Following the recent statement from Gosford Anglican Church, St Michaels Church, Collins Street, Melbourne have now publicly stated support for Marriage Equality.
From St Michaels Church...
"A large rainbow sign has been placed on the Collins Street side of St Michael’s Uniting Church in a show of support for Marriage Equality. Executive Minister Rev Ric Holland says...“We stand in total opposition to the so-called Christian Lobby. Lyle Shelton’s views are homophobic and contrary to the spirit of Christianity and the teaching of Jesus, who took a firm stand on equality.”
St Michael’s is an inclusive congregation, accepting and welcoming people of all faiths, cultures, and sexuality. For many months, Rev Holland has been encouraging those attending St Michael’s Sunday Service to be “a loud voice in the field of social justice, which includes in no small part marriage equality”. Rev Holland says... “I want St Michael’s to be the first church to legally marry same-sex couples in Australia. Marriage equality is important as it is simply natural justice for all people to be treated equally. The Church in Australia should be standing up for this human right loud and clear.”
The discrimination and marginalisation experienced by the LGBTI population increase the risk of developing mental health issues and encourages community division.
“It is the churches task to stand up for people who are marginalised; to be constructive rather than destructive and to breakdown barriers rather than build walls,” says Rev Holland.
I intend today to continue this series and conclude the reflection upon the scriptural passages that some Christians believe will inform us on same sex marriage.
SETTING THE SCENE
I must set the scene again for we need some parameters to understand the complexity. I suggested that there are two extreme approaches.
1. The Literal approach. Words and statements are clear and must be adhered to. For some it captures the idealistic side of our faith. Its complexity is that words have traveled down through history for several centuries and an occasional translation.
2 The second approach is the Contextual approach. It believes that these words can only ever be understood within the context of society, culture, and history and their relationship with God. With this approach some people get confused and wonder how can we ever know what to believe.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
In the First week we looked at Sodom and Gomorrah. An account some 1000 years before the commandments were understood to have been given. It was clear that homosexual activity was involved in the so-called ungodly behaviour of the city. But more specifically, it was part of a gang rape episode and along with other unacceptable heterosexual activities it is hard to draw a connection with same sex marriage for today.
In the Second week we examined the book of Leviticus which is a book on the application of the commandments. Its prime call is to holiness. For this period of Jewish history cleanliness was essential for holiness. We read of an extraordinary range of examples and the obsessive requirements of cleanliness rituals. Many of them faded into oblivion as they lost relevance to communities across the centuries as people learnt new ways of living. We are challenged to ask how the reference to males sleeping with males’ as one would with a woman, fit into these passages.
The message is far from clear…
1. Just how much importance do we place upon the words and sentences we read in the bible outside of their context?
2. How clear is the eternal message to apply in another culture of another time?
3. Does the application of godly living at one time develop over history?
We now move on to the New Testament to find the passages that are believed to guide us on same sex marriage. There are three references.
The first is in the letter to the Romans. Chapter 1:26-27
This is followed by two less definitive passages: 1 Cor 6:9-10. and 1 Tim 1:9-10
Romans is the main passage. Paul had a great dream of going to Rome then further on to Spain. His passion for the Gospel is unparalleled. Since his conversion he led the charge in spreading the gospel throughout the Roman world. It is clear to him that despite God’s obvious presence in all creation he is dumbfounded that people, Greeks, Barbarians and Jews do not see it. Instead they are so caught up in the ways of ungodliness. As he writes to the church in Rome, he makes a very concerted pitch to them to remain faithful to God in righteousness and holiness. His first two chapters of Romans speak of the great problem of ungodliness.
This is where we read chapter 2; 26-27…
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. For the literalist (fundamentalist) it is clear. Unnatural acts are ungodly. Homosexuality is wrong, Full stop.
Those who believe that all passages need thorough examination for an understanding of the context are not nearly as quick to draw the same conclusion.
