As we progress through our More Light series, moving to join the More Light Presbyterians Network as a formally-recognized congregation that is open and affirming to the LGBTQIA+ community, I wanted to share some of the key points that we have discussed during our adult ed sessions.
In May, we began with a definition of terms, starting with the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation comprises questions such as “to whom are you attracted?” “whom do you hope to marry?” and “who are the characters in your happily ever after?” Some examples of different sexual orientations include lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, and straight. Sexual orientation is not the same thing as gender identity, which comprises questions such as “which restroom do you use?” “what are your preferred gender pronouns: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, ze/hir/hirs, ze/ze/zirs, etc?” and “what gender do you consider yourself to be?” Some examples of different gender identities include trans*, queer, intersex, and cisgender. Gender identity is often, but not always, related to biological sex, which is determined by XX or XY chromosomes, being born with male or female genitalia, or having a birth certificate marked with an F or an M.
Do you know what the letters of LGBTQIA+ stand for? Here is a very brief overview:
–a Lesbian is a female homosexual person, a woman attracted to women
–a Gay person is attracted to people of their own gender (a woman attracted to women or a man attracted to men)
–a Bisexual person is attracted to both men and women (not necessarily at the same time)
-Trans* is a prefix meaning across, beyond, or through and can begin several different terms, including transman, transwoman, transgender, or transsexual
-Transgender people understand gender as being a spectrum and might express their gender identity by cross-dressing, having an androgynous aesthetic, or otherwise defying societal norms
-Transsexual people have a gender identity that does not match the biological sex assigned to them at birth; they may seek to change their physical body to match their gender identity through sex reassignment surgery or hormone treatment (processes that can be prohibitively expensive)
-Q can stand for either Queer (a somewhat contentious term referring to the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole) or Questioning (a phase or period in which a person may be unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity and is still exploring their feelings)
-Intersex is a term used to describe a person born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or an internal reproductive system that is not considered medically standard for either male or female
-Asexual people are not sexually attracted to either men or women and who do not have a desire to engage in sexual activity with a partner (but who may have a desire to form nonsexual romantic relationships and may date and seek long-term partnerships)
In 1978, our Presbyterian General Assembly said that “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity,” but in 2010, they began to allow the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships. Four years later, it was determined that PC(USA) pastors could officiate any wedding that was legal where it was being performed. Since 2015, that has included every state in the US. However, 42% of LGBT youth say their community is not accepting and 29% of LGBT youths attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 6% of heterosexual youths. LGBT youth who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence are three times more likely to use illegal drugs; half of gay males experience a negative parental reaction when they come out and in 26% of those cases, the youth was thrown out of the home. Studies indicate that between a quarter and half of homeless youth are on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Washington Post, 1.6 million young people experience homelessness in the US every year. However, if a school has a Gay-Straight Alliance club, if an LGBT teen lives somewhere that same-sex marriage is legal or has even one person who fully supports them, those statistics dramatically improve. Fully including and respecting the LGBT community is not only a logical extension of God’s command to love our neighbors: it is a proven way to create a safer, happier, and more stable society.
In June, we moved from technical definitions and statistics to a conversation about what marriage is. Historically speaking, the first record of a Christian wedding ceremony is only about one thousand years old and marriage has mostly been considered a legal contract for much of history. In the Middle Ages, as we started to keep better records, weddings started to involve priests…not because a holy man needed to officiate, but because the priest was often the only literate person in a town who could write a legal document. Christian understandings of what it means to be married and how one goes about getting married have gone through some pretty dramatic changes and it wasn’t until 1547 that the Catholic Church formalized marriage as a sacrament (it is NOT a sacrament in our tradition).
Nowhere does the Bible define marriage to be made up of a man and a woman. Biblical marriages involve multiple women, concubines, slaves, dead husbands and their brothers, etc. Ephesians 5:22-31, a passage often read at more conservative weddings, does not instruct a woman to “obey” her husband but does say that husbands are to do as much for their wives as Christ did for the church, even if that means dying for them. The Bible is also very clear on “thou shalt not commit adultery,” which makes some pastors (hi!) wonder why we hear so much about homosexuality as a sin and yet so little about infidelity as a sin.
Legally speaking, a marriage in the US today requires (1) the parties’ legal ability to marry each other, (2) mutual consent of the parties, and (3) a marriage contract as required by law. There are 1,138 rights and privileges that are dependent on legal marriage including, among many other things, health insurance, taxes, and the transfer of social security/disability/medicare/veterans benefits. In the relatively short history of our nation, marriage has gone through several major redefinitions, most notably concerning whether people of different racial backgrounds could get married and whether same-sex couples could get married.
We had a very lively discussion of what marriage means, why people get married, whether some reasons to get married are better than others, and so on. Naturally, as an unmarried person, I had plenty of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the institution. Throughout the presentation, I included many snarky responses to the question “Pastor Leia, why aren’t you married?” Among my personal favorites are “Well, Gingersnap doesn’t want the competition for my attention, so she’s never tried to pressure me into it;” “Look, I have standards, okay? Also a master’s degree. I’ve been busy;” and of course, “No one was willing to give me as many goats as I believe that I am worth.”
In July, we looked at two of the Bible passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 reads “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” However, we are separated from this passage by thousands of years of language, culture, and understandings of how the world works. The same-sex relationships that ancient people were familiar with were mostly pederasty and/or male temple prostitution. The word for “male” can also be translated as “male child” rather than “man.” The word used to discourage the act of two men having sex describes more of a social taboo than a moral imperative. Ancient understandings of biology led to different moral conclusions, with sperm being seen as something like a fetus. As a nomadic people who were usually an oppressed minority, the Israelites wanted to remain distinct from other groups of people (kosher food, clean vs. unclean, keeping sabbath, etc). The rules of the Hebrew people were very strict and either/or.
From the New Testament, we looked at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” However, in reading this passage, it is extremely important to note that the controversy hinges entirely on the translation of the word μαλακός (malakos)…and that we literally do not know what the word means because it appears so rarely in literature of the era (historically speaking, it was translated as masturbation for much longer than it has been translated as homosexuality). Furthermore, Paul thought that NO ONE should be having sex, even between husbands and wives, because he genuinely thought that the world was about to end. If Paul wanted to condemn men who have sex with men, there are multiple very straightforward words in Greek to refer to that act. Paul never uses any of these words. Greek and Roman society had NO NEED for euphemisms on the topic because same-sex love was pretty common and wasn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing.
I’ve really enjoyed our conversations so far, and I hope to see many of you at our upcoming More Light sessions on August 11 and September 8!
shalom and agape,
Rev Leia Rose Battaglia