The Queerness of the Priests: Exodus 27-30

Ritual transitions in human life always involve festival attire. Commencements, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and in liturgical Christian traditions: worship services. In Exodus 28 the story of flamboyant priests is encountered. This text expresses queerness on the basis of how detailed the descriptions for garments are in addition to precise instruction on rituals. This essay seeks to identify how Exodus 27-30 expresses queerness through flamboyance and ritual sacrifice, how G-d was in the midst of it, and how seclusion of the priesthood was formed.

Ritual sacrifice, perfume, and dresses tell a story of queerness. Spartacus, a modern-day TV series depicting fictional events during ancient times, even expresses this[i]. This series, filled with blood battles, casual encounters (hetero, homo, bi, and pan), sacrifice, and ritual, leading one to suspect that Spartacus seeks to glory in a historical pastime. Although fictional, this series is filled with imagery found in biblical texts, Greek folklore, and myology. The paradox between Torah imagery and mythology create queerness within themselves. One of the most critical of hermeneutical principles is that: readers grounded in their social location create biblical meanings. That being said, conservative methodical (in my opinion mythological) interpretations of sacred texts create an unfortunate paradigm of queerness. Be that as it may, myth is not necessarily what this particular Torah portion is about.

Queerness is about the fabulous becoming holy. Even in liturgical churches, particularly those following the high church tradition, the significance of pageantry, music, garments and sacrifice are apparent. In some cases, only certain individuals are allowed to participate in the ritual or serve at the altar. Priests are vested in ornate vestments, acolytes with cassocks and surplices pressed to the crease, and choirs singing harmonious melody without mistake. The ritual is rehearsed indefinitely, always seeking to be more perfect and glorious than afore. However, such rituals are not intended for God, but for human likeness, set apart for normative secularism.

The Ohel Moed is the root working of queerness. Being holy means segregating one’s self from et secularum[ii]. This Mishkan, or Ohel Moed is the “tent of meeting…the only place where sacrifices can be made[iii].” I contend that this place was one in which ideas where exchanged and emotions experienced. This is due to the fact that worship, on part of parishioners/participants, is a mystical experience in which complex forms of sensation and desire are conveyed. In essence, it creates a union with the divine that cannot be formulated as a binary, due to the fact that it creates oneness between the mystical, spiritual, and physical cognitions and manifestations of the individual. The root working involves the Parashat Tetzavah with is “offering [up] a robust mix of extreme moments[iv],” much to the metaphysics exhibited in the Catholic ritual of Easter Vigil. Nonetheless, “lighting the eternal flame [signifies] the constancy of G-d’s presence[v],” and such a presence cannot be mimicked, but only mystified as the same.

Ordination and anointing are the interchange toward an individual being queer. The queerness of ordination is rooted in that fact that not everyone is called to ordination. An old Black Baptist saying of no particular origin recounts this: “[S]ome are called, some went, some came, and some left.” In this passage, it is Aaron and his sons that are called to the eternal priesthood which presents a dichotomy. It is not Moses, the leader of the Israelites, but his brother Aaron that is anointed, along with only four of Aarons sons: Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar, and their sons, omitting the grandsons born prior to the establishment of the priesthood[vi]. This omission will in turn separate a family in a culture that tends to follow tradition. Ordination of priests becomes queer due to the fact that only a select few can participate.

As this social class of priests develops, so does the queerness of ritual. The text of Exodus 28 is extremely detailed in how a priest must dress, what materials these vestments are to be made of, and the participation in bloody rituals. Brettschneider states, “[P]reparing stunning attire is therefore a prayer. Wearing a magnificent frock is an aspect of one’s love of G-d[vii].” She contends, “[T]hese clothes and fabulous accouterments are ordered for no other reason than ‘dignity and adornment’ ([quoting Ex.] 28:40)” and “the femme, the butch, and the dyke take up such ablutions religiously[viii].” Young people of today would reply to her in thanksgiving shouting: “deep” and “yes girl!” But this is still not where the story ends.

The rituals of sacrifice during the Tetzaveh make queer theories come to life. “This is the stuff of great queer rituals,” contends Brettschneider as she explains the sacrifices of bulls and rams, “laying on of hands,” and exhibits of blood everywhere[ix]. Young people in my generation would state: “Shit just got real.” In this ‘realness’ the actions and theories associated with ancestral religion are trendy. Concoctions of aromas are being crafted from different animals sacrificed during day with other parts eaten. Not only does the realness of sacrifice occur, the realness of animal blood being put upon different parts of the human body, on the altar, over this and even that, is happening. I contend a queerness of these rituals because they mirror rites of purification and/or fraternal initiations.

Mysticism and everyday changes are queerness because it does not follow normative binaries. Brettschneider states: “[I]t is often in the extreme incarnations of the everyday that we are most conscious of navigating between the human and divine…it is through clothes and related components of affect that we push boundaries, given the disciplinary injunctions and effects of such in historical and cultural context[x].” Holiness, in essence, is fabulous because it seeks to push beyond the boundaries of human cognition[xi]. How does this relate to flamboyance? Brettschneider states: “[Q]ueers have heard endless rants about the godlessness of our most prized sites and practices of pleasure, meaning, and relationship. As a counterpoint, in Tetzavah it is here – in this place of lavish beauty – that G-d will meet with the Israelites, speak to us, and abide among us.” That’s how this passage relates to flamboyance.

In conclusion, pastors, priests, deacon, and laity are no different in ritual than the queers of the yesteryear and today. There are situations each of us engages to bring pleasure and peace. Sometimes this intimacy is with God, other times, often not. However, because God is creator, the glory of invention still belongs to YHWH because it is in YHWH that we live move and have our being. The only way we can continue to live in safety and joy is through that power alone[xii]. It enacts queerness which means that God is queer. Through the flamboyance of handiwork, God created human beings in a queer likeness[xiii], each possessing a mystical holiness and incarnation of the Divine. Aaron and his descendants brought in fruition the queerness of YHWH with adornment, vestments, sacrifice, and rituals in the tent. That fruition was already relevant, or else humans would not exist. Furthermore, this interpretation of Exodus 27-30 explains the Tohu Vavohu[xiv] in a way that is understandable: God’s queerness moves over the still waters in an anxious way through Parashat Tetzavah, in turn creating an Ohel Moed to bring pleasure, joy, justice and peace, and perhaps: sex.

 

 

 

Endnotes:

[i] DeKight, Steven, and Robert Tapert, writers. Spartacus. Starz. 2010-2012.

[ii] Latin, meaning “this or the world.”

[iii] Drinkwater, Gregg, Joshua Lesser, and David Shneer. Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. “When the Fabulous is Holy,” by Marla Bettschneider. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

[iv] Ibid, 106.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Exodus 28:1, NRSV.

[vii]Torah Queeries, 107.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid, 108.

[xi] Ibid, paraphrased in agreement with her.

[xii] Acts 17:28, NRSV, paraphrased.

[xiii] Genesis 1:27, NRSV, paraphrased.

[xiv] Genesis 1:2, NRSV, although this phase cannot be properly translated.

Leviticus 18:22

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”[1] It is not a surprise that this verse seems to say that gay male sex is forbidden in the eyes of God. The dominant view of western Christianity forbids same-sex relations. This verse is one of the clobber passages that people cite from the Bible to condemn homosexuality. This essay first looks at the various ways the verse is translated into the English Bible and then explores some of the strategies used to create an affirming interpretation of what this passage means for the LGBTQ community. More specifically, it presents the interpretation of K. Renato Lings in which Lev. 18:22 refers to male-on-male incest.

While Lev. 18:22 is used to condemn homosexuality, we must realize that the term “homosexuality” was only recently coined in the English language. So did this term exist in ancient Israel? Charles D. Myers, Jr. confirms that none of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible mention homosexuality.[2] He also contends that in ancient Israel same-sex relations were viewed as an ancient Near East problem. The ancient Near East tradition included pederasty and relations between an older man and a boy, which was the primary form of homosexual sex at the time.[3]   While Myers’ theory is historically sound, it does not respond to questions about Lev. 18:22 raised by the queer community.

Bringing no answers from the history of ancient Israel, we must turn to the text itself. No matter how we read the Hebrew Bible, we must remember that we are not reading it in the original Hebrew language. Every Bible we read is translated from the original. Translations of Lev. 18:22 into English fluctuate.  The KJV translates the verse as: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.” The NIV offers: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  The NRSV, 1989, states: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” The Priest for Equality translation makes a bold move with its translation: “Do not lie with a person of the same-sex in the same way as you would lie with a person of the opposite sex; it is detestable.” Interestingly translators of the Priest for Equality determined to not only forbid male same sex relations, but to blanket the statement to all same sex relations.[4]

As it is apparent, there is something happening in the various translations of Lev. 18:22.  In order to understand this verse we must confer with scholars and their commentaries. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary reviews several interpretations, but most of its attention to Jacob Milgrom’s work on Leviticus. Milgron finds that the word used for male and female words in the verse features a singular version for the male and a plural word for female. Milgron shows that the phrase translated “as one lies with a woman” is only found here and in Lev. 20:13 the phrase “as one lies with” occurs five times in the Hebrew Bible. [5] “As one lies with” occurs four times where it references bed and does not indicate a sexual act.  Genesis 49:4 designates a sexual act when Rueben sleeps with his father’s wife. Thus, Milgrom maintains that the phrase “as one lies with” should be understood as a place , not as a sexual activity.[6] Milgrom brings into question how Le. 18:22 been interpreted our contemporary society.

While Jacob Milgrom’s work may offer some doubt about our current interpretations, K. Renato Lings’ understanding of Leviticus 18:22 gives us a better idea about the meaning of the original Hebrew. Lings discovers that the text is not self-explanatoryin contrast to the version of most commentators. The Hebrew text is far more complex than English translators disclose.[7] Lings thus maintains that the English text should be translated on the basis of Hebrew linguistics. He builds on the work of David Stewart and the idea that this passage is really about male on male incest.[8] First, Lings notes that the word used for “man” is not the typical noun used for “man.” Instead, a word which translates to male occurs here. This noun for “male” includes both young and adult males.[9] Therefore, Lings translates the text of Lev. 18:22 as “And with a male you shall not lie.”[10]

Now that Lings has solved the linguistic problem with “man” and “male,” the first half of the verse is pretty straight forward. However, difficulties with translation start as one turns to the next phrase, “As with a woman” (NRSV). Lings contends that translators have taken liberties here by including the word “as”.[11]  Many translations also include particles “with” or “like.”  According to Ling, these words are not part of the original Hebrew text. Thus, he translates the verse so far as “And with a male you shall lie down the lyings of a woman.”[12]

Lings moves his work to the Hebrew word used for “lyings.”[13]  This word appears in the plural, which Milgrom misses and, according to Lings, it is only found in these Lev. 18:22 and Genesis 49:4. The singular version of the Hebrew word is used frequently.[14] According to Ling the reference in Genesis 49:4 depicts “lyings” as incest.[15] Lings argues that the term “lyings” refers to an action that is of “arguably illicit nature.”[16] He claims we must follow the principle of seeking out the more difficult reading and not to take the easy way out when we translate a biblicaltext.[17] If we take into account Genesis 49:2 then, we discover the text refers to forbidden act of incest.[18]

Finally, Ling discusses the noun for “woman.”  The KJV uses the word “womankind.”  While the word used for “male” is clearly referenced elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible for all ages, the one used for “woman” refers to an adult woman.  In fact, many times the word is translated as “wife” in English.[19] It is important to note that the Hebrew presents an adult woman only, but  uses a non-specific noun for the male.  The text can be talking about a young boy or a grown man,  but “woman” is clearly a grown woman.

Furthermore, Lings considers the context in which Lev. 18:22 is written. He explains that the passage “deals with various illicit relationships in the sexual realm: one marrying two sisters (18:18), intercourse with a menstruating woman (18:19), infidelity (18:20), and bestiality (18:23).”[20] Most of Leviticus 18 deals directly with incest. Notably, the list of laws from Leviticus 18 is reordered in Leviticus 20.  In Leviticus 18 the order of the topics is ambiguous, but in chapter 20 the so-called homosexual law appears within a list referring to incest.[21] Lings’ linguistic study leads him to conclude that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 continue the theme of incestuous relationships.[22] Thus, the passage should be paraphrased: “Sexual intercourse with a close male relative should be just as abominable to you as incestuous relationships with female relatives.”[23] Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 forbids male incestuous relations.

Because of Ling’s linguistic study that we find relief for the LGBTQ community finds from the homophobic interpretations of Lev. 18:22.  Lings’ interpretation illustrates that this verse and many other clobber passages do not stand solid ground.  Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 forbids male incestuous sexual relations.

Anonymous Student

[1] Lev 18:22 (NRSV)

[2] Charles D. Myers, Jr. “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.” Anima 19, no. 1 (September 1992), 50.

[3] Myers, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, 50.

[4] Susanne Scholz, “Toward a Future of Queer Bible Hermeneutics” (lecture, Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, April 26, 2016).

[5] Temper Longman, III, and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Genesis-Leviticus  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 744.

[6] Longman, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 744.

[7] K. Renato Lings. “The ‘Lyings’ of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18.22?.” Theology & Sexuality 15, no. 2 (May 2009):

[8] Lings, The ‘Lyings’ of a Woman, 233.

[9] Ibid., 235.

[10] Ibid., 236.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 238.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 241.

[16] Ibid., 240.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 241.

[19] Ibid., 242.

[20] Ibid., 243.

[21] Ibid., 245.

[22] Ibid., 245.

[23] Ibid., 245.

Latino American Homophobia

Latinos/as in America are the subjects of a new prejudice and that oppression has contributed harshly to those who identify against the normative for family identity. Latino/a culture is one that centers itself on religious ethos and domestic nearness. From prejudice and strong religious teachings advocating marriage and procreation, Latino/a people have developed a homophobia for those who do not isolate with socialized binaries. This essay seeks to identify why those hegemonic tyrannies exist and how this culture can move from repression to tolerance. America is a country of “huddled masses yearning to be free” and ending homophobia and racial oppression will help this country to become the true “land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Risk-taking always results in a consequence, whether positive or negative, but rewards with a lesson of truth. Crossing rivers, borders, having expired visas, and becoming resident aliens and illegal immigrants in a new country are risks taken for reasons. Latinos/as, in being a people of faith[i], have encountered America to be the biblical formation of Canaan. In living this prophecy, Latinos/as have created vitality for themselves by gentrifying dilapidated neighborhoods, establishing businesses, supporting immigrants, contributing to education reform, and maintain a faithful commitment to church and community development. Without neglecting their native culture, Mexicans in particular, maintain a social ethics implored from nativity, focusing on food, fellowship and shelter.

The American ethos of Latinas/os has further repressed the growth of social ethics. Many Americans are guilty of contending that Latinos/as are good for building houses, mowing lawns, plumbing, fixing cars, cleaning houses, babysitting children, and cooking food. This is due to the socialization of American nationalism, non-Latin Americans, as well as though who pass for white or black, seek to exert themselves above those who are not at their level of normativity. In addition, language barriers gravely influence cultural/racial division. Americans contend that Latinos/as, who speak Spanish only, wanting to live in this country, should learn how to speak English. Interestingly enough, this contention is a regression, on part of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of European immigrants to America. Once a subordinate culture gains status in a society, privilege is threaten by future minorities seeks to gain social status.

Latino/a American Christians have maintained a heteronormative position on family life due to having a culture reflective of religion. Procreation through marriage has been an ethos passed down from the Roman Catholic Church[ii]. Dogmatism on marriage and family, with the example of the church being the bride of Christ, not only became an ethos of the Latino/a people, but a way of life. In my observations of Latino/a Catholicism, this emphasis of heteronormativity is communicated at an early age. It first starts with baptism, having a close association with godparents (male and female), followed by coming of age masses/parties (quinceanera) that resemble a wedding ceremony, and lastly, a nuptial mass/celebration between a male and female. Then the cycle continues.

Homophobia in the Latino/a community is not necessarily hatred towards homosexuals, but an innate fear of those who choose to not follow the normative binary. In conversations with my Latina parishioners, I have learned that this fear is rooted in how the homosexual community is a threat to the common marriage and way of life. Latino/a family structure has been conditioned as binary and anything contrary to intercourse apart from procreation is not acceptable[iii]. However, although Americans contend that Latinos do not use contraception contending that they live in poverty[iv], Latino Americans tend to follow American normative of using contraception. Waldmald states: “[I]n the U.S., 72% of Hispanic Catholics think the Catholic Church should permit the use of contraceptives[v].”

Homophobia in Latino/a communities influences the spread of HIV/AIDS. In a report of the Impact of Homophobia, researchers contend: “[three] most common experiences of homophobia [among Latino men] during childhood were hearing that gays are not normal people (91%), hearing that gay people grow up to be alone (71%), and a deep feeling that the respondent’s homosexuality hurt and embarrassed his family (70%). The majority of men (64%) reported having to pretend to be straight at some point in their adult lives, 29% reported that they had to move away from family or friends to live their homosexual lives[vi]…” This report also contends that “social discrimination has a negative impact on levels of social support and self-esteem, and, not surprisingly, [psychological] symptoms of distress are more prevalent among those who both are socially isolated and have a low sense of self-worth[vii].” Unfortunately, when the paradox of social discrimination, socialized conformability, and mental anxiety are present, homosexual men tend to engage in secret risky behavior and increase the risks of spreading HIV/AIDS among men and women[viii].

Latino/a American Christians can move toward a theology of reconciliation and inclusion. Christian teachings on human sexuality have been crafted from white androcentric teachings of heteronormativity. The hermeneutics associated with these interpretations have influenced oppression cross-racially and culturally. In being that the Latino/a culture focuses on family, in addition to advancement of education among its youth, I contend that Latinos/as will move toward inclusion throughout the next ten years. As faithful witnesses of God and Christ, reconciliation is already happening in daily prayers and novenas. With the advent of marriage equality in the United States, I also contend that stigmatic repression will also cease.

Latina/o American Christians believe in a God of liberation. This God of liberation freed them from the bonds of Spanish rule, bounded Spanish religion with indigenous culture, and has given their people power to modify the marks of society. Pursuing innovation, Latinos/as have sought liberation in America for a better life and continuation of their culture. Because no single groups of people/cultures are homogenous, the diversity of America, her ethics and morals, will become exponents in the Latino/a culture. In being a people focused on justice and immigration reform, the voices of GLBTQ identifiers will speak volumes of sustenance in unification, contesting the state of homosexual fear among Latinas/os. Micah 6:8 is already in the making. True and justice have been matched together and homophobia will enter latency when righteousness and peace kiss[ix].

Endnotes:

[i] Liu, Joseph. “Chapter 7: Renewalism and Hispanic Christianity.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. May 07, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/chapter-7-renewalism-and-hispanic-christianity/. Most Latinos are Christians.

[ii] Pope Paul VI. Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968). Accessed May 3, 2016. http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html.

[iii] Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997. Part II, Section II, Chapter III, Article seven, gives a detailed account of how Christian marriage should be.

[iv] Shaffer, Helen B. “Birth Control in Latin America.” In Editorial Research Reports 1968, vol. II, 641-60. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1968. http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1968090400. Although written in the sixties, this report perhaps gave Americans the backbone of prejudice against Latinos.

[v] Wormald, Benjamin. “Religion in Latin America.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. November 13, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/13/religion-in-latin-america/.

[vi] Díaz, Rafael, George Ayala, Edward Bein, Jeff Henne, and Barbara V. Marin. “The Impact of Homophobia, Poverty, and Racism on the Mental Health of Gay and Bisexual Latino Men: Findings from 3 US Cities.” Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health 91, no. 6 (2001): 927-32. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.6.927.

[vii] Ibid, 931.

[viii]Centers for Disease Control. Factsheet on Latinos and HIV/AIDS. Accessed 3 May 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-hiv-latinos-508.pdf.

[ix] Psalm 85:10.

1 Samuel 18-23: The Queerness of David and Jonathan

Scripture is filled with complex mysteries and modern scholars continue to struggle over the complexity of them. The story of David and Jonathan is one of those great mysteries of homoerotism in the bible. Since this infinity between the two happens prior to the philosophical era, it is difficult to describe or contend if the relationship between these two men was carnal or amicable. This essay identifies challenges in the text, the role King Saul played, and how the relationship amid David and Jonathan is queer. This is further supported by exegesis of the text and accounts from other scholars.

Is there a fixation with the uncircumcised giant, Goliath? In chapter 17 of 1 Samuel, the mystery of how a child killed a giant is recorded. From the very beginning, the infatuation of the phallus is apparent. David, in dialogue with Saul states, “[y]our servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God…The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine[i].” Indeed there is, otherwise the condition of his phallus would not have been communicated, nonetheless David cuts off the man’s head and delivers it to Saul. Saul, in the next chapter, perhaps to embarrass and get David killed, gives him a directive to collect the foreskins of one hundred Philistines in order to marry his daughter, Michal[ii]. Returning to the beginning of chapter 18, an introduction to the queerness of David and Jonathan is presented.

Jonathan sees a stripling[iii] and becomes infatuated with him. This occurs after a correspondence between Saul and David. The scripture states that Jonathan’s soul is bound[iv] with David’s. Bound in Hebrew is נִקְשְׁרָ֖ה, meaning, “to bind, conspire,” but is parsed as perfect third feminine singular[v]. This verse details the beginning of an attraction, and is feminine on the part of Jonathan. I contend that this being bound leads the two to become a single soul or connection. If it is connectional, then the appearance of David, perhaps as well built with six-pack abs, and Jonathan, a hairless and slim built male, parallels a scene for the Queer as Folk.[vi] The two see in in other a desire the other one craves and that sight paves way to a convent.

David and Jonathan establish a covenant, arguably in the resemblance of a Jewish Marriage. However, Hebrew marriage was not necessarily a bond. The Jewish Marriage was a covenantal-contract. Blu Greenberg supports this saying:

“[I]n its most technical sense, marriage in Judaism is a change in personal status. Neither sacrament nor mere legal transaction, it enjoys the trappings of both: an aura of sacredness, the language of sanctification, the richness of ceremony and rite, the sanction of religious leaders.” It also involves a contract, a formal declaration, witnesses, signatures, and an exchange of monetary value[vii].”

With the definition of Jewish marriage identified, it cannot be concluded that the bond possessed between David and Jonathan was a marriage. There is still a paradox that exists leading on to believe that the two created a marriage bond between each other, that is, in secret. However, this text provides homoerotic detail in the reviling of senses, and the question remains: how did the two become acquainted with each other moving toward a homoerotic disposition?

In defense of the origins of this relationship, Oley Keren states, “[T]he roots of Jonathan’s acquaintance with David lie in the episode in which an evil spirit terrifies Saul (16.15). Saul’s courtiers propose that a musician be summoned to calm his mind. When Saul agrees, they describe their candidate’s promising qualities: he is ‘skillful in playing, a man of valour, a man of war, prudent in speech, and handsome in appearance’ (16.18)[viii].” Keren continues, “Saul cannot turn away such a talented candidate and sends messengers to David’s father to fetch him. When David arrives, Saul takes a fancy to him and makes him his armour-bearer (16:21). To keep the lad nearby, Saul asks Jesse to allow David to stay at court[ix].” From this analysis, we learn that the two encountered each other upon condition of circumstances, leading each other to produce a courtship, later frowned upon by Saul.

Saul’s jealously of David leads to strife and Jonathan becomes the mediator. This jealously has insinuated initially on part of Samuel. This priest has anointed David as the next monarch of Israel after YHWH rejects Saul’s leadership[x]. On part of his jealously, Saul imparts every scheme to end David’s life. Each time this attempt is made, the scripture states that YHWH was with David. I contend that God’s protection of David further rested in the hands of Jonathan. The bond became queer because of YHWH, who as the scripture states, who produce an evil spirit upon Saul[xi].

In God’s protection of David, I believe that the queerness became established through the spiritual connection united amid two beings, operating under the prophetic. I state this because, when Samuel protects David, each time the king sends servants to seize David and frenzy overtakes them, moving them to prophesy and strip their clothing[xii]. Again, the act of participating in a ritual that is not normative expresses queerness. The men are engaged in a nude “frenzy,” all in the name of YHWH. This prophetic ritual of séance is undeniably not how Saul intended the situation to circumstance.

Jonathan expresses a sincere love for David with an exchange of vows for fraternal eros in in the next chapter. Keren states: Jonathan makes two requests of David concerning the future: (1) that David not kill him (20.14); and (2) that David protect his descendants (20.15)[xiii].” This exchange seems to occur after an impassioned discourse of encounter. In further dialogue between Saul and Jonathan an assumption can be made that David and Jonathan engaged in some sort of carnal activity based upon the commentary Saul utters toward his son in 20:30.

Again, I contend that bond these two share is part of God’s own intervention to protect David for Saul. Markus Zehnder takes a different approach as to defining this relationship as platonic, however offers a point that validates the premise stated above. He states:

“[A]gainst this background it has to be pondered how Jonathan’s delight in David is connected with YHWH’s delight in David, is Jonathan’s delight to be understood as a consequence of YHWH’s delight on the human level? Perhaps the connection hinted at here can be described even more specifically: YHWH’s delight in David becomes effective in David’s political success; Jonathan’s delight in David is the means by which YHWH’s delight operates. This would mean that Jonathan’s delight in David corresponds to the will of YHWH; YHWH would even be its ultimate source. Alternatively, Jonathan’s delight could be understood as a correspondence to the divine delight: David’s way is smoothed by the double support given him both by God and by men; thereby, the hint at David’s status as “beloved” that is included in his name is confirmed in a concrete manner[xiv].”

Work of the Spirit through prophetic encounters created a queer relationship between David and Jonathan. It is relationship or intense homoeroticism and covenant. Although a priest does not conduct the Jewish marriage rite, this text invites the reader explore to likelihood of common-law marriage known and facilitated by the two. God’s will, as contended above, contribute whole-heartily to this purpose, since David is the next chosen and anointed king of Israel. The queerness of their relationship intensifies as situations become more critical, just like any relationship that occurs in daily life. I further conclude that if it had not been for God’s intervention, the life of David would have been terminated by jealousy. Furthermore, David and Jonathan substantiated a bond that no being could “put asunder.[xv]” Lastly, based upon the little evidence present, it was an erotic relationship filled with passion and desire. David loved Jonathan perhaps more than he loved himself, and the same vice versa. True love was produced from the will of YHWH and such complexity led to lascivious simplicity.

 

Endnotes:

[i] 1 Samuel 17:34-35, NRSV.

[ii] 1 Samuel 18:25-29, NRSV.

[iii] 1 Samuel 17:56, Saul calls David this when inquiring of his nationality and origin.

[iv] 1 Samuel 18:1, NRSV.

[v] ‏”נִקְשְׁרָ֖ה“‎ (1 Samuel 18:1 BHS-T).

[vi] Queer as Folk. Directed by Russell Mulcahy. 2000. In episode 1, Brian and Justin spot each other outside of a club, latter retiring to Brian’s apartment.

[vii] Greenberg, Blu. “Marriage in the Jewish tradition.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 22, no. 1 (1985 1985): 3-20. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2016).(7).

[viii] Keren, Orly. “David and Jonathan: a case of unconditional love?.” Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament 37, no. 1 (September 2012): 3-23. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed May 3, 2016). (5).

[ix] Ibid.

[x] 1 Samuel 16, NRSV.

[xi] Throughout the entire story of Saul and David (1 Samuel 16-23), G-d initiates Saul’s jealousy with an “evil spirit.” However, each time this happens, God protects David, usually through Jonathan and once through his wife (Jonathan’s sister) Michal.

[xii] 1 Samuel 19:18-24, NRSV. An extreme state of chaos is occurring. It was perhaps like the day of Pentecost in Acts.

[xiii] Keren, 17.

[xiv] Zehnder, Markus. 2007. “Observations on the relationship between David and Jonathan and the debate on homosexuality.” The Westminster Theological Journal 69, no. 1: 127-174. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2016), p. 148. Zehnder is also quoting another author and adds: “Concerning the possible connection between the name “David” and the designation
”beloved,” see Johann Jakob Stamm, Beiträge zur hebräischen und altorientalischen Namenskunde (OBO 30; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag/Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980), 25-43.”

[xv] Mark 10:9, KJV.

From the Pulpit to the Pew: A New Hermeneutic

From the Pulpit to the Pew: A New Hermeneutic

 

There is hope in the struggle for faithful LGBTQ people to see themselves in the Holy texts that shape their churches and communities.[1]  When people of faith ask, “where does authority come from for the direction of our journey,” in most mainline denominations the answer is: “From the Bible.”[2] This answer sounds reasonable from a Christian standpoint. The problem arises when biblical authority infringes on the biblical authority claimed for another person. This problem causes harm and exclusion. Such harm often follows heteronormative and hegemonic interpretation of the texts in Christian education and preaching. Reading through this lens of white, male heterosexuality ignores entire communities. When preachers and teachers assign meaning to biblical texts from the pulpit or classroom in such a limiting way, readers from different social locations, dealing with “outsider” factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, and education, are left out of the text.[3]  Reading strategies that incorporate modernist biblical interpretation in small groups, Sunday studies, and preaching lead people of faith to open their minds and hearts to the LGBTQ community and recognize their worth as a People of God.

The church has been wrong in the past using a fundamentalist approach to interpretation, as evidenced by racism, slavery, and misogyny. White men in power claimed their experiences as normative for all, which gave them freedom to abuse, exclude, and judge others. Entire communities still suffer from such exclusionary practices. There is a difference between the inerrancy of the Bible from a fundamentalist view and the modernist interpretation. A modernist approach takes into account the social location of its readers, which is the difference between exclusion and inclusion for today’s LGBTQ community.

A modern interpretive approach, a queer hermeneutic, one of inclusion and one intended to move from the pulpit to the pew and into society, has produced “four reading strategies used within the church setting, which characterize Queer Biblical Interpretation.”[4] If the Bible has the authority, then the interpretation of the text must move from an interpretation of privilege to one that includes those on the margins. The church has corrected its wrongs before. Now it is time for the LGBTQ community to be welcomed into the Church’s text. Reading strategies are one way to upright and uphold the faith and its holy text. West proposes four reading strategies: (1) a defensive stance toward scripture; (2) an offensive stance toward scripture; (3) outing the Bible; and (4) reading the Bible from the social location of being queer.”[5]

First, one strategy is the defensive stance. According to Mona West, with this strategy the LGBTQ community and their supporters in the church defend themselves against the “clobber passages.” These passages have been used abusively against the queer community, as they promote homophobia and violence. The abuse comes from the descriptors of “abomination” and “unnatural.” They are used as identifiers for LGBTQ people.[6] The texts are presumed to contain specific directives against certain unacceptable sexual “behaviors.” The most commonly used abusive texts, according to Mona West and Jack Rogers, are Gen. 19:1-28; Judges 19:1-30; Lev. 18:22 and 20:13; Rom. 1:26-28; I Cor. 6:9; Tim.1: 10; Jude 1-25. These passages are also known as “texts of terror.”[7] Jack Rogers notes that all of these passages are found on only twelve pages within the entire Bible. Rogers also points out that none of the passages are specifically about Jesus, and none of them use Jesus’ recorded words, as many Christian’s claim. [8] The defensive stance is a starting point to argue against the position that homosexuality is an abomination.

Second, another reading strategy assumes an offensive stance. This approach, moving beyond the clobber passages, brings healing by envisioning and affirming same-sex love as part of the Bible narrative. It reiterates the value of the social location of readers and affirms LGBTQ brothers and sisters.[9] Examples of same-sex love, such a Naomi and Ruth and Jonathon and David affirm the goodness of human sexuality for LGBTQ people. Song of Songs affirms for same-sex loving people that human sexuality is worthy of celebration, bringing joy outside the parameters of reproduction or marriage.

           Third, yet another strategy is based on the principle of ‘Outing the Bible.’ It calls for a reconstruction of the queer identities of characters in the biblical text.[10] An example of this strategy is found in the character of the Ethiopian eunuch from the Book of Acts. The significance for queer people is the fact that the eunuch is a sexual minority in the Jewish context of the time. Yet, even as a sexual minority, the Eunuch was not left outside. Since queer people are kept from the church because of their outside status, they call this story their own. This is significant for churches in the midst of a struggle that leaves the LGBTQ unable to serve within the church so that they often and often leave  their sexuality at the door.[11]

Fourth, the last strategy Mona West articulates involves reading from the social location of queer people. This approach engages “the entirety of the Bible and its message.[12] It recognizes the Bible as the word of God for a whole community of people. This strategy asserts that the Bible should not be selectively read. It validates the social location of queers, and it recognizes the diversity and intersectionality within the queer community. Just as the queer community is vast and diverse, so are biblical texts.

These four strategies of interpreting the Bible from the pulpit and in the classroom recognize the values and concerns of the LGBTQ community. They promote healing and thus provide affirmation to a group currently pushed to the margins. Queer preachers, biblical scholars, and the whole Church can give voice through this hermeneutic.[13]

An Anonymous Student

[1] Mona West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans: Social Location and the Hebrew Scriptures,” Theology and Sexuality v. 10, (1999), 29.

[2] Jack Bartlett Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, rev. and expanded ed. (Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 35.

[3] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 28.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, 66.

[9] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 33.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rogers, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, 134.

[12] West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans”, 34.

[13] Ibid., 40.

Transphobia

Transphobia

“Not in my backyard!” Or, perhaps more appropriately, “Not in my bathroom!” Such refrains have become alarmingly common in recent years. As the national debate about the queer community has progressed in the United States, more and more groups within that community have come into the spotlight. While at first the debate centered on the right of gay and lesbian persons to marry, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 has pushed the topic to the margins. Two new subgroups of the queer community, transgender persons and transsexual persons, have now become the topics of a great deal of discussion. This shift was perhaps also fueled by Caitlyn Jenner’s public admission that she is a transgender woman.  As is unfortunately so often the case, the new notoriety of this group has brought backlash from the conservative sectors of society that see transgender and transsexual persons as a threat.  The backlash takes shape in many ways, but whether we are talking about physical violence or discriminatory policies, they all fall under the umbrella of “transphobia.” Transphobia, “the fear or hatred of transsexual or transgender people,”[1] is often backed up with appeals to religious sensibilities or interpretations of Scripture. Such theological and hermeneutical moves are harmful, but a queer reading of the Bible provides a way forward for the acceptance of transgender and transsexual persons.

To be clear, when we discuss transphobia, we deal with prejudices against two distinct groups. Transgender persons feel as though their expression of gender does not match up with their physical sex, such as a biological male who actually identifies as female.  Such persons may express their gender in a number of ways that from simply using pronouns that correspond to their gender identity to dressing in clothes associated with persons of their non-biological sex.  In much the same way, transsexual persons also feel that their biological sex does not match with their gender identity. Here the similarity ends. Transsexual persons often explain that they feel they were born with the wrong sex and seek to bring their bodies into alignment with their true sex. This arduous process involves hormone therapy treatments and gender reassignment surgery.  Transphobic attitudes and behaviors are directed at transgender and transsexual persons even though transphobic people often conflate them into one monolithic group.

The transphobic tendencies almost certainly grow out of an extreme commitment to heteronormativity.  Heteronormativity is the belief that the only proper expression of gender identity and sexual desire is that which corresponds with heterosexual identity and practice.  Anything that seems to go away from this paradigm is deemed, to various degrees, dangerous or unacceptable.  In the case of transgender and transsexual persons, heteronormative thought understands these people to be straying from the norm by not living into the identity of their biological sex.  Thus, transgender and transsexual persons are seen as deviant.  With this mentality, transphobia may not actually be a phobia, per se. Transphobic people may not actually have an uncontrollable fear of the trans community.  Nevertheless, their discomfort or distaste with the trans community is still problematic, as it manifests itself in harmful ways.

Transphobia may be expressed in any number of ways, some of them more blatantly harmful than others.  At the more subtle end of the spectrum are behaviors that suggest distaste with members of the trans community. Toward the harmful end are rules and regulations that seek to marginalize the trans community, a current example are the laws popping up in various U.S. states in 2016 that force trans persons to use the bathrooms in correspondence to their biological sex.  At the most egregious end of the spectrum are violent attacks against members of the trans community. In 2015, 21 trans women were killed in the United States; most of them for no reason other than their gender expression.[2]  All these destructive behaviors are evidence of extreme biases against members of the trans community and fall under the heading of transphobia.

Other than misguided heteronormativity, where does transphobia come from? What arguments are used to support these outrageous behaviors? Sadly, many transphobic persons use the Bible to justify their discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.  They twist biblical passages to argue that God does not approve of transgender or transsexual persons or they even state that God does not love such people.  Exegetes in the transphobic camp tend to draw on passages that seem to speak of God’s intentional act of creation of each and every person.  They argue that a person’s sex and gender are a part of that creation. They argue that the first creation narrative, in which God creates humankind as male and female in the image of God, implies that God intends for people to stick with the sex they had at birth.[3]  Transphobic interpreters also turn to the Psalmist’s words to back up their arguments. The writer of Psalm 139 says of God: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”[4]  These interpreters believe that God is intimately involved in our prenatal development, and so human beings have no right to do anything that would alter their bodies so wonderfully made by the Almighty. In these readings, the Bible becomes a tool for transphobic beliefs.

Yet is there another way understand God’s attitude toward transgender and transsexual persons in the Bible? Are there other ways of interpreting Scripture that queer our understanding of this issue? I posit that while people whom we consider to be transgender and transsexual may not appear in the Bible, there are other ways in which a queer reading provides a sense of God’s love and care for trans people.  With regard to the two transphobic readings discussed above, no Scripture serves as a direct reproach.  Yet we can queer the meanings of these texts by pointing out faulty theology.  The deterministic view of human development evident in these interpretations requires that God is intimately involved in every aspect of every embryo’s development, not just their gender. The conviction that God determines our sex and mandates adherence to that assignment logically implies that God chooses which embryos develop normally and which will be made to bear neonatal deformities or diseases.  Such a God seems harsh and unloving, and it is no wonder the transphobic interpretations are not usually run to their extreme ends.

Broadening our views on Scripture, perhaps there is hope in the case of biblical eunuchs. While eunuchs are not transgender or transsexual in the way these terms are commonly used, they are indeed men who have ceased to be fully biologically male. Either through choice or force, they have been castrated.  At several points, the biblical witness affirms that these trans men are welcome in God’s covenant community. Trito-Isaiah, in speaking of God’s welcome of all faithful people, writes:

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, ‘YHWH will surely separate me from his people;’ and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says YHWH: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3-5; NRSV)

 

Not only are eunuchs welcome in God’s house; they are celebrated! Likewise, Philip welcomes the Ethiopian eunuch into the nascent Church. He goes on not only to live a Christian life but is responsible for the spreading of the gospel in his homeland![5] Trans people are thus not aberrations to God’s community but its vital members!

Thankfully, we can find a queer reading of Scripture showing that God welcomes and affirms members of the trans community. We must further give thanks that not all churches engage in transphobic behaviors.  In recent years, “Christian communities have begun to offer protective and blessing sanctuaries to transgender Christians.”[6]   These kinds of moves, such as welcoming trans persons into membership and providing safe places for them to seek shelter in times of need, are a public witness that often emboldens more trans people to enter the life of that faith community.[7]  Thankfully, there are witnesses in the Church who recognize that God’s grace extends to all people. Let us pray that their witness serves to help defeat the scourge of transphobia.

 

An anonymous student

[1] “transphobia, n.”. OED Online. March 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/382363?redirectedFrom=transphobia& (accessed May 01, 2016).

[2] Mitch Kellaway and Sunnivie Brydum, “The 21 Trans Women Killed in 2015,” Advocate, January 12, 2016, accessed May 1, 2016, http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2015/07/27/these-are-trans-women-killed-so-far-us-2015

[3] Cf. Genesis 1:27.

[4] Psalm 139:13, NRSV. N.B. This style of interpretation of this passage generally ignores the later statement that God forms human beings in the depths of the earth – clearly the writer of the Psalm does not have a scientific or consistent understanding of embryonic development and God’s place in it.

[5] cf. Acts 8:26-40

[6] James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, “Transgender Lives: From Bewilderment to God’s Extravagance,” Pastoral Psychology 63, no. 2 (April 2014): 181.

[7] Ibid., 182.

Marcella Althaus-Reid

Marcella Althaus-Reid

             “Her work was groundbreaking and controversial.”[1]  Perhaps no sentence better describes the theological undertakings of Marcella Althaus-Reid.  Through her work in a variety of theological fields, Althaus-Reid challenged the status quo of theology and railed against traditional assumptions of class, sexuality, gender, and much, much more.  Scholars of liberation theology, queer theology, feminist theology, and postcolonial theology laud the contributions she made during her life and vocation.  While such a stupendous life’s work cannot be condensed into the framework of a blog post, suffice it to say that Althaus-Reid made great strides in these fields, advocating for the marginalized in her scholarly work and everyday behavior.

Althaus-Reid was born and raised in Argentina, where she grew up seeing the horrors of political corruption and economic malpractice ravage the society around her.[2]  She studied theology in Scotland because at the time it was considered improper for a woman to study that subject in her native country.  Remaining in the United Kingdom for her professional career, she rose through the academic ranks, eventually being granted a Chair in constructive theology at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.  During her academic career, Althaus-Reid made great strides in doing theology from a queer perspective. She eventually put forth what she called an “indecent theology,” a form of liberation theology from a queer perspective.

Althaus-Reid’s indecent theology covered a lot of ground in terms of subject matter.  She worked at the intersection of a variety of fields, namely “liberation theology, including feminist, economic, political and queer theologies, queer theory, gender studies, politics and economics.”[3]  With such a wide swathe of academic thought at her fingertips, Althaus-Reid sought to make all these fields work toward a common goal. While she did not unify these fields, she cast a vision wherein all these engines could be used to drive society and the Church forward toward radical inclusion of the Other in all its forms.  This push toward inclusivity is key to Althaus-Reid’s work; she was not merely creating theoretical soliloquies.  The heart of her theological project was “her passion for including the excluded – the poor in South America, Latina women, indigenous peoples, queers, and leather/fetish folks.”[4] In calling for the inclusion of the Other, Althaus-Reid did not only hope for these marginalized people to be accepted as part of the community. Inclusion was certainly part of the reason behind her work, but she saw something bigger when it comes to inclusion. In discussing queer theology, Althaus-Reid argues that “to take on board Otherness means much more than to include the different into a familiar discourse, as in indigenization, which is a form of co-optation. To take on board Otherness implies taking on also the hermeneutical and ecclesiastical challenges presented by a previously silenced subject.”[5]  For Althaus-Reid, her project was not just about convincing the Church or the broader society to accept the marginalized on paternalistic terms. Instead, she wanted the voice of the Other to be heard in such a way that the paradigms of theology, Church practice, and societal norms shift in their entirety.  She desired a radical queering to come from her indecent theology!

In pursuit of her project, Althaus-Reid looked for ways in which the Other could become a part of the discussion in a radical way that altered the discourse moving forward.  Her chief area of focus for this radical inclusion was in the sexual realm.  For Althaus-Reid, “all theology is sexual theology,” so sexual norms and practices were primary targets in her queering work.[6]  This queering was meant to deconstruct oppressive sexual regimes that Althaus-Reid believed kept a great number of people isolated at the margins of the Church and society.  Her indecent theology was a counter voice to the voices of patriarchal theology and heterosexist theology.[7]  Althaus-Reid sought to tear down these structures of domination by bringing the voiceless into the spotlight.  She proposed to let the experiences of marginalized people enter into theological discourse in a new way.  Althaus-Reid stated that the Church could learn a great deal “from the presence of God amongst the poor, black women, and transvestites too.”[8]  Her indecent theology was about understanding how different people see the world and how that vision affects the lives we lead.  Indecent theology is not about giving lip service to queer thought, but it is “concerned with sexual modes of thinking, or sexual epistemologies and how they understand critical reality.”[9]  She wanted to highlight how an entirely different thought world might have important things to say about theology and social justice.  By lifting up the experiences of sexual minorities alongside those of economically and politically persons, Althaus-Reid queered liberation theology itself.  If theologians are going to earnestly call for the liberation of the poor, they must also strive for the liberation and inclusion of all oppressed peoples, even transvestites in Buenos Aires.  This call for a wide-ranging liberation still needs to be heard today. Too often academics and hands-on fighters for social justice become insular in their specialized field. But oppressive regimes cover a wide section of the world’s people. We must seek to liberate all of them.

Althaus-Reid did not just write about liberation and radical inclusion, she lived it.  During her life in Scotland, she became a major advocate for the Metropolitan Community Church, an international denomination that ministers specifically to the world’s sexual minorities.[10]  She saw this denomination as a means by which the voices of the sexual Other could be brought into the ecclesial and theological conversation.  Her advocacy for the MCC speaks to her own history with the Church. From her days as a woman ostracized from the theological community of Latin America to her discomfort in traditional churches in Scotland that did not care for her theology, Althaus-Reid was only tenuously related to the life of the Church. It was the MCC that brought her back into the Christian communion.[11]  Althaus-Reid expressed not only dissatisfaction with traditional forms of church, but a full-on betrayal. In her mind, the Church set out on a bold journey when it embraced liberation theology, but it stopped short of seeking the liberation of all people, specifically sexual minorities.[12]  This betrayal is the furnace that empowered the engine of her indecent theology. She saw an injustice in the life of the Church and felt compelled to speak out against it, to call for the liberation of all people from the oppressive sexual regimes that dominate so many societies.

Marcella Althaus-Reid was a tireless fighter for the Other, for the poor, the sexual outcast, the oppressed. Her work saw the love of God shed over all the peoples of the earth, especially those beaten down by society. Her work was a highly influential part of the wider queer theological project, and through it she argued beautifully for the sacred worth of all people. True to queer theology, Althaus-Reid understood the imprecision of human identity, which she saw as a powerful tool not only in the deconstruction of societal and ecclesial oppression, but also of the ideological domestication of God.[13]  Through her work, Althaus-Reid maintained that God is not just a spokesperson for the religious conservatives of the world. Rather, God is a God of radical love and inclusion who yearns for all voices to be heard, who values all people in all their modes of being.  Althaus-Reid envisioned a world where all voices are heard, and where God’s love is not restricted in any way. May the legacy she has left continue to tear down walls and expose the indecent side of theology, God, and life.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Thia Cooper, “Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid,” Political Theology 10, no. 4 (October 2009): 758.

[2] All biographical information in this post is taken from the Cooper retrospective.

[3] Cooper, “Remembering,” 758.

[4] Robert Shore-Goss, “So Get your High Heels on for Liberation, and Walk! Some Reflections in Memory of Marcella Althaus-Reid,” Theology & Sexuality 15, no. 2 (May 2009): 142.

[5] Marcella Althaus-Reid, “On Queer Theory and Liberation Theology: The Irruption of the Sexual Subject in Theology” in Homosexualities, edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid, Regina Ammicht Quinn, Erik Borgman, and Norbert Reck (London: SCM Press, 2008), 88.

[6] Shore-Goss, “High Heels,” 140.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Althaus-Reid, “On Queer Theory,” 94.

[9] Marcella Althaus-Reid, “From Liberation Theology to Indecent Theology: The Trouble with Normality in Theology,” in Latin American Liberation Theology: The Next Generation, ed. Ivan Petrella (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 28.

[10] Shore-Goss, “High Heels,” 142.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Demythologizing Liberation Theology: Reflections on Power, Poverty and Sexuality,” in The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology 2nd edition, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 133.

[13] Althaus-Reid, “On Queer Theology,” 94.

Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity:

             “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” “Marriage has always been between one man and one woman!”  Such are the arguments that often spew from the mouths of those who oppose the validity of non-heterosexual lifestyles.  These statements, along with countless others, aim to show that heterosexuality is the only proper mode of human existence.  While these people have various sources to back up their claims, they often use sacred texts or anecdotal evidence about the perversion of other sexual modes. The arguments stem from something deeper than the text or story in question. At the heart of the matter lies the mentality that heterosexuality is the “right way” to pursue sexual desire; all other modes of living are perverse or in some way Other.  This view of human sexuality is known as heteronormativity, and it has effects in all aspects of life.  Heteronormativity has cast a long shadow of oppression for anyone who does not fit the heterosexual mold, such as gay men, lesbian women, bisexual persons, effeminate straight men, butch straight women, transgender persons, and countless others. While this mentality has been horrifyingly harmful to so many, a queer approach to human sexuality may offer up a hope for liberation.

As noted above, heteronormativity is the view that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of sexual expression; all other forms are to be seen as somehow anathema.  Heteronormativity is part of a cultural matrix that aims to govern sexual and gender norms. According to Judith Butler, this matrix holds that “certain kinds of ‘identities’ cannot ‘exist’ – that is, those in which gender does not follow from sex and those in which the practices of desire do not ‘follow’ from either sex or gender.”[1]  The heteronormative viewpoint insists that there is some sort of connection between a person’s physical sex and his or her sexual desires; in essence, a person should only have desire for people of the opposite sex.  Such a stream of thinking is often based on a structuralist conception of identity and law. The argument here is that “there is a universal structure of regulating exchange that characterizes all systems of kinship” and relations.[2]  With regard to sexual desire, physical sex governs sexual attraction, plain and simple.

Heteronormative thought thrives on the simplicity of binary approaches to sex, gender, and desire.  To think in binaries is to think only in terms of two possible categories: things are black or white, right or wrong, male or female. There are no grey areas, no moral or ethical uncertainties, and certainly no other kinds of gender expression.  Binary-based thought also affects views of human sexuality: A person is either heterosexual, or they are not.  With a strict adherence to this binary view of sexuality, it’s easy to see how heteronormativity can become oppressive.  If non-heterosexual people are Other in a deviant or unacceptable way, then it becomes a matter of principle to legislate against their rights and wellbeing.  Out of the sexual binary, anti-marriage laws, bathroom bills, and laws that cast non-heterosexual acts as capital offenses develop.  Even if a person with a heteronormative outlook is more “progressive” (e.g. they do not see non-heterosexual persons as deviant or damned), they may still think in binaries when it comes to sexual expression. Such persons may not want to harm or oppress non-heterosexual people, but they may still make assumptions showing their preference of heterosexuality.  Such biases can be expressed by simply talking about how a little baby boy is going to be very handsome and “get all the ladies” when he grows up.  This kind of language assumes the boy will be heterosexual.  If it turns out he is not, the language could become hurtful or problematic for him as he matures..  Heteronormative binary thought processes and their expression are thus harmful in any number of ways.

From where does this hurtful and ultimately oppressive mentality come? Surely, no one sets out with the intention to turn non-heterosexual persons into second-class citizens.  It is very likely that this is true.  Yet heteronormativity has deep roots.  Going beyond Structuralist thought and binary worldviews, one can see that heteronormative thought has a wide range of sources.  Most notable are biblical passages appearing to support the notion that sexual desire is meant to be oriented toward people of the opposite sex.[3]  There is a plethora of passages that can be used in this way. For now it suffices to focus on a few that are commonly used.  Many interpreters turn to the creation narratives of Genesis to argue that human sexual desire was intended to flow from man to woman, woman to man, from the very beginning.  For instance, Genesis 1:27 reads: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NRSV). Commenting on this passage, Claus Westermann notes: “Every theoretical and institutional separation of man and woman, every deliberate detachment of male and female, can endanger the very existence of humanity as determined by creation.”[4]  According to this interpretation, any expression of sexual desire that does not follow heterosexual guidelines is not only Other;  it is downright cataclysmic!  Such interpretational thoughts have been around a long time. Turning to Genesis 2:24 (wherein man and woman are said to become one flesh) and going back to the fourth century C.E., one can find Augustine averring: “That is what generally happens in the human race. There is no other way to view its plain, historical sense”[5]  These sorts of interpretations, trailing across the centuries, seem to make it clear that God’s will is a heteronormative one. What then are we to do?

Perhaps there is hope for deconstructing heteronormativity in a queer understanding of sexuality.  First, it is important to note that “heterosexual” as a category has only existed for a brief period of human history.  The word “heterosexuality” itself was only introduced to the English language at the very end of the nineteenth century C.E.[6] With this etymological history in mind, it is quite plain to see that heteronormativity cannot have been the standard “from the beginning.”  Further, one can call on queer readings of biblical texts to get a broader understanding of Scripture as it relates to the issue of sexuality. For example, with reference to Genesis 1 & 2, there are numerous interpreters who see the text not as a call for heteronormative sexual expression but rather as an acknowledgement that human beings are intrinsically social creatures, and that social and sexual desires are part of our God-given existence.  These kinds of interpretations break the heteronormative mold by allowing for other kinds of sexual expression to be equally as affirmed as heterosexuality.  When coupled with queer understandings of human sexuality that see all forms of sexual expression as part of a spectrum, rather than a binary, such interpretations fling the doors open for all consensual forms of love and desire to be affirmed. Further, an understanding of the constructed nature of sexuality can also help on this front.  If “the heterosexual original” is “utterly constructed,” then the binary itself is ultimately broken beyond repair.[7]  Sexual desire becomes a liberated part of human nature rather than being oppressed under the boots of heteronormativity.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 24.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] The use of “sex” is intentional here: Exegetes who turn to these passages for support of heteronormativity would likely never allow for gender and sex to be separate concepts.

[4] Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 160.

[5] Augustine, “Two Book on Genesis Against the Manichaeans 2.13.19,” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Genesis 1-11, ed. Andrew Louth (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 71.

[6] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., s.v. “heterosexuality.”

[7] Butler, Gender Trouble, 43.

Genesis 19

A viscous attempt at rape.  An immigrant family fleeing for their lives.  Sulfur and fire raining down upon the unrighteous.  With elements like these, it is not surprising that the story of the judgment and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 19 has arrested the attention of Scripture readers throughout the millennia.  A surprising and unexpected interlude amid the story of God’s covenant-building with Abraham, this text is well-known in Jewish and Christian religious circles and is even somewhat recognizable to people outside these circles.  As a thrilling yet terrifying text, this narrative has not only been read many times over; it has also inspired a great deal of commentary. Herein lies the problem: The judgment against Sodom and its subsequent destruction in Michael Bay-esque fashion is so intriguing that scholarly commentators and casual readers alike have spilled copious amounts of ink trying to figure out just exactly what the cause of it all was.  What was it that made God so displeased with a city that God would entirely destroy it and the surrounding region ?  Many theories have been put forth and unfortunately many of these have laid the blame on the perceived homosexuality of the male Sodomites.  Interpretations of this nature make this text not only terrifying on account of what it depicts but also because of the ways it has been used against members of the LGBTQ community right up to the present day.  Thankfully, these anti-LGBTQ readings are not the only possibilities for the text. Readers need not view this narrative as a means of ostracizing and oppressing the queer community.

Before taking up the various interpretations of the text, we must first see what is going on in the narrative at hand.  Immediately before chapter 19, God tells Abraham that a great outcry has been made against Sodom and Gommorah and that God is sending messengers to see if the city truly deserves  destruction on account of its sins (Genesis 18:16-21).  The messengers arrive and are taken in by Lot, Abraham’s nephew who is a resident alien in Sodom (Gen. 19: 1-3).  After dinner, however, the story takes a turn. The men of Sodom (specifically all the men of the city) come upon Lot’s home and demand to be given the visitors “so that [they] might know them” (Gen 19:4-5). Lot tries to turn the crowd away from its horrific mission by offering something that is, at least in his mind, less awful. He tries to give them his virgin daughters, but the men refuse the offer and continue their demands (Gen 19:6-9). After this hectic scene, the heavenly messengers declare that Sodom must be destroyed. Subsequently, God pours out sulfur and fire on the entire region, while Lot and his family are allowed to escape to another town (Gen. 19:12-29).

It is not too difficult to see how interpreters have decided to lay the blame for Sodom’s destruction on the homoerotic desires of the town’s men.  This sort of interpretation of the text is fairly common in both Jewish and Christian circles, but it is more prevalent among Christian readers.[1]  Many interpreters in this strand make it clear that God is displeased with the sexual perversity of the Sodomites,  whose sexual deviancy is so vile that the only just recourse is to totally wipe the people from the face of the earth.  While the violent and domineering nature of the men’s attack is often taken into account, commentators make the case that it is the “unnatural lust” of the Sodomites that secures their destruction.[2]  Similarly, historical-critical commentators argue that Israel thought of Sodom as “the example of greatest depravity that men could think of.” [3]  While such interpretations often leave the nature of the depravity unspoken, it is clear that the Sodomites’ sexual lusts are at least part of the problem. For instance, von Rad offers other possibilities for the nature of Sodom’s depravity, but he also notes that God’s messengers must be thought of “as young men in their prime, whose beauty particularly incited evil desire.”[4]  Nowhere in the text is any mention made of the messengers’ physical appearance; von Rad’s remark is entirely fabricated.  Yet his interpretation further ties the depravity of Sodom to the sin of homosexual desire. There may be other things of which the Sodomites are guilty, but their evil lust for these gorgeous men clearly plays a prominent role in their eventual destruction.

These types of readings focus a great deal of attention on the men of Sodom’s sexual desires.  Being thus focused on perceived homosexuality, commentators are often quick to generalize the evil of the Sodomites to all people who seek sexual congress with someone of the same sex.  While Genesis 19 may not be the primary text used by anti-LGBTQ activists (Leviticus 18:33 and 20:13 are much more straightforward in their eyes and thus much more desirable), this narrative still gets cited as an example of God’s displeasure with homosexuality.  Indeed, some people go so far as to say that creating inclusive societies wherein members of the LGBTQ community can pursue love openly and freely would invite God’s wrath and lead to the destruction of the nation.  Through these pundits, Genesis 19 becomes an oppressive text, a sign that God loves some people but despises others.  Further, because the men of Sodom seek to satiate their “depraved desires” in a violent manner, anti-LGBTQ activists often use this text to imply that all homosexual people are not only sexually deviant but societally deviant as well.

This passage of Scripture, along with so many others, has been twisted and weaponized to oppress the queer community. Thankfully these oppressive readings are not the only interpretations available to us today.  Many commentators, who either come out of the queer community or who seek to deconstruct heteronormativity, argue that this passage does not condemn homosexuality in the slightest. Miguel de la Torre declares: “To claim that homosexuality is the sin of Sodom is problematic.”[5]  He also states that the biblical witness does not agree on the sin of Sodom. In fact, he argues, many different sins are offered up as explanations (for example, in Ezekiel, Amos, and Isaiah), but none of these texts places the blame on the men of Sodom’s sexual desires.[6]  Indeed, the link between the sin of Sodom and homosexual sex appears to have been a late addition to the biblical interpretational game: Such a link was not made until Philo of Alexandria came along at the turn of the era and did not really pick up steam until the 3rd century C.E.[7] If the sin of Sodom has not always been equated with homosexuality, what are other possible options?  Many contemporary commentators focus on the issue of inhospitality and violent oppression.  De la Torre is emphatic on this point: “The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, according to the Bible, was a lack of justice done in the name of the society’s dispossessed. God’s anger consumes Sodom and Gomorrah because of the dominant culture’s refusal to show hospitality to those residing on their margins.”[8]  Thus, the story of Sodom’s destruction is not a condemnation of human sexuality, but it critiques the drive to oppress and dehumanize the Other in our midst.  Such interpretations shed much needed light on the meaning of this text and may help liberate Genesis 19 from being used as a weapon of terror against the queer community.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Michael Carden, “Genesis/Bereshit,” in The Queer Bible Commentary, edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache (London: SCM Press, 2006), 36.

[2] Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), 301.

[3] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, revised edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), 217-218.

[4] Ibid., 217.

[5] Miguel de la Torre, Genesis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 192.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Carden “Genesis,” 36-37

[8] de la Torre, Genesis, 194.

Postcolonialism

“The sun never sets on the British Empire!”  This cheerful motto, happily thrown about by British citizens and colonial officers through a large portion of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, almost gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. I mean a literal warm feeling – the phrase conjures up images of sunny shores, imperial wealth, and maybe even happy natives.  It makes Empire seem like something desirable, something that enriches the world by bringing a sense of peace and happiness to the world.  And for a long time that’s how people, especially in the European and North American spheres, viewed Empire.  Empire was a sign of their people’s strength, and it brought great benefits to the world.  But times have changed.  Official empires no longer exist. Almost all of them have been entirely dismantled, and those that still cling to life have altered their structure. Imperial holdings are no longer “colonies,” but are now “Overseas Territories.”  With the dismantling of Empire came the realization that not everyone subscribed to the rosy view noted above. Colonial subjects saw imperial regimes as forces of oppression and destruction, not peace and happiness.  Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, these voices have grown, joining together across national lines to decry Empire in all its forms.  These voices together constitute the postcolonial theoretical world. Postcolonial theory is a branch of academic discourse that is aimed at deconstructing and resisting Empire, and its contributions to theology and biblical interpretation have been a great boon to these fields.

Postcolonialism got its start in the literary world of the mid-twentieth century as “a literary tool used to denote resistance to imperialist assumptions about knowledge and power in text.”[1] As such, it began as a subversive strain within the literary world that served as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with the colonial power structures of the day.  Since then, postcolonial theory has blossomed to incorporate a great number of other concerns through intersection with other deconstructive theoretical schools, such as feminism and queer theory.  At its heart, postcolonial theory seeks to name oppressive forms of power and calls for the return of power and dignity to the marginalized .

There are several key texts in the history of postcolonial theory.  Key among these is Frantz Fanon’s 1968 work, The Wretched of the Earth.[2]  In this work (and in his other writings), Fanon is concerned with “attempts made by colonized people to regain political and cultural emancipation from [their] colonizers.”[3]  While Fanon focuses primarily on the work of colonized intellectuals, his book casts a vision of freedom from colonial oppression that can be broadened to appeal to entire societies.  His work reads like a clarion call to the colonized people of the world, urging them to throw off the shackles of colonial domination and blaze their own trail. “Come then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.”[4]  Not only does Fanon call for the upheaval of direct forms of oppression, such as colonial governments, but also for the destruction of so-called cultural imperialism.  The colonized people of the world should not seek to emulate Europeans, who for so long oppressed them, but instead they should seek their own path and create their own sense of societal and cultural worth.  With texts such as Fanon’s, postcolonial theory set off on a campaign of deconstruction that continues to this day.

While formal examples of empire may no longer exist as they did in previous centuries, one does not have to look hard to see how the colonial mentality still pervades the world today.  This “neocolonialism” is not based on outright control of foreign people but it is subtler. Neocolonialism arises out of economic hegemony or through paternalistic relationships with other countries.  For example, the United States’ campaign in Iraq, ostensibly part of the War on Terror, has seen many twists and turns. Originally an offensive to remove a dictator from power, it has since become in essence a long-running occupation.  Yet, it is never described as such: The American troops are said to be in place to ensure stability and security in a war-torn country. While this may be true, the fact remains that the United States has an entrenched military presence in the country, and reaping economic benefits from it.  While it seems highly unlikely that any American government would seriously consider annexing Iraq or establishing an official colonial presence there,[5] America is exerting control over the state of affairs in Iraq, albeit in an indirect way.  For a less emotionally charged example, one could look at the case of Chinese contracts with sub-Saharan African nations, wherein China agrees to build much-needed infrastructure in return for access to these countries’ natural resources.  These situations and so many others like them, perpetrated by powerful countries against weaker ones, show that neocolonialism is rampant in the world today. As such, there is much fertile soil for the postcolonial project, as these structures of domination continue to perpetrate oppression around the globe.

But what of theology and biblical studies?  This is, after all, a blog focused on queer Bible hermeneutics. What does postcolonialism have to do with our project?  The answer to these questions lies in the use of biblical interpretation and theological discourse to justify or defend colonial structures, either explicitly or implicitly.  For example, take Christina Petterson’s  interpretation of the description of Solomon’s throne in 1 Kings 10.[6]  This text is not only intrinsically tied to the political and economic systems of its day, with the king of Israel shown as a great ruler taking tribute from weaker nations; it also served as a source of European material demands from colonial subjects in the Modern age.[7]  Pettersen’s work serves as just one example among countless interpretations of Scripture that colonizers and imperial oppressors have used to justify their domination over other peoples of the world.

In terms of deconstruction of power, many intersections exist between postcolonial theory and queer theory.  Both theories seek to eradicate forms of power that subjugate marginalized people. Both are inherently concerned with the wellbeing of the Other. Both draw on the history of liberation theology to ground their work.  By putting these two theories into conversation, we paint a vivid portrait of how power is portrayed in biblical texts. We see where God yearns for the liberation of the oppressed. These theories need not compete but both provide a wide array of biblical interpretations that deconstruct power and give hope to the hopeless.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Nicole Goulet, “Postcolonialism and the Study of Religion: Dissecting Orientalism, Nationalism, and Gender Using Postcolonial Theory,” in Religion Compass, 5.10 (October 2011), 631.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963).

[3] Ibid., 633

[4] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 252-253.

[5] Though the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination gives one pause on this point, but that’s a discussion for another time.

[6] Christina Petterson, “Nothing Like It Was Ever Made in Any Kingdom: The Hunt for Solomon’s Throne,” in Postcolonialism and the Hebrew Bible: The Next Step, ed. Roland Boer, (Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 2013), 93-108.

[7] Petterson, “Nothing Like It Was Ever Made in Any Kingdom,” 96.