Certain points stand out:
1. Paul’s attitude to life is nothing like Jesus. The people Jesus was critical of were the leaders, the powerful, the rich. Paul was a Jew and while grace was preeminent the law was structurally necessary. Even after his conversion he was still highly law orientated. And he was very clear that you were either on our side or the other and the others were wicked.
2. Paul’s criticism of homosexuality was that it was unnatural. I understand his point. Yes it seems more unnatural if pregnancy was not the purpose. At that point of history pregnancy was a prime purpose of sexuality or on the other hand as Paul might say sexuality became very easily debauchery. If love is the purpose of sexuality, then it’s harder to argue it is unnatural.
Jane and I went to the movie ‘Holding the Man’ A true story of two Melbourne school boys developing a homosexual relationship. It was heavy going because the film had a lot of their sexuality, and I did find it unnatural to me. Yet that’s the point. To the homosexual it is a very natural way of sharing love. At the time of the New Testament there seems to have been no notion of homosexual love, just homosexual pleasure seeking.
3. Of course the Roman and Greek experiences common in this era were not homosexual love of the marriage like quality we think of. The sexual practice of Adults and young boys was not uncommon and as I say the pleasure seeking picture outside of marriage is strongly criticized by Paul. But that included heterosexual forms of marriage.
CORINTHIANS AND TIMOTHY
The other two references from Corinthians and Timothy need to be reviewed in the same way. However there is one more significant issue. In these passages the translation from the Greek is complex and translators have struggled to understand what they really referred to. Different bibles have used a variety of words…
Effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, homosexuals males prostitutes and homosexual offenders, catamites (youths kept for adult pleasure) sodomites.There is no clear-cut translation that we clearly know what Paul was thinking about.
What I conclude is that people will view the bible and conclude what they want according to their understanding of God’s participation in the bible. Those who treat the bible as a literal presentation from God will be clear, that the very expression of homosexuality is unnatural and ungodly. Those who believe that the bible is a complex library of books tracing out the long story of the Jewish faith leading to the early Christian faith will want to examine the text within the context of its time and social practice.They will easily come to believe that homosexuality as an expression of love for those of the same gender, entitles them to enter a marriage relationship with conviction and Gods blessing.
They will see that holiness and love are more to do with attitude than gender. The responsibility of choice is before us.
I intend today to continue the reflection upon the scriptural passages that some Christians believe will inform us on same sex marriage.
SETTING THE SCENE
I must set the scene again for we need some parameters to understand the complexity. I suggested that there are two extreme approaches.
1. The Literal approach - Words and statements are clear and must be adhered to. For some it captures the idealistic side of our faith. Its complexity is that words have traveled down through history for several millenium and an occasional translation.
2. The Contextual approach - It believes that these words can only ever been understood within the context of society, culture, and history and their relationship with God. With this approach some people get confused and wonder how can we ever know what to believe.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Last week we looked at Sodom and Gomorrah. It was clear that homosexual activity was involved in the so-called ‘ungodly’ behaviour of the city. But it was part of a gang rape episode and along with other unacceptable heterosexual activities it is hard to draw a connection with same sex marriage for today. In a word, there was a range of sexual activities practiced in these earliest primitive communities of history, set approximately a 1000 years before the appearance of the commandments. There was no clear guideline for such primitive societies
1. So just how much importance should we place upon the words and sentences we read in the bible?
2. How clear is the eternal message to read from one culture to another?
3. Is there a historical development in understanding the eternal message of God?
Today’s focus is upon what we call the Holiness Code of the Jewish people. We find it in the book of Leviticus. It is developed in the centuries after the giving of the Commandments, which is for simplicity’s sake, dated about 1200 BC.
Solomon built the temple about 900 BC that lead to the formation of a strong Priestly religious tradition around which the Jewish faith developed. The code took perhaps another 300 yrs to take significant form and perhaps another 500 years to be shaped into the form we read of today. Leviticus gives a comprehensive outline of the laws that safeguarded the holiness of the Jewish people against the example of their neighbours.
