Monday, 16 December 2013

Pilling Points #1 - Homosexuality in the Bible

“Scriptural texts about homosexual practice are uniformly negative.” 

The Bible is clearly opposed to the “Selfie”. Many may think that such a ‘self-focussed image’ is implicitly bound up with many texts which call us to think of others, rather than ourselves. Together with many texts which see worship of any type of image as idolatrous, the case could easily be made that the Bible condemns the “selfie”.
But it should be obvious to anyone that the camera, much less the smartphone with integral camera simply did not exist in biblical times, so “the selfie” could hardly have been condemned by the Bible.
Recent years have had a proliferation of new words: from ‘phubbing’ to the ‘twerk’, lexophiles everywhere have enjoyed this latest crop of neologisms.
The neologisms of 1886 were rather more serious than the current crop. These included “homosexuality”, “heterosexuality”, and “bisexuality”; these featured in the first serious academic study of sexual psychopathy and were coined by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie - Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study). His choice of hybrid words (a mixture of Greek and Latin) and his decision to write much of his book in Latin was a deliberate choice to deter the amateur from seeking to understand this difficult area of study.
So the word in current use throughout the discussion on human sexuality in the Church is just over 125 years old, and yet it is being used as if it was used by God himself in writing the Bible, to condemn a group of people called “homosexuals” for their sinfulness.
Fast forward to 1994, and in the wake of the development of HIV/AIDS, a new term is coined by medical epidemiologists: “MSM”. This is an abbreviation for “Men who have Sex with Men” and specifically refers to people who would not, under any circumstance, refer to themselves as “gay”, “homosexual”, or “bisexual”. The need for this new phrase arose as researchers sought to identify the spread of the virus and disease risk in sexual activity. “MSMs” exist in many continents and cultures, and they would identify as ‘heterosexual’ or ‘straight’, but in the absence of women, they are content to have sex with men instead. In some cultural situations, where contact with women is strictly controlled, sex between two men can occur as a matter of mutual convenience, rather than as an act of love. Thus, sexual activity can occur in all-male environments and cultures from the prison to the ocean-going vessel, from the single-sex school to armed forces on active service. It can be consensual, and for mutual gratification, or it can be a weapon of aggression, in which the ‘conquered’ are dominated by the victorious, and raped or abused as part of their humiliation.
To try to sum up all of the above in a single word or term would be a fruitless endeavour. There can be no similarity between a loving, committed relationship and an act of war. And yet this is what many recent commentators, including contributors to the Pilling Report, have done. They have ignored the huge amount of research into the subject over many decades, and gone for the “one-size-fits-all” definition, using ‘homosexuality’ to cover all of the above. Some more recent commentators have even gone so far as to repeat the most hateful of all attacks, suggesting a link between homosexuality and paedophilia: an accusation as offensive as it is absurd and untrue.
Yes, the Bible is consistent in the oft-quoted passages from Leviticus and Paul. Leviticus uses the line “if a man lies with a man as with a woman” in a long category of banned sexual relationships, even involving quadrupeds (which shall also be put to death for their deeds). It is, of course, the act which is condemned, as there is never any discussion of a relationship – or even love – between two men or two women being forbidden. The love of David for Jonathan, or Ruth for Naomi are consistently held up as models of faithfulness, as is the relationship between Jesus and John, the beloved disciple, though swift condemnation will always fall on any who may dare to suggest that there was ever any impropriety in any of these relationships.
Paul’s words have caused more problems, often as a result of bad translations. It is, of course, unacceptable to use the word “homosexuals” as a translation of his writings, though some poor quality translations erroneously do just that. One word (malakoi –‘soft’) is thought to refer to those who live in opulent silks and a decadent lifestyle. Another word (arsenokoitai) is much harder to translate (there are few other times the word occurs in contemporary writings, so it is harder to corroborate its meaning), but probably refers to prostitution or ‘pimping’. Neither word relates to anything a 21st Century person would understand by homosexuality.
Sexuality has always - and will always - arouse strong emotions, from tenderness and affection, to violence and oppression. It is used as an expression of both love and hate. It cannot be uniformly addressed and categorized. Not all heterosexual sexual activity is good, and not all homosexual sexual activity is bad.
In terms of what the Bible says concerning what we now know of as the human phenomenon of same-sex attraction, or homosexuality, it is impossible to have any clarity. Jesus is, of course, silent on the matter. The relationships between people of the same sex are always treated chastely and with respect, though they are more often are categorised as ‘friendships’ without too many questions being put about the exact nature of their relationship.
The ‘acts’ it does mention may well be more akin to what I have referred to above as “MSM”, in which (usually) men find sexual release with other men in the absence of women, often with violence or as an act of dominating a conquered army or prisoner.
The contemporary context of same-sex relationships, now recognized by civil law as equal in rights to opposite-sex relationships is a world away from the culture, context, and arguments of the biblical era.
Abusive, unequal, or violent sexual assaults are rightly punishable by law, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual in nature.
The loving relationship between two people of the same sex is what has caused most of the consternation among those seeking a way forward in the current debate. But despite all of the negative publicity, people of the same sex still do manage to meet and, indeed, fall in love. They still wish to make commitments to each other, and they want prayers said for them, and indeed, they continue to seek God’s blessing on their relationship.
It is little short of miraculous that there still are gay men and lesbians who believe in God, and want God to be a part of their lives. Their faith is a vital part of their life, their work, and their relationships. This is despite all that the Church has done over many centuries to alienate, and even persecute people who have experienced same sex attraction.
If we believe in the Holy Spirit, we must believe that the Spirit is capable of saying a new thing to the Church today. Jesus ended his earthly ministry by saying to his disciples “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” At that time, it was “unbearable” to consider that two men or two women might publicly declare their love for each other.

Can we dare to believe that we are witnessing the Holy Spirit leading his people today, affirming the love which two people of the same sex find in each other, and honouring the commitment they wish to make by blessing in God’s name that promise of love, loyalty, and fidelity as a witness and sign of God’s love in the world today? 

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