The economy sometimes obscures all else, but the war on marriage equality continues unabated. And when Evangelical pastor Jim Garlow got together with Wayne Grudem to talk about “Biblical Issues for This Election” you couldn’t expect them to be up to any good – and they weren’t. Garlow made the claim that “sexual orientation” is a modern phenomenon and that because it is something modern, it can’t possibly be natural to be gay.
Granted, heterosexual is also a sexual orientation, and by Garlow’s logic, therefore, heterosexuals are not born either, but made. But never mind the workings of logic where the aberrochristian mind is concerned. The answer was determined before the question was asked: heterosexuality is natural and homosexuality is unnatural and everything else that is said is shaped to arrive at this answer.
Garlow claims that “a pernicious tendency towards same-sex attraction” is no different than a heterosexual male’s “tendency towards polygamy”. He offers no evidence that men have a tendency toward polygamy. I think most married men would tell you no, one wife is plenty enough, thank you very much (I admit that concubines might be another matter, particularly if dressed up in Carrie Fisher’s slave girl costume).
But in all seriousness, Garlow is wrong. Sexual orientation may be far more fluid than black/white moralists are willing to admit, but that does not mean that people throughout history have not always been more or less attracted to people of the same or opposite sex.
It is perceptions of sex and attitudes toward sex which change, not human biology.
Homosexuality, few people realize, is a modern concept. The pathology of the 19th century created the category from the male/female conceptualized as abnormal. So what is modern is not homosexuality but the attitude held by people like Garlow and Grudem that a homosxual is an abnormal male.
Ancient ideas about sex and sexuality were far more ambiguous. In the ancient world, there were those who penetrated and those who were penetrated. It was manly to penetrate another man (or woman) but womanly to be penetrated. Let’s be clear: a manly man penetrated. Period. It didn’t matter who he penetrated as long as he was sticking it into somebody.
Now you know why those medieval monks feared the Vikings so much. Trust me, it wasn’t the church silver they were worried about. Granted, East European Pagans were probably as afraid of the Teutonic Knights and for the same reason.
And no, you won’t see these sexually ambiguous attitudes played out in Hollywood.
But however people felt about it later, or today, in general, people in the ancient world did not think this was an abnormal state of affairs. People might frown on men who were penetrated because a man was supposed to do the penetrating, but the term homosexual did not exist. And today, the term homosexual applies to both the penetrator and the penetrated. Who would be labeled the homosexual in the ancient scheme? The man who put his penis into another man or the man who was penetrated by another man’s penis?
According to Garlow, taking his logic as far as it will go, men would also have a “pernicious tendency” toward being penetrated. I can tell you that I have no desire to be penetrated. But some other men do. Some men desire to penetrate other men whereas I only desire to penetrate women.
So either all men have this tendency, in which case Garlow is proven wrong (since I am proof that not all men do), or Garlow is admitting that an attraction to other men is natural, in which case it is something people are born with, and sexual orientation is not a modern invention.
Either way, Garlow is wrong.
And if we want to (and I do) we can go back in time to see that homosexual behavior has always been with us and that it has not always been frowned upon, even by Christianity. Those monks may have feared the sex-starved Viking raiders but that doesn’t mean those monks didn’t think it was perfectly naturally to penetrate or to be penetrated by other monks. It was only, and not necessarily, nuns they were lusting after in their dreary monasteries.
Because Christian attitudes, as one scholar has pointed out that “It is possible because Christianity was indifferent, if not accepting, of gay people and their feelings for a longer period of time than it had been hostile to them.”
In point of fact, homosexuality and gay people were everywhere in the early Middle Ages, as Professor John Boswell pointed out in a keynote address to the Fourth Biennial Dignity International Convention in 1979:
As late as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there appears to be no conflict between a Christian life and homosexuality. Gay life is everywhere in the art, poetry, music, history, etc. of the 11th and 12th centuries. The most popular literature of the day even heterosexual literature, is about samesex lovers of one sort or another. Clerics were at the forefront of this revival of the gay culture. St. Aelred, for instance, writes of his youth as a time when he thought of nothing but loving and being loved by men. He became a Cistercian abbot, and incorporated his love for men into his Christian life by encouraging monks to love each other, not just generally, but individually and passionately He cited the example of Jesus and St. John as guidance for this. ‘Jesus himself,” he said, “in everything like us. patient and compassionate with others in every matter, Transfigured this sort of love through the expression of his own love. for he allowed only one – not al l- to recline on his breast as a sign of his special love; and the closer they were, the more copiously did the secrets of their heavenly marriage impart the sweet smell of their spiritual chrism to their love.”
As I said above, it is attitudes which change, not biology. These aberrochristian bigots act as though tbeir anti-homosexual attitudes are what is natural, that people have shared their feelings toward homosexuality all through history. But they have not, and any examination of the historical record will expose the lie.
