Tag Archives: homosexuality

What Would You Do If Your Child Was Gay?

John MacArthur was recently asked by a reader how they should respond to an adult child who has acknowledged they are gay. His parenting advice?

Alienate them.

Separate them.

Isolate them.

Refuse to have a meal with them.

Turn them over to Satan.

-Benjamin L. Corey
“John MacArthur on Having Gay Children: Alienate Them & Turn Them Over to Satan”
from “Formerly Fundie: The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey”
patheos.com

“Formerly Fundie” is listed as a “Progressive Christian Channel” at Patheos, so chances are Corey and I don’t have a lot in common, since I’m pretty socially and politically conservative. I don’t know who this gentleman is or why he needs an “official blog” for himself and his name (and based on many of the comments on his blog, I’m glad I don’t have his readership), but a link to his blog post was inserted into Facebook by a Facebook “friend” who is about as progressive as it gets (I have a wide variety of friends, virtual and otherwise).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I almost universally disagree with just about everything Pastor MacArthur teaches, preaches, writes, and broadcasts. I found his treatment of Pentecostals at his Strange Fire conference to be typical of his highly confrontational style, and his perspectives on both ancient and modern Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, show, in my opinion, an extremely poor insight into the actual late second temple Jewish and apostolic cultural, religious, educational, and spiritual environment. He “Christianizes” every bit of scripture he touches as if he imagines Jesus and the twelve were good Baptist Preachers from the church right across the street in “Hometown, U.S.A.”

OK, that last bit might be something of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

There’s a YouTube video of MacArthur that goes along with Corey’s article. I’ll post it at the bottom of today’s “meditation” so you can actually hear what MacArthur says. I was surprised that the tone of his voice was calm, soft, and almost friendly. MacArthur isn’t quite as harsh in his language (and possibly intent) as Corey makes him out to be. But that doesn’t disguise the massive disconnect I think MacArthur is trying to sell to Christian parents of gay children.

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

In case you haven’t read them, I’ve written numerous posts on the LGBT community within both Christianity and Judaism, the latest (before this one) missive being my review of Matthew Vines’ recent book God and the Gay Christian. I also commented on Dennis Prager’s understanding on why Judaism rejected homosexuality as well as on a number of other related topics.

Am I advocating for marriage equality in the church? No, I don’t think there’s a Biblical presupposition for it. But there’s a lot going on in this dialogue that we simply cannot ignore or dismiss.

Many of you may have read about Danny Cortez, a Pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, California, who, after his fifteen year old son came out, decided to change his theological stance on homosexuality and became gay affirming, leading his church to officially become affirming of gays within their community as well.

Naturally, Christians on both sides of the issue made highly emotional pronouncements either supporting Pastor Cortez and his church or condemning them.

But what do you do when it’s your child? What happens if you’re a Christian and it’s your son or daughter who tearfully, painfully, comes out to you because he or she can’t stand holding it inside anymore, can’t stand lying, can’t stand hiding their feelings? What happens after they tell you and then they just stand there looking at you expectantly, fearing your anger but praying for your acceptance?

One of my sons has two male friends who came out within the last several years, and one of those young men comes from an Evangelical family.

What do you do?

At the church I attend, in Sunday school probably a year or more ago, the question came up of what the church would do if two lesbians came in and wanted to worship. A fellow, who is a member of the Board of Elders, responded, “Love ’em and learn ’em.” I don’t think that was overall support for acceptance of lesbian relationships in the church. He was likely communicating the idea that by welcoming them into the church community, over time, they would be influenced and understand the nature of homosexuality related to the expectations of God, as this church understands God and expectations.

women holding handsThe understanding, and I’m projecting my own conclusions into this scenario, is if this hypothetical lesbian couple chose not to accept the church’s interpretation of scripture in terms of their relationship and their lives, they’d be free to leave and seek a more accepting church or other house of worship.

But you can’t exactly do that with your kids…or can you? The quote from MacArthur above says that’s exactly what you have to do. If your gay kid won’t repent and continues to sin (presumably by just being gay), then you must do the whole Matthew 18:15-18 thing with them, confronting your child individually, and then with two or three other witnesses, and then finally in front of the whole church (I’ve heard of one set of parents who really did this). This is actually bad exegesis on MacArthur’s part, since the child, by being gay, doesn’t directly sin against his or her parents.

I don’t think I could stand to do that with any of my kids. Maybe I’m just a bad Christian. I’m sure John MacArthur would think so.

Of course, none of my children are religious let alone Christians, and from MacArthur’s point of view, if any of them were gay, they’d be sinners just like the rest of the secular world.

A church can make whatever official, doctrinal statement it wants relative to homosexuality in the covenant community and they’re within their rights to do so. I draw the line at being compelled to accept John MacArthur’s advice on how I should relate to my children and I imagine a lot of Christian parents feel similarly.

No, none of my kids are gay, but I’ve run that scenario through my head more than a few times. What if…

MacArthur made the video supposedly in response to a parent whose adult offspring did come out, and asked MacArthur what they should do, so in this case, MacArthur is responding to a real request for information. However, he felt it necessary to make a video and then to put it on YouTube, so his opinion entered the public realm and became fodder for response and reaction.

I can’t render a theological opinion but I can give you one based on my being a father and grandfather. I can’t “unlove” my children. Sure, they’ve each done things to make me pretty unhappy at different times over the years, but none of that made me want to stop being their Dad, to stop loving them, and certainly I never had any desire to “turn them over to Satan.”

in-the-dark2-blueResponding to a gay child by alienating them, separating from them, isolating them from family, and refusing even to eat with them won’t motivate them to “repent,” it will motivate them to never have a relationship with you again and to take their own course absent of your love, caring, compassion, and consultation. MacArthur’s advice is an iron-clad guarantee that even if the child somehow desired to “repent of being gay,” they would never do so. What’s their motivation? The (so called) love of Christ according to the “gospel” of MacArthur?

Even when Israel sinned grievously against God, God may have turned His face away for an instant, but He always, always took them back and He never, ever permanently abandoned or forsake them.

I know MacArthur feels he’s giving sound doctrinal advice based on scripture, but somehow he never factored in his own experience as a parent (and I imagine a grandparent, given his age) and how he would face his own children. Sadly, my experience (such as it is) with MacArthur is that he is so dogmatic and rigid, he very well could and would take his own advice and feed any child of his who came out as gay to the (proverbial) wolves.

If any of my kids (or my grandson someday) came out as gay, I’d end up having a very long talk with God about what this was supposed to mean for my relationship with the Almighty. What does God expect me to do, reject the very child He created to be a joy in my life? I couldn’t do that. Does that make me a bad Christian? I imagine a lot of people reading this will think so. Some of you may even condemn me (even if it’s within the privacy of your own hearts) for merely entertaining such an attitude.

But what would you do if it were your own son or daughter. Imagine your little boy or girl telling you they’re gay, scared to death of what it will mean, and wondering if you’ll stop loving them in the next ten seconds or so. Imagine that this is really happening. What would you do, not just your immediate reaction, but for the long run? How’s your moral certitude doing now?

I know I said in Is It For His Glory to avoid needless arguments (though I also quoted Pastor Michael Hidalgo as saying Christians need to get out of their protected enclaves and into the real world…perhaps good advice for John MacArthur), but I also said there are times to take a stand. I believe this is one of those times.

Here’s the video of MacArthur’s response to the Christian parent who asked what to do now that their child has come out as gay:

Believe in people and you will influence them to believe in themselves.

Your belief needs to be based on reality — so develop an eye for noticing sparks of potential in others. Be enthusiastic in selling a person to himself.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Believe in People”
Aish.com

Addendum: June 19, 2013: Today I received an email from a person named Dennis who informed me of an error I made regarding my mention of Pastor Danny Cortez. According to Dennis, the news article states that Pastor Cortez changed his theological stance to be affirming of gays in the Church before his son came out. This change in Pastor Cortez allowed his son to feel safer in coming out to his father. I apologize for misreading the news article and hope this correction clears things up.

Book Review: God and the Gay Christian

My core argument is not simply that some Bible passages have been misinterpreted and others have been given undue weight. My larger argument is this: Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. Instead of accepting the divide between moderate and progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it, this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters — without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible.

-Matthew Vines
“Reclaiming Our Light — An Introduction,” pg 3
God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines is an openly gay Christian speaker and LGBT activist, known for the viral video “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” on YouTube. Vines grew up in Wichita, Kansas, having interests in performing arts, speaking and writing.

-from Wikipedia

Note: The featured image at the top of this blog post will make more sense when to get to the end to this article.

Vines is an Evangelical Christian who is seeking to not only establish that the Bible does not actively condemn loving, monogamous, homosexual relationships, but actually supports them, and he’s going to try and do that using a high view of the Bible.

I’ve seen other resources, primarily online, from various progressive churches that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community by taking a low view of the Bible, that is, by not accepting that the Bible is inerrant and ultimately the authoritative Word of God. It’s more of a set of “guidelines” and therefore, the sections of the Bible condemning homosexual behavior are not to be taken literally or, they were social norms that were once valid in ancient societies but have no application in the modern world of faith.

Vines, by contrast, embraces the full authority of the Bible but believes it has been misinterpreted and misapplied, resulting in the Evangelical Church’s long condemnation of homosexual behavior and of gay people, including the gay Christians in their (our) midst.

The approach Vines uses has an unanticipated parallel with what I’ve been trying to do. In my world (if you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know what my perspectives are), I believe that the Evangelical Church has misinterpreted Scripture and mistakenly concluded that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” rendering it obsolete for both Gentile and Jewish disciples of the Master, replacing Israel with the Church. My purpose has been to attempt to convince Evangelicals of this misinterpretation and to see that both ancient and modern Jesus-believing Jews were and are still in covenant relationship with God through the Sinai covenant as well as the emergent New Covenant (I should note that based on my reading of his book, Vines seems to be a classic supersessionist, but for the purposes of my review, I won’t hold that against him *wink*).

But the parallel in our attempts to convince Evangelicals to reconsider how they view the Bible breaks down almost immediately. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at the reasons Vines believes Evangelicals should re-evaluate how they read the Bible relative to LGBT Christians:

  1. First, we saw that a categorical rejection of same-sex relationships has been deeply damaging to gay Christians.
  2. …we saw that the concept of same-sex orientation did not exist in the ancient world. Prior to recent generations, same-sex behavior was widely understood to be the product of sexual excess, not the expression of sexual orientation.
  3. …the church has an established tradition affirming that lifelong celibacy should be voluntarily chosen, not mandated. Maintaining a condemnation of same-sex relationships would require us to revise that teaching.

TorahSince point two is most applicable to an actual examination of Scripture, I want to focus on why Vine believes (and I agree with his perspective here) those portions of the Bible condemning homosexuality do not address sexual orientation as we understand the concept today.

Vine says there are six major Bible verses used by Evangelicals to support the condemnation of Homosexual behavior: Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10. One by one, Vines addresses each of these points but he might as well have saved himself the trouble because of a few details that make those arguments moot.

As we saw in Chapter 2, same-sex relations in the first century were not thought to be the expression of an exclusive sexual orientation. They were widely understood to be the product of excessive sexual desire in general. This understanding, I want to stress, cannot be reduced to a mere misconception. It was a reflection of widespread cultural practices that differ greatly from modern ones.

-Vines, pg 106

Vines expands on this matter greatly in Chapter 2: “Telescopes, Tradition, and Sexual Orientation.” Dating back to the days of Moses and extending up through the first century CE, the available Biblical and historical information indicates that any same-sex behavior we witness in these records was related to issues of ritual idolatry or status. Homosexual and heterosexual temple prostitutes were part of many pagan rites in the ancient near east and we can certainly see Leviticus 18:22 applied to that context, particularly since many of the prohibitions listed in the Torah have to do with warning the Israelites away from worshiping “foreign gods.”

Homosexual acts as sexual excess and establishing status relate specifically to anal penetration with the individual doing the penetrating having the higher status. Vine establishes, and again, I agree, that in each of these cases, the men and women involved in homosexual acts were also participating in heterosexual acts. This wasn’t a matter of sexual orientation whereby the homosexual person has no choice about being attracted to same-sex people. These were people who indulged in pleasurable sexual (and other) activities for the sake of pleasure and perhaps status (Master vs. slave, Older male vs. younger male), but who had heterosexual relationships/marriages for the purposes of procreation (see Prager’s article Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality).

So how did we get to where we are today? The modern understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation began to develop among an elite group of German psychiatrists in the late 19th century. Prior to 1869, the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality didn’t exist…Even then, while some doctors began to think of same-sex attraction as an exclusive sexual orientation, that understanding didn’t begin to gain wide acceptance until the middle of the 20th century.

-ibid, pg 42

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

The heart of Vines’ argument is that none of the Bible passages in question could possibly have to do with sexual orientation or a “loving, committed, monogamous” same-sex relationship because, as such, the concept of sexual orientation didn’t then exist and was not the focus of the Biblical sexual prohibitions.

As far as that goes, Vines makes a good case, but the best he can say is that the Bible is silent on sexual orientation. Of course, we have no idea if human beings experienced homosexuality as an exclusive sexual orientation in ancient times. We only know that such experiences don’t exist in our historical record, nor do they seem to be presupposed by the Bible. Each and every marital relationship described within the context of the covenant people of God was heterosexual, that is, between a man and a woman (or between one man and several woman in the case of men like Abraham, Jacob, and David). There are no normative examples of romantic and marital relationships between two men or two women within the covenant community.

I stress that point because Vines not only wants to discredit the condemnation of homosexuality oriented people based on the Bible, he wants to establish that the Bible can be used to support marriage equality. While he does well in his first argument, he flounders in the second.

Addressing whether or not same-sex couples can become “one flesh,” Vines states:

In Ephesians 5:31-32, the phrase “one flesh” is said to be a mystery that relates to Christ and the church. The relationship between Christ and the church does not involve sexual union or anatomical difference…Not only does Ephesians 5 never mention gender-determined anatomical differences, it focuses instead on the fact that husbands and wives are part of the same body.

So according to Ephesians, gender difference is not necessary to become one flesh in the Bible’s understanding of those words. What is necessary is that two lives are joined as one in the context of a binding covenant.

-ibid, pg 149

In my opinion, Vines is playing fast and loose with his Biblical hermeneutics and sinking into eisegesis, or projecting what he wants to see in the lines between the Bible verses. Stepping back and taking a longer view, as I said above, the Bible never presupposes same-sex couples in a normalized marriage within the covenant community of Judaism or later, the early Christian ekklesia. The overarching template of sanctified marital relationships in the Bible is one man and one woman.

On the one hand, Vines says that the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality do not apply to sexual orientation and thus the validity of modern same-sex bonding, but on the other hand, he attempts to force the scriptures to sanction modern same-sex bonding based on how those scriptures define marriage, including Ephesians 5. I don’t think he can have his cake and eat it too.

What about Vines’ other two points?

holding handsIn Chapter 3: “The Gift of Celibacy,” Vines challenges Evangelical Christianity’s “answer” to gays in the Church: life-long celibacy. Vines believes it is cruel to force a gay person who is devoted to Jesus Christ and who loves God to remain sexually unfulfilled for their entire lives, deprived of the same love and companionship that straight couples in the Church enjoy. He says that orientation is not a choice and Vines as well as all other gay people cannot simply change who he is/they are attracted to. Celibacy is unsustainable in a human existence, and Vines provided compassionate stories of gay Christians whose lives were tremendously and negatively impacted by attempting to follow this Church “policy.”

Vines correctly points out, using a number of heartrending examples, how Christian families have been torn apart by a gay child coming out, which has led to gay Christians leaving their churches and their faith, parting from their families, abusing drugs and alcohol, and even committing suicide. All this because the Church demands they either change something about themselves they find impossible to change or to deny that part of themselves by remaining celibate and alone forever.

But I think Vines’ argument comes down to the following:

Instead of asking whether it’s acceptable for the church to deny gay Christians the possibility of sexual fulfillment in marriage, we should ask a different question. Is it acceptable to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a God-reflecting covenant?

-ibid, pg 161

Vines began his book by saying he intended to provide evidence to support the supposition that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as an orientation and does not condemn loving, monogamous same-sex relationships, and I think, based on how we understand the history of homosexuality in the ancient world, he makes a good case. But his evidence for Biblical support of same-sex relationships based on sexual orientation up to and including marriage equality is much weaker and seems to come down to whether or not the Church thinks it’s being fair to gay Christians.

He cannot, in my opinion, make the Bible support same-sex marriages within the Church, but he can make a credible appeal for compassion and even mercy. I don’t deny his love for God, nor can I deny his experience, or the experience of myriads of other gay people who say that they have no choice in the matter, they are attracted sexually and romantically only to members of the same sex. Further, I can be compassionate about the struggles of forced celibacy (the New Testament generally treats celibacy as voluntary and even as a “spiritual gift”).

So, what’s the answer? I don’t have one. Relative to writing a book review, I don’t need to produce one. All I have to do is render an opinion whether or not the author successfully made his case. I must admit, I have been challenged in terms of the Biblical statements regarding homosexual behavior as addressing excesses in indulgence rather than orientation as such, but still see no active Biblical support for acceptance of marriage equality within the Christian Church.

Does that mean I’m being mean or cruel? Vines separates Christians into either those who affirm homosexuality or the non-affirming group. I guess I’m still in the latter category, which is too bad.

BiblicallyI have a confession to make. I was hoping Vines would deliver a devastating argument that I would find impossible to refute Biblically, a real “game-changer” that would permit me in all clear conscience based on sound scriptural exegesis to accept that homosexual orientation and monogamous same-sex bonding was sanctioned or at least permitted by God. It would resolve a great deal of dissonance between my current Biblical perspective and my desire to be compassionate and accepting.

So where does that leave me? Can I accept that a person can be gay and authentically a Christian, in “right relationship” with God through their faith in Jesus Christ? How can I hold a person accountable for something they experience as out of their control, as inseparable from their identity and personality? I don’t know. I don’t know if our understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation existed before the late 19th century. There’s no evidence it did, but who writes the history books?

On the other hand, who wrote the Bible? If God intended same-sex couples to be normalized within the covenant community, why isn’t there any indication in the Bible?

As far as my understanding of how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant and the continuance of the Torah mitzvot as an obligation for ancient and modern Jewish Jesus-believers, I find a great deal of Biblical and scholarly evidence as presented by many New Testament theologians. Vines has virtually no Biblical evidence of support for marriage equality, and his only scholarly source, and it’s a good one, is Dr. James Brownson. Dr. Brownson’s son came out as gay at the age of eighteen, resulting in Brownson authoring the book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships.

I mentioned before that the best I can say about Vines’ book is that the Bible is silent about how it views same-sex attraction as an orientation, since the concept didn’t exist Biblically and historically. I don’t know what that means for gay Christians, but I think it’s premature to say that it is a “requirement of Christian faithfulness” for believers to “show that supporting LGBT people is not at odds with being a faithful Christian.” (pg 183)

To learn more about Matthew Vines, please go to his website. You should also visit The Reformation Project which…

…exists to train Christians to support and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Through building a deep grassroots movement, we strive to create an environment in which Christian leaders will have the freedom to take the next steps toward affirming and including LGBT people in all aspects of church life.

-from their About page.

One last thing. I purchased this book through AbeBooks.com but the actual seller was Housing Works. According to the bookmark included with my purchase:

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.

AdvocateWhile this doesn’t have a direct relationship with Vines’s book, it does serve as a reminder that there have always been disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and vulnerable populations among us that for one reason or another, we demonize, marginalize, or ignore. The Bible is God’s revelation to human beings in written form, a record of God’s interaction with His greatest creation: people. What it shouldn’t be is a straitjacket that binds us so tightly that we fail to act with compassion, kindness, and mercy. We all are, after all, created in the image of God.

God’s image does not have a sexuality or sexual orientation, but it does provide us with the ability to choose who we are in relationship to God and to each other. We can also choose to behave lovingly and with respect to all others who have the same image, including people who experience grave disadvantage, sometimes just because of how we choose to interpret the Bible.

So far, I know the Bible doesn’t automatically condemn LGBT people. Beyond that, I’m still learning. The one thing I do know though, is that it’s no sin to care about someone, even if they aren’t the same as you. If that’s a mistake, I’ll choose to err on the side of compassion.

