A few days back, I posted a story on Facebook called Germany becomes first country in Europe to recognise “third gender” officially. I did so mainly to illustrate how I see Europe becoming increasingly “inclusive” (progressive, leftist) and how, once Trump leaves office and the Democratic backlash occurs, the future political and social administration will attempt to push America in the same direction.
I got one response from a progressive perspective, which wasn’t unexpected, and then someone else posted:
Well, the sages of the Mishnah recognized four a very long time ago.
The source, who I won’t name, is someone who probably should know, so I looked it up.
Zachar/זָכָר: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
Nekeivah/נְקֵבָה: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
Androgynos/אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
Tumtum/ טֻומְטוּם A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
Ay’lonit/איילונית: A person who is identified as “female” at birth but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
Saris/סריס: A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam). 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
It was pretty much the same for Sefaria.org and ReformJudaism.org. The progressive leftist side of Judaism was very vocal about this, which I absolutely had never heard about before. I guess it was not something that came up much when I had a more active involvement in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. I did manage to find something called Mystical Aspects of Femininity at Chabad.org and I know that I saw another article somewhat referencing four genders, but that doesn’t particularly map to my (admittedly limited) understanding of Chabadniks. I hadn’t planned to write on this but then, also on Facebook, I saw a story from the Jerusalem Post called Transgender Woman Who Left Hasidic Community to Speak at Yale.
In this case, 26-year-old Abby Stein, who had been born a boy in the Williamsburg section of Broooklyn, New York and who was ordained as a Rabbi at age 19, ultimately left her community and made the transition from male to female.
Her story however, does not mention how it is typical for Hasidics to accept multiple gender identities and in fact, she lost most of her family and friends when she left and then came out.
According to that article:
But, although she was born with a boy’s body, Stein can’t remember a time when she didn’t feel that she was a girl, living in a sect where boys and girls weren’t even allowed to play together and where “it’s almost impossible to be accepting, to be tolerant of gay or trans people.”
I know if I were to present this to a traditional Christian audience, they’d simply discount the Mishnah and the Sages as authoritative, state that there is no support for more than two genders in the Bible, and that would be that.
However, in at least some circles of Messianic Judaism, the authority of the Mishnahic Sages is well accepted.
So where do we go from here?
From other quotes found in the Jerusalem Post story:
In her section of Williamsburg, “there was no access to TV, music, magazines … Broadway shows” and only Orthodox Jewish newspapers, Stein said. She spoke Yiddish and Hebrew, but didn’t learn English until she was 20. “It’s all you know. Everything you know is in that community. … They are the most gender-segregated society in the U.S. … First cousins, boys and girls, don’t socialize with each other.”
Her father, Rabbi Mendel Stein, told her he would no longer be able to speak to her. Just two of her eight sisters and four brothers do now.
Seemingly, as far as the Hasidic community goes, there is no room for more than two genders and both are, as much as possible separated from one another.
I’m posting this to gather opinions. I really don’t know what to think. My own understanding of the Bible tends toward defining two and only two sexes and genders and, quite frankly, I don’t think that the Jewish Sages always have all the answers.
It’s also possible that Judaism’s understanding of “gender fluidity” is based on physical characteristics rather than “identifying as,” but I can’t say that with any degree of certainty.
I realize this is a highly controvertial topic, but then again, on our anti-religion, anti-faith, pro-atheist, pro-secular morality, a blog such as mine is controvertial by definition.
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.
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.”
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)
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.
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.”
Connecting 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.
I 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.
I mistakenly thought Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality consisted of only two parts, with Part One being a general appeal for acceptance of LBGTQ people into religious community based on general principles loosely derived from the Bible, and Part Two refuting the various Biblical prohibitions against same-sex sex in scripture. However, I missed Part Three, which seems to be (I’m still reading it, but I finished Part Two) a presentation of the different studies “proving” that same-sex relationships, marriage, and parenting are not only beneficial to society as a whole, but sometimes are superior to opposite-sex relationships (on p.116, Michaelson cites a study supporting same-sex parenting as superior to opposite-sex parenting, and while he says it’s important for a child to have two parents, the sexual identity and orientation of the parents is irrelevant).
I probably won’t write a formal review of Part Three only because it has virtually no bearing on the topic at hand [since originally writing this blog post, I changed my mind and wrote a review of two chapters in Part Three…see my final note below], which is the question of whether or not the Bible can be correctly interpreted as supporting marriage equality and the admission, normalization, and sanctification of same-sex relationships within the Christian and Jewish communities of faith. What secular social studies say about various aspects of gay relationships cannot answer that question, they only answer how same-sex relationships may be integrated into the larger societal milieu.
Before continuing here, if you haven’t read my review of Part One of Michaelson’s book, you might want to pause, click the link I just provided, and have a look.
Part Two is made up of seven chapters, the first (Chapter 7) called “Leviticus.” I’ve addressed this topic before, including the Hebrew word “toevah” which is often translated as “abomination,” a term applied to male-to-male sexual contact and to eating shellfish, at least according to the Torah of Moses and as applied to the ancient Israelites. Rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” so to speak, please read my blog post Leviticus, Homosexuality, and Abominations which covers the Leviticus prohibitions against homosexuality and what they really seem to mean.
I should also say that Chapter 8: “Sodom,” is correct in stating that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed a chronicle of the sin of “inhospitality” more so than homosexual rape. The fact that Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, being a pretty confusing response, is an indication that there’s more going on than uncontrolled homosexual lust. However, this is hardly any sort of justification for any form of sexual violence, whether directed by a man against a woman or a man against another man. No, Michaelson isn’t advocating sexual violence, but citing the “Sodom” incident is something of a red herring since it has no relationship to our modern conceptualization of homosexuality.
