Friday, September 14, 2012

Born a Gay and Born Again

            I remember back when I was about seven to eight years old, and, realizing that there was something much different about me as a person.  Now, granted, I never knew this AT that age, but…looking back on it as an adult, it was very much evident.  I was not like all the other boys on the playground.  But, I still played with friends, I threw balls at people, I played 4-square on the pavement, I smacked teatherballs as hard as I could, and I definitely didn’t mind being a bit rough when the situation called for it.  It was a hot day, probably about 95 degrees out.  The smell of chlorine filled the air as my family decided to take a dip in the local pool in Waterville, WA.  Waterville was and is a small hamlet of a town up on top of Pine Canyon which also served as the county seat of Douglas County.   The community was tight-knit and the town sat as an island in an ocean of wheat fields for as far as the eye could see.  I remember vividly that I was always fascinated with the male form.  Now that’s not to say I was sexually attracted to the male form, more that I was just fixated by it.  Now at the time, I had no idea really what that meant, but, I remember just going with it and not really dwelling on it much.  But, as far as I remember, that was my very first instance of being attracted to the male form. 
            Now, the title of this chapter, “Born a Gay and Born Again” is meant as a word play off a popular adage that is often uttered by those opponents of homosexuality and is more a mantra or a slogan to spread the idea that homosexuality is some kind of curse.  To quote Mandy Moore’s character from the movie “Saved” starring Maculy Kulkin, Mandy Moore and Mary-Louise Parker, “You’re not born a gay…you’re born again.”  And this slogan is often repeated over and over again in circles that generally are either fearful of homosexuals because they don’t understand them, or by individuals who refuse to acknowledge what it truly is.  And, if you haven’t seen “Saved”, you should.  It’s a fantastic movie and really brought several tears to my eyes as I watched it.  And not because the gay boyfriend got his guy and his new baby at the end, but because it wrenched my heart about what kind of pain homosexuals who come from Christian backgrounds must be feeling.  And in many ways, that same pain is reflected in my life, though I would safely say at a much smaller level.  But the pain is still there. 
            Now what have people said about homosexuals?  Doug Bachelor, a pastor which publishes a popular Seventh-day Adventist sermon series every week on the program “Amazing Facts” in his sermon “A State of Dis-grace”, often referred to homosexuality as a fleshly perversion, a choice of a man or woman to engage in sexual deviance against the natural order, against the design of God, an act that is declared to be “an abomination” (as cited in Leviticus 18:22).  He furthermore equated such feelings as lustful and sinful, fleshly, and utterly empty and non-purposeful beyond self-gratification.  He further contends that prayer and discipline can drive those inclinations away.  Now, to be fair, I do believe that prayer can solve a lot of problems…and I won’t diminish the fact that there are many, many gay men and lesbian women who have overcome that aspect of their life and have gone on to pursue healthy and heterosexual relationships with wives or husbands respectively.  But is such a requirement necessary to “be saved”?  I say not, and I’ll explain why in a later chapter. 
            On the flip side, there are many pastors such as Reverend Carol E. Meyers of the United Methodist Church in Iowa Falls, IA who, in a sermon delivered July 31, 2011, stated that she openly disagrees with her own organization’s view on homosexuality, believes it’s not a choice and that it is biology.  Further, she concedes the fact that the Bible did not address the issue of wholesome homosexual relationships.  That Jesus himself has never directly and explicitly spoken on the subject of homosexuality anywhere in any red-letter section of scripture, red-letter scripture being the accepted belief that those words were spoken by Christ himself.  She also believes that scripture on the issue of homosexuality should not be accepted in a literalist interpretation, and that more understanding of science is needed to truly understand the issue.  Further, in her sermon, she expresses that the acceptance of homosexuals is by far the most important social justice issue of our day.  She also acknowledges that she would like people to consider the issue carefully and thoughtfully, using reason along side of scripture to come to a reasonable and just viewpoint. 
            From a biological point of view, according to a study published by the Best Practice and Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in Sept 2007, the process of the selection of gender identity (that is, the sex a person thinks he or she is psychologically) is developed in the womb concurrently but independently of the physical sex characteristics, such as the penis and testes or the vagina and the ovaries.  This means that there can be a differential between the physical sex of the child and the psychological mindset of a person’s gender identity or as the study put it, “a case of ambiguous gender at birth”.  Further, the study concluded that there were indeed structural differences in the brain between heterosexual and homosexual brains related to sexual orientation and gender.  This is but one study in a sea of several studies on the subject of sexual identity and gender identity. 
A Cold Hard Truth
            I have drawn from my observations that the religious community's disposition towards homosexuals is a cultural phenomenon and not a religious one. Though, it originally was fueled by religious rhetoric. In Leviticus 18:22, It says to "Not lie with a man as a woman, for it is an abomination." People just naturally drew their own conclusions about why it's an abomination.  The word “abomination” was often used to describe things that are ceremonially forbidden.  The word “abomination” is used throughout Leviticus for things that we would regard are minor or even inconsequential.  Furthermore, for some reason, the word “abomination” was given so much more weight than what it deserved in our language and in other romantic and Germanic tongues.  The word does not bear any implication of fervent condemnation nor does it imply any kind of divine judgment or divine consequential severity.  It’s simply a word that means ceremonially forbidden.  During the times before the Exodus (Israel's departure from Egypt), it was common for some of that nation to participate in fertility and storm-god worship because of the harsh climate. Asherah is the Canaanite goddess of fertility while Baal is the Canaanite god of the storms. The worship ceremonies of these two gods were commonly sexual worship, as there was a deep relationship between the two gods roles. Sexual worship included homosexual relations as well as heterosexual relations, orgies, and bestiality. So when Moses was giving the law to the people, Leviticus had many regulations about cultural conduct. This verse "Do not lie with a man as a woman" is nested within several verses governing sexual behavior. That particular section of scripture was to dissuade the Israelites from falling into systems of worship such as fertility and storm god worship practices. If you look at the opening words in Leviticus 18:1-5, the passage is setting up a few things: The speaker, the audience, and the intent.  The speaker is Moses, speaking what God told him to speak.  The audience is the Children of Israel, and the intent is to dissuade the Israelites from slipping into systems of worship that were normal the areas where they were and where they are heading. (Armstrong, Karen; A History of God, p. 46-47).  Canaanite fertility goddess worship was the primary thing that God wished to prevent from happening while they were wandering in the wilderness. 
            Leviticus 18:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.
            These statutes were very, very specific in purpose and design.  The abomination isn’t the homosexual person.  The abomination is the sacred sexual rites of the Baal/Asherah, the worship system where-in God is not worshiped.  Further, it’s the sacrificing of babies and children to heathen gods in reverence.  The abomination is that God has to share his people with another god or goddess. 
The Cities of Sin – A Fallacy of Meaning
            Sodom and Gomorrah.  Two cities of the Old Testament that made such an impression on Christianity that we have words today that use those words as roots for describing detestable things such as the word “sodomy”:
           Sodomy, as defined in the dictionary is “Sexual intercourse that is not the union of the genital organs of a man and a woman. The term is most frequently applied to anal intercourse between two men or to sexual relations between people and animals.” (American Heritage Dictionary)
            Why then would good Christian persons want to be involved with each other in such a way?  Well, for one thing, the word’s definition is in direct relation to a story within the Book of Genesis.  Here’s a brief synopsis of the story.  Sodom and Gomorrah were such horrible cities that God desired to destroy it.  The cities were the worst of everything in the world.  Horrible and detestable things happened there and the Lord knew about all of it.  Abraham pleaded with God, that if he found 50 righteous people, that God should spare the city from his judgment.  The cities were so evil that God could not even find 10 people to stay his hand.  So finally, Angels of the Lord were sent to visit Lot and his family.  The angels were intent on not spending the night in Lot’s house, but, Lot knew how bad things were at night, so, he persuaded the Angels to stay with him.  When night came, it was the scene out of a zombie-apocalypse movie.  Elderly, middle-aged, and young men and boys all came out of the woodwork.   Only instead of wanting to eat the two visitors; they desired to have sexual relations with them.  And this wasn’t a “hey, you two, let’s go have a threesome or something” type of proposition.  This was a “Send those two men out so we can gang-bang them” situation.  It was really bad for everyone.  The Angels actually had to pull Lot back inside to save him from the mob, and the Angels smote the whole mob with blindness.  At that moment, the angels told Lot to leave with his family and do not look back at all.  Flee and don’t stop til you reach the next town.  So, after Lot and his family was safe, Fire and Brimstone rained from the heavens destroying both cities.  I encourage you to actually read the entire story which starts at Genesis 17:1 and ends at 19:29. 
            So, the point of the story is this.  The images here are awful, terrible and abominable.  The act of homosexual relations portrayed here are that of true sodomy, rape, molestation, and sexual slavery.  Such acts were detestable things even in that day.  God did not smite the cities with fire and brimstone because of the homosexuals.  God smote the city because of all of its evils.  The lust, gluttony, pride, control, and other roots of sin made those cities the worst places on earth.  But homosexuality in of itself is the act that is singled out and persecuted.  It portrays an image that homosexuals like to gang-rape people at random, that they abuse and molest and engage in all kinds of other evil and terrible things with innocent and pure people.  And homosexuals are instantly branded as immoral because of the imagery from this story.  The idea of this story is to show a preview of what the world may descend into in the end days as believed by contemporary Christianity.  It is not an instant demonization of homosexuals, but it has been taken as such.  And as a result, it has created a prejudice of homosexuals that has permeated throughout the ages to the modern day man and woman.
A Path of Righteousness
            So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt 7:12 NIV).  For God so loved the world that he gave is only begotten son, that he whomever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16 NIV)  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.  (Luke 10:27 NIV) 
What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Well….nothing actually.  There is no verse in the Gospels spoken by Jesus that directly references homosexuality in any form explicitly.  Then why do people believe it’s wrong?  Well there are a few answers to that question.  First, there’s the aforementioned misinterpretation of Leviticus’ verses on the topic and the descriptions of forced sex and rape from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Many Christians mistakenly confuse the speaker of those verses as Jesus.  Many will use God/Jesus/Bible interchangeably.  But, such a practice is in fact academically and contextually inaccurate.  Furthermore, there is a general cultural uneasiness about homosexuals in general which are mostly cultural holdovers from old Europe and whose views on sex and sexuality were transplanted here in the United States during the period of mass immigration.  Furthermore, only specific civilizations overlooked such aberrations in human sexuality and even openly embraced it.  Such civilizations were that of Greece and later the Roman Empire.  In the Christian tradition, St. Augustine of the 5th Century wrote that the Church should impose very strict and very rigid regulations regarding sexual conduct.  Such regulations, such as prohibitions on doing even the most innocent of things such as handholding or other safe expressions of desire, were strictly regulated and were highly reactionary.  Such regulations were in direct response to Augustine’s own sexual appetite which was quite voracious.  To this day, Augustine’s views on sexuality and marriage are heart-felt doctrine and the status-quo in most Catholic and Protestant circles to this day.  Augustine’s writings, such as a treatise he wrote called “The Good of Marriage” elevated the status of marriage to a divine institution, well beyond the simple legal union of two persons.  Such justifications for the elevations of marriage to this level of reverence are largely due to the fairly great amount of poetic imagery in the 66 cannon Bible.  Then unification of Adam and Eve in Genesis 4:1 is one example.  The “marriage” of Jesus Christ to the Church Body, or what is allegorically called, “the bride” is another example, and one that is repeatedly used to provide a visual and real-world relationship between God and Israel, and later Jesus and the Church of the New Testament.