Boswell argues that Christianity cannot be blamed entirely for the change in attitudes toward homosexuality in the Christian Roman Empire – that the attitudes of the church rather than leading the way have tended to reflect changing popular attitudes toward homosexuality. His key exhibit is the Bible itself, which as he points out, isn’t obsessed with gay abominations.
He points out that the tale of Sodom didn’t become a story about homosexuality until 1955. This is about the same time In God We Trust became our motto and One Nation under God was being added to the pledge of allegiance. See the trend?
Boswell alerts us to the fact that in the two dozen places Sodom is mentioned in the Bible, homosexuality is not. “The only other places that might be adduced from the Old Testament against homosexuality are Deuteronomy 23:17 and Kings 14:24, and-doubtless the best known places Leviticus 18:20 and 20: 13, where a man’s sleeping the asleep of women” with men is labeled ritual impurity for Jews. None of these was cited by early Christians against homosexual behavior. Early Christians had no desire to impose the levitical law on themselves or anyone else.”
He’s right. Early Christians wanted nothing to do with the laws of Leviticus. That was the whole point of the scene in Acts 15, that Christians were not bound by the Law. Homosexuality is not mentioned as the exception it has somehow become today, when all other prohibitions are ignored.
To make matters worse, the New Testament isn’t anti-gay either:
In the New Testament we find no citations of Old Testament strictures. We do, however, find three places-I Corinthians 6:9, I Timothy 1:10 and Romans 1:2627which might be relevant. Again, I’ll be brief in dealing with these. The Greek word malakos in I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1 :10, which Scholars in the 20th century have deemed to refer to some sort of homosexual behavior, was universally used by Christian writers to refer to masturbation until about the 15th or 16th century. Beginning in the 15th century many people were bothered by the idea that masturbators were excluded from the kingdom of heaven. They did not, however, seem to be too upset by the idea of excluding homosexuals from the kingdom of heaven, so malakos was retranslated to refer to homosexuality instead of masturbation. The texts and words remained the same, but translators just changed their ideas about who should be excluded from the kingdom of heaven.
So much for a steadfast and unchanging Truth as a bulwark against moral relativism.
Back to Boswell:
The remaining passage – Romans 1:26-7 – does not suffer by and large from mistranslation, although you can easily be misled by the phrase “against nature.” This phrase was also interpreted differently by the early church. St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul deprives the people he is discussing of any excuse. observing of their women that “they changed the natural use. No one can claim, Paul points out, that she came to this because she was precluded from lawful intercourse or that because she was unable to satisfy her desire….Only those possessing something can change it. Again he points the same thing out about men but in a different way? saying they ‘left the natural use of women.’ Likewise, he casts aside with these words every excuse, charging that they not only had legitimate enjoyment and abandoned it, going after another but that spurning the natural, they pursued the unnatural.” What Chrysostom is getting at, and he expounds on it at great length, is the idea that St. Paul was not writing about gay people but about heterosexual people, probably married who abandoned the pleasure they were entitled to by virtue of their own natures for one to which they were not entitled. This is reflected in the canons imposing penances for homosexual activity, which through the 16th century were chiefly directed toward married persons. Little is said of single people.
Well that isn’t helpful at all, is it? Paul wasn’t upset at gay people but heterosexual people!
Garlow and Grudem and people like them want to at least pretend that their attitudes toward homosexuality are part of unchanging Christian attitudes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fundamentalists like to pretend that to be antigay is to be Christian but Boswell makes the point that being antigay is not Christian at all: “It is possible to change ecclesiastical attitudes toward gay people and their sexuality because the objections to homosexuality are not biblical, they are not consistent, they are not part of Jesus’ teaching; and they are not even fundamentally Christian.”
This is important because the war on marriage equality continues. As Marylanders for Marriage Equality reminded me in an email, “The National Organization for Marriage – which has provided most of our opponents’ reported resources so far – announced they have a donor ready to give $2,000,000 to stop marriage equality.”
Think about that: $2,000,000 to fund a lie. $2,000,000 to fund moral relativism. $2,000,000 to wage war not onlly on American values, but human history and on nature itself.
(This post draws on material in previously published posts)
 Marilyn Katz, “Ideology and ‘The Status of Women’ in Ancient Greece,” History and Theory 31 (1992), 92. With regard to “homosexual” or “gay/lesbian,” and the effect of using one term over another see Steve Williams, “Gay and Lesbian or Homosexual? What’s in a Word?” www.care2.com/causes/civil-rig…
 See Ray Laurence, Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome(Continuum, 2009), 84-86 for a discussion of views of “homosexuality”in the Roman world.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.