Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You Think WHAT??

Paul by paynehollow

Paul, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Okay, seriously, I'd like some very honest, hard-hitting answers to some direct and reasonable questions on this point. I've been having an email conversation with the fella mentioned in the previous post who said I'd misunderstood and misrepresented his position. Fair enough, it happens. I'm not perfect. I certainly have not done so intentionally, but he says I've got his position wrong.

No problem, I said to him. Just tell me what I've got wrong and I can correct it.

First off, as you'll recall or can go back and read, I said that the fella stated (his exact words),

"Most people have no idea that the concept of having a say in marriage is remarkably new ... and not necessarily a good thing.

Arranged marriages were the norm for most of the history of marriage and still are the norm in some cultures today. They were even occurring in American culture as late as the 19th century. I'm sorry, but calling that "rape" is a function of ignorance, not value judgment."

Those are his words, no error there.

Where I erred, he says, was in saying that this quote above was in reference to the passages that I referenced in the previous post: Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 21. He clarified that was NOT speaking of women captured during war time and taken home to be made into wives. He was speaking specifically of the idea of "arranged marriages" that were common back in the day and still are common in some more fundamentalist (my word, not his) circles, like with some Muslims and some extreme Mormons, as well as with some Asian cultures. These are not typically FORCED marriages - the bride can say No. It's just an arranged marriage in which the bride and groom are consenting.

Okay, no problem, I get now that he was speaking of arranged marriages when he made that quote. BUT, that was not the question I had for him, nor the point of the last post: What of the biblical passages that were being raised? Deut 21 and Num 31, for instance?

Those aren't arranged marriages. They are what I think we can all agree might be called forced marriages. In my opinion (and, seriously, I can't imagine I'm in the minority here), a forced marriage (one in which the "bride" is not willing but, as in this case, a kidnapped or captured woman from another nation) is much closer to rape than to marriage.

FIRST QUESTION: Am I right? Can we ALL agree that when you have a situation in which a woman is FORCED to marry, against her will; is forced to have sex in that forced marriage, that this can legitimately be called rape? Unwanted, forcible sex IS the definition of rape, am I right?

Well, I just couldn't get him to answer these questions. He dodged and ignored the questions asked of him, rather than answering straightforwardly. And so, while I can acknowledge that he was speaking specifically of a certain type of consensual arranged marriage, I can't say what his position is on the topic of my post because he won't answer what his position is.

The reason I was asking him was so I COULD accurately correct my supposed misrepresentation and reflect his actual position. From what he has said, he SOUNDS LIKE he doesn't think that capturing a woman and forcing her into marriage is equivalent to rape in any way, but he just wouldn't answer directly.

And so, I am asking anyone here who'd like to address the question (especially the conservatives) to look at the actual words of this "command from God," (Deut 21 is a passage that is part of God giving directives to Israel) and address this serious problem with a literal hermeneutic.

What serious problem?

If anyone looks at this text and hears that someone saying this is a historically accurate text, then you are making a CRAZY-sounding representation of the God of perfect Love and perfect Justice: You are saying that God approves of killing an enemy's family, "capturing" the women that they "are attracted to," take her home and SHAVING her head, cutting her fingernails (traditionally used to subdue rape victims to take away their spirit and their fingernails which can be used to defend themselves), giving her a month to mourn the family you've just killed, and then "taking her" as your wife.

SECOND QUESTION: Do you see how astoundingly crazy that sounds to regular people out here? I don't mean that as an insult, just a statement of fact: For many, many people, suggesting that there is a God of perfect love and perfect justice and that God is ALSO okay with this arrangement sounds insane.

Now, here's Deuteronomy 21, again:

When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.

Bring her into your home and have her shave her head,

trim her nails and

put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured.

After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.

If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

Okay, first off, I recognize this is not a "command" from God, but God saying, "This behavior is okay." Nonetheless, for the folk who say this passage represents a literal retelling of factual history and God DOES allow people sometimes to behave like this: You are making a rather astounding claim about God. How do you defend it?

THIRD QUESTION: Can we agree that this is describing a forced marriage or, if not, what do you think is happening here? Do you think that these women, after having their families slaughtered, are going to say, "well, you know, he's sorta cute. I think I WILL consent to marrying my parents' assassin..."?

FOURTH QUESTION: If you think that God is okay with people - at least in the past - killing off whole families and sparing the "beautiful daughters" to take home and make them their wives, how do you rectify this with the self-evident Truism that it's wrong to force people into marriage against their will and after having killed their parents? Do you reject that as a moral truth?

FIFTH QUESTION: Are you of the tribe that thinks it doesn't matter how heinous the behavior, if God commands it (or allows it), it's okay? If so, do you recognize that this is not an instance of God commanding people to forcibly marry the orphaned girl/woman of the family they've just killed, but rather, God saying "it's okay if you want to do this..."? How do you explain this rather hard-to-believe position?

SIXTH QUESTION: Are you of the tribe that says, "God USED to allow this, but it was ONLY for Israel at that time, and now it's not okay anymore for anybody?" If so, are you saying that God changes God's position based upon the people and time and culture?

I can't get across how HARD this is to reconcile this sort of passage - taken as literal history - with the Christian understanding of God from the teachings of the Bible and our own God-given reasoning. If you're holding to the position that this behavior described here as acceptable truly IS acceptable, you really need to be able to provide something like rational and biblical support for that position. I'd love to see direct answers to these direct questions.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Exactly Why the OT Ought Not be Taken Literally

Silly Hat Katherine by paynehollow

Silly Hat Katherine, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Crazy-sounding conservative quote of the day...

Most people have no idea that the concept of having a say in marriage is remarkably new ... and not necessarily a good thing.


Arranged marriages were the norm for most of the history of marriage and still are the norm in some cultures today. They were even occurring in American culture as late as the 19th century. I'm sorry, but calling that "rape" is a function of ignorance, not value judgment.

Specifically, this person (whose identity shall remain private, unless he chooses to reveal it himself), was responding to the biblical text that has God commanding Israel to go in to a village, kill all the men, women and children, but spare the virgin girls so they could be taken home and “saved” to be Israeli wives, after shaving their heads, paring the fingernails and allowing them 30 days to mourn.

From Deuteronomy 21...

When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.

Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.

If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

And from Numbers 31...

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.

I appreciate, at least, the brutal honesty of this conservative, because it helps point out one of the big problems of trying to treat these OT passages like this one as literal history, reflecting a perfect understanding of God's nature.

Indeed, if you try to read these passages as literal history, you have to admit to a god that sometimes may command that god's followers to kill innocent children and to kidnap virgin girls and take them as your wives (after allowing a whole month for mourning of the parents and baby brothers you have just slaughtered!).

It's how you end up with folk who try to hew to a patriarchal worldview, one which says it's probably not best for women (or men, presumably?) to have a choice in who they marry. I'd love to know what he actually advocates, since he seems to think allowing personal choice in choosing life partners is a bad thing – what does he propose, instead??

Taking these passages as a literal reflection of God's views can lead one to try to take these passages as a rulebook of dos and don'ts, rather than a reflection of the views of a particular people at a particular time. It leads to calling what most people would say is self-evidently wrong a possible good. It leads people to saying things like, “Well, I know it SOUNDS horrible for God to command killing baby boys and kidnapping and bedding down virgin girls, but if you think about it, it's not really as bad as it sounds...” and then trying to explain why it's not as bad as it sounds (that is, killing the mother, father and baby brothers of a virgin girl, then bedding her down 30 days later isn't really all that bad!!...)

For such people, such passages become what they like to call “hard passages,” and then find some way to force such self-evidently immoral behavior into some sort of reasonable explanation of morality.

The problem is, it can't be done. At least, not that I can see.

You can say, at best, that such laws are LESS immoral than how people used to treat their enemies, that it is at least a way of offering SOME protections to slaves and captive women. True enough. But saying a behavior is LESS immoral is not the same as saying it's moral and a perfect reflection of God's will.

You could also call such commands a reflection of God's “progressive revelation,” whereby God USED to allow certain behaviors (like the ones mentioned above, polygamy, concubines, etc) as a concession to a more primitive culture and make a reasonable case for that, seems to me.

But what you can't reasonably do is suggest that this reflects God's perfect will and that engaging in these behaviors (not allowing personal liberty, advocating a world where women don't get to make their own decisions, kidnapping and bedding down the orphaned virgin girls of your vanquished enemies, killing the infant children of your enemy) is or can be “moral.” Not when we can see that such behavior is self-evidently NOT moral.

We don't need a literal OT to tell us that much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jefferson on Religious Liberty and Thought

Statue of Liberty by paynehollow

Statue of Liberty, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

The more I read of Jefferson on the topic of religious liberty, the more impressed I am with his writings. I say that knowing full well his AWFUL limitations as it relates to civil/personal liberty as it related to the slavery question. He was wrong, wrong, wrong, with no doubt. Awfully so, especially given his apparent well-thought out opinions about human liberty.

His mistaken position on slavery, notwithstanding, consider his wise words on the topic of religious liberty and thought (all emphases are mine)...

Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible to restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone;

that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time:

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; ... that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; ...

that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous falacy [sic], which at once destroys all religious liberty ...;

and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities...

(Thomas Jefferson, "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia," 1779)

Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

(Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782)

... shake off all the fears of servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first the religion of your own country.

Read the bible then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces.

Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from god. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that it's [sic] falshood [sic] would be more improbable than a change of the laws of nature in the case he relates.... Do not be frightened from this enquiry by any fear of it's [sic] consequences.

If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in it's [sic] exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement. If that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love.

In fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject any thing because any other person, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision....

(Thomas Jefferson, letter to his young nephew Peter Carr, August 10, 1787)

I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.

(Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799)

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.

(Thomas Jefferson, "First Inaugural Address," March 4, 1801)

It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.

(Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Simplicity? A Complex Answer, Part VI

Glistening Lily by paynehollow

Glistening Lily, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

"These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy?! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."

~John Muir

You do not consider, money never stays with me: it would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find a way into my heart.

~John Wesley

Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is 'finding his place in it' while really it is finding his place in him.

~C.S. Lewis

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount never blessed a material thing! The richer we get in the church, the poorer we get in the spirit.

~Leonard Ravenhill

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.


Way back towards the end of last year, I began offering up some thoughts about why living simply makes sense to me. Those posts can be found here. I'd like to offer some more thoughts and invite some more responses on the topic.

Why simplicity? One answer I may have alluded to before is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. Or, put another, more broader way: Live in such a way that you'd be pleased for all others to live.

How is this an answer to the question of living simply? I've recently been in a discussion that touched on this topic and the other fella asked, "In what way does your (efforts at) living simply help the child starving in Uganda?"

One short answer is this: If I live more simply (ie, I make $20,000 a year, but live on $15,000/year), that frees up more of my money that I could then send to those in need. The charity approach. That one is obvious.

But the more profound reason, at least one that makes sense to me (but may be harder to recognize), is the Golden Rule rationale: Live in such a way that I'd be pleased for all others to live.

The thing is, this is a finite planet with finite resources. Sometimes, given the great vastness of the earth and the numbers of people involved (billions and billions), this can be less obvious. But consider it this way: If there were 9 families and EACH of those families consumed 1/10 of the world's resources, that would only leave 1/10 of the world's resources for the whole rest of the population to live upon.

As a matter of justice, it would not be reasonable to think that it's morally acceptable for those nine families to consume 9/10 of the world's resources. Even if the laws were written in such a way that they could acquire those resources legally, it would make for an immoral and unjust situation. Or, if that's not obvious enough, then presume that there were TEN families each consuming 1/10 of the world's resources: Obviously, that is not a moral nor workable situation.

If everyone on the planet consumed at a rate as the average US citizen, we'd need multiple planets to sustain all that consumption. In short, we CAN'T possibly all consume at the rate that I currently consume. And I probably consume less than an average US citizen. Some stats/quotes on this point:

* The average American consumes about fifty-three times more goods and services than someone from China.

* The United States contains 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for 22 percent of fossil fuel consumption, 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 33 percent of paper and plastic use.

* A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil. He or she will drain as many resources as thirty-five natives of India.

* In fact, comparing statistics on actual resource use as opposed to population numbers has led some to suggest that the most overpopulated country on earth -in terms of impact- is the United States.

Sierra Club

when delegates from around the world gathered in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development, representatives from developing countries protested that a baby born in the United States will consume during its lifetime twenty times as much of the world's resources as an African or an Indian baby. The problem for the world's environment, they argued, is overconsumption in the North, not overpopulation in the South.

The Atlantic

Now, it is true that not everyone wants to live to the same level of comfort/consumption. One of our problems, though, is that, through our expertise in commercialism, we are doing a very good job of making everyone want to live up to the same level as we live. This is a problem simply as a matter of mathematics: We can't all consume as much as the wealthy west does. It requires too many resources - more than is possible to attain on this finite planet with an ever-increasing population.

And so, one reason for living simply, it seems to me, is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you; Live in such a way that you'd be pleased for all others to live.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marriage Equity: My Journey I

Stranger by paynehollow
Stranger, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

One of the things that I frequently do when discussing disagreements - especially biblical disagreements - with others, is to sort of systematically go down a list and, with each item, ask, "Can we agree on this?" or, "Is this rational?" It's something that has been complained about more than once, as if my constant asking if we can agree on a point is some trick.

I can assure you, it's no trick. It's just one way that I do these sorts of studies with myself. I look at a series of arguments that might be made in support of a larger point and, as I go down the list of arguments, I ask myself, "Is that reasonable? Is that a justified conclusion? Can I agree to that?"

I guess it's sort of the socratic method way of thinking through things by asking questions (although I never have thought of it in those terms, before stopping to put these thoughts down).

I bring that up because that is what I'm preparing to do here now, to re-address the question, "How did I go from a traditionalist, conservative biblical literalist opposed to any and all gay behavior to where I am now?" I'm doing this not so much for the ones who've heard me say this before, but for the benefit of someone relatively new to my opinions who is asking how this happened.

I KNOW I've done this before in a fairly systematic way and I thought I had done so here at my blog, but for the life of me, I can't find it. I am guessing I must have done it elsewhere and have now forgotten where.

So, without further ado...

1. I was starting from the position that the Bible clearly said any and all gay behavior is wrong. I loved gay folk, in my own way, but I thought that any gay behavior was wrong and harmful for them, spiritually.

