Beliefs, Christainity, LGBTQI+, Philosophy

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part three): theological methods

(This is the final installment for the series concerning the lgbtqi+ community and radical theology. My goal was to demonstrate a new approach and way of thinking when it comes to the Christian Scripture and the affirmation and welcoming of the lgbtqi+ community.)

U.S. mainline denominations (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.) possess broad methods for thinking theologically. Methodists come equipped with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a similar method, but use different illustrations. Yet, still many denominations in the U.S. say that they only depend on Scripture or sola scriptura  as their main source of theological understanding! This, of course, does not leave room for a historical/traditional discourse about the interpretation of Scripture and the events that happened pre-Protestant reformation.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, it is impossible to listen to only one voice in the Scriptures, and not acknowledge the other voices that contradict or oppose it.

What we need are new hermeneutical methods for Scriptures or to re-discover recent, yet discarded ways of critical theory. This would be methods and ideas from deconstruction to Marxist reading and certainly feminist and queer readings of tradition and Scripture. Postmodern Philosopher and Theologian David Tracy points out:

“The great creative individuals–thinkers, artists, heroes, saints–found themselves, impelled to find new ways to interpret an experience that their culture or tradition seemed to unable to interpret well or even at all.” (Plurality and Ambiguity, pg. 7)

Today, we face our own crises in our churches and discerning how to approach the lgbtqi+ community. From the mainline traditions, the Episcopal church has affirmed that they will urge Congress members to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Episcopalians also are very public with their welcoming and affirming stances and had the first Bishop who was openly gay in 2003. In July at the Presbyterian Church of the USA General Assembly same-sex marriage affirmation was rejected, nevertheless by a narrow vote. Three years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allowed openly gay clergy members to serve. Still countless Christian denominations either do not speak about this subject, such as churches who do not have much power in the public sphere or they have stances that oppose even the idea of same-sex partners.

One of my concerns with congregations that have strict restrictions concerning same-sex relationships is that they do not know anyone in the lgbtqi+ community that practices Christianity. News outlets portray the lgbtqi+ community as ultra-radicals trying to subvert the very culture of the U.S. Yet, if the only information that we collect and experience comes from a TV/computer screen, our perception counts for not much. As humans we interpret everything at all times. Sometimes we get those things right, like when the popcorn stops popping and it is still on the stove, I am going to take it off and not leave it on there to burn.

With the lgbtqi+, we have neglected dialogue and conversation, instead we place our own perceptions on them. The greatest thing that I did intentionally was to attend a church that serves the lgbtqi+ community. I thought going into the experience was a church that would call God  father/mother and that would have song with progressive lyrics. Instead, the experience felt very close to my Pentecostal upbringing. We sang 90’s worship songs. Sure the pastor was gay and most of the congregants were in same-sex relationships, but talking with them after the service, they were much more theologically conservative than I. There was even an altar call at the end of the service.

The challenge for us now and in the future will be how we will experience faith. How can we not allow anyone who wants to follow God in the way of Jesus to come to church? Theology must go beyond, but also include Scripture, yet if the cultural context of Scripture does not fit within our own experiences, it is hard to only focus on Scripture. The Wesleyan quadrilateral could be helpful for understanding the theology. For instance, my experience with the lgbtqi+ has been delightful, I know several people part of that community who follow Jesus. The Scriptures are faithful to “loving God and loving neighbor,” therefore my harsh judgments against those who have not persecuted anyone and find themselves as the underdogs must not be forced into more oppression. Depending on one’s reading of the Christian tradition, it could go either way. For the church in the East, John Chrysostom denounces homosexuality in the 400’s. Yet, a non-issue about homosexuality was Augustine’s approach. To reiterate, the ancients thought of homosexuality was more of a sexual act more than a relationship between two persons of the same sex. It was about dominant power rather than mutual love. Lastly, a reasonable theological conclusion must submit to the fact that Christianity and same-sex relationships are certainly compatible.

Beliefs, LGBTQI+, Politics

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part two): jesus, st. paul, and difference

On Sunday mornings before going to church, I browse the internet, reading friend’s statuses on Facebook, and cruise through Reddit. One particular morning, I stumbled onto John MacArthur, who is a pastor on the West Coast and an astute Calvinist. During the month of May, he preached a series on homosexuality and the Scriptures. Under my own discretion, I watched the video concerning St. Paul in First Corinthians 6:9-10. His translation the English Standard Version read as follows,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

These verses cause me great uneasiness.They give the hard and fast formula for whose in and whose out. In contrast, when I read the Gospels, I read of a Jesus who believes that “those who are sick,” and the “least of these,” will be in the kin-dom of God. Yet, I wonder if we are misreading these verses, and that they are standing before us naked without a context.  What if practicing adultery, thievery, greed, drunkenness, homosexuality,  and being a swindler posit that you are part of the wealthy and the ruling class? What if St. Paul is saying that these statuses and attributes are an ongoing problem with the rich and it is causing much distress for other people, especially the poor among them?

As noted, St. Paul wrote that it is men who practice the act of homosexuality and not women. (Although, chapter one of Romans speaks of woman with woman in idolatrous worship ceremonies.) To put this in context, around the first century, a graphic mural depicting a man sitting down and a young boy bending over could be found in the middle of ancient villages. The boy was probably one of the man’s slaves and he of course was having sex with him. Thus, men having sex with little boys demonstrates a power dynamic, and was considered homosexuality. If then, this was a norm for the ancient world, grown men raping boys, then I too would be against this type of homosexuality! Thus, when priests who do the same thing, we stand angrily against such acts.

Maybe we could then change a bit of First Corinthians 6:9-10 to contextualize it.

Or do you not know that the those ignoring way of God will not inherit the kin-dom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually limitless ones who hurt others , nor those placing a nation, money, or work above God, nor those who are dishonest with their partners and find other ones while still in the relationship, nor men or wo/men who abuse children and find it pleasurable, nor those who steal, not for the sake of need, but out of luxury for themselves, nor those who have too much and are not willing to let it go, nor those who find substances more important than relationships, nor people who want to change the system to only benefit themselves, nor people who trick the poor into giving them money or goods will inherit the kin-dom of God.

For John Dominic Corssan, Marcus Borg, and John Caputo, God’s kin-dom should be more like the reign of God rather than a futurist place. The common notion that when Jesus states that the “kin-dom of God is like,” he is referring to the future time and place. A problem arises though, the parables that Jesus was sharing was not for the sake of the future, but of the present. This kind of thinking can be found everywhere in the U.S. One finds that the way that they are suppose to live from St. Paul rather than how the kin-dom looks to Jesus.

Of course, it is harder to follow a bunch of parables rather than St. Paul’s direct ethical statements. Yet, the Christian faith is not, and I repeat is not about ethical charges for how to live one’s life. The church seems to be all about that though. We like to judge others and create policies that harm people that we do not like or think that they are doing wrong. The kin-dom of God is like a party thrown for people who are born August, and everyone is invited, some will say that they are busy, many poor, homeless, crippled, depressed people can’t get out of bed, anarchists living down by the railroad tracks, some people with jobs will come on their lunch breaks, and others will ignore the invite altogether. Yes, the party will be uncomfortable, you will have to talk with people who are in different classes, political stances, emotional states! Yet, that is the kin-dom! The kin-dom is difference, lots of difference! We celebrate God by celebrating difference! In the U.S., we want to be a united, hegemonic people. The eleventh chapter of Genesis shows us what the ancients believed about God and hegemony.

This relates to the LGBTQI+ community by once again (from part one of this series) showing that context with the Scriptural text is a must! Second, that a Christian community survives not through hegemony, but through anxiety, un-comfortableness, and difference. The kin-dom of God is one that is vibrant and full of lives. Unless the Christian community starts to embrace the otherness of different people accepting them as apart of the kin-dom, we will not be able to thrive now or in the future.

Beliefs, Christainity, LGBTQI+

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ commmunity (part one): the multivocal scripture

This will be one in a series of posts on LGBTQI+, theology, and Scripture. The rest of the series will be posted this week.

Two minutes before I boarded the train the other morning to come back to Philadelphia, I was posed the question, “Do you think that the Bible is against homosexuality?” The question seemed not only inquisitive, but also had a hint of innocence. When one lives in an area for their entire life, and some notions are always answered the same way, and the national dialogue (Chick-fil-a’s stance becoming publicized) on a particular issue is brought up, how can one not, but to answer the same way? Yet, the questioner was looking for a different answer, maybe not a answer of hope, but from a different perspective. I started to answer in the way I usually answer, by starting with Leviticus and explaining it historical-critical fashion. I did not get to finish the conversation, so I wanted to write the rest of it down since I have not done anything on LGBTQI+ community.

