Tag Archives: Religion and Sexuality

Out of Africa

BLD077326from Huff News

Religion News Service | By Fredrick Nzwili Posted: /13/2013

NAIROBI, KENYA (RNS) Schismatic Roman Catholic priests, who left the church to claim their right to marry, are now asking for an “African pope” to lead them.

The priests say they regret their former church is “allergic” to change. They believe priestly celibacy is neither rooted in the teachings of Jesus nor in the work of his apostles, who were married. And they insist celibacy does not work in an African context.

Former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo who married a Korean acupuncturist in a 2001 celebration sponsored by the Unification Church and presided by its late founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, serves as “African patriarch” of a number of church groups affiliated with his movement.

Milingo was excommunicated in 2006 for consecrating four married priests as bishops. Later, he founded a group called “Married Priests Now!”

Since then, the number of priests leaving the church to marry and rear children has grown. There are an estimated 300,000 members affiliated with Milingo’s movement across Africa.

The group, loosely known as the “Reformed Catholic Churches,” resembles the Catholic Church in belief and ritual and is led by young clerics, many of whom were educated in Vatican-approved seminaries before leaving to form their own congregations.

The fledgling group has churches in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, and South Africa, according to Bishop Peter Njogu, a former Catholic priest, now married, and working in Kenya.

“We respect Pope Francis and pray for him, but we are not Roman Catholics,” said Njogu. “We want a leader similar to the pontiff who will understand our situation. That leader has to be an African.”

The Milingo case shocked and embarrassed the Catholic Church when at age 71 he broke his vow and married Maria Sung, a 43-year-old Korean woman.

Following his marriage, Pope John Paul II summoned him to the Vatican, where he promised not to see his wife anymore.

After the separation, his wife, Sung went on a hunger strike in protest. They reunited in 2006.

Milingo’s marriage gave a global dimension to the calls for married priests, and led dozens of clergy to come forward and reveal their secret marriages and families.

Angry at the betrayal, Catholic bishops expelled priests associated with the rebels and strongly warned Catholics against them.

In marrying, the priests believe they are Africanizing Christianity. They are also open to shunned practices such as polygamy and women’s leadership, said Njogu.

“We must realize, for example, the lack of children is the worst evil for man in the African tradition,” said Njogu who teaches comparative theology at Kenya Methodist University.

In 2011, Njogu established the Restored Universal Apostolic Church. The same year he was installed the church’s bishop by Milingo in a ceremony attended by 15 other married priests. Within two years, RUAC had more than 3,000 members in Kenya alone.

Njogu now serves as the chairman of eight rebel Kenyan priests who have been enthroned as bishops of churches they founded after being expelled from the Roman Catholic Church. Their independent churches are affiliated with Milingo and include 80 former Roman Catholic priests and an estimated 30,000 members, some priests said.

“Every Sunday, we see new people coming to our churches,” Njogu said. “They come voluntarily and want to become our members. I think this is the future of Christianity.”

Njogu, like many in the movement, believes celibacy is too onerous a vow.

“The young priests find it very difficult to stay celibate, and many are in favor of marriage,” he said. “When a priest is married, he is able to serve the church better. This also makes their lives easier.”

Bishop Mark Kambalazaza, a former Malawian Roman Catholic priest who formed Charismatic Redeemed Ministries International, said many priests who take the vow of celibacy live with mistresses.

He thinks the Vatican should allow priests to choose whether to remain celibate. He hopes Pope Francis can change the law.

“This is the perspective in the Anglican and the Greek Orthodox churches,” said Kambalazaza, referring to the practice of married priests in those churches. “The church is called to make an analysis on all these issues and decide appropriately, if it is to remain true to its calling.”

In March this year, the Rev. Anthony Musaala, a Ugandan Catholic priest, shocked the church when he wrote a letter published in the Ugandan press saying that many bishops and priests in the country had failed the celibacy test.

Musaala was immediately suspended for urging open and frank dialogue about priests marrying.

“My forecast is that we will have a few more years of Catholic self-deception, perhaps 10, telling ourselves and the world that everything is OK, nothing serious,” he wrote in the letter. “Then the scandals will surface.”

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The Problem of Homophobia in Leviticus, and How Genesis Solves It

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

Rabbi/educator, Beth Chaim Congregation, Danville, Calif.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes state-sanctioned same-sex marriages, the remaining voices opposing marriage equality — or at least the loudest ones — are primarily religious.

Conservatives insist on “biblical marriage.” Progressives, for their part, smugly reject the authority of “ancient texts.” Sides are chosen. Battle lines are drawn. Less listening. More shouting.

But what if both sides were wrong? What if the supposed biblical prohibition of gay sex were in reality an affirmation of honest and loving sexual relationships?

No Extra Words

The text most often quoted by in defense of biblical homophobia is Leviticus 18:22. In Hebrew, it reads, “V’et-zachar lo tishkav mish’k’vei ishah.” It is usually translated as, “Do not lie with a male as you would lie with women,” an apparent universal condemnation of sex between men.

The words “et-zachar lo tishkav” clearly mean “don’t lie with a male” or “don’t bed a male.” In a chapter that’s seemingly addressed to men, that directive would make perfect sense all by itself. But Jewish tradition, best expressed by Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva, teaches that there are no superfluous words in Torah. Why, then, would the Torah add the peculiar phrase “mish’k’vei ishah“?

That “mish’k’vei ishah” means “as you would lie with women” is far from obvious. The word “mish’k’vei” itself appears only three times in all of scripture: in the two supposed prohibitions of gay sex in Leviticus, and at the end of the book of Genesis

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Whose Bed Is Whose?

The scene is Jacob’s deathbed. As the patriarch prepares to die, Jacob gathers his sons around him to tell them what will happen in the days after his death. First-born son Reuben, perhaps expecting a blessing from his father, is nevertheless condemned by Jacob with the charge of “instability.” And then Jacob directly scolds his son, “Alita mish’k’vei avicha!” reads Genesis 49:4. “You ascended your father’s beds!”

What’s all this about beds? It seems that back in Genesis 35, “Reuben went and lay with Bilchah, his father’s concubine.” In addition to being wed to sisters Leah and Rachel, Jacob has sexual access to two concubines: Bilchah and Zilpah.

In context, then, Jacob’s condemnation is not literal. Jacob is not angry that Reuben was physically in his bed; he is angry about the sexual relationship that Reuben had there. Bilchah, as Jacob’s concubine, is permitted to be with Jacob. Reuben violated that boundary. Read this way, the term “mish’k’vei avicha” — the “beds of your father” — is a metaphor for Jacob’s sexual domain. Reuben is in trouble because he violated his father’s sexual space.

How Genesis Solves Leviticus

Jewish tradition teaches that when Torah uses a similar phrase in two places, there’s a connection, such that information about one case may be applied to the other. It’s called a “gezera shava.” Taking the meaning from Genesis and applying it to Leviticus 18:22, the result is this translation: “Don’t bed a male in the bed of a woman,” or perhaps, “Don’t bed a male in the sexual domain of a woman.”

This is not a text prohibiting homosexuality. It is a text about respecting our relationships.

Recall the earlier incident in Genesis. Jacob has just lost his Rachel, his beloved. Torah tells us that Jacob, having just set the monument upon her grave, immediately hears the mortifying news that Reuben has slept with his concubine.

How do we begin to understand Reuben’s behavior? Perhaps Reuben feels his own pain and humiliation. It has been suggested that Jacob, following the death of favored wife Rachel, established his primary sleeping space with Bilchah, rather than with Reuben’s mother Leah. Reuben’s father chooses not Leah but a concubine. Given such a scenario, it’s not hard to imagine Reuben “acting out.”

What, then, was the sex act about? Who was it about? Probably not Bilchah, who is object, not subject, in this text. Was it Reuben’s intention to “despoil” Bilchah so that Jacob could no longer have relations with her and would have to sleep with Leah? Was it to exact revenge against his father? Control? Dominance? To cast guilt, doubt, shame over all the sexual relations of his father? Over all the “mish’k’vei avicha,” “the beds of his father”?

This sex act, then, was not a loving act. It was an act of anger and vengeance. These are both possible reasons to have sex. And they’re both the wrong reasons to have sex.

Seen in this light, the condemnation we read in Leviticus seems to shift.

V’et-zachar lo tishkav mish’k’vei ishah.” “Don’t bed a male in the sexual space of a woman.” Who is this woman? A wife of one of the men involved? A woman who expects integrity and honesty in her marriage but is betrayed? And who are the men? Men who long for a full relationship with each other but are denied such by society and must resort to deceit, tortured by guilt and self-loathing? Men who have sex with women not as an act of love but as a grueling burden? Men who bring that torment upon all the “mish’k’vei ishah,” “the beds of women”?

It is an abomination to bring this shame and guilt upon a marital bed. And, all the more so, it is an abomination for any state to demand us to do so.

