Saturday, November 29, 2008

Paul Revisited

I realize these sorts of ruminations are boring to the vast majority of readers. However, for those gay Christians wishing keep their faith and remain in the church, I believe it is necessary to forge ahead with new careful and constructive interpretations of scripture. So, let's look at 1 Corinthians 7.

Many Christians, especially baptists and evangelicals, as far as I can tell, are settling on the position that, indeed it's not likely that homosexuals can change their orientation. However, it is still not accepted, and it should be viewed as sinful behavior, just as alcoholism, gluttony, greed, etc... you know... each person's particular vices. (Though, to suggest that someone's hyper-affiinity for chocolate is akin to sexual orientation is absolutely insulting. Anyhoo...)

So: you can't change it, but you can't accept it; it is your cross to bear and you must resist that temptation in order to remain faithful to Christ.

***You know, maybe I'm inclined to agree!

Paul said something similar to this. He said:

“It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (7:1)

"I wish that all were as I myself am. [single]" (7:7)

"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am." (7:7)

It's pretty evident that Paul believes chastity is best. But, Paul does grant a spirit of limited freedom in sexual conduct, because he says:

But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (7:2)

Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (7:5)

But if they [the unmarried or widows] are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. (7:9)

So, Paul sets a clear standard: remain single. But, he is not at all legalistic about this and offers options in order that everyone can remain pure.

The argument many moderate and conservative church leaders make is this: homosexuals should remain celibate. Paul's statement was this: heterosexuals should remain celibate.

How interesting that we can be on an equal playing field? This tends to clarify the issue. Would heterosexuals be willing to scrutinize--and even deny--their sexuality in the same way they demand of their homosexual sisters and brothers, in order to remain pure?

Paul says they should--the standard is celibacy. Marriage is to preserve purity for the vast majority who would certainly fall into promiscuity without sex in a marital relationship.

So, if straights have the same tough standard as gays, why should straights get a "get out of celibacy free" card while gays are left to deny who they are in spite of the very real possibilities of immorality?

The issue of what to do with homosexuals in the church is not "apples and oranges," we're dealing with the same thing: human sexual tendencies and relationships. Is it possible that the apostle Paul, living in 2008, would be outraged that gays and lesbians are given no options and are virtually set up for moral failure (as is evidenced by all of the gay people who play straight and marry someone of the opposite gender, only to be tempted with cheating on their spouse later on)?

I am convinced, by a conservative reading of this letter of Paul, that we, as gay persons, being honest about our impulses and abilities to control them, should be given the option of living as the sexual beings we were created to be in a way that is positive, godly, moral, pure, and life-affirming.

Please deconstruct this argument in the comments below.


borg_queen said...

I once saw a religious program in my country where they presented passages from the Bible that Paul secretly worshipped Satan (or something to that effect.)

Scott Jones said...

Good analysis.

I'm convinced that Paul has a consistently negative view on sexual desire of any sort, and that conservatives consistently overlook this because they don't want to get caught by their own arguments.

JX said...

I believe you're right. For Paul, sex = bad or at least, it one should be highly suspicious. But on the other hand he seems much more pragmatic (at times) concerning sexual ethics than for which he receives credit.

Fancy Pants said...

I think your analysis is right as far as the text goes. Paul clearly states that he thinks it's best for people to be like him, celibate, and that any sexual contact is a partial failure. His concession to all humans is both pragmatic and condescending and, personally, I would take offense whether I were straight or gay.

Further, I think Paul was a pragmatist on many levels -- his biggest epiphanies seem to always involve accommodating secular culture -- he "saw the light" on things like keeping kosher and keeping slaves, for example, and bowed to the Roman culture surrounding him even while things like slavery seem, to my mind, entirely inconsistent with the message of Christ.

I have to be clear though that I am not a fan of Paul, and this is the main reason I am not a "Christian" per se. Being a follower of the teachings of Christ, for me, is completely different than parsing the religious texts which sprouted up after Christ's death, mostly written or heavily-influenced by Paul. So, while I agree with your reading, I don't accept Paul as an authority on the teachings of Christ, certainly not in regards to slavery and property ownership and most especially not in regards to love. For me, Paul was a salesman at heart and adapted the teachings of Jesus to conform to his own paradigm, to conform to the religion he became the founder of. And for that, I find it very hard to forgive him -- Jesus, in my book, is simply not for sale.

There's my rant for the day. :)

KJ said...

No argument from me.

I think that Paul often gets "beaten up" with a loss of perspective in how radical, for the day, he actually was (Not as radical as Jesus, but that's tough for most of us even today.). Where the church gets it wrong, IMHO, is to lose sight of the ever-expanding grace explosion that was happening in Paul's time, and "freezes" us there.

"Freezes", I should add, only when it's convenient. So the limited role of women in the church, in many Christian settings, can be ignored as a "then thing", but other teachings not. How convenient!

JX said...

Oh, man. I love this! hehe

I agree with KJ: the fact Paul does concede to a anyway idea beyond his first preference I think, for the time, would not be seen as everything but condescending. Yet, our modern sensibility would certainly see a great deal of hubris in Paul's writing. And I do think it's absolutely appropriate as you say, FP, to be offended by Paul--the important thing is, in this text, is that both gays and straights can be equally offended for the same reasons.

I am not trying to redeem Paul, and I would definitely prefer to follow Jesus over Paul any day. BUT those who wish to prevent us gaining our rights are very Pauline in their thinking, and I think it is helpful to point out that Paul was not necessarily against us, and Paul did indeed accommodate a great deal to culture--as has every Christ follower since Christ--so it's time to "thaw out" do the same for ourselves.