19 September 2006

Blessed Assurance (Part Two)

Was Thomas, the brother of Jesus Christ, a man of homosexual orientation? It would certainly seem so, judging from the context of this narrative. Given the dearth of tolerance for Lesbians and Gay men in the Christian world, it's important to know that some figures from the Bible were homosexual. However, at the moment, the matter of Thomas's sexual orientation is of secondary concern. Rather than waste our time speculating on which of the Christ's disciples and family members were born eunuchs, we do better to concentrate on absorbing the wisdom of the Gnostic Book of Thomas. To be sure, it's of as much value to us as it would've been to any of them . . . if not more.

As we resume our study of this amazing text, we find Thomas expressing alarm about the level of persecution that Gay men (eunuchs) face. The level was high even in Biblical times. Orthodox rabbis decreed that all men should marry women and sire offspring, and they spoke as harshly against eunuchs as James Dobson or Pat Robertson would today.

Many oppose them, Thomas notes. I am very concerned about them . . . what shall we say to those who are blind? There can be no question that the "blind" people he's referring to were members of antiquity's religious Right Wing, those same wretches who ushered our Savior to His Earthy demise! The Christ advised his younger brother not to fret over the keepers of orthodoxy or their hostility to God's gender-blended children. His advice sounds as good today as it must've sounded eons ago, but I doubt religious Right Wingers of any era would appreciate it:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said)"Do not think of these as human beings, but regard them as animals! As animals devour each other, so people like this will devour each other. They are deprived of the Kingdom, since they love the delight of fire and are slaves of death and rush to deeds of corruption! They fulfill the desires of their parents. They will be cast down into the abyss . . . fire will consume them! Whoever has persecuted you will be handed over to the angel Tartarouchos, who has flaming fire that pursues them, and fiery whips that spew forth sparks into the face of one pursued. If he flees to the West, he finds fire! If he turns South, he finds it there as well. If he turns North, the threat of erupting fire meets him again. Nor can he find the way to the East, to flee there and be saved, for he did not find it while embodied so as to find it on the day of Judgment."

At this point, Thomas drops out of the narrative and the Nazarene begins to address us directly. First, he scolds us soundly! In the following passage, the Son of God admonishes those of us who resist our natural orientation, reminding us that what God has created cannot be done away with. He warns that we do great harm to ourselves when we try to become other than what we are. He warns against the love of carnality that leads Gay men into compulsive sexual encounters with one another, and (sometimes) with women. He warns against the practice of Gay men marrying and mating with women, comparing these acts to voluntary bondage. He commands us to stay true to our natures.

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said)"How long will you sleep and think that what is imperishable will perish? Your hope is based upon the world, and your God is this present life. You are destroying your souls! Shame on you with the fire that burns within you! It is insatiable . . . shame on you because of the smoldering within you! It will prepare you for each other . . . darkness has risen in you like the light, for you have surrendered your freedom to slavery . . . you have pursued your own wishes . . . shame on you who love intercourse and filthy association with the female!"

Having disciplined us to His satisfaction, the Good Shepherd changes His tone. He gathers us all into a warm embrace, plants Holy kisses on our chastened foreheads, affirms our God-given gift, and gently reminds us of our Divine destiny:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said) "Blessings on you who understand beforehand the temptations and flee from things that are alien. Blessings on you who are mocked and are not respected because of the love your Master has for you. Blessings on you who weep and are oppressed by those who have no hope, for you will be released from all bondage. Watch and pray that you may not remain in the flesh, but that you may leave the bondage of the bitterness of this life; and when you pray, you will find Rest, for you have left pain and reproach behind! When you leave the pains and passions of the body, you will receive Rest from the Good One. You will reign with the King, you united with Him and He with you, from now on and forever."

Of course, topping the list of "things that are alien" would be the aforementioned "polluted intercourse." Being mocked, disrespected, oppressed and reproached, well . . . we certainly know all about that, don't we? The Christ's promise of an afterlife where we enjoy royal stature is a fabulous consolation prize, though!

It's worth noting here that there's a passage in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip which states: The attendants of the Bridal Chamber (eunuchs) have only one name, and that is Rest. So it seems we can look forward to yet another gift from God.

Read independently of other Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Thomas's direct relevance to men of homosexual orientation may elude some people. However, read in tandem with the Gospel of Philip and the Secret Book of John, its relevance should become clear, even to the most stubborn skeptic. I will discuss revelations from the Secret Book and revisit Philip's amazing Gospel in future postings.

Let me say something to women who may be reading this essay: I realize that Gnostic and Biblical texts alike are hopelessly male-oriented and largely neglectful of feminine priorities. Yet, I feel confident in saying that this sermon from the Book of Thomas applies to Lesbians and Gay men equally!

What would you think if the controversial quote from Jesus Christ had been worded like this: Woe to you who love intimacy with men and polluted intercourse with them! Would it make more sense to you as doctrine? I wouldn't discourage you from reading the Christ's warning in this way. On the contrary, I would encourage it! I want you to own this teaching. Sheathe it deep within your hearts.

"Jesus Christ never talked about homosexuality!" How many times have I heard Progressive theologians repeat that false mantra???!! They do so in some misguided attempt to protect Gay people from religious bigotry. I suspect some of them actually know it's not true. I know I could never accept it! I couldn't believe that my Savior would fail to speak about me. How could he ignore a population which was so incredibly unique and which inspired such widespread antipathy?

So you can imagine what joy filled my heart the day I discovered those wonderful verses about born eunuchs in the Gospel According to Matthew. I immediately suspected there was more to be learned about Gay people from Scripture, and I actively began searching for that knowledge. Today, I can say that not only have I found a wealth of new information in Gnostic texts, I've also deduced the shameful reason the early Christian church tried to destroy them.

There are numerous Gnostic passages which are guaranteed to offend orthodox sensibilities, but I'm convinced that the teachings about eunuchs represented the most poisonous of poison pills for Fundamentalist leaders to swallow. These teachings aren't easy to decipher, but they are decipherable, and I'm sure many people in antiquity understood them. I'm also sure many people in antiquity decried them.

The early church hierarchy didn't want our relationship to the kingdom of Heaven known; instead, they preferred using heterosexual society's hostility toward us as a proselytizing tool. Toward that end, they initiated a campaign of destroying and distorting Scripture at our expense. What a diabolically clever strategy that was! It still works, and they're still employing it today.

Since long before the first appearance of the King James Bible in the 17th century, the self-anointed keepers of Christian doctrine have succeeded at suppressing the truth about us, but . . . hallelujah! The lost Gnostic manuscripts found in Egypt sixty years ago are now widely available, and more Christians are discovering them every day. Scholars around the world are busy interpreting them, and while heterosexist assumptions seem to have clouded their understanding thus far, it shouldn't be long before some of them reach the same glorious conclusion I've reached: The Lord Jesus is yours, and mine!

BLESSED ASSURANCE
words by Fanny Crosby, music by Phoebe Knapp
Originally published in 1873

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine/
O! What a foretaste of Glory Divine/
Heir of salvation, purchase of God/
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Perfect submission, perfect delight/
Visions of rapture burst on my sight/
Angels descending bring from above/
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at Rest/
I in my Savior am happy and blessed/
Watching and waiting, looking above/
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story! This is my song/
Praising my Savior, all the day long/
This is my story! This is my song/
Praising my Savior, all the day long.