Tag Archives: Marriage Equality

Did Ancient Christianity Perform Same-Sex Marriages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a pretty astonishing claim.

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

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

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

But does Boswell’s research hold water?

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

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

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

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

-ABF’s comment, Monday 3:58pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moral vs. Legal Imperatives and Marriage Equality

same-sex-marriage2Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical of creating a new federal right to same-sex marriage as they grilled lawyers this morning in a potentially landmark case over California’s ban on gay marriages.

As the politics change by the day, the court heard a case — Proposition 8 — that could drastically change how states and the federal government approach one of the touchiest social issues of the past decade.

The justices today challenged lawyers on both sides on common points of contention that arise whenever gay marriage is debated.

-Chris Good, Terry Moran, Ariane DeVogue, and Sarah Parnass
“Supreme Court Justices Struggle with Federal Right to Gay Marriage”
ABC News

I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t write one single word about this subject. I’m going to get in trouble with just about everyone when they read this. My Pastor reads my blog. My Mother reads my blog. Boy, am I in for it.

Then why I’m I writing this? I’m tempted to write it because the news media is just plain shoving it down everyone’s throat today. I can’t get away from it. Even other religious blogs are demanding Christians support same-sex marriage. But then, this is really is big news, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on. It will affect not only the state of “marriage equality” in California as related to Prop. 8, but potentially the “rights” of same-sex couples to become married in all fifty states (I put “rights” in quotes because of the question, can something be a “right” that hasn’t been established as such yet? But I digress).

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this. I’m a Christian. I’m kind of unconventional, but my general stance on homosexuality is that the Bible doesn’t support it. However, like most Christians, I can’t always immediately point to my source data in the Bible. So I guess I’d better go looking for it.

Thanks to Google, the search is brief, if not particularly focused. I land on a site called ChristianBibleReference.org and an article called, “What Does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”

I won’t quote everything, but they provide a handy bullet point list for reference:

  • 2 refer to rape (Genesis 19:5, Judges 19:22)
  • 5 refer to cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:23-24, 15:12-13, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:6-8)
  • 1 refers to prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
  • 4 are nonspecific (Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Timothy 1:8-10)

OK, let’s consider a few things. Any references in the Torah or the entire Tanakh (Old Testament) that specifically prohibit homosexual behavior are within the context of the laws and statutes that apply to the Children of Israel. While God may or may not disdain homosexual behavior for all human beings in general, the Tanakh prohibitions don’t apply to all human beings in general. They apply (there may be exceptions, but for the most part) to the Jewish people; the inheritors of the Sinai covenant.

So if you’re not part of that covenant by birth or conversion, then those laws don’t apply to you.

Stay with me. I’m just getting started.

What about the New Testament?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:24-27

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

1 Timothy 1:8-10

Christian-Campus-GayThere are other scriptures that address sexual immorality (which in some cases may or may not be specific to homosexuality) in the New Testament, but these are two of the most “damning.”

But in my brief Google search, I did find a blogger who wrote an article called Why The Bible DOES NOT Forbid Homosexuality. He provided a defense based on Romans 1 and basically ignored 1 Timothy 1 or many other NT scriptures, relying on statements citing other sources such as the following:

Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation deals with a person’s sexual attraction to another person’s sexual organs.

In first century, Roman imperial culture, homosexual sex was a fairly common practice but only as a specific, social function.

The blog author tried to link the latter quote with the “neither male nor female” portion of Galatians 3:28 but bottom line, I wasn’t convinced. He was heavy on history and social commentary but light on providing a clear illustration of how the Bible was either neutral on the topic or even “pro-gay.” The blog post is almost a year old and has 67 responding comments, all of which I have not read. I’m not interested in joining that particular debate (which ended last November with the last comment) and it’s certainly not the point of what I’m writing today.

The general moral and ethical structure of Christianity is taken largely from Judaism. How can it not, since Christianity has grown and evolved from the first century Jewish sect known as “the Way?” Therefore, I wouldn’t expect Jesus, Paul, or the rest of the apostles to teach moral and ethical principles that differed significantly from their “source material,” the Torah. Therefore, it’s unlikely that Jesus and his followers would have taught a social/sexual practice that was different and specifically not one that reversed something that appears quite plain in the Torah. Why would they?

Of course, many people are quick to point out that Christianity doesn’t follow the kosher laws either and that Jacob had twelve wives, and Solomon had more wives and concubines than you could shake a proverbial stick at, so can Christianity reasonably reach back into the Torah for its binding principles?

It gets complicated in the explanation, but Jesus was specific in saying the following:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Matthew 19:3-6

So Jesus is defining marriage specifically between a man and woman and not allowing any “wiggle room” for two men or two women. Yes, he was talking to a Jewish audience, but this is one principle that has been extended to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master (i.e. Christians). I know there are Christians and Jews who hold religious beliefs that accept homosexual behavior and include support of “marriage equality,” but we need to be careful not to mix and match principles of faith with political correctness or even secular law.

Which brings me to a couple of points, one of which I mentioned above. If the Torah forbids homosexual behavior, it does so within the context of the covenants that apply to the Jewish people, specifically the Sinai covenant. If you are not Jewish, then the Torah doesn’t apply to you since you’re not a covenant member. End of story.

abraham-covenant-starsChristianity has a covenant relationship with God based on a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) which was extended by the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) and then applied by the Messiah in the Gospels (see Luke 22:17-20 for instance). Unlike Jews, Christians are not born into a covenant relationship with God. We must choose to become Christians. Once we do, then we are bound by the covenant and all that it contains, which traditionally includes a prohibition against homosexual behavior.

But if you aren’t Jewish and you aren’t a Christian, you aren’t a covenant member and therefore, the “rules” don’t apply to you. It’s arguable that the Noahide Laws, which at least Orthodox Judaism considers binding on literally everyone, prohibits homosexuality as one of the forbidden relationships, but that definition is set by religious Judaism and if you don’t buy into that, you aren’t going to feel too “bound” just because you’re a human being.

(In the end, God has the right to judge everyone, covenant member or not, but that’s not the point of today’s missive.)

What I’m getting at is that if a person isn’t a recognized member of a covenant relationship with God, can you as a religious Jew or a Christian actually make them responsible for upholding moral and ethical behaviors defined by your beliefs? If you consider homosexual behavior a sin and there are secular gay people in the world, how are they any better or worse than say, a secular bank robber or (heterosexual) adulterer?

I suppose gay readers or readers who support gay rights might be chafing at this point in my narrative, but I’m speaking to a religious audience from within that context. I understand you do not equate a man loving another man with a man robbing a bank or a man cheating on his wife.

Now to my other point.

Whatever the Supreme Court does or doesn’t do has nothing to do with your faith.

A number of important laws in our country, and in most countries, more or less mirror what we read in the Bible. The Bible has a commandment against murder. Generally, murder is illegal in this country. The Bible is against stealing. We have laws against stealing. But we also have a lot of laws that range from morally ambiguous to just plain crazy from a Biblical point of view. What do you do about laws permitting marijuana use in some states but not others? What do you do about the legality of heterosexual marriage in general when the first man and woman in Genesis presumably weren’t married? How the U.S. Supreme Court interprets the Constitution today would probably have driven the Founding Fathers insane, so how can we reconcile the Bible to laws in the United States of America in the 21st century?

Religious Jews and Christians historically have lived in nations where the penal and civil laws did not completely (or sometimes in any sense) match up with the religious “laws” of Jews and Christians. Where do we get the idea that the Supreme Court has to interpret the Constitution in a way that makes us feel comfortable and is consistent with our definition of marriage?

My personal opinion is that it is only a matter of time until our nation permits homosexual marriage in all fifty states (whether individual states want to permit it or not). As an American citizen, I have feelings about that, but as a Christian, can I impose my morality on the law of the land? Yes, the law of the land imposes itself on me because I’m an American citizen, but if the law permits a man and a woman to live together and have a sexual relationship, and that is also against my religious beliefs, why am I not protesting or complaining about that?

I know someone is going to mention abortion which is A) legal, and B) generally against Christian moral principles, but if you believe life is sacred and you believe life begins at conception or at some point before 10 or 20 weeks gestation, then you also believe that aborting an unborn child is killing a baby.

Another “unpopular” subject to be sure but it is a subject for another time.

same-sex-marriage4If the Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional for the State of California (and this decision will affect all other states ultimately) to pass a law forbidding same-sex couples from marrying, what am I as a Christian supposed to do about it? Can I hold the world around me to the same moral standards to which I hold myself?

I know I’ve probably upset everyone who has managed to make it through this lengthy article. It was not my intent and I didn’t write this just to be a pest. I’m trying to process this information within myself (which is why I write most of my blogs) and I’m trying to present an alternate point of view, one that doesn’t say “all gays are good” or “all gays are bad” either because that’s how I may feel on a visceral level or because I believe that’s what the Bible is saying to me.

I have a responsibility to God to live my life in a manner consistent with my faith and my beliefs. If my brother or sister in faith appears to be stumbling, I believe I have a responsibility to gently point out that they may have a problem and to offer to help them.

But if someone outside the faith appears to be having a moral problem, what is my responsibility (however, if I see, for instance, a secular man beating his child, the state of his faith is irrelevant and I do have a responsibility to protect the innocent)? If my nation is passing laws that appear to have a moral problem but otherwise aren’t the equivalent of making it legal for adults to beat children, what is my responsibility?

I’m not an attorney, but I have racked my brain trying to look at the marriage equality issue from a strictly legal perspective, temporarily putting aside both my faith and my visceral response.

I can’t find a legal reason to forbid such unions, regardless of my moral stance. So now what do I do?

Let the “hate mail” begin.

How Can We Love The World?

How can we heal the world?

When a Jew, wherever she or he goes, carries every other Jew in his or her heart, then all of us are one.

And when we are one, all the peoples of the world can live in harmony as one.

And then the world is healed. For we are the heart of the world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“We Can Heal the World”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (ESV)

It’s interesting that Rabbi Freeman suggests that Jews can heal the world by loving other Jews. Shouldn’t you heal the world by loving everybody indiscriminately? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do, to love everybody?

But what is Jesus saying in his new commandment? Is he telling his disciples (who at that point were all Jewish disciples) to love everybody? No. He’s telling them to love each other. In fact, he says that by every Jewish disciple of the Master loving each other, everyone else will know they are Christ’s disciples. It is a defining characteristic of being a disciple of the Jewish Messiah King both then, and in the present day world.

How odd.

Doesn’t that fly in the face of this parable?

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” –Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)

Jesus not only defined the two greatest commandments, which are the container for all of the mitzvot, but he “operationalized” them by giving us an illustration. It’s fairly well-known that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along very well. They still don’t (yes, Samaritans still exist). Nevertheless, this Samaritan went out of his way to help the injured Jew proving, if we take Christ’s parable seriously, that he not only loved God with all of his resources, but that he did love his neighbor as himself.

So how are we to reconcile these two situations as Christians? Do we only love other Christians as Jesus himself defined our role, or are we also, as an expression of our love and devotion to God, to love other people, even people who aren’t like us, even people who don’t like us?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

In this case, loving your enemy doesn’t mean giving the soldier of the opposing army a kiss on the cheek during battle. Your “enemy,” in this example, is also your neighbor, your fellow citizen, a member of your community. They’re just someone you don’t like and who doesn’t like you. Well, it’s a little more than that. Your “enemy” can be someone you may have regular contact with but, on some fundamental level, they aren’t part of your “group.” Kind of like Jews and Samaritans or Atheists and Christians. But there’s more.

The New Testament is replete with examples of this type of love and the secular, atheist world (and politically liberal religious people who have adopted those liberal social imperatives) is watching us very closely to see if we are showing that kind of love. More to the point, they are watching us to see when we don’t show that kind of love, so they can call us hypocrites and many other names.

So we are responsible to God for how or if we love, we are responsible to the fellowship of believers who we are commanded to love, and we are responsible to humanity, who we are also to love as we love ourselves.

But what is love?

Generally, it’s not the warm and fuzzy feeling you get in relation to small children, cute kittens, or the really attractive person you’ve just started dating (if you’re single and dating). Love is what you do. The Torah is also replete with examples of how to love people you may not necessarily like. Here’s a brief example.

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. –Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (ESV)

The ancient Jewish mitzvot for how to love your Jewish neighbor became the cornerstone of the teachings of Jesus and not only affirmed these Torah commandments to his Jewish disciples, but established them as a way of life for all the non-Jewish disciples who came after them, hundreds and even thousands of years later.

But do we really love by doing? Do we go out of our way to help others?

Probably not as often as we should. The opportunities to fulfill the commandment to love are just endless. You probably come across such opportunities, great and small, everyday. Even holding the door open for someone fulfills this commandment. So does changing a person’s flat tire. So does smiling at someone who looks rather blue.

But while God may judge our love for others in this manner, most of the world doesn’t. Usually, Christian love is judged by how closely we approximate agreement with the various political and social priorities of the prevalent western, progressive society. Most recently, the most important social litmus test for whether or not a Christian truly loves is whether or not we wholeheartedly and unconditionally support “marriage equality” and all of the goals and priorities of the LGBT community.

I hate to bring politics into this, but this sort of thing has permeated the mainstream news media stories and it’s all over the numerous social networking venues. Reduced to its simplest form, for a progressive, a religious person is good if they completely agree with “marriage equality” and evil if they don’t.


But is that really love? Does being loving absolutely require total agreement with all popular social imperatives of the majority culture?

Do you always agree with those you love? Do you always agree with your spouse, your children, your parents, your closest friends? Do you always totally share every single social or political attitude and opinion with them as if they were your very own?

Probably not. I know I don’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it just means we have a difference of opinion or perspective on some matter. I love my three-year old grandson with all my heart, but I don’t always agree with him about what he wants to eat, how much television he wants to watch, and whether or not he should cross the street without holding my hand.

That’s not a great example for what I’m trying to say, but you get the idea. You can love someone a lot and still say, “No” to them or disagree with them, even on very important issues.

But what about the rest of the world? Do I love the stranger I walk past on the sidewalk in the way I love my wife? No, I don’t. So do I love the stranger at all? Yes, if they need my love. Unless I fail in the commandment, if they have a need that I can fulfill, I should fulfill it. Can I fulfill the needs of all strangers everywhere? No. I don’t have those kind of resources. So does that make me a failure at love as defined by God? I don’t think so. We should love as we have the ability to do so, not to the point of bankrupting ourselves or behaving irresponsibly.

If I say I love people including gay people, but I don’t wholeheartedly and absolutely support “marriage equality,” am I a failure at love?

I don’t think so, but opinions vary wildly on this point. Does loving someone mean agreeing with them on everything they say, want, feel, and do? If I don’t agree that gay marriage is the will of God because I cannot find it presupposed anywhere in the Bible, does that mean I don’t love a gay person or wouldn’t help him out with a meal, change his tire, open a door for him, smile at him, and otherwise express love toward him as God defines it?

I don’t think so.

But as you discovered at the beginning of this meditation, what love is and how it is expressed can be complicated. God is the source of our love. Before loving other people, we must love God, not just casually and not just abstractly, but with all of our mind, our emotions, our soul, and our resources. Only then are we equipped to love other people, starting with our own faith community but spreading out to the rest of humanity.

Children of GodThe “Good Samaritan” didn’t save all Jews who had been robbed and injured everywhere, he only saved the one he encountered. He may not have agreed with how the Jew defined religion, the various political and social causes he supported, or even the Jew’s attitudes about Samaritans (though those attitudes may have changed after this incident). All the Samaritan did, was take care of the injured man and made sure he was in a safe and secure place with his needs provided for. They didn’t have to be best friends and they didn’t have to share common social or personal opinions.

How can we love the world? We can start by carrying another person in our heart. We don’t have to always agree with each other. Loving other people doesn’t mean becoming a homogenous social mass without distinction. Ultimately, it will mean we all must love God, but obviously, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. However, for those of us who do love God, we can make a greater effort to love each other and to love others who are not like us. It doesn’t mean we have to surrender our moral imperatives as we understand them. It does mean that we must always be ready to change a tire, bind a wound, and take care of anyone who may need it and who we encounter.

Even if they don’t like us. Because in loving those people who say they’re our enemy, someday, we may heal them, and us, and everyone.

At the Intersection of Intolerance and Humanity

Greenberg-weddingFor the first time in history, Steve Greenberg, an openly-gay American rabbi ordained by the Orthodox movement, has officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony.

On Thursday night at Washington DC’s “Historic 6th and I Synagogue,” Greenberg stood under the chupah, a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, as newlyweds Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan tied the knot before some two-hundred guests. Recognizing the unique – and controversial – moment, Greenberg’s voice notably cracked when near the end he stated, “By the power invested in me by the District of Columbia, I now pronounce you married.”

-by Roee Ruttenberg
“Orthodox rabbi marries gay couple in historic wedding in Washington, DC”

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.Leviticus 18:22

Warning. If this is a topic that pushes all your buttons, makes you see red, or otherwise causes you to lose all control of your emotions because you think homosexuality is a worse sin than murder, rape, bank robbery, embezzlement, and stealing from a five-year old’s piggy bank all rolled into one, then you should stop reading right now and either close your web browser or just move on to a different, more politically correct (religiously correct?) blog. End of disclaimer.

I probably shouldn’t do this. I probably shouldn’t write a blog on this topic. People tend to become horribly polarized about this sort of thing and it will most likely end up in a verbal bloodbath. On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out how an Orthodox Rabbi could marry a same-sex couple. No, that’s not right. I know why, or at least part of “why”. The news story says so.

Greenberg is no stranger to controversy. He publicly admitted his sexuality following his ordination from an Orthodox rabbinical school, making him the first openly gay practicing Orthodox rabbi.

Greenberg gained notoriety following his role in the 2001 documentary by an American filmmaker, “Trembling Before G-d,” which portrayed the conflicts of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews trying to reconcile their religious convictions and sexual orientations. After the films successful release, Greenberg traveled with director Sandi Simcha Dubowski, screening the film globally.

What I’m wondering is how Orthodox Judaism even remotely “fits” with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. If a Christian man had been ordained as a Fundamentalist Pastor and then announced that he was gay, I can only imagine his ordination would be yanked out from under him faster than he could blink. More than that, if he continued in his role of Pastor in a fundamentalist Christian church, I can’t possibly imagine he’d have much of a following, at least much of a traditionally conservative fundamentalist Christian following.

Shifting the context back to Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Greenberg doesn’t seem to be having any of these problems. Well, not exactly.

While he (Greenberg) was warmly received by many (after publicly announcing that he was gay), his book, “Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” led him to be shunned by some in the Orthodox community and even by some gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who felt his views did not align with Orthodox readings of Jewish law. His participation in Thursday’s ceremony will be viewed by some as a step that crosses a line of no return.

While a number of same-sex couples – many of them Jewish – have now married in US areas that recently legalized gay and lesbian unions, none were officiated by a rabbi who holds Orthodox ordination. The movement maintains a strict interpretation of Jewish law, including the biblical verse found in Leviticus 18 which refers to a man lying with another man as an abomination.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Orthodox Judaism and same-sex marriage issues have appeared in the news. In a news item published at advocate.com, the Orthodox community pushed back against support of two men getting married, which is kind of what I’d expect to happen. Why didn’t it happen this time when Rabbi Greenberg married a same-sex couple in D.C.?

Greenberg_steve_rabbiPerhaps there is some fallout yet to come from Rabbi Greenberg’s role in marrying Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan. After all, this just happened last Thursday. But Greenberg has apparently been an Orthodox Rabbi and openly gay for years and as far as the source article goes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

I didn’t write this blog to bash gays or to bash the Orthodox or to bash anyone. I wrote it to try and understand how this apparent dissonance can not only occur but subsist over time. I know that Rabbinic interpretation of Torah can reveal details that are not readily apparent on the surface, but how do you, especially in an Orthodox context, reconcile Leviticus 18:22 with performing a ceremony joining two men in a Jewish marriage?

OK, this would not be such as head-scratcher if the wedding ceremony were officiated by a Reform, Reconstructionist, and even (lately) Conservative Rabbi, but an Orthodox Rabbi and one who is openly gay?

I don’t get it.

I’m tempted to think it’s an application of the following, but somehow, I don’t think it’s true.

Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger. Not the intolerance that arises from negative experience. Just intolerance of another being who dares to exist, who dares to diminish the space in the universe left for you. Intolerance without cause.

It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because that ’other’ exists.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I don’t think that gay marriage or intolerance of homosexuality in the Orthodox community is what Rabbi Freeman was writing about. I don’t think (but who am I to know) that the Rebbe would have supported an Orthodox Rabbi being openly gay and performing a same-sex wedding ceremony. The mixing of Orthodox Judaism and free acceptance of gay marriage just does not compute.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of blogging time trying to figure out how or if the very significant differences between Christianity and Judaism can be reconciled and made to live peacefully and even productively with each other. Can these two situations somehow be compared? If the relationship between Christianity and Judaism can flex over time, is it possible that Orthodox Judaism’s viewpoint of Leviticus 18:22 can flex, too?

jewish-wedding-customsBefore someone says it in a comment, I know the classic response to these questions is to say that there is no question. Sin is sin and Rabbi Greenberg is sinning, both by being gay and by using the authority of his Rabbinic standing to marry two men. I also know someone is (probably) going to say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” I realize these are the answers we’ve been taught to produce, but it doesn’t actually address what you do with human beings. When you meet a gay person, do you automatically start shaking your finger at him or her and cry “Sinner, repent” in their face? If your brother or nephew, or daughter has a friend and you all go out to dinner together, when it pops out that the friend is gay (you can have a friend who is gay and just be friends), how do you respond?

I’m know I’m asking a lot questions. Stereotypes and gut reactions aside, when you are face to face with a gay person, as a person of faith, how do you deal with that? When you hear about or meet someone who apparently is deeply religious and loves God but lives a lifestyle that, in one single dimension, goes against everything you’ve been taught is right, true, and holy, what do you do with it? Whoever administers the ordination for Rabbi Greenberg hasn’t stopped him from practicing as an Orthodox Rabbi. There are gay people who, even knowing exactly how Orthodox Judaism thinks and feels about homosexuality, nevertheless, choose to practice and adhere to (except for that one dimension) Orthodox halacha rather than shifting to a more liberal form of religious Judaism.

This isn’t a matter of gays in a liberal synagogue or a liberal church. This is, or perhaps just seems to be, the start of acceptance of human beings into Orthodox Judaism who previously would have been shunned. Is the world just disintegrating morally or are we at the intersection of our faith and the realization that gay people are also people?

I don’t know what to do with this. The comments section is now open. Please be polite or at least civil, but what do you think?