[In hindsight, I fully recognize how hateful I was in my words about gay folk. Even though it was not my deliberate intent, I said some awful, hurtful things. I am sorry. It was where I was.]

2. I'm often asked (accusatorially) "well, what changed? Did you decide you were gay? Did you find out a loved one was gay? Did you have a crisis of faith and were questioning God, in general?? SOMETHING must have happened for you to change from 'accepting God's Word' [they'd say] to rejecting it!"

3. The ONE and only thing that was different was I had met some Christians who I KNEW to be Christians, based upon their obvious Christian lives and testimony, and these fellow Christians thought I was wrong in my position. Well, I was blown away by this. I'd never met a Christian who'd suggest such a thing.

I wanted to question their Christianity, but there it was, in their testimony and lives, there was no debating that they were Christians. And so, I did the only thing I could do: I accepted them as Christians who were just horribly, terribly wrong on this one point. I'm comfortable with disagreement and while, ideally, it would be cool if all Christians agreed on every point and were thus unified, I recognize that in this fallen world, we won't all agree. Even on important matters.

4. But, it got me to wondering, "HOW IN THE WORLD could they possibly in a million years think some gay behavior is okay?" And so, I looked at the Bible and what it did and didn't have to say about homosexuality, and did so with fresh eyes. I MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT do so with the expectation that I would change my mind, nor the desire to, I was just wondering how in the world they could even BEGIN to justify disagreeing with me and the traditional interpretations I held. To be honest, I would say I went into it with at least a little intention to be better informed to better REFUTE their crazy hunch!

5. I can't emphasize enough that merely finding some Christians who disagreed with me would not be enough to make me change my mind. By that point, I had already begun identifying with anabaptism and their pacifism. I was very use to being in a minority position as it relates to others within Christendom and I am fine with disagreeing with other Christians, even on important topics. That I had happened upon some "real" Christians who disagreed with me was in NO WAY something that I would make me want to change my mind. It just did not happen like that in the real world.

6. And so, I looked at what the Bible had to say, again. But what could there defense possibly be? I wondered. The Bible is abundantly clear on the topic with plenty of evidence in support of the position that any and all gay behavior is wrong! Why, look at Sodom and Gomorrah, I thought. How could it be more clear?! Two whole towns were DESTROYED because of their acceptance of homosexuality!


And I looked at the passages about S/G. And you know what I found? NOT ONE WORD saying or suggesting that S/G were destroyed because of homosexuality. Still, clearly, all the men of Sodom wanted to bring out the male visitors to rape them... gay behavior, right?

7. In trying to answer that question honestly, I had to admit, "Well, they were trying to RAPE other men. And we don't condemn ALL heterosexuality just because some males rape women, do we? In fairness to those who disagree with me and the Bible, we can't really condemn all gay folk merely because some men in S/G wanted to rape men, can we?"

And, much to my dismay, I had to answer, "No."

8. In fact, I found out that the Ezekiel passage about S/G says specifically WHY S/G were destroyed:

this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.

The very closest that I could get to some gay behavior is "did detestable things," but that's sort of a leap. Rape, after all, is the detestable thing that we find in the story. To suggest that S/G were destroyed for supporting homosexuality is just not justified in the Bible.

Oh, sure, there is the Jude passage about Sodom going after "strange flesh," but that's not exactly a compelling argument in its vagueness, either.

9. Still, at this point, all that had shown me was that S/G were not destroyed for homosexuality, nothing more. I still was quite convinced the bible clearly condemned all forms of homosexuality.

10. Nonetheless, this DID put a big dent in my package of Bible verses against homosexuality. IF we eliminate passages about behaviors that are wrong/bad for gay OR straight people (and that includes prostitution, rape, licentiousness, forced child prostitution, etc), then that eliminates the bulk of Bible passages potentially dealing with all gay behavior.

11. In fact, that left me with less than five-six passages in the whole Bible that appeared to likely be on the topic.

12. Nonetheless, something being condemned "only" five times is PLENTY of condemnation, so I looked at those five passages to find support for my position against homosexuality.

13. At this point, I had these five passages: Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1 and 1 Corinthians 6: The entire biblical argument against homosexuality, it would seem.

14. In only TWO passages was the word, "homosexual" used in the whole Bible (although, that depended upon your translation - in most translations, it does not appear at all). Those two places are 1 Tim 1 and 1 Cor 6. So, I jumped to those, since they had the advantage of being New Testament teachings.

15. In both of those passages, you have Paul offering a list of behaviors that are not part of God's kingdom. These behaviors included fornication, idol worship, greed, stealing, etc, along with homosexuality. Clear enough! This behavior (I assumed all homosexual behavior) is NOT part of God's kingdom, any more than greed or stealing!

16. But why, I asked myself, did homosexual appear in only some translations, but not most? What is the Greek word being discussed there, "homosexual," right?

17. In looking into it, I saw that the word was NOT translated "homosexual" because that was not the word being used. There was a Greek word for homosexual, but Paul did not use that in either of these passages. Why is that? I asked myself...