            But again, what does this have to do with Jesus and homosexuality?  I have established that there are strong cultural attitudes towards homosexuals, and that those attitudes have unintentionally skewed and twisted scripture’s meanings that lead people to conclude that gays and lesbians will not be saved.  I have one challenge for you:  prove it.  Or I have a better idea, let’s see where in the New Testament it says that gays and lesbians need not apply for salvation.  Did Christ say in his ministries, “Those gay people aren’t goin’ anywhere near my pearly gates” or any serious meaning of that sort?  Nope, he didn’t.  Paul in the Book of Romans did make a remark about men and women who gave into their fleshly lusts for one another and forsake each other for the lustful desires of each other instead of the natural use of their fleshly parts.  To completely make Romans 1:18-32 make sense; let’s put the section in its proper context. 
            Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
            Paul is making statements about idolatry in this passage.  His remarks aren’t about homosexuality nor are they about men sleeping with men, and women sleeping with women.  Paul is talking about men and women who knew Jesus Christ as Lord, and then fell back into their old worship system worshipping idols.  Paul is basically saying that after hearing the message of Jesus Christ, going back to an old system of worship is just as unnatural, or another word for this is customary, as men who are heterosexual sleeping with other men and the same with women who are heterosexual sleeping with women.  Such acts are not natural from a culturally accepted gender-roles point of view.  The word “natural” is not used, in this context to denote what nature deems as proper.  Further, Paul’s statements were not spoken as a condemnation of monogamous same-sex relationships, but, as a condemnation of people who hear the Message of Christ, then forsake them, and return to their old beliefs worshipping idols.
            When referring to sexual sin such as lust, the sin isn’t in the act, but the heart in which the act is committed.  And this isn’t inconsistent with what Jesus said about lustful hearts such as Matt 5:28 “…But I tell you if anyone looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart with her.”  And this verse doesn’t talk about real love; it talks about its counterfeit, lust.  Nowhere in recorded Biblical scripture does it ever discuss the validity or invalidity of committed same-sex relationships based on true agape love.  That is, love that has no bounds and is unconditional.  Further, the other reason such relationships weren’t discussed is because they were so rare at this point in history. 
Context is Everything
            President Obama gave a speech in Roanoke, VA on July 15th, where he stated that “…you didn’t build that business, we did.”  The Republican Party jumped on that statement like a swarm yellowjackets attacking a rotting carcass.  The next two weeks after that statement was uttered, you couldn’t log onto Facebook without seeing someone linking some satirical picture, be it the Pyramids at Giza or the Great Wall of China or some other great work or wonder or business with the words captioned “you didn’t build that” and a picture of the President photoshopped into it looking up at whatever “you didn’t build.”  What the Romney campaign and the Republican Party as a whole forgot to mention is that the speech he gave was talking about how business persons had help along the way.  Teachers, police, fire services, and roads were all paid for by public investment, giving said business owners the ability to engage in their trade or firm.  Most reasonable people will agree that context is very important to understand someone’s intended meaning…otherwise we risk misinterpreting something someone said.  And that mistake can be very costly.
            Often, we run into people who will manipulate scripture to twist it to their type of understanding.  Before I go on, I will address one question that I already know is being asked out loud in your head as you read this book.  “Gabe, aren’t you doing that to favorably present your position on homosexuality?”  And the answer is no.  Twisting scripture means that you’re deliberately attempting to directly alter the definition of words or the context of scripture to achieve your own ends in a manner that you know is untrue or dishonest.  But also, to fully understand scripture’s truth, we must look beyond the face of just the words, and look a little deeper and ask “why”.  Why was that written?  Why would God decree that?  Why did this prophet say this or do that?  Why, Why, Why?  Without “why”, we wander aimlessly accepting what we’re told something means without doing some homework to see what it actually means.  The approach I take when looking at scripture are things like Audience, Speaker, and Culture.  To understand Leviticus 18:22 and other similar verses, we need to look at the culture that Israel lived in before entering the covenant with Yahweh.  We look at scriptures before the verse and after the verse to gain the correct setting, the scene, the circumstances, and most importantly the context.

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