Chapter 9 “The Gospels” is an interesting case. Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality. But why should he? What did Jesus preach? What was his central message?
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand.
–Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15
Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the Law and to create a new religion (and although Michaelson is Jewish, he has a pretty traditional view of Christianity, the same view Christianity has of itself). He came to re-establish devout observance of the Torah for Israel, which would have to start with repentance, because he had come to inaugurate the beginning of the New Covenant (see Derek Leman’s blog post A Closer Look at Matthew 5:17 for an “in-a-nutshell” look at how Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fill it).
In the same chapter, Michaelson brings the story of the Centurion and servant into play (see Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). If you are unfamiliar with this event, a Centurion asks Jesus to heal his male servant and displays great faith by saying if Jesus just declares the servant healed without even going to the Centurion’s home, the Centurion knows he will be healed.
The Greek word used to describe the servant is “pais” or “boy companion” not “daulos” or “slave”. In the Roman world, it was not uncommon for a Roman citizen to have a slave, usually an adolescent boy, as a servant for a number of activities including sexual, since in Roman law, it was not forbidden for a citizen to penetrate a non-citizen or slave. That Jesus didn’t complain about this practice is supposed to be proof that he didn’t have an issue with homosexual relationships.
On the other hand…
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus didn’t come at that moment in time to rehabilitate the world. He came to rehabilitate Israel. Later, as the inauguration of the New Covenant continued to progress through history, the rehabilitation of a remnant of the people of the nations would begin to take place through Israel. Since Michaelson doesn’t view Christianity or the teachings of Jesus through a Messianic lens, this aspect of the impact and timing of the New Covenant would have escaped him, thus his misunderstanding of why Jesus didn’t have to care about a Roman centurion and his boy slave/companion.
If, on the other hand, Jesus had discovered this sort of relationship or any other form of sexual immorality among his people Israel, the Master’s response would have been quite different.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about John 8:1-11 where Jesus “changed the Law” about adultery and gave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship a free pass. But did he?
I won’t quote the text here, but the Torah states that anyone caught performing a violation of Torah with terminal consequences had to be brought before the Sanhedrin (see Leviticus 20:10). A trial would have to be conducted, witnesses called, and only two or more eye-witnesses could condemn the woman before the court. Only then would the court pronounce its sentence of death, and only then would the eye-witnesses lead in the stoning of the convicted woman.
None of that happened. Instead, these thugs dragged the accused woman in front of Jesus and only as a way to trap him in speaking against the Torah. It didn’t work and the trap having failed, the accusers dropped their stones and left. Since Jesus wasn’t a witness to the affair and since he wasn’t the appropriate “court,” according to the Torah, he was in no position to condemn her. But no one asked him about any legitimate cases that had come before the Sanhedrin and what he thought of their verdicts (For a more detailed description of this event and its background, see the article “Woman Caught in Adultery” by D. Thomas Lancaster in the Fall 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine, pp.10-13).
The only other thing I found in that chapter even remotely relevant was Michaelson’s treatment of “eunuchs” and how he considers those who were “eunuchs by choice” not just as celibate, but specifically attracted to men and not women. However, at best, Michaelson is being speculative with just a very small amount of evidence and a great deal of agenda to support.
Chapter 10: “Romans” was very contradictory. Michaelson, on the one hand, says Paul (and all of his peers…and everyone in his period of history) had no concept of “sexual orientation” and thus Romans 1:26-27 could not possibly be applied to “loving same-sex relationships”. On the other hand, if that’s true, then nothing in the majority of the New Testament could be used to support said “loving same-sex relationships” either. You can’t have it both ways.
He did make a good point about people being “given over to their lusts” since someone “naturally” oriented to love/want sex with a same-sex partner isn’t given over to some desire and activity they’re already involved with. But he makes a mistake, a big one:
This is not exactly a celebration of sexual diversity. However, even before we turn to the language of verses 26 and 27, their context should be clear. Paul is not preaching that homosexuality is a sin — he is preaching that some form of illicit homosexual behavior is a consequence of sin. Whatever sexual behavior Paul is writing about, it is the symptom, not the cause, of the Romans’ failure: the Romans turned from God, and therefore (dio) God gave them over to sexual immorality (Rom. 1:24). This is like a parent telling a child, “If you don’t wear your jacket, you’ll get a cold.” Obviously, getting a cold is not desirable, but it’s not a sin. The real sin is not wearing a coat, or, more generally, not being careful.
Here Michaelson attempts to totally disconnect behavior from consequence, as if what the type of consequence had nothing to do with the behavior that precipitated it.
Does he imagine that turning from God and engaging in pagan practices had nothing to do with sexual sin? If a person is struggling with a sin but refuses to give it up, then God can and likely will turn the person over to that specific sin, give them enough rope to hang themselves, so to speak, until (hopefully) they experience such discomfort from the sin that they will be motivated to give it up, repent (remember Christ’s central message), and return to God.
If a person is a member of the community of faith and struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, refuses to seek help or even to attempt to repent, then God could turn them over to that behavior until the consequences began to pile up, which (again, hopefully) would act as a motivator for the person to give up their sin, repent, and return.
Using Michaelson’s model of disconnected sin and consequence, it would be like saying to the drug abuser, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, you will have to wear an umbrella on your head until you’re ready to repent.” No, the actual statement would go something like, “because you continue to abuse drugs and worship foreign gods, your drug abuse behavior will go out of control and your body and spirit will deteriorate until you either die or stop your sinful behavior and repent.”
When all else fails in this part of his book, just like Part One, Michaelson reverts to…
In the words of Rev. Michael Piazza, “From dogs to dolphins, same-gender sexual attraction is a reality. What is ‘natural’ for one individual may be a direct violation of another’s nature.”
Except people are not dogs or dolphins. We are the only living beings created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Animals aren’t held morally accountable for their actions because they don’t have the unique calling of human beings, therefore, citing “natural law” to explain that if a male dog humps another male dog, then it’s OK for two men or two women to have sex as part of nature doesn’t cut it. There’s a difference between the broken nature of the universe and God’s plan for the redemption of that universe through Israel and thus through the redeemed remnant of the nations.
Chapter 11: “Corinthians and Timothy” seems to be another case of saying that whatever Paul is prohibiting, it can’t possibly have anything to do with what we now consider “sexual orientation” and “loving same-sex relationships”. If that’s true, than any commentary on Paul’s opinions and beliefs are moot. If Paul is condemning same-sex sexual contact within the context of pagan worship practices, it’s still same-sex sex. We have no evidence of any “loving same-sex relationships” as we understand them (or as we’re told we should understand them) in the world today, particularly within the ekklesia (assembly, body) of Christ (Messiah). So we have no template for understanding same-sex sexual contact other than the pagan worship context, which apparently, has nothing to do with what’s going on in the modern world (though some might say otherwise).
In Chapter 12: “David and Jonathan,” the shocker for me is that Michaelson actually has a go at the relationship of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. For him it seems inconceivable that two women could be so close and so devoted to each other that there wouldn’t be a sort of “romantic” and even possibly “sexual” relationship between the two. Except we see absolutely no indication of such a relationship. It’s as if Michaelson can’t imagine two people of the same-sex being very close and sex and romance not playing a part.
Frankly, my wife is very close to my parents but I can’t in any way shape or form think of their relationship as romantic let alone sexual. Michaelson has definitely introduced another red herring here.
David and Jonathan as lovers. I’ve heard this one before. Even Michaelson doesn’t believe David is gay based on his relationship with Bathsheba and his multitude of wives and concubines.
The only thing I didn’t see coming was Saul accusing Jonathan of having a sexual relationship with David:
Saul knows it too. When David fails to appear at court for a feast, Jonathan makes an excuse for him. Saul replies, enraged: “You perverse and rebellious son! Behold, I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your shame, and the shame of your mother’s nakedness! For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the Earth, you and your kingdom will not be established” (I Sam. 20:30-31). The second line in Saul’s admonition frames Jonathan’s action in dynastic terms — but the first is clearly sexualized. Jonathan has chosen David to his shame — the Hebrew root is “bushah.” As if that weren’t clear enough, Saul emphatically calls Jonathan “perverse” and adds that his love affair with David is to the “shame of your mother’s nakedness” “ervat imecha,” a term that unambiguously refers to sexual sins.
Not knowing Hebrew (and Michaelson may have been counting on the majority of his readers not having access to the original language) I can’t adequately respond to Michaelson’s interpretation, but even if all this is true, Saul defines a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David as “perverse” and a “sexual sin,” and assuming that Saul’s understanding of the Torah is accurate, this transaction doesn’t support and justify same-sex romantic and erotic relationships, it condemns them.
We know that David committed other grave sins including sexual sins and that he ultimately paid for them, so even if Michaelson is accurate, the case he makes doesn’t necessarily support his cause.
Of course, even Michaelson realizes he’s guessing and can’t be sure of his conclusions, at least up to a point:
At the very least, surely we would all agree that what Jonathan felt for David can be described as a romantic love with erotic overtones.
I don’t have to agree with that and, as I said, if it’s true, it doesn’t represent Biblical support for gay relationships. Add to that Michaelson’s previous statement that sexual orientation wasn’t understood as such in ancient times, and maybe we can’t compare whatever did or didn’t happen between David and Jonathan to same-sex relationships today. I think Michaelson is overextending his examples to make his point or to force his point.
Part Two ended with Chapter 13: “Sexual diversity in Christian theology,” in which he describes, from his unique perspective, how the Bible has been misinterpreted by the Church to be “anti-gay”. Actually, I completely agree that the so-called “Church fathers” did unspeakable violence to the Biblical text, particularly in reinventing the Bible as a non-Jewish document and transforming the Jewish Messiah into a Goyishe Prince. It’s quite possible that the early Christian “luminaries” also doctored their interpretations to magnify prohibitions against homosexuality.
But I don’t really care about what Gentile Christianity did to the Bible if, removing their influence, we can’t see the Bible undeniably supporting and affirming man-to-man and woman-to-woman romantic and erotic relationships due to in-born traits, and that those relationships were accepted and normalized in ancient Biblical Judaism and Christianity (and I say “Biblical Christianity” with the understanding that in the days of the apostles, Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah were practicing a form of Judaism).
Michaelson criticizes any anti-gay statements or reforms issued by “the Church” (which for much of its early history was represented by the Roman Catholic Church) and celebrates more recent events in socially and politically liberal (i.e. “politically correct” or “progressive”) churches:
In contrast, there have been openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and surveys show that 75 percent of U.S. Episcopalians think that gays can be faithful Christians.
And yet the actions and beliefs of the Episcopal Church can’t automatically be assumed to represent the desire of God for human beings in the ekklesia of Messiah.
Michaelson attempts to show that churches that repress homosexuality within their walls promote an increase in sexual and other sin:
As we have already mentioned, evangelical megachurch leader Ted Haggard (now making a comeback) had a multiyear relationship with a drug-dealing male prostitute. Rev. Paul Barnes, pastor of a Denver megachurch, had numerous affairs with men. Pastor Eddie Long has recently been accused of sexually abusing several teenage boys. And as we’ve already noted, George Rekers, cofounder of the Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute to accompany him on a trip to the Caribbean. Eros repressed is eros distorted, so it is no surprise that so many of the most vocal anti-gay voices are themselves…gay.
