Romans 01 – A Second Clobber Passage

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Clobber Passage Context: Sex was not viewed the same in Paul’s Day

We’ve stumbled across another Clobber Passage! Clobber Passages are Bible quotes used by more conservative circles to uphold their beliefs that God condemns homosexuality.  There are six – give or take – so-called Clobber Passages.  I discussed the first one last February when we read the story about Lot and his family leaving Sodom and Gomorrah. I go into more detail in that blog post, but in a nutshell: the “wicked thing” being condemned in the Genesis passage is rape, not consensual sex.  Today, we can deconstruct the condemnation of homosexuality even further.

First and foremost, it is important to remember context.  While there were certainly gay people through-out history, including ancient history, the full expression of sexuality as we know it today was seldom – if ever – possible.  As this article does an excellent job of explaining, sex was transactional and driven more often by power than by love or attraction.  Again, there were surely loving couples out there, but with arranged marriages, extreme gender inequality, and a need to reproduce (more kids meant more workers, and could be married off to cement alliances and family ties), sex carried much larger socio-political implications, at a personal level, than it does today.

Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality a symptom of upholding the patriarchy

So that’s the context within which Paul is operating: where sex is a tool (or sometimes weapon) of a patriarchal society.  Paul radically changed the faith landscape of the early church with some very progressive ideas, but in vv. 22-27, he’s upholding the patriarchy in three primary ways:

First, Paul alludes to cultic prostitution.  This continues the tradition of vilifying Canaanite religious practices to uphold Judeo-Christian beliefs and the primacy of Hellenistic culture.  Canaan was a near-by Middle Eastern kingdom.  In fact, it was where God led Moses as the Promised Land.  There were a fair number of related cultural and religious practices between early Canaanites and Israelites.  In order to distinguish themselves as God’s chosen people, early authors of the Bible began to sensationalize some Canaanite religious practices.  Early Greek historians, keen on proving their culture was superior, continued to portray the Canaanites (and others) as barbaric, primitive tribes.   You can read a little more backstory on Canaan (and why they were so reviled by the authors of the Bible) here, but long story short, a lot of vv. 24-25 have more to do with rejecting an entire belief system than specific sexual practices.

Second, control of sex means control of women.  When a woman isn’t allowed to control her reproductive rights, who she marries, or even how she can appear in public because she might inadvertently cause a man to sin, all of her agency is taken away.  Female sexuality was a huge threat to patriarchal societies.  Acknowledging a woman’s sexual desires meant acknowledging that women have desires, and may even – gasp! – want to express them.  If that stopped in the bedroom perhaps that would be alright, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  If women got what they wanted in bed, they may want to start expressing their desires in other ways, like having more control over household finances or having a say in religious matters.  Patriarchal leaders understood this, even if they perhaps did not state it so explicitly.  By tying female sexuality to female morality, men found a way to control women in a physical and emotional way.  This is why Paul condemns women alongside men in v. 26.  It was his knee-jerk reaction to women possibly becoming too free in a society that had long built itself around male dominance.

Finally, I think Paul had a real personal fear of gay men.    A lot of straight men find male homosexuality uncomfortable.  Women walk around in a world where half the population is physically stronger than them, and we are used to navigating this.  But for men it’s the opposite: they’re used to walking around a world where they’re automatically stronger than half the population.  The average man’s fear of being physically overpowered at any given time is much lower than the average woman’s.  In other words, it’s hard for a woman to rape a man. But a man raping a man?  That’s a much more even playing field, and I think this fear of physical overpowerment – however unfounded it may be – is what made Paul (and many other straight men) uncomfortable with gay men.  Add the fact that Paul was “afflicted,” in other words physically incapacitated somehow, he may have felt particularly vulnerable to a physical or sexual attack.

The real message of this chapter is to love and respect God and eachother.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to be completely objective in your writing, however divinely inspired it may be.  I think that’s what we see here with Paul.  He’s telling his readers that, as followers of Christ, it is important to behave in a loving and respectful manner to each other and to God.  He gets back on the right track when he condemns a lot more than just potential homosexuality in the verses following this clobber passage: Evil, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, disrespect of parents; lack of fidelity, lovelessness, unmerciful.  These charges are all charges that stem from a lack of love and respect.  You don’t deceive someone you love, nor gossip about them nor disrespect them.  If God is someone you love, then you also wouldn’t turn from “the glory of Immortal God” to worship “images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

That’s the larger message of this passage: to act out of love and respect.  It’s hard, people are tedious.  We get tired and aren’t our own best selves.  Sometimes love and respect come with gray areas.  For example, am I acting in my girls’ best interest if I let them sort out sharing a toy, even if there’s some physical altercation involved between them, or do I need to step in and intervene every time?  Arguments can be made for both positions. But we have a lifetime to keep practicing love and respect, and like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  Hopefully, one of the first things we can leave behind us is clobbering people with maligned Bible passages.

Hosea 11 -The Love Demanded by a Baby

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them. (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

 

This is one of the most tender chapters read to date in this project, and I so, so identify with it as a parent.  Recently, I got mad at Betty.  She was whining about something her sister did (which was really nothing) while they played play-doh side by side.  I had had enough, and curtly told her to knock it off or I was going to take the play-doh away.  She started crying, but also picked up her toy scissors and started playing forlornly with the play-doh.  When she looked over at me with big, teary eyes while trying to cut the play-doh like I had shown her, I felt like a complete monster for yelling.  I simply could not be angry with her, even though she had been in the wrong.  Even when she is determined to turn from me, how can I give her up? How can I turn her over?  If God loves us like I love my girls, then this chapter must be divinely inspired.

We only have a few days of Advent left.  It is a time when we are preparing for the (second) coming of Christ.  We prepare for a Christ of terrible judgement, but also an infant-child Christ, and the tender analogies presented here reminded me of that.  In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of writing about God.  In Kristin Swenson’s God of Earth, she reminds us what we do with babies: “Babies demand full attention and all of our energy. We fetch them things, smile when they do, and weep with exhaustion at their impossible demands.  We kiss their feet,” then she goes on to say, “Well played, God. To come to earth and be of earth, not as a gigantic dictator, not as a volcano, a great white whale, a celebrity princess or a hurricane — but as a baby.  Stroke of genius.”

And it is.  A baby, for all it’s helplessness, demands (and receives) adoration in a way that none of the great things listed above could.  I know this passage wasn’t written about Christ – it was written about the unruly and hard-headed children of Israel – but the similarities remain.  Not to get to sappy, but it is a beautiful circle of love:  God loves us as Xyr children, we love God the infant Christ.

We are all children of God.  I think I say that nearly every post.  But I want you to stop and think about that for a minute.  We are all children of God.  Beloved infants.  It is hard sometimes to do so, but try to remember that everyone, even the worst of us, was a helpless newborn. A chubby baby. An unsteady toddler.  A small and wondrous being, worthy of love.  At the very least this thought may help calm you down when someone in front of  you goes 10 MPH below the speed limit for 15 miles.  My hope is it helps you let go of any lingering resentments you may hold towards anyone who has hurt you in the past.

Lots of bad people are out in the world doing bad things, and this isn’t a plea to just paper over the worst so we don’t see it.  In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.  If you see everyone as a child loved, it is harder to stand by while those terrible things happen.  Would you want to see your baby in a border detention center?  Would you want to see your baby denied healthcare for a pre-existing condition? Would you want to see your baby hungry, cold, or lonely? Of course not, and that’s the way God feels about all of us.  This Advent, let’s prepare for the return of Christ – both terrible judge and lovable infant – by remembering our brothers and sisters in need.  If we love God, we need to love them, too.

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Hosea 06 – Mercy, not Sacrifice

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

 

Yes, that is where this chapter leaves off.  There are some funny breaks between chapters in Hosea. Kind of a cliff-hanger, right?  We’ll get to the rest of Hosea’s woe-filled charges next post.

Jesus quotes v. 6 of today’s reading twice, in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.  That got me to wondering, what parts of the Old Testament does Jesus quote? I found a list that looked pretty comprehensive, and according to this, Jesus quotes the OT 45 times.  Of those quotes, almost a third of them – thirteen, by my count – deal with mercy, love, and correcting the excesses of legalism (which would lead a person to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of it, meaning they have a deficit of mercy and love in their hearts).

“An acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” is what God desires in the second half of verse six.  And really, most of this chapter is God lamenting how the people come to him with empty words, how their love is fleeting “like the morning mist,” even though God’s love is as reliable “as the sun rises.”  Isn’t this something we are all guilty of?  Perhaps we go to church, sing the hymns, maybe put some money in the offering plate, and feel like we’ve done our duty.  But being Christian needs to mean so much more than that.  We need to live God’s values day in and day out.

Yes, a large portion of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even more especially these prophets, details humanity’s sins against God in great length.  But God always forgives us, we are always reconciled with God.  If God can forgive us time and again, if God loves us “as surely as the sun rises,” then, to again quote Jesus, who are we to cast the first stone against someone else, for any reason?  God does not call us, anywhere that I have seen so far, to judge anyone for their deeds or misdeeds.  We are to leave that to God.  So political beliefs, sexual orientation, station in life, race or ethnicity simply should not matter when it comes to caring for anyone.  We are to show mercy.  Mercy and love.

Just to be clear, you do not need to be a doormat.  If you have been abused, you can forgive your abuser from afar.  If you are in any way being taken advantage of, you do not need to put up with that shit for the sake of God.  Remove yourself from that situation, please, because you are also a child of God and deserve better.

But beyond those extreme situations, we can do better.  We can abolish the death penalty.  We can change the justice system into one that rehabilitates instead of one that penalizes.  We can extend medical care to everyone.  We can make sure that everyone has enough to eat, a safe place to sleep.  These are simple acts of human decency that shouldn’t be that revolutionary, if we are honest about what our Christian values call us to do.

And really, what better way to lead people to Jesus?  Let us demonstrate his kindness in action.  Let us heal, as Jesus did.  Jesus brought a message of hope and redemption, and we grossly pervert it when we turn Jesus into a tool of oppression and condemnation.  No one wants to follow such a mean-spirited god.  I worry that by loudly demonstrating our faith instead of truly focusing on helping others, we are metaphorically guilty of giving God the empty burnt offerings instead of the true acknowledgement Xe really desires.  We can leave the proselytizing behind, and let our actions speak for themselves.  We do not need to shove Jesus down people’s throats.  Let people find their own way to Jesus: we can pave that path for them through heart-felt care, love, and mercy.

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