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Theological principles and homosexual marriage
Theological principles and homosexual marriage
A case for Christian acceptance of gay marriage
Published by Deadlokd
06-28-2010
Default Theological principles and homosexual marriage

Marriage is often held up as a highly sacred union between a man and a woman. It wasn’t always that way. At the time of Jesus marriage was a strictly civil arrangement more akin to a business transaction than a blessed union of love. Homosexuality too, while being decried loudly by some Christian churches, actually has an ambiguous treatment in the Bible. Interpretations have been made to suit the tenor of the times, rather than the intent of the authors. This paper will deconstruct what the Bible really says about homosexuality, especially what Jesus Christ says about it. It will then examine the Sacrament of Matrimony in the light of history and then make a case for homosexual marriage not being counter to the theological principles as laid out by Anne Musso.

Homosexuality and the Bible

When justifying their position on homosexuality most Christian Churches turn to the Bible which contains some dozen verses that could be interpreted as anti-homosexuality. The first most important point in dealing with Bible translation is to recognise that it wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that the appellate “homosexual” was coined. Thus any translation of the Bible in which the word homosexual or any of its derivatives occur is to miss the true meaning of the word the author originally used. As Stahlberg (2008 p.450) writes:
“...liberal exegetes are quick to note that none of the biblical languages has a word for homosexuality and the term does not appear in an English translation of the Bible until the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1946. That one has to look so hard to find homosexuality in the Bible prompts the reverend Peter Gomes to ask, “When the Bible speaks of homosexuality, does it means what we mean when we speak of homosexuality?””

The first mention of “homosexuality” in the Bible is the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God sends two angels to Sodom to destroy the city “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.” (Bible RSV Gen 19:4-5) The Roman Catholic Church uses this Chapter as one of their four pillars against homosexuality. It must be noted though that in verse 13 the angels say “...we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against it has become great before the LORD and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” (Gen 19:13) It was not for the specific sin of “all the people to the last man” wanting to “know” the angels that Sodom was destroyed, rather that decision had been made back in Gen 18. More proof can be found in Ezekiel 16:49-50;
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.”

Ezekiel identifies several reasons for the destruction of Sodom, pride, excess food, laziness, not helping the poor, being haughty and committing abomination. Witt makes the point that the word abomination is translated from the Hebrew word “ebah” which is commonly used to refer to idolatry as Ezekiel used it in 7:20.

The word abomination is also used in the Book of Leviticus. Chapters 17 to 23 in Leviticus are basically a list of ethical and religious laws that the Israelites were supposed to follow. It is important to place the document in a historical context. At the time the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, having only just returned to the Promised Land from Egypt. Leviticus reflects the assault on Israelite culture from all their oppressors cautioning against doing “what they do in the land of Egypt where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them. ” (Lev 18:3-4) What follows is the “Holiness Code” (Witt 1995), the new laws of God, from rules about how to farm your land to laws about adultery. In the seven chapters there are two that some churches use as proof of God’s attitude to homosexuality. First Lev 18:22; “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” And then Lev 20:13; “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.” Witt (1995)argues the case that abomination is once again to be conflated with idolatry, in this instance the idea that man was made in God’s image and to lie with a man is to defile the image of god. Walsh (2001 p.204), in a different twist, argues that it follows other prohibitions against mixing “two separate, potentially defiling bodily fluids in the same receptacle: human and animal semen (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16); semen and menstrual blood (Lev18:19; 20:18); the semen of two different men (Lev 18:20; 20:10). In the case of male-male anal intercourse, the mixture of semen and excrement would threaten to defile the land of Israel.”

Whatever the interpretation it is interesting to read of some other prohibitions, especially those that transcend sharply defined boundaries. Leviticus 19:19 has the following strictures; “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.” All of these point towards a culture that like well defined categories, a desire that leads to chapter 11 of Leviticus. Herein the author lists the animals that may be eaten, from cud chewing but also cloven hoofed to insects but only those that “have legs above their feet, with which to leap on the earth” (Lev 11:21). Also mentioned are sea creatures, but only those that have fins and scales which has led to the parody website GodHatesShellfish.com. Another website, run by Bruce Robinson has a succinct list of things that can be found in Leviticus (ReligiousTolerance.org by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance accessed 29/5/2010). The list includes:

· A child to be killed if he/she curses their parent (Leviticus 20:9)

· All persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)

· The daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution to be burned alive until dead (21:9)

· The bride of a priest to be a virgin (21:13)

· A person who takes the Lord's name in vain is to be killed (24:16)