According to Michaelson, the answer to all of this messy sexual business is to open the doors of all the churches everywhere and accept, affirm, and support all gay people and all gay relationships. If the church stops calling homosexuality a sin, then gays in the Church won’t have to hide who they are and men like Haggard, Barnes, and Long can function perfectly well in their churches as openly gay Pastors.
But if Eros repressed is Eros distorted, what does that mean for the concept of sexual sin in general? Michaelson’s assumption is that if you stop forbidding or repressing something, then it becomes a normal and natural part of the religious environment. Long is accused of having sexual contact with teenage boys. Assuming these boys were under the age of 18, doesn’t that belong in the area of child abuse? I know Michaelson is refuting the idea that homosexuality can involve an adult having sex with a minor, and I’m not suggesting that such a “slippery slope” necessarily exists, but once sexual boundaries start to loosen and become “fuzzy” in the church, how much control will anyone have about where those boundaries are “reset.”
Yesterday, I posted my review of David Hall’s article for Messiah Journal and I think Hall hits closer to the mark. Thematically and purposefully, the Bible may not forbid or prohibit what modern society considers consensual, same-sex erotic and romantic relationships but it definitely doesn’t support them either. I’ve thrown (in my opinion, anyway) enough “reasonable doubt” into Michaelson’s interpretations and assumptions to conclude that he hasn’t successfully made his point or adequately supported his position, thus, at best, there is insufficient Biblical evidence to warrant treating same-sex relationships in an identical manner as opposite-sex relationships within the context of Christianity and Judaism. The scriptural template for romantic/sexual relationships as part of God’s plan remains one male and one female in marriage.
While Michaelson may be correct in saying that homosexual behavior in the animal world is well-represented, that something is “natural” for animals doesn’t mean God intends that behavior for human beings. How can I explain the overwhelming number of anecdotal reports from gay men and women that they have experienced same-sex erotic attraction since childhood? In an absolute sense, I can’t. However, that doesn’t automatically mean those feelings were programmed into them by God.
We are all born broken in some way. That doesn’t mean we should allow people to remain broken and accept “broken” as natural, normal, and the final expression of God’s plan for human beings. Faith in Jesus is about taking a broken world full of broken people and starting to heal them. When Messiah comes again, he will heal everyone. Until then, all we can do is the best we can to facilitate our healing in whatever way we happen to be hurt.
I’ll be publishing an “unofficial” review of a small portion of Part Three of Michaelson’s book in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then an “extra meditation” later that same day as a “tying up” or conclusion to this project.
I have experienced same-sex attraction for most of my life. When I was seventeen years old, I embraced a gay identity. Almost ten years after I came out, I saw the pain that this addiction was working in my life. I sought help from Outpost Ministries, a Minneapolis-based ministry that helps men and women find freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.
“Homosexuality and the Torah,” p.59 Messiah Journal, Issue 117/Fall 2014
This is something of an interlude between my first and second review of Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality. I’ve still got about sixty pages to go (as I write this) in the Michaelson book, but Hall’s article is only eight pages long (nine if you include the endnotes) so I shot through it a few days ago. As it turns out, Hall answers many of Michaelson’s points on homosexuality and the intent of scripture. It’s not a complete hand-and-glove fit, but it’s close. And Hall’s commentary has the advantage of being written by a person who has “been there,” meaning his opinions should have greater credibility than mine since I’ve never experienced “being gay.”
In his article, Hall uses the acronym “SSA” for “same-sex attraction” rather than the more “socially licensed” labels for the LGBTQ community. His footnote for the term (p. 67) states:
I use “SSA” to describe the emotional and physical attraction to members of the same sex. The term “homosexuality” includes the socio-political self-identification as gay or lesbian predicated on those attractions.
Hall says that two years after seeking help, he was “reasonably healed” to where he could begin working for Outpost Ministries and continued for six years to work on his own healing while helping others seeking help from the ministry to do the same.
I know this is going to push a lot of noses out of joint, particularly those advocates for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the church and synagogue, but this is the other side of the coin, so to speak, this is the life that stands opposite those such as Jay Michaelson and Matthew Vines.
I can’t speak for Hall and certainly not for Michaelson and Vines. As I said above, I don’t have a “gay experience”. I don’t know what it’s like to have those feelings or to live that life, in or out of the closet. Like Hall, I don’t have all the answers (p.60), but maybe there is an answer, even if it’s not the one that sells books and makes popular stories in social and news media.
One difference between Hall and other, similar commentators is that he’s addressing this topic from a Messianic Jewish perspective, rather than a traditional Christian viewpoint. The key in all this is that Christianity generally dismisses the Law but in doing so, has also done away with obeying God from a physical/bodily as well as spiritual manner.
I don’t know if I entirely agree since Christians, at least in more conservative denominations, tend to provide strong support for physical purity and marital fidelity, at least on the surface. I don’t see why that wouldn’t extend to purity in the sense of not only marital fidelity but exclusively heterosexual romantic/erotic relations.
I have seen that the church suffers profound confusion about what it means when the Bible says that God created us male and female. I have seen the ramifications of a “freedom from the law” theology.
But the churches Hall seems to be referencing are those on the more socially and politically liberal end of the spectrum.
The ELCA and PC-USA recently approved ordaining openly gay clergy and affirming same-sex marriages. In their debates I saw that the discussions never focused on what the Word says but on the feelings of various groups: “Don’t make people feel unwelcome in the PC-USA” or “I love being Lutheran, but I’m gay — don’t kick me out” were common refrains.
