I mistakenly thought Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality consisted of only two parts, with Part One being a general appeal for acceptance of LBGTQ people into religious community based on general principles loosely derived from the Bible, and Part Two refuting the various Biblical prohibitions against same-sex sex in scripture. However, I missed Part Three, which seems to be (I’m still reading it, but I finished Part Two) a presentation of the different studies “proving” that same-sex relationships, marriage, and parenting are not only beneficial to society as a whole, but sometimes are superior to opposite-sex relationships (on p.116, Michaelson cites a study supporting same-sex parenting as superior to opposite-sex parenting, and while he says it’s important for a child to have two parents, the sexual identity and orientation of the parents is irrelevant).
I probably won’t write a formal review of Part Three only because it has virtually no bearing on the topic at hand [since originally writing this blog post, I changed my mind and wrote a review of two chapters in Part Three…see my final note below], which is the question of whether or not the Bible can be correctly interpreted as supporting marriage equality and the admission, normalization, and sanctification of same-sex relationships within the Christian and Jewish communities of faith. What secular social studies say about various aspects of gay relationships cannot answer that question, they only answer how same-sex relationships may be integrated into the larger societal milieu.
Before continuing here, if you haven’t read my review of Part One of Michaelson’s book, you might want to pause, click the link I just provided, and have a look.
Part Two is made up of seven chapters, the first (Chapter 7) called “Leviticus.” I’ve addressed this topic before, including the Hebrew word “toevah” which is often translated as “abomination,” a term applied to male-to-male sexual contact and to eating shellfish, at least according to the Torah of Moses and as applied to the ancient Israelites. Rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” so to speak, please read my blog post Leviticus, Homosexuality, and Abominations which covers the Leviticus prohibitions against homosexuality and what they really seem to mean.
I should also say that Chapter 8: “Sodom,” is correct in stating that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed a chronicle of the sin of “inhospitality” more so than homosexual rape. The fact that Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, being a pretty confusing response, is an indication that there’s more going on than uncontrolled homosexual lust. However, this is hardly any sort of justification for any form of sexual violence, whether directed by a man against a woman or a man against another man. No, Michaelson isn’t advocating sexual violence, but citing the “Sodom” incident is something of a red herring since it has no relationship to our modern conceptualization of homosexuality.
Chapter 9 “The Gospels” is an interesting case. Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality. But why should he? What did Jesus preach? What was his central message?
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand.
–Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15
Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the Law and to create a new religion (and although Michaelson is Jewish, he has a pretty traditional view of Christianity, the same view Christianity has of itself). He came to re-establish devout observance of the Torah for Israel, which would have to start with repentance, because he had come to inaugurate the beginning of the New Covenant (see Derek Leman’s blog post A Closer Look at Matthew 5:17 for an “in-a-nutshell” look at how Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fill it).
In the same chapter, Michaelson brings the story of the Centurion and servant into play (see Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). If you are unfamiliar with this event, a Centurion asks Jesus to heal his male servant and displays great faith by saying if Jesus just declares the servant healed without even going to the Centurion’s home, the Centurion knows he will be healed.
The Greek word used to describe the servant is “pais” or “boy companion” not “daulos” or “slave”. In the Roman world, it was not uncommon for a Roman citizen to have a slave, usually an adolescent boy, as a servant for a number of activities including sexual, since in Roman law, it was not forbidden for a citizen to penetrate a non-citizen or slave. That Jesus didn’t complain about this practice is supposed to be proof that he didn’t have an issue with homosexual relationships.
On the other hand…
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus didn’t come at that moment in time to rehabilitate the world. He came to rehabilitate Israel. Later, as the inauguration of the New Covenant continued to progress through history, the rehabilitation of a remnant of the people of the nations would begin to take place through Israel. Since Michaelson doesn’t view Christianity or the teachings of Jesus through a Messianic lens, this aspect of the impact and timing of the New Covenant would have escaped him, thus his misunderstanding of why Jesus didn’t have to care about a Roman centurion and his boy slave/companion.
If, on the other hand, Jesus had discovered this sort of relationship or any other form of sexual immorality among his people Israel, the Master’s response would have been quite different.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about John 8:1-11 where Jesus “changed the Law” about adultery and gave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship a free pass. But did he?
I won’t quote the text here, but the Torah states that anyone caught performing a violation of Torah with terminal consequences had to be brought before the Sanhedrin (see Leviticus 20:10). A trial would have to be conducted, witnesses called, and only two or more eye-witnesses could condemn the woman before the court. Only then would the court pronounce its sentence of death, and only then would the eye-witnesses lead in the stoning of the convicted woman.
None of that happened. Instead, these thugs dragged the accused woman in front of Jesus and only as a way to trap him in speaking against the Torah. It didn’t work and the trap having failed, the accusers dropped their stones and left. Since Jesus wasn’t a witness to the affair and since he wasn’t the appropriate “court,” according to the Torah, he was in no position to condemn her. But no one asked him about any legitimate cases that had come before the Sanhedrin and what he thought of their verdicts (For a more detailed description of this event and its background, see the article “Woman Caught in Adultery” by D. Thomas Lancaster in the Fall 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine, pp.10-13).
The only other thing I found in that chapter even remotely relevant was Michaelson’s treatment of “eunuchs” and how he considers those who were “eunuchs by choice” not just as celibate, but specifically attracted to men and not women. However, at best, Michaelson is being speculative with just a very small amount of evidence and a great deal of agenda to support.
Chapter 10: “Romans” was very contradictory. Michaelson, on the one hand, says Paul (and all of his peers…and everyone in his period of history) had no concept of “sexual orientation” and thus Romans 1:26-27 could not possibly be applied to “loving same-sex relationships”. On the other hand, if that’s true, then nothing in the majority of the New Testament could be used to support said “loving same-sex relationships” either. You can’t have it both ways.
He did make a good point about people being “given over to their lusts” since someone “naturally” oriented to love/want sex with a same-sex partner isn’t given over to some desire and activity they’re already involved with. But he makes a mistake, a big one:
This is not exactly a celebration of sexual diversity. However, even before we turn to the language of verses 26 and 27, their context should be clear. Paul is not preaching that homosexuality is a sin — he is preaching that some form of illicit homosexual behavior is a consequence of sin. Whatever sexual behavior Paul is writing about, it is the symptom, not the cause, of the Romans’ failure: the Romans turned from God, and therefore (dio) God gave them over to sexual immorality (Rom. 1:24). This is like a parent telling a child, “If you don’t wear your jacket, you’ll get a cold.” Obviously, getting a cold is not desirable, but it’s not a sin. The real sin is not wearing a coat, or, more generally, not being careful.
Here Michaelson attempts to totally disconnect behavior from consequence, as if what the type of consequence had nothing to do with the behavior that precipitated it.
Does he imagine that turning from God and engaging in pagan practices had nothing to do with sexual sin? If a person is struggling with a sin but refuses to give it up, then God can and likely will turn the person over to that specific sin, give them enough rope to hang themselves, so to speak, until (hopefully) they experience such discomfort from the sin that they will be motivated to give it up, repent (remember Christ’s central message), and return to God.
If a person is a member of the community of faith and struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, refuses to seek help or even to attempt to repent, then God could turn them over to that behavior until the consequences began to pile up, which (again, hopefully) would act as a motivator for the person to give up their sin, repent, and return.
Using Michaelson’s model of disconnected sin and consequence, it would be like saying to the drug abuser, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, you will have to wear an umbrella on your head until you’re ready to repent.” No, the actual statement would go something like, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, your drug abuse behavior will go out of control and your body and spirit will deteriorate until you either die or stop your sinful behavior and repent.”
When all else fails in this part of his book, just like Part One, Michaelson reverts to…
In the words of Rev. Michael Piazza, “From dogs to dolphins, same-gender sexual attraction is a reality. What is ‘natural’ for one individual may be a direct violation of another’s nature.”
Except people are not dogs or dolphins. We are the only living beings created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Animals aren’t held morally accountable for their actions because they don’t have the unique calling of human beings, therefore, citing “natural law” to explain that if a male dog humps another male dog, then it’s OK for two men or two women to have sex as part of nature doesn’t cut it. There’s a difference between the broken nature of the universe and God’s plan for the redemption of that universe through Israel and thus through the redeemed remnant of the nations.
Chapter 11: “Corinthians and Timothy” seems to be another case of saying that whatever Paul is prohibiting, it can’t possibly have anything to do with what we now consider “sexual orientation” and “loving same-sex relationships”. If that’s true, than any commentary on Paul’s opinions and beliefs are moot. If Paul is condemning same-sex sexual contact within the context of pagan worship practices, it’s still same-sex sex. We have no evidence of any “loving same-sex relationships” as we understand them (or as we’re told we should understand them) in the world today, particularly within the ekklesia (assembly, body) of Christ (Messiah). So we have no template for understanding same-sex sexual contact other than the pagan worship context, which apparently, has nothing to do with what’s going on in the modern world (though some might say otherwise).
In Chapter 12: “David and Jonathan,” the shocker for me is that Michaelson actually has a go at the relationship of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. For him it seems inconceivable that two women could be so close and so devoted to each other that there wouldn’t be a sort of “romantic” and even possibly “sexual” relationship between the two. Except we see absolutely no indication of such a relationship. It’s as if Michaelson can’t imagine two people of the same-sex being very close and sex and romance not playing a part.
Frankly, my wife is very close to my parents but I can’t in any way shape or form think of their relationship as romantic let alone sexual. Michaelson has definitely introduced another red herring here.
David and Jonathan as lovers. I’ve heard this one before. Even Michaelson doesn’t believe David is gay based on his relationship with Bathsheba and his multitude of wives and concubines.
The only thing I didn’t see coming was Saul accusing Jonathan of having a sexual relationship with David:
Saul knows it too. When David fails to appear at court for a feast, Jonathan makes an excuse for him. Saul replies, enraged: “You perverse and rebellious son! Behold, I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your shame, and the shame of your mother’s nakedness! For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the Earth, you and your kingdom will not be established” (I Sam. 20:30-31). The second line in Saul’s admonition frames Jonathan’s action in dynastic terms — but the first is clearly sexualized. Jonathan has chosen David to his shame — the Hebrew root is “bushah.” As if that weren’t clear enough, Saul emphatically calls Jonathan “perverse” and adds that his love affair with David is to the “shame of your mother’s nakedness” “ervat imecha,” a term that unambiguously refers to sexual sins.
Not knowing Hebrew (and Michaelson may have been counting on the majority of his readers not having access to the original language) I can’t adequately respond to Michaelson’s interpretation, but even if all this is true, Saul defines a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David as “perverse” and a “sexual sin,” and assuming that Saul’s understanding of the Torah is accurate, this transaction doesn’t support and justify same-sex romantic and erotic relationships, it condemns them.
We know that David committed other grave sins including sexual sins and that he ultimately paid for them, so even if Michaelson is accurate, the case he makes doesn’t necessarily support his cause.
Of course, even Michaelson realizes he’s guessing and can’t be sure of his conclusions, at least up to a point:
At the very least, surely we would all agree that what Jonathan felt for David can be described as a romantic love with erotic overtones.
I don’t have to agree with that and, as I said, if it’s true, it doesn’t represent Biblical support for gay relationships. Add to that Michaelson’s previous statement that sexual orientation wasn’t understood as such in ancient times, and maybe we can’t compare whatever did or didn’t happen between David and Jonathan to same-sex relationships today. I think Michaelson is overextending his examples to make his point or to force his point.
Part Two ended with Chapter 13: “Sexual diversity in Christian theology,” in which he describes, from his unique perspective, how the Bible has been misinterpreted by the Church to be “anti-gay”. Actually, I completely agree that the so-called “Church fathers” did unspeakable violence to the Biblical text, particularly in reinventing the Bible as a non-Jewish document and transforming the Jewish Messiah into a Goyishe Prince. It’s quite possible that the early Christian “luminaries” also doctored their interpretations to magnify prohibitions against homosexuality.
But I don’t really care about what Gentile Christianity did to the Bible if, removing their influence, we can’t see the Bible undeniably supporting and affirming man-to-man and woman-to-woman romantic and erotic relationships due to in-born traits, and that those relationships were accepted and normalized in ancient Biblical Judaism and Christianity (and I say “Biblical Christianity” with the understanding that in the days of the apostles, Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah were practicing a form of Judaism).
Michaelson criticizes any anti-gay statements or reforms issued by “the Church” (which for much of its early history was represented by the Roman Catholic Church) and celebrates more recent events in socially and politically liberal (i.e. “politically correct” or “progressive”) churches:
In contrast, there have been openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and surveys show that 75 percent of U.S. Episcopalians think that gays can be faithful Christians.
And yet the actions and beliefs of the Episcopal Church can’t automatically be assumed to represent the desire of God for human beings in the ekklesia of Messiah.
Michaelson attempts to show that churches that repress homosexuality within their walls promote an increase in sexual and other sin:
As we have already mentioned, evangelical megachurch leader Ted Haggard (now making a comeback) had a multiyear relationship with a drug-dealing male prostitute. Rev. Paul Barnes, pastor of a Denver megachurch, had numerous affairs with men. Pastor Eddie Long has recently been accused of sexually abusing several teenage boys. And as we’ve already noted, George Rekers, cofounder of the Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute to accompany him on a trip to the Caribbean. Eros repressed is eros distorted, so it is no surprise that so many of the most vocal anti-gay voices are themselves…gay.
According to Michaelson, the answer to all of this messy sexual business is to open the doors of all the churches everywhere and accept, affirm, and support all gay people and all gay relationships. If the church stops calling homosexuality a sin, then gays in the Church won’t have to hide who they are and men like Haggard, Barnes, and Long can function perfectly well in their churches as openly gay Pastors.
But if Eros repressed is Eros distorted, what does that mean for the concept of sexual sin in general? Michaelson’s assumption is that if you stop forbidding or repressing something, then it becomes a normal and natural part of the religious environment. Long is accused of having sexual contact with teenage boys. Assuming these boys were under the age of 18, doesn’t that belong in the area of child abuse? I know Michaelson is refuting the idea that homosexuality can involve an adult having sex with a minor, and I’m not suggesting that such a “slippery slope” necessarily exists, but once sexual boundaries start to loosen and become “fuzzy” in the church, how much control will anyone have about where those boundaries are “reset.”
Yesterday, I posted my review of David Hall’s article for Messiah Journal and I think Hall hits closer to the mark. Thematically and purposefully, the Bible may not forbid or prohibit what modern society considers consensual, same-sex erotic and romantic relationships but it definitely doesn’t support them either. I’ve thrown (in my opinion, anyway) enough “reasonable doubt” into Michaelson’s interpretations and assumptions to conclude that he hasn’t successfully made his point or adequately supported his position, thus, at best, there is insufficient Biblical evidence to warrant treating same-sex relationships in an identical manner as opposite-sex relationships within the context of Christianity and Judaism. The scriptural template for romantic/sexual relationships as part of God’s plan remains one male and one female in marriage.
While Michaelson may be correct in saying that homosexual behavior in the animal world is well-represented, that something is “natural” for animals doesn’t mean God intends that behavior for human beings. How can I explain the overwhelming number of anecdotal reports from gay men and women that they have experienced same-sex erotic attraction since childhood? In an absolute sense, I can’t. However, that doesn’t automatically mean those feelings were programmed into them by God.
We are all born broken in some way. That doesn’t mean we should allow people to remain broken and accept “broken” as natural, normal, and the final expression of God’s plan for human beings. Faith in Jesus is about taking a broken world full of broken people and starting to heal them. When Messiah comes again, he will heal everyone. Until then, all we can do is the best we can to facilitate our healing in whatever way we happen to be hurt.
I’ll be publishing an “unofficial” review of a small portion of Part Three of Michaelson’s book in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then an “extra meditation” later that same day as a “tying up” or conclusion to this project.