The code prohibits:

· Heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (Leviticus 18:19),

· Harvesting the corners of a field (19:9),

· Eating fruit from a young tree (19:23),

· Shaving or getting a hair cut (19:27),

· Tattoos (19:28),

· Even a mildly disabled person from becoming a priest (21:18),

· Charging of interest on a loan (25:37),

· Collecting firewood on Saturday to prevent your family from freezing,

· Wearing of clothes made from a blend of textile materials; today this might be cotton and polyester

(list taken and edited from The Mosaic Code; Hebrew word To'ebah accessed 29/5/2010)
One can see how few of those are observed by Christians today; rather they are cherry picked to enforce the personal prejudices of some modern Christians.

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church no longer uses Leviticus as a reason to classify the practice of homosexuality as a sin (Catechisms of the Catholic Church Canon 2357-2359). Instead they use the passages in Genesis and three New Testament verses, Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10 and 1 Tim 1:10, to claim that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (Catechisms, Canon 2357).

Romans 1:24-27 states; “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable 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."

Most modern theologians believe that Paul’s intent was not to make rules but to observe the human condition of the day. Furthermore Paul was under the impression that homosexuality was something that was chosen, that it is a conscious choice, not a biological one as is now believed (Witt 2005).

Contrary to what is stated on the Vatican website the passage in 1 Corinthians that decries homosexuality is actually 6:9, not 6:10. The verses read; “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Again, the word ‘homosexuals’ is used as a loose translation of the original Greek. In fact the Greek versions had two words there, malakoi and arsenokoitai instead of the one that was translated into “homosexuals”. Witt points out that other versions of the Bible have different translations of these words from “homosexual perverts” to catamites (the younger partner in a pederastic relationship) for malakoi and “homosexual offenders” to sodomites for asenokoitai.

1 Timothy 1:10 has a similar list to 1 Corinthians, indeed it may have been copied from it as there is evidence to suggest that Paul of Tarsus did not write the Letters to Timothy (MacCulloch D. 2009, p.117). Again the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai are used although this time they are joined by the word pornoi. Witt mentions the theory of one theologian named Robin Scroggs who believes that pornoi, malakoi and arsenokoitai are all related to mean a trafficker in boys, one who lies with boys and the boys themselves. So instead of condemning homosexuality as a whole, what is being condemned is human trafficking.

To be completely clear about what a Christian should think about homosexuality though, one must turn to the words of Jesus Christ.

Jesus and homosexuality

Quite simply Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. It could be due to the culture of the time. Judaea was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman thought and both civilisations were open and non-condemnatory about homosexuality. Greek males sought out younger Greek males of the same class for companionship. While Romans were less forgiving about a high class male accepting a passive sexual role, slaves and those of lower classes were considered socially normal (Walsh 2001, p. 203).

What is known is what Jesus said in John 3:16; "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This contradicts the lists in 1 Corinthians and 1Timothy that have a series of exclusions. Taking John 3:16 literally, one could say that God doesn’t care about your sexual orientation.

The Biblical passages mentioning homosexuality are all open to interpretation and it is possible that the modern Church’s stance vis a vis the Persona Humana VIII and Canons 2357-2359 may be erroneous.

Christianity and marriage

There are several different forms of marriage mentioned in the Bible, from the marriage of a rapist and his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) to the marriage of a man, some wives and several concubines (Abraham, the Father of Israel, had several wives and two concubines). What is definite is that unions were not done for love, rather they were to strengthen family ties or as a business partnership.

The same was true in the time of Jesus Christ. He did however change some of the fundamental rules of marriage. Before Jesus a woman was able to be divorced at the whim of her husband often leaving her destitute and unable to provide for herself. In the Gospel according to Mark, when questioned about divorce by the Pharisees, Jesus replies; “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mk 10:7-9) For the first time women had some security in their futures, although the question of love still wasn’t raised. The phrasing is significant also. Jesus wasn’t dismissing any other forms of matrimony, he was answering a question about a man and a woman. Also notable was the absence of a blessing on the marriage. Marriage was a strictly civil affair, usually accompanied by a contract.

For hundreds of years the tradition of marriage continued in the arranged and secular fashion without religious overtones. In 110 CE Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, writing to Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna stated “it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God.” Despite the Bishop’s wishes it was another two hundred years before Christians started seeking a formal blessing on their unions (Musso 2010, p.13). From then marriage slowly became a church ceremony with the only remnants of civil procedure being the signing of the documents at the end.

It was another eight hundred years however before it was recognised as a sacrament In 1208 Pope Innocent IV, writing to the Waldensians, counted matrimony as one of the seven sacraments . Even then it was not granted full sacramental status. That came in 1563 at the Council of Trent.

The Council of Trent was convened in 1545 and closed in 1563. It was convened as a response to Martin Luther who, amongst other writings, had written; "Marriage may therefore be a figure of Christ and the Church; it is, however, no Divinely instituted sacrament, but the invention of men in the Church, arising from ignorance of the subject." The “Decree Concerning the Sacraments”, declared 3 March 1547 reads in part:

CANONS ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL

Canon 1. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven, namely, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order and matrimony,1 or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent (1564) — Chalcedon Report)
Henceforth marriage was recognised as a full sacrament.

In 1917 the Roman Catholic Church rewrote the Code of Canons to state that “the purpose of marriage was considered to be "procreation," while a secondary end was a "remedy for concupiscence" (Schloesser 2004). In 1930, responding to the Anglican directive that allowed the use of contraception, the Roman Catholic Church added another secondary end; unity between the spouses. This meant that couples could have sex to strengthen the bond between them instead of as only a means to have children. As simple and basic a right as it is to readers in the twenty-first century, this was a huge leap forward for the Church. The next enormous leap into modernity came in 1951 when, during an address to Italian midwives, Pope Pius XII “suggested that couples, as long as they did not use "artificial" contraception, could arrive at a moral decision to be sexually active in a way that did not lead to procreation” (Schloesser 2004). The impact such a statement could have on homosexual union is obvious.

In 1983 the Code of Canon Law was rewritten again and this time the Canon on Marriage stated:
Can. 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.
§2. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.
Can. 1056 The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.
Can. 1057 §1. The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons qualified by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent.
§2. Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage.
Can. 1058 All persons who are not prohibited by law can contract marriage.
Can. 1059 Even if only one party is Catholic, the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law, without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage.
Can. 1060 Marriage possesses the favour of law; therefore, in a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.
Can. 1061 §1. A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.
§2. After a marriage has been celebrated, if the spouses have lived together consummation is presumed until the contrary is proven.
§3. An invalid marriage is called putative if at least one party celebrated it in good faith, until both parties become certain of its nullity.
Can. 1062 §1. A promise of marriage, whether unilateral or bilateral, which is called an engagement, is governed by the particular law established by the conference of bishops, after it has considered any existing customs and civil laws.
§2. A promise to marry does not give rise to an action to seek the celebration of marriage; an action to repair damages, however, does arise if warranted.

The emphasis this time was to state in clear terms that marriage was only between a man and a woman. That is where the Roman Catholic Church stands on marriage today. Examination of the theological principles as laid out by Musso (2010, Topic six p.7), however, shows that the position of the Church with regards to gay marriage is not in line with those principles and that it would be but a small matter to change the Canon.

The theological principles

Sacraments are celebrations of lived experience

Just as heterosexual couples desire to share their lives with each other in a meaningful way, so too do homosexuals. Sacraments are meant to meet the pastoral needs of the community. Just as marriage slowly became a sacrament so too is there a pastoral and a practical need for a blessing upon gay marriage. Aloisi (2008) reports that there are 1.13 billion Catholics in the world, assuming a homosexual rate of 4% (actual figures on homosexuality are hard to research as many homosexuals live societies that do not encourage “coming out”); that is 45 million people cut off from the Church because of genetics.

Sacraments are communal – they are celebrated by the Christian assembly

Although they are no longer the reason for marriage, the bringing together of families is a side effect of the ceremony. Weddings are a celebration that brings not just the couple, but their families, friends and neighbours together. There is a significant homosexual population that are as part of the Christian assembly as their heterosexual neighbours. They too deserve their celebration.

Sacraments tell the Christian story

The Christian story centres around one man, Jesus Christ. Despite being immersed in a culture that was accepting of homosexuality Jesus did not speak out against it, thus accepting it by omission. Paul of Tarsus, well travelled as he was, was exposed to Greek and Roman culture and condemned neither, instead speaking out against sexual slavery. The latest chapter in the Christian story could well be one of true inclusiveness.

Sacraments are symbolic actions

The symbolism of the heterosexual marriage is directly transferrable to a homosexual marriage. Gender roles are being eroded, traditional vows along with them. The man is no longer considered the sole breadwinner, the woman is no longer the homemaker. Instead, couples adjust to modern times, fulfilling whatever role they are needed in. The Roman Catholic Church accepting homosexual marriage would be a fine symbol of overturning the prejudices of the past and accepting new translations of Scripture.

Sacraments have an effect

A couple deciding to get married in a church are proclaiming to God and everyone around that they love each other and are willing to commit to each other. The effect is to bring the couple closer to each other and to God, for them to feel like God has blessed their union.

There is nothing in the theological principles that could be used to exclude homosexual marriage. Rather, there is a history of sacraments changing to meet the needs of the community.

The actual change for the Roman Catholic Church, while large in implication, would be minor in implementation. Canon 1055 could be rewritten as;
The matrimonial covenant, by which two people establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

The section on marriage being for the reason of procreation could be left in too. Homosexual men could adopt and homosexual women could adopt or get artificial insemination.

Canon 1057 §2 would need a similar rewrite to remove “man and woman” and replace “two people”.

*********************

The sacraments have evolved over time and the Roman Catholic Church has shown that it too is capable of evolving to meet the practical and pastoral needs of their community. With forty-five million Catholics being denied access to one of the sacraments it is time for the Church to change its stance. The founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, had no problem with homosexuality, the modern spokesperson for Jesus shouldn’t either.



References

Aloisi, S (2008), Muslims more numerous than Catholics: Vatican, Reuters, http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKL3068682420080330 accessed 29/05/2010

Banister, J. (2009). ‘Ομοιως and the Use of Parallelism in Romans 1:26-27. Journal of Biblical Literature, 128(3), 569-590. Retrieved from Religion and Philosophy Collection database.

Bible: Revised Standard Version

Bible: The New English Bible

Deming, W. (2009). Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Joninianist Controversy. Journal of Religion, 89(2), 262-264. Retrieved from Religion and Philosophy Collection database.

Ignatius of Antioch (110), The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp, St. Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp (Roberts-Donaldson translation) accessed 29/5/2010.

Ingebretsen, E. (2002). Troubling confessions: Roman Catholicism and the ‘homosexual question’. Political Theology, 3(2), 216. Retrieved from Religion and Philosophy Collection database.

Kurtz, S. (2000). What Is Wrong with Gay Marriage. Commentary, 110(2), 35. Retrieved from Religion and Philosophy Collection database.

MacCulloch D. (2009). A History of Christianity, England: Allen Lane.

Musso, A. (2010), RELG19002 Topic five; Development of Christian sacramental rituals, CQU.

Musso, A. (2010), RELG19002 Topic six; Understanding the Christian sacraments: Theological principles, CQU.

Religious Tolerance website The Mosaic Code; Hebrew word To'ebah accessed 25/05/2010

Richert, S. (2010), The Sacrament of marriage, The Sacrament of Marriage - Roman Catholic Marriage - The Sacrament of Marriage in the Roman Catholic Church accessed 29/05/2010

Robinson, B. (2009). Homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures; The Mosaic Code & the Hebrew word To'ebah, The Mosaic Code; Hebrew word To'ebah accessed 27/05/2010

Robinson, B. (2009). What the Bible says and means about homosexuality, THE BIBLE AND HOMOSEXUALITY accessed 27/05/2010.

Rogers, J. (2008), The Council of Trent, Council of Trent (1564) — Chalcedon Report accessed 29/5/2010

Schloesser, S (2004) A Catholic history of marriage: An open letter to Senator Marian Walsh of Massachusetts, imp-141 A Catholic history of marriage accessed 29/05/2010.

Stahlberg, L C. (2008), Modern Day Moabites: The Bible and the Debate About Same-Sex Marriage, Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 16 Issue 5, p442-475

Selmys, M.(2009), Male and Female: He created them, Catholic Answer, Vol. 23 Issue 4, p32-36

The Vatican website especially the Code of Canons, the Persona Humana and Catechism of the Catholic Church; Catechism of the Catholic Church - The sixth commandment, Code of Canon Law - IntraText and http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/co...humana_en.html all accessed 27/05/2010

Vonholdt, C R. (2004)Deconstruction of Marriage and Family, Transformation , Vol. 21 Issue 3, p192-195

Wagner, C. (2010). Homosexuality and Family Formation. Futurist, 44(3), 6-7. Retrieved from Religion and Philosophy Collection database.

Walsh JT, (2001), "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What to Whom?" Journal of Biblical Literature 120: 201-209

Witt, C, (1995), Homosexuality and the Bible, Bible and Homosexuality accessed 25/05/2010

Zerilli, John. (2010), Christians, Homosexuality, and the Same-Sex Marriage Question, Humanist, Vol. 70 Issue 3, p28-32
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