This is more or less the argument in Part One of Michaelson’s book, a focus on feeling rather than the Word. Of course, Part Two of the book does address “what the Word says”, both from a Christian and Jewish point of view, but Hall addresses that as well.
I consider the following paragraph to be the core of Hall’s article:
You may have noticed that in our discussion of homosexuality, I did not mention the Torah’s prohibitions against the behavior in Leviticus 18. I made my appeal not from prohibition but from created intent. This approach helps us see that God’s law is not simply a list of cold rules but boundaries directing us into holiness, righteousness, and life. Why does God prohibit homosexual behavior? Because he is jealous for his image on the earth as reflected in male and female.
Hall’s opinion is similar to my own. Even if we were to completely dismiss all of the apparent Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior, we absolutely do not see a normalization of “loving, monogamous same-sex romantic/erotic relationships” in the Bible. In one of the chapters in Part Two of his book, Michaelson attempts to make a case for such a “normalization,” at least to a degree by citing not only David and Jonathan’s friendship but the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. I’ll issue my response in more detail in a later review, but even Michaelson admits that “sexual orientation” as such was not understood (or experienced) in ancient times, thus using those friendships (and any sexual component implied is highly questionable) in support of normalization of gay relationships in the church and synagogue today is sketchy at best.
Have we then implied that a person experiencing same-sex attraction is condemned by God? Absolutely not! We have, I hope, shown that there is more going on underneath same-sex attraction than either rebellion or genetic predisposition…
…The opposite of homosexuality is thus not heterosexuality but righteousness. The question regarding SSA is not “Can I be gay and a follower of Yeshua?” but rather “Can I disagree with God about who he made me to be and still truly be Yeshua’s disciple?”
So why do gay people experience their sexual orientation/identity as such an immutable quality? From Hall’s viewpoint, it’s just another sign of “brokenness” in the world and in human beings among all the other ways people are broken spiritually. The very concepts, as Michaelson has confirmed in his book, of sexual orientation and sexual identity have been created quite recently in human history. While we have a long record of homosexual sex, what it meant “back in the day” can’t be compared to what we call it in the modern world.
What if we’re seeing a “power surge” of “sexual diversity” not because the people who once would have hidden who they were, maybe for all their lives, are being given permission to “come out of the closet” by an increasingly “progressive” society, but because our world is becoming increasingly permissive of many sins once treated as strict taboos, including sexual sins, and including those sexual sins (at least in their physical expression) identified as sexual “orientation” and “identity”?
Like Michaelson, I can’t really prove my points, but if looked at through a spiritual and Biblical lens rather than with what Hall calls “the fruit of cheap grace,” it makes more sense.
Like I said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are men and women who try for years to change, to become attracted to the opposite sex as their primary or exclusive object of romantic and erotic love, but who continue to fail. For many, that is proof that sexual orientation is innate and immutable in human beings, with some minority human population being same-sex attracted. For others, it’s a sign of just how far we have morally fallen, and perhaps a sign of the “spiritual warfare” being directed at the world as the time of Messiah’s return draws near. The spirit of humanity is so wide open to all manner of injury and damage, that it never occurs to us (and in some circles it is forbidden to mention it) these so-called “normal” and “natural” attractions and behaviors are a sign that something is seriously wrong.
After seven years of working through my issues, choosing to live beyond my same-sex attraction, I do not see myself as a gay man anymore. God brought enough healing to my life that, in September 2013, I was married to a beautifully feminine woman who does not see me through the lens of same-sex attraction. She sees me as a man perfectly made for her.
Hall makes many good points in his small article and I’ve only touched on a few of them here. If you are convinced that the LGBTQ community should be fully included in the body of faith, then nothing in Hall’s article is likely to change your mind and you probably will just become angry at Hall and at me. If you are a traditional Christian or devout Jew, you are likely to praise Hall and continue to condemn Michaelson, Vines and others, even though Hall says God does not condemn them, at least not any more than anyone else trapped in a life that God did not choose for them. I’m not writing this to beat up gay people, whether they’re in religious community or not. I’m trying to understand what God is really saying and doing, and since I’m only human, that isn’t always easy for me.
I’ve struggled with the inherit nature of humans being created as Male and Female, as complementary physically and in many other ways, as helpmates standing opposite one another, and also having a long line of gay people saying that they were born that way, that being gay is natural, normal, and part of God’s plan, and that it’s cruel and bigoted to ask them to change what is unchangeable.
But if they weren’t “born that way,” at least as part of a God-sanctioned process, then what?
How much pain, suffering, and injustice exists in the world today that we seem helpless to change? The list is endless. What’s the cause in a God-created world? Man’s fall from grace at Eden. The world changed in a fundamental way such that the universe actually started operating differently, where disobedience became possible and much more likely than it was previously, and where even death existed in a way that was previously impossible.
What if one of the things that changed is the fundamental way that sex and attraction works? I agree, I’m proposing a big of “what if,” but it makes more sense than God forbidding same-sex sex and then creating human beings who are designed to desire same-sex sex/love. The way people experience sex and love has been twisted into just about anything you can imagine. The list of sexual fetishes we have categorized is astounding. But God also gave the Torah and the whole of His Word, the Bible, not as a cold list of “do’s and “don’ts” but as boundaries and expectations, a plan of God for human beings and specifically human coupling, of being created male and female.
The Bible in no way presupposes the normalization of same-sex love/sex in the community of faith. I’m sure many will disagree with me, particularly because I lack a rock solid alternative for addressing what Hall calls SSA. But I can’t “interpret” the Bible so radically that I see something that is not written on any of its pages. I don’t see modern homosexual relationships, let alone marriages, sanctioned and sanctified by God. I don’t see a path to making them sanctioned and sanctified that can be derived or inferred from the scriptural text.