Commentary on Dennis Prager and Judaism’s View on Homosexuality

I wish to commend Dennis Prager’s article as an excellent discussion of the subject. Thanks for sharing the link to it.

-from a comment made by ProclaimLiberty

I started this as a comment in response to PL, as well as to my friend Mel who originally provided the link to the Prager story Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality on a prior meditation, but as I kept writing and writing, it seemed like my response needed more room. Hence this blog post.

Prager’s article goes a long way to explain why the Torah specifically prohibits male on male sexual intercourse but is silent about woman on woman sex.

The revolutionary nature of Judaism’s prohibiting all forms of non-marital sex was nowhere more radical, more challenging to the prevailing assumptions of mankind, than with regard to homosexuality. Indeed, Judaism may be said to have invented the notion of homosexuality, for in the ancient world sexuality was not divided between heterosexuality and homosexuality. That division was the Bible’s doing. Before the Bible, the world divided sexuality between penetrator (active partner) and penetrated (passive partner). (emph. mine)

Also quoting Martha Nussbaum:

Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own… The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object… is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of [male] desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of some thing to someone…

I’m now curious about David Greenberg’s book The Construction of Homosexuality since it’s described as “the most thorough historical study of homosexuality ever written” and may go a long way to explain how/if homosexuality was normalized in any past civilizations and if same-sex marriage/mating was considered on moral/social par with opposite-sex marriage/mating.

However, Prager quotes Greenberg as saying:

“With only a few exceptions, male homosexuality was not stigmatized or repressed so long as it conformed to norms regarding gender and the relative ages and statuses of the partners… The major exceptions to this acceptance seem to have arisen in two circumstances.” Both of these circumstances were Jewish.

Prager further states:

Jews or Christians who take the Bible’s views on homosexuality seriously are not obligated to prove that they are not fundamentalists or literalists, let alone bigots (though, of course, people have used the Bible to defend bigotry). Rather, those who claim homosexuality is compatible with Judaism or Christianity bear the burden of proof to reconcile this view with their Bible.

Greenberg bookThis is what I believe Matthew Vines is trying to do in his book God and the Gay Christian, however, Prager says in his article that the Bible’s attitude on homosexuality is “unambiguous” and in his opinion, it’s impossible to reconcile that attitude with any sort of statement that same-sex coupling is acceptable to God.

This may be the key to understanding “abomination” (toevah) as used in Leviticus 18:22. Prager quotes Greenberg again:

“When the word toevah (“abomination”) does appear in the Hebrew Bible, it is sometimes applied to idolatry, cult prostitution, magic, or divination, and is sometimes used more generally…” (emph. mine)

Not all abominations, according to Professor Greenberg, have to be directly related to idolatry or cult prostitution, thus the prohibition against male to male coupling can be reasonably understood as more generalized within Judaism and by inference, Christianity.

Relative to Judaism (and I include Messianic Judaism here), Prager says:

Judaism cannot make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies many of Judaism’s most fundamental principles. It denies life, it denies God’s expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that Judaism wishes for all mankind, the family.

I agree with PL that Dennis Prager’s article Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality is a “keeper” and goes a long way to summarize both the history of homosexuality in the ancient world and why Judaism (and of course, God) rejected same-sex partnering as a way to promote life, growth, elevation of the status of women, and service to God.

This brief missive was originally conceived as a comment in another blog post so it is understandably brief (compared to how much I usually write). Please read the Prager’s original article in its entirety so you can benefit from all of the details he provides. Remember, Prager is politically and socially conservative, so if you have a more liberal bent, you aren’t going to like what he says.

Leviticus, Homosexuality, and Abominations

You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.

כב. וְאֶת זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה

Leviticus 18:22

Ok wait, we know that Leviticus forbids men having sex with each other, and that the penalty is death. But does G-d give us a reason? Yes, She does. “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination.” When I was growing up and reading those words, I had no idea what abomination meant, but I knew it must be bad. I had visions of the abominable snowman attacking me if I did any of the mentioned activities that were said to be ‘abominations’. This fearful obedience stopped me from challenging my church’s beliefs about homosexuality for many years.

What does this strange word mean? Well, in Hebrew, the word is ‘to-evah’ (or to-ebah), but that helps little. The word is difficult to translate succinctly, but picture someone or something that is wild and dangerous, highly addictive and contagious. Picture something radioactive, that once unleashed, will spread like wildfire and affect (and infect) everything nearby. It’s not only wild, but disgusting, and describes detestable religious orgies, or idolatrous practices. If you were confronted with that kind of enemy, what would you do? You’d have to destroy it–stop it dead in it’s tracts (sic). If you didn’t, it would soon infect the entire population, yourself included.

One interesting fact is that the first time ‘ABOMINATION’ is used in the Torah is to DESCRIBE WORSHIPPING G-D, when Moses is asking Pharoah to let the Israelites worship G-d in the desert. The Pharoah inquired, “Why can’t they worship right here?” and Moses answered that if the Israelites worshipped G-d in Egypt, their acts would be an ABOMINATION to the Egyptians. Can you believe it? Worshipping the one true G-d is considered an abomination! Why? Because it is the religious rite of a different religion (from the perspective of the Egyptians–the Israelites were going to sacrifice animals whom the Egyptians worshipped, so it was considered detestable). Still don’t believe that toevah is about idolatry? “Do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.’ You must not do the same for the L-rd your G-d, because every TOEVAH that the L-rd hates they have done FOR THEIR GODS” Deut.12:30-1. This makes it clear, the abominations of the Canaanites weren’t just a bunch of random detestable acts, they were FOR THEIR GODS. As a child I wondered what ‘abomination’ meant, now I have the answer. The Bible gives its own definition in Deut. 12:30-31; an abomination is a detestable religious rite of a religion different from your own.

-from the B’nai HaKeshet (Children of the Rainbow) website

My stated intent to review Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian has inspired a lot of attention and responses on my blog post, on Facebook, and via email. One such email message led me to the B’nai HaKeshet website from which I quoted above. That quote was taken from a much longer missive which attempts to explain that the Bible never speaks against Homosexuality or Homosexual acts in general.

AshtorethI Googled the definition of the Hebrew word “toevah” which is commonly translated as “abomination,” such as we see in Leviticus 18:22 and the search results returned a lot of the same information, basically saying that this portion of scripture is not a blanket prohibition against male on male sexual acts, but specifically addresses such sexual activity within the context of idolatrous worship. The issue supposedly isn’t a man having sex with another man, but a man having sex with another man (male temple prostitute) in association with worshiping an idol.

It’s difficult to find a source (at least by a quick Google search) that is objective or neutral and simply defines the word and its usage, but the closest I found was a newspaper opinion piece written by Rabbi Bruce Warshal called Lots of abominations in the Bible (Sept. 19, 2012).

