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LGBTIs and the Bible: Pieces of Ease and Grace

Note from Rowland: I’ve had a quick read of this interesting book; below are very rough jottings / ideas I want to think more about… When I get time, I might write a proper review…

PIECES OF EASE AND GRACE, Ed. Alan H Cadwallader, Adelaide: ATF Theology, 2013.

We now have a trilogy of books by Anglican scholars wrestling with the theological and pastoral issues surrounding the major human rights issue of our day: how do we resolve the complex issues of dogma (Bible, church tradition) and love (honouring both the lived experience of our Gay and Lesbian sisters and brothers), against the backdrop of ancient-versus- modern worldviews.

First there was the irenic collection of essays Five Uneasy Pieces…. to which conservatives responded in Sexegesis. The first tried to combine biblical exegesis with ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ about it all. Sexegesis responded with a ‘Yes, but’ approach to biblical authority: ‘What does the Bible actually say?’

The first approach majored on grace and mercy; the second  on ‘righteousness’, authority and dogma. Of course the conservatives abhor the idea that there is any tension between the pursuit of  ‘truth’ and the practice of ‘love’. The most loving way to resolve such tensions, they tell us, is via ‘obedience’ to timeless truth, derived mainly from a closed canon of 66 ancient documents.

Justice Michael Kirby, Australia’s highest-profile gay Christian, saw, in the previous two volumes, a tension between texts of scripture either ‘deployed to such hurt for gay and lesbian people, or “pieces of ease and grace” – a phrase which was borrowed to be the title of this volume.

We have to realize, of course, that the church has battled with major paradigm shifts throughout its history – beginning with the radical inclusion of Gentiles in the primitive Christian community. And ‘in more recent times’, notes Cadwallader, ‘the Anglican Church has changed its stance about divorce, family relationships, contraception, women’s access to universities and employment, and even ordination’ (p. xii). And now, in these essays, we experience – again – the dynamic tension between ‘two loves: a love of Scripture and a love of all people’ (p. x), against the backdrop of ‘sexuality [becoming] the litmus test of orthodox belief and the lictor’s rod of discipline’ (p. xiv).

Beginning with 42 pages comprising a Prologue, Preface, Foreword, and Introduction (what would we call a fifth preamble?) we then have 11 outstanding essays by biblical scholars, all Anglican.

Now for some hadhazard jottings to whet your appetite:

* Gen. 2:24 = ‘aetiology’: a statement that explains something in existence. Later editorial addition.

The verb ‘to cling’ 61 times in the Hebrew Bible: most common – to ‘hold fast’ to their God. Four other instances clearly associated with  marriage (or romantic love) – Gen, 34:3, Josh 23:12, 1 Kgs 11:2, Dan 2:43 – all relate to inter-marriage: problematic because participants might cling to foreign gods rather than to Yahweh. (9-10) . But there’s  no statement to the effect that inter-marriage is a good, bad or indifferent thing… choosing of ‘inappropriate’ partners is a direct result of God’s actions in creation! (13)

So the good news for lesbian and gay readers is that Gen. 2:24 is best understood not as a prescriptive text, mandating a particular model of marriage and excluding others, but rather as a radical text that identifies a phenomenon generally understood to be problematic which yet attributes it to God. (18)

A better understanding of Gen. 2:24 is as a scripture that observes a plurality of models of love and marriage and that recognizes in each a genuine expression of God’s creative work.  (15)

* The consensus of biblical scholars is that Gen. 2:24 is an ‘aetiology’ – a statement or story that explains something in existence – and an editorial addition to the text.  (3) The first element for lesbian and gay readers is that Gen. 2:24 is best understood not as a prescriptive text, mandating a particular model of marriage and excluding others ‘but rather as a radical text that identifies a phenomenon generally understood to be problematic which yet attributes it to God.’  (14)

* Only two verses in the entire OT address the topic of homosexuality in any direct way – Lev. 18:22, 20:13.  

Elkanah had two women, Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:1-2): their worth was tied to their ability to provide children, though the narrative recognizes that the bond between a man and a woman could exceed the woman’s ability to provide children (1 Sam. 1:5,8), albeit the polygyny in which Elkanah participates is a social norm that existed entirely to serve the needs and expectations of Israelite men…

David’s opposite-sex marriages – arrangements made between men. (41)

2 Sam 1:26 – love of women: note it is Jonathan’s love that David praises. ‘Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), an early advocate of ending the criminalization of homosexual sex… made a connection between David and Jonathan and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple… with the implication that both couples were in a sexual relationship.’ (45)

Oscar Wilde’s famous speech at the Old Bailey (1895), in which he cites David and Jonathan as a positive example of the ‘love that dare not speak its name’. (49)

The language of covenant is used for both the bond between David and Jonathan, and some opposite-sex unions in the Hebrew Bible. (51)

Joshua took all of their kings, struck them down, and put them to death’ (Josh. 11:17).  ‘Those who were other than the elect of God were simply to be obliterated. There was no mercy for the Canaanite.’  So the appearance of a Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel could only be a staggering headache for Jesus and his disciples (Mt. 15:21-28). (86)

Another non-Jew coming  to Jesus, seeking restoration for one whom he loved (Matt. 8:5-13).  Two stories designed to evoke fear and loathing. (87). Gk pais can also mean ‘companion’ or ‘lover’. 

Promiscuous sexual activities of Amorites and Hittites… (91)

Ezek 16:44: ‘Like mother like daughter’… Same with the Syrophoenician  woman – same-sex relationship, subjected to the tutting judgment of Matthew’s audience, whatever the reality might have been. (92) King David had banned the blind and the lame from access to the temple (2 Sam. 5:6-8)  (96) Matthew inserted the Canaanite woman’s forbears into the genealogy at the beginning of the gospel – Tamar, Rahab. (96-97) Gender dynamics: the woman should have left, silenced and disappointed. But she has not left and has not stopped speaking. 98

Matthew’s stories of the centurion and the Canaanite affirm that faith can be expressed by different peoples, of different cultures, values and practices. Indeed, they can contribute to the overall understanding and extent of the gospel.  (99)

Is the Church prepared to hear the gospel coming from outside its usual parameters? Are we prepared to be surprised by faith?

It appeared that in the ancient world of Jesus’ time, eunuchs were considered to be neither celibate nor chaste  – rather ‘they were universally characterized by the frequency, ease and adeptness with which they performed sex acts with both men and women.’ [J. David Hester, ‘Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19:12 and Transgressive Studies’, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 28/1, 2005: 18].

Is. 56:3-5 : Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
    “I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off. (NRSV). 

Castration was widespread… Nicaea (325 CE) considered it necessary to ban those who had undergone castration from the ranks of the clergy. (Hester, 33)

First century eunuchs in Palestine were hardly respectable; most likely the opposite – capable of generating  fear and anxiety. And, it appears, far from a symbol of chastity and celibacy! (113)

Acts 8:26-40 – ‘one of us’ – and the ‘us’ who may be transformed… grace and kindness.

There’s a burgeoning of  ‘Queer’ biblical studies… The acronym is ever-lengthening.  (The latest – LGBTQIA – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual). 

Even John Chrysostom, a patristic writer not generally known for having approving views of women in leadership, matter-of-factly states with regard to Euodia and Syntyche that ‘these women seem to me to be the chief of the Church at Philippi.’ (fn 21 p. 175)

Axiomatic that there is no such thing as an objective reading of a text, or that the text itself is free from bias. ‘Biblical scholarship in itself will not be the ultimate arbiter of the debate about sexual orientation, marriage and blessing in the Anglican Communion. Rather it will be the experience of the church with faithful g, l, t people and their witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

Most discussions about gay and lesbian people in the church have not been conducted among friends. Rather the atmosphere has been adversarial. (xxxiii, Elizabeth Smith)

In Graeco-Roman society the recognised symbols of power and status were money, social class, property etc. But Christianity is about the preferential inclusion of the rejected. See 1 Co 12:12-31. Jesus welcomed the broken and weak… Paul also – 1 Co 4:9-13. However Christian communities from the earliest days were still frequently defined by exclusion, by rigid boundaries of membership. Tongues – where emphasized – those with different gifts excluded from aspects of worship where tongues expressed. Also note the exclusion of women from ministry leadership – calling not gender ought to be the guiding factor. There is variety within human body: 1 Cor. 12:17, 1:26-29 – God has chosen inferior and despised things. It is the weak and powerless who suffer death by crucifixion. Paul identifies with foolish and rubbish of the world…

Danger of taking single verses out of context – eg use of 1 Cor 14:34 to exclude women from [public] ministry – but women did in fact pray and prophesy in Christian gatherings (1 Co 11:5). For a liberating reading of the ‘clobber texts’ see Five Uneasy Pieces
Neither Paul nor his contemporaries had any notion of people who might identify according to their sexuality. Principles: God’s right to choose, God alone is Judge, righteousness is based on faith and not on any other criteria; God is righteousness in judgment; God makes no distinction; God through Christ redeems all humankind from the powers (sin and death) that hold it captive.

Those who preach exclusion on the basis of their sexual preference or emotional needs (by remaining celibate) are standing on shaky ground. Paul’s argument: as a result of Jesus, we have new criteria for determining membership among the people of God. General principle of inclusion can be applied to any situation in which there is a self-defined “in-group” which excludes another group for whatever reason. (137)

Rom. 1:26-27: Paul’s Jewish dialogue partner nods in agreement. But Paul turns the tables: ‘You do the same’.

Justification = God’s free gift; it cannot be earned (Rom. 5:6-11, 7:14-25). A person can choose to accept or reject the gift but God does not withhold the gift until a person reaches some pre-determined standard or goal. What is normative for the ‘in-group’ is no longer physical descent from Abraham, circumcision and the law, but reliance on the Spirit (Romans 10:10-12). Paul’s gospel is not limited to Epistle to the Romans – similar arguments in Galatians.


The Household in Bethany…

Australian hymnbook Together in Song: 

Said Martha, ‘It’s really my right to protest,
I’m working so hard here while Mary just rests.’
Jesus replied, ‘Mary’s chosen the best.
Martha come talk to me too.’

Well Jesus helps meanies…

(Digby Hannah)

Marguerite Poretes used feminine images to represent the Divine; for example in The Mirror of Simple Souls she used the figure of Lady Love to embody at different times both the soul and the feminised Trinity.


Terms such as lesbian, gay and homosexual are anachronistic. Mary and Martha weren’t heterosexual or homosexual as we understand those terms. Nor did they entertain or express their feelings in accordance with such labels or live in ways definable by the boundaries of these terms. What they did do was to find in their experiences of same-sex affection and attraction a suitable image for expressing their love and desire for a relationship with God.


In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places (Jn 14:1). Jesus recognises that in God’s family there are many relationships and many kinds of relationship. We must remain open-hearted towards these relationships.

As Rosemary Radford Reuther notes, female-female friendship (which may or may not include a sexual relationship) can be helpful to us precisely because it stands outside the patriarchal framework.


Christianity is about crossing boundaries… and bringing to the centre voices  from the margins.

Postcolonial theology, like Queer theology, rejects binary ways of thinking, but instead embraces a multiplicity of voices. They are both ‘theologies from below’.

Our traditional ecclesiastical forms, and authoritative readings of the Scriptures, have a vested interest  in maintaining the status quo, especially with regard to existing power imbalances.

By breaking down the gender binary we are freed from thinking in terms of male and female, but instead we think of relations – how people relate to and with each other. Jesus is already a hybrid figure, standing at the borders of religious identity (Jewish/Christian) and ontology (divine Christ/human Jesus).

Jesus intentionally crosses boundaries – ethnicity, religion, even gender and  sexuality.

Jacobe de Voraigne’s The Golden Legend was immensely popular with the faithful of its time. From 1470-1530 it was the most printed book in Europe.

More to come…


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