A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

At Bible – thumping Liberal, the straight ally and evangelical Christian Ron Goetz asks a crucially important question:

HOW DO I RECONCILE PAUL WITH MY SUPPORT FOR LGBT FOLKS?

August 27, 2013

I just got an email from Harold, one of my PFLAG friends. He asked the following question.

“How do you reconcile Paul’s words and yet support LGBTs?”

There are several good ways of approaching this question. One way looks at Paul’s specific words, what they mean and don’t mean, and then discover that Paul is not as anti-homosexual as fundamentalists make him out to be. Another way is to look at Paul as a man who was working out his theology, literally, as he went along. Another way is to see how Paul treated other issues of some disagreement, that have been puzzling or unclear to us. Finally, we can look at some of Paul’s own attitudes and interactions, and adopt some of them as our own.

-more at  Bible-Thumping Liberal.

This is important, because Paul’s words in Romans and in Corinthians are the most disturbing of all the Biblical clobber texts for lesbian and gay Christians. The story of Sodom in Genesis should not be troubling at all, as the Bible itself makes clear that the infamous “sin of Sodom” is about injustice, and pride, and has nothing whatever to do with homoeroticism. There are numerous responses to the verses in Leviticus, but the simplest one is just to note that these are part of the Jewish purity laws, like the dietary restrictions, the prohibition on clothing of mixed fibres and shaving one’s beard, and the obligation of male circumcision. As such, they simply do not apply to Christians – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The letters of Paul are another matter, less easy to reconcile with our experience of a same – sex affectional orientation.

So, how can we do so? In his post, Goetz goes on, to elaborate on each of these ways of looking at Paul. There is also another, simpler still: the words simply do not mean what they are popularly supposed to mean. I’ve already discussed how this is so for Corinthians, where the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” have been mistranslated as referring to homosexuals. (They don’t). For Romans 1, I suggest that the key is simpler still, hiding in plain sight – in the title. 

This is the letter to the Romans after all.

Hadrian and Antinous

Roman Emperor Hadrian and His Beloved, Antinous

Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and would surely have understood something of how his words would be interpreted. So let’s look at them: Continue reading

“Clobber Texts” – Resource Page Updated

When I first began to grapple seriously with the tensions between life as a practicing Catholic, and living honestly and with integrity as a gay man in a committed, stable partnership, one of the discoveries that helped me enormously was a Quest pamphlet given to me by a Catholic priest, which showed me for the first time that far from being “obviously” against homosexuality, the Bible includes only a half dozen verses that even appear to be critical, and that the relevance of even these half dozen is seriously disputed by many modern scholars. That was twenty years ago:  since then, many more scholars and theologians have been revising their views on the biblical take on same – sex relationships – and coming down on the side of acceptance.

So when I began to write at Queering the Church, in an attempt to share with readers the ideas and materials that had helped me, one of the first subjects I tackled was this question of the “clobber texts”, in a basic introductory post. Conscious of its limitations, for a long time I intended  to return to the subject, with more detailed reflections on each of these troublesome texts, drawing on and summarising the key arguments about them – but held back, feeling intimidated and inadequate to the task. Later, as my own knowledge matured, I became less interested in the defensive approach to the texts of terror, and more interested in identifying the far more numerous supportive and affirmative passages, both those featuring specific peoples that LGBT Christians could identify with (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the “Beloved Disciple”),  and the more general passages emphasising love and inclusion, and warning against legalism or passing judgement on others . So, as I began to expand my back pages at the site into a collection of resource pages, for the pages on scripture I have added extensive links to material on the affirmative texts – but added very little on defence against the nasties.

It was always my intention though, to include as many links to useable posts elsewhere on these clobber texts,  as I could find.  Earlier this week, I was asked by a reader for some help in this area, and as I did not yet have the summary of links that I have planned but not put together, I was forced to do some digging about from scratch. In the process, I finally began the process of adding an extensive list of links to my “Defence Against the Clobber Texts” page (a subpage of the “Rainbow Bible” section, in the navigation bar above). It’s still not exhaustive – I know that I have seen many more on-line articlues on these than I have included. These are just the ones that I was able to track down in the short time that was then available to me.  I will continue to add to it – and would welcome any further suggestions from readers.