Rabbi Silvers discussed the meaning of the Hebrew word toevah, which most English bibles translate as “abomination,” as in Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 22: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination. He pointed out that the Hebrew word toevah is used extensively in the Bible regarding food prohibitions, idolatrous practices, magic and ethical violations. His prime example is that eating shrimp (shellfish) is toevah. Yet today he knows plenty of Jews who eat shellfish.

I also found a word study written by someone named Skip Moen on the word to’evah:

With this in mind, we can turn to the word to’evot (abominations). What is an abomination? Do you think that it is something so hideous, so immoral, that it ranks among axe murder, rape and incest? Remember the cultural background of the ancient Near East. Something is to’evah’ when it is loathsome and detestable. It may be physical, ritual or moral. It is something offensive to values of the culture. That means to’evah is determined within the culture and community, just like mishpat. And that means God defines what He finds offensive within the community of Israel. The world may not find some of these actions offensive. That doesn’t matter. They are not regulations for the world. They are offenses to the Hebraic biblical way of life. If we want to demonstrate with our behavior the values that God expresses with His words to His chosen community, then these to’evot will not be part of our actions.

We must understand this perspective in order to understand why homosexuality, slander and human sacrifice are in the same category as dishonest business practices and the eating of unclean animals. When it comes to offenses to God’s values, eating pork is the same as child sacrifice; ritual prostitution is the same as cheating a man with false weights and measures; and homosexual behavior is just as repugnant as lying. Forget the arguments about morality. Put aside the nurture/nature nonsense. None of these matter when it comes to embracing the culture of the Kingdom. If you want to be in God’s community, then you behave in ways that honor Him. End of story.

Topical Index: abomination, to’evah, rule, mishpat, Proverbs 6:16-19, Leviticus 18:26

forbiddenThe sense I’m getting from all of this is that the word “toevah” can be applied to many different acts which God forbade the Israelites from performing, considering all of them “idolatry” or alternately “adultery” (I’ll get to that). But does that mean all of the forbidden acts (including sex with close relatives, see the wider text in Leviticus 18) are only forbidden when engaged within the context of idol worship?

(Remember, context, context, context. Leviticus 18:22 is included in the larger context of the Leviticus 18 “forbidden relationships and acts” list for a reason).

Saying that these various sex acts are only an “abomination” if performed as part of idol worship doesn’t make sense. That would mean it would only be forbidden for an Israelite to have sex with his sister or step-mother if that sexual act was performed as part of worshiping a foreign god.

The crux of the argument presented at B’nai HaKeshet is that for something to be an “abomination” it must be related to idol worship and cannot be a “stand alone” prohibition that crosses all contexts. Just read Leviticus 18:6-18 and you’ll see prohibitions against sexual acts all involving either incest or sex with other close relatives (mother-in-law, step-sister, and so on).

As far as Rabbi Warshal’s reference to Rabbi Silvers, just because some or many Jews today eat shellfish in violation of the Torah commandment doesn’t make it right. Disobedience to God is still disobedience regardless of how many people are engaging in the behavior.

Although on the surface, it seems as if the anonymous writer at B’nai HaKeshet has done her homework (she does state that she’s a woman), the logic she employs to come to at least some of her conclusions has “gaps”.

Here’s what I mean.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

Hosea 1:2

Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.

Hosea 2:2

“Though you, Israel, commit adultery, do not let Judah become guilty.”

Hosea 4:15

God compared the intimate relationship He has with Israel as a husband to a wife, with God playing the role of husband. When Israel strayed and worshiped false gods instead of or in addition to Hashem, it was compared to committing adultery. But did Israel to the last man and woman cheat on their spouses? Is that what God is talking about? No. He’s employing a metaphor through the prophet Hosea (to the point where Hosea is commanded to marry Gomer, a promiscuous woman) in order to illustrate His point.

hosea and gomerAny act of disobedience committed by the Israelites is compared to idolatry and faithlessness. We can’t say that only an Israelite who cheats on his or her spouse is guilty of idolatry or that it is only forbidden for an Israelite to cheat on his/her spouse in performance of an idolatrous act is forbidden.

You have to look at the broader scope. It is my opinion that toevah can mean many different acts of disobedience to God, some directly related to idol worship but many others involving forbidden activities that are not or at least do not have to involve worshiping an idol. It was still forbidden of the Israelites to eat a ham sandwich, even if it had nothing to do with a pagan practice, just as eating ham (or shellfish) for observant Jews today is considered a forbidden act. That many secular Jews eat ham or shellfish doesn’t make it acceptable in God’s sight.

I’ll stop here rather than continue with my assessment of the B’nai HaKeshet author’s other assertions. I may address them at some other point, but I want to get this published quickly so any of my readers who goes offline for Shabbat can have a chance to respond before Saturday night/Sunday morning. Also, because I’m writing/editing very quickly, this missive isn’t as polished as I’d like it to be, so excuse the rough spots.

I’m not trying to be mean or insensitive and I hope I’m being objective, but it just seems as if a certain bias has entered how these texts are being read, especially in light of the larger context of the Bible and God’s relationship with Israel. I know this doesn’t specifically address Christianity and Homosexuality, but I have some ideas about how to consider that paradigm.

Last point. I wrote this as a way to get my head into the debate relative to Homosexuality and whether or not the Bible supports and endorses (or at least doesn’t outright condemn) homosexual acts in the community of faith. So far, I can’t say there’s overwhelming evidence that God is “cool” with such behavior. Your polite feedback, as always, is welcome.

Did Ancient Christianity Perform Same-Sex Marriages?

SameSexNot since Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the “paired” saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries.

-Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia
as quoted on Amazon.com’s description of John Boswell’s book
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Recently on Facebook, someone referred to Boswell’s 1995 book and posted a link to a recent article commenting on this work called Gay marriage in the year 100 AD. I had no idea there was such a book in existence or that anyone had done any serious investigation on the status of same-sex marriages in different, ancient cultures. As a Christian who takes a more or less conservative interpretation on the Bible, I tend to believe that both the Old and New Testaments take a dim view of homosexual activities, at least between males (Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:8-11, Rev. 22:15-21). However, as I said in DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe, Christians (I can’t speak from the Jewish standpoint) can only hold accountable other Christians, that is, those people who have voluntarily entered into a covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, to any prohibitions regarding homosexual activity.

Paul didn’t attempt to lead a social revolution in the ancient Roman empire, demanding that laws be changed for the general population in the diaspora nations ruled by Rome to become more consistent with the teachings of Christ. He was only concerned with taking the good news of Messiah to the Jews and Gentiles and then guiding the religious communities (churches) he founded into correct behavior based on the standards of God. That means, I’m not going to go off on some big harangue against “marriage equality” in the 21st century.

I don’t have a massive agenda about the LGBT community or same-sex marriage, but I do have an interest in any historical and cross-cultural data that could possibly establish that same-sex relationships might have been “normalized” among different people groups in the past. I can’t ignore the vast amount of (admittedly anecdotal) information regarding how gays describe their experience, nor the desire of same-sex couples to enter into legal relationships that reflect their emotional commitment. Although this is in contradiction to the tenets of my faith (as I understand them), I want to be fair and to listen to voices that aren’t always in accord with mine.

There’s a tremendous surge of support in the modern, western world to equalize homosexual relationships with heterosexual relationships and liberal and progressive political, social, and media venues don’t seem to bat an eye. And yet, if gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals are “born that way” and have always comprised a certain minority percentage of the general population world-wide, then you’d expect to see some sort of historical record of same-sex relationships, not as a social aberration, but as a recognized and accepted practice.

Supposedly, Boswell’s book establishes this record. If that were the end of it, I probably wouldn’t comment, since societies “normalize” all manner of behaviors and lifestyles that are contrary to the standards of God we see in the Bible, but Boswell takes it one step further (and it’s an important step). He believes that same-sex marriages were officially sanctioned and accepted in the Christian church as early as 100 CE and up through about 1000 CE.

That’s a pretty astonishing claim.

As you can imagine, when this information hit Facebook, it acted as a bold declaration that modern Christianity must now accept same-sex marriages because there was historic validation, and the ancient conditions that spawned these unions in past times were automatically and anachronistically accepted by the social media audience and applied to modern social imperatives.

Again, if this were just a matter of secular commentaries taking this stand, it would be one thing, but liberal religious people, including congregational leaders (not sure of the original Facebook poster’s exact clerical status), supporting Boswell’s book as an endorsement of “marriage equality” in the community of believers in Jesus is something else altogether.

I was curious just how “iron clad” Boswell’s research was and why it’s becoming such a big deal now (the book was published almost twenty years ago). Of course, in 1995, the idea of same-sex marriage was nowhere near being achieved as a social reality as it is in 2013, so that’s one reason and probably the biggest one. Even if one by one, the various States in our union make legal the marriage bond between same-sex partners, it’s seems important for liberal Christianity to also make it acceptable in the wider church body across the board.

But does Boswell’s research hold water?

Roman Archaeologist here, but this area isn’t my specific field. From my very limited knowledge (ie. a single book [:P]), homosexual relations between two male Roman citizens was frowned upon. It’s kind of interesting, actually.

This is because it was alright if a male Roman was the one doing the ‘penetration’, but it was illegal for a male citizen to be ‘penetrated’. So homosexual relations were fine only if the citizen was the ‘dominant’ one, and a non-citizen was on the ‘receiving-end’ so to speak. Homosexuality between citizens was essentially illegal and frowned upon. It seems to be more of a power/dominance thing, than a revulsion towards sodomy in all it’s forms. I’m not sure about gay-marriage in ancient Rome though – as far as I’m aware, Roman marriage was about producing children. Again, not my field so I can’t state it with certainty.

Abrahamic revulsion towards sodomy and homosexuality to me looks like it springs from a different source than Roman traditions. Greek homosexuality is also different from the Roman tradition – as much as we like lumping the two together, the Greeks considered the Romans to be barbarians. They were two different worlds really.

Edit: Ooops, that didn’t answer your question at all [:P] Just a hopefully interesting side blurb! I thought Abrahamic anti-gay sentiment came from the Old Testament though? As far as I’m aware, Christianity was just one of the many eastern cult religions swirling around at the time of the empire. I’ve always seen it as a fad religion that stuck and went mainstream in a major way. The Paleochristian period isn’t my field either though!

-ABF’s comment, Monday 3:58pm
io9.com

boswellOK, ABF is only one person but he/she is at least familiar with the topic from the point of view of a Roman Archaeologist, so he/she has more information about this than almost every one else. I’m looking for one or more responses to Boswell’s position to either support it or refute it in as scientific and neutral manner as possible (good luck, right?) Almost everyone weighing in on this matter has strong personal feelings for or against “marriage equality,” so I’m forced to set aside 95% or more of the responses being provided in the various online venues commenting on the Boswell book.

I suppose I could just buy and read the book (used copies are cheap), but if Boswell has done bad research, how would I know? It’s not my area of expertise. But in the eighteen years since this book has been published, someone who knows what they’re talking about must have written something about it.

But this is not really a book of history, the author’s protestations to the contrary. Boswell insists that his purpose in writing the book is only “to reflect accurately” on what has happened in the past, but it is clear that the book has a contemporary social agenda. “Recognizing that many- -probably most–earlier Western societies institutionalized some form of romantic same-sex union gives us a much more accurate view of the immense variety of human romantic relationships and social responses to them than does the prudish pretense that such ‘unmentionable’ things never happened.” By claiming to discover a historical basis for “same-sex unions” within Christian tradition, Boswell wishes to legitimate the introduction of “gay-marriage” ceremonies in the contemporary Christian church. This gives the historical and philological discussions an immediacy, but also a poignancy. Underneath the argument there is a quiet plea for acceptance.

But the price Boswell exacts from sympathetic readers is high. To make his case he must impose on the texts meanings they cannot bear and wrench them out of their context in medieval Christian society. Only if one loads words and terms–for example, marriage, love– with overtones that are alien (and derived from contemporary Western speech), can one begin to envision what Boswell imagines. No doubt this is why there is so much throat clearing and redefinition in an introductory chapter titled “What’s in a Name?: The Vocabulary of Love and Marriage.”

-Robert L. Wilken
“Procrustean marriage beds”.., Vol. 121, Commonweal, 09-09-1994, pp 24.
quoted at fordham.edu

Robert L. Wilken is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity, University of Virginia, and the author, most recently (at the time his review was written), of The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History (Yale).

I realize this pits one “expert” against another and you just have to decide which one to believe, but it prevents Boswell’s book from scoring a “home run” on the field of marriage equality and the church. According to Wilken, Boswell’s entire argument hinges on the following:

The term “same-sex union” used in the title of this book is a translation of a Greek phrase (adelphopoiia) which if translated literally would be rendered “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother.” The term is used in medieval Christian manuscripts written in Greek and Slavonic to identify an ecclesiastical rite.

Can we take “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother” as equivalent to “marriage” between two men? That’s how Boswell is interpreting “adelphopoiia” but his interpretation isn’t the only one possible. Rather than copy and paste large sections of the Wilken article into this blog post, you can click the link I provided and read the review for yourself. In short though, Wilken states that Boswell’s interpretation is far from likely and reasonable.

I also found a much more recent commentary on Boswell’s book at the Roads From Emmaus blog. While the blogger doesn’t seem to have any special qualifications as a historian or linguist, he has done his research and provided links to a number of other criticisms of Boswell’s work that are available for your consideration.

I can’t say that the conclusions presented in Boswell’s book are invalid but I can say that there is enough of a reason based on some scholarly response to not accept said-conclusions out of hand, and such reflexive (knee-jerk) acceptance of the Boswell conclusions is exactly what is happening in online social networking (and this is worrisome since it substitutes fulfilling popular social agendas and emotion, for reason and scientific inquiry).

I present this not because I’m “homophobic,” but rather as a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Just because one historian wrote a book that arrived at conclusions seemly fitting into modern social/sexual imperatives in our world does not necessarily make said-conclusions automatically accurate, correct, unquestionable, or “bulletproof.”

I don’t doubt Boswell was sincere (he passed away in 1994, prior to the publication of the book in question) although not unbiased (but as I’ve said, it would be difficult to find an unbiased opinion regarding “marriage equality”), but that doesn’t mean we should accept his position regarding the first thousand years of church history relative to homosexual marriage rites. Those unions, as Boswell’s critics state, are just as likely or more than likely describing a financial or other (non-sexual/non-marital) legal relationship between two men.

I can’t say unequivocally that Boswell’s conclusions are wrong, but there seems to be enough disagreement from credible sources to indicate that he may not have been right. In other words, barring further research, the jury is still out on whether or not we have a record of the ancient Christian church performing (romantic, love, sexual) marriage ceremonies between two men.

two-spirit-dualitySo far, Boswell is just about the only source for this type of information about the ancient church, so my hopes at finding a strongly substantiated history of the normalization of homosexuality cross-history and cross-cultural are fading. The only other book I was able to find was edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang called Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. It’s also not a “slam dunk” since the book is a series of scholarly essays describing the occurrence of “sexually ambiguous” members of native American peoples who held unique roles within their people groups, perhaps as shaman or other religious or mystic leaders. This was actually something suggested by sociobiologist E.O. Wilson back in the 1970s (I wrote a paper on some of his research when I was an undergrad). However, the phenomenon of “two-spirit people” is non-conclusive and in any case, has no bearing on the matter of marriage equality, especially within the Christian church.

I can only imagine the criticism I’m going to receive as a result of writing this and the various labels and names I’ll be called. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to hurt anyone and in fact, quite the opposite. As I said, as far as the secular world is concerned, Christianity and individual Christians (including me) don’t have the right to impose our covenant standards on the societies in which we live. However, I have to draw the line with people who call themselves believers and disciples in Messiah (Christ) and who choose to accept a single publication as rock-solid evidence that Christianity has accepted and endorsed same-sex marriage in the past and thus must be compelled to do so now.

The work of a single individual without corroborating scientific investigation and peer review is does not provide sufficient and compelling reasons for Christianity as an institution to change its current interpretation of the Biblical prohibitions regarding homosexual behavior, let alone to begin officiating over same-sex marriages across the board.

Addendum: After I wrote this blog, I came across an article at the Washington Post called Trading yarmulke for blond wig, Israeli Orthodox gay Jew becomes drag queen. I know it doesn’t have a direct application to the specifics of my missive, but it’s related enough that I thought it was important to share.

DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe

gay_marriage_scotusGrowing up in an ultra-Orthodox family in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Moshe struggled with his homosexuality. “I went to yeshiva and there were no gay characters on television,” said Moshe, who asked that we not use his real name. There was no discussion of gay issues at the yeshiva, either, he remembers: Everyone was implicitly taught that the only way to channel their sexuality was to get married—to women, of course. At 22, Moshe did just that, hoping he could “marry the gay away.” “We dated for 12 days,” he recalled. That was in 1994, before the popular advent of the Internet. At the time, Moshe didn’t realize there were other Orthodox men grappling with their sexuality, too.

-Michael Orbach
“For LGBT Orthodox Jews, Growth of Social Media Creates a Safe Space Online”
Tablet Magazine

I would be remiss if I ignored the historic happenings of today. That is, that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down both Prop 8 and a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This is huge. Finally, the “land of the free” is beginning to honestly recognize a neglected portion of its population. We are at a time when 12 states within the nation allow for same sex marriage and more are following suit. (Except for my state, Indiana, with its regressive HJR-6.) The ruling that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional is a step in the right direction for everyone. Hello, 21st century! While the whole thing needs to be scrapped, at least it allows all citizens who are legally married to be recognized at the federal level.

One big reason I left Christianity was its position on LGBT rights. I plan to write more about this in my post about my spiritual journey to Judaism, however I am going to bring it up here because, well, it is a big deal for me.

-Lynn
“Historic Day for America”
FollowingRuth.com

I’ve been debating on whether or not to even speak to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that relate to the LGBT community and what has been called “marriage equality.” This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on the intersection (or collision) between faith and homosexuality but I seem to do so sparingly (which I’m sure is a good thing).

I actually started to blog on the Supreme Court’s decision and it’s impact last week, but finally decided against publishing my comments and, uncharacteristically for me, deleted the entire blog post. However, I subsequently read Michael Orbach’s missive at Tablet and it took the hoopla, liberal marketing spin, and mainstream news media hype out of the equation and presented instead a human face full of human pain.

At least as far as the Torah goes, homosexual acts between two men in the covenant are prohibited (the section I emphasized is important) while Torah seems to be silent on sexual acts between two women (Torah has more to say about prohibiting sex between a man and an animal or between various relatives).

The New Testament relates prohibitions against sexual immorality, but some say it’s up to interpretation to determine if this includes sexual acts between two men or not (but they may not have read 1 Corinthians 6:9 along with other such verses). Given that what we call “morality” in the Bible tends to survive intact between the testaments, I’m willing to accept that if the prohibition of sexual contact between two men under covenant is valid in the Old Testament, it’s valid in the New.

I know what you’re going to say. Eating pork and shellfish is prohibited in the Old Testament of the Children of Israel, but it presents no problem at all for Christians. In addition, more liberal elements of both Christianity and Judaism have chosen to reinterpret and reapply older sections of the Bible to mean now what they didn’t seem to mean previously.

But I always get a creepy feeling when churches and synagogues do this, as if those communities are made up of people who don’t really want to give up “religion” but don’t want to appear contrary to the social imperatives of the 21st century either. The “safe” bet is to turn down the Biblical rhetoric and to rev up political correctness. Then everybody’s happy, right?

I’ve spoken before on the question of just how far we can stretch hermeneutics to accommodate human needs and frankly, human wants and emotions. Any Biblical purest would rein in such hermeneutics considerably, but while I’m conservative, I’m not entirely rigid.

lgbt-safe-zone-jewishIf we must maintain a prohibition against same-sex sex within Christianity and Judaism, let us admit that it is within Christianity and Judaism. We can’t hang our morals around the necks of those people who choose not to join those religious traditions, and having said that, we don’t generally complain about men and women living together and having children without the parents being married, Christians don’t complain about unbelievers who choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday (although many Christians choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday as well), and observant Jews don’t complain if the goyim choose to enjoy a big, hot, steaming plate of scrimp scampi or devour a (pork) pepperoni, (pork) sausage, and cheese pizza (mixing meat and dairy along the way).

But Christianity and Judaism tend to go out of their way to hold homosexual acts as a special sin that somehow is more “icky” than opposite sex unmarried sex or just about any other sin we can think of.

But what about “Moshe” (not his real name) who is an Orthodox Jew and who has struggled with his homosexuality most of his life?

The Episcopalian church and the Reform synagogue would have no problem with a gay person being in their midst, being openly gay, being in a relationship with another gay person, and worshiping within their communities. Moshe would find a home within Reform Judaism, but Moshe is Orthodox. His life would be a lot easier if he chose a different religious path (or no religious path at all), but as far as I can tell from the article, that is not who he is.

Gays may be celebrating in San Francisco and in Hollywood, but not in Crown Heights (Brooklyn). The Tablet article states that the Internet has provided a semi-safe haven for Orthodox Jews to discuss their homosexuality, but for Moshe, that wasn’t enough.

Surprisingly, the outing wasn’t as bad as Moshe feared. While there was a backlash, it was nowhere near what he had expected. He doesn’t physically live in that community anymore, but he still considers himself Orthodox. When he returns to visit, Moshe said, he’s greeted with kindness and respect. “What ended up happening is I broke the stereotype,” he said. “People started seeing me as Moshe who happens to be gay, not as the homosexuality defining me. … I feel honest. I feel whole. I feel like I’m done hiding who I am.”

I suppose that’s why I’m writing this now. Moshe (who happens to be gay) has a human face. He’s not a monster. He’s not evil (depending on your point of view, I suppose). He’s a person, just like you and I are people.

And Moshe isn’t an anomaly in his environment.

At last count, there are several Orthodox LGBT support groups with an online presence, in addition to Keshet, including Eshel, which was started by a collaborative effort that included Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi; the Dina Listserv for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox transsexuals; Tirzah: a community of Frum Queer Women; and Temicha, an online support group for Orthodox Jewish parents of gay children. There are countless blogs, from teens writing about their experiences being openly gay inside a Modern Orthodox environment, and a blog from an openly gay Orthodox man living in the Syrian Jewish community, the melancholy It’s Like Disapproving of Rain blog, to an Orthodox teenager writing about her life with gay parents. A quick search on Facebook with the words “Jewish” and “gay” will lead to several pages, from a gay pride minyan on the Upper West Side to small group called Orthodox Jews Against Homophobia.

frum_lgbt_internetUm…wow.

One of my sons has two close friends who he’s known from childhood who are gay. I’ve had next door neighbors in my suburban community in southwestern Idaho who are gay. People of faith, like it or not, encounter gay men and women, perhaps every day. We can’t keep treating them as if they are walking, talking sin. We can’t keep treating them as if they are not human beings. We can’t keep treating them as if they weren’t created in the image of God.

We live in a nation of laws. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted a portion of the constitution to mean that within particular contexts, men married to men and women married to women have certain rights. The State of California is very likely to join twelve other states in our union in offering same-sex couples the opportunity to marry under state law. But while gay couples in California start making wedding plans and while the married spouse of a same-sex partner who works for the Federal government is arranging to be put on his or her spouse’s medical insurance plan, what are we planning to do in the church…if anything?

Or should we be planning to do anything at all?

The apostle Paul spent a great deal of his time crisscrossing various portions of the Roman empire, which was a legal structure that permitted or commanded a wide variety of activities that violated his personal and corporate ethical and moral code. Did Paul arrange protests in Rome to demand that the empire change their laws? Did he make homosexual activities between non-believing Romans and Greeks the main focus of his letters or his preaching?

We don’t see any of this. It is true that he focused much of his time on what he saw as immoral actions within the community of faith. I think that’s as far as we get to go as religious people, but having said that, it would mean the Orthodox Jewish community does have rights to hold members of that community to certain behavioral standards, just the same as the church, and just the same a Paul held his churches to the standards he considered right and proper as a disciple of Jesus.

But to the degree that Paul didn’t try to lead a revolution to change the laws of Rome relative to homosexual behavior or anything else, what should we religious people do once the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to say that the laws of our nation cannot interfere with what are considered rights between two same-sex individuals who want to be legally married?

jewish-traditionMoshe seems to have found a space that he can live inside of and still be an Orthodox Jew. Whether you or I agree with that doesn’t really matter because we aren’t Orthodox Jews (well, I’m not, anyway) and we aren’t in charge of Moshe’s life. If he’s accountable to God, then it is God who will judge, just as God will judge you and me. If being gay is a sin, then God will judge that sin just like the sins of sex between opposite sex couples outside of marriage, theft, murder, tax evasion (another form of theft), cursing at the person who cut us off in traffic last week, and all of the other sinful things that religious and non-religious people do on a more or less daily basis.

I’m not willing to get all worked up because something happened in the U.S. government that I may not personally agree with. If I did, I’d constantly be upset about something (and I know people who are constantly upset and just for that reason). As my wife recently reminded me, I’m pretty good are reading about religion and writing about religion, but truth be told, I could be better at doing religion.

Blogging is like complaining about gay people: it’s easier and safer to do than to actually live a life that is consistent with our high-flying morals. I…all of us, can either curse sinners or live righteously. Which one do you think will matter more to the people around you and to God?

However, I have a few parting thoughts. Although you may think what I am about to say is not specifically related to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the shifting of laws and perceptions as related to the LGBT community in our nation and around the world are sending now and in the future, wide reaching ripples that we should not ignore

I am deeply concerned (if it is true) about the relationship between adult clergy at the Vatican and underage boys. This is an unsubstantiated allegation, but regardless of what the LGBT community may perceive as its “rights,” one of those rights is not to impose its political, social, or sexual imperatives on children. One of its rights is not to compel underage children to have sexual contact with adults, regardless of “orientation.”

coy-mathis-story-transsexualSpeaking of children, while the LGBT community may be celebrating a victory in terms of six-year old Coy Mathis, a child born as a boy but who now lives as a girl (Coy’s parents sued their school district and Coy is now allowed to use the girls restroom at school), I can’t imagine how any sane and responsible licensed clinical psychologist can determine that a child, at age four years (which is when Coy’s parents took Coy to the psychologist), is “transsexual.” I would definitely like to see the clinical research studies and the battery of testing involved that even makes this diagnosis possible.

I am deeply concerned that the adults involved in Coy’s life, that is Coy’s parents and the aforementioned psychologist, are imposing their own personal, social, and political agendas on a child who can not possibly understand the implications of such a decision. I know that adults impose decisions on children all the time “for their own good,” and most of the time, those decisions are necessary for the child’s well-being, but I do not understand how supporting this sort of identity shift on one so young is at all reasonable, responsible, and healthy.

I’m willing to exceed my own stated limits and the limits of the Bible in defense of children. The rights of adults relative to sexuality, lifestyle, and the legal and social bonds of marriage are one thing, but projecting such profound needs, wants, and desires on vulnerable and easily influenced children is quite another story.

And I wish they’d just leave Bert and Ernie out of it.