That’s as far as I can take this little interlude. I’ll publish my review of Part Two in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then on Tuesday, will publish Part Three’s “unofficial” review, and later on, a final conclusion based on Torah study.
I would suggest that you read the book “God vs. Gay by Jay Michaelson.” He’s a Jew and does a great job of exegeting the Hebrew scriptures.
-from a post on Facebook
Michaelson’s book is divided into two parts. Part One derives some basic principles from the Bible, such as love, fairness, compassion, and justice, to create a framework by which one can integrate people in “loving same-sex relationships” into the overarching intent if not the actual narrative of the Bible. Part Two is more about the “nuts and bolts” of the Biblical passages that speak of homosexuality, particularly those that appear to prohibit or condemn homosexual practices.
Today, I’m reviewing Part One.
First of all, I commend Mr. Michaelson as a writer. He’s clear, concise, easy to access, and even entertaining. If I were reading his book with an uncritical eye and had no particular viewpoint on the issues involved, I could see myself becoming convinced by him within about the first thirty pages or so of his book. I definitely can see those people who already possess attitudes like his or who tend to be sympathetic to the matters he raises being convinced pretty much right away. After all, who could possibly be against caring for vulnerable and injured human beings and standing up for the underdog?
On the other hand, to paint the proper portrait of the Bible establishing principles that support and even demand that same-sex partners in loving relationships belong in the Church and be accepted by Christianity (and also by Judaism), requires that he read and interpret Biblical passages from the broadest possible perspective.
Loneliness. “It is not good for the human being to be alone,” God says in Genesis 2:18. In context, this is a shocking pronouncement. Six times God has remarked how good everything is: light, heaven and earth, stars, plants, animals — all of these things are “good.” The entirety of creation is “very good.” Yet suddenly something is not good. Suddenly, God realizes there is something within the world as we find it that is insufficient, something all of us experience in our own lives and strive to transcend: the existential condition of being alone.
Chapter 1: “It is not good for a person to be alone”
Michaelson’s treatment of scriptural quotes follows a pattern throughout the chapters in Part One of his book in that they are read from an overly broad viewpoint and often given an unusual or unique interpretation. After all, can God really be surprised? Did He not plan to form a counterpart for Adam from the very beginning? All of the created animals were created male and female. Were not human beings planned to be male and female as well? It seems rather odd that God should create Havah (Eve) as an afterthought and more odd still that, from Michaelson’s point of view, Eve, except for the part having to do with procreation, could easily have been replaced with a male. It’s a terrific stretch to say, as Michaelson seems to, that Genesis presupposes homosexual humanity.
What some folks don’t understand about the closet is that it’s not just a set of walls around sexual behavior. It’s a net of lies that affects absolutely everything in one’s life: how you dress, who you befriend, how you walk, how you talk. And how you love. How can anyone build authentic relationships under such conditions? And if you’re religious, how can you be honest with yourself and your God if you maintain so many lies, so many walls running right through the center of your soul?
This is the other argument Part One presents. It’s not based on the Bible particularly but rather on the presentation of pain, isolation, and loneliness and the desire for companionship and community, including religious community.
On top of that, Michaelson declares “Sexual diversity is real” (p.10), and accesses some scientific evidence to establish that it is natural and normal for various creatures in the animal kingdom and for human beings to display said-diversity, inferring that since sexual diversity is (supposedly) in-born, it must be an intended creation of God’s and thus part of God’s plan for human beings.
However, this requires a tremendously skewed view of the Biblical text along with infusing popular opinion and modern progressive values on sexuality, both as it was considered in the ancient world and today, in order to come to this conclusion.
But he may have shot himself in the foot by stating the following (p.11):
…as I have remarked already, our current sexual categories are of relatively recent coinage.
It seems rather strange that all of recorded human history just “missed” this “coinage” and that “loving same-sex relationships” haven’t, in some sense, been the norm across all cultures across all time, but the terms and concepts associated with the modern LGBTQ community are only decades old (if that, in some cases). While, as Michaelson says, we have visual and textual evidence of homosexual practices in our history, their function, purpose, and meaning is hidden from us, or if not hidden, at odds with the current conceptualization of same-sex relationships being completely comparable to opposite-sex relationships.
But if Genesis is any guide, and if our conscience is any guide, then we must see that having people in love with one another, building homes and perhaps families together, is religiously preferable to its absence.
Except I cannot derive this from anything in Genesis unless I read the chapter in the broadest and most allegorical sense. Certainly no literal or semi-literal reading of the text renders such a meaning, and no accepted exegetical praxis can automatically come to the conclusion Michaelson presents in his above-quoted words.
I could condense the next two chapters into the following statements and quotes.
What about Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians? Love demands that we read them narrowly, just as we read narrowly the commandments to stone rebellious children to death, or to sell people into slavery. They are already marginal texts — homosexuality never appears in the teachings of Jesus, or the Ten Commandments, and love does not erase them. But it does limit them.
Chapter 3: “Love your neighbor as yourself”
There are exegetical and logical errors in the quote above but it communicates Michaelson’s understanding of how to read the Bible and find acceptance of LGBTQ people in the community of faith. Here’s one more:
One New Testament scholar has written that “any interpretation of scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable.” This is a crucial point. If we approach “the question of homosexuality” as a legal, academic, or hermeneutical enterprise, we will get nowhere religiously. All the arguments work, and the anti-gay ones are just as clever as the pro-gay. No — to be responsible members of a faith tradition, we must first open our hearts, allow them to be broken by the heartrending stories of gays who have suffered from exclusion, plague, and self-loathing, and uplifted by inspiring stories of integration, love, and celebration.
