Ruth and Naomi: Dec 20th

The story of Ruth and Naomi is widely quoted by queer writers as an example from Scripture of possible lesbian love:  but how relevant is it?  Superficially at least, it is just a simple story of exceptionally strong family affection and loyalty, between mother- and daughter- in-law. Whether in any way “lesbian” or not, the story is relevant, but not perhaps in the way usually told.  To unravel  the lessons it may hold for us, let’s begin with the simple story.

Naomi was an Israelite widow, living for a while (on account of famine) in Moab, where she married her two sons to Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The sons later died, leaving Naomi “all alone, without husband or sons” ,

She did have two daughters-in-law, and when she heard that conditions back in Israel had improved, she returned, initially taking her two daughters-in-law with her. She then had a change of heart, and encourages the two women to return to their own home in Moab. After some persuasion, Orpah did so, but Ruth refused.

Do not press me to leave you
Or turn back from following you!
Where you go I will go,
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people will be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die –
There  will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you
.
(Ruth 1: 16-17) Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Relationships, Cardinal Schonborn, & Church Reform

I’m a little slow in noting this, but last week marked three months since then Cardinal Schonborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna, suggested that it might be time for the Church to rethink its stance on homosexual relationships, considering the quality of the relationships, rather than simply the “acts”, which is the sole focus of the Vatican document, “Homosexualitatis Problema” (“HP”). This seemingly obvious, eminently rational suggestion is nevertheless so out of kilter with the official stance embodied in HP that I have been waiting and watching carefully for any sign of refutation or repudiation, but there has still not been anything of the sort. Read the rest of this entry »

Queering the Song of Songs

Gay men and women could be excused for feeling more than a little ambivalent about the Song of Songs as recommended reading.  On the one hand, it is very emphatically and clearly a frankly erotic love song between two unmarried lovers. It is a celebration of physical love, and an important counter to the common religious view that sexual expression must be confined to procreation. The Song is the strongest possible proof that Scripture does not support that view (there are others, too.)

On the other, it is equally clearly an expression of heterosexual love – at least as known and commonly published today.( There is an out of print book which argues that the earliest texts described two men, and that one set of pronouns was altered by later editors. For an account of this, see the Wild Reed on “The Bible’s Gay Love Poem“. However, I have not seen authoritative support for this view elsewhere, and for today I shall stick with the better known version. )

So how is a lesbian or gay male reader to respond to this text? Read the rest of this entry »

Water Into Wine: Jesus’ Gay Wedding at Cana

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops’ opposition. “Take Back the Word” (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the “texts of terror”, to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ” (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of the dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.

 

Who was getting married?

 

In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the “water” of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the “wine” of celebration? Read the rest of this entry »

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 15th: The Gay Centurion

In Catholic tradition, Longinus is the name given to the Roman centurion at the crucifixion who pierced Christ’s side with his spear. Some writers, like Paul Halsall of the LGBT Catholic Handbook, also identify him with the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his “beloved boy”, who was ill. It is this second person that I am interested in here. In this persona, he is one of my personal favourites, as his story shows clearly how the Lord himself is completely not hostile to a clearly gay relationship, and also because we hear a clear reminder of this every time we attend Mass – if only we have ears to hear.

It may be that you do not recall any Gospel stories about a gay centurion and his male lover, but that is because cautious or prudish translators have softened the words of the text, and because the word “gay” is not really appropriate for the historical context. You are more likely to know as the story as the familiar one of the Roman centurion and his “servant” – But this is a poor translation. Matthew uses the word “doulos“, which means slave, not a mere servant. Luke uses quite a different word, “pais“, which can mean servant boy – but more usually has the sense of a man’s younger male lover – or “boyfriend”. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »