Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Kingdom of God

Its funny, there are a number (they tell me its seven) passages in the bible that negatively mention homosexuality, but only one of them ever makes me cry. I can so easily ignore Leviticus, and for some reason 'that passage' in Romans doesn't really affect me but this does:

'Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be decieved: neither the sexually immoral nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor theives nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.' 1 Corinthians 6v9

The Kingdom of God is an illusive concept, and I don't think we ever really get a total grasp of what it means. Jesus (as He so ofen did), mostly speaks about it in riddles. We know that it belongs to the poor in Spirit (Matthew 5v3), its like a man who sowed good seed (Matthew 13v24), like a mustard seed of faith and like yeast which spreads (Matthew 13v31), its like treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13v44), like a net that catches fish (Mattthew 13v47), we know that it doesn't live by the same hierarchies as most of us live by (Matthew 18v3). Its like a King who frees us from our debts only to watch us show no grace to those around us (Matthew19v21-35). We know that it belongs to children and those like them (Matthew 19v14). We need to give up all our earthly possessions to find it (Matthew 19v21-24). Its like a landowner that pays everyone the same regardless of how much work they do (Matthew 20v1-16), where the first are last and the last are first. Its like a King who prepares a banquet and invites the lowest of society to come (Matthew 22v1-14). Its a Kingdom where we are called to make the best of what we have (Matthew 25v14-30). Its about righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14v17).

And as I read the gospels, I become surer and surer that this illusive kingdom, this kingdom which has nothing to do with the false boundaries of nations that we create, is something that I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of the radical, righteous, just way of doing things, that goes against absolutely everything we know. I want to recieve the grace that Jesus gave when he died, and be a part of showing that grace to the world in his resurrection. I want to learn more about what all this means, and I am so, so, so sure that this crazy, confused set of stories is what I want to live by.

So yes, it absolutely does break my heart when Paul suggest that I might not be able to be a part of all this. And I know that some people think that homosexual then didn't including loving monogomas relationships, and I know that its hard to see how much of what was written to another culture applies to our culture today. But can I take the risk? God, and this new system based on grace are the things I love most in the world.

And so I'm still left somewhere in the middle of two ideologies not really sure where I can go and hold myself together in one piece. Heres praying for answers, ideally soon.


Sarah said...

One thing I have realised is that so often the evangelical culture is about staying safe. If you aren't sure that the Bible allows something, it's better not to do it, just in case. And the Bible is so complex that it's always possible to find loads of little parts which can back up your reasons for not doing something if you look for them and apply them in a certain way.

But imagine how much people miss out on! Not just all the things they choose not to do in order to stay safe, but also a mindset of freedom and exploration, the opportunity to try new things and to think widely and freely, to consider arguments without worrying about whether they follow the party line, to enjoy being who they are.

Good luck...

Feminist Avatar said...

I have been thinking about this and related issues a lot lately- no answers unfortunately. I don't know if this will help you, but I thought I'd raise some of the questions I had and maybe it would give you some food for thought.

First, English translations of the Bible don't always accurately convey the culture. For example, the words 'husband' 'wife' and 'marriage' do not appear in the Old Testament in hebrew. The word 'wed' only appears once in Song of Songs. The OT uses man and woman and where we talk about marriage, it uses words such as 'to take', 'to carry', 'to give'. When we translated the bible into English, we did the best we could to translate a polygamous culture, where women are property to be conveyed between owners, into a form of marriage that is familiar in our culture. This was not lies, just the difficulty of understanding and interpreting a culture so foreign from our own. Point being, how do we take meaning from a bible when we can only interpret it within our own cultural mindset- and really only ever have. (I also understand but haven't really checked this out- that where the word homosexuality appears in the bible in English, it is usually meant to be sodomy- so it is referring to a physical act, rather than a 'lifestyle' or a form of relationship- indeed it is also argued that until the eighteenth century (In GB at least) society had no concept of the homosexual as a category of identity- people were just people who sometimes had legitimate forms of sex and sometimes had illegitimate forms- sex was an act not a pathology [Foucault]).

