Thursday, 15 March 2012

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".

Monday, 6 February 2012

Faith vs Religion: Ecclesiolatry, Scribes and Pharisees.

There is an important distinction between "faith", which refers to belief and a relationship with the divine, and "religion", which refers primarily to the human structures which support it, with their rules, rituals, and clerical castes. They are obviously linked, interdependent, and ideally, support each other. There are grave dangers though, when we lose sight of the importance of balance, for example by exaggerating the importance of religious structures, over authentic faith itself.

In recent weeks, I have found two important passages on this theme, by two very different authors, that I have wanted to write about - but have struggled to make the time to add my own response. Instead, I simply share with you the passages, and leave you to ponder the import yourselves.

The first is by the Catholic theologian James Alison, taken from a recent post at his website "The Portal and the Half-Way House: Spacious imagination and aristocratic belonging ", in which he refers to the way in which some Catholics use "the Church" as a weapon with which to coerce others into their own way of thinking. In a striking turn of phrase, he describes this as "Ecclesiolatry" - a form of idolatry, with "the Church" used as an idol to replace God:

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Bible and Textual Abuse: The Case of "malakoi" and "arsenokoites".

Sane and rational discussion of the Bible and same-sex relationships are bedevilled by difficulties with language, arising from problems with translations on the one  hand, and vastly different cultural conditions which make it difficult sometimes to make sense of the applicability of the words, even where the literal meaning is clear. This is especially important in the case of two obscure Greek words which, in poor translation, appear to say clearly that the Biblical teaching is opposed to homosexual activity.

Several notable scholars (Boswell, Countryman, and those that followed) have shown that these translations are faulty, casting doubt on a large chunk of the case for biblically based homophobia. Michael Carden, an Australian biblical scholar, has a post up which first notes that Christianity is unique in depending on translations for its scriptures, and then goes on to a lengthy, detailed discussion of the problems presented by translations of these two troublesome words.

From the opening of a much longer discussion at Michael Carden's Jottings:
Christianity is rather unusual in the family of Abrahamic/Middle Eastern religions in the role of scripture and language. For Judaism and Islam, and I suspect traditionally for Zoroastrianism too, the language of scripture, i.e. the language in which it was written, is also the language in which it must always be read. So countless Jews and Muslims have grown up learning something of Hebrew and Arabic and not just any Hebrew and Arabic but the Hebrew of the Torah and Tanakh and the Arabic of the Qur'an, even if it means just memorising slabs of text (as a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic child I have a resonance with this because I remember being taught the responses of the old Latin Mass, which I regard nowadays as a valuable bit of rudimentary childhood second language teaching). For Jews and Muslims too any translation of scripture is counted as an interpretation, it does not share in the authority of the 'original' text. Christians, on the other hand, have always read their scriptures in translation.  Christian bibles are comprised of two parts: an Old Testament comprising texts originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; and a New Testament comprising texts originally written in Greek. Early Christians used as their Old Testament the Greek translation/version of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts known as the Septuagint, together with those texts Protestants term apocryphal that were written in Greek. Just about all of the ancient Christian translations of the Old Testament were from this Greek text. Only the Syriac and Jerome's Latin Vulgate included translations from (some of) the Hebrew version shared with Rabbinic Judaism. So from the very beginning Christians have been involved in the project of translation. For many cultures too, ancient and contemporary, their first body of written literature  has been a translation of one canonical version or another of the Christian Bible. 
So for Christians, unlike Jews and Muslims, linguistic questions of meaning, equivalence and translation, can become highly fraught theological and political questions.
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Friday, 6 May 2011

Trans in Scripture

The Ethiopian Eunuch is our most famous trancestor. However, there are many more scattered through the Bible, both visible and invisible. We shall meet many more later.
-Lewis Reay

The Many Eunuchs Hidden in Scripture

There are numerous trans themes and characters in Scripture. If these are not immediately familiar to us, this is because often, they are simply hidden in plain sight - invisible unless we take the trouble to open our eyes and look. However, I do not wish to reflect too deeply on an experience which is not my own. Instead, I simply share with you some more extracts from a piece byLewis Reay, "Towards a Transgendered Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs, printed in "Trans/formations" (edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood).
First, I wish to consider Jesus' extraordinary saying in Matthew 19 (v 12 -13) about different types of eunuchs.  To my transgender ears and eyes the meaning of this text is plain ...... I would suggest that the Matthew 19 verses are the clearest statement that Jesus makes about the inclusivity of the new realm. This is a realm where no-one is excluded, even the most marginal outsider.
To see the hidden trans people in Scripture, we need to be sensitive to the words as understood when they were written - not as we use them today. A key word here is "chamberlain", which to modern ears, refers to a senior political or government official. This ignores the significance of the first part of the word - "chamber-". Reay elaborates:
The Greek word eunocoi comes from the root eune, a bed, and the verb achein, to hold: thus a eunuch is a "bed-keeper", or more literally a "bed-companion" or "chamberlain" who was responsible for taking care of a monarch's numerous wives. It also appears as a court "official". The secondary meaning of the word is an emasculated man, or one naturally emasculated from marriage or having children, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word çârîyç or saris means "to castrate"l it also means a eunuch or official. The word appears 13 times translated as "chamberlain", 17 times as "eunuch" and 12 times as "officer".
And so, many of the trans people in the Bible are hidden behind descriptors like "chamberlain", or (as other writers have explained) "cupbearer" - which includes Nehemiah.
Let me introduce you to some of my spiritual trancestors - Carcas the severe, Mehuman, the faithful. Hegai, the eunuch, Zethar, the star, Harbona, the ass-driver, Abagtha, the God-given, and Biztha, the booty, all eunuchs of King Xerxes (see the book of Esther).
Ebed - Melech, the servant of the king, an Ethiopian eunuch in the service of King Zedekiah, through whose interference Jeremiah was released from prison; Ashpenaz, the chief eunuch of King Nebuchanezzer, Teresh, the strict, who plotted to kill King Xerxes, Sarsechim, the prince among eunuchs, and Shaashgaz, the servant of the beautiful.
Meet some rabsaris, chief eunuchs and high-ranking Babylonian officials: Hatach, the truthful, Bigthan, the juicy, and Bigtha, the juiciest.
And, not least, the famous Daniel, and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and the defiant Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego (see the Book of Daniel). Finally, our Ethiopian cousin, from Acts, who opens up the possibility of full inclusion into Jesus' realm to all, not simply the Jewish world.
Most of these transectors named by Reay are minor characters, bit parts in the Biblical story. That's not the case with his main argument.

The Genderqueer Jesus

Mollenkott ("Omnigender") proposes that Jesus was chromosomally female (because of the virgin birth) ........ but phenotypically male. Mollenkott ties this in to the Genesis narrative of a God who is both male and female an neither, and therefore a Jesus who is equally both and neither, encompasing the breadth of "natural" human gender and sex is intersex people or female-to male trans-people who come closest to a physical resemblance to Jesus, being  chromosomally female and socially male.
Moxness ("Putting Jesus in His Place") suggests that Jesus occupied queer space by virtue of his social location and th he location of his followers. Jesus' followers put themselves outside the norms of society by leaving their homes and and their social gender roles to follow Jesus. By leaving their place in the household, ..they rendered themselves liable to the accusation of being eunuchs - their very gender identity was put into question for upsetting the gender norms of their time.
Jesus' queer identity is not simply to be read in terms of sexuality, but he is truly gender queer. Jesus is our own trancestor: the challenge of eunuchs was that they could not be securely placed, they were in a position of 'betwixt and between', in a permanent liminal position (Moxnes)."
Moxnes' discussion of the famous passage from Matthew 19 observes that in Jesus' day, the word "eunuch" may have been used as a term of abuse (rather like "queer" or "faggot" today). This puts a special light on Jesus' response.
Bohache argues ("The Queer Bible Commentary") that if, as Moxnes suggests, the term"eunuch" was used as a slur against Jesus and his disciples, then we have hit upon an essential concept for a queer understanding of Jesus:  today there are many for whom the term "queer" is a volatile word, since it originated as a slur among our opponents, but activists and others ahve reclaimed the word and used it proudly.

Isaiah's Welcome For All.

The Promise of "a house of prayer for all people"  in Isaiah is not simply a promise that eunuchs would be allowed. Rather, it is an unrestrained revolution to the existing order of who can approach God. 
Koch (in "The Queer Bible Commentary") suggests that the last chapters of Isaiah commencing at chapter 56 present many instances of gender dissent and social queerness. 
The Matthean eunuch verses are a mirror to the Isaiah 56 passage which extends the kingdom of God to eunuchs with a special place greater than that of sons or daughters. ...These verses encapsulate the radical inclusiveness of Jesus' message - there is no one who is marginalised in God's eyes, all are included.
And so, I conclude with the celebrated and important words of Isaiah 56:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD
to minister to him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach

Related Posts at QTC:
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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Parable of the Good Faggot

Fr Geoff Farrow has a post on Delivery "Salvation", in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”

In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would 
be the story of the Good Faggot.

He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book "Know My Name". I summarise his telling here:

Friday, 29 April 2011

Rembert S. Truluck's 12 Steps to Recovery From Bible Abuse.

For all those who are bothered by allegations that the Bible is (allegedly) against homoerotic love, here's a site to bookmark now: Steps to Recovery From Bible Abuse. I first came across this just yesterday, by way of a reference in the excellent book, "The Queer Bible Commentary", and am delighted to have found it.  As gay men, lesbians and trans peoples, we all know how freely the bible has been used and abused to argue against full equality, or even to justify direct discrimination, bullying, violence, criminalization and even execution. For those of us who are Christians, this abuse may have led us to deep feelings of guilt as we have struggled to reconcile and balance the supposed demands of faith, and living lives of personal integrity.

There are numerous resources now available that show how this supposed opposition is a chimera, and a gross misrepresentation of what the Bible really says about homosexuality, but most of these do not go much further than rebutting the handful of texts of terror. Dr Truluck's site does much more - offering suggestions for healing from the years of guilt engendered by this Bible abuse.

Dr Rembert S Truluck

The developer of the site, Dr Rembert S.  Truluck, was a  Southern Baptist Pastor from 1953 to 1973, Professor of Religion at Baptist College of Charleston, SC, 1973-1981, and later a pastor at Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Nashville, TN., 1988-1996.

He was a Doctor of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1968, and the author of "Invitation to freedom", (a guide to Personal Evangelism in the Gay Community), and "Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse".

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Gay Beatitudes

I missed these  when the Catholic priest Wild Hair first posted these at "A Piece of My Mind", then came across them earlier this week. There is nothing that makes them any less relevant two months later, so draw your attention to them now:
Blessed are they who stand naked and shame free
before God and one another.

Blessed are they who celebrate the rich diversity of all people
as spiritual & sexual beings.

And they continue. Read the full set at A Piece of My Mind
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