Locker Room Trash Talk vs. Illicit Sex

Much is made about revelations about Donald Trump’s boasting of his power to seduce women. But in the debate of October 9, the Donald takes what he advocates as the higher ground. In other words, better to talk a demeaning game than to act on the talk.

Or as he put it during the debate, “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse – mine are words. His was action,” Trump goes on: “Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.”

How Would Jesus Respond?

Nothing directly to the sad and sordid details of this low-life debate. But yet Jesus does yet have something to say that helps frame a Christian response to this Faustian question. As recorded by the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a story – a parable – about two sons and their obedience to their father.

The question addressed by Jesus is: Is it better to walk the walk or talk the talk? Here’s what the master has to say:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:28-31)

In effect, Jesus gives more credence to the guy who doesn’t act on his trash talk than to the one who talks a good game but then acts despicably.

Applied to the saga of Donald Trump vs. Bill Clinton – Donald is on the morally higher ground if he did not act on his demeaning talk than Bill Clinton if he did engage in multiple affairs despite protestations to the contrary. And Hilary is complicit by her trash talking those women who were victimized.

All of this assumes, of course, that the Donald did not force women against their will. If it is proven that he did, then Donald’s actions are the more damnable.

 

Harper Lee, we hardly knew ye …

Though less than a year old, the last blog post on jesustheheresy.com certainly now seems a bit dated. Titled Harper Lee & Mary Magdalene, the post evaluated the “reality and myth embedded in Go Set a Watchman,” the then recently discovered and now published original version of what would be re-written back in the 1950s – morphing to become To Kill a Mockingbird.  

In the last post, it was suggestedthat both Ms. Lee and Mary Magdalene of two millennia past share similar features of reality interwoven with myth. With the Magdalene, the biblical and non-biblical evidence is clear that she brought the early disciples and eventual founders of Christianity back together when they were ready to call it quits after the death of their savior. The question arises: how much of this leadership was due to the nature of her unique relationship with Jesus the Christ? Was Mary the visionary leader or the still fallen woman?

Described by some as “the greatest novel of all time,” Mockingbird is a story of justice triumphing over inbred human venality. But now with contending works of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, we are left to ponder the inter-relationship of the author with the subject(s) of her stories. Was the beloved father Atticus Finch the the virtuous civil rights advocate portrayed in Mockingbird? Or was he really the undying racist depicted by Watchman. As our blog of July 2015 asked: “Will the real 89-year old Harper Lee please tell us what we should really think?”

But she hasn’t. For less than two months ago – on February 19, 2016 – Harper Lee passed from this earthly scene in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. And with her never-ending reticence to reveal where the truth in fiction really lies.

Contrast Ms. Lee’s retiring style to the person described as the “father of American literature” – Mark Twain. Like Harper Lee, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn exemplified what equality of the races could be about but Twain nevertheless found his books banned in more recent times for use of racist slang. Unlike Ms. Lee, Twain relished the limelight. The world would know of his successes and failures as they occurred. The paradox of a man who wrote great literature but who in old age became known as the critic of other writers, even the critic of critics. Who went bankrupt but  lived to pay off his creditors.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Go Set a Watchman, it is easy to criticize the author for allowing release of a work that undermines the virtue of Mockingbird. Easy to ask whether her principles were pure or nuanced. But she conveniently departed, leaving us all guessing.

Mark Twain, America knew ye more than we sometimes wanted. Harper Lee, we hardly knew ye … and that’s ok.

Harper Lee & Mary Magdalene

Reality & Myth Embedded in Go Set a Watchman

Wittingly or otherwise, the 89 year-old author Harper Lee has set off a firestorm with the release of her first novel – Go Set a Watchman written in the mid-1950s but released 55 years after her second book To Kill a Mockingbird. This new release turns the story of family patriarch Atticus Finch inside out.

Instead of the color-blind attorney of To Kill a Mockingbird, we now see an older Mr. Finch with clear vestiges of continuing if not hardened racism. All coming at a time when a now 21st century America that we thought might be post-racist  is again experiencing repeated instances of violent interactions between law and order and the nation’s African-American communities.

The story is fascinating not only for the re-take on the fictional Mr. Finch as villain (or perhaps realist), not hero. It’s fascinating on another level as well – for the interplay between the fictional child Scout now (or Jean Louise as adult) and the author Ms. Lee. A real life tale of mystery, perhaps intrigue.

All of which brings to mind a similar tale from two thousand years back – that of Mary Magdalene, devotee of one Jesus of Nazareth.

Parallels?

The details including the timing of the two stories are worlds apart. Yet there are interesting similarities:

  • It is difficult to know where the real world of Harper Lee merges with or diverges from the fictional world of Scout/Jean Louise. Similarly, it can be challenging to separate the reality from the myth of Mary Magdalene. Was the Magdalene the prostitute whom Jesus saved from stoning or was she the well educated daughter of a prosperous family who was possessed (or mentally ill) till encountering Jesus?
  • The men in the respective stories are both larger than yet inextricably part of the world in which they live. Are they heroic, or with feet of clay? Is Atticus a racist, realist, or hero? Is the Jesus of the beatitudes the same as the wild man who berated Jewish leaders, rampaged through the temple mount, belittled a non-Jewish woman, and cursed a fig tree? Was the man at the tomb just the gardener – or a resurrected friend?
  • What is the relationship of the women to the larger than life men in these stories? At the end of the day, is Jean Louise disowning or accommodating the vile characteristics she sees in Atticus? For Mary, is she merely a devoted acolyte (and financial supporter) or also romantically attached to her savior? Could there be any truth to the persistent rumors that they may even have been married?
  • And while there may be sexual overtones, isn’t the real action all about gender politics? Jean Louise standing up to father and boy-friend – both respected community leaders? Mary taking on the post-resurrection skepticism of the male apostles?
  • Bottom line, is Jean Louise the new hero or is she overly self-righteous and unaccepting? Is Mary Magdalene saint or sinner?

The Meaning of Mary

For a bit more perspective, let’s dive a bit deeper into the story of Mary Magdalene. Most likely, she came from the town of Magdala on the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.

After Jesus reportedly healed her by exorcising seven demons, she became a devoted follower. Along with other well placed women, she also may well have helped finance the travels of the carpenter from the Nazareth village and his entourage of male disciples.

The Magdalene was a doer, most clearly evidenced by her initiative to attend to the grave of her master at the earliest opportunity after death and the intervening Sabbath. This is where she takes center stage.

After the initial grave site visits, the disciples apparently return to their homes. Only Mary stays around the tomb site, where she then has her encounter with the assumed gardener, actually Jesus.

So, it was to the Magdalene that a newly resurrected Jesus first appears, as recorded by John’s gospel saying: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

The conflict between the women including Mary and the disciples can be found in the New Testament gospels – especially in the accounts of Mark and Luke indicating that their accounts were received by the eleven disciples as “idle tales.” It takes the fragmentary non-canonical manuscript of what is today known as the Gospel of Mary to offer a more detailed counterpoint to male-centric Christianity. For this, let’s travel back to the resurrection – this time as told by Mary.

Mary’s account begins mildly enough. Upon issuing a commandment to “preach the good news of the domain” (much as is recorded in the four gospels), Jesus leaves them. The disciples “were distressed and wept greatly”. It is at this point that Mary takes command:

Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all and addressed her brothers: “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts by irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has joined us together and made us true beings.” When Mary said these things, she turned their minds toward the Good, and they began to ask about the words of the Savior.

Following this, Peter is reported as saying to Mary: “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than any other woman. Tell us the words of the Savior that you know, but which we haven’t heard.” Mary then begins to “report to you as much as I remember that you don’t know.”

After speaking of the secrets of what she terms the seven Powers of Wrath, Mary falls silent. At this point, gender surfaces as the real issue:

“Andrew said: ‘Brothers, what is your opinion of what was just said? I for one don’t believe that the Savior said these things, because these opinions seem to be so different from his thought.’

After reflecting on these matters, Peter said, ‘Has the Savior spoken secretly to a woman and not openly so that we would all hear? Surely he did not wish to indicate that she is more worthy than we are?’

Then Mary wept and said to Peter, ‘Peter, my brother, what are you imagining about this? Do you think that I’ve made all this up secretly by myself or that I am telling lies about the Savior?’

It is Levi (Matthew) who finally comes to Mary’s defense, rebuking Peter for his “constant inclination to anger” and for “questioning the woman as if you were her adversary.” Mary carries the day, with Levi leaving to “announce the good news” of a resurrected savior.

A New Paradigm?

The Gospel of Mary (at least with the manuscript fragments as currently available) ends here. Clearly, this non-canonical (and deeply heretical) gospel provides the most open assessment of the tension between the sexes that appeared early in the history of the Christian movement.

From both New Testament and non-canonical sources, the weight of the evidence available is clear. Without the Magdalene to carry the message of resurrection, there would be no Christian church. For women, the message of this gospel also is one of hope; Mary prevails over the objections of other prominent male disciples.

For Jean Louise, Go Set a Watchman comes with reconciliation between father and daughter. After all the disagreement and hostility, Atticus tells his daughter: “I’m proud of you.” And he dismisses the harsh words spoken in the heat of the battle with the comment: “I certainly hoped a daughter of mine’d hold her ground for what she thinks is right – stand up to me first of all.”

What is the legacy that Mary of two millennia past and Harper Lee of the 20th century have in common? It resides in the victory of a voice of justice, a woman’s voice that prevails over the male-centric voice of tradition, no matter whether right or wrong.

Neither succeeded in full. Mary Magdalene kept the nascent Christian movement together at a point when all was falling apart at the seems. But any hopes of keeping her man were lost in the process.

Harper Lee (aka Scout, Jean Louise) gains the recognition of Atticus that justice needs to prevail over continued segregation. But at the cost of a revolution – transitioned to a slow (perhaps unending) work in progress. As the sins of racism continue to haunt a nation known for freedom – even into this current 21st century.

These are tales of reality interwoven with myth. With Mary, the biblical and non-biblical evidence is clear that she brought the early disciples back together when they were ready to call it quits. But, just how special was the nature of her individual relationship that may have made all this possible?

With the contending works of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, we are left to ponder the inter-relationship of the author with the subject(s) of her stories. Who speaks for whom? Will the real 89-year old Harper Lee please tell us what we should really think?

Epilogue: Reality & Myth in Go Set a Watchman

We end on the note that Harper Lee’s first (and most recently published) book is titled from a passage in Isaiah 21:5-6 of the Hebrew Scriptures, with the directive to:

Prepare the table,
Set a watchman in the tower,
Eat and drink.
Arise, you princes,
Anoint the shield!

For thus has the Lord said to me:
Go, set a watchman,
Let him declare what he sees”

Obviously, Harper Lee has some affinity for the Hebrew Scriptures. So did Jesus, for whom Isaiah was clearly his most quoted source.

In the novel, the watchman (the declarer) is the grown-up Scout, Jean Louise. She calls her father and community to task – with a little help from her Uncle Jack. In the New Testament gospels, a case can be made for Mary Magdalene as the watchman who declares that the movement isn’t over but just getting started – with a little help from her risen savior.

And that’s it for now – for the rest of the story.

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For a more complete account of Mary Magdalene’s role in the life and resurrection of her savior, click http://jesustheheresy.com/marymag.html

To check out our full web site, click www.jesustheheresy.com.

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down …

Greece has defaulted on its debt to capitalist democracy. And the U. S. Supreme Court has now effectively dismantled pivotal underpinnings of western civilization by declaring same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

What does this all mean for those who call themselves Christians in this 21st century removed from the Christ’s sojourn on this earth? Four observations:

1) Going forward, marriage will be defined by cultural whims du jour, rather than by what were once perceived as moral absolutes. Hold on to your seat belt for the agendas of polygamy, marriage between blood relatives, adult-youth liaisons, relations with non-humans (from the animal to robotic kingdoms) to periodically surface – for freedom of choice and equal rights under the law. Some (perhaps most) won’t make it far in our lifetime; others may surprise.

2) This drift to moral relativism continues to be driven by global technology promising even more startling cultural and political transformation in the decades ahead. It all began with the “pill,” for the first time disconnecting sex from procreation. In the years ahead, it may become possible to order up the right partner doing the things loved most as sex slave ex machina. And child-birth will bear less and less relationship to parentage – whether from purchased embryos or cloning a la Dolly the ewe. Who will make the decisions of what is acceptable versus out-of-bounds? And, for how long?

3) Those who have persecuted in the name of Christ will now get a taste of their own medicine. Expect followers of the way to garner little respect through the turmoil ahead – for two reasons:
a) The biblical case against homosexuality is overstated. There is no record of Jesus having anything to say (pro or con) on the subject. However, he clearly railed against divorce – a vice practiced all too often by those professing Christianity as well as those of other persuasions.
b) Like some of other faiths, Christians have spent the better part of 1,700+/- years devouring their own. When there is no love between fellow travelers, what can one expect from those further from the fold?

4) Bottom, line, marriage has a future only to the degree that the product can be demonstrated superior in a marketplace of ever more diverse and often personally satisfying alternatives. Those who espouse the heterosexual way can retake competitive ground only by living lives that yield demonstrable benefits for marriage versus the myriad of other lifemode options now available and preferred. Frankly put, same sex lifestyles are those with the sizzle today. Heterosexual relationships increasingly feel old-school, dull, and dissatisfying. We’ll know marriage is on its way back when lifelong, monogamous heterosexuals again emerge as the heroes rather than the doormats of the show.

For a more in-depth biblical reflection on an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling of two years past on same-sex marriage, see https://jesustheheresy.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/reflections-on-the-u-s-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage/

And for a tour of our full web site, click www.jesustheheresy.com

Reflections on the U.S. Supreme Court & Same Sex Marriage

Maybe it is the torpor of summer – but it is hard to focus and write these words. On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they were legal. And, by declining to decide a case from California, the Court effectively allowed same-sex marriages there.

Children of the marketplace, face of the future. Children of Jerusalem on the run,  living in the moment. Do we hear them?  What do we hear? Will we dance? Do we lament?

Children of the marketplace,
face of the future.
Children of Jerusalem on the run,
living in the moment.
Do we hear them?
What do we hear?
Will we dance?
Do we lament?

One hears the words of Jesus:

 “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:

 ‘We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.’

For supporters of gay marriage, the Supreme Court decision has irrevocably changed the cultural landscape regarding acceptance of homosexuality. But the state-by-state slog and the cultural wars continue, with further collateral damage yet ahead.

Even though I have stated that the Bible should be left out of the gay marriage debate, there is nonetheless a profound sense of foreboding. Looking back through history, there are few if any examples of nations that accepted gay marriage as on a par with heterosexual relationships.

The Romans were widely noted for diverse sexual proclivities. One emperor known for his bisexual behavior, Julius Caesar was described as “every woman’s man and every man’s woman.” And Emperor Nero was said to have engaged in same sex marriages. However, marriage between two persons of the same sex had no legal standing.

In the modern era, the first country to legalize same sex marriage was Denmark in 1989. In the space of less than a generation, nation after nation and state after state have moved to radically altered the course of what has been considered acceptable versus discouraged human behavior. With virtually no thought as to the long-term consequences for civilization.

Yes, heterosexual relationships are no longer the only means of propagating the human species. Technology has trumped cultural taboos. It’s a bit like genetic modification – whether for super-crops or prevention of human maladies. Where do we go from here? At what point, does the earth’s ecosystem go pathogenic?

We hear the flutist; but there is no motivation to dance. And who will be the dance partner?

At the same time, those of us (like me) who might profess to be in mourning are actually hard pressed to seriously lament. For those religious sorts who think a deity really prefers heterosexuality as the norm – as God’s plan – is this about defeat or about raising the ante? If male-female is really what God intended, shouldn’t our marriages be healthier and our resulting offspring all above average? Shouldn’t this be the norm to which everyone aspires?

The cultural heterosexual monopoly of multiple millennia has bred sloth and a millennia-long legacy of marital dysfunction. The destruction of the marriage monopoly means that its advocates must now truly compete in the marketplace of multiple relationship options. And yes, we certainly can expect the door to widen to an ever increasing array of sexual options.

If marriage is to prove itself in the marketplace, it’s time to re-discover and then sell the sizzle.  Heterosexual divorce should become the exception rather than the rule. Prove up to sustainable families across all racial, social and economic strata. Demonstrate that being gay and artistic are not necessarily synonymous.

If marriage has no more market advantage than Chevy over Ford, let’s get ready for the next step in the evolutionary adventure. Where sex is all about whatever feels good in the moment – as long as my neighbor isn’t directly affected or doesn’t care what’s taking place on my side of the fence.

For those of us who believe that heterosexuality really is the norm, the proven alternative, the demonstrated path to lifelong happiness, now is the time to strut our stuff. Time for heterosexuals to come out of the closet.

We hear the flute. No time to dance when millennia-long sexual taboos get swept aside with little to no thought about what comes next.

And we hear mourning. But how can the spirit truly lament as we soar to new heights of human potential?

What’s a follower of Jesus’ kingdom to do? We say “bring it on.” We Christians may be a diverse, contentious lot – but only we lay claim to both the love and the justice of the heavenly kingdom – all in the same breath.

The Bible & Same Sex Relationships

The U.S. Supreme Court has now heard oral arguments on two cases about same sex marriage. Rulings on both are expected by late June 2013.

For Christians and non-Christians, much of the debate swirls around competing perceptions of ethical, moral and religious values with respect to sex and marriage. Despite much talk about the religious angle, there is widespread confusion about what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) on this topic.

So, the question addressed by this blog is: What does the Bible have to say about same sex relationships and marriage? The answer may surprise.

While both the Old and New Testaments have something to say, what they say is not enough to make a strong biblical case either for or against same gay marriage.

There may be good reasons to either support or object to gay marriage. But the reasons will need to be found somewhere else than in God’s revealed word.

cropped-edh_0115.jpg

And about the headliner photo with this blog – a mosaic of Amazons (lesbians?) at Sepphoris – just four miles from Jesus hometown of Nazareth. Sepphoris was destroyed about the time of Jesus’ birth after an uprising following the death of Herod the Great. Sepphoris was rebuilt by son Antipas as the capitol city of Galilee while Jesus was growing up. Did Joseph the carpenter (and possibly his son as apprentice) contribute to the rebuilding? One can only speculate.

Old Testament Accounts. So here we go. The earliest clear biblical reference to an attempted same sex relationship occurs in Genesis as the first book of the Bible. A person named Lot is the nephew of a man named Abraham who happens to be the spiritual patriarch of Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Lot is visited by two strangers (angels it appears) who arouse the sexual spirits of the men in the town of Sodom. They surround Lot’s house and call out: “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.”

In an effort to protect his guests, Lot offers up his two virgin daughters instead. In the end, the two male angels end up protecting Lot and his daughters but tell him to leave quickly as God will destroy the city.

Looking out to the Dead Sea from Masada ... Is Sodom out there somewhere?

Looking out to the Dead Sea from Masada … Is Sodom out there somewhere?

Today, the act of anal penetration is known by the name of Lot’s home town as sodomy. However, it is noted that the real sin of the men of Sodom was less about same sex intercourse and more about forcible intercourse, i.e., rape.

A similar and, in many ways, even more bizarre case of attempted same sex action replaced by a raped female substitute is recorded in Judges 19. There are also several instances of what appears to be male cultic prostitution reported in 1 Kings 14, 15 and 22 and in 2 Kings 23.

A more specific prohibition is given by Moses to Hebrew men in Leviticus 18: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. ‘Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.”

In Leviticus 20, this prohibition is repeated but with the additional sanction of death for violators. The same death penalty is also prescribed for those involved in adultery with another man’s wife, or for those who mate with an animal.

New Testament Testimony. Moving to the New Testament, the first thing to note is that Jesus is not recorded by any of the four gospels as having anything to say about same sex relations.

On matters of sexuality, what Jesus has to say is directed at heterosexuals. And his warnings are stern. He stipulates clearly that any man who even “looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If you think Jesus is kidding, the next words out of his mouth warn of judgment: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

In danger of hell-fire?! And all for just one longing gaze at a comely babe. Even pure-as-the-driven-snow former President Jimmy Carter stands condemned.

Jesus doesn’t stop there, but goes on to observe that “whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Well, that’s it for the roughly half of so-called American Christian adults who have divorced.

Admittedly, whether or not Jesus had ever desired or consummated sexual relations has long been a matter of some speculation at the margins of Christianity. The most persistent rumor (not without foundation) is that Jesus had a relationship with or perhaps even married Mary Magdalene. In recent years, this story was given added prominence by the Dan Brown novel The DaVinci Code.

An entirely different perspective in recent years has come about as a result of the supposed post-World War II discovery of a Secret Gospel of Mark suggesting a possible sexual relationship between Jesus and Lazarus. This fragmentary and disputed manuscript posits a same sex relationship between Jesus and Lazarus occurring in conjunction with the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. The account states that:

“Then Jesus went up and rolled the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. He went right in where the young man was, stuck out his hand, grabbed him by the hand, and raised him up. The young man looked at Jesus, loved him, and began to beg to be with him. Then they left the tomb and went into the young man’s house. (Incidentally, he was rich). Six days later Jesus gave him an order; and when evening had come, the young man went to him, dressed only in a linen cloth. He spent that night with him, because Jesus taught him the mystery of God’s domain. From there <Jesus> got up and returned to the other side of the Jordan.”

The author of this text is tentatively identified as the second century Clement of Alexandria. This secret Gospel of Mark was reputedly discovered by Morton Smith, professor of ancient history at ColumbiaUniversity at the Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem in 1958. Unfortunately, the document has never been independently authenticated.

On to Paul. The one New Testament writer with definite opinions about homosexual activity is the Johnny-come-lately apostle Paul. In the opening paragraphs of his letter to the Romans, Paul goes on a rant about those whom God has given up to “vile passions,” stating that: “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…”

And to the denizens of Corinth, Paul writes about the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God, boldly proclaiming that:

“Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

And to Timothy who he was mentoring, Paul writes that:” the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.”

Note two things with both of these Pauline passages. First, homosexuality is identified as a sin on a par with such other acts as fornication and adultery. Gay relationships may be viewed by Paul as not desired but they are no worse than sexual issues common to a broad cross-section of straight society.

Second, Paul notes (in his Corinthian letter) that, while a flaw, these and other sins are all subject to sanctification (or being made right) through Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit. In short, the kingdom of God is not necessarily closed even to those whom Paul would regard as guilty of ungodly behavior, no matter what the issue.

Back to Paul. Was Paul reacting primarily from his Jewish tradition? Was he attempting to reflect what Christ had taught? Or was taking a more nuanced course – distinguishing between what Jesus directly taught and his own personal interpretation? The evidence suggests that the latter is the case.

What is fairly clear is that homosexual contact was generally not considered appropriate within 1st century Judaism – though diverse opinions abounded with regard to matters of human sexuality. For example, the 1st century BCE Jewish philosopher Hillel clearly disapproved of polygamy. In contrast, his more conservative counterpart Shammai approved.

Homosexual activity was widely known and practiced in the Roman world. Julius Caesar was as renowned for his dalliances with comely men (or boys) as for his liaison with Cleopatra. In his biography of the Caesar, Suetonius observes that “he was every woman’s man, and every man’s woman.”

Lesbian relationships were also the stuff of both myth and reality in the Greco-Roman world. Amazon women found their way into mosaics just a stone’s throw from Jesus boyhood home in Nazareth. And Paul the apostle –  a man of Jewish heritage and Roman citizenship – was sophisticated enough to be aware of both male and female homosexual relationships. Paul operated in multiple worlds.

By legend, Amazons mated with men only by necessity to maintain an all-female warrior race. This mosaic is also from Sepphoris (or Tzippori), a 1st century principal city of Galilee situated only 4 miles from Nazareth.

By legend, Amazons mated with men only by necessity to maintain an all-female warrior race. This mosaic is also from Sepphoris (or Tzippori), a 1st century principal city of Galilee situated only 4 miles from Nazareth.

So while Paul claimed that much of his Christian teaching came from direct divine utterances, he does not claim this for his views related to same sex relations. In fact, Paul clearly distances himself from the other apostolic leaders of the early church who relied on what they had heard directly from Jesus. In a letter to the Galatians, Paul writes: “But from those who seemed to be something (like Church leaders James, Peter and John) —whatever they were, it makes no difference to me.”

In effect, Paul’s antipathy toward anything smacking of same sex contact appears to be rooted in: a) his own personal views rather than anything Jesus explicitly taught; and b) his personal practice based on a lifetime of asceticism that favored remaining celibate over marriage, and then marriage over homosexual behavior.

As he wrote to the church in Corinth: “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

What conclusions can we draw from this? Three are offered here:

  1. While same sex relationships may not be spoken of as favorably as those of the heterosexual variety by the Almighty, they clearly are not viewed any less favorably than other sexual activities – notably adultery and fornication – in which the majority of heterosexual and so-called American Christians have engaged. And there is evidence, particularly the testimony of Jesus, indicating that good old heterosexual issues like adultery were more pressing concerns to be addressed during his brief earthly ministry.
  2. Homosexuality is less the issue than the nature of the human-human relationship. Rape is rape – whether of the homosexual or heterosexual variety. The true nature of the crime committed by the Sodomites of old has been misrepresented. Forcible intercourse – whether attempted or actualized – is the true evil.
  3. There are undoubtedly arguments that can be made for and against gay marriage. But those arguments need to be made on grounds other than what is offered by Jewish and Christian scripture. Leave the Bible out of the gay marriage debate.

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