14 April 2008

Gay Bibliolatry 101 (Part Two)

Gay Christian 101

After tumbling to such a rhetorical low, Rev. Brentlinger climbs back up to previous heights in his chapter devoted to the David and Jonathan story. Denial is strong about the nature of the relationship between the future King of Israel and the son of his nemesis, King Saul, and not just among Fundamentalists! The author demolishes the foundation of that denial by exploring the narrative in depth and studying the men’s interaction with one another. He proves that the bond they shared was a marriage bond; he points out that Jonathan expressed the intention to become David’s consort after he assumed rule over Israel; he reveals that King Saul used vulgar language to explicitly accuse his son of being David’s lover; and he presents the strongest evidence yet of sexual contact between the pair.

Here, Rev. Brentlinger imposes no interpretation on the text; he merely clarifies what it says. He is particularly effective in his translations of ancient Hebrew words such as ahabah/ahab, meaning romantic love, qashar, meaning romantic attachment, and gadal, which connotes sexual arousal in some contexts.

He goes too far, though, when he insists that David and Jonathan's spiritual marriage be accepted as fact because “the Holy Spirit is (its) ultimate author”(p. 145). That kind of statement makes his polemic sound desperate, and it shouldn’t sound that way. All he really needs to say is that the David and Jonathan narrative describes erotic same-gender love (which he does say, quite eloquently), and that God caused these men to fall in love by binding their souls together (which is clearly stated in 1 Samuel 18: 1). Except for that single digression, "The Amazing Love Story of David and Jonathan" is a well-written chapter containing essential information for Gay and Straight Christians alike.

Unfortunately, his next chapter is an exercise in tortured logic! It attempts to make credible a shibboleth that circulates among many Liberal Christians: That Jesus Christ healed the lover of a "Gay" Roman centurion, in similar accounts found in the 8th chapter of Matthew and the 7th chapter of Luke. I first refuted this myth in my essay titled  "WMAs (Weapons of Mass Affirmation)", Part Two.

Rev. Brentlinger bases his arguments on the sexual connotation that the ancient Greek word pais carries, and he makes a good case that the centurion was probably sexually involved with his slave. He also makes a good case that the centurion’s unusually high degree of concern about his slave's welfare indicated a romantic attachment. He even makes a good (but not convincing) case that their sexual relationship may not have been pederastic in nature, although pederasty was the norm for such couplings at that time. Ultimately, though, the Reverend's argument falls victim to the usual false assumptions.

First, he assumes that Roman centurions who had culturally-sanctioned sexual relationships with their male slaves must have been Gay. Such behavior indicates homosexual status like modern Gay men marrying women to fit cultural expectations indicates heterosexual status . . . in other words, not at all! Second, he assumes that the slaves were also Gay and willingly had sex with their masters. He seems to think Roman slaves exercised free will, even though they were property and utterly subject to their masters' wishes. Where does he come by this ludicrous notion? I thought twisted ideas like that vanished with the Old South, but apparently not!

Third, he assumes the tender feelings that the centurion apparently felt for his slave were reciprocated. Scripture tells us nothing about the slave's feelings, so it's impossible to conclude that a romance existed between them. Fourth, he assumes that the Messiah's act of not condemning a romance which may not even have existed implies tacit approval of said romance. Ridiculous! If taking a story about faith and trying to tease a homosexual love affair out of it isn't exogesis, I don't know what is!

Worst of all, he thinks valid parallels can be drawn between probably pederastic master/slave relationships in antiquity and adult Gay male relationships in modern times. Not only is this analogy patently absurd, it feeds directly into stereotypes about Gay men being predisposed to BDSM-style couplings and sex with underage partners. By manipulating the text in order to press his ideological point, Rev. Brentlinger does more harm than good! He attempts to douse fire by throwing gasoline on it, and the results are predictably disastrous; I shudder to think how easily a James Dobson or Ken Hutcherson could distort a phrase like “Jesus did not rebuke these men for their sexual relationship or for their master/slave relationship”(p. 220)!!!

This ill-conceived chapter should never have survived the editing process! We can at least assume that Rev. Brentlinger meant well, but you have to question his underlying attitude when he includes in his analysis a statement like this:

Referring to someone as a pais in the context of the first century Roman empire is similar to someone today saying "he's a hairdresser in San Francisco, if you get my drift" (p. 205).

What an ignorant thing to say! Whatever else he may have been, a pais was a slave, a subjugated human being. What could have possessed Rev. Brentlinger to inject such crude and offensive humor into a work of scholarship? This insensitive crack makes an already weak chapter even more disposable.

"Gay Bibliolatry 101" continues with Part Three.

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