Friday, April 3, 2009

Pastoral Note on "Homosexuality"

A pastor friend wrote recently concerning a young LGBT woman in her congregation who has had enough with the "scripture quoters" and wanted resources for writing a letter to the editor on LGBT issues in the life of the church. I prefer not to use "homosexuality" because (a) "homosexuality" is a modern concept unknown to the biblical authors and audiences and (b) sexual diversity extends far beyond what we mean by "homosexuality."

This note posed an interesting challenge. Without going off into academia-land, how does one refer a person to good, accessible resources on the Web? These are the best I'm aware of, and I strongly invite you to add to the list. I hope it's helpful. Here's what I had to say:

I don't want to complicate things for your friend, but there are several approaches, and I'll offer resources for each. All of the resources are brief, but I think your friend should really inform her/himself before launching out.

The first approach is apologetic. It involves "explaining" the passages people use to bash gays. For that, see the resources from Soulforce. See also this 2003 ELCA document.

A second approach is to say the Bible isn't talking about what we're talking about and thus doesn't address "homosexuality" with moral authority. (That's sort of where I am.) This view points out that the vast majority of what the Bible says about marriage has nothing to do with contemporary marriage and sexuality. For this, see Walter Wink, Mary Ann Tolbert, Jay Johnson, and Dale Martin (included below).

A third approach is where I'm moving. It says, "I'm so over this." As Courtney Harvey writes on our Lancaster Seminary allies site, "We may talk about the problems of racism today but we certainly don’t debate if it’s okay to be racist. Why then should we debate if it’s okay to be heterosexist?"

This resource from the More Light Presbyterians includes a recent Newsweek article plus a piece by Dale Martin and a discussion of the "clobber passages."

I hope this helps. Please let your friend know she's welcome to write me....


Anonymous said...

Excellent post and fantastic resources. You've also modeled what I miss most about LTS, the ability to think clearly and compassionately about real people in the midst of significant moves for justice. Hope you and all are well my friend.

Luke said...

YAAAAAAYYY!!! and courtney harvey... YYYYAAAAAAAYYYYY!!!


Sally said...

I've been meaning to ask you...I've heard you and others say that "the Bible isn't talking about what we're talking about and thus doesn't
address "homosexuality" with moral authority". I haven't heard, nor have I read in any of the resources that have been suggested, how this is known? In other words when you say that people in biblical times didn't think of homosexuality the way we think of it what evidence is there that this is the case? Also, what DID they think of it?

Greg Carey said...

There's tons of research concerning sexuality in the Greco-Roman world and lots of primary source material. Sally, you may recall the assigned reading from Osiek and Balch from the Paul course.

A new book that I haven't seen looks promising: Kirk Ormand, Controlling Desires: Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome. Marilyn Skinner's Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture is a recent classic. Zeitlin, Winkler, and Halperin, Before Sexuality. Sarah Pomerory, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves.

For primary sources, Laura K. McClure, Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World.

A few differences. Ancient people rarely courted and married for love. In many parts of the Greco-Roman world most elite free men had sex partners of both genders, and no one questioned whether they were gay or bi. Sex was much more of a public matter. People had sex at much younger ages. No one thought it wrong to have sex with what we would call minors today. And, perhaps most importantly, very few people thought of sex as something that occurred between social equals.

Sally said...

Thanks Greg!
And I'll be in the Paul course this fall...I'm a little behind the biblical times so you have to put up with me one more time!

Raycol said...

A further resource for the second approach is the “Gay and Christian” website at The site accepts that the Bible prohibits sex between men (homosexual activity). But the site claims that the Bible’s prohibition on homosexual activity does not apply to men today when the sexual activity causes no harm. Also, the prohibition does not apply to men today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Greek-Roman cultures of Bible times. Reasons supporting these conclusions are given on the site.

Greg Carey said...

Interesting site -- thanks.

Sally said...

I've given this some more thought and it seems I spend my life confused.
You say that ancient people thought about sexuality differently and if I understand correctly, thought that everyone was hetrosexual but occassionally had casual sex same sex partners. They also had sex with with minors and "no one thought it wrong". Why is it that if we now understand homosexual relationships to be not sinful because that's not what is meant in scripture can we not use the same logic to affirm relations with minors?

Fisherjies said...

YAAAAAAYYY!!! and courtney harvey... YYYYAAAAAAAYYYYY!!! ;-D