Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

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

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

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

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

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

Period.

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

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

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

Zechariah 12:10-14 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 12:2-3 (NASB)

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Did Ancient Christianity Perform Same-Sex Marriages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a pretty astonishing claim.

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

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

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

But does Boswell’s research hold water?

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

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

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

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

-ABF’s comment, Monday 3:58pm
io9.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe

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

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

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

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

-Lynn
“Historic Day for America”
FollowingRuth.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Moshe isn’t an anomaly in his environment.

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

frum_lgbt_internetUm…wow.

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

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

Or should we be planning to do anything at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”
+972.com

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
“Intolerance”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

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?