I need to make something unambiguously clear, right from the beginning. I harbor no hostility toward the Bible. I have great regard for the Bible on many levels – historically, philosophically, textually, and also as matter of personal faith. But, if I’m perfectly honest - the Bible serves up an abundant share of world-class head-scratchers – fodder for skeptics and consternation for believers, alike – especially on the topic of human sexuality.
I lay no claim to yet another special, unique doctrinal revelation on sexuality. I write this, from both a spiritual and secular perspective, with an honest attempt to set aside my own preconceived notions, education, and religious training – to draw as few conclusions as possible – to leave unanswered the unanswerable – to try and understand that which can be understood - but to also question church dogma where there is basis for a challenge.
What I cannot do, easily, is to set aside my own experiences – because what I have experienced myself, sexually, spiritually and otherwise, is real to me, and my own brain has already drawn its own conclusions from those experiences, correctly or not. Those experiences and the net results thereof are undeniable in how they have shaped my life’s path and influenced the choices I’ve made along that path.
Many books have been written on sexuality in the Bible, and with virtually no exception they are written with one-of-three specific predispositions or agendas:
The first, veiled or otherwise, is an attempt to discredit the entire volume of books, letters and documents comprising what we call The Bible, vilifying faith itself, by focusing on the bizarre and culturally seamy underside of sexual morays in ancient Middle-eastern cultures. For those who wish to do so, the Bible offers ample fodder for those wishing to take those pot shots. Let’s face it - who among us, today, believes any female rape victim should be forced to marry her male rapist . . . in the name of justice? Well, according to the chorus of one of my old Sunday School songs, “The Bible tells me so.”
The second agenda is a treatise on human sexuality in which someone sets out to justify their own sexual desires and preferences, (sometimes even their own perversions), using scripture as justification.
Polygamists, for example, appear to have more than enough scripture on their side for both a doctrinal and legal justification to take on as many wives as they can afford to support. Under certain circumstances, the Bible actually mandates that we take on an extra wife, . . . or two! (Yikes!)
Finally, the third agenda takes the opposite approach of the second. Those books are written with the express purpose of showing us, via scripture, that it is God’s will for us to limit our sexual expression according the doctrinal stream of a particular denomination or sect, or the author’s own understanding of scripture, religious education or sociological sensibilities.
For instance, The Church of Rome typically requires a celibate priesthood, while most Christian denominations do not. Some faiths teach that sexual intercourse should not be engaged in for pleasure, but only for the purpose of procreation. Other Believers happily dive under the sheets having been taught “the marriage bed is undefiled,” understanding this phrase to mean they are Biblically sanctioned to engage in any sex act they desire so long as said act takes place within the confines of a monogamous, marital relationship of one male and one female. And then, according to a recent American president and lay-theologian, (first-named, Bill) . . . “Oral sex and cigars used as dildos, while in the Oval office of the White House, is not really sex.” (Yes, I paraphrased . . . but that is, more or less, what he said.)
Well, gosh darn-it . . . somebody is getting it WRONG!
Of the thousands of Christian denominations, and of the 10’s-of-thousands of offshoot sects thereof, who exactly is RIGHT when it comes to sexual doctrine? Assuming that most of these have even minor differences in their sexual theology, and assuming only God has it absolutely right, then logic dictates that almost all, if not ALL have it wrong to some degree or another. Since there’s no shortage of doctrinal hubris among church leaders, it’s not hard to find those arrogant enough to believe they have it exactly right.
Your own evangelical pastor probably thinks he’s got it right, but so does the ecumenical pastor around the corner – yet, they probably disagree on everything from premarital relations to the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry. I know the Pope thinks he’s got it down, but even operating under the assumption of papal infallibility he cannot keep his own cardinals, bishop’s and priests singing to the flock from the same sexual hymnal.
Upon what authority do I marshal out my own doctrinal hubris?
None. I stake no claim to infallibility or moral authority on the subject of human sexuality, or otherwise. Here’s what I do promise to everyone who chooses to proceed beyond this point, reading this blog, or any one subsequent:
1 – I promise not to be any more “colorful” with my language and discourse on sexuality than scripture itself. Neither will I make any attempt to “titillate” by means of the examples or personal stories I share. That would be gratuitous, and does not represent the intentions of this effort. Consider this scriptural example:
“Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” - Ezekiel 23:19-20 (NIV)
No – I won’t even come close to that! Yet, the above is genuine, unedited scripture, so please don’t get all self-righteous on me when I delve into honest discussion or give examples of sexual practices described or alluded to in scripture. Or, if I ask the obvious follow-up questions: How was it possible that Ezekiel, or anyone else from that era knew about the volume of a horse’s seminal emission? (There’s likely to be a blog on that subject, alone.) And isn’t interesting that even in Ezekiel’s day, “Bigger” was considered “better?” Hmmm?
Likewise, this is not a blog from which to warn away your teenage children. If you don’t want your children exposed to these ideas, then you need to confiscate their Bible and remove all other copies of the Bible from your bookshelf, and hide them from their view until they have reached either 18 or 21 years of age . . . assuming your faith allows you to read anything with the sort of language referenced above.
The Bible, if reviewed by the Motion Picture Association of America, would receive an “R” rating, at the very least, and would be hard-pressed to avoid an “NC-17” designation if certain passages were faithfully reenacted on film. Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of The Christ" carried the “R” rating for its graphic, yet historically accurate portrayal of Roman crucifixion procedures. An authentic cinematic depiction of numerous Old Testament stories could easily earn that film shelf space in the Adult section of your local DVD rental shop.
To be clear - if your own religious ethic and sense of morality allows you to read the Bible, you can read this blog. Similarly, if your children are allowed to read the fully unabridged Bible, and not some version drastically edited down to at least a “PG-13” designation, they can read this blog.
Only those who are denied by their church the right to think should avoid going any further.
2 – I promise not to kiss and tell. I’m going to be sharing stories of my own experience, as well as examples from others with whom I have relationship, or have had relationship with in the past. Where necessary, I’ll change names and minor circumstances so as not to implicate or embarrass anyone. To the extent it will be nearly impossible to obscure my own family members’ participation in certain illustrations, I will seek their forgiveness, as necessary.
3 – I promise to not use a Loose Leaf Bible as my reference. Point being - I will not skip over, remove, or add to any portion of scripture, regardless of what it says. I refuse to interpret or manipulate the words of ancient languages to fit a particular agenda. (A favorite device of many so-called theologians.)
Words themselves change meaning over time – sometimes in a short amount of time. Remember the words to the Flintstones theme?
When you're, with the Flintstones,
Have a yabba dabba doo time,
A dabba doo time,
You'll have a GAY old time!
To my recollection, there were no homosexual-themed episodes from that cartoon series – overt, or covert. Having a “Gay old time” meant something different, only a generation ago.
Thousands of words bear multiple meanings, whether in contemporary or ancient languages. Across the millennia certain words have evolved to bear little-or-no resemblance to their original meanings. Some words represent or imply exactly the opposite of what they meant in the “original” Greek or Hebrew. Some definitions are altogether lost to antiquity. As such, whenever I represent a concept under dispute because of differences of opinion in ancient language translation, I will share each disputed version or conclusion in its entirety, without trying to manipulate the reader toward a favored perspective – mine, or anyone else’s.
*Note – You will often read my reference to the “Loose Leaf Bible.” This is not an actual version or translation of scripture, but my own slap-upside-da-head of those preachers, teachers and theologians who show little inhibition in adding or subtracting scripture for their own convenience, or in order to support their own doctrinal presuppositions or religious ends. Some religious “leaders” simply “make it up” out of thin air, and justify their unique extra-biblical doctrine as “fresh revelation.” In either case, they take out their Loose Leaf Bible, snap open the three-ring binder, and remove or add pages at will – to suit their own agenda and to manipulate their flocks.
5 – I promise to avoid drawing dogmatic conclusions on the array of subjects to be covered. I’ll bring out what is covered by scripture, discuss apparent contradictions, and challenge certain assumptions. Where there seems to be unity among the many Biblical authors, theologians and commentators, you and I may find common ground from the evidence presented. Where there can be no reasonable justification for dogma, I will be forthright about that, as well.
One important note before I go any further . . .
I’ve been on the staff of three different churches. I will reference those on occasion, as well, sometimes changing names of certain participants, to protect the innocent and guilty, alike. I’ve had both joyous and maddening experiences at those institutions of Christian fellowship and religious indoctrination, and built many lifelong and cherished friendships from among those who attended those churches . . . but I will not hold anything back.
For instance . . .
At one of these churches, the senior pastor was accused of raping the pianist . . . seven times . . . over a period of many years. Hmmm. (More on that, later.)
One pastor fired me for forming a “Christian” band and performing Christian-themed music in a nightclub – teaching me what Jesus must have felt like when the Pharisees lambasted him for dining with tax-collectors and other assorted sinners. This pastor humorlessly failed to see the similarity when I pointed it out to him, citing chapter and verse.
At my last church job, I was employed for the express purpose of bringing cutting edge, culturally relevant music to the community. On one occasion I contracted with a Christian thrash punk band out of Austin, Texas, called Lust Control. That is, until the pastor’s wife learned this band had a CD entitled, This is a Condom Nation. She obviously did not get the satire, nor was she impressed with the fact that the band’s mission was devoted to bringing awareness to matters of sexual purity among young people. She was also unmoved when I pointed out that the ritual pruning of a man’s penis (circumcision) is mentioned roughly one hundred times in scripture, asking her, “By way of comparison, what’s the big deal with talking about condoms?” I lost that particular battle, but despite her priggish disdain for my quick-witted theological prowess, I survived to fight similar battles another day, with she and her husband.
Interestingly, though not allowed to host Lust Control at that church’s facility, I was given permission to relocate the performances to a local nightclub . . . the very thing I’d been fired for, by my previous pastor.
More on this topic to come. Stay tuned . . .
More on this topic to come. Stay tuned . . .