18 April 2007

WMAs (Weapons of Mass Affirmation) (Part One)

LGBT people must familiarize themselves with the Bible! The only way to refute the Religious Right's distortions of Scripture is to know Scripture as well as (or better than) they do;  but quoting the Bible after undertaking only a superficial study of it is folly! To say nothing of quoting the Bible when you haven't really studied it at all!  Let me warn you about a new Gay Rights initiative that uses Scriptural quotes improperly.

I first read about Faith In America's provocative billboard and bumper sticker campaign on Pam Spaulding's activist newsblog, Pam's House Blend. Her post contained a link to a website affiliated with Faith In America; at the site called WouldJesusDiscriminate.com, I read a press release explaining the campaign. Here are excerpts:

. . . the 30-day campaign, which utilizes a series of billboard messages that were posted this weekend, is meant to highlight Scriptures that affirm Gay people and their relationships . . . the campaign also is using yard signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts to get the message out . . . last summer . . . Faith In America and (its affiliates) conducted a pilot project in Indianapolis, using billboards and yard signs to ask a simple question: "Would Jesus discriminate?" Organizers say this year's project will be bigger and bolder, moving beyond a gentle question to propose a bold answer that some may find unsettling.

"In the past, many Christians misused the Bible to support slavery, oppose equal rights for women, and oppose interracial marriage," says Reverend Jimmy Creech, Executive Director of Faith In America. "They went so far as to accuse people on the other side of being 'un-Biblical'. The same thing is happening again with respect to same-gender relationships. It has to stop!" Reverend Jeff Miner, Senior Pastor of Jesus MCC, said: "I can already hear tires screeching across Indianapolis as folks see the billboards . . . the purpose of the Indianapolis campaign . . . is to change the whole tenor of the debate over homosexuality . . . our goal is to rescue the Bible from misinterpretations driven by cultural prejudice, so its true message of grace, hope and peace can come through . . . I would be willing to discuss this subject in a public forum with any credible pastor who is willing to have a respectful dialogue. Let's shine a light on this subject, compare our different points of view, and let thoughtful people make up their own minds."

Sounds great, right? Promoting tolerance for LGBT people! Rescuing the Bible from misinterpretation! Engaging in respectful dialogue! What could be wrong with that? You'll find out when you read the billboard messages. Here they are, taken directly from the WouldJesusDiscriminate.com web page:

Ruth loved Naomi as Adam loved Eve:Genesis 2:24 and Ruth 1:14

David loved Jonathan more than women: 2 Samuel 1:26

Jesus affirmed a Gay couple: Matthew 8:5-13

Jesus said some are born Gay: Matthew 19:10-12

The early church welcomed a Gay man: Acts 8:26-40

I was very upset when I read these messages. I viewed them as a disaster in the making, and still do! Some of them are accurate enough, but others are totally inaccurate, and all of them are misleading to some degree. The strategists' objective in using sensationalized messages like this would appear to be the shock value Reverend Miner alluded to. Is that a responsible approach to take?

Is this Faith In America's idea of promoting tolerance for Gay people . . . using the word "Gay" out of historical context? Is this the organization's solution to Fundamentalist misinterpretation of Bible scripture . . . its own misinterpretation? Is this how Reverend Miner hopes to spark a respectful dialogue . . . by giving religious Right Wingers valid reason to denounce his theology?

You might be tempted to dismiss my complaints as nothing but a difference of opinion about what these Scriptural citations mean. This has nothing to do with my personal opinion! This is about the facts, about what the translated words from ancient texts actually say, and about evidence in the texts that supports (or fails to support) certain inferences. Let's take a closer look at the verses in dispute, and I'll demonstrate what I mean.

The Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi, a Jewish woman who faces destitution after the untimely deaths of her husband and two sons. The verses in question deal with Naomi's concern for her widowed daughters-in-law; not wanting them to suffer in poverty as she expects to do, she advises them to return to their blood relatives.

RUTH 1: 8-16
. . . Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house . . . the Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of (a new) husband. They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Turn back, daughters! Why will you go with me? . . . even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying?" . . . Then they wept aloud again . . . but Ruth clung to her . . . (Naomi) said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. Return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said: "Do not press me to leave you, or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die (and) there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!"

Lesbian partners who ascribe to the Christian faith have traditionally viewed these verses as an affirmation of bonds between women. That certainly is a valid interpretation. What isn't valid, and what isn't suggested by the text, is the idea that the bond between Ruth and Naomi is erotic. On its web pages, WouldJesusDiscriminate.com argues that the ancient Hebrew word dabaq, meaning "to cling", conveys the erotic nature of Ruth and Naomi's relationship. They note that the same word is used in Genesis to describe Adam's bond with Eve. However, the word has no erotic connotation! It could be used to describe a child clinging to its mother, and indeed, that appears to be the sense in which it's used in Ruth 1:14.

Ruth shows compassion to her elderly mother-in-law, who may die impoverished if there is no one to care for her. Refusing to break their familial tie, she expresses her love for Naomi . . . the love of a daughter for her mother, not romantic love! The book of Ruth ends with Ruth bearing a child with her new husband, Boaz, a man Naomi chose for her. Naomi is subsequently taken into Ruth's new family, where she will be cared for. How could anyone characterize this narrative as a Lesbian love story? It's absurd!

Scholars argue over the number of homoerotic narratives in the Bible, but they all agree that the story of David and Jonathan is the most explicit narrative of this type. Reading the verses that describe their relationship, it's impossible to disagree. Here are those verses, taken from the books of Samuel:

1 SAMUEL 18: 1-3
. . . the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul . . . then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul . . .

1 SAMUEL 19: 1
Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David, but Saul's son Jonathan took great delight in David.

1 SAMUEL 20: 16, 17
. . . thus Jonathan made covenant with the house of David, saying: "May the Lord seek out (your) enemies . . ." Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own life.

1 SAMUEL 20: 30
Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him: "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen (David) the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?"

Blogmaster's note: Most Bible scholars agree that "shame of your mother's nakedness" is a clear sexual reference.

2 SAMUEL 1:2-
. . . a man came from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. . . . David said to him: "How did things go? Tell me!" He answered: "The army fled from battle, but also many of the army fell and died, and Saul and his son Jonathan also died." . . . then David took hold of his clothes and tore them . . . David intoned his lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan . . . "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan, greatly beloved were you to me (and) your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."

"Binding of souls" is done by God. The narrative clearly infers that God caused Jonathan and David to fall in love with one another, and did so with the aim of using their love to save David's life. So the relationship between David and Jonathan was undeniably romantic, and there are passages that strongly suggest their relationship had a physical component. This story is definitely an affirmation of loving homosexual relationships, and Gay Rights advocates are justified in characterizing it that way.

However, to post a blurb on a billboard that reads "David loved Jonathan more than women" reduces the tenderness, poignancy and significance of their love to a crass statement about sexual preference; I daresay there's a subtle dash of misogyny in that message, too! That David loved Jonathan more than he'd loved a female up to that point is irrelevant; apparently Pansexual, he would go on to love Bathsheba and numerous other women. What is relevant is that David loved Jonathan romantically, and that David was the direct ancestor of Jesus Christ, the Savior! Now let's take a look at the Gospel story about the Savior healing a Roman centurion's slave.

"WMAs (Weapons of Mass Affirmation)" continues with Part Two.