Tag Archives: St Paul

THINKING AND BEING “SHAMELESS” WITH NADIA BOLZ-WEBER

NOT QUITE THE EXPECTED

I bought Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless with the aim of reviewing it. The book sounded too radical to ignore with its call for a sexual “reformation” in the churches. Some of the pre-launch hype and the anticipation from conservatives was nonetheless misleading . I can report the book does not advocate the unlimited use of porn “ethically sourced” (amateur?) but says a few things about sexual imagery and its use that are rather more nuanced.

But it is true that in-between a wealth of stories and testimonies, in a quieter vein the author does virtually discard biblical and traditional  notions of “sexual purity”(equated with “rape culture”).  They are seen as unnecessary compared with the purity of just  sincerity and caring in consensual sex (free love one might say). This is something one can shamelessly enjoy without need for repentance or absolution because salvation is also about human flourishing not life wrecking . In short, there is something to this book of the  more abrasive, less spiritually inclined  Indecent Theology  from late queer theologian, Marcella Althaus-Reid, back in 2000.

The Shameless title owes more to an insistence that just as Jesus retained and displayed the scars of his crucifixion, we should not be ashamed to display our hurts. Which is what this book does…. full on.

ONLY IN AMERICA, BUT LET’S OPEN THE FIELD

Nadia is intriguing to watch and hear and you can do that here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVe7jKp4D-E   But that the book is so full-on is why I find I can’t usefully review this offering in any conventional way. However valid its points, they emerge from within the expressions of an American cultural framework of extreme confession, emotion, group therapy, tears, hugs and kisses  that, for me, gets in the way.

This is a book about and for especially the walking wounded. It could leave non- Americans  feeling glad they weren’t raised in “the land of the free” where they might fall victim to often brutal, judgemental, incredibly gender-rigid, regimented, cultic forms of Christianity (rather in the style of the recent film Boy  Erased), plus  pressures from secular media and advertising. Combined, these can leave a person ashamed they are too fat, thin, ugly, sexually unfulfilled, effeminate, too mannish….the list goes on and on. But worst of all, it seems, is to be an abused, wrongly appreciated woman.

Though that could well be the case, I am neither a woman nor male feminist enough to be able to feel with the author in some areas like her current OTT project which involves collecting the purity rings of disappointed, disillusioned women to melt them down for a protest vagina sculpture.

Bolz-Weber would doubtless respond that sex itself is OTT and that one of the problems with preaching “purity” is that almost by definition sex cannot be only “pure”, it’s too irremediably earthy and messy. I accept the problem and in conclusion will be considering whether we have misunderstood what the biblical concept of sexual “purity” means and is intended to serve.  But keeping to  BW’s perspective, if, as her discourse implies,  sex is as good as anti-feminist feminist philosopher Camille Paglia’s “Dionysian swamp”, then plainly Bolz-Weber’s feminist religiosity  with its “rape culture” emphasis  sounds like it would be less keen to take on board elements of masculine protest, straight or gay, and allow it to resist or shape eros in the way Paglia considers is  almost necessary to life and culture.

So…after a few words about the author for those who don’t know her, I shall outline a more general picture of the church/sex problem that could apply almost anywhere. I shall conclude with what I think Nadia is overlooking and which is a possible facet of  any reformation, one that challenges both  her approach and the conservative, supposedly bible- based one of her sterner critics.

A LIFE AND MINISTRY OF ULTRA -LUTHERAN  “ACCEPTANCE”

     

Though she has recently abandoned full time ministry for the lecture circuit and public theologian status, Nadia Bolz-Weber is by now celebrated as the swearing, heavily tattooed pastor or,  some have said  pastrix, of the House For all Saints and Sinners on Denver Colorado’s sin street and where her chief assistant was a drag queen.

Born 1969 and growing to  over six foot tall and feeling disfigured by Graves disease, Nadia  arrived at her pastoral office after a painful pilgrimage. It began amid childhood fundamentalist repressions, and was followed by a history of depression, youthful promiscuity leading to an abortion, alcoholism, drug addiction and  some involvement in wicca and at  one stage  careers as a female wrestler and a stand-up comic. She has been married, had two children (the son is gay) but divorced by mutual agreement in 2016 -the pair didn’t get on too well sexually – and she has found the comfort of  an erotically fulfilling lover since. A colourful, only-in- America person, if ever.

Also unusual in that unlike most sexual liberals in the church, Nadia, more or less, believes her bible as given (except on “purity”). She accepts the resurrection and miracles, though she has suitably kinky  ideas about the afterlife in which she imagines  dining with people she loathes like Harvey Weinstein! It’s a sort of penitential torture she has invented for herself via a universalism that  believes since everyone is “accepted” by God she must love just everyone (even Hitler and Stalin?). In this she is undoubtedly a heretic because though the bible regularly gets cited to support variously inclusive and exclusive views of salvation, nowhere does it proclaim everyone is saved.

It is relevant  Rev Nadia is a Lutheran pastor. Actually I’d say she’s ultra-Lutheran if only people beyond her denominational fold, (which despite protests hasn’t expelled her), could see it. Luther’s Table Talk is surprisingly frank and coarse.  On sex Luther could also be quite liberal, supporting divorce and if necessary even bigamous marriage in the case of a partner become totally incapacitated.  Moreover, at least initially and when he was still mind-blown with the revelation of grace over against a salvation worked or paid for, Luther’s rhetoric told people to go out and sin freely and come back again and again to repent it. In short, there was little notion of any cure for sin  or what later by the likes of Wesley would be called “sanctification”, the improvement of self and soul throughout life.

ONE-SIDED IDEALS

…..But here and with the reformist Lutheran legacy,  I can begin my general reflections because even the (sometimes) ascetical medieval church that Luther left behind, had an understanding that especially Protestant evangelicals have never absorbed, namely that there can be something in the order of “death by chastity”. (1)

It was a concept medievals inherited from the Greek doctor, Galen. Medieval Scholastic philosophers might expound their  weird but influential notions, like notoriously that masturbation was akin to murder (because it destroyed seed thought of pre-scientifically as whole homunculi) and  that “sodomy” was worse than rape (because rape was ‘natural” since offspring could result), but for the laity some priests accepted the inevitable. They   believed that for both sexes masturbation might be medically sanctioned to save lives.

I think one could say exponents of Christian chastity have not been so much totally wrong as seriously one-sided. They will declare everything that is harmful about sex like STDs, but they won’t concede the pitfalls of not having sex, like for example increased likelihood of prostrate cancer in men and low spirits or outright depression in both sexes. Medieval medicine was not so far from the mark.

Return of libido among the chronically depressed is often the proof that cure has begun. But if cure requires libido to return, where does this put Christians who can’t or according to some churches  supposedly shouldn’t, say, get remarried following divorce, or gays who should never have a lover, or almost anyone to whom stimulation or fantasy are forbidden?

I have written elsewhere about what can seem like “incoherence” in biblical sexual teachings    https://wp.me/p2v96G-111   and one instance is St Paul’s notorious “better to marry than to burn”.  Is this truly  a helpful, meaningful statement? Marriage is a big, often expensive undertaking and like love itself not easily arranged. So can or should anyone enter it only to satisfy raging hormones? The very  idea seems to contradict the idealization of love elsewhere in the bible; and then it  isn’t envisaged for gays anyway whose needs are not even supposed to count but whose suppression of desire can be seen to have all sorts of negative effects.

Gays have been liable to be dismissed as mere pleasure seekers, “wankers” or masturbators because their sex serves “only” pleasure and not procreation. Yet if sex were not for pleasure,  why, as BW asks, does the female clitoris serve  nothing but pleasure and, I ask, why does modern medicine reveal to us that a foetus may be self-pleasuring in the womb? One can’t just diss pleasure as being automatically  sin in itself.

Before I move towards anything like a solution to the range of problems Nadia’s  rather free love values present us with , two points should be emphasized.

THE ILLUSION OF PERFECTION AND GUILT SYNDROMES

First is that though there can be improvements in sexual understanding and practice, there can be no complete solutions, so there can be no full “reformation”.  BW partly admits this herself, suggesting one can really only hope for a good as opposed to a perfect sex life. Even so, one feels Bolz-Weber wants perfect solutions, and  if  that’s the case  could  still use insights and warnings  of  the mentioned  Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae like, “the modern pursuit of self-realization has not led to sexual happiness, because assertions of selfhood merely release the moral chaos of libido”.

In an imperfect world, sex and love will never be perfect (or if sufficiently perfect insufficiently long lasting to quite satisfy). And this is the case no matter how many sex guides (or biblical counsels) the individual applies to it. But it’s this incompletion has always made  it easy to generate guilt and/or embarrassment and disappointment around the topic. Also a degree of confusion to the extent erotic experience takes people “out of themselves”….. but to quite where, for what and why? There are always quasi-metaphysical questions and unsurprisingly “God” is a word often accompanies orgasm.

It’s not a Protestant coping mechanism and Bolz-Weber is all of a Lutheran, but in traditionally Catholic countries, minor rituals like removing religious jewellry, turning crucifixes to the wall, blessing oneself afterwards etc  seem  designed to cover vague uncertainty over the  real status and meaning of sex. The sexually insatiable but moralizing novelist Victor Hugo would even put money in the nearest church box after every visit to a brothel.

All these actions speak to the unease with  activity not, however,  puritanically rejected as it might be further north.  (And It would be wrong to put all this down to a Judaeo-Christian legacy. From years ago I can’t cite the precise source – probably a study of historic Japanese homosexuality, Partings Before Dawn,  I recall  a Japanese  feeling remorse he expressed to the gods for on account of his use of a great number of youths).  In the Catholic cultures it was more a case of  accepting an “ethics of ambiguity”, even a Baudelarian “conscience dans le mal”, (conscience amid the wrong).

One of the core wrongs, at least as far as certain Jewish cleansing rituals were concerned, had always been that, in the case of male sperm touching the body, even as a result of wet dreams, death had touched the body. To the extent sex is about reproduction and not just pleasure, it hints at the need to overcome the universal blight or curse  of death and death is ritual impurity (in traditional Judaism to touch a corpse left one impure for days).

THE ASEXUAL EXAMPLE THAT ISN’T ONE

        

The second point that causes misunderstanding around sex and bolsters false hopes among preachers and moralists that the problems can be easily overcome with a will, or even be virtually ignored, is that despite what modern society and books like Shameless assume, not everyone is sex-hungry and repressed.

The phenomenon of what the French would call “les indifferents” is real enough. It applies to many famous people throughout history like the orator Cicero who amid the opportunities of ancient Rome wasn’t “much interested in those kind of things” or Mme de Pompadour who though happy to be Louis XV’s mistress preferred to run France for him than be active in bed. This was a chore she preferred to delegate to nubile young things like Louise O’ Murphy (immortalized by Boucher’s painting). And then we must absorb that even reputedly sexy people may not be that sexy – Pop icon Madonna has admitted she’d almost rather read in bed than have sex.

The existence, sometimes widespread, of the indifferent has always emboldened moralists to assume there isn’t or needn’t be any problem beyond one of rational ethics and mutual respect. (That seems to be the position of especially the Anglican clergy who have lived through various sexual revolutions without scarcely mentioning the sex subject in their sermons or statements!)

Looking at the sexual problem at the purely ethical level, which I don’t believe one can and should wholly do, it is easy enough to see what the bible is getting at. This is pure intentions and loyalties, good interpersonal relations with fellow humans and beyond them with God. Infidelity at this level bespeaks a failure to remain loyal, to keep promises, to see persons as persons as opposed to objects for passing pleasure. Infidelity is thus an attitude of coveting whatever and whoever we don’t have, or a desire to score or have power over others. And symbolically there can be failure to reflect the ideal of the perfect marriage of Christ with the church.

All this is fine as far as it goes in training sensibilities, making for general security and respect within society and it’s the general framework for any basically devout lifestyle. (Rather obviously prayer and riotous living don’t belong together!). In especially the OT, however, purely patriarchal notions of ownership and property (instinct of the age of Aries, the ultra-patriarchal sign under which it was written), may muddy the ideal which has never quite been able to manage difficult cases like the infidelities of those married against their will . What can get called “adultery” may be little more than a desperate will to realize one’s identity and find some love. Few of us would care like Dante to send Francesca da Rimini to the Inferno.

RELIEF, NOT JUST “FULFILLMENT”

I am going to suggest that almost the core problem is the need  of quite a sizeable portion of the population (from horny youth to the masturbating geriatrics with which Simone de Beauvoir concludes La Veillesse, her depressing study of old age), to just have some sex, to need stimulation and orgasm as surely as some exercise is needed for health.  Idealists may wish otherwise, but love alone if it can be conveniently found, may not suffice to cover the lack of erotic excitement even if it’s also true that sex dissociated from love can also demoralize and increase loneliness.

Not being able to put erotic need neatly inside any framework from the social to the ethical or the spiritual, can cause all manner of confusion including among the devout. These  may be left to wonder how repentant they are meant to be about what might seem only necessary but which, (in the Catholicism which didn’t allow medieval style “medical” reasons for it), traditionally rendered it a subject for penance itself.  That perversely brilliant poem The Great Hunger from Patrick Kavanagh evokes the confusion from the Catholic and peasant position, “once a week  at least flesh must make its appearance…” but it’s all a confusion of a life “more lousy than savage”.

Much helped by St Augustine, the Genesis story of Onan has given rise to fantastic superstitions and horrors around masturbation (onanism) which, despite Augustine, is not even the real point of the story, which is Onan’s insulting and wilful refusal to do his sacred duty to preserve the family line.  (Gen 38:9).

Superficially, even words of Jesus might not seem helpful. In what can be made to sound like distressing impossible extremism, he is often interpreted as declaring that to look on a woman with desire at all is equal to adultery (IMatt 5:27), but the point is missed that Jesus’ subject is precisely the ten commandments and adultery, “woman” means married woman and looking at (more like having a mind to taking) someone else’s wife is to be understood morally equal to doing it. Intentions count and guide contact. Interiorization of the Law is the message not approving what would make for depopulation if no man ever allowed himself to feel anything.

And  surely on a normal basis we would not call all erotic pleasure and  fantasy a defiling misdirection of the will; it can just accompany relief of tension and in the young where imagery might be strongest, it may serve a sort of clarification of the kind of person and experience the individual is working towards. So in this area I am  rather  in agreement with Bolz-Weber who dissents from the religious culture which has sought to banish sexual thought and feeling as soon as they arise because this  can shut down feeling itself and create ignorance of one’s true character and needs. A very strict control of feelings risks creating either or both  such internalized guilt feelings about eros or idealistic expectations for its expression that paradoxically, as Nadia observes, it will not automatically help the adjustments of a Christian marriage at all.

One suspects too some of the periodically reported near sadism of some monks and nuns could have links to precisely a too icily efficient “taking custody” of mind and vision. Granted one could – just- maintain a radical self-correction is only in harmony with Jesus on if need be cutting off the hand or plucking out the eye to avoid sin. But not only does the expression of this counsel  belong with the violent idioms of  Jesus’ native Aramaic with its exclamations  like “cut off my nose if I don’t tell truth”, but the reference is to an obligation to  avoid whatever is absolutely, totally wrong for the individual in a way even Bolz-Weber   acknowledges  is  a  practical necessity as mentioned presently.

So how should one think about the less regimented  approach to impulse, and how does/should the more libidinous kind of spiritual person manage it?

RESISTING ADDICTION

At this point I am prepared to take a leaf out of the book of gay experience of recent decades because dangerous addiction to sex and sensation has been a problem for some within that community. A surprising discovery of various experiments has been that if one can give the sex addict  big  or “full body orgasm” (which I take it is something closer to what women rather than men typically experience at best)  once achieved, addiction is overcome and generally desire for sex diminishes.

In effect the method is a yin, tantric, Asian one, not a typically yang western one over-represented in  traditional Christianity and influenced by an ascetical strain within prior paganism. In this one fights impulse (and may even increase desire by doing so). By contrast, the tantric mode surrenders to desire in order to overcome and/or transform it.

There are variations upon this (the subject is a large one I can’t pursue here), but even in modern systems of  so-called “mindful masturbation”, it is often recommended to get away as far as possible from person imagery lest it be attaching. The stimulation then serves rather more to increase self-love, comfort and acceptance and as said any sex detached from love can finish problematic..

The idea of sex serving self-love and acceptance may nonetheless sound ungodly to some, but one must concede that even the bible teaches to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Loving the self is almost impossible where some measure of self-acceptance is not included in the package. To hate oneself, one’s body and its desires, the whole diable au corps, ( devil in the flesh) approach as opposed to thanking God for sensation, seems like a good recipe for some of the perversions associated with places of celibate life. Particularly if, for whatever reason, the person cannot hope to find love quickly or be with a partner, a more tantric way could function positively, especially within the context of an almost over-sexed, over-stimulated society where the sex theme is harder to avoid.

It should be stressed that BW, and I would agree with her, admits that there is such a thing as unacceptable sexual drives (such as towards children or animals) that must be cast out of mind ; but as regards sexual images more generally, art, porn or whatever, she opines each person must responsibly follow sense and conscience because, rather as with alcohol, some can do and benefit from what others can’t. As a former alcoholic, she herself  cannot touch even one glass of alcohol.  But she wouldn’t tell other not to; and similarly with many sexual images. If you know they serve only addiction, avoid them. (I would be inclined to add one would wish to avoid what, in the case of porn is a whole industry liable to exploit people much like the prostitution whose services you presumably wouldn’t wish to employ).                       ).

A SOUL ISSUE?

Finally here and despite all my inclination to liberal religious views on sex as attested by various articles on this site and my other McCleary’s Alternatives site, I am still left in disagreement with BW, and in a way that almost contradicts the whole enterprise. Basically, her position (like Althaus-Reid, the bisexual author of Indecent Theology who confessed to affairs with clergy including a bishop) is a “materialistic”, not a spiritual one. The problem with treating sex in total disregard of the so-called purity question, is you don’t just make love to people as bodies but to souls with which you can at some level be joined.

Ultimately the bible doesn’t quite make sense unless an esoteric theory (such as Jewish mysticism as in Kabbalah would anyway envisage) is brought in to explain it. Early Jewish society didn’t even celebrate marriages. Intercourse itself was the celebration. Consummation was the seal of marriage. And since two persons cannot literally become “one flesh” it must be considered – short of a case to poetic language – that understood is that what is mixed and joined by marriage are the soul bodies.

St Paul makes no sense at all, short of esoteric theory, when he tells the Corinthians not to join the spirit that dwells with in them, to a prostitute (1 Cor 6: 16-20). To go to a prostitute amounts to virtual marriage with that person. Where full penetrative orgasm has taken place between consenting parties, no such thing as a casual relation exists.  So far as I can see, what we call an affair or a fling is a form of marriage where biblical tradition is concerned. And if  the esoteric dimension is true then  this would be be a trans-cultural, trans-historical principle.

I am not quite sure how and to what extent this applies to any gay relations, but it may be the same, and this has been claimed .  In  A Special Illumination I cite the case of a particularly devout lesbian conflicted about her status  who was shocked to be told in vision by Jesus that in fact partners to a gay relation can and do become “one”.  The visionary couldn’t understand how this could be, and wasn’t told in what she took as a general warning against gay promiscuity as opposed to gay unions as such, but if it’s an esoteric matter of two souls united, all is immediately clear (2)

Ironically it was an early (Victorian/Edwardian) gay rights campaigner, Edward Carpenter, who was spiritual enough (as gays often are spiritual) to suggest there are never two people in a relation, there is always a third, namely God,  If this is so,  one can’t go where Nadia tends to lead, which is to just follow immediate sensed need, free love style, regardless of where God might intend to be, or , as in divorce, remove from.

Like Luther I don’t consider all divorce is wrong,  but I have to ask if the often reported acute strain on the system suffered by many people in the wake of divorce could well be linked to, beyond psychological effects, more spiritual ones of sundering what has been meshed and melded over time. Some people may be too extraverted and careless to consciously suffer such effects, but that doesn’t automatically signify some degree of joining and then separation has not occurred.

COLOURS THAT SHOW

Even outside Christian religion, persons able to read auras and perceive the so-called astral body would attest to the clouded or distorted auras (often grey or muddy) of those who have lived promiscuously.

At any rate  Christians have to consider the possibility that, short of precisely the kind of “repentance”  Bolz-Weber deems unnecessary to  sex-helpful relating (and is Christianity quite itself without the call to  repentance or self-examination in the face of almost any subject?),  one must pass into the next life with other souls shadowing you. This is  something which may or may not be fortunate – for you or for them. (It might be  bit more painful than any of Nadia’s heavenly seats besides Harvey Weinstein!). That the apostle assumes the believing partner to a marriage sanctifies the unbelieving partner 1 Cor 7:14, itself again implies some doctrine of  purely spiritual effects).

According to the esoteric worldview (which I don’t say we must accept uncritically, but should keep in mind), it is even possible to establish a strong tie of souls by just intent, obsessive looking – a kind of Rasputin effect – a reason some say it is necessary to be careful around addictive porn.

For the nowadays returning tribe of exorcists, the problem, whether with porn addiction or promiscuous relations more generally, is they are said to  open up pathways to spiritual obsession if not outright possession, though this misfortune often comes out in the offspring of the guilty parties. To the extent it is attaching, sex and orgasm, which temporarily makes the aura detach from the body to join with another aura also outside the body, risks opening the body/soul portal to spiritual influences. On this understanding, sex which can be divine can  also be demonic. At best it is a foretaste of the paradise which the lovers of the Song of Songs anticipate from “within the fires of Yahweh”. (Song 8:3) and see my Solomon’s Tantric Song  https://goo.gl/sU21My

Since  however  just about all sex falls short of that high ideal and is never got right, provided it is not morbid, an  element of  doubt, regret and repentance about the whole subject is natural and  could even  protect it and finish more healthy than “shameless” alternatives. What may look like easy adjustment in some individuals  may only be their way station to the next hook-up. And against the argument, one that I understand, that it can help rather than hinder adjustment  if couples live together to be sure they are fitted for greater commitment  (almost essential in borderline cases like persons of uncertain orientation), I have come to believe, what many Christians refuse to consider, namely that marriage by trial is not actually necessary because the  nature and possibilities of the relation  can be foreknown.

If the couple is really sexually fit and suited can be read in their compared birth patterns. Bribery of astrologers and various cheating of data have been known, but in India it is generally felt that the relative stability of marriages in contrast to the breakdown and almost frenetic instability of Western unions, owes something to the ability to read and match natal charts.

Like it or not, no one can have better sex than their birth stars show is possible for them. Many just don’t have the gift of eros and their expectations will fail no matter how much they try.   For example, always disappointed  in love Jennifer Aniston,  could not be encouraged to expect too much given that, as only one  thing within a difficult pattern, separative Uranus is opposite her relational Venus.

It’s a strange  opinion  from a pastor that even if people like her daughter will have numbers of affairs, at least they will have acquired more sexual knowledge and experience towards greater erotic fulfillment later. In theory, and occasionally in fact, this could seem justified, but  things don’t necessarily work out like that because there’s a fate and timing dimension that modifies.

I accept that the pastrix is sincere, has suffered and in her latest book highlights real problems needing attention in the churches of especially America. But I think she is ultimately too “materialistic” about sex and risks being, or making others, blasé about the whole “purity” problem.

That subject may need complete re- thinking and re-statement (it  doubtless  will increasingly receive attention in various ways  –  only  this week there are rumbles from the Sanhedrin  mixed with the expectations for  a third temple, declaring that the world is largely in a state of unacceptable  “sexual impurity” before God);  but whatever one’s take on the subject,  the purity theme doesn’t need  Nadia’s  rejection as something  virtually irrelevant to   management of  the spiritual life. It’s  a position she can only sustain by maintaining everyone is accepted just as they are and saved (as though they scarcely had  the dignity of agency!) and  were thus justified and enjoyed rights with God as much by  their scars and psycho-histories of pain as by faith.

I suspect that what is called “sexual purity” in the biblical tradition is linked to a system of quasi- occult/esoteric soul protection which may hold enough significance not to be too lightly dismissed in an age of rabid competition, experiment. and instant gratification…These days the rejection of this-worldly American values might represent the beginning of wisdom.

NOTES

(1)  See    https://aeon.co/essays/getting-down-and-medieval-the-sex-lives-of-the-middle-ages?fbclid=IwAR0cjXjuhNMP3xg_wjqGDbz9VhLhrMXJ8-LEyzx6PBAVoS_cxLarEqH_lSM         
(2)  Rollan McCleary, A Special Illumination, 2006, p.118  https://goo.gl/sU21My

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE FATAL FLAW IN THE MATTHEW VINES, ALBERT MOHLER GAY DEBATE

SergiusBacchus  (Ss Sergius and Bacchus, gay saints of the early church)

THE FATAL FLAW IN THE MATTHEW VINES, ALBERT MOHLER GAY DEBATE

AN ARGUMENT OVER “AUTHORITY”

Matthew Vines, a young writer just published for God and the Gay Christian and then immediately critiqued (in over 100 pages!) by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, belongs with a wider phenomenon not especially edifying for the (American) churches in the intensity of its obsession and the levels of  alarmist statement it can engender.  (According to how we respond the gospel itself is said to be at stake!).

American churches already have something to answer for in the way their beliefs and attitudes have poisoned public life from Africa to Russia as regards gays encouraging, however unintentionally, vigilante violence and open social and legal discrimination. The current conservative backlash is not helpful to the soul life of gays inside or outside the churches; if anything it is rather selfish and reduces things to some kind of theological boxing match that is no glory to God.

But faced with this latest round in the Christian-gay controversy it might sound strange, especially coming from someone who sufficiently esteems scripture not to count as a dyed in the wool theological liberal, to propose that a great flaw in the current debate is the approach to the “authority” of the Bible. This is something seen in their different ways by gay Matthew Vines and straight Albert Mohler as absolute, though of course Mohler is accusing Vines of undermining biblical “authority” even while he defends it.

Where understanding of homosexuality is concerned, Vines  wants and is promoting a “New Reformation”. But what is really needed is a “New Reformation” away from a rigid, purely sola scriptura treatment of every subject  towards a new position where at very least scripture is permitted to critique scripture and more importantly where the voice of Christ and the Spirit can be heard as per Revelation’s “Hear what the Spirit [not the Bible] says to the churches”, a refrain throughout Rev 2. And with this move we may hope to get away from the “By no means Lord” error of the apostle Peter at Joppa who refused divine vision itself because it appeared in his eyes to refute scripture and tradition (Acts 10:14). There would needless to say have been no bible, no Judaism or Christianity if every time a prophet spoke they would be denied a voice because they weren’t duplicating some word of scripture!

THE WEIGHT AND BURDEN OF OFTEN ILLUSORY “TRADITION”

Presently what I am getting at with all this  will be explained and in a particularly absolute way. It will be insisted  through something conventional commentary ignores or cannot answer, that not only did Jesus have certain views on the gay situation which prejudice and mistranslation and “tradition” have buried ( I have already somewhat covered this in my God and the Gay Gaps in Matthew Vines’ Vision at http://bit.ly/1izBz2C and various of my books like Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency  http://bit.ly/Y42WZo), but that the risen Christ disapproved or at least warned Paul from the first about the kind of views he would express as in the first chapter of Romans, views subsequently often and damagingly repeated over the centuries.

Great men make great mistakes as the saying goes, and as Jesus warned, “the first shall be last”. And the fact is that not everything the prophets of God declare is either intended by God or good. Still less so are words of the Christian philosophers, and I notice that critics of Vines like Mohler and Andrew Walker add to their  authority position the supposed “authority” of the centuries (as does sometimes Vines himself)  via not just scripture but the likes of Augustine, Luther and John Chrysostom.

Can they and should they even do that? I take it these good Southern Baptists and others don’t accept with Augustine, virtual founder of Catholic medieval philosophy, that it is more humble to pray to Mary than Jesus or that unbaptised infants go to hell and numerous other errors. I hope that they don’t accept with Luther, great though he was in many ways, that we should burn down synagogues. Possibly they really do believe the nonsense of Bishop St John Chrysostom of the Greek church that homosexual behaviour is worse than murder. The tongue of this so-called golden mouthed bishop, much like the devil as an angel of light, almost single handedly invented and corrupted the church, especially the Eastern Churches, with a fanatical anti-Semitism which echoes to this day and has justified pogroms. Are these ‘saints’ and doctors of the church any guide to the true position of the churches on anything?

This use of “authorities” betrays the Calvinism of even American Baptists – Vines himself is Presbyterian, a Calvinistic church tradition – but Calvin himself was something of a monster who ran a virtual inquisition in Geneva. He was happy to burn a heretic and unforgivingly required very public penances of those who laughed at or opposed him in any way. His unprecedented doctrine of work and money has perverted American Christianity to this day and runs behind prosperity gospel heresies. All these people presumably would know God’s mind and will regarding gays?!

WHAT AND WHERE IS THE IMMUTABLE BIBLE?

But let’s briefly consider the Bible as the immutable absolute it is for conservative Christians. What even constitutes this Bible? The only secure parts of it in strictly canonical terms are the Torah, the Gospels and a few prophets like Isaiah. The Septuagint Bible that was used and argued from by the early Church included some apocryphal books Southern Baptists would throw out as trashy, superstitious nonsense. It took a thousand years for the Eastern churches to accept Revelation was any revelation. The evangelical notion of a very fixed bible is a convenient fiction. The Apocrypha informs us that the legacy of Moses was destroyed at the fall of Jerusalem and Ezra employed the assistance of scribes to reconstruct what was lost. Almost certainly the version of the OT we possess is an edited “final” edition from around Ezra’s time and it is open to question whether elements of the Torah that seem objectionable to us like marrying a woman for life to her rapist, don’t owe something to the tampering scribes Jeremiah condemned.

The essential spiritual elevation of the Torah is evident, but conservative Christians who take the side of the OT as regards same sex, don’t care to stress the more primitive, almost Taliban-like features of the Torah on some subjects. Nor do they do stress how much the OT is anyway inconsistent on the same sex issue but suggestive of possibilities for development on the subject precisely through being so. Thus although Leviticus has the same sex couple supposedly executed, in Deuteronomy plainly it was not reckoned they would be so since the male prostitute (to whom the Leviticus ban probably originally first or chiefly applied) is not permitted to use the proceeds of his work as any temple offering. Also, though evangelicals like to stress that anything same sex is “abomination” (toevah a term indicating something closer to ritual impurity than “sin” as such), hence akin to and equal to incest and bestiality so categorized, evidently the writer(s)/editor(s) of the Torah weren’t so convinced. At any rate, while those other “abominations” were listed with the curses of Deuteronomy 27, same sex wasn’t included with them.

There is or should be some room for development and argument where scriptures are concerned. Such is the rabbinic position, and it is surely the sense of “come let us argue/reason together says the Lord” Is 1:18). (I have already  been told in response to this article that any idea of arguing with God over the Torah is absurd, but surely the simple answer is that precisely that is what  the daughters of Zelophehad do in Numbers 27 where their appeal gets the conditions changed. I don’t say they could do this to the core covenant and key ideas like the ten commandments but other things are less written in stone).  Jesus alone was regarded as the Word, (“Word of God” means more Jesus as Logos than “Bible”) and he is recorded as speaking with authority and not like the rabbis (who argued and still reckon to). The Bible is not the Koran with every part of it and every word dictated from heaven. It has settings and it has mediums of delivery, some more or less efficient to convey things and let’s note as sola scriptura believers aren’t keen to do that St Paul in Romans 1 on gentile depravity and “homosexuality” (though that word isn’t used) pretty much lifted his argument out of the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon it was so much not dictated from heaven and not “biblical”.  Jesus moreover observed that one searches scriptures in vain if you are not finding him there (Joh 5:39).

So what did Jesus hold about gay issues (which even gay theologians will usually tell you Jesus never referred to) and what may he have indicated to his chief apostle? As regards the gospels I will say no more here than what is suggested with a little more detail in the mentioned article (at http://bit.ly/1izBz2C) namely that Jesus in a way that undermines certain cure claims, maintains that some people are definitely born “different” and that this difference doesn’t automatically signify celibate vocation. I also pointed out concerning meanings of the racah passage in the Sermon on the Mount for condemnation of homophobia. There is more of relevance to gay issues within the gospels but I turn here to Jesus on Paul.

ST PAUL ON GAYS MAYBE, AND IF SO, WHAT?

St Paul’s almost purple passage first chapter of Romans in which something relevant to same sex issues is involved, is celebrated. It almost stands out there like a key to his work that it nevertheless isn’t. After reading extensively over the years on the great variety of interpretive views both conservative and revisionist that scholarship offers on St Paul’s references to those who wilfully “exchanged” their nature, I remain unsure just who and what in terms of his society and times the apostle was really talking about. Vines’ stress upon the evil of sex as “excess” as the ancients understood it must however carry some weight.

Personally I don’t think we can ever now quite know the truth (gay, bisexual, recreationally bisexual, pederastic, male prostitution or what) when it comes to who and what Paul had chiefly in mind. But what we can know is that –  practically –  whether gays as we understand the word today were the intended object of Paul’s tirade or not, the fallout has been huge, and sometimes irreparable in terms of the suicide, nervous breakdown, depression, family splits, persecution, imprisonment, torture etc that his extreme words have managed to justify across the centuries. Whoever he refers to are people whose mind is so twisted and filled with evil, so given to shameful conduct they have exchanged all truth for a lie and exist to receive God’s wrath. Please! Is this what all gays who believe they are “born that way” really are if and when they seek in any way to express themselves?

Even Dr Michael Brown, that tiresome sower  of every confusion (he is one of those who has approved bad policies in Africa) , a man who emphatically denies it is ever possible to be gay and Christian has recently  conceded:   “Some grew up feeling that God hated them, or there was something wrong with them. Some grew up feeling that they could never possibly serve God because they were under God’s condemnation…”.  Well that’s some compliment to St Paul and a recommendation to read scripture uncritically  isn’t it?! This, if ever, as Vines would have it referring to the gospel saying on the tree that bears corrupt fruit, is the bible as a voice for evil and sadly too with words which the apostle has mixed in and confused with what  is a not bad argument for the Creator God and conscience. How can any Christian, if they are honest, call St Paul’s words in Romans 1,  hugely influenced as said by the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon which links sex with idolatry, some kind of  words uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit and speaking to the churches for their good?

The apostle lived and travelled in a Roman world of widespread evil, great exploitation, slavery and torture for even entertainment. To have made “gays” or whatever  sexual minority he had in mind, any linchpin for any argument about good and evil was unnecessary and even scandalous. It’s a bit like talking  in racist fashion about blacks as an example of the “blackness” of human sin.  Though we needn’t question there were some seriously decadent,  orgiastic Romans and their exploitation of especially children could be very ugly,  the apostle’s angry generalizations (all the more dangerous for being precisely generalizations that can’t quite be pinned down so they assume the force of rumour)  do risk turning into  just hate speech and I think Christians have to concede that unfortunate fact.  At this point in his discourse the overall effect  is to make the apostle stand  less as a prophet of God to us than as a man of his times akin to certain pagan moralists and writers like Ptolemy the Egyptian astrologer who believed it didn’t matter if effeminates were bashed up in the streets.

Who is it opposes and persecutes gays today?  The leader of Boko Haram (who is under the illusion not even animals act homosexually), North Korea (which has dismissed Justice Kirby’s evidence against the nation because the forty years partnered Kirby is “a filthy homosexual”) , and various Muslim and African nations with a bad reputation for justice and human rights generally. It is a pity that Paul should be thought near to them in any way. And are any Pauline and ancient world assumptions about “nature” anyway correct?  We now know that homosexuality is in evidence throughout nature and the position of the male g spot itself raises some questions regarding how unnatural and unintended same sex activity intrinsically could be within the order of creation. That there is a distinctive gay mindset  and inspiration any serious study of culture will attest to against the Pauline position, and certainly strongly enough for the likes of Mohler not to protest convincingly that Vines and gays should never raise personal experience of the self in theological arguments.

But just as we are indebted to the imperfect Luther, we are indebted to Paul for many positive things, and I do mean that (Christianity might not even exist without him); but for his sad failure in Romans, and recalling Jesus’ warning that the first will be last, we can be reasonably certain Paul won’t take any highest place in heaven and we can be sufficiently assured too that Jesus was no more pleased with him about this than God was pleased with Moses’ bad temper at the rock and that he even tried to prevent him. How can we tell?

THE MYSTERY OF JESUS’ WORDS TO ST PAUL

It has always been a mystery beyond the power of theologians to explain and mostly just avoided by them, that the presence and introduction of Jesus to Saul/Paul at his conversion is as a semi-Dionysius, the wine god of ecstasy – Jesus is self declared in the gospels as “the true vine” – widely seen as a kind of gay or bisexual deity. Improbably, Paul’s Jesus even employs to the correct metre the words of the gay playwright Euripides in The Bacchae for this outlaw god (recall my other Vines article stressed the so-called “eunuch” figure is the outsider), whom the God of Israel’s Temple, due perhaps to its vine leaf designs pagans widely believed Yahweh to be. The question posed in the play by Dionysius to Euripides’ heteronormative anti-woman( and we may imagine homophobic)  persecuting King Pentheus,  the Gentile mirror image of Paul, becomes Christ’s to the heteronormative Saul: Why are you persecuting me, why will you kick against the goads?

The old KJ “kick against the pricks” accidentally reflects something of the ambiguity and polyvalence of the Greek expression which has several meanings including “the necessity” or sexual drive. St Paul is surely being told he really must stop persecuting the Christians but he needs to stop persecuting people altogether, if need be on a sexual basis. (We may assume a few unresolved sex problems in the apostle though I don’t follow the Bishop Spong line he was closet gay – there aren’t enough gay  traits in him and he had almost certainly been married and divorced – he could not have had his evident one time association with the Sanhedrin if he had not been married). Just as it seems Paul didn’t heed the warning of the prophet Agabus, so Paul the stubborn ox resisting the goads (though we appreciate he needed to be stubborn to take on the Roman Empire and the Jewish establishment!)  never quite learned this particular lesson, never recognized Jesus for who he was, Jesus in his own ambiguities and because of this failure there will be problems for everyone….A chance towards visionary understanding at deep unconscious levels was given and refused. And historically Christ has continued to be  persecuted by Christians in some of their attitudes and dealings with gays and almost anyone on the social margins.

THE TRUE “NEW REFORMATION” BEYOND MATTHEW VINES’ APPEAL

In the failure of St Paul and its dire historical consequences, let us learn a major lesson and make it an opportunity for insight and renewal. Matthew Vines wants a New Reformation. He won’t have it if he continues to peddle the “total” authority of scripture line (even while he is accused of undermining by reinterpreting it). The “New Reformation” so badly needed is one that, while still retaining a high view of scripture, releases us from its absolute authority, a kind of enslavement like that Paul described in relation to the Law. Christianity is not just, or not only, a tradition; tradition itself can be imperfect, it is a faith we are still living and forming.

Yes scripture is important, but no person is perfect nor is any witness to God. Christ, not the Bible is the primary “Word of God”. It is in light of the general sense and drift of scripture and Christ’s words we are bound to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches”  and it is not for evangelicals rigidly to refuse the possibility that God is speaking on this issue and to suppress all witness to it. My A Special Illumination  on  gay spiritualities ( http://amzn.to/17b8z1b  )  did if only briefly include (since this was a doctoral study) concerning alleged divine declarations about the gay situation.  But currently there is no attempt at hearing what the Spirit says to the churches on anything unless at the lowest possible level, even in a counterfeit form among a charismatic movement. This has promoted heresies like prosperity gospels which seriously do contradict the Bible it claims to follow and contradict it far more than persons questioning a few teachings on a rarely biblically mentioned “homosexuality” issue could possibly do. As stressed in my other article, we stand at the end of the era, and in conformity with the new influences of the era, the churches must dynamically change on this entire subject of same sex relations.

[June 21st: My points about sola scriptura, Calvinism and and hearing the Spirit are unexpectedly confirmed in the way that popular Californian Calvinist preacher John MacArthur has now shockingly declared that parents of “come out” gays should hand them over to the devil. This is the same person who has been condemning any spiritual gifts and charismatic Christianity as unbiblical]

See the also relevant, related article: Can You be Dr Michael Brown and a Christian? at http://bit.ly/Tu1LWz

A poem of this theme A Saint’s Mistake: A Poem of St Paul can be found at http://goo.gl/gBL4oA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: THE ACCEPTABLE FACE OF A NEW BIGOTRY

FRANKG

Due to being the revered Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham seems to have taken carte blanche to spout almost any tactless and prejudiced opinions hurting no matter what persons or issues. The man is a sensationalist, and, though I won’t make it an issue here, arguably someone not without an eye to profit as his controversial treatment of his father’s heritage and home suggests.

With his father’s influence declining due to age and ill health, son Franklin has achieved  ever more prominence, but the real problems started back in 2010 when instead of criticizing Islam and questioning its aims as he had a perfect right to do, Franklin G simply dismissed it wholesale as a  “wicked” and “evil” religion. These are words used in a way that could only endanger the situation of beleaguered Christians in certain majority Muslim countries. In the same uncompromising treatment of all and any themes he’s adopted, he’s back again this time taking a rather special line against gays and gay marriage – it is largely his noisy treatment this last week has roused the American evangelical world to protest and make World Vision renege on its recent willingness to allow the same sex married to be employed by them. (See http://bit.ly/1dShgvZ). Before that Franklin was protesting in favour of shockingly, crude homophobic  statements by  reality TV’s The Duck Dynasty and declaring (though three million evangelicals had supported them) that this wasn’t enough.

I don’t assent to any merely PC treatment of subjects, and democratically I don’t suggest Franklin Graham has no right to hold or express opinions against gays and  gay marriage; but there is rather more to the matter than just this, and Graham must be held accountable for the trouble he either causes or supports. For example, while neo-nazi vigilantes attack and torture gays (or even just people who may look like them) on the streets of Russia and on the pretext they are dangerous paedophiles, the egregious Graham also commends Russia’s Putin for dealing with the gay problem as though he were a good Christian we should all praise. The evangelical scapegoating of gays and libels around them has got to stop.

No matter what he says, Graham’s supposedly biblical beliefs are hiding homophobic prejudices of a kind which support the false ideology and lies that interfering, too rich American evangelicals have been busily planting across Africa and Russia. They have been doing so with alarming consequences now widely criticized and which belong to the kind of American madness which also this last week has had a 9 year old girl expelled from a Christian school to the bewilderment of her Christian parents because she looks and seems too tomboyish.

Without admitting it, basically Graham takes the toxic line of  persons like Scott Lively and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association  who in Africa and Russia have been pushing that “homosexuality” is totally learned  – this can be biblically questioned as I do in the following article at  http://wp.me/p2v96G-nl – so that in effect gays are totally, wilfully blameworthy and, as the AFA has it, there’s anyway no difference between gay sex and bestiality and child sex. Moreover since gays “recruit” children, which is a word Franklin Graham joins these  eccentric extremists in using, they are in effect to be regarded as potentially dangerous paedophiles who must not be allowed near your children nor, ideally, allowed rights in society.

This is rank fear mongering. Graham also addresses the whole question of gay marriage as though there is no way in which it could be considered better than or different from the “fornication” of living together or even orgies. This, no matter what religious beliefs one holds, in the context of a democratic society amounts to taking a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach to the very existence and practices of gays in society. It is saying they ought not to exist and there is no situation in which we would tolerate you if we can help it (though of course “some of my best friends are gays” – the mantra so many homophobes will utter and they never think they are doing anything less than just protecting society). Nothing it seems is more righteous and worthy than opposing the miniscule number of gays who are or might ever have been employed by World Vision – many evangelicals decided on the spot it would be better to withdraw all funds to help the needy or financially “adopted” children through WV than encourage the slightest acceptance of gays.

Any such rejection of alternative people is then defended as perfectly biblical, hence irrefutably justified. Indeed where Franklin Graham is concerned such ideas are now also being offered to the world as though his father Billy Graham’s opinion exactly.  Though I don’t have time to research the matter for this off-the-cuff article, I believe I am correct to say from one or two statements I recall, Billy Graham’s  own approach finished a bit more open than in his earlier days and akin to that of the current Pope who of course is someone else Franklin recently rushed to condemn as “unbiblical”, a dangerous move towards any acceptance of (that non-biblical word) “homosexuality”.

We are bound question the philosophy that Franklin Graham and his evangelical followers are working on. Beyond any fundamentalist literalism it’s a simplistic sola scriptura, (scripture only) position, one that he has forced a “repentant” World Vision to cite back to him, namely that the “infallible” “unchanging” Word of God is against “homosexuality” and against any marriage that is not heterosexual monogamous too. What the SS believers really mean is that St Paul never expressed a personal opinion or wrote within his cultural/historical context but rather had everything directly dictated to him from heaven. In which case….the logical consequence ought to be there should be no America because that nation was founded on opposition to appointed authority, something the apostle opposed, and that evangelicals should exclude women from their churches because they haven’t kept silent and don’t necessarily cover their heads.

Let’s not speak of all the sola scriptura Protestants who have been cheerfully divorced or reflect upon the biblical polygamies of such as Abraham and David. While one can, and I think should, believe that there is a line of inspiration that runs through scripture and that provides an ultimate coherence, we should see SS doctrine as ultimately untenable nonsense – there would not even be a Bible if any principle of the sort had been rigorously applied against such as prophets with original messages. All we can say is that provided there is not outright/blatant contradiction of the spirit and meaning of the whole, the Spirit must be allowed to speak to the churches as is independently the case in such as Rev 3:22 and/or in timely modification of existing scriptures as in Acts 10 where in vision Peter is required, and resists, going against what he considers is revealed scriptural truth, for a new wider view. The Spirit (that is God) as much as the Bible is supposed to guide the church which risks otherwise falling for bibliolatry.  “The Word of God” originally meant Jesus himself as Logos rather than the version of Bible was possess following church council agreements.

Without suggesting everything gays say, do or claim is right, the fact is their treatment is a  serious, insufficiently repented blot upon the record of Christianity and it is beyond high time things were changed and the quasi-fascist, paranoid attitudes of some evangelicals  left behind, protested and condemned and even in God’s name by genuine believers. The very success of the more radical claims and expressions of liberation have only become possible through the weary cynicism of society at the utter intransigence the churches have long displayed and the bullying they have ignored. In humility Christians should see in what most offends them as simply a kind of judgement upon them.

It is unfortunate that Christian media in America like The Christian Post even give space to reporting such as Franklin Graham as though some kind of authority. And likewise the gloatings over the needed “repentance” of World Vision from the likes of deceptively avuncular Dr Michael Brown who notoriously has recently commended the work of Uganda to protect its children – in which case, unless he’s genuinely blind and deaf to what’s going on, he necessarily regards the nation’s controversially draconian anti gay laws and unchecked vigilante violence as managing to do. This Jewish Christian has not, alas, learned the lessons of anti-Semitism and the holocaust and so should not be listened to.

As usual and too often the American evangelical churches are just disgracing themselves and Christianity at large.  And it belongs to the dubious nature of the American religious scene that I write this here rather than attempt to contact leaders like Franklin Graham privately. So thisworldly, commercial and overworked are their relevant churches and organizations such persons are pretty much in the hands of minders and staff which let through what is  pleasing and acceptable to hear to the extent it is a waste of time to approach them even if, as in my case, you’re qualified and published in your or their line. It is easier to contact royalty (I seriously mean that) than any American Christian, especially a rich bigoted one. As one of my more parlando style poems remarks,

“It’s not as though, speaking apart and speaking in prose
I can’t get the atheists replying, Iris, Alain, Andre
The whole who’s who of rank unbelief. They will
Give a response, but just as with those in religion…..

….Expect to hear nothing, their vocation comes ripe with disdain”

Franklin G. was oh so “grieved”  by World Vision’s decision. Thinking, feeling people will think there is a lot more in Franklin’s own attitudes and statements and on more than just World Vision to be grieved about.

Relevant to things considered here are various articles of mine (on my main blog,  McCleary’s Alternatives) such as:

Christo-Fascism or Christo-Humanism    wp.me/p2v96G-kB
God and the Gay Gaps in Matthew Vines’ Vision   http://wp.me/p2v96G-nl
Songs of Puritania on a Gay Theme (poetical satire of a variety of American Christian attitudes)   http://bit.ly/16ybdts