Memo to Cardinal George: “Redefining” Marriage.

re: Your statement on “redefining” marriage :

Everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage. Marriage is what it is and always has been, no matter what a Legislature decides to do; however, the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage.

A truly "traditional" Biblical family?

Please check some Church history. This is not the first time that the nature of marriage is being “redefined” – the church itself has done so frequently.
  • In Biblical Israel, marriage was polygamous, arranged exclusively between men (the groom, and the fathers of his wives). The Hebrew patriarch, if he could afford it, would also keep concubines as well as wives.
  • In classical and medieval times, marriage was not a contract between two people based on love to raise children, but a financial and legal arrangement to protect property and inheritance.
  • In the early Christian church, there was no obligation for couples to marry in church – unless the groom was a priest.
  • There was, on the other hand, provision for same sex unions to be blessed, in church, by formal liturgical rites.
  • The idea of marriage as a “Christian Sacrament” came relatively late in Church history. The popular Western understanding of “traditional marriage” is a very modern invention, dating mostly from the nineteenth century.

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“Adultery”, and the Problem of Heterosexuality, Revisited

My recent post, “The Problem Of Heterosexuality“, has drawn a comment from my reader David, who refers to the desire of the pope and bishops to protect the sanctity of sacramental marriage. In his response, he raises two important questions. The first, I think goes right to the heart of the matter:

“..how can the beauty and sacredness of the sexual relationship within the context of marriage, and the ability to produce children be promoted, and sex outside of a sacramental relationship be promoted without appearing to judge those outside of the relationship?”

How, indeed? Orthodox Catholic doctrine simply avoids this challenge entirely by falling into the binary trap of insisting that “sacramental marriage+ children = good” implies that “any other erotic relationships = bad”, which is a complete logical fallacy. The problem is that this simplistic thinking is not based on Scripture, which in fact contradicts it, as does the practice and teaching of the Church in history.

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The “Abominations” of the King James Bible.

Scripture has been so commonly quoted in support of arguments against same sex relationships, that we too easily overlook the simple facts that the texts being quoted were written in  a foreign language, in a remote cultural setting, in contexts very different to that in which pseudo-religious bigots abuse these texts today. To extend correct understanding of these texts, every useful explanation deserves wide exposure.

Abomination

At Religion Dispatches today, Jay Michaelson  has an explanation of one particularly treacherous and widely abused and misunderstood word, “abomination”.   Critics of the clobber texts routinely point out that the same word is used to proscribe certain foods, shaving, as well as “men lying with men”, and the inconsistency exposed in its modern use to attack  selectively one but not the others. Outside the scholarly journals however, not enough attention has been placed on the word itself, which emphatically does not have the connotations and strength of meaning in the original Hebrew text that it does in the modern English usage of its translation. (Renato Lings, meanwhile, has offered a useful analysis of the Levitical texts from another perspective, the words for “men lying with men”, and also finds that they simply do not mean what modern abusers of the texts think it means).

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Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

As I continue to investigate the issues around faith and sexuality, I am constantly in search of reliable information and analyses to set against the misinformation, selective quotations and misinterpretations that masquerade as the conventional wisdom on the subject. Recently, I was delighted when three different readers brought my attention to two useful sources, which between them contain some important, thoughtful material that deserves to be taken seriously.

The first of these that I want to introduce to you is an article by Renato Lings called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. This journal, edited by the renowned theologians Gerald Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart, carries an impressive range of scholarly articles, many in the fields of gay and lesbian theology, and of queer theology. (A second article in the same issue is on “Queer Worship”, which I have scheduled for publication tomorrow).

Dr Renato Lings

It was the well known and highly respected theologian James Alison, (who writes “from a perspective Catholic and gay) who referred me to “The Lyings of a Woman.” He wrote to me that he considered it an important article, and suggested that I get a suitable person to write a full review of it, for publishing here at QTC. I agreed fully with his assessment, and plan to publish a couple of such reviews shortly – one by John McNeill, and one by an Old Testament specialist from the Pacific Centre for Religion. I will publish these commentaries as soon as I receive them) . Read the rest of this entry »