Second, until the advent of print culture, most societies, including our own, were oral cultures. This meant that their relationship with language was very different from our own. Words were never literal- they were symbols that conveyed meaning. Indeed, in the medieval period, people understood the whole world as a giant symbol of God's power to be interpreted to give insight into God. The Bible was just another symbol to be interpreted. They were never concerned with the meaning of particular words, because meaning was conveyed within stories, within symbols, not within words per se. (And remember it is people from this form of culture who first translate the bible). Now, people who are experts in oral culture believe the bible, with its reliance on parables, its use of particular numbers (3, 7), its rhythm and a whole bunch of other stuff highlight that it was a text created by an oral culture. So, the bible was a record of stories that should not be taken literally, but read for meaning. It came from a world where arguments over the meaning of a particular word would not have existed because that wasn't how language worked for them. As people who come from a world where language and the order we place words is of huge importance, we find it difficult to think like a culture who conceived of the world in an entirely different way. What does that mean for us and our 'reading' of the Bible? Plus, despite the fact that the church rarely admits it, church doctrine has changed dramatically over time, not just in subtle ways like we like to imagine. Where is the truth if the 'truth' as taught is constantly adapting to cultural norms?

Finally, there are societies where gender is not determined by sex organs, but by task. So, people who work in fields and know about rice are female; people who hunt are male. Now, it is often the case that people with vaginas are more likely to work in fields and people with penises hunt, but this is not essential. And, in times where the population is unbalanced by one particular sex, people are actively recruited into (or brought up as) the other sex. Men marry women, even though some of these men and women might be marrying people with the same sexual organs. Now, I know that traditional christian reading of this is that this is a culture in sin, without the enlightenment of God- but why do we get to come into their culture and tell them what God thinks? Why is our conception of men and women right? It just seems a bit easy to wipe their values with our own.

My overall point is that you need to have a revelation from God into his plan and his will- because when you really start to think about the Bible as a text, it becomes even less easy to interpret, less easy to apply in an entirely different cultural context.

I don't know, but you might also be aware of the metropolitan community church in Edinburgh, which is a church that is for the gay community. Many of the people there have been through the same things as you and seem to have found a reconciliation with their sexuality and with God- they might be able to offer you some advice or insight.

All the best (and if you have any great insights, please let us know!!)

boxthejack said...

A beautiful post.

I don't have any answers but the point you make about homosexuality being the antithesis of covenant relationship in the ancient world is a good one.

And Feminist_Avatar's comments about gender and biology are quite compelling too. I wonder if perhaps, bearing this in mind, we should view sexuality through the prism of the Trinitarian dance, i.e. community and covenant, which we are called to reflect. If Paul is issuing this call, it is both understandable that he rails against what he sees as promiscuous "homosexual offence" whilst also able to say that there is no male or female.

My own (slightly tangential) wrestlings are here and may be of interest.

boxthejack said...

Oops. Wrong link. This is what I meant. said...

Let me first say that your struggle in itself shows your great love for Jesus. Your desire to receive his grace tells me that you have already received it. Rather than taking the easy path of denial or abandoning your faith, you have chosen the narrow path of great toil and struggle. You are a rare and precious jewel in the kingdom of God. Your struggle proves this to me beyond any doubt!

With 1 cor 6:9 one must consider many things.

Take for example the socio-cultural context in which the text was written. In biblical times, male homosexuality was exploitative of slaves and children. Sometimes it was used do express superiority over captured prisoners of war. (Notice the conspicuous absence of condemnation towards female homosexuality? The Greek word ARSENOKOITAI translated "homosexuality" is the combination of "male" and "to have sex with." ) Furthermore, Corinth was well known as a sex market where exploitation was rampant. In those times, sex outside marriage often involved intercourse with temple prostitutes and slaves who had no financial or legal status. That was the situation which Paul and biblical writers were addressing.

I can think of no better way of describing such degrading acts through sexual means other than by using the term "sexual immorality." Such exploitation and its perpetrators are rightfully condemned.

Considering that, I don't see how one can use this verse to condemn loving, non-exploitative relationships of any kind.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read 'Calling the Rainbow Nation Home' by Elaine Sundby? It's a fantastic read and might help you on your journey. I'm going through the same things myself, by the way.

Tom Carew said...

Jesus never met, read or even heard of the author of Corinthians, Paul, whose claim to authority must thus be at least questionable. The 30-odd Parables, Lords Prayer, and Beatitudes dont figure in Paul's version. His list of punitive exclusions sits oddly with what is recalled in the Gospels of the open, liberating Nazarene himself. Time to rate Paul's invented, later *Tarsology* for what it is - like Augustine of Hippo, a reflection of the man, more than of Jesus of the Gospels.