of us in a Church context have been invited to comment, I make no apology for appealing to that kind of basis for understanding. I presume that, if we’re Christians, we all agree that it is important that we do our best to determine the will of God on these things, as instincts can sometimes be counter to God’s will. Whether in a same-sex context or in a heterosexual context, I’m sure we all have instincts and feelings which can be explained biologically but which we wouldn’t wish to try to justify acting upon. I think David is correct in his analysis that the problem arises when we differ on how we’re supposed to read and understand the Bible, particularly key texts on homosexual practice.

    God certainly does side with the oppressed and the marginalised, and I confess individual, and recognise collective, guilt for being part of oppression and marginalisation – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. However, there can no ignoring the fact that, while the Bible is very strong in its condemnation of oppression, there are also passages that are difficult to understand as meaning something other than condemnation of homosexual practice – especially in the New Testament. Whilst scripture has been abused to oppress, it seems to me unsatisfactory to presume that what was an abuse, with some texts in some areas, automatically translates to others. Surely it is important not to bring our assumptions and prejudices to the Bible, but to seek to really find out what ‘difficult texts’ might mean – to consider seriously if there are alternative understandings than those we presume. There can be all sorts of societal reasons for our presumptions, as well as selfish reasons (whatever our assumptions). I’m a big fan of contextual understanding of Biblical passages – in both the literary and historical/cultural senses – and I imagine that alternative understandings to the immediately apparent sense of a ‘difficult’ text may be available by that route.

    I encourage those who have an alternative understanding of New Testament passages which seem to condemn homosexual practice (as having no place in the Kingdom) to present more frequently/loudly the scholarly reasons for their alternative reading of these passages. Too often the discussion is couched in the terms of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” rather than “this is what this passage means… and why.” Similarly the generic term love is often abused, confusing the difference between Biblical agape and eros. There is also sometimes an unfortunate tendency to confuse the fact that we all fall short of God’s standards with the fact that God has standards and we need to discern what they are. If “we’re created this way” isn’t a legitimate excuse for selfish and abusive nature, it’s also not legitimate for other things which fall short of God’s desire, including polygamy.

    It seems to me too simplistic, and too judgemental, to assume or claim that the reason why some Christians consider homosexual practice to be wrong is that they are either desiring to oppress, or are apologists for oppressors (as happened with slavery). I believe that at heart the difference between Christians on this subject is often genuinely either (i) a different understanding of said passages or (ii) a difference in the ranking of scripture versus feelings in determining what is right. Those who hold to a ‘conservative’ view are unlikely to be persuaded by arguments based around (ii). I for one am open to persuasion but not by arguments based around feelings/instinct, or populist views, when Biblical passages seem to point explicitly in a different direction. So, again, I’d invite those who see things differently within a Christian worldview to persuade me, and those like me, who hold to the Church’s ‘traditional’ understanding – not because it’s traditional, but because it seems to us and our antecedents to be Biblical. The same Bible also seems to be really strong on freedom of choice, with respect to aligning ourselves with God or not, so I see no Biblical basis for attempting to legislate, or support existing legislation, imposing a Christian standard (whatever the understanding of that standard is) on those who freely choose not to follow Jesus.

    1. John,

      Thank you for your comment. I think I can follow your argument in that I myself wondered not so long ago whether a religious community could maybe legitimately hold reservations internally against same-sex relationships in the same way that the denomination of my childhood used to reject (emphatically, to say the least) instrumental music in a worship service or the way that some religious traditions have dietary restrictions that I don’t share but certainly respect and want to see respected. Although these positions do intersect with ethics in practice, they seem to me to be primarily historical, textual, and traditional in their derivation, and I can at least sympathize with the argument that they define community, conserve identity, express reverence, etc.

      Like many Christians, however, I have come to believe strongly that opposition to same-sex relationships in churches is very different from these kinds of positions in that it contradicts the core value of the faith, singles out specific groups of people, promotes the privilege of other groups in the extreme, and motivates truly horrific acts and systems of cruelty within our societies and around the world. In this way, it is very similar to misogyny, racism, capital punishment, and other injustices that some Christians have been able to defend in the past, no doubt seriously, with abundant Biblical references but that others have moved beyond by bringing ethical awareness to their reading of the Bible. This has certainly involved feelings because ethics involve people, and I shudder to think where we would have landed without feelings in these matters.

      Although I don’t know that I’ll have the chance to say more, I really appreciate this thread and the opportunity to contribute. My own denomination (Presbyterian Church USA) just voted in favor of non-discrimination less two years ago, so we’re also playing ethical catch up (unfortunately) with those outside of the church. So I write from a very low soapbox if I have one at all. At the least, I’m looking way up to Ana.

      Joel

  4. hey Shirley

    loving this post. Ana and other kids like her give me hope for the future. and, as ever, i have deep admiration for your parenting.

    for those, like John, seeking resources for scholarly perspectives and/or personal growth, here are a few that immediately spring to mind:

    More Light Presbyterians — a network of congregations and individuals working for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of PC(USA) — has many web-based resources at this link:
    http://www.mlp.org/links/index.php

    Jon Bell gave at talk at the 2011 greenbelt festival that speaks very much into this conversation. while it only speaks to gay and lesbian inclusion and doesn’t mention bisexual, transgender or queer lives, it is well worth the small download fee. i think it is fair to say that the intended audience was/is straight-identifying Christians who remain undecided or resistive to LGBTQ inclusion because of the Biblical texts that get “bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball”: http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/media/talks/14546-john-bell/

    Girardian theologian James Alison is good if you want a more in-depth scholarly exploration. His work is extensive and not solely on LGBT faith: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/
    This transcript seems of particular resonance here: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng15.html (note – the Catholic reference in the title should not be assumed to mean that he is only speaking to a Catholic audience)

    there are many more out there but that seems enough to be going on with.

    cary.

  5. Shirley’s blog post began a whole big thing for me which is by no means over. I was very moved by what she said at the end:
    “Are you tired of people going on about LGBT equality all the time? They’re doing it so that in the future no-one has to talk about it, because it will be a given. Sometimes I get a glimpse of what that will look like, and it looks pretty flippin’ fantastic.”

    The idea that at one point the church believed it had very good reason to view black people as second class citizens (even very intelligent people were capable of holding this view as we found out in church this morning, thanks Mark Noll for your honesty) and that the church is still struggling to work through where women should fit in doesn’t give me much comfort that we, the church, have got it right about those who do not fall into the ‘normal’ heterosexual bracket.

    Shirley already knows, ‘cos I told her recently, that she has really made me examine my own views about all this. It’s not something I’ve spent much time thinking about mostly because I don’t know anyone who is LGBT. It’s maybe not something that lots of us really want to talk about, and then along comes Shirley, and she talks about it all the time. She amazed me and I am grateful to her for not being afraid of what people like me might be thinking. She recommended a research document to me and it was fascinating. One of the things I read in it that really hit me was that when I was growing up as a child it was ILLEGAL to be gay. No wonder I just assumed it was wrong. It was illegal and now it’s not. What on earth?

    Since ‘the post’ I’ve been talking about it to everyone, even my poor mother-in-law today. I had a very frank discussion with friends recently too and I realised that in exploring my belief that ‘it is just wrong’ that I had one rule for heterosexuals and a different rule for homosexuals. This went unchallenged because I had never talked about it.

    A problem when you don’t know anyone who is gay or lesbian is that so often the people we are aware of are the exaggerated caricatures portrayed on TV. Fear of difference whether it is to do with skin colour, religious denomination, disability or sexual orientation is natural but it is not good enough to leave it at that. In order to overcome my fear I need to see past the difference to the person.

    If ONLY Paul had said something like:
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female nor lesbian nor gay, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…

    The journey continues.

  6. Dear John,

    First, I’d like to give my thanks to Ana, for her intuitive sense of goodness and justice, and to Shirley, for her great writing and this opportunity to explore difficult theological questions. I’m not equipped enough to handle the points raised in your post, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about how I came to my own decisions, and then point out a few authors who you may wish to explore in the future.

    I’ll be frank: I support the full inclusion of lgbt people in the church. I’m also completely in favour of Christian gay marriage. Though I have read a decent amount on homosexuality and faith, I’ll be honest, my opinion was formed mostly through experience, intuition, and feeling. I know these aren’t the grounds for truth you’re looking for, so I will recommend a few books at the end of my post. But before that, I just want to come forward as a Christian who has spent the majority of my faith life inside the walls of churches that affirm the inclusion of lgbt people.

    Let me speak of the experiences which inform my opinions. During my journey with Christ, I have received communion from lgbt priests, gone to church with lgbt couples, and sung with lgbt choir directors. I attended Yale Divinity School where I studied the New Testament with a renowned lesbian biblical scholar (Diana Swancutt). While at YDS, I attended my gay friend’s institution as an Episcopal priest and studied Dante with another gay priest/professor. I rarely ever thought about the sexual identities of these people, and I certainly never questioned the sincerity of their faith.

    This may all seem strange to you, but I’d like to suggest that the core faith of the Church does not seem, from my perspective, dislodged in anyway or form by churches choosing to affirm lgbt relationships. In fact, widening the circle of inclusion only seems to enhance Christianity’s life and vitality.

    I can hear your alarm bells: you’re saying that, of course, all people are welcome to church, especially those that are oppressed and marginalised, but even so, that doesn’t mean the church has to condone behaviour that clearly goes against Christian values. Here we can mention drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, and sexaholics: those whose wrong desires led them into difficulty and disgrace. The church, we hope, will help them find a way out of their self destruction.

    But sexual orientation is completely different. Psychologists and medical professionals have come to the almost unanimous decision that same-sex attraction is not a disorder. It is completely normal and people can have productive, thriving lives in same-sex partnerships. In the light of new evidence, churches too have rethought past prohibitions, and reconsidered biblical sexual ethics.

    John, I imagine we’re against the same kind of sexual activity: that which is the product of empty carnal desires. There is plenty of that going around these days, but it’s mostly heterosexual sex (given most people are heterosexual). Gay people, married or not, can have good, old-fashioned joyful and loving sex.

    As I close, I want to share a list of churches that have decided in favour of gay marriage (or civil unions) and ordination. You can’t deny that many churches now affirm gay ordination and marriage. For many of us, it’s perfectly Christian, indeed normal, to baptise the child of a same-sex couple during the main Sunday morning service. Here are some of the churches that, after deep engagement on the very questions you raise, decided (to different degrees) in favour of gay marriage and ordination:

    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Episcopal Church in America
    United Church of Christ
    Anglican Church of Canada
    Mennonite Church in the Netherlands
    Affirming Pentecostal Church International
    The Lutheran Church of Sweden
    United Church of Canada
    Quakers

    If you include blessings of civil unions, you can include:

    Presbyterian Church (USA)
    Methodist Church of Great Britain
    Church of Scotland (a matter of conscience for individual ministers)

    These lists go on. I just wanted to make the point that many different churches from different theological backgrounds find it perfectly Christian to bless same-sex unions, even perform gay marriages and ordain lgbt clergy in sexually active relationships. They are not theologically lazy, or bending the rules of faith to fit secular culture. They have arrived at their decisions through long and painful conversations.

    Finally, the books I promised. These are the people that have devoted their intellectual lives to the very questions you raise, and I think you’ll find them interesting, even if you don’t agree with them. But don’t dismiss them: they gave their adult lives to pursue the questions you raise.

    If you read just one thing, because you’re probably busy, like most of us, read this article, its a fantastic and very orthodox (Roman Catholic) reading of Romans:
    http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng15.html

    Then try Rowan Williams, The Body’s Grace:
    http://www.igreens.org.uk/bodys_grace.htm

    Next, when you have time, explore these books. I’ve chosen the books that specifically address the Bible. I can’t say I’ve read all of them cover to cover, but maybe you will!

    Gareth Moore, A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality

    Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (1998)

    The Queer Bible Commentary (2006), Deryn Guest (Editor), Robert E. Goss (Editor), Mona West (Editor), Thomas Bohache (Editor)

    Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (2007), Edited by Gerard Loughlin

    James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay (2001),

    There are many questions left to be answered. I’ve only hoped to provide a starting point.

  7. Thank you for the thoughtful responses to my points. I will certainly pursue at lease some of the references. Not everyone will go looking up references and I certainly would find it helpful if those who found arguments within these references appealing could summarise a few of the key points which they found persuasive. As I’ve said above, within Christian circles this sort of approach is much less frequently taken than others.

  8. There will be a series of lectures on the Bible and homosexuality starting in September in Belfast put on by one of the major denominations. I’m not allowed to say more than that, but I will make sure Shirley and Fitzroy get all the relevant information.

    Try the Alison article, it’s simple and easy to read as it was designed as a public lecture. He argues that it took more than 300 years of interpretation before someone made the suggestion that Paul was talking about gay sex. Augustine doesn’t read Romans as having anything to do with gay sex, what makes us so certain it does?

    His approach in this lecture, and in his other bodies of writing, can be summarised by this statement from the linked article: “You need a very modern liberal reading of the Bible in order to make it a weapon against gay people, and those who refuse to do this are, by and large, much more traditional in their Biblical reading habits.” Literalist approaches are a very modern trend in Christian biblical interpretation. One of the tasks of queer theology is to remind us of the varied and complex ways the Bible has been interpreted throughout Christian history.

    Ultimately, I think, these questions don’t have to do with what the text says, but what you think the text is. If you think the Bible is the direct word of God mediated through inspired authors, cohesive and singular in its message of Salvation, you may find queer Christian apologetics foreign territory. Queer apologetics focuses on the Bible’s multiple voices, highlights our own subjective biases when reading the Bible, and unsettles all attempts to fix theology—and God—within a heteronormative world. A queer scholar will ask, “Just how normal is heterosexual marriage anyway?” And then go on to point out that there is no 2,000 year old model of heterosexual marriage–it’s been a constantly changing institution linked at various time to political alliances, property inheritance, labour, and much more. We might revolt at the thought of old men marrying 12 year old girls (still normal in may countries). But I’m not so sure the Bible’s authors would understand our outrage.

  9. This discussion is becoming difficult to navigate as I am not clear what, if anything, could be summarised that has not already been said. I have as a lifelong Presbyterian been encouraged to read where I lack understanding and have greatly benefited from the many resources that have been suggested to me on just about every topic I can think of by church leaders, peers and scholars.
    It is therefore difficult to offer a neat summary. One after all does not when shown a library say “Can I have all this on a napkin?” – although I can think of a Biblical precedent, which I’ll come to.

    But perhaps more importantly – at least to me – I find it both familiar and demeaning to a great many people to have to justify the full dignity of LGBT Christians by a providing a few key points that I, or anyone else, find persuasive. That itself runs counter to what I consider to be a Biblical understanding of the Kingdom of God and how we are called to treat one another.

    That said, this is the best I can muster to offer as a summary of the wealth of thinking that has led to the liberating and enfranchising transformations that is so well described by Barton above:

    So-called conservative or traditional Christianity has been loudly vocal in setting up a false premise: that a perspective that does not offer dignity and worth to same sex relationships, non-straight sexual orientations or gender identities outside of the traditional polarised male/female binary, is the “Biblical” view and all others are to be views alternative and/or “unbiblical”. The wealth of scholarship that exists – and has done now for many decades – would contradict this “conservative” or “traditional” claim to being “Biblical” and does so extensively.

    If there is a reason why outside of the church Christianity is assumed by so many to be anti-abortion and anti-gay it is because there has been such vocal effort to define what is “Christian” by these bench marks in which women and non-straight men are to be kept in their place by dogma, doctrine and “family values,” The church has no one to blame but itself for this perception of its priorities nor indeed the rejection of those priorities and indeed the Christendom with it. It takes an extraordinary amount of faith and determination to be brought up in an environment that seeks to control one’s very body, mind, spirit and personhood and not walk away. If our only benchmark for church abuse was what people have to hear from the pulpits the world over in the name of what is “Biblical” I still would not blame a single person for thinking it’s better to follow Jesus outside the church than within, or just right Christian faith off completely as an act of self-abuse. As with so many historic cases – the treatment of enslaved and colonised persons and all women and indeed children – Christians have represented both the enfranchising, justice seeking voice of freedom of oppression and the most vigorous and all to often violent defenders of that oppression.

