22 October 2014

LGBT Question & Response

A dear friend of mine recently wrote me asking my take on a hot topic “issue.” The following email is used with permission and edited for content.

I saw the link you posted on Pastor Nadia addressing a seminar about the ‘issue’ of homosexuality. I watched their video response. I really do have a soft place for Pastor Nadia. If I were LGBT, I think she’d be such a gift. Like some kind of protector. I admire that.

I’d like to be that same way for marginalized LGBT folks...I have what I believe to be a God-given love for gay and lesbian individuals. I imagine them not going to the prom. I imagine them not marrying. I imagine them adoring someone of the same sex, and being around that person, yet not taking it to the next level. All of this is so sad for me to imagine.

What I struggle with is how their lifestyle is OK in the context of Christianity. Put another way, when I read 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, there’s a list of sins and sinful lifestyles. None of us are told to excuse the sin of lying. Or kidnapping. Or idolatry. Or adultery. But we are told to not only tolerate homosexuality, [we’re told] to condone it, “celebrate” it (whatever that means), and I guess act like that particular activity isn’t in the same list with heterosexual sexual sin, as well as non-sexual sin…

My point is, I simply do not know what kind of knowledge or insight is necessary for me to erase the word “homosexual” in those two passages…I know that you know far more about this than I do. Jack, my heart actually wants to find a way to make it OK! But I can’t figure out how it is — not from Scripture.

What insights can you offer me?…I openly tell you that I’m very willing to be corrected or better informed on this one. I actually want to be wrong about it because I want homosexuality to be OK. I want a friend I know to go to the prom this year with his boyfriend. I don’t give a rip about it in my natural mind. But I need my Scripturally-informed mind to have a makeover if such condoning is to happen.

Any thoughts?

First of all, thank you for you email and your honesty. I know it can be a difficult thing when one questions long held beliefs. But I think you’re stepping out in the right direction, that is, with Love. That, I believe, should be were we always start.

Before I address the passages in question, though, I want to turn this discussion to the talk of slavery. You’ve probably heard this juxtaposition before but it’s a very good comparison and one that’s pertinent to the discussion.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there are plenty of passages that support slavery. But there aren’t any that condemn it.

Let me repeat that:

There’s not a single verse in the Bible that expressly condemn slavery. Not one.

So, how in the world did the church ever get to the point where we condemned slavery? What was the basis for it?

Christ and the Love of G‑d.

That’s it! And that’s quite a lot.

The entire view of the church shifted because of the Love of G‑d in Christ. We can no longer stomach to look at other people as less than human. People of color are human beings. They’re people. They’re our brothers and sisters. Even our enemies are human beings who love their families and want to live in security, raise their families in peace, to love G‑d and neighbor. Our blood would boil if someone started spouting off a doctrine condoning slavery! It’s wrong because people are image bearers of G‑d whom G‑d loves and should be treated with the same respect we would want our loved ones to be treated.

Now, let’s look at the LGBT community.

No.

Scratch that.

Let’s look at the people who are LGBT. First and foremost — they’re people. People who pay their taxes. Own businesses. Go to school. Teach our children. Work on our cars. Take care of our loved ones. Are our loved ones. To think that, as a society, these people should not be permitted to love someone else, marry that person, have a family, have peace and security because their partner is the same sex is appalling. To go even further (like some people do) and bully and persecute these people — and this would include not giving them the same privileges as other people — just because their different is a hate crime. I can’t imagine having to hide my feelings about someone else because society thinks it’s “icky.” The problem is that we tend to see others not as people but as their sexual orientation.

Also people who are LGBT are people for whom Christ died. They are no less human beings that bear the image of G‑d than you or I are. In fact, I would go so far to say I’ve known some of them that represent Christ a lot better than I do!

So, from the beginning, before we go any further, people who are LGBT are people. On that issue alone they should have every right that anyone else has. Period. Also, they’re people that Christ loves and redeemed. Whether others like it or not, they’re included in that ransom, and, therefore, are “the church,” the mystical “body of Christ.”

Now, let’s look at those passages.

1 Corinthians 6.9-11 (NLT): Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of G‑d? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of G‑d. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with G‑d by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our G‑d.

Before we address the word translated “homosexuality,” let’s look at the rest of that list. Is Paul saying that people who did these things will never inherit G‑d’s Kingdom? That is, if I have ever worshiped an idol or gotten drunk or had an affair, I won’t “inherit the Kingdom of G‑d?” Is that really what Paul’s saying?

I think we would both say something like, “Of course not.” Paul’s talking about a constant abusive lifestyle​. Someone who continually and unrepentantly practices hurting themselves or others (notice the word “are”​ — “are thieves,” “are abusive”​). And I would go so far to say that, even then, I don’t know if I’d say what think Paul’s saying here. I mean, he says that some of the Corinthians used to practice such behavior but were “cleansed” and “made holy.” So, this list isn’t a list of unpardonable sins!

But that brings up the idea of “homosexuality.”

One thing we must understand is that our understanding of homosexuality is not the same thing that Paul is talking about here. Homosexuality doesn’t just mean to have sex with someone of the same sex. We understand the term to mean much more than that. Homosexuality has been classified as a natural orientation on the spectrum of humanity (along with asexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality). Homosexuality is “‘an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions’ primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex.” It’s a natural development of humanity (and other non-human species). Just as we don’t really know how a person develops into a heterosexual person (nature or nurture or both or neither), so we don’t know how a person develops into a homosexual person. What I’m trying to say in all of this is that I didn’t “choose” to be straight anymore than my good friend “chose” to be gay. It’s just who we are.

Now, is this what Paul means when he uses the word ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs)? The word is actually a compound word. The word ἄρσην (arrén) means “a male” and κοίτη (koité) means “a bed.” So ἀρσενοκοίτης would mean “to bed a male” and has been defined as, “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite, pederast.” By the way, if we want to be snarky, we can insist that ἀρσενοκοίτης can’t mean lesbian or some transgendered people or bisexual people.

So, again, does Paul mean to use ἀρσενοκοίτης in the same way as we understand the word “homosexual?” I don’t think so. He seems to mean ​someone stepping outside of his orientation. Someone going​ against his nature. That is, a heterosexual person “engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite, pederast.” Think of Nero or Caligula. That’s the type of person Paul is talking about here. This is even clearer in Paul’s letter to Timothy.

1 Timothy 1.8-11 (NLT): We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed G‑d.

Paul uses the same word here translated “homosexuality” — ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs). As we can see from the list, he certainly doesn’t mean a person who has an “enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction” to a person of the same sex in a committed long term, monogamous relationship. He’s referring to people who are “lawless and rebellious.” The natural orientation of a person is to love and honor their parents, not “kill their father or mother or commit other murders.” A person who commits such crimes would be “lawless and rebellious.” Likewise, a homosexual person engaging in a homosexual relationship is not being “lawless and rebellious.” Again, Paul's obviously referring to people more like Caligula than your friend who wants to go to prom with his boyfriend.

I like how the Complete Jewish Bible* translates this passage:

1 Timothy 1.8-11 (CJB): We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends. We are aware that Torah is not for a person who is righteous, but for those who are heedless of Torah and rebellious, ungodly and sinful, wicked and worldly, for people who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral — both heterosexual and homosexual — slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone who acts contrary to the sound teaching that accords with the Good News of the glorious and blessed God.

Here we see that the gist of the message is not on the sexuality of the individual but that they are behaving “immorally.”

Another very important point in this whole debate is the translation of the word ἀρσενοκοίτης itself. We must remember that the word “homosexual” wasn’t even in our vocabulary until the 19th century. So how did they translator’s translate ἀρσενοκοίτης before then? That’s a good question! Here are a few alternatives:

buggerers
defile themselves with mankind
abusers of themselves with men
sodomites

Lastly, here are some really good web sites that you might find helpful:







So, that’s my take on it. In a nutshell, to me, there seems to be a huge difference between what Paul meant and our understanding of human sexuality today. I hope that’s helpful.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


~~~
* Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

13 October 2014

Psalms for Praying: Follow-up

Last time, I wrote about a book I had stumbled upon, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan Merrill. In that post, I explained how the Psalms bother me at times, specifically when they’re violent. As an example, I quoted this section of Psalm 139:

O G‑d, how I wish you would kill the wicked!
How I wish violent people would leave me alone!
They say wicked things about you;
they speak evil things against your name.
O Yahweh, how I hate those who hate you!
How I despise those who rebel against you!
I hate them with a total hatred;
I regard them as my enemies.

Examine me, O G‑d, and know my mind;
test me, and discover my thoughts.
Find out if there is any evil in me
and guide me in the everlasting way.

I then went through and gave various examples of how Psalms for Praying removes the violent passages and focuses inwardly. That is, instead of seeing the “wicked” as someone “out there,” Merrill recognizes the falseness within our own hearts.

Well, some people responded to say they read the whole post waiting for the comparison passage from Psalm 139 but I never quoted it! The simple answer for that is I didn’t get that far when I was initially reading Psalms for Praying! So, I had a friend send me pictures of the text. Without further ado, here’s how Psalm for Praying renders Psalm 139.19-22:

O that You would vanquish my fears,
        Beloved;
    O that ignorance and suffering
        would depart from me—
All that separates me from true
        abandonment,
    to surrendering myself into
        your Hands!
Yet are these not the very thorns that
        focus my thoughts upon You?
    Will I always need reminders to
        turn my face to You?
I yearn to come to You in love,
    to learn of your mercy and wisdom!

As can be seen, Merrill focuses, not on the other, those outside us but within us. She shines G‑d’s light within our own hearts realizing that the difference between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness doesn’t lie outside ourselves but fights within ourselves.

Again, this is something I can relate to. I can testify that this is true in my own heart. My own fears and falseness cloud my views of others. I need G‑d’s light to shine within the darkness of my own heart and change me. And that’s exactly how Merrill finishes out Psalm 139:

Search me, O my Beloved, and know
        my heart!
    Try me and discern my thoughts!
Help me to face the darkness within me;
    enlighten me, that I might
        radiate your love and light!

So, there you go! The Psalm 139 comparison. I already ordered my copy of Psalms for Praying, I hope you did, too.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

~~~
* Good News Translation (GNT); Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society.

09 October 2014

Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness

I’ve had a really hard time with the Psalms for a while now. Some of them are fantastic but others turn my stomach. For example:

O G‑d, how I wish you would kill the wicked!
How I wish violent people would leave me alone!
They say wicked things about you;
they speak evil things against your name.
O Yahweh, how I hate those who hate you!
How I despise those who rebel against you!
I hate them with a total hatred;
I regard them as my enemies.

Ugh…

While I get that this is a reflection of the poet’s heart (and our hearts at times), it just bothers me to read that in my Daily Prayers, especially when I don’t feel that way (which is a lot of the time). Furthermore, if my intention in my prayers is to move beyond those feelings, to be more like Christ — that is, to be loving and forgiving all — saying them in my most intimate times with the Beloved is very upsetting to me.

However, last weekend at the Grace Garden Yoga Retreat, I stumbled upon a book by Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. Merrill refreshes the Psalms in a way that left me feeling...I don’t know...free? Joyful? Hopeful? There was a sense of, “Yes! Exactly!” when I read through the first part of this book. They conveyed a lot of what I feel but don’t know quite how to express it. The beauty of the way she refreshed these ancient songs and poems moved me. I’ve copied a few examples below.

~~~

Psalm 8
O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
    in all the earth!
You, whose glory is sung in heaven
    by the angels and saints,
Who with the innocence and
        spontaneity of a child,
Confounded those who are mighty
        and proud,
You quiet the unloving and fearful.

When I look up at the heavens,
    at the work of Love’s creation,
    at the infinite variety of your Plan;
What is woman that you rejoice in her,
And man that you do delight in him?
    You have made us in your image,
    You fill us with your Love;
You have made us co-creators of
    the earth!
    guardians of the planet!
to care for all your creatures,
to tend the land, the sea,
        and the air we breathe;
all that You have made,
    You have placed in our hands.

O Love, my Beloved,
How powerful is your Name
    in all the earth!

Psalm 23
O my Beloved, you are my shepherd,
    I shall not want;
You bring me to green pastures
        for rest
    and lead me beside still waters
        renewing my spirit,
    You restore my soul;
You lead me in the path of
        goodness
    to follow Love’s way.

Even though I walk through the
    valley of the shadow and
        of death,
    I am not afraid;
For You are ever with me;
    your rod and your staff
        they guide me,
    they give me strength
        and comfort.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of all my fears;
        you bless me with oil,
        my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will
        follow me
    all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the heart
    of my Beloved
        forever.

Psalm 25.16ff
Turn to me, O Holy One, and envelop me
        with your love, for
    I am lonely and oppressed.
Relieve the block in my heart
    that keep me separated from You;
See all the darkness within me;
    fill it with your healing light.
Look at my pain and all my fears;
    they shut out love and life.

Protect me and free me;
    let me not live as unworthy,
    for I would make my home in You
May integrity and wholeness fill me
    as I dwell with You,
        O Loving Presence.

O Beloved, as you renew me,
    redeem the nations,
That we on earth may unfold
        your Plan.

Psalm 27.4-6; 11ff
One thing have I asked of Love,
    that I shall ever seek:
That I might dwell in the
        Heart of Love
    all the days of my life,
To behold the Beauty of my Beloved,
    and to know Love’s Plan.

For I shall hide in Love’s heart
    in the day of trouble,
As in a tent in the desert,
Away from the noise of my fears.
And I shall rise above
    my struggles, my pain,
Shouting blessings of gratitude
    in Love’s Heart
And singing melodies of praise
        to my Beloved.


Teach me to be love,
        as You are Love;
Lead me through each fear;
Hold my hand as I walk through
    valleys of doubt each day,
That I may know your peace.

I believe that I shall know the
        Realm of Heaven,
    of Love, here on Earth!
Wait for the Beloved,
    be strong with courage
        of the heart;
Yes! Wait for the Beloved
        of your heart!

Beautiful words reflecting my heart and longings. I will be ordering me a copy of Psalms for Praying and I’ll be using it in my Daily Prayers. I hope you do too.



~~~
Br. Jack+, LC

~~~
* Good News Translation (GNT); Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society.