Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The church and sexuality

Over at That Strange Feeling, George has a very interesting post about church and sexuality taken from the books he recently read. Incidentally, George is my younger brother. He is running a very interesting blog that is sometimes philosophical, sometimes theological, sometimes fictional and humorous and sometimes personal and emotional. Anyway,
this is what he has to stay:

Rummaging through piles of used books, I chanced upon two troubling (that is, for me) books about church and sexuality. The first is Mary Daly’s “The Church and the Second Sex” and the other is “Living in Sin?” by Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong.

The Church and the Second Sex is a troubling book because of its graphic indictments against Religion specifically Christianity and her churches for its treatment of women.
A portion of Daly’s 1985 foreword of her book is enough to exhibit her attitude towards Christianity and religion in general…

“…For there is a truly Tremendous Event that is “still on its way, still wondering—it has not reached the ears of man (from Nietzsche).” And women have done it ourselves. This event is the self realizing of women who have broken free from the stranglehold of patriarchal religion, with its deadly symbols, its ill logic, its gynocidal laws and other poisonous paraphernalia.
The bringing about of this event, exorcism of the poisonous patriarchal god and his attendant pathologies, has required and continues to require Courage--…

The courage to leave such an institution as the catholic church and, beyond that, Christianity in general and all patriarchal religion in all its form—both sacral and secular—is often born out of desperation. If the motivating force that propels one to leave is realization of one’s own spiritual and elemental powers, this leaving involves leap after leap of living faith. It is my observation that Living faith propels women out of patriarchal religion…

This still comes down to the problem of literalizing the Bible with regards to its archaic teachings about women, which is really ungodly. Daly talked about transcendence and she’s right, but the realization of that transcendence for her is in leaving the church and in dismissing what she calls “patriarchal religion” and not on transcending biblical literalism and “going in to Christ.” Or she might have already done that, and I’m sure she did, and she still found it unacceptable because Christ is a man.

It must still be about Christ and Christ’s attitude towards women that must be the basis for the church’s relation with the other sex and not biblical literalism.

“Harvey Cox expressed the Christian condition accurately when he said that Jesus Christ comes to his people not primarily through ecclesiastical traditions, but through social change, that he goes before first as a pillar of fire. There is no need then to be obsessed with justification of the past. In fact, while it is necessary to watch the rear view mirror, this does not tell us where we are going, but only where we have been.”

Change is forthcoming and the church will survive. It survived the Copernican revolution that removed humanity as the center of the universe. Why won’t it survive another revolution that will make men truly equal with women?

“Living in Sin?” is an interesting book for its position on homosexuality. The books discuss many issues on sexuality from “betrothal” i.e. trial marriages sanctioned by the church but not by the state, to “divorce ceremonies”. But what caught my attention was the book’s exegetical study on homosexuality.

1. Biblical references to homosexuality are small.
2. There is not one reference to homosexuality in any of the four gospels.
3. The Lord (Jesus) appears to either have ignored it completely or to have said so little on the subject that no part of what he said was remembered or recorded.
4. If one reads the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative with an open mind one will discover that the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness on the part of the men of the city to observe the laws of hospitality. (It is impossible that all the men in Sodom are homosexual, why offer ones daughter to be ravaged and gang raped?)
5. Why was it that biblical condemnation of homosexuality was limited to male homosexuality?
6. How about Paul’s condemnation of the effeminate? (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Paul never married. He seemed incapable of relating to women in general except to derogate them. He talked about a thorn in the flesh. Was that connected with Paul’s understanding of himself, of his own sexuality?
….many more

Even if one is a biblical literalist, the biblical references do not build an ironclad case for condemnation. If one is not a biblical literalist there is no case at all, nothing but the ever present prejudice born out of a pervasive ignorance that attacks people whose only crime is to be born with an unchangeable sexual predisposition toward their own sex. (The author cited scientific studies that affirm homosexuality as a genetic occurrence as opposed to the Freudian theory of homosexuality as a psychological deviation or the churchs teaching that homosexuality is an abomination.)

If new knowledge about the cause and meaning of homosexuality confronts us, then we must be willing to relinquish our prejudice of Holy Scripture and turn our attention to loving our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, supporting them, and relating to them as part of God’s good creation. That will inevitably include accepting, affirming, and blessing those gay and lesbian relationships that, like all holy relationships produce the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, and self-sacrifice—and to do so in the confidence that though this may not be in accordance with the literal letter of the biblical texts, it is in touch with the life giving spirit that always breaks the bondage of literalism.

Looking back, most of the Old Testament bible is in reality a survival book for the Jews. Most of its laws are meant to preserve the integrity of the Jewish race and of their religion. The same with the New Testament, it is mostly a survival book too--a call for exclusivity against the onslaught of the other religions. But since the threat is not there anymore, there is really a need to redefine the bible especially in the age we are in now. One must be ready to “transcend” the letters and go beyond to the Word. An open but discerning mind is the best policy here.


John said...

Hi, Its John from Melbourne. The "church" has given the world an entirely sex and body negative cultural script. This script is the root cause of ALL of our seemingly intractable social problems.
Please check out these references which provide an Illuminated understanding of the body and the ALL important emotional-sexual dimensions of our being.

Reference 5 contains a statement about the immutable necessity to understand and become responsible for ones emotional-sexual presence in the word BEFORE True Spiritual Life can even begin to begin.
Indeed before truly human life can even begin!

Also it dose not take any courage to leave the "church". You just laugh and walk away.
Unfortunately though the negative cultural scripting referred to above runs hell-deep. It leaves deep emotional patterns which are almost impossible to discard. Patterns which are profoundly crippling!!

This essay
6. describes the politics & "culture" created by a "civilization" of emotional-sexual cripples.

Steve Hayes said...

One problem about the church and sexuality is that so much is negative. We always seem to start, or be compelled by others to start, in the wrong place.

It's like those notices that used by be posted in the porch of churches in England - A table of kindred and affinity who may not marry with each other, which began "A man may not marry his grandmother".

I don't know if that is still the case, but it encourages the idea that the essence of Christian marriage consists in a man not marrying his grandmother. It may indeed be true that marrying one's grandmother or grandfather is not in accordance with the Christian understanding of marriage, because it tells us only what marriage is not, and not what it is.

Similarly with "Don't do this or you will get HIV and Aids." But being HIV negative tells us nothing about the essence of Christian marriage either.

Joey said...

Hi Steve,

You're absolutely right. This is not true only about the issues of sexuality. Churches has the propensity to start from the negative as if we only do things positively in contrast of the negative.

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