The instruction by God was clear, “You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy”. God’s people were to develop their own distinctive quality. Holiness was vital for their Godly identity. In the passages we look at today, there are laws on a range of subjects, and as we read them we certainly question how relevant they are for today. Many make no sense. The value would be the overall message that speaks of the call to holiness.
Holiness involved ……
The subject that interests us at this time is that of sexuality. To do it justice, we do have to note some graphic detail. A lot of these examples can readily be seen to be health and cleanliness related. Let’s remember, the modest living situation, from tents to bare shelter and the absence of an abundance of accessible clean running water. Unlike a number of other races, circumcision for males was mandatory, but it didn’t involve women.
At this point of history, belief was closely aligned to ‘cleanliness was close to Godliness.’
BODY EXCRETION CH15
Some laws had to deal with body excretion, this involved laws for menstruation and believe it or not, men’s discharge from semen ejaculation. (perhaps coitus interruptous, or masterbation. The issue is probably not to do with the activity but with the discharge lying around) Its health dimension is emphasized by combining these with discharge from body sores. Along with many other laws, many like these fade into the background with time and are insignificant in the Jewish faith. History proved they were not universal instruction from God.
LAWS FOR LIFE AND WORSHIP
Many of the practices were to do with the worship related practices. It begins with a general outline of people, who are essentially relatives’ that one must not have intercourse with. (18:6-18)
WORSHIP: CHAPTER 18:19-23
But then it turns to examples related to common practices in temple worship in other nations. Temple prostitutes both male and female symbols of fertility. It prevents sexual intercourse with women during menstruation because of cleanliness. But this is coupled with a prohibition of offering one’s children as a sacrifice as was known of in the temple of Molech. To be guilty of this is to be punished by death by stoning.
Along with these examples, I quote, ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.’ It follows with the instruction that neither male nor female is to have sexual relations with animals. The individuals will be put out of the community
In chapter nineteen along with instructions in line with a number of commandments some more sexual prohibitions are listed. Sexual relations with a female slave designated for another man as a free person. However she will not be put to death because she is not a free woman in society. Presumably she’s not so important that they both need to be punished by death. The man just needs to offer a sacrifice of a Ram in the temple to atone for his sins. We can at least find a common mind with the declaration that you must not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute. As they say touché. Daughters of priests who act as prostitutes are to be burnt to death.
The list goes on but for our purposes we have outlined enough of the range of practices and punishments.
If we come back to the question of homosexuality we recall the sentence. ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.’ To the literalist it is clear. It is ungodly. It is an eternal and universal truth.
To the contextualist there are many questions. Homosexual practice is presented once in the midst of examples of what is forbidden from temple rituals practiced in other religions.
Of all of the behaviours mentioned in the holiness code, there are hundreds that mean nothing to us. Many of them ignored by or defied by the common person of faith in our day. Is there any definitive guidance for you in the holiness code. Already there is a tendency to obey some passages and dismiss others as of no relevance for our society.
The debate about same sex marriage has many themes to consider.
Personal history, Medical, sociological, psychological, cultural, religious which must all be considered if we are to arrive at a truly wise and insightful decision. For the Christian, the scripture guidance is naturally going to be a significant one. Some may say I am oversimplifying my observation, however I believe it is helpful.
For Christians’ opinions become divided due to the way people understand the authority of the bible. I’ll highlight two extremes.
On the one hand some are very much drawn to the literal reading of the words. Hence the words are deemed eternal and universal and are to be taken and applied in a meaningful way for whatever way society is reading the passage.
On the other hand, others believe that God’s revelatory guidance can only ever be understood within the context of the person, the society, the time of history.
It requires a great deal of study, and prayerful reflection to sift through the literature and separate out the godly from the human. Regarding same sex marriage it would be helpful to at least see if we can find some scriptural guidance.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
One of the notable records is the first reference we find in Genesis. Chapter 18. It is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.Today I plan to look at this account. As a city/town it had developed an ungodly reputation.
THE STORY BEGINS…
The story begins with three men passing by the tent of Abraham, who encourages them to stay the night. One foretells how Sarah will become pregnant and give birth to a child the following year. For Sarah this seems preposterous for she is well past child-bearing capacity. In this story, the point of this episode is to suggest that the men are godly visitors. The passage doesn’t say, but it’s common for people to imply they were angels. Who knows? …let’s settle on accepting they are godly messengers.
The story proceeds the next morning. Abraham walks part way with the visitors and they head toward Sodom. On the way, God determines to tell him that he has sent his messengers to see if the city is as morally corrupt as he has heard. It becomes apparent that if it is, God intends to punish by destroying the city. The men proceed on their journey to enter the city for their inspection, but Abraham stops at a point from which he can see the city in the distance and discusses this situation with God.
“Do you mean you are going to kill everyone, good and bad alike, because of the wrong of some people?”. The interesting discussion continues with Abraham bartering God down from 50, to 40 to 30 and finally to ten good people.
The story moves from Abraham Lot. And this is the point of the story that interests us…So far we have not heard the nature of the corruption and wickedness in the city. We can only assume that it is related to the events surrounding the unfolding story at Lots residence. We are told that the men this time are passing Lots place and he encourages them to stay as guests.
Word spreads through the village that two aliens, foreigners, are staying with Lot. For whatever reason, the men of the city, young and old alike surround Lots house and demand that he brings the two visitors out. And I quote… “They called to Lot and asked him where the men were who had entered his house that night. ‘Bring them out’, they shouted, ‘So that we can know them.’ The actual Hebrew word reads, ‘so that we can know them’. In Hebrew, that was the common way of speaking of sexual intercourse. Lot resists but ends up offering his two daughters, both virgins, in their place. His reason is whatever happens, you are not going to dishonour me by insulting my guests.
This is all enough for the visitors, they are horrified by the ways of the men and declare to Lot, take steps to leave this city because God has sent them to destroy it. Lot, his wife and daughters hastily traveled to the neighbouring city of Zoar, which was to be preserved amongst all of the cities of the plains. It reads, ‘and then the Lord rained down fire and brimstone from the skies on Sodom and Gomorrah. He overthrew those cities and destroyed all the Plain, with everyone living there and everything growing in the land.
How do we evaluate this passage? The story of Abraham goes back two thousand years before Christ, hence four thousand from our own day. Life consisted of nomadic tribes with some settled farming communities. Records appear to be a mix of historical events and illustrative stories designed to teach wisdom. This story is 1000 years before the apparent codification of the commandments. Societies were hardly beginning to discern right and wrong. It appears they thought God was likely to punish and destroy the wrong doer. We can hold the story of Noah and the flood up against this one.
So, Sodom and Gomorrah is about the evil in cities.
WHAT IS THE EVIL
But what is the evil? On first impressions the suggestion is that it was sexual. But again we are confused because Lot has no qualms about offering his daughters. Women were obviously of lesser value than men. Who would not be horrified by Lots behaviour today…what is it, prostitution, sex slaves? It certainly has nothing to suggest a godly man. The arrival of men at Lots house demanding him to bring the visitors out so they could have intercourse with them, was certainly not love making. It was even more than sexual gratification. It was rape and the organized way it happened, points to rape being systemic within the society. My reading of history, speaks of rape of both males and females as always having been an issue of power and humiliation
So on this reading what would you conclude? Whether it was rape of the men or betrayal of his daughters it’s got nothing to do with an expression of love. We would all conclude it is abhorrent, forget the type of sexual activity, it is the abuse of male and female alike.
Let me ask, ‘Has this got anything to do with same sex marriage’?
HOW DO YOU READ IT?
1. Words at face value?
2. Or do you want a deeper analysis?