Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Filling in the Blank

OK, here's a rant for ya:
I have a bone to pick with the folks who decide what is in the Daily Lectionary for the Episcopal Church.
Simply put, I think they wimped out!
This week begins a series of reading Paul's letter to the Romans from the New Testament. Monday we read Romans 1: 1-15. Tuesday it was Romans 1: 16-25. And for Wednesday we pick up with Romans 1: 28-2:11.
What we are NOT getting is Romans 1:26-27... and rather than have you run for your Bibles to figure out what that is... I'll just give you the quote from the New Revised Standard Version:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

I can almost hear the screams now: "degrading passions"?! "shameless acts"?! "Susan, I thought you were a queer Christian; how dare you put out there one of the oft-quoted gay- bashing passages from the Bible!!" In fact, it was quotes such as this one that led me for most of my life to despise the apostle Paul. If this was his opinion of me, he could go to Hell and stay there!
But all this showing up, paying attention and being present in reading and hearing Scripture read has made me soften my feelings toward Paul. And even with this quote, which I've noted is one of the seven used by "christians" to separate the LGBT community from God, should be handled with care. The wise Louie Crew, founder of Integrity and a consistent voice for queers in the Episcopal Church, has already coined the phrase "Queer Eye for the Lectionary". So I'll claim, "Lesbian Look at the Lectionary" as I attempt to do what the Episcopal Church seems afraid to do: deal with this "troubling" passage from Paul.

According to the Harper-Collins Study Bible, this may have been Paul's final letter after a series of letters to various emerging churches. And this is Paul at his most thoughtful, employing rhetorical skill that would have been heard well in the First Century by people who haven't discovered texting, twittering, and television.
The lead up to the "offending passage" is much like the way some of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible spoke... although Paul's language is much different. Still, it's the reminder that Paul's a champion of the gospel (the Good News), that salvation is by God's power for everyone who has faith... Jew and Greek alike. And then he goes on to talk about how God's people turned away, and refused to see... even when it was put right before their eyes... and followed their own desires... which led them to idolatry... and lots of wicked behavior.

This is the set up for Romans 1:26-27. A simple approach to this passage would be, "Well, then: it says that homosexuality is wrong, is idolatrous, is wicked!" But if there is one thing that I have learned very quickly in the short amount of time that I've come to care about this...is that what appears very black-and-white in the Bible is actually many shades of gray.

When I read this passage, the first thing that struck me was the line, "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural". For me, this says that if I were to have intercourse with a man... I would have exchanged "natural intercourse for unnatural". Because no matter how you slice it, I am not interested in men for sex. For conversation, for recreation, for meditation: yes, I am happy to engage guys for those activities. But not for indoor sports under the covers. So, half of the homophobic rhetoric attached to this passage has already fallen by the wayside.

Ahhhh... says the literalist... but you can't deny God's anger at the "shameless acts" men are committing with men! Oh, no doubt God was angry. But are we talking about men with men in a state of love, or men with men in a state of power (e.g. prostitution, or pederasty)? Are we even talking about sex at all? The way it's written in v. 27 it says, "and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another." That doesn't necessarily mean that they're "doing it" with each other. Could it not also mean that men have neglected ANY relation with women in favor of being with their guy pals, and doing guy stuff, and making guy things with their guy hands and worshipping the works of their own creation? I don't know, and I doubt the literalist really knows either.

And that's the point. We don't know the precise meaning of the passage except that humankind was guilty of turning away from God and directing attention to anything but God. And what's interesting is that Paul's follow up to all of this is the caution to those who are ready to judge another's "moral confusion" that they are condemning themselves in the process. Something to really think about before you start slinging judgement around!

I don't know if the church will ever work with this passage or simply side-step it in an effort not to be offensive. But I think it's a mistake not to look at it, and consider what's in the text and how it has been interpreted. It's a hard thing to do, but then so is the act of taking up the cross.


Janet/Redselchie said...

If I'm not mistaken, the Episcopal Church uses the same liturgical readings as the Catholic Church uses. If not the exact one, pretty close. THOSE readings are on a three-year cycle, so that if you attend mass on a daily basis, for three years, you would have heard EVERY passage in the Bible.

The Church pulls the readings according to what would be appropriate for the day, time of year, whose feast day it is, etc.

SCG said...

Hey Janet: Yes, you are correct in that both the Roman Church and the Episcopal Church operate on a three-year cycle. We're in Year B right now. And our readings are pretty close. Sometimes the RCs read a little less of a passage, or a little more than we do on any given day.
For us... Year A also had Romans as part of the Daily Lectionary (I want to say we were steeped in Romans for much of June and July).
What I note, though, is that both this year... and last year... the ECUSA Lectionary reads the lines before, and the lines after Romans 1:26-27 and I'm guessing it's because they (TEC) know how this passage has been used to abuse the LGBT community. So, I appreciate the sensitivity. But ignoring it isn't the answer either.

Anonymous said...

I finally got to read your latest work. My, my you are picking the ones that 'cause persons out there to question, but you are right on with the men doint things with men, it doesn't really say what they are doing and frankly, "who the hell cares". I do think it appears like they are avoiding the reading, but you have opened our eyes.