Tag Archives: LGBT

God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality: My (Unofficial) Review of Part Three

Do LGBT people, as Jung said, have a “special receptivity?” Do gay people experience (or transcend) the balance between masculine and feminine, at the heart of so many mystical and religious traditions, in different ways that may enrich all our experiences of gender? Are there special perspectives on the key questions of religion that are afforded to sexual and gender minorities? Already, scholars in the discipline known as “queer theology” have begun opening exciting lines of investigation in religious thought, while outside traditional structures the “gay spirituality” and women’s spirituality movements have explored similar avenues.

-Jay Michaelson
Chapter 17: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God…to devise subtle works in gold, silver, and brass,” p.155
God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality

As the title of today’s “meditation” indicates, this is an “unofficial” review of Part Three of Michaelson’s book. I’m focusing exclusively on the last two chapters because they illustrate the author’s ultimate point in writing this book. As I said in my review of Part One, Michaelson is a gifted writer and extremely convincing. If I were willing to take him at face value and not investigate the alternative explanations and interpretations to what he presents, I could see myself following him down the path he builds. But I would have to be utterly convinced by him up to this point to willingly absorb what he says next.

A lot of Part Three of the book is an inventory of the ways the LGBTQ community is beneficial, not only to society in general, but to the religious world in particular. In the quote above, we find the suggestion that gay people may actually bring special insights into the church and, as in some other cultures (generally ancient cultures), may have a particular and unique role to play within the Christian Church and Jewish Synagogue.

I’ve never heard of queer theology before and I was actually a little hesitant to “Google” the term (I eventually did). According to Michaelson, there is a long list of scholars (he lists them in this chapter) investigating and writing on this “queer theology.” That’s news to me, but then again, I don’t recognize the names of most of the famous Evangelical and Fundamentalist Pastors writing and preaching in the Church today.

The following paragraph is what inspired me to write about Part Three. I hadn’t intended to do so, but I was so astonished by the implications, that I felt I had to respond. I can see why Michaelson saved this information for the very end of his book. If you aren’t totally “hooked” by Michaelson at this point, then your reaction will probably be similar to mine:

Episcopal lesbian theologian Carter Heyward, whose work we briefly noted in part I, has described her project this way: “I am attempting to give voice to an embodied — sensual — relational movement among women and men who experience our sexualities as a liberating resource and who, at least in part through this experience, have been strengthened in the struggle for justice for all.” Heyward and others…are attempting nothing less than a recovery of the physical, embodied, and erotic within Christian traditions that have traditionally suppressed them. Building a theology of relationality that is reminiscent of the work of Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, Heyward has proposed a spiritual valuation of eros — which she defines as “our embodied yearning for mutuality.” Openness to embodied love opens us to other people, the biological processes of the universe, and to God. Thus, Heyward writes, “my eroticism is my participation in the universe” and “we are the womb in which God is born.”

-ibid, p.156

Now compare all that to the following:

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson

In the many areas Michaelson visited in the Bible, I think he missed Paul’s association of self-control and righteousness with one possible consequence being judgment. In fact, his quote which relies heavily on Heyward seems so antithetical to how I (and many others) read the Bible, that I don’t recognize Christianity and Judaism in it at all. Michaelson’s and Heyward’s description of this “project” seems more like how Dennis Prager describes the pagan religious landscape before Judaism (and subsequently Christianity) “revolutionized” sexuality to come within the scope of God’s purpose for human beings.

The startling conclusion I’m forced to draw from this is that one of Michaelson’s points in writing his book is to redefine Christianity and Judaism in a radical manner such that it actually reverses the “sexual revolution” God introduced to the ancient Israelites at Sinai, a revolution that has been a hallmark of the covenant community of God…at least until now. I hate to put it this way, but it’s as if Michaelson is advocating for a restoration in how human sexuality was incorporated into pagan worship…and he, or at least Heyward, wants it in the Church (or some churches).

When Michaelson says the “erotic within Christian traditions,” what eroticism has a valid place in Christian tradition? Both Christian and Jewish tradition confine eroticism to the bedroom of the (male and female) married couple, and to the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t changed in the history of both religions…that is, until now.

Here’s the other major point I think Michaelson wants to bring home to his readers and I believe it connects to the first:

At this moment, there are people who are contemplating ending their lives because they believe their sexuality to be a sin, a flaw in the fabric of their soul, or perhaps a curse from God. Misled by a cruel misreading of a handful of biblical verses, they miss the much more important messages of many others: that love is sacred, that God does not want us to be alone. That justice and compassion are Divine mandates. That every human being is created in the image of God, and that the way we love is one of the paramount expressions of that likeness.

While you come to the last pages of this book, they may be coming to the last hours of their lives. That is why, if we are religious, we cannot consider the words of a sacred text dispassionately, or fall back on familiar teachings we’ve heard. There is death around us, and even when there is not physical death, there is unconscionable spiritual suffering. It is present in your church pews, when a friend of yours feels excluded or marginalized. It is a your family table, in the hearts of the uncle who never married, or the girl who prefers boys’ clothes to dresses.

-Michaelson
Chapter 18: “For nothing in creation can separate you from the love of God”

Hopefully, I won’t be guilty of using a cheap shot in what I’m about to say, but the bare bones of this message seems to be that if we religious people won’t support, normalize, and sanctify homosexuality in the Church and Synagogue by interpreting the Bible as Michaelson does, we are directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of any gay people who feel excluded or marginalized from religious community. From Michaelson’s point of view, we really have no choice. Either we comply or we have the blood of who knows how many gay Christians and religious Jews on our hands. We are powerless to disagree unless we don’t care about whether gay people live or die.

Except, as I’ve said in my reviews of Parts One and Two of the Michaelson book, I don’t believe this author has successfully made the point that the Bible actually supports inclusion of same-sex romantic/erotic relationships on par with opposite-sex marriages. To repeat myself (yet again) the Bible does not presuppose such relationships. The only thing Michaelson has to stand on is his assertion in Part One that the Bible describes broad general principles of love, justice, and compassion, but as we dig into the specifics of the Bible, that doesn’t mean permissiveness to the extreme that there are no moral standards and, as they used to say in the 1960s, “if it feels good, do it.”

depressionConnecting the latter point to the former, if we don’t provide absolute inclusiveness of the LGBTQ community into the body of faith up to and including accepting the sort of philosophy and practice advocated by Heyward and others by eroticizing Christian (and Jewish) tradition, the consequence is the suicide or extreme spiritual and psychological trauma of LGBTQ people who strongly desire to function as devout members of Christianity and Judaism.

Gee, not much of a choice, there. Sorry if that sounds snarky, but Michaelson really does know how to paint his readers into a corner.

I wouldn’t react this way if Michaelson’s central message was simply to be treated as an equal participant in the Church or Synagogue, but in citing and praising Heyward, he reveals (apparently) that what he actually is seeking is something much more

So we either concent to eroticize the church by agreeing that a lesbian’s “eroticism is [her] participation in the universe” and “[lesbians or women in general] are the womb in which God is born”, spinning the clock backward thousands of years in the process and not in a good way, or we face the accusation that we are heartless, cold-blooded, and guilty of causing harm and even death to other human beings.

Except there are liberal Christian denominations and branches of Judaism that already accept gays with open arms. Religious gays are denied nothing as far as a venue for worship and communities of faith go. Such churches and synagogues (well, one synagogue) exist even in my own little corner of Idaho. Marriage equality was recently legalized here by Federal court order, so gay couples can be both legally and religiously married in my community.

Looking at it from a civil and secular point of view, if two adult people want to enter into what amounts to a contractual and legal relationship such that they acquire certain privileges, rights, and responsibilities to each other, that’s fine with me and it’s probably a good idea. I’m not completely heartless or unmindful of a man who wants to visit his spouse – partner – significant other of the same-sex who is hospitalized, or the requirement to put your partner on your medical insurance, or to make them a beneficiary of your life insurance policy. It shouldn’t matter if two adults want to legally acknowledge each other as family and have the same legal definition of what we consider “traditional marriage”.

But that’s the law of the land. America isn’t a “Christian nation” in that the government doesn’t have an “official religion” it supports or requires its citizens to join. Thus, as a wholly secular nation, it can make whatever laws it sees fit for the benefit of its citizens, even if those laws conflict with the moral and ethical structures of the various religions that operate within our nation. I’d start objecting if the government started making laws that directed said-religions to violate their morals and ethics in order to serve secular progressive social priorities, but I guess that’s what they mean when they say “separation of church and state”.

If the judiciary and the legislative branches of the government want to legalize such same-sex relationships, I can hardly complain from a religious standpoint (though I suppose I could complain from the perspective of “taxation without representation” if I’m expected to financially support such legislation, though I don’t see how that would actually take place so far) even if some part of me feels uncomfortable at the imposition of the priorities of various social and political groups.

But I don’t know what to do about the gay people who experience exclusion by their religious communities. I could say (as I suggested above) that they could join more accepting and affirming churches and synagogues, but some people are born into families who are Evangelical or Orthodox and a lot of their identity flows from those communities and traditions. If those traditions do not support gay inclusiveness and you happen to be a gay person who is also a Fundamentalist Christian or Orthodox Jew, what do you do? You don’t want to give up your particular religious orientation and you believe you can’t change or give up your sexual orientation.

flagI don’t have a pat answer for that one, but I do think there are alternatives to either suicide or the forcing all churches and all synagogues everywhere to accept an interpretation of the Bible they find morally and exegetically unsustainable. I don’t experience myself as heartless or cruel, but I cannot accept responsibility for someone’s depression or suicidal feelings (or suicides) simply because I don’t accept Michaelson’s interpretation of the Bible and Heyward’s sexualization of the Church via “Queer Theology.”

I’ve made numerous attempts at understanding the Bible in a way that accepts the normalization and inclusiveness of gays in the community of faith, but regardless of the books, websites, blogs, and discussion boards I’ve sampled, the arguments are all the same and sadly, they are all wanting. I do believe we should respond to the gays in our communities by treating them with dignity and compassion, as we would treat any other person, but that doesn’t change what the Bible says (and doesn’t say), and that doesn’t change God.

I’ll be publishing an “extra meditation” as a sort of “aftermath” to this series of reviews later today.

Addendum: To learn more about Queer Theology including how it is radically different from normative Christian (and Jewish) theologies, see the Vice.com article Queer Christ: A Primer on LGBT Theology or visit QueerTheology.com.

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God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality: My Review of Part Two

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.

MessiahThe 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.”

Matthew 15:24

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.

The Jewish PaulChapter 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.

-Michaelson, p.80

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.”

-ibid, p.83

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.

PaulChapter 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.

-Michaelson, pp.98-9

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.

-Michaelson, p.101

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.

gay marriagePart 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.

-ibid, p.108

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.

-ibid

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.”

Messiah Journal issue 117

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.

John MacArthur: What’s the Biggest Danger to the Church?

Famed pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, recently reacted to denominations that have taken more liberal approaches to gay marriage, among other issues, telling The Blaze that “they have no allegiance to the Bible.”

MacArthur, author of “Being a Dad Who Leads,” said that these denominations — like Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently voted to allow same-sex nuptials — and their associated seminaries have been skirting scriptural tenets for decades.

He patently described them as “false churches” that fail to teach biblical truths.

-Billy Hallowell
‘They Are Satan’s Church’: Famed Pastor’s Tough Message for Christian Denominations Condoning Homosexuality, Jul. 14, 2014
The Blaze

I guess you could say that John MacArthur is at it again. Nearly a year ago, he held his infamous Strange Fire Conference where he and a group of like-minded Pastors took Charismatics and the Pentecostal Church to task for their various failings as MacArthur sees them.

Now, he’s come up with a new label: “Satan’s Church.”

In this case, that appellation is used to describe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) specifically because of their support of and advocacy for gay marriage in their churches. I wonder if there is another conference in MacArthur’s near future to be closely followed by another published book? I suppose he could save himself the trouble, since Michael Brown recently wrote his own book on gays and the church called Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality. Coincidentally, this book was released very soon after Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships which I reviewed a couple of months back. I have also addressed other commentaries on this topic including a brief article describing MacArthur’s advice to Christian parents with gay children.

But believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about gays in the church (or gays at all) in this “meditation.” I’m not super-duper concerned about some liberal churches offering inclusiveness and equality to disenfranchised populations such at the LBGTQ community. If I have anything against the PCUSA church at all, it has to do with their current strategy of disinvestment from Israel. You know, Israel, where there’s currently a war going on (I picked that story from Arutz Sheva just because it is the most recent one published as I write this)?

It seems as if MacArthur’s reputation, what I know of it anyway, is built upon who or what he is against rather than who or what he supports. This is a pretty common tactic and I run into it all the time in the religious blogosphere. Actually, some of the more “notorious” blogs within my awareness have been rather quiet lately. Maybe people are learning that continually engaging in controversy and fomenting “us vs. them” arguments within the community of faith doesn’t really serve the cause of Heaven (but then, what am I doing now?).

Seems MacArthur hasn’t gotten the memo on this yet.

Frankly, if I had to choose between being upset because a church advocates for marriage equality or a church advocates throwing national Israel and the Jewish people under a bus, I’d get upset over the latter. If MacArthur wants to impress me (and I’m sure he doesn’t since my existence would be less than nothing to him…thankfully), he can stand up in support of Israel’s struggle against terrorism.

So I became curious. What does MacArthur think…not of the final destiny of Israel in God’s plan, but of Israel as she exists today?

It wasn’t easy to find out, at least in text form. I finally found a short video (two minutes, eleven seconds) where “Mac” put his opinion in a nutshell.

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

Basically he says that national Israel today is vulnerable, in constant danger, and the Jews are an abused and beleaguered people. Why? Because of God’s Divine judgment against Israel for rejecting her Messiah.

I hate to sound snarky but I sometimes wonder if MacArthur ever reads the Bible. I know he must because MacArthur is a staunch advocate of reading and studying the Bible (though I have issues with some of his study recommendations). It’s one of his strengths and he encourages every Christian to read the Bible frequently:

Bible study begins with reading. Yet, quite frankly, a lot of people never get to that point. At best, they nibble at the text. They may read books about the Bible or devotional materials loosely based on it, but they don’t read the Bible itself. Good Christian books and magazines that supplement your Bible reading are fine, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture.

Which makes it all the more difficult for me to understand where MacArthur got the crazy idea that God would ever judge or punish Israel for rejecting the Messiah. The Torah is replete with the conditions Israel must meet to obey God and the consequences for disobedience. Over the many years I’ve been reading and studying the Torah and the rest of the Bible, I have never found even a single verse where God directly addresses Israel stating that they would be exiled, abused, punished, judged, beleaguered, or anything else, specifically for rejecting the Messiah.

In fact, the Torah, the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) really, barely addresses the Messiah, particularly in terms of Israel’s acceptance or rejection of him. There are no blessings for recognizing and welcoming the Messiah and no consequences for failing to recognize or rejecting the Messiah.

Period.

So Israel’s exile from her Land nearly two-thousand years ago, the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, had nothing to do with “rejecting Jesus.” Orthodox Judaism tends to believe the most recent exile was due to the baseless hatred of one Jew for another although there are other opinions. If you want a more Biblical approach, study Torah Portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) and read a few commentaries for good measure. If you find anything in the curses about rejecting Jesus, please let me know.

IsraelWhile MacArthur’s opinion about the reason for Israel’s exile can’t be supported by the Bible, he also believes Israel continues to exist because God is going to save Israel. In the above-mentioned video, MacArthur states that just before all the nations of the Earth turn against Israel and go to war against her, God will save Israel by having them accept Jesus as the Messiah. Once they do and the worldwide attack against the Jewish nation begins, God will defend Israel:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves.

Zechariah 12:10-14 (NASB)

In searching for material regarding MacArthur’s views on the modern state of Israel, I came across a 2009 commentary by Russell D. Moore called Should We Support Israel? which says in part:

Dispensationalists have served the church by pointing us to our responsibility to support the Jewish people and the nation of Israel through a century that has seen the most horrific anti-Semitic violence imaginable.

We need not hold to a dispensationalist view of the future restoration of Israel (and I don’t) to agree that such support is a necessary part of a Christian eschatology (and I do).

Novelist Walker Percy pointed to the continuing existence of Jewish people as a sign of God’s presence in the world. There are no Hittites walking about on the streets of New York, he remarked.

There does appear to be a promise of a future conversion of Jewish people to Christ (Rom 9-11). The current secular state of Israel is not the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham; Jesus is.

That seems to be more or less what MacArthur is saying. There’s nothing “special” about current, secular Israel and its only unique quality is that God made an eternal promise to that nation above all other nations and God will fulfill His promise by redeeming Israel in the eschatological future. He seems to miss that Israel’s existence at all is a miracle of God and the beginning of His fulfillment of His promises to restore national Israel and return the Jewish exiles to their Land. In fact, less than a week ago, 400 Jews made aliyah from France even in the face of the current hostilities with Hamas. Those French Jews returning to their homeland are a dramatic indication that God, even now, is making good on His prophetic Word to Israel.

But along with Moore, MacArthur appears to think that all of the Jewish people will turn to Jesus, that is, convert to Christianity (though they’ll remain ethnically Jewish) and only then God will save them from their enemies.

JerusalemThat’s hardly the way I’d put it since such a viewpoint devalues current Israel and all Jewish people living today, and also replaces the Jewish people as a distinct entity with “the Church”.

Based on MacArthur’s video, he likely sees the current battles between Israel and Hamas as just another expression of God’s Divine judgment against an unbelieving Jewish nation. That would make the vicious terrorist organization Hamas an instrument of God’s judgment against the Jews, the latest in a long, long list, according to how a lot of Evangelicals see Jewish history. The Church can be very hard on Israel. More’s the pity.

In Sunday school class recently, when Charlie was asking for prayer requests, I asked for prayer for Israel. Apparently citing Psalm 122:6, he said we (Christians) are commanded to pray for the peace of Israel. You don’t hear about Christians being commanded to do very much typically, particularly in a Church setting. It was refreshing.

Yes, we should pray for the peace of the only nation that has had God as their King, the world’s only fully functional theocracy, and the only nation that is the direct object of all of the New Covenant promises of God.

MacArthur needs another windmill to tilt at and this time he’s chosen the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of their views on gay marriage. Will gays in the Church be a big focus of God’s as His redemptive plan for Israel and the rest of the world continues to move forward? How many prophecies are there regarding homosexuality within the covenant community vs. how many are there about the New Covenant, the Messianic Kingdom, and the redemption of national Israel? I’ll let you do the math.

For me, at the end of the day, it’s not that I’m against PCUSA, but rather that I stand with Israel because God stands with Israel…and He will take care of her.

“And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NASB)

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.