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Thursday, September 29, 2005
The gay Elijah
Andrew Sullivan is upset because the Catholic Church has rejected homosexual marriage, demands that its liaisons with the laity support a ban on it as a Constitutional matter, and won't tolerate public dissent on this.
There's a decent book on the subject, Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice, written by a committed and well-informed Christian. What's important to remember is that the Bible came out of the Near Eastern, Semitic world as it was until 100 AD or so.
The Bible's contemporaries viewed homosexuality in the way of modern prisons: there was the one doing it and there was the one having it done to him, in the course of which the former preserved his honour while the latter did not. The religious, social, and legal codes of the time legislated against crimes of violence and also of dishonour; but if the act was consensual and did not "frighten the horses", people left the participants alone. By way of example the story of Sodom in the book of Genesis, with its parallel in Judges, represents an attempt to bring shame upon the emissaries of YHWH; and in classic Near Eastern fashion YHWH then called upon God's punishment for this shame.
The Priestly code proposed a revolution in that regard, proclaiming the act a sin rather than a shame. Sexual conduct was now to be regulated as part of a general programme to codify man's place in God's creation.
Orthodox Jews who deem the Torah as the book of Moses accept Leviticus as part of this; and so cannot accept homosexuality, much less homosexual marriage.
Christianity meanwhile claims that Jesus held the authority as Messiah to abrogate the Torah. On occasion Jesus exercised this authority. In the gospel according to Mark, he judged the Sabbath as a gift of God to man, which man may break if he finds a greater convenience in so doing. He dismissed dietary laws as inferior to concern about "what comes out of man". He cited Sodom as a violation not of Leviticus but of Near Eastern standards of hospitality. And he famously accepted sinners among his flock.
However just because Jesus had the power to abrogate laws, and to forgive violations of those laws which he preserved, does not mean that he always did so (this was the error of Marcion, carried to ridiculous extremes by the Carpocratian Gnostics among others). Jesus continued to inveigh against sins and unrepentant sinners. He further consistently pointed to marriage as a metaphor for the kingdom of God, which he assumed to be an eternal union between one man and one woman (except in the case of Matthew 25:1-13, for which the man was a divine ruler and his brides manifold). Had the Evangelists bothered to record Jesus running across an "out" homosexual in his travels, they would have had him prescribing marriage to a member of the opposite sex or celibacy for that one.
In the first few centuries AD, there was something of a running battle between the coalescing "proto-orthodox" Church and its opponents. The proto-orthodox became the standard and affixed the canon of Scripture through which all Christian churches come to Jesus today. This canon rules out any definition of marriage other than that which is monogamous and heterosexual; unless the groom is a Vicar of God like Abraham, in which case the marriage may be polygamous. No Christian Church has the authority to accept homosexual marriage under the current canon of Scripture.
Rival gospels have re-appeared since then, but none of them has yet refuted the traditional account of what Jesus assumed about the role of Scripture and about the nature of marriage. Nor, I predict, will they. To accept homosexual marriage under the Abrahamic dispensation will require a new Prophet with a new set of writings.
That is the argument the Church must have, before they can argue the point of gay marriage. They must decide who on Earth lives or will live who can abrogate the assumptions of Jesus as an outdated remnant of a former dispensation.
Andrew Sullivan is a better choice for Latter Day Prophet than Joseph Smith Jr, and his essays are an easier read than some of those attributed to Gabriel through Muhammad; but personally I am inclined to wait a little longer.
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