Sunday, July 17, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage: Exercising My Freedom of Speech

In the spirit of the Senate hearings on the same-sex marriage bill, I thought I'd take a stab at explicating the Christian view of homosexuality, as I understand it (or not).

In the beginning, well, close to the beginning, sort of, Moses laid down a set of laws as dictated to him by God for the Israelites to follow, which they did in the usual fallible human way. This state of affairs remained unaltered for centuries until Jesus came along. Jesus declared to his followers, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17) Just to make his meaning clear, he continues: "For truly I tell you, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:18)

It's safe to say that not all has been accomplished -- we are not yet back with God, good has not yet triumphed over evil -- and to me Jesus' meaning seems clear: the laws stay. But a strange thing happened as the Christian Jewish sect he founded started to feel its way forward after his ascension. This thing probably started with Peter's vision.

"...Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean." The voice said to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven." (Acts 10:9-16)

"At that very moment, three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. [Acts 10:28 "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean."] These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house...And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning...If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?...Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:11-18)
This vision has been taught to me many times as the reason for abandoning the Levitical dietary laws. But look again at the text: Peter does not take his vision literally. Instead his puzzlement at its meaning turns to understanding as the succeeding course of events unfold. Just like Jesus did not mean literally to drink his literal blood when he stated that whoever was thirsty to come to him, Peter realised the food being presented to him three times represented the three Gentiles who came seeking him and that God had made clean the Gentiles. (As a side note: all the foods Christians eat are NOT represented here literally; so if we take this passage as permission to eat whatever, we've actually expanded it to include foods that God did not authorize.)

So! What has this got to do with homosexuality? The first injunction against homosexual relations that Christians call upon are found in Leviticus. These laws cover every aspect of life from diet to sex; these are the same laws that Jesus did NOT set aside. Yet his followers eventually DID set aside some of them partly because of Peter's vision. Christians started to pick and choose which laws to obey and which to discard. Maybe this vision was a nice excuse to finally taste that which was forbidden!

Given that Christians have not followed the laws in their entirety, is it kosher then to use one of them as a reason to preach against homosexual relations? Some commentators say that none of the moral code was set aside, and the laws pertaining to sexual relations are in the moral code. Hence, it is kosher to refer to them. On the other hand, that smacks of picking and choosing, using legal logic to decide which code to follow and which to not.

The early Christians decided to open this pandora's box of choosing which code and which laws to follow, even in the face of Jesus' declaration that not one letter of the law could be set aside until all had been accomplished. Once one decides to choose to follow this law and not that law, the next generation will look at the same laws and see another bunch one can set aside. And so on. Humans have perverted the laws both by taking them to insane extremes and by picking and choosing. God didn't intend that. We know that because Jesus spoke about how one ought to follow the laws. All the laws fall under the two great commandments, and we are to interpret every law as being a way to express either or both of the great commandments. In addition, the laws and Jesus' two commandments do not apply to behaviour but to our very thoughts. This requires more of a person because it is harder to control one's thoughts than one's actions. One can do a good deed while thinking bad thoughts.

To look at it another way, Zoroastrians' basic creed is "good thoughts, good words, good deeds." That means control your thoughts, move them towards good and away from evil, battle against the evil thoughts that always pop up, and then your words will be good, and thusly your actions. Jesus espoused the same thing. He also noted that actions can mask empty thoughts. Only good thoughts produce true good actions.

So how do we look at Leviticus? 18:22 "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." 18:24 "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves." 20:13 "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them."

These passages are pretty clear: engage in gay sex (not lesbian sex) and you die.

If Christians want to use Leviticus as a reason to ban homosexual sexually-based relationships, including marriage, they have a better leg to stand on if they go back to obeying the law in its entirety, not in a ritualistic way, but in the way that Jesus commanded, that is, allowing your spirit to guide you in following the law and in understanding it as being subservient to and expressing the two great commandments that he gave; and having the law apply foremost to your thoughts. Since that is not going to happen -- once a prohibition is set aside, humans tend to resist mightily bringing it back -- I think it's best to look at these passages, understand them, then set them aside for the purposes of this issue. Both sides can use reasoned arguments either for or against them, which leads to a stalemate, and we're no further along.

Setting aside this quagmire, I'd like to look at the next biblical reference. But my little computer companion died. Prayers brought it back to life and all the data too, except for my bible notes. I'll continue this later.

Tags: , , ,

No comments: