Monday, 5 March 2012

The Bible and Sexual Mores

Like many Liberals I am disgusted by the pontificating of Cardinal O'Brien; yet as a wooly-liberal he would perhaps dismiss my theology as  'cherry picking'. I find myself doubly under attack by him: he attacks single parent families and homosexuals. My father died when I was four and I was brought up by my mother, grandmama, grandfather and various aunts. I think I turned out OK. However, the lack of a male 'father figure' contends the Cardinal is what made me turn out homo/bi sexual. Oh really? Well how come my brother is straight?  As to marriage always being between one man and one woman.....has he actually read the Old Testament which condones polygamy, levite marriage, marriage between slaves...etc.?

When it comes to sexual mores, it is a fact that most Christians disagree with the Bible more than they agree with it.Most Christians would generally agree with the Bible in condeming
Intercourse with animals.

However, we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bibles discourages or condemns the following behaviours:
Intercourse during menstruation
Exogamy (marriage with non-Israelites)
Naming sexual organs
Birth control
Regarding bodily fluids as  'unclean' (OK maybe relevant given HIV/Aids)

Likewise the Bible permits the following which we condemn or have discontinued:
Underage or arranged marriage
Levirate Marriage
Sex with Slaves (and the keeping of Slaves!)
Treatment of Women as Property

And, whilst the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it! In short, of the sexual mores listed here, we agree with only four (4) and disagree with sixteen (16)! So why do some Christians appeal to the Bible to condemn same-sex relationships when they are likely to disagree with the Bible on sexual ethics more than they agree with it? It is because they too, like the 'wooly-liberals' cherry pick the pieces of the scripture that appeal most to them and represents the curernt 'bogey-man' and fear of modern society. 200 years ago Napoleon I was the 'bogey man' of the world, and some Evangelicals interpretted him as 'the beast'in the Revelation of St John; 150 years ago it was his nephew, Napoleon III and the Pope who were 'the beast' and the Crimean War (1853-1856)  the 'War of the End Times'. So too was the American Civil War (1861-1864).

IF we insist in placing ourselves under the Old Testament laws, as St Paul reminds us, we are obliged to keep every commandment, not just the anti-gay ones (Galations 5:3)! Thus, circumcision, not eating pork or prawns, not cutting the hair on the temples, no tattoos and not wearing mixed-fabric clothes are the order of the day, but most of the Christians who condemn homosexuality based on the Old Testament would probably deny that the other Old Testament Laws apply to them. Sadly, it's all or nothing says St Paul. But, if we believe Jesus came to bring an end to the Law (Romans 10:4) then we live in a new life of the Spirit (Romans 7:6), then all these sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot even take, therefore, the pronouncements of Paul on sexuality, as a new Law. Christians reserve the right to chose for themselves and observe sexual mores, though seldom admit to doing so. The crux of the matter for this Free Christian at least, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. It exhibits a variety of sexual mores, many of which have changed and evolved over several thousand years. Many of the practices the Bible condemns we allow, and many it allows, we prohibit. The Bible only knows a love ethic. The notion of the Bible having a 'sex-ethic' tells us more about modern consumer society, about modern society seaking answers and an anchor in a time of upheaval and economic trouble. The more troubled society gets,the more uncertain the future, the more  the past looks attractive and the more attractive solid, unquestioning/able answers become. Furthermore, sex and sexuality are an in-built part of us. Sex and sexuality is part of who we are and we cannot separate them from our daily lives. Whilst we need rules and mores to give shape and pattern to our daily lives, these self same rules and norms tend to be pressed into service of the powers that be, into the service of crowd control and domination: nothing is more controlling of a person than the denying of the full expression of the self through sexuality and sex. We must critique the sexual mores of the Bible and of our own days not by the Law but by the Love Ethic of the man Jesus: Such a love is non-exploitative, it does not dominate; it is reponsible, mutual, caring and above all, loving. Christian morality is not a cast-iron chastity belt. The issues over same-sex marriage should not be 'What does the Bible say', 'What is permitted?' but rather 'what does it mean to love my gay neighbour?' Approached from the point of view of the Spirit it becomes no longer an issuse of 'what does the Bible command' but 'What is scripture trying to say in the light of the Spirit, Biblical criticism, tradtion, science and pyschology?' We cannot continue to build ethics or preach ideas based on bad science.

Where the Bible mentions same-sex acts it clearly condemns it. I accept that. But then I also accept that the Bible is a product of a differant society to my own, written over the course of centuries, appealing to differant and changing situations and circumstances from ones I know. The Bible also condones slavery, yet in 1806 the Slave Trade was declared illegal in the British Empire. The Bible appeared to be clealry on the slave-owners side and the abolitionists were hard-pressed to fight back using Biblical statements. Yet most Christians today would condemn the Bible or deny the Bible over slavery.

Jesus said to his followers, 'Love one another' and told them to 'judge for themselves' (Luke 12: 57); and St Paul echoes this sentiment (1 Corinthians 6:3). Thus we are to judge for ourselves what is right. Thus we are obligated to judge for ourselves on the matter of homosexuality in the light of new evidence, of all the available data on the issue. We are thus freed from the sin of Bibliotary - the worship of the Bible -and it is restored to its proper place as a witness to God and the life, teaching and example of Jesus Christ rather than a moral text book against which everyone is judged. If we believe that the Word became flesh we believe God was revealed in and as ant though a human being, just like us. The Word was not revealed as words!

What is clear, utterly clear, is that we are commanded by Jesus to love one another. Love not just those whom we know and love, but those whom we meet on the street, the stranger on the bus and our gay and lesbian sisters and borthers: all those 'beyond the pale'. Reach out, and like Jesus, touch the untouchables with love.