18. It turned out that there are two words here that APPEAR to have some homosexual connotation. In the NIV, the words used are translated, "Male prostitutes" and "homosexual offender." I learned that these are a translation of the words "malakoi" - literally meaning "soft," and arsenokoites (and don't think I didn't notice that "arse" in there!), which is literally translated "men - bed," or maybe even, "men - penetrator," since "koitus" had a sexual connotation. I also learned that there is no consensus on how the words ought to be translated (and you can see this in the many different translations of these words).

19. Well, now that may or may not have helped my argument against all homosexual behavior. Why wouldn't Paul have just used the word for homosexual if he wanted to condemn homosexuality? I wondered. I had no good answer. Ultimately, that Paul did NOT use the normal word for homosexual when a Greek word existed, made me discount these two-three passages that I had previously considered so "obvious."

For me, then, at this point, these two passages were a wash. MAYBE they were condemning all gay behavior, but I honestly could not justify saying, "Yes, these are definitely talking about all gay behavior."

20. So, from there I moved on to the three remaining verses, which CLEARLY were speaking of gay behavior and condemning it. So, it doesn't matter if there are "only" three passages condemning a behavior. If it is wrong and that is only said so once, then that one time is enough. After all, bestiality is only condemned one time in the Bible, right? So, confident that I was still right, I turned to the three remaining passages: Two in Leviticus and one in Romans.

21. Looking at the OT:

Do NOT have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable, says Lev 18.

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death, says Lev 20.

"Do NOT do this..." "Detestable!" Clearly these two passages are condemning gay behavior and from a straightforward reading, they are condemning ALL gay behavior (well, at least all GAY MALE behavior, since no lesbian action isn't mentioned. I thought it was safely implied, though).

22. Clear, I thought, but at the same time, there was the whole OT problem. Having been raised in a traditional Southern Baptist background, I had it drilled into me repeatedly, "We are NOT under the LAW of the OT." Christians today in no way are obligated to obey all the OT rules. As Paul says in Romans 6...

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

And again, in Romans 8...

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

23. Beyond that, clearly, NONE of us Christians would give a second thought to the notion that we ought to obey all the laws in the OT. After all, the VERY VERSE that condemned "men lying with men" said we ought to KILL THEM, and NO ONE today believes that is a good or moral teaching that applies to us. In fact, most of us would agree the second half of that verse would be horribly IMMORAL.

24. Beyond that, there are verses in the same section of Leviticus that condemns growing hair on the side of your head, wearing polyester and other behaviors that NONE OF US believed were sinful in the least!

25. So, how should I handle these two passages in Leviticus, I asked myself. I looked at them further and in context.

26. Growing up Southern Baptist, for all of its problems, gave me a very rich familiarity with the Bible. The Baptists, at least in my experience, took Bible study seriously. Because of that, I was familiar with the notion that Leviticus chapters 17 through 26 were part of what is called the Holiness Code. All of Leviticus was written specifically for Israel and the HC in particular were rules specifically for the Israelites at that time. The purpose of these rules were at least two-fold: To help the Israelis know how to rightly deal with one another in a new land and to encourage Israel NOT to adapt habits and rituals that were part of the surrounding (and often hostile) nations.

No Christian biblical scholars that I knew of at the time suggested in any way that these rules were eternal rules for all people and all times.

27. Nonetheless, there WERE rules in the HC that reflected what we might call Universal morals - behaviors to avoid that are always in all times and with all people immoral. In fact, I had heard growing up that there were three sorts of rules found in the HC: Universal rules, Ceremonial rules and Civil rules.

28. Universal rules are morals that are always to be heeded. The ceremonial rules had to do with washing your hands, not touching the dead and other ceremonial "clean-ness" issues. The civil rules were to tell Israel how to adjudge one another.

29. Of these, obviously only the "universal rules" would apply today. Okay, I thought, now I'm getting somewhere. Obviously, I thought, killing, rape, "men laying with men," these all fall under the "universal rules" of the HC, right?

30. Looking into THIS angle some more, I found out (I think I knew this, but it didn't sink in right away) that the whole notion of dividing the HC up into three categories is a modern device. There is NOTHING in the Bible that says, "These passages are to be considered universal, THESE passages are to be considered ceremonial..." Is there an objective source or way to determine which of these rules were universal? I asked myself.

Not that I could find anywhere in the text.

That angle took me nowhere.

31. Still, "Men shall not lie with men, it is detestable!" "An abomination!" in some translations. That seemed pretty strong condemnation. Wouldn't such a condemnation ONLY be used with universal morals/rules? I asked myself.

Turns out, no. That sort of condemnation was used with other behaviors that obviously aren't what we would consider "an abomination." Eating shrimp and pork, for instance (both of which I consider to be the OPPOSITE of "abomination..."). So, the whole "Wouldn't that term be used only to condemn the worst behaviors" angle didn't work out, either, to support my position against homosexuality.

32. There were probably some other thoughts I may have had about these two OT verses, but it didn't worry me, much. In short, the problem with OT passages is that they are OT, and they just don't apply en toto to us today. There are certainly great wonderful morals taught in the OT, but not every moral taught in the OT is applicable today and we have no way from the OT itself to say, "Yes, this is a moral applicable today and that isn't!" It just does not exist in the OT.

33. Didn't matter. EVEN IF there were only one verse condemning a behavior clearly, that was sufficient to say the behavior IS wrong. And I had at least one clear passage in the NT: Romans 1. Speaking of sinful humanity - those who ignored God's will and became increasingly depraved, Paul saysÉ

God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Pretty clear, huh? AND it is a condemnation of both men AND women engaging in homosexual acts - any and all homosexual acts, it seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? Men "abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another!" Even though that doesn't use the word, "homosexual," it is clearly condemning gay and lesbian behavior!

Or does it?

Marriage Equity: My Journey II

Deer Pants by paynehollow
Deer Pants, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

34. Not wanting to be shabby in my Bible study, I wanted to look at the whole text, to take this passage in CONTEXT of what was being said around it. Who were these "THEY" being spoken of in Romans 1?

35. In looking at the beginning of the passage, I see the introduction...

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of peopleÉ

...Which wicked people? I asked...

...who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them....

Those who SUPPRESS the truth, those for whom God's ways have been made plain to them. Okay. What else?

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

...Oh yeah, I remember my conservative Baptist preachers pointing this out when I was a youth/young man: This passage is speaking to those who were idol worshippers, adherents in the region to pagan religions. When I noticed that, I suddenly recalled something. I flipped back to Lev 18 to look a bit more deeply at that context...

36. Lev 18 begins...

The LORD said to Moses, ÒSpeak to the Israelites and say to them: ÔI am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.

...Ah, right. This, too, I recalled from my conservative preachers growing up: ONE of the reasons why Israel was to obey the Holiness Code laws was to differentiate them from the people living in the lands all around them. These Egyptians and Canaanites held to pagan practices - sometimes horrifying practices: Sacrificing their children to their gods, holding ritualistic orgies to make the ground more fertile and appease their gods, forcing people - even boys and girls, into serving as temple prostitutes for these pagan rituals.

That sounded very familiar to what Paul was speaking of here.

37. I looked it up and saw that Paul was speaking specifically to the Roman practice of worshiping to pagan gods, much like the OT was speaking of Canaanite and other pagan worship practices. Interesting, in all three of the places where homosexuality is condemned (and to be fair, at this point, I had to say, "at least SOME FORM, if not all forms, of gay behavior is condemned..."), it is in the context of pagan rituals being condemned.

But did that make a difference? I mean, if pagan rituals included bestiality or murder, we wouldn't consider them okay today.

38. Looking back at the Holiness Code, at the beginning of each of those chapters, there's usually some sort of introduction.

Lev 17:

This is what the Lord commands of Israel...

and then there are laws (clearly for Israel) mostly about blood sacrifices.

Lev 18: This is what the Lord commands Israel - don't engage in practices like the pagans do...

and then there are rules mostly about sexual practices (including some commands that are obviously not universal, like banning sex during menstruation) and repeated allusions to the pagan worship practices of the other nations.

Lev 19: This is what the Lord commands Israel...

and then there are an assortment of rules, many of which are obviously not universal, some which DO sound universally moral, and no distinction for us to say, THIS one is and THAT one isn't universal.

Lev 20: Say to the Israelites...

and then a listing of punishments to accompany some rules, again with mentions of the pagan practices by local nations. In this case, we clearly don't hold to at least most of the commanded punishments, which mostly involve killing people or "cutting people off."

And so on.

In ALL of these passages, the commands are directed specifically to Israel. In many of the commands, we can all see that CLEARLY these are not universally moral rules. No one thinks it is sinful to cut the hair on the side of your head, for instance.

39. All of that to say that happening upon the Romans 1 context led me back to the HC context and I came to the conclusion that while the morals listed there, including what appears to be a ban against gay behavior, COULD POSSIBLY be universal in nature, there is NO WAY TO say with any biblical assuredness that they are.

On what basis could I say that ANY prohibitions listed in the OT were universal in nature?

I can see no justification for a definitive answer, short of having that behavior also clearly condemned in the NT (especially by Jesus), not from the text itself. Add to that, the possibility that the "men laying with men" was speaking specifically in reference to pagan rituals, which seemed at least possible to me at this point, if not very likely, and I just could not find "beyond a reasonable doubt" OT support AGAINST any and all gay behavior. It just isn't clearly there. POSSIBLY there? Yes. Definitively? No.

40. Still, I was holding to one passage, Romans 1, that seemed fairly clearly opposed to at least SOME gay behavior, maybe all gay behavior. But the context thing was bothering me here. In both Leviticus and Romans, there is the references to the pagan rituals which I had learned growing up included various temple prostitution and sex rituals. Was Paul condemning any and all gay behavior or just gay behavior in the context mentioned? How could I decide definitively and beyond all reasonable doubt? I returned to the text...

41. It was at this point that these lines caught my eye...

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.

Women exchanged their NATURAL relations for UNnatural ones. As did the men.

Coming from a very heterosexual background, I understood this perfectly. If I were to give up my natural desires for women, and pursued instead, UNnatural desires for me, well, that appears to be condemned here. But then it occurred to me: For a GAY guy, "natural relations," natural desires, would be for another guy. IF this ISN'T speaking specifically to some of the pagan rituals (as it became harder to argue against that, given the text) but ALL gay behavior, this would APPEAR then, to me, to actually SUPPORT gay behavior!

If the sin were abandoning NATURAL inclinations/desires/wants, then trying to get a gay guy/gal to be straight or a straight guy/gal to be gay, THAT would be what's condemned here, not "gay behavior," but abandoning "natural" behaviorÉ

Surely that can't be right? I thought to myself.

42. So, all of that to say that I just no longer found the biblical case as compellingly strong as I had always thought. Sure, it was POSSIBLE that all gay behavior was being condemned, but I just don't think you can say so reasonably from the text with 100% certainty. I realized, at the least, that such a position just wasn't biblically or logically provable.

43. Still, at all of that, it's not an endorsement of SOME gay behavior, it's just not a blanket condemnation of all gay behavior, either. What now? Obviously, there is no support for something like marriage for all in the Bible, is there? At this point, it seemed to me that the most I could say would be that an issue like marriage equity ("gay marriage") is a topic on which the Bible is silent. One simply can not say that the Bible offers a provable, definitive position either against of for marriage equity.

It's an issue like driving cars or recycling: It's just not covered explicitly in the Bible.

44. Of course, this was a staggering place to reach for someone who was SO SURE that the Bible was unequivocal in its opposition to all gay behavior. I still wasn't sure if I supported marriage equity, but I just could no longer say with any biblical certainty that it was certainly wrong. I can't tell you how wild that is to be SO VERY CERTAIN for some 30+ years of one's life of a position, only to find that support for that position is not certainly there.

Not only that, but I was forced to realize that much of my certainty was built upon a certain amount of cultural blindness to what was and wasn't actually said in the Bible. I thought there were MANY passages clearly condemning all gay behavior. I had to admit that this was not the case, even though I was certain of it. I guess I thought that Jesus had certainly opposed it (I don't recall now for sure what I thought Jesus had to say about homosexuality), but that was not the case, not in the least. I had to admit that all the times that the word "homosexuality" was used (all one or two times), it was a mistranslation.

I had to admit it really came down to three passages (with some POSSIBILITIES for other passages, but not with any certainty). I had to admit that two of those passages were in the OT rules and that we have no biblically provable way of saying with certainty which of those morals are universal in nature and which weren't. I had to admit that left me with ONE passage that had any (what I thought was) certainty and finally, I had to admit that even there, it just wasn't certain. It HINTED at what I had always been taught and believed, but once I began to let down my cultural blinders and look a bit more objectively, I saw much room for doubt.

Wow, that was stunning.

45. But, if it is a topic on which the Bible is practically silent, do I have any positive reasons for supporting marriage equity, or was I just stuck at agreeing that we could not say for certain?

46. Let me say that, although I was certainly opposed to marriage equity, I never found the verses about marriage that are often cited as a very compelling case against gay marriage. "Let the Bible's condemnation against homosexuality stand for itself, but saying, 'Jesus said let a man marry a woman...' is not a biblically or logically compelling argument," that would have been something I might have said.

That is, just because Jesus affirmed staying faithful in a man/woman marriage (in the context of a question about divorce and shirking marriage obligations) is not to say that Jesus was defining marriage, saying "This and only this is marriage." That is just lazy logic/exegesis/eisegesis. If I had heard someone saying that Jesus was DEFINING marriage in his comments here, I'd have said you just can't make a biblical case for that. And this was before I ever began this life-changing Bible study and while I was still opposed to any and all gay behavior.

47. The thing is, even before this study, I had realized that the Bible was not so clear on marriage as many of my fellow conservatives made out: The Bible didn't condemn polygamy. The Bible has many examples of various sexual practices. The Bible didn't say anything about the treatment of women as chattel to be "given away" in marriage. Marriage in the Bible is not marriage as we know it today and we have to admit that in order to be true to the Bible. In other words, it's not fair or sound logical biblical exegesis to speak of a modern behavior and find some similar (but different) behavior in the Bible and conflate the two.

48. And yet, none of this gets me to a biblical support for marriage equity for all people. And looking at what all the Bible DID say about marriage didn't help a whole lot, either, at least insofar as it didn't contribute anything much to the "Is marriage a good thing for all people, gay or straight?" question.

No, at this point, I was just stuck at, "I think that marriage equity/gay marriage is just one of those topics that isn't discussed in the Bible - which is not to say that it is good or bad, just that it isn't covered. It MIGHT be alluded to, but in good faith, I don't think we can say it is definitively."

49. On topics that aren't covered in the Bible, I'm entirely fine with another method of determining our moral values: Using our God-given reasoning. Is using our fallible reasoning a perfect way of determining moral values? No, not really. No more than using our reasoning to understand the Bible's teachings is a perfect way of determining our moral values. But is it a good and rational way to do the best we can?

I say, what option do we have?

50. On this front, some of our more traditional friends will say, "What option?! We have the Bible!!" And their thinking is that the Bible is "obvious" on many fronts and that one and only one moral conclusion can be reached on all the "big sins." For my part, I tend to think the Bible's ethical teachings ARE obvious. However, seeing as how so many of us good Bible loving Christians can't agree on what is and isn't obvious, I think it's obvious that our fallible reasoning (either logical reasoning or biblical reasoning) IS fallible and we don't always come to the same conclusions.

The point is: EVEN WHEN we are reading the Bible to understand God's ways and even when a value seems "obvious" to us, not all of us agree.

51. At any rate, using my God-given reasoning, I could see that those who wish to be married for the reasons of being faithful to a spouse, of raising family, of love for a spouse, to honor and respect and cherish a spouse... those who wish to be married in a mutually loving, committed relationship, where is there room for saying this is a bad thing? Just from a logical point of view, if people are sexual creatures and if licentious sexual acting out and roaming around can be bad (a point most of us can agree upon) and there is a more wholesome, committed, faithful alternative such as marriage, it is very hard to argue from a purely logical point of view that this is a bad thing.

What is bad in that behavior? I can think of nothing and I have heard no one offer anything.

52. As I was considering that logical angle, I was reminded of many passages in the Bible along the lines of, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things..." and Jesus' teaching about doing good on the Sabbath, reminding us that Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for Sabbath.

That teaching, in particular, stuck with me.

53. As I went through this whole study with myself, one of the things that happened was that I moved away from the notion of the Bible as a book of rules - a mere list of things to do and things not to do - to viewing it as a book of TRUTHS. (Not that I ever would have reduced the Bible down to a mere rule book, but I leaned more that way when I was younger than I do now).

Given that, I have repeatedly noticed how this is one way that people got in trouble in the Bible: When they reduce God's ways down to a mere list of dos and don'ts. When people do that, as the Pharisees often did, you can too easily get into trouble because, as Jesus noted, the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

The teachings and morals offered in the Bible are nearly always offered for the sake of humanity. To help us, to keep us from trouble, to keep us from making our lives a hellish existence.

By making the OT teachings a list of rules, the Pharisees were able to criticize GOD (Jesus) for merely eating, because they "violated" a rule they had come to understand as simply "don't work on the Sabbath." In so doing, they allowed the RULE to take precedence over Human needs. Jesus corrected their misunderstanding, telling us all to remember that the Sabbath (rules) were made for our sake, not US for rules' sake.

54. So, looking at the teachings and truths that things that are good, helpful, kind, respectful, committed, faithful, caring... that these things ARE good and are ALWAYS good, I found a reason to support marriage equity. And it was pretty obvious at this point: This desire to be committed and loving and faithful in a spousal relationship IS a self-evident moral good!

55. Again, wow! For someone like me - wholly opposed to any and all homosexual behavior (because I thought the Bible taught against it and I had checked that off as one of those "rules" that you just don't violate, in any and all circumstances) who had no intention to change his mind, to be convinced BY PRAYERFUL BIBLE STUDY of a wholly opposite opinion, that is just amazing and something I could not have imagined in a million years doing.

And yet, here I am, holding the opinion that marriage IS indeed a good thing for folk able and prepared to commit to it, and that does not matter if they are gay folk or straight folk.

And there you have it. My journey from opposition to any and all gay behavior, to support of marriage equity for all, all through prayer and Bible study and reflection.

Of course, this is a greatly simplified representation of my journey. It actually occurred over months of study and meditation and reflection and prayer. And I may be misremembering some of my thought processes: I'm of an age that I don't remember every little detail like I used to (and I never remembered every little detail all that well). But in general, this is how it happened.

Now, my reasoning may not convince many out there to change their position. If I could have passed these thoughts on to 20 year old Dan, it almost certainly wouldn't have changed HIS position, either. That is not the purpose of my posting this. I'm just recounting my journey to say that this is how it happened, and that it IS possible through prayerful consideration and Bible study alone to reach my conclusions.

You may disagree with those conclusions, but you can't say that I have not reached them the way I did, because, well, that would just conflict with the facts of the situation. And I'm not alone. Others have made this journey along similar paths.

Disagree if you must with our conclusions, but don't say that we have not honestly reached them.

As Martin Luther is reported to have said: "Here I stand, I can do no other."