Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Food for Thought #1

One of the chief objections that conservative Christians hold against gay marriage (and all things gay, including hate crime legislation) is found in Romans 1:21-30. Paul starts out talking about people who knew God, but "…neither were thankful: … and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: … God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another: … Being filled with … fornication, wickedness, covetousness, … full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, … backbiters, … despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents … covenantbreakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: Who knowing … that they which commit such things are worthy of death…"


Let's see – who was Paul talking to? Oh, yeah, it says in v. 6-7: "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be his saints."

Remember your high school history lessons? What was the culture like in Rome in A.D. 60, around the time Paul wrote this? Tacitus, who wrote a bit later and was not Christian, pretty much parroted this theme. It was a time of drunken orgies and slavery (which Paul thought was cool), steeped in the Greek culture where mentors were men who regularly had sex with the boys they were mentoring.

Meanwhile, the gay couples I know have been together for 5, 17, >4, 5, and ~28 years. The lesbian couples I know have been together 1, 12*, 13*, 28, 7, ~18, ~12*, ~22, and >13* years. (Strikethrough indicates divorce; asterix indicates children.) Doesn't sound much like "[burning] in their lust" to me. I remember the intense grief my coworker going through divorce suffered – it was a dark time, and for weeks her eyes were often red from crying.

The heterosexual couples I know who have been monogamous for that long have been so because they love each other. And it seems to me also that that kind of love wouldn't occur if one were "leaving the natural use" of their bodies.

Maybe there's more than one way to be natural?

It also seems to me that Paul is talking specifically to "the called of Jesus Christ" – and not to the general population. Is he saying that the standard to which he is calling his followers should be held to the general population?

I wonder what even Paul would advocate as a legal framework for treating LGBT people? He did, after all, appear to follow pretty closely Jesus' advice to "render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and unto God the things that are God's."


David Carrel said...

Well, I bet you figured I would comment on this one. haha.
We are actually going through Romans in our church services (in Portuguese) and in our English Bible study class that I teach. So I have been studying Romans a lot lately, and that still does not make me too much more knowledgable, haha. Romans is so deep and rich.
The slavery you mentioned is not the same kind of slavery as we think of, but was more volunteer slavery where they were paid a wage and could buy themselves back. It was basically more of a job then what American history unfortunately shows as abuse and oppression.
I know that you already know my opinion on the natural use and so I won't write it all out here.
At this point in the letter Paul is explaining 4 reasons why the people are lost and turning against God:
1. Their rejection of their knowledge of God available through His creation condemns them.
2. Their conduct, based on the knowledge of the Law written in their hearts, condemns them. (for example, a kid will naturally lie after he has stolen something, cause he knows what he has done is wrong).
3. They are condemned because of conscience.
4. They are lost because of their contemplation, their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.
So Paul is explaining what happens to people who do not, as verse 17 puts it, "live by faith." And as they reject God, God gives them over to do all these things listed in 26-32, which is a huge list that basically contrasts many things in the 10 commandments or the Law.
But then he talks about how we have all violated that list in one way or another and should not look at anyone saying that we are better than them. We are all guilty of the law and are deserving of spiritual death, which is hell, or eternal separation from God.
CS Lewis would say, as well as Tim Keller, that the people who have chose to reject God, continue to do so and continue to want their sin and to be separate from God, even when they are in hell. They chose that path and are more deeply and deeply wrapped in their love for their sin. CS Lewis says that hell is locked from the inside.
It is pretty interesting stuff. Romans really is showing my own self-righteousness, pride, and sin nature and how if it were not for God, I would be even more wrapped up with myself and my sin and it is only by God's sovereign power and grace that I am not in the deepest part of hell.
Well, that is probably too much for this dissertation; sorry about the length.

Seda said...

Hey, David,
On Roman slaves:

"Roman slaves were treated in a wide variety of manners, as would be expected, depending on the circumstances, the household and the time period. ... Some were so highly regarded that they were considered parts of families. ... Some really worked what we might consider a regular shift and were free to come and as they pleased outside of that time. Others lived in the cruelest and harshest conditions, victim to the whims of society or the cruelty of their masters."

See also

And if you want, I can get out my old Roman history book that's filled with primary sources. Many slaves, especially rural ones, were treated as bad or worse than American slaves.

As for Romans (Paul's letter), well, if it feeds you, eat it! May it bless you richly.

I offer this opinion as it is one that makes sense to me, given my study of history, my life experience, my study of the Bible in several different religions (none of which, thank God, proved terminal), and my reason. I don't say it's the only legitimate interpretation. I do, however, believe it is just as legit as any other.

David Carrel said...

I guess either of us may or may not be right about how the slaves were treated. I do know however, that the Christians of Europe, William Wilberforce and others, were the ones who fought to end the slave trade. Paul, in the letter to Philemon, asks for him to forgive his runaway slave.
I know that there are also points in history that point to Christians being inhumane and I wish that I could prove the inhumanity wrong. But I can't. Christians have often been, unfortunately, the worst hypocrites you can imagine. Of course, I would question their true Christianity, nevertheless, they are, and rightly should be in historical terms, still grouped with the name of Christ. I think that overall though, the ideas in the Bible point towards equality in treatment of all human beings and we should fight for that.
You said in another post something about hate crimes being voted about and I am not sure what you were referring to. I don't believe that we should treat you as a person any different than anyone else. (Now I know this would lead to a long discussion about voting and marriage rights, which I don't mean for it to go, but I think you Seda understand what I mean by saying that).

Seda said...

"overall though, the ideas in the Bible point towards equality in treatment of all human beings and we should fight for that."

I agree.

"I don't believe that we should treat you as a person any different than anyone else."

I agree.

Hate crimes legislation was inspired, as I understand it, by events such as the Holocaust, where millions of Jews, Gypsies, gays, and trans people were killed just because of the demographic group to which they belonged. The intent is to pull the seedlings of genocide before they root deeply. The basis is that society has a special interest and value in preventing the intimidation of an entire group. Hence, a crime that kills a Christian because the murderer got caught robbing him and was afraid of getting arrested is less heinous than a murder of a Christian motivated because he is a Christian; while the immediate result is the same, the second is a crime not only against the individual, but against all Christians, and all Christians will suffer to some extent. Current federal hate crimes legislation is limited to race, color, religion, and national origin, and there is talk about adding sexual orientation and identity to the legislation. If you do, indeed, believe that I should be treated the same as you, I would not understand why you would oppose protecting me with the same laws that protect you.

Especially given these 2007 statistics from the FBI: They reported no religion-motivated murders of Christians, and single-digit numbers of assaults and intimidation, compared to 5 murders of gays and lesbians, and between 240 & 500 assaults and intimidation. They don't keep track of crimes against trans people, apparently, but lists 6 trans people killed in the US in 2007, and 16 in 2008, for being or appearing transgendered.

To put it in perspective, about 80% of Americans are Christians, about 4% are homosexual, and perhaps as many as 0.5% are transgendered. So even though there are 20 times the opportunities to assault Christians, gays are assaulted 10 times as often (in this kind of crime). And it skyrockets from there if you count transpeople.

I can see the moral dilemma in opposing gay marriage. I don't see one in opposing hate crimes legislation. Yet Christian groups are the primary opponents of protecting gays and transpeople from the seeds of genocide in our country.

Curious, isn't it? Those who have safety and protection telling those who have not safety and protection that, by golly, they have enough.

My apologies if I sound a little bitter...

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our