Many, many years ago, in my late teen years when I was becoming evangelical, I watched a religious program that talked about how perverse the ancients were. The primary example was Pompeii, with its abundance of phallic symbols and artwork. The moral of the story, according to the conservative evangelicals on the TV show, was that Christianity has a redemptive and transformative effect on society, and that the filth of the godless ancients was largely eliminated with the spread of the new faith. In the video below, Rev. Canon Steve Chalke explains in great detail just how perverse Roman society was, and how Christianity did indeed speak against it. However, contrary to his conservative evangelical counterparts, this reverend argues that the New Testament writers did not have committed lesbian or gay relationships in mind. Rather, they were denouncing the oppressive use of sexuality that was so commonplace at that time.
Here are my thoughts:
First, while I do find his arguments compelling, I’m left wondering why then the early church advocated for same sex relationships and against homosexuality. If indeed Jesus and the apostles were okay with committed homosexual relationships, then why didn’t that ‘stick’ beyond their generation?
Second, I couldn’t help noticing that this Anglican minister slipped in a denouncement of ‘sleeping around.’ Apparently, what matters to him is not just commitment, but also specifically avoidance of non-oppressive, consensual casual sex. All well and good for a Christian minister to say, but I suspect that many of his flock won’t buy it.
Third and finally, this is all of interest to me solely for academic reasons. It’s fascinating to me to search out how people in times past lived and thought. However, the Bible itself lacks any real authority, as ultimately it is the product of human imagination.
That said, please do give this talk a listen if Christianity, ancient history, and/or lgbtq issues fit your interests.
Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.
Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go. Perhaps, people being the conundrums that they are, and having so little desire to shoulder the burden of their lives, this is what will always happen. But at the bottom of my heart I do not believe this. I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are. We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.
He apparently was never completely satisfied with his religious life. I can relate, somewhat, and wonder if that’s the fate of everyone who leaves the religion of their youth in search of a different option (rather than no religion at all).
He’s either cold-hearted or incredibly honest, since he could always fake belief and go through the motions to continue surrounded by his family. I tend to believe the latter, and I respect his integrity.
It’s a bit perplexing and feels a bit shameful to admit that I hadn’t, until this past weekend, read anything by James Baldwin. He was brought to my attention by a fellow member of Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, NJ because a Humanist-themed service the first Sunday of August. Baldwin is to be the central figure of these service, presumably with quotes from him and reflections on his life. It happened that I also recently read Dr. Anthony Pinn’s autobiography, and in it he provides a reading list that includes some of Baldwin’s writing. ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ was what I chose from that list as a starting point.
This book tells the story of a single Saturday in the lives of an African-American family in Harlem in the 1930s. In reality, the span of decades of several people’s lives are told within the context of this one day, revealing the complexity of the characters and the world in which they lived.
Religion is the central factor in this book. Specifically, black Pentecostal religion. The family in Harlem are part of ‘The Temple of the Fire Baptized,’ in which Gabriel, the father of the family, is a deacon. He had been a revival preacher in his younger days in the South, going out as much as 3 months at a time preaching ‘in the field.’
The dynamic in this book is fascinating, with the point of view switching from one character to another, laying bare their faults and fantasies in near-lurid detail. Reading it, I was able both to sympathize with the religious concerns and find them misguided. On the one hand, they make a clear distinction between the ‘sinful world’ with its dissipation leading to disaster. On the other hand, their religion doesn’t seem to really cure them of their vices and bitterness.
It seems as if the faith of the people portrayed was as much as much anything a survival tool for them as oppressed blacks in a world of white supremacy. In incredibly unjust and adverse circumstances, Christianity provided both emotional support and an escape for the disenfranchised. The patriarch of the family, a man as flawed as any you’ll ever meet in real life, was able to see himself in a nobler light as a son of the King. His second wife, the mother of this family, found forgiveness to lift her out of the disgrace she felt as a formerly unwed mother.
This engrossing tale of hardship and faith is one that is still relevant today, in a time when the police continue to beat and kill black people with near-complete impunity. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.