What Leviticus Is Trying to Teach Us

The Bible is a wild, sprawling document, but to me it has one unifying theme: There’s a Power hidden in all that happens in the world, and that Power is concerned with holiness and justice. Readers from Moses to Martin have found a text that demands an accounting on behalf of the immigrant, the worker, the widow — a revolutionary worldview that our present moment demands perhaps more than ever..

Just as the Bible demands that we being justice to our marketplaces and workspaces, chapter 18 of Leviticus asks us to take the revolutionary step of seeing our bed-space as holy space — to see sex not as merely a mechanical, procreative act but as a conduit to the Divine.

Ultimately, Leviticus invites us to be open and honest with ourselves and our partners, to reject deception, to come out of hiding, and to create relationships that are loving, honest, and sacred.

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July 20, 2013 · 10:00

When Jesus Healed a Same-Sex Partner

Jay Michaelson

Author, ‘God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality’

In this year’s battles over same-sex marriage (there are referenda on the issue in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, and Washington), opponents have tried to depict the issue as a choice between traditional religious values and some sinister homosexual agenda, between God and gay. In fact, a vote for same-sex marriage is a vote for traditional religious values, such as the importance of companionship (Genesis 2:18) or civil justice (Deuteronomy 16:20), and the value that “love” isn’t whatever we say it is but that movement of the heart that is patient, kind, and humble (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

But, some people argue, what about the fact that the only sanctioned relationship in the Bible is between a man and a woman? Well, in fact, that’s not quite the case. The story of the faithful centurion, told in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his pais, a word sometimes translated as “servant.” Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and he has faith that if Jesus even utters a word of healing, the healing will be accomplished. Jesus praises the faith of the centurion, and the pais is healed. This tale illustrates the power and importance of faith, and how anyone can possess it. The centurion is not a Jew, yet he has faith in Jesus and is rewarded.

But pais does not mean “servant.” It means “lover.” In Thucydides, in Plutarch, in countless Greek sources, and according to leading Greek scholar Kenneth Dover, pais refers to the junior partner in a same-sex relationship. Now, this is not exactly a marriage of equals. An erastes-pais relationship generally consisted of a somewhat older man, usually a soldier between the ages of 18 and 30, and a younger adolescent, usually between the ages of 13 and 18. Sometimes that adolescent was a slave, as seems to be the case here. It would be inappropriate, in my view, to use the word “gay” to describe such a relationship; that word, and its many connotations, comes from our time, not that of Ancient Greece and Rome. This is not a relationship that any LGBT activist would want to promote today.

However, it is a same-sex relationship nonetheless. (It is also basically the same as the soldier/armor-bearer in the model of David and Jonathan, which I’ll explore in a future article.) And what is Jesus’s response? Does he spit in the centurion’s face for daring to suggest that he heal the soldier’s lover? Hardly. He recognizes the relationship and performs an act of grace.

Now, could pais really just mean “servant”? There are several reasons why this makes no sense. First, one would not expect a Roman centurion to intercede, let alone “beg” (parakaloon), on behalf of a mere servant or slave. Second, while Luke refers to the young man as a doulos (slave), the centurion himself specifically calls him a pais; this strongly suggests that the distinction is important. Third, we know that the erastes-pais intimate relationship was common practice among Roman soldiers, who were not allowed to take wives, and whose life was patterned on the Greek model of soldier-lovers. If pais just means “servant,” none of this makes any sense.

If I and dozens of other scholars (some of whom are listed below) are correct, this is a radical act. Jesus is extending his hand not only to the centurion but to his partner, as well. In addition to Jesus’ silence on homosexuality in general (he never mentions same-sex intimacy, not once, despite its prevalence in his social context), it speaks volumes that he did not hesitate to heal a Roman’s likely same-sex lover. Like his willingness to include former prostitutes in his close circle, Jesus’ engagement with those whose conduct might offend sexual mores even today is a statement of radical inclusion, and of his own priorities for the spiritual life.

It also sets up a useful distinction for those who may be struggling with same-sex marriage as a religious act, but who nonetheless want their gay and lesbian family members, friends, and community members not to be discriminated against. Jesus is not conducting a same-sex marriage here. Yet he is recognizing a socially accepted same-sex relationship. Likewise, Christians and Jews today who may not be ready to celebrate same-sex weddings in their own churches and synagogues can and should endorse civil marriage equality in the public sphere. In a very different context, this is exactly what Jesus did 2,000 years ago.


interesting exegesis (Meenister)

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