    There is not a single one of the so-called difficult “clobber texts” that are used to justify the apparantly “Biblical” exclusion, marginalisation and silencing of LGBTQ people that has not been extensively explored by a great many scholars and found to be either highly ambigious in its meaning, or about something entirely other than same sex relationships. I do not have the time, nor if I am honest, the inclination to explore these in turn – as many of the linked resources above do – but perhaps some folks who see this conversation would find it of use to briefly explore just one – perhaps the most foundational “anti-gay text” there is: the destruction of Sodom.
    The so-called “tradtional” or “Biblical” reading of this narrative has produced the world over an entire system of both church and secular legal definition and prohibition. This defintion and prohibition of “sodomy” has been built upon a reading of the narrative that contradicts the basic facts of the story. One need do no scholarly reading at all but simply read the story as given and see that the sin of sodom is not homosexuality and certainly not loving Christian relationships or marriages between people of the same sex, but rather agressive xenophobia and violent gang rape of strangers by presumably straight men. This is a story no less in which the “righteous” alternative is to offer one’s virgin daughters to be raped instead of one’s male guests. And this reading – the plain one – is confirmed in Ezekiel in no less plain terms – that the “sin of Sodom” is pride, idleness and a failure to help those in need. Jesus himself in the gospels clearly seems to think “sodomy” is a lack of hospitality.

    I will not go through the other “difficult texts” that are claimed to indicate that the Bible is “very clear” in its injunction against same sex relationships. As has been offered above there are a great many resources and even a cursory summary would run to a great many pages.
    But it is perhaps worth noting that Jesus does not mention homosexuality, the Bible in its entirety has almost nothing to say on the matter, it is not mentioned in the 10 Commandments, or the Summary of the Law. Nor by any of the prophets or in the four Gospels. Historically, it does not seem to be an issue in the early churches; while there are two references in the Holiness Code (in Leviticus): this Code maintains religious rituals and contains ancient laws that separated Jews from Gentiles, and any remaining references to homosexuality include those to same-sex rape and prostitution — these references to homosexual relationships do not speak about loving, committed same-sex relationships just as other references to rape and prostitution do not speak about heterosexual relationships. Finally, sexual *orientation* is never mentioned in the Bible.

    And since so called “Biblical” Christianity is fond of claiming that marriage is between one man and one woman and has been since Adam and Eve, we might keep in mind that marriage is not mentioned in the Genesis creation narratives and Jesus is claimed to have descended from a line of righteous men who were living lives that were anything but modeled on a nuclear family of one man and one woman in monogamous union. The Bible is riddled with historic heteronormative patriarchy and horrifying unchallenged accounts of violent misogyny, rape and slavery – leading feminist and liberation theologians to define these as “texts of terror”, which demand very careful reading and need to criticially and ethically assessed in their historical contexts so that the Bible not be used to perpetuate the many brutal “sins” it recounts now or in the future.

    These Biblical findings are based on decades of intense scholarship and discussion and faithful discernment. It is not these that are the “alternative” view amongst scholars. If such a burden of proof were needed that there is a place in the kingdom of God for same sex marriage it is now, by weight of evidence in the text alone, that burden of proof is upon those who would seek to deny it.

    Perhaps these lines in the now twice-referenced James Alison text would be of use as it speaks to this underlying problem faced by LGBT people and their straight allies when confronted with demands to prove that they are holding a Biblical and not an “alternative” (and hence implied, unbiblical) viewpoint. This is from 2004 and is no less relevant now:

    James Alison wrote:
    “What has pushed me in the direction of offering this reading is really two things: in the first place, I was brought up Evangelical Protestant, and this text, Romans 1, was really a text of terror for me, a text in some way associated with a deep emotional and spiritual annihilation, something inflicting paralysis. So, finding myself ever freer of that terror, it seems proper to try and offer a road map to others who, whatever their ecclesial belonging, may suffer from the same binding of conscience that a certain received reading of this text has seemed to impose. But there is a second reason, no less important to my mind: owing to arguments surrounding Episcopal appointments in the Anglican Church on both sides of the Atlantic, a huge amount of press has been generated in which it has been repeated ad nauseam that “The Bible is quite clear…” about this or that. Furthermore we are told time and again that those who think either that gay people should be allowed to marry, or that being gay should be no bar to Episcopal consecration, are in some way repudiating an obvious written sacred injunction. The impression that “the Bible is quite clear” has passed largely unchallenged in the media, which has found it easiest to present the argument as being between conservative people who take the Bible seriously (and are thus against gay people) and liberal people who don’t (and thus aren’t against gay people).
    Well, what is being treated to public travesty here is the Bible. Indeed it seems to me that if anything, the truth is closer to being exactly the other way round: you need a very modern liberal reading of the Bible in order to make it a weapon against gay people, and those who refuse to do this are, by and large, much more traditional in their Biblical reading habits.”