This directory of links is permanently housed at the page on “Clobber Texts“, a subdivision of the “Rainbow Bible” pages but as an introduction and for convenience , here it is, as it stands today. (For balance, also see the far more extensive pages on “LGBT Affirmative Scriptures“)

*****

General: Overview

For a general discussion of these “Texts of Terror”, see Countering the Clobber Texts here at QTC,

and also:

The Bible and Homosexuality, ByRev. MonaWest,Ph.D. (at Metropolitan Community Church), with the sub-headings:

  • Sexuality in the Mediterranean World
  • The Story of Sodom in Genesis 19
  • Leviticus
  • The Writings of the Apostle Paul
  • Romans 1:26 ‐ 27
  • Issues of Biblical Authority

Also at MCC,

At Bridges Across the Divide, Homosexuality and the Bible  by Walter Wink

For more detailed discussions on each, see:

Enhanced by Zemanta

“He Sent Me to Give the Good News to the Queers”

For today, the third Sunday of ordinary time, the Gospel reading is the story of the Jesus’ first time reading in the temple, in the passage from Isaiah, with the keynote words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”.

I have written before on this passage, and how I see this message, which effectively begins his public ministry, as central to my understanding of what Christianity is all about. By appallingly bad timing, today was also the day that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales chose to distribute postcards to all Massgoers, for them to complete and send to their Members of Parliament, expressing their opposition to the marriage equality proposals now before the British parliament. How this divisive postcard campaign, designed to continue and perpetuate discrimination and division under the law between same – sex and opposite – sex couples, is completely beyond me, can be squared with the plain message of today’s Gospel of liberation from all forms of oppression, or from the second reading from Corinthians on how we are all parts of one body, is completely beyond my comprehension.

These words, and those of the hymn “God’s Spirit is in my heart”, one of my favourites, had a particular resonance for me this morning, against the background of my recent personal decision to do precisely this: to spend a much greater portion of my time and energy in “proclaiming the good news” to the the oppressed – those in the LGBT community, so relentlessly (if unintentionally) oppressed by the institutional church, and some orthotoxic Catholics. In doing so, I am conscious of the enormous practical risks I will be taking, with minimal expectations of any form of reliable income to keep me alive, and unsure of precisely what or how I will do this. I was greatly strengthened by the words of the third and fourth verses that we sang as a recessional hymn:

Don’t carry a load in your pack, 
You don’t need two shirts on your back
A workman can earn his own keep, 
Can earn his own keep

Don’t worry what you have to say, 
Don’t worry because on that day 
God’s Spirit will speak in your heart, 
Will speak in your heart.

As luck would have it, it fell to me today to “proclaim the word” at my local Mass this morning, and to read the lessons and bidding prayers. I did so with conviction and passion – but reading into the words of the text what to me was a clear reading, probably NOT in concord with the bishops’ unfortunate and poorly timed message of division.

Here’s a post I published some time ago on the same text – but in a context outside of the Sunday Mass:

******

Last week, I joined the Soho Masses team of Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word for an afternoon of prayer and reflection on our roles. To help us through the process, we had the services of David, who is an experienced prayer guide, trained in the  methods of Ignatian spirituality. All those present agreed that the afternoon was profoundly helpful in bringing some perspective to their place in serving the Eucharist and the Word in Mass. For me, it also brought a new insight to my activities with the Queer Church, which I want to share with you today.

The text that we reflected on for the readers was the familiar scene in the Temple from Luke 4, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah.

torahreading

Continue reading

Slurs (Proverbs 12:18, James 3:1-12)

Sharp words cut like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18, James 3:1-12

This proverb is a reversal of the old childhood mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…” Well, supposedly words will never hurt us, but they do. Not only the slurs flung our way, but the very words that jumble in us as in the word-art above. Those discerning their orientation – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons – are especially vulnerable to sharp words, receiving their thrust deep into the psyche.

The queer community for a number of years has been reclaiming words. In a very healthy way we have taken the swords meant to hack us and turned them into shields of honor. “Faggot,” “queer,” “gay,” “homo,” “sissy,” “butch,” “dyke” and others are now internalized as points of pride instead of points of shame.

The lesbian biblical scholar Mona West states it succinctly: “Oppressed peoples over the years have understood the power and importance of choosing their own words to name themselves rather than allowing the dominant culture to assign negative meaning to certain words that are used to demonize a group of people. Words are powerful tools used to describe experience and shape reality” (from the article Queer Spirituality).

-Read David Popham’s full reflection at “The Bible in Drag

Enhanced by Zemanta

Trans in Scripture

The Ethiopian Eunuch is our most famous trancestor. However, there are many more scattered through the Bible, both visible and invisible. We shall meet many more later.

-Lewis Reay

The Many Eunuchs Hidden in Scripture

There are numerous trans themes and characters in Scripture. If these are not immediately familiar to us, this is because often, they are simply hidden in plain sight – invisible unless we take the trouble to open our eyes and look. However, I do not wish to reflect too deeply on an experience which is not my own. Instead, I simply share with you some more extracts from a piece byLewis Reay, “Towards a Transgendered Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs, printed in “Trans/formations” (edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood).
First, I wish to consider Jesus’ extraordinary saying in Matthew 19 (v 12 -13) about different types of eunuchs.  To my transgender ears and eyes the meaning of this text is plain …… I would suggest that the Matthew 19 verses are the clearest statement that Jesus makes about the inclusivity of the new realm. This is a realm where no-one is excluded, even the most marginal outsider.
To see the hidden trans people in Scripture, we need to be sensitive to the words as understood when they were written – not as we use them today. A key word here is “chamberlain”, which to modern ears, refers to a senior political or government official. This ignores the significance of the first part of the word – “chamber-“. Reay elaborates:
The Greek word eunocoi comes from the root eune, a bed, and the verb achein, to hold: thus a eunuch is a “bed-keeper”, or more literally a “bed-companion” or “chamberlain” who was responsible for taking care of a monarch’s numerous wives. It also appears as a court “official”. The secondary meaning of the word is an emasculated man, or one naturally emasculated from marriage or having children, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word çârîyç or saris means “to castrate”l it also means a eunuch or official. The word appears 13 times translated as “chamberlain”, 17 times as “eunuch” and 12 times as “officer”.

And so, many of the trans people in the Bible are hidden behind descriptors like “chamberlain”, or (as other writers have explained) “cupbearer” – which includes Nehemiah.

Let me introduce you to some of my spiritual trancestors – Carcas the severe, Mehuman, the faithful. Hegai, the eunuch, Zethar, the star, Harbona, the ass-driver, Abagtha, the God-given, and Biztha, the booty, all eunuchs of King Xerxes (see the book of Esther).
Ebed – Melech, the servant of the king, an Ethiopian eunuch in the service of King Zedekiah, through whose interference Jeremiah was released from prison; Ashpenaz, the chief eunuch of King Nebuchanezzer, Teresh, the strict, who plotted to kill King Xerxes, Sarsechim, the prince among eunuchs, and Shaashgaz, the servant of the beautiful.
Meet some rabsaris, chief eunuchs and high-ranking Babylonian officials: Hatach, the truthful, Bigthan, the juicy, and Bigtha, the juiciest.
And, not least, the famous Daniel, and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and the defiant Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego (see the Book of Daniel). Finally, our Ethiopian cousin, from Acts, who opens up the possibility of full inclusion into Jesus’ realm to all, not simply the Jewish world.
Most of these transectors named by Reay are minor characters, bit parts in the Biblical story. That’s not the case with his main argument.

The Genderqueer Jesus

Mollenkott (“Omnigender”) proposes that Jesus was chromosomally female (because of the virgin birth) …….. but phenotypically male. Mollenkott ties this in to the Genesis narrative of a God who is both male and female an neither, and therefore a Jesus who is equally both and neither, encompasing the breadth of “natural” human gender and sex diverstity….it is intersex people or female-to male trans-people who come closest to a physical resemblance to Jesus, being  chromosomally female and socially male.
Moxness (“Putting Jesus in His Place”) suggests that Jesus occupied queer space by virtue of his social location and th he location of his followers. Jesus’ followers put themselves outside the norms of society by leaving their homes and and their social gender roles to follow Jesus. By leaving their place in the household, ..they rendered themselves liable to the accusation of being eunuchs – their very gender identity was put into question for upsetting the gender norms of their time.
Jesus’ queer identity is not simply to be read in terms of sexuality, but he is truly gender queer. Jesus is our own trancestor: the challenge of eunuchs was that they could not be securely placed, they were in a position of ‘betwixt and between’, in a permanent liminal position (Moxnes).”
Moxnes’ discussion of the famous passage from Matthew 19 observes that in Jesus’ day, the word “eunuch” may have been used as a term of abuse (rather like “queer” or “faggot” today). This puts a special light on Jesus’ response.
Bohache argues (“The Queer Bible Commentary”) that if, as Moxnes suggests, the term”eunuch” was used as a slur against Jesus and his disciples, then we have hit upon an essential concept for a queer understanding of Jesus:  today there are many for whom the term “queer” is a volatile word, since it originated as a slur among our opponents, but activists and others ahve reclaimed the word and used it proudly.

Isaiah’s Welcome For All.

The Promise of “a house of prayer for all people”  in Isaiah is not simply a promise that eunuchs would be allowed. Rather, it is an unrestrained revolution to the existing order of who can approach God. 
Koch (in “The Queer Bible Commentary”) suggests that the last chapters of Isaiah commencing at chapter 56 present many instances of gender dissent and social queerness. 
The Matthean eunuch verses are a mirror to the Isaiah 56 passage which extends the kingdom of God to eunuchs with a special place greater than that of sons or daughters. …These verses encapsulate the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ message – there is no one who is marginalised in God’s eyes, all are included.

And so, I conclude with the celebrated and important words of Isaiah 56:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD
to minister to him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Books

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach


Related Posts at QTC:

Related articles Elsewhere:
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Gay Beatitudes

I missed these  when the Catholic priest Wild Hair first posted these at “A Piece of My Mind“, then came across them earlier this week. There is nothing that makes them any less relevant two months later, so draw your attention to them now:

Blessed are they who stand naked and shame free
before God and one another.

Blessed are they who celebrate the rich diversity of all people
as spiritual & sexual beings.


And they continue. Read the full set at A Piece of My Mind

Enhanced by Zemanta

Lazarus, The Man Jesus Loved.

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)
These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.
Martha Mary and Lazarus
Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (Williams, Wilson, Goss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuart understands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.
Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”
I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:
“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)
The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.
So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?
It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.
It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)
Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.

“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).
Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:
She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.
Conclusion
I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.



Books:

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

Related Posts at QTC:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice.

When I was reading some biographical notes recently about the Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, I was interested to note that she began her career working for the church among the poor of Buenos Aires, applying the techniques of liberation theology to the “option for the poor”. Later, she applied those same techniques in slum communities in Scotland, before starting to apply the same techniques to the situation of the equally marginalized communities within the church itself, its sexual minorities.

I have never been engaged full time in this work, not worked directly with the poor, but in South Africa I did get involved as a volunteer in some of the activities of the Catholic Church Justice & Peace Commission, and attended several meetings and training workshops on the subject. A standard Scripture verse to open those meetings was the well-known words of the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

I clearly remember one major workshop at which these words were elaborated as a paradigm for the very concept of justice, as as set of three related relationships: relationships with God, relationships with others, and relationship with oneself.

The Jewish lesbian Rebeccah Alpert expands on this idea in her contribution to  Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible“, and emphasises an implication to this injunction that I believe is a key to resolving the difficult choices facing us as lesbian, gay or trans people of faith – the importance of coming out.

To make this point, Alpert begins with the last of Micah’s exhortations, and elaborates on their meaning in Hebrew tradition – a meaning that has relevance also for people of other faith traditions. This phrase, “walk modestly with God” (hatznea lechet im eloha) Alpert interprets as about the way a person sees her place in the world:

Walking with God is a metaphor for the way each person approaches her own life. It is a way to conceptualize one’s innermost feelings and thoughts. …. To see oneself walking with God requires a vision of God as the most important value in life, that which is with the individual always and everywhere. … We can only walk with God if we know and accept who we are. Walking with God begins with self-acceptance and requires that we tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. This stance describes coming out, declaring oneself as lesbian, as a necessary prerequisite to walking with God.

Walking with God requires self-acceptance, and this in turn requires coming out. Initially this is in private, to oneself, but this is not enough. Coming out privately, she says, should be followed by coming out to friends and family, and ultimately also to the wider world. This may bring personal hardship, she admits, but will also bring wider benefits to the LGBT faith community as a whole – it is politically important. But this not the only reason for doing so. Coming out i public, she argues, is implicit in the same part of Micah’s injunction.

“Hatznea lechet” also requires us to be honest people: honest with ourselves about our sexuality and honest with others in our lives. Coming out publicly keeps us from having to lie  – to doctors whom we sometimes do not visit because we do not wish to tak about our sex lives, to coworkers to whom we omit pronouns when referring to our partners, to acquaintances who want to introduce us to men. The lies we tell may be small ones, but they inhibit our ability to live openly and lead us into patterns of lying incompatible with walking with God. And they draw nonlesbians into our lie as well, requiring them often to deny what they see.

This obligation to being publicly honest about oneself is a personal obligation, which does not require the outing of others. However, it is important also to meet up with others in collectively out communities, such as the gay and lesbian Jewish Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST), and its counterparts in other faiths. These congregations and their relationships with wider faith communities raise difficult questions, but they are important as public witnesses to a collective honesty.

Coming out then, privately, publicly and collectively, is a religious obligation implied by the requirement to “walk with God”. It is also a pre-condition for the fulfilment of the rest o Micah’s three-part injunction:

It is only those who come to self-acceptance, including a sense that they are loved by God and by the Jewish community, who can begin to work towards creating  a world of love and justice.

The second part of the injunction is to “love well” (ahavat hesed), or forming right relationships with friends, family and community. She observes that this is often difficult for Jewish lesbians, who are faced with strong expectations and pressures from family and community to make a conventional marriage and raise  a traditional family  – but sound relationships must be formed nevertheless, and can only be done in honesty. How else can one deal, for instance, with issues like invitations to weddings or other family celebrations?

None of us lives in isolation. We all need community, to share in our joys – and for support during our trials. This is especially important at times of bereavement, when our faith communities are particularly important. We cannot provide proper support to others in their time of need, nor receive it in ours, if we have not established these relationships in honesty.

…… ahavat hesed requires hard work. In order to love well, we must take our responsibilities to others seriously and give careful consideration to the contribution we want to make that will enable the Jewish and lesbian communities to thrive. And in order ultimately to love well within the Jewish community, we must receive ahavat hesed from the community in return.

And so, after discussing the commitments to walking humbly with God, and to loving well, Alpert turns to the first part of the verse from Micah, the commitment to justice, asot mishpat. These three though, while treated separately, are not independent of each other but interconnected.

We cannot make a choice between accepting ourselves, caring for our circle of loved one, and doing justice in the world. These efforts must be woven into our framework.

We cannot begin to envision such a world (i.e., a world of justice)unless we have created the possibilities within ourselves and our community to work towards this plan. We begin with the idea that to walk with with decency with God is measured by our self-acceptance and willingness to be visible. This is the beginning of justice. For only if we speak out about who we are, can we create the opportunity for justice for ourselves.

But this alone is insufficient: love is also a prerequisite to justice. In relation to justice ahavat hesed means respect not only for those that we love particularly but for all humanity.

The search for justice is double-edged: we must seek justice for ourselves – but must also work together with others, to seek justice for those suffering other kinds of oppression.

**********************************

Alpert’s reflection is quite explicitly from the perspective of a Jewish female, but I found no difficulty or sense of it being inappropriate in applying it equally to my situation as a gay man. I first began to prepare the above summary of it several weeks ago, and have been intermittently reflecting on it ever since, without quite getting to setting it out in full. I have been spurred into doing it now, because several other topics that I have been struggling with recently, including the question of a response to the problem of gaybullycides, and the question faced by gay Catholics in particular: to stay fully inside the Church, to form gay worshipping ghettos, to leave completely – or (as recommended by Dignity) to return and vigorously challenge the status quo, seem clearer to me when I think of Alpert’s reflection on coming out as an obligation imposed by Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God.

Related articles

Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

Two verses from Leviticus appear to present the most explicit biblical condemnation of homosexuality,  to which  LGBT affirmative commentators have offered a range of responses. For Christians (but not for Jews), the simplest rejection is just to note that they are part of the Jewish purity laws, and no longer applicable to Gentiles, just as Christians do not observe Jewish restrictions on diet, clothing, and many other issues.  Others note that the texts refer only to men, and so cannot be applied to homosexuality more generally, or point out that the modern cultural context for loving same – sex relationships from the Biblical one of military aggression, domination and humiliation of defeated enemies, that the prohibition is no longer relevant – or that it applies only to anal intercourse, and not to other forms of sexual interchanges.
The linguist and biblical scholar Renato Lings takes an unusual approach, in an article  called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. 
 
Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.
These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;
(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.
Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.
That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then
A Quaker discussion of this paper at Friends World Committee on Consultation notes that incest, which Lings focuses on, is a neglected area in biblical research, and also refer to earlier work by the theologian David Stewart, who had reached the same conclusion as Lings:

Renato focuses on a major issue that has been underresearched and ignored for years: incest. In a recent scholarly work, David T. Stewart has suggested that Lev. 18:22 addresses male–male incest. He bases his view on the fact that the primary concern of chapter 18 is precisely male–female incest: with mother, stepmother, aunt, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, etc. A supplementary clause in Lev. 18:22 proscribing male–male incest would make perfectly good sense. Renato backs up this hypothesis with supporting evidence located in Lev. 20 and the book of Genesis.

The original Hebrew phrase is extremely difficult to translate. However, the incest link provides valuable insight into its possible meaning. In this article Renato arrives at the conclusion that male–male incest is indeed a major factor. It should be taken into account whenever Lev. 18:22 is discussed.

Recommended Books:
Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex
Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta