Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Biblical case for accepting gays and lesbians.

This is part two of a three part series on the Bible, Gays and Lesbians. I am attempting to show that there is a Biblical basis for fully accepting gays and lesbians into our churches and our meetings. In this post I present the positive case. The third post will address the common scriptural objections.

Acts 15

Rejecting gays and lesbians from full membership in the Christian church is prohibited by scripture. At the Council of Jerusalem reported in Acts 15, the question of whether Christians were to be required to follow Levitical law was decided. At the council, Peter spoke, speaking of the Gentiles, “Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10) Christians were not to be asked to follow the laws in Leviticus, and this includes the prohibitions on homosexual behavior. The only things that were to be asked was that they “abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:20 NRSV). The New International Version renders fornication as sexual immorality but there is no reason to conclude that this means homosexuality. So to claim that gays and lesbians cannot participate fully in the church contravenes the clear words of Acts.

Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. (Acts 8:26-40)

The clear reading of this passage is that God is opening up the church to those who had been excluded before. Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shell be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” So this eunuch had gone up to Jerusalem to worship but he would have been denied entrance to the temple because he was a eunuch. Now he is returning home and reading Isaiah. Phillip shows up on the scene, having been led there by the Holy Spirit. Starting from the passage in Isaiah that the eunuch is reading, Phillip proclaims to him the good news about Jesus. There is some water nearby and the eunuch says, “Look, here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Phillip did not answer, “The Law of Moses prevents you from being baptized.” Instead he baptized the eunuch.

I have argued from analogy that God here was opening the church to those who were previously excluded and should we not consider whether God is asking us to open the doors of the church, or the meetinghouse, even wider today. I found this argument persuasive but then I found that I was perhaps being too narrow in my view of what constituted a eunuch. I had assumed that eunuchs had been castrated. But Jesus, in Matthew 19:12, identifies three classes of eunuchs, those who have been so from birth, those who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. These are the people who have not been given the teaching that you cannot divorce your wife except for unchastity. Those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven are those who have made vows of celibacy. Those who have been made eunuchs by others are clearly those who have been castrated. This leaves us those who are eunuchs by birth. A eunuch was a man who served and guarded the women in a royal palace or a rich household. They were men who could be trusted to not become sexually involved with the women of the household. Eunuchs had a reputation in the literature of the period of being attracted to men rather than women. So a eunuch by birth would not necessarily be a person born with defective genitals but also included those who we would call today, homosexuals. Acts does not identify which variety of eunuch was baptized by Phillip. It is perfectly consistent with the Biblical story to think that Phillip, acting under the direction of the Holy Spirit, baptized a homosexual.

Jesus and the Roman centurion's servant. (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10)

The Greek that the centurion uses to refer to his servant is pais. This word could mean son or boy, it could mean slave, or it could mean a slave who was his masters male lover. This servant is identified in other places as “honored slave.” This precludes it being his son. Since it was an honored slave who was also a pais, it indicates that this was a the centurions beloved male lover. When Jesus says that he will come and heal the servant, the centurion says, that it won't be necessary. As a soldier he is used to giving orders and having things done so all Jesus has to do is to give the word and he knows it will be done. Jesus cites this as a sign of faith greater than he has found in Israel. He then goes on to say, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12) Jesus not only heals the centurion's male lover, he implies that the centurion will be eating the Lord's banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

If we were to ask WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) in regards to acceptance of gays and lesbians, we have an answer. He would heal their illnesses and invite them to His banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

Blessings to all,


Next: Answering the common Biblical objections.


Blogger excarver said...

I have been a Quaker all my life and spent 39 years in the ministry. I can't conceive of Jesus ever refusing anyone from his fellowship.
I just recently developed My Credo after 91 years on this planet:
Well my friends I am going to bare my soul today and explain as best I can why I believe as I do. I am sure there will be many of you who will thoroughly disagree with me, but so be it. I trust there may be at least a few of you who see my point of view.
To begin with let us set the record straight, religion is simply a set of beliefs and practices generally held by a community, involving adherence to codified beliefs which are nothing more than psychological states in which an individual is convinced of the truth of a proposition. Like the related concepts truth, knowledge, and wisdom, there is no precise definition of belief on which scholars agree, but rather numerous theories and continued debate about the nature of belief and rituals, that is words of a "rite", which are said as a part of a ceremony which is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value, which is prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community.
All patriarchal religions present a common quality, the "hallmark of patriarchal religious thought": the division of the world in two comprehensive domains, one sacred, the other profane. Religion is often described as a communal system for the coherence of belief focusing on a system of thought, unseen being, person, or object, that is considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine, or of the highest truth. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are often traditionally associated with the core belief, and these may have some overlap with concepts in secular philosophy. Religion is also often described as a "way of life".
O.K.? All Ancient civilizations in the Near East were deeply influenced by their spiritual beliefs. Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit. The spiritual, involving perceived eternal verities regarding humankind's ultimate nature, often contrasts with the temporal, with the material, or with the worldly. A sense of connection forms a central defining characteristic of spirituality — connection to something "greater" than oneself, which includes an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence. Equally importantly, spirituality relates to matters of sanity and of psychological health. Like some forms of religion, spirituality often focuses on personal experience.
Now let's get to some of the early rites of those early folk. Animal sacrifice was practiced by nearly all Ancient civilizations and was the ritual killing of an animal as part of their religion. The practice of sacrifice is found in the oldest human records available. And the archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. It was practiced by many of these religions as a means of service to God or changing the course of nature. Animal sacrifice has appeared in almost all cultures, so it was certainly not surprising that the Jews picked up on it and practiced it until after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Let me point out that not all Jews accepted the idea of animal sacrifice for the Essenes certainly did not. They were followers of a religious way of living in Judaism that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Maybe that is why I have such deep respect for them. They not only decried the practice of animal sacrifice they were pacifists. So you see there were dissenters even back in the 2nd century before Christ. And so, they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or to make sacrifices with it. Good for them!
Then in the next century the prophet Micah came along and prophesied throughout the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, roughly 735–700 BC. Micah was brought up to fear the Lord in a small hometown, and it was in this small village that God Almighty based His great plans for him. Micah grew up in the poorer, working class of his small farming community. The quality of his prophecy, however, has caused many scholars to believe that he received a good education and/or may have been one of the wealthier members of the community, a land owner. Still others consider him as an elder of the community, indicating his respect among his people. At any rate, because he grew up in such a community, he was well aware of the avarice and injustices of the rich. And thus he cried out against the evils of his day:
With what shall I come before the LORD
And bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
With ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
There were other prophets who echoed the same theme also.
Then in the very next century along came Jesus Christ. Who is this man who claimed to be God? What were the major events in Jesus Christ’s life on Earth? Was Jesus Christ truly the Savior of the world? Those questions and many more like them have been bandied about ever since his arrival on the scene. I personally believe that he is the very best and highest knowledge we have of who God is and what God is like. Remember he said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:8-10 I believe his testimony.
He also said many times that the secret of eternal life was, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:26-28
In the only sermon that is recorded for us he said:
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
He concluded that sermon by saying:
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies] and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
That sets a pretty high standard my friends!
Well, so now just where did all the strange beliefs of the Christian Church come from? Let me attempt to tell you! The Apostle Paul, bless his heart, can be blamed first of all. Remember he was a converted Jew, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. That was his claim to fame. And his purpose was to convert other Hebrews to his new found way of life. He was steeped in the old animal sacrifice theology so why wouldn't he transpose it over into Christian thought? And he did it, and sold it to his Christian brethren, lock, stock and barrel. And Jesus has been the atonement for sin ever since. Paul's gospel theme was Christ and Him crucified for the justification of sinners (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 1:4). Of course, the other apostles also bore witness to the salvation of sinners through Jesus, but Paul shows how the gospel is a revelation of the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:16, 17).
But let's not blame it all on Paul. The Church Council at Nicea comes in for their share of the blame. That Council of Nicaea was historically significant because it was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. It was the first occasion for the development of technical Christology. Christology is that field of study within Christian theology which is concerned with the nature of Jesus the Christ, particularly with how the divine and human are related in his person. Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus' life than with how the human and divine co-exist in one person. Another thing to remember is that the Church had reached a low ebb in it's corporate life and that Constantine in convoking and presiding over the council signaled a measure of imperial control over the church. But with the creation of the Nicene Creed, a precedent was established for subsequent general councils to create a statement of belief and canons which were intended to become guidelines for doctrinal orthodoxy and a source of unity for the whole of Christendom — a momentous event in the history of the Church and subsequent history of Europe.
I trust you see how this all fits together. It is my firm conviction that Jesus never intended, nor did he ever proclaim that he was the lamb of God. It was Paul who carried this idea forward and implemented by the Council at Nicea. Jesus message was so simple that even I can understand it, "Love God and my neighbor." With that he rested his case! And that is good enough for me. And you know what else, that message prohibits me from killing my neighbor, period. And he certainly illustrated who my neighbors are with his good Samaritan story.
Earl J Prignitz

July 15, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Earl, Thank you for your credo. When we look at the divisions among Friends it is easy to talk as if there is uniformity across yearly meetings or even the major branches. There is diversity among Friends in all of our organizations.


July 16, 2007 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Will!

I've been following your three-part series on homosexuality with some interest, but I chose to hold off on commenting on this part until the final part was posted and I could see the shape of the whole.

Now that the final part is posted, I do have some comments.

On your argument from Acts 15 -- this is a solid argument as regards who is free to participate as a believer in the Church, and I applaud it. On the other hand, it should be noted that it is not so applicable to the question of who is qualified to be an official in the Church. The apostles set far higher and narrower standards for officials than for ordinary believers. This matter is carefully discussed in the third chapter of Timothy.

And if you turn to Timothy 3, I am sure you will note that among the explicit qualifications set out in that place for bishops and deacons are the requirements that any such person be "blameless" and "the husband of one wife". Thus, polygamists, adulterers, people in gay relationships, and people in other sorts of morally controversial sexual relationships, would appear to be excluded from church offices. This seems to me to be the very principle that FUM-the-agency is following.

As regards your argument from Matthew 8:5-13 / Luke 7:1-10, none of the standard reference texts in my home library lend any support at all to your argument that pais can or should be read as "a slave who is his master's male lover".

W. E. Vine, in his An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, defines pais as "(a) a child in relation to descent, (b) a boy or girl in relation to age, (c) a servant, attendant, maid, in relation to condition. ... In Luke 2:43 it is used of the Lord Jesus."

J.-A. Bühner, in Balz & Schneider's Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament -- probably the best single text to turn to for such information -- Vol. III, p. 5, states, "The word pais is found 24 times in the NT, but only in the writings of Luke ... and Matthew. It is a collective term for all members of a household subordinate to the master of the house and can have the corresponding meanings.... In typical fashion Matt 8:6-13 par. Luke 7:2-10 / John 4:46-53 interchanges pais with doulos ["slave"], hyios ["son"] and paidion ["(small) child"]. While Matthew consistently uses pais, boy/child ... Luke interprets the pais as a doulos in order to express the nonfamilial relation between the one who commands and the one who obeys; John emphasizes hyios as a generic term: It should be kept in mind that in Palestine the servant belonged to the family and the 'son of the household' did not have to be a natural-born son."

Bühner, and also Colin Brown (in his The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. I, pp. 283-84), observe that the term pais and its plural are applied in Matthew 11:16 / Luke 7:32 to the children in the marketplace, in several places in Luke to unborn and newborn babies, and in Matthew 14:2 to the members of Herod's advisory council. Its usage, both in the Septuagint (where the term appears some 500 times) and in ancient Greek generally, appears to have been very broad and flexible, and not tied in any particular way to gay relationships.

I'd be interested to know where you got this idea that pais indicates a slave who is his master's male lover.

July 17, 2007 1:34 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Hi Marshall,
I agree that it is reasonable to hold people in positions of spiritual responsibility to higher standards of morality than the average member. But in the case of gays and lesbians, we are not even at the point of accepting them as full members in all of our yearly meetings. Secondly, we have not had any discussion about which positions in FUM are equivalent to bishops and deacons. The current policy makes no such distinctions.

About the meaning of the word pais, I found this argument in the book, The Children are Free by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley. It is published by the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is available from Amazon. Their references for this item are: KJ, Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978) p 16; Bernard Sergent, Homosexuality in Greek Myth(Beacon Press, Boston, 1986), p 10; Donald Mader The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 in Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy Harland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1998.

Blessings to you.


July 21, 2007 10:52 PM  

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