If my laptop had not died, I would have written this piece much earlier, not long after Akilah Holder’s 14 February article. Small ting; Jessica Joseph’s masterful response, using the same points I wanted to raise, was both an excellent rebuttal and an education resource.
Those whose minds are not hermetically sealed to proper research should read over her four articles on this vexing question of acceptance of LGBTQI persons in our society and the egregious misconceptions in Holder’s article to which many others in this society subscribe.
Other works to be consulted are the books and podcasts of Bishop John Shelby Spong and Rabbi Steven Greenberg (Wrestling with Gods and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition). Then they should consult those of Prof Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus; Forged) and the Encyclopaedia Biblica to see the extent to which some biblical passages aren’t only mistranslated but are also forgeries that do not appear in the earliest existing manuscripts. Through other scholars like Aviva Cantor (Jewish Women, Jewish Men) and even Errol Miller (The Prophet and the Virgin), they will learn about the military situation facing the Hebrews that informed the writings of some passages in the Deuteronomic books.
As Joseph illustrated, the biblical passages supposedly condemning homosexuality did no such thing. Passages like those in Leviticus were intended to create a nationalistic identity uniting (under Levite Judaism) very diverse Hebrew tribes in the face of military threats from superior forces of Egypt, Canaan and Assyria. Little else.
I’m under no illusions, though, that very little of what she or I have to say on this subject will make any impact on many people. The issue of homosexuality and lesbianism is a very thorny subject in this country and region; the misconceptions and pseudo-science that feed this run deep. It’s also extremely divisive not only here in the Americas but in Africa as well. There are often heated debates even among academics—who are divided by age as younger scholars who are able to look at existing evidence but with freer minds often take stands at the polar opposite to older scholars whom they sometimes accuse of being influenced by colonial era prejudices.
Even some progressives who aren’t as shackled to religion and are much more enlightened find themselves sharing with the religious a loathing for people in the LGBTQI community and the “lifestyle” that White people brought to Trinidad and Africa (another egregious belief).
I myself was immersed in that homophobic way of thinking; as a child of a very masculinist 70’s and 80’s upbringing, I even now—with a lot more knowledge in my head—still get a reflex prejudice at the thought of two men being sexually intimate. In fact, when I began to research one of the books I’m currently working on, I had no intention of including gay/lesbian issues.
But the more I read and uncovered, the more apparent it became that almost all of my preconceptions and the religious teachings that inform them were wrong, very wrong. And like Joseph, I quickly realised that none of this is any new or earth-shattering information; many people who studied in seminaries are well aware of everything she has outlined, yet very few have ever enlightened their parishioners concerning any of it.
Therefore, fellow black hen chickens, we had better start becoming more informed. We’d better start understanding that, if our society is to survive, it needs to be much more inclusive, analytical and accommodating than it is at present. That especially pertains to issues of sexuality. There needs to be a clear understanding that human sexuality is very complex, very diverse and that we must create environments reflecting that.
That will never happen with attitudes like those of Holder, Victor Gill and those other legal bandits who were placarding outside Parliament recently. Neither is it going to come about when we have people like the recently installed Archbishop of Port-of-Spain making statements to the effect that the Church only recognises marriage between one man and one woman.
Which brings me to why, in spite of the delay, I decided to respond indirectly to Holder.
What the Archbishop said was very interesting given that for 900 years the Catholic Church refused to even participate in marriage ceremonies in Europe because to do so tacitly legitimised sex, which, according to the influential writings of Tertullian and especially Augustine, was sinful even within marriage. Indeed, as one of the chapters in Karen Jo Torjessen’s book When Women Were Priests puts it, “sin” is a sexually transmitted disease.
Dualism, a philosophy that there are good and evil forces constantly warring for man’s soul, was extremely influential in the early Church. Augustine, St John Chrysostom and many other “moralists” condemned all forms of sexuality as evil since it was a distraction from the “higher” pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. This was refashioned old patriarchal ideas that deified militarism (i.e. in the form of the malevolent deity Marduk—the deity that some Hebrew sects drew from to develop the deity Yahweh/Jehovah).
Equally interesting is that, according to John Boswell’s research, gay unions existed in Catholic Europe from the time the Roman Empire transitioned into the Holy Roman Empire and up to the medieval period. Boswell, who was proficient in several of the “dead” languages that are necessary to read ancient Christian texts, was just one of several scholars who found evidence of such unions in parts of the early Christian world. Not only did homosexual prostitution exist in Eastern cities for full 200 years when Christianity became the State religion but the Christian emperors collected taxes on it.
Boswell quotes St John Chrysostom, who travelled to Anatolia in Turkey, which is said to be a cradle of Christianity, and saw men openly consorting not with sex workers but with other men. Chrysostom wrote that:
“Those very people who have been nourished by godly doctrine, who instruct others in what they ought and ought not to do, who have heard the Scriptures brought down from heaven, these do not consort with prostitutes as fearlessly as they do with young men.
“The fathers of the young men take this in silence: they do not try to sequester their sons, nor do they seek any remedy for this evil.
“None is ashamed, no one blushes, but, rather, they take pride in their little game; the chaste seem to be the odd ones, and the disapproving the ones in error.”
Note Chrysostom’s use of the word “chaste.” Like many theologians of his time, he was condemning all sexual acts and not just homosexual acts.
And those Protestants who assume that this only pertains to Catholics—whom they do not consider “real” Christians anyway—may want to take a closer look at their King James Version, the mistranslations found there. More to the point, they might want to examine the relationship between King James and George Villiers, the son of an untitled and impoverished squire. Villiers, whom James affectionately called “Steenie,” received numerous favours from James, including being made Knight of the Garter and given a Viscountcy in 1616, and being made the Earl of Buckingham in 1617. Shortly thereafter, George was his companion in bed.
In response to the Privy Council’s protestations against such blatant favouritism (not the intimate relationship!), James defended himself:
“I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore, I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his John, and I have my George.”
When James married George off to Lady Katherine Manner (for dynastic purposes), he wrote letters such as this one:[December 1622?]
“My only sweet and dear child,
I am now so miserable a coward, as I do nothing but weep and mourn; for I protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting? The only small comfort I can have will be to pry in thy defects with the eye of an enemy, and of every mote to make a mountain, and so harden my heart against thy absence.”
It should also be noted that they both had as a close friend Sir Francis Bacon, the Lord High Chancellor, who was well known for sleeping with his serving boys.
Space does not permit me to list in great detail the overwhelming evidence that Christianity was not necessarily in mortal opposition to gayness/lesbianism as is the case today. But, Ms Holder, to twist your own words a little; if you want to be homophobic, go ahead, suit yourself.
But do not use the name of “God” to legitimise your cause. Do not try to claim the moral high ground when you have no clue as to how that morality came to be so moral…or how “God” even came to be expressed in that gender-specific title that excludes YOU (something else I shall return to).