    What is so striking to me about this argument is the resonance it holds with other moves toward justice in the long history of Christendom through liberation theologies of all kinds be they by women, people of color, and/or in non-western or colonized societies – because these same debates have been played as noted in previous comments with regards to misogyny, slavery, apartheid, racism, white and male supremacy, war and xenophobia, genocide and racial cleansing, violence against children and the placing of anyone (particularly in the context of western and colonial Christianity) who is not a white man into the role of a second class citizen in the kingdom of God.

    And in every instance one or two passages are taking out of context and trotted out to justify that system of patriarchal or kyriarchal [for definition see: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/kyriarchy%5D oppression and exclusion of “others” from the table. And in doing so arguably then bear false witness to what I consider to be the most persuasive litmus test of any theological or “Biblical” position one ever faces: when asked what is the most important commandment Jesus answered,

    “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    If there is any one passage in the New Testament that might be allowed a singular place for guiding what the entire ethical basis for how we as Christians, LGBTQ and straight alike, read Scripture might be then it is surely this one, because when asked, it is what Jesus offered. Faced with a library of wisdom, and attempting to trick and trap Jesus, the “traditionalists” of the day asked for a napkin. And Jesus gave them one.

    What then do we do with that?

    From this Presbyterian resource: http://www.pcmk.org/bluebook.htm, is a call to this kind of Biblical faithfulness, borrowing from a Quaker reading:

    “The Quakers use the Bible in a powerful way to examine same-sex relationships. In a December 1999 statement a Quaker group explains:
    “We believe that sexuality is governed by the same New Testament ethic that guides every other conduct choice for faithful Christians.
    Responsibility, mutuality, love, justice, non-violence, non-domination, and non-exploitation characterize what Jesus called the ‘Kingdom of God.’ How will sexual expression of love be judged? ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’ (Mt 7:20) Does this relationship create an environment of love and justice? Does it further the creation of loving and sustaining community?” ”

    Which is why, Joel’s second paragraph above strikes me as worth picking up on –

    the so-called “conservative”, “traditional”, “Biblical” position that is apparently so “very clear” is then precisely problematic and unBiblical *because* it breaks the first and second commandments, (which must be in Jesus’ terms understand as just like each other and should guide our ethical and critical approach to all other Scripture) and instead bears false witness because (to quote Joel, if I may)

    “it contradicts the core value of the faith,
    singles out specific groups of people,
    promotes the privilege of other groups in the extreme, and
    motivates truly horrific acts and systems of cruelty within our societies and around the world.”

    I have an ethical conscience and deep feelings and that *must* matter. If those things didn’t matter then it would say, “love God with all your mind”. And it doesn’t.
    Frankly, even if Jesus had not said these words, I’d still want to approach all sacred texts as an invitation to a radically subversive and inclusive understanding of human relationships. I was like Ana as a child and recognised love when I saw it and felt it. The more conservative a Christianity I encountered the more I was pressured and persuaded to let go of that instinctual recognition of love and increasingly narrow my understanding of “holy” desire until no one could meet up to the standards expected. Any reading I have done in my adulthood has not been to persuade me of an “alternative viewpoint” but to guide me _back_ to that ethic that I held before I discovered, like Ana, that some people disapprove of same sex attraction and love and would rather Christianity defined our bodies and desires in a framework of shame and disciplined conformity. It has been a path of recovery and liberation in my life and the life of others and tragically, one that many of us will likely be walking our entire lives in order to undo the harm that terror and abuse has done to so many people’s sense of basic self worth.

    I don’t know if that suffices as a summary, and as much as I find it demeaning to have to lay out why LGBT people should not be subject to singular and special scrutiny before being blessed by the church, but that’s the best I can do.

    I wish you peace and I offer solidarity and courage to those who, like me, find it unseemly to have to justify love as worthy of blessing and dignity. There is something terrorising about having to defend love and identity. Which is perhaps why it is easier to offer resources than to keep having this same discussion ad nauseum, as we have been having for so many years now. I echo Shirley’s hope that one day this conversation will be unnecessary and that we can look back and be thankful we don’t have to have it anymore.

  10. You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
    You’ve got to be taught from year to year
    It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taugh

    You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people whose eyes are oddly made
    And people whose skin is a different shade
    You’ve got to be carefully taught

    You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
    Before you are six or seven or eight
    To hate all the people your relatives hate
    You’ve got to be carefully taught
    You’ve got to be carefully taught

    (Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s