Growing up I was taught the importance of reading Scripture. I memorized many bible verses through Awana and youth groups. Wholeheartedly, I agree that Christians, and others who are interested, should read the Bible as a personal spiritual practice. Yet as I have become older and hopefully more wiser, I believe that context should be included with text. (As my Critical Theory professor taught, “contexts accompany texts at all times.”) For example, in eighth grade I memorized a section of Isaiah 53, commonly known as the suffering servant, and for the longest time, I thought that this was speaking of Jesus as prophecy. Now, might I add that many of the early followers of Jesus as well, using their Christian imagination, thought the same thing. Yet, since I have had the chance to contextually analyze Isaiah, which is one of my favorite books from the Hebrew Bible, I have come to appreciate it more with having a knowledge of its historical context, socio-economics, and political situation. For scholars like Walter Breuggeman, who insist that Scripture can have double meanings, which is also an early development in the Christian tradition. This too was adopted, of course, from its own context, and it was called sensus plenar. This suggests that even if there is a plain meaning to a text, since it was written by God, there must be more to it. There seems to be nothing wrong with this kind of interpreting and if rightly used can have great theological benefits. Anyway, back to Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-9)

These verses read as a good theo-narrative for the Gospels. It gives meaning to the Gospel narratives, since most of it is mostly narrative does not necessarily bring about a meaning for the atonement. For example. when Mark’s Jesus died on a cross, he cried out, and gave up his spirit. Barely anyone was there to comfort him. Jesus dies a sad prophet, without hope; therefore, the only kind of atonement theory that one could come up with is the one that Jesus earlier in Mark says “That I will be a ransom for many.” This, of course, was the earliest atonement theories, and that many of the early church mothers and fathers adopted this idea about Jesus’ death.

Yet, in the original context of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the suffering servant is a metaphor for Judah who suffered through the Exile. They were the ones who were tortured and as it seems in these verses, idolized for doing so. These verses also speak to a kind of hope, although they were in the belly of the beast, Babylon. Isaiah declares God’s imagination to them, in the chapters previous and after, of a new society in which God’s Law is followed and all are called back into the land of Judah. With the help of context, Isaiah 53, proclaims more and is not as literalistic as it may seem, and gives me hope that with the use of Christian imagination, Scripture can come alive and have more than just a plain sense of the word.

Leviticus, the third book in the Torah, is a book that Christians do not usually read or follow for that matter, unless it concerns an issue that they feel should be followed. When I hear anyone quote the book of Leviticus, I wonder how much of it that they had actually read and second how important they find this book to be in the context of their lives. It may be the Word of God, but it seems more like a pack of bullets ready to be aimed at whatever “unethical” group Christians are against at the time.

Most biblical scholars affirm that the book of Leviticus should be the books of Leviticus. It has a few different authors, although they all would have been priests in one way . The section in which “man shall not lie with man” comes from a section called the Holiness Code. This section was written during the Babylonian Exile, between 597 (first deportation) and 538 (mostly all the Exiles returned to Judah). Scholars believe this is so because many of laws written here are new concerns that the Judeans were not concerned with until the Exile. The Exiles must have seen an overabundance of men having sex with men and women with women and certainly orgies. To defend against these types of behaviors the priests thought that if one was going to follow the Law without a Temple, the place where God reigned, then even sexual behavior must be conducted in a particular way. Yet, some of the Jews were cast as Eunuchs, and this was done for the purpose for the male to be pimped out to other people. This was a humiliating position, and probably callused many of them to God. The Holiness Code’s purpose was originally to keep people pure unlike the Babylonians. Thus, God did not seem too concerned with who is having sex with who until then.

Yet, since Scripture was written by several different authors, there are always different ways to . When the prophet Isaiah declared who should come back into the land, he called out in Isaiah 58 to the Eunuchs and Foreigners to join with Judah. The other side of this conversation must have been, “Those Eunuchs who are having sex with tons of people should not come back into the land! They are not holy like us heterosexuals, who have pure Jewish blood children.” As Derrida has taught, the Law does not equal Justice and the prophet Isaiah was allowing all to come back into Judah. Anyone who wanted to follow God would be allowed to come back. This is a reversal of the Leviticus’ law. God desires all to come back. This was also the literary purpose of Jonah and Ruth. People were probably questioning whether its good to have these foreigners in the land, and Jonah and Ruth respond in their own particular way. Jonah shows that foreigners can repent and turn to God, while even Jonah doesn’t. Ruth shows how a foreigner can give up everything and follow God.

Sexuality in Scripture is fluid as well. It matters which book you are reading depends on the kind of answer that you will receive. Personally, I am a big fan of the prophets rather than anything else in Scripture. The prophets call out in political and social situations, demanding justice. For the sake of homosexuality, it is justice that God wants them as well as everyone to be apart of the kin-dom, and for the sake of the law comes the “hierarchy of being.” For God there is no order, we are all called good. For human structures, hierarchy abounds and concerns itself with the particulars of some people over others.

Stayed tuned more posts are coming!