I suppose I should add:
“All you need is love.”
Sorry if that last bit sounded cynical, but Michaelson isn’t saying anything different from what I’ve read before. You’d think he’d want to bring out the “big guns” in the very beginning of his book to “hook” his doubting audience and cause them (us, me) to believe that the Bible has been so grossly misinterpreted due to cultural prejudice against gays that the “truth” has been hidden until now.
Unfortunately, he throws exegesis right out the window or at least replaces the complex matrix of interpretive methods we apply to the Bible with “all you need is love.”
If God doesn’t want people to suffer and we, as believers, don’t want to be unjust and cause needless suffering, then we must allow ourselves “to be broken by the heartrending stories of gays who have suffered from exclusion, plague, and self-loathing, and uplifted by inspiring stories of integration, love, and celebration.”
I’m sorry. I don’t want to be mean, cruel, and unfair, but the only thing Michaelson has established for me so far is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the Bible and how gay people experience their own identity and sexuality.
Chapter 3 ends with:
No religious tradition tells us to close our eyes, harden our hearts, and steel ourselves against the demands of love. Though it may occasionally offer us shelter in an uncertain world, rigidity of spirit is not the way to salvation. On the contrary, our diverse religious traditions demand that we be compassionate, loving, and caring toward others, even others whom we may not understand. The Golden Rule demands reciprocity and compassion, and basic equality. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; give them the same privileges, civilly and religiously, that you would want for yourself. These are core religious principles, found over and over again in the Bible and in thousands of years of religious teaching. Compassion demands that we inquire into the lives of gay people, and discover if the “other” is like us or not. Look for the truth, and you will find it, indeed, it will find you.
As I said, Michaelson is a very talented, clever, and convincing writer. He also takes some general principles one can glean from the Bible and applies them to an arena that no Biblical scholar, saint, or tzaddik would have done at any point in the past. Where in the classic Christian commentaries or the judgments of the Talmudic sages is God’s intent expressed in the same manner as Michaelson’s? I can feel him attempting to tug at my heartstrings, but when I look back into the Bible or even into the secular historical record, I don’t find “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “loving same-sex monogamous relationships” written anywhere on any of their pages.
Then, starting in Chapter 4: “By the word of God were the heavens made,” Michaelson throws something new into the mix.
Homosexuality is normal. The sentence is simple, honest, and supported by science — and yet, to many religious people it may seem surprising, even blasphemous, at first. Yet sexual diversity is part of the fabric of nature, and if we believe that fabric to have been woven by God, then it is part of the mind of God as well. Same-sex behaviors are found in over one hundred species, from apes to elephants, guppies to macaques. Put in stark religious terms, sexual diversity is part of God’s plan.
If it weren’t so tragically wrong that paragraph would be almost laughable. According to this “logic,” if something, anything exists in the world, it must be part of God’s plan and part of the “mind of God.” Really? What else exists in our broken and damaged world? War, rape, child abuse, robbery, prostitution, birth defects, divorce, death. Did God intend all of that when He created the universe?
Our world became broken the first time a human being disobeyed a commandment from God, and it’s been broken ever since. In Christianity, it’s called “Original Sin”. Judaism has no such concept, but it does have Tikkun Olam, or “Repairing the World.” The idea is that the world is imperfect and requires that people participate in its perfection. It is accompanied by the idea that only the Messiah will be able to complete the task of fully perfecting the world, even though each and every one of us has a part in the “repair job”.
Either way you slice it, the world we live in isn’t the world God intended. It’s the world we created by human disobedience and human ego. You cannot say that God intended everything that is “natural” because death and suffering are natural, and are also the result of people, not God. Yes, God permits it, but only because we’ve earned it. We’ve got free will. We can screw up a free lunch. Thus Michaelson’s argument of “if it’s natural, it’s part of God’s plan” is dead wrong.
It is probably impossible for us, who live thousands of years after Judaism began this process, to perceive the extent to which undisciplined sex can dominate man’s life and the life of society. Throughout the ancient world, and up to the recent past in many parts of the world, sexuality infused virtually all of society.
Human sexuality, especially male sexuality, is polymorphous, or utterly wild (far more so than animal sexuality). Men have had sex with women and with men; with little girls and young boys; with a single partner and in large groups; with total strangers and immediate family members; and with a variety of domesticated animals. They have achieved orgasm with inanimate objects such as leather, shoes, and other pieces of clothing, through urinating and defecating on each other (interested readers can see a photograph of the former at select art museums exhibiting the works of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe); by dressing in women’s garments; by watching other human beings being tortured; by fondling children of either sex; by listening to a woman’s disembodied voice (e.g., “phone sex”); and, of course, by looking at pictures of bodies or parts of bodies. There is little, animate or inanimate, that has not excited some men to orgasm. Of course, not all of these practices have been condoned by societies — parent-child incest and seducing another’s man’s wife have rarely been countenanced — but many have, and all illustrate what the unchanneled, or in Freudian terms, the “un-sublimated,” sex drive can lead to.
Prager attributes Judaism and God’s insistence on monogamous male-female romantic/erotic relationships with the creation and sustainment of Western civilization. We don’t often think of heterosexual monogamous marriage as “revolutionary” but compared to what all of the pagan cultures before and after the establishment of Judaism and Christianity were practicing, it certainly was.
From Prager’s perspective, what is natural is actually contrary to rather than in compliance with the plan of God for humanity.
More from Chapter 4 of Michaelson, p.33:
Still other scientists have observed that, in animal species close to our own, sexuality performs many functions other than reproduction. Bonobo apes, for example, engage in sexual behavior to build all kinds of relationships, to establish power, and, apparently, for fun.
That’s supposed to counter the Christian/conservative argument that sex is exclusively or primarily for reproduction. Of course, most of us won’t argue that sex is also “fun,” but did God intend for us to imitate Bonobo apes? Sex to establish power is often called rape. In the Roman culture of time of the apostles, male Roman citizens would participate in same-sex sex, but only as the “penetrator” in order to establish power and control. Only non-citizens and slaves were to be the “receivers” of the “contact” with the Roman males.
Yes, sex can be used to establish all sorts of relationships as science and history testify, but this can hardly be mixed into God’s intent for human intimacy. Michaelson scrambles science and religion in a way that looks like a hot pan full of “failed omelet.”
Michaelson’s reliance on science includes results of various studies but what he fails to mention is that given the current political and social bias toward support of normalizing the LGBTQ community in western culture, no one is going to fund any scientific research that could even potentially come up with a result other than the desired one (that is, desired by social progressives). No scientific funding will ever be provided to discover why a small percentage (about 3 to 5 percent, although Michaelson says the figure could go as high as 10 percent) of the general human population is gay, including the possibility that this is not a “normal” and expected variance in human sexuality.
On page 40, Michaelson compares the diversity of human (and animal) sexuality to the differences in the colors of flowers. Just as God created flowers of different colors, He created people with different sexualities, which seems to be an extremely loose and dubious comparison.
In Chapter 5: “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” a Biblical statement prohibiting lying under oath in a legal proceeding, Michaelson grossly generalizes the scripture to being “in the closet,” a state in which all gay people must lie about every aspect of his/her life. Basically, being in the closet violates the word of God and “coming out” upholds being a “true witness”.
In the Jewish tradition, there’s a concept called “chillul hashem” — the profanation of God’s name. Anytime a religious person does something odious and it becomes public, it’s a chillul hashem: rabbis committing adultery, religious Jews convicted of bribery, and so on. Having spent a decade of my adult life in the closet, and a decade out of it, and having spent many years witnessing the effects of religiously justified hatred of gay people, I feel certain in my heart that the anti-gay distortion of religion is a great chillul hashem.
It’s an interesting piece of logic. If lying or deceit is a desecration of God’s Name and truth sanctifies God’s Name, and if coming out of the closet is telling the truth, then “coming out” sanctifies God’s Name. Moreover, religious traditions that have historically contributed to the “bludgeoning, burning, and torturing of gay people, literally and figuratively for centuries” is a desecration of God’s Name.
Michaelson paints the reader into a corner, or he tries to, such that if the reader, for any reason whatsoever, is not completely supportive of the LGBTQ community being normalized within the local church and synagogue, then they are automatically committing “chillul hashem,” whether that is actually true from God’s point of view or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly supporting the “demonization” of gay people and certainly not contributing to verbal and physical harassment and injury of people based on sexual orientation, but I don’t think that the only other possible alternative is unconditional acceptance of all gay people everywhere into the ekklesia of Messiah without so much as a “by your leave.”
In most states, gay people can be fired from their jobs or denied housing because of their sexual orientation.
Chapter 6: “Justice — justice you shall pursue”
True as far as it goes, but what does that have to do with religion and God? Well, as a principle, and especially in denominations and religious movements that emphasize social justice, it’s a call for Christians and Jews to support LGBTQ equal rights by advocating changes in the political arena, locally, statewide, and nationally.
Michaelson builds one concept upon the other so that, if the reader is convinced by his arguments up to this point, then as a kind and good person and a person of faith, they must take the next step and vote with their conscience, which means voting in support of all pro-gay initiatives.
After all, aren’t we to “love the stranger and not oppress him” (see Lev. 19:34)? Except the “stranger” or “ger” being referenced in that passage of scripture is the non-Israelite who, along with the widow and orphan, did not have an affiliation to a tribe and thus had few if any rights in Israelite society. It is a specific legal status that no longer exists as Israel is no longer tribal, and thus cannot be applied as Michaelson is doing.
He does make a good point on page 50 that, if we shun gays based on the Bible, why don’t we also shun people who are divorced for any reason other than marital infidelity (see Matt. 5:32)? It is true that Christians tend to treat “homosexual sin” differently than any other kind of sin. It would be better to be a convicted murder, have done your time, come out of prison and go to church than to be openly gay.
But having reached the end of Part One of Michaelson’s book, I hope you can see my problem with it. This author’s arguments are hardly iron clad and in fact, most of them are ephemeral and gossamer. Does this mean I hate gay people and want them to suffer? No, of course not. However, compassion does not presuppose unconditional acceptance of gays into the covenant community nor ignoring the fact that, even if Michaelson can possibly prove beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that the Bible (and thus God) never, ever condemns homosexual erotic activity, he may never be able to establish that the Bible directly supports marriage equality, at least beyond “establishing” some exceptionally broad principles from various scriptures taken very far out of their original contexts.
I’ll write my review of Part Two once I’ve finished reading Michaelson’s book.
Addendum: I know from reading Michaelson’s book that like most (or all) other gays and most of their “allies,” he strongly opposes what has been called “reparative therapy” also called “conversion therapy,” which is designed to assist a homosexual individual change his/her sexual orientation to heterosexuality. This therapy is considered by the LGBTQ community to be at best useless and at worst torturous, shaming, and potentially lethal (driving some gay people undergoing the therapy to attempt suicide). I can’t argue against their perspectives and the apparent negative effects this treatment has had on numerous gay people, but then again, if sexual orientation can never be changed, what do I do with people like this one?
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 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.
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:
First, we saw that a categorical rejection of same-sex relationships has been deeply damaging to gay Christians.
…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.
…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.
Since 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
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?
In 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.
I 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)
…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.
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.
While 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.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman