Friday, 19 March 2010

The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

Under the heading,  "A Way Back Behind Christian Homophobia", Adam Kotsko writes at the blog "An und fur sich" about a trilogy of books by Ted Jennings: Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament, and the third in the set, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia:
"The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance -of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself."
Setting aside the weapons of hate

Even discounting the possibility that Jesus had a male lover (there are at least two candidates:  John, the "apostle Jesus loved", and Lazarus), this is an approach I love.  Given the way in which queers have for centuries experienced Scripture as a weapon of hate, it is understandable that after one has overcome a natural antipathy to dealing with Scripture at all, the first enquiry from lesbigay people is to  find ways to respond to the infamous clobber texts, to learn to set aside the weapons of hate.  This is technically relatively easy - the actual texts are few, out of 30 000 verse in a Bible written against a cultural background where homoeroticism was commonplace, and many scholars have shown how they have either been misinterpreted, or are of limited relevance to modern gay relationships.

More difficult is dealing with the residual emotional baggage: this is where books pointing to positive interpretations of Scripture are so valuable. Again, this should be easy - the fundamental message of the Gospels has nothing to do with hatred against anybody, but stresses love and inclusion for everybody - most especially social outsiders and the otherwise afflicted and oppressed.  Still, for people with a homophile orientation, we can go well beyond the simple message of generic inclusion. Writers on Scripture have pointed to specifically queer values in Scripture, while historians have shown that the roots of popular hostility did not lie in Scripture at all:  the Church followed popular prejudice, not the other way around.

I do not yet have personal knowledge of Jennings' books (but will explore further). There are other writers though who have covered much the same ground, with whose work I am more familiar.

Setting aside family values

Chris Glaser, in his excellent book, "Coming Out as Sacrament", has a chapter on "Coming out in the Bible", in which he reads several well known Scripture stories, from Adam & Eve in Genesis to Pentecost in Acts,  as coming out tales.  Among these, he presents the story of Jesus Himself as "Coming out of Family Values".  The evidence he produces in support of this argument is that:
  • "his mother Mary was told that Jesus' own coming out would mean "that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword shall pass through your own soul too (Luke 2:35)";
  • At twelve years of age,  Jesus ignored his family's departure from Jerusalem to sit  in the temple, his "Father's house" (Luke 2:49);
  • He left His family and as far as we know, never married and never "begat" children;
  • He called his disciples away from their families (9:59:62), told them he had no home (9:57) ,, and claimed that His gospelk would "set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother." (Mathew 10:35-36);
  • When His family came to see  Him, He declared, "Whoever does the will of god is my brother and sister and mother"(Mark 3:35);
  • Members of the new faith community addressed each other as brother and sister;
  • Jesus' own family of choice were three unmarried people - Martha, Mary and Lazarus;
  • In the New Testament, the biological, polygamous, prolifically procreative family of the Old Testament was superseded by the more vital, eternal and extended family of faith, a family to be expanded by evangelism and inclusivity rather than mere procreation;
  • Jesus had a special word of defence for the eunuch, who was an outcast in Israel because his body was mutilated, but more importantly because he could not procreate. "
I don't know about you, but to me, but none of this, neither Old Testament nor New, sounds particularly like the "traditional family values" that the fundies claim to be protecting because they believe them to be at the heart of Christianity.

Urban gay men as role models

Going beyond queer values in the Gospels to queer lives today, the American theologian Kathy Rudy argues that this Scriptural denial of modern "family values" implies that modern urban gay culture is more in tune with the Gospel message than the biological family which Christ's teaching rejected
"The church needs the model of gay sexual sexual communities because Christians have forgaotten how to think about social and sexual life outside the family".
Writing about Rudy's work, Elisabeth Stuart notes that
"The church has forgotten how to be a community, how to be the body of Christ and perhaps gay men have the grave task of teaching it to be a community wider than a family."

How far have we come?  Instead of simply sitting back and accepting the knee jerk, unfounded  accusations of "Sodomy", we find that there are serious, credible Scripture scholars and theologians who have first, shown that the traditional use of the clobber texts to atack us is at best inappropriate, or possibly totally unfounded; that there are positive role models in Scripture, in both the Old Testmament and the New;  that far from encouraging traditional family values, the Gospel message opposes themwith what are quite frankly queer values, and that far from the fundies being in a position to lecture us on how to behave, we should be teaching them a thing or two about the Gospels and how to move beyond an unChristian "Focus on the Family" to a wider "Focus on Community"!

Beyond gender.

Rudy continues, says Stuart, to "construct a sexual ethic which is communal in nature and queer in its politics."  Because in recent centuries there has been so much emphasis on first reproduction and then on complementarity as the sole purposes of sex, the result is that "celibacy, singleness and communal life, which have been valued for so long in Christian history, no longer have a place in Christian life."

In a neat inversion of the story of Sodom, "for Rudy the story of Sodom teaches us that what is ultimately pleasing to God about sexuality is the quality of its hospitality.  This is not to say that every stranger must be offered sex, but that sex must cultivate an openness  and warmth to strangers, it must open our hearts, break down our boundaries, and push us beyond ourselves.  Hospitality is procreative, it expands and widens the community.  When we open our homes to outsiders, the private space of the home becomes the public space of the Church, and so not only is gender collapsed but so is the dualism between private and public. The cult of domesticity is destroyed and replaced by an ethic which subverts worldy concepts of gender and understands sex in the context of building up the body of Christ."

How far from James Dobson is that?

See also:
Queering the Church:
Althaus-Reid, Marcella: Indecent Theology
Horner, James: Johnathan Loved David

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey:  Omnigender
Rudy, Kathy: Sex and the Church
Stuart, Elisabeth: Gay & Lesbian Theologies

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