The following is the transcript of Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao's talk organised by RedQuEEn! (http://www.geocities.com/red_qn), a queer women's discussion group in Singapore, at the Substation on 23 July 2005. Click here to read part 1.
The early religious community had to determine whose writing should be included in the Bible and the Church in Council finally came in to sort out these religious documents and officially gave its approval to form what we now have as the Holy Bible.
The Church leaders continued to give their interpretation of what was interpreted in the first place by the writers of the different books of the Bible. Then as good Protestants we could not accept that and called for individual interpretations of the Bible. The Bible which was denied by the Roman Catholic Church was then made available to individual Christians for their reading, study and interpretation.
The interpretations of the Bible from the outset reflected also the historical and cultural situations which prevailed then and continue to do so in the work of those who study the Bible today. Our first task is to try to understand what is meant when it was written and how it relates to us in our contemporary setting.
When I first studied for the Christian ministry I was assigned a book to read which was influential in my understanding about the Bible and Biblical interpretation. The title of the book is The Bible Speaks to our Generation. I must add the Bible continues to speak to each succeeding generation and we need to re-examine our interpretation in every generation.
In Biblical times and in Jewish history we find that it was a patriarchal society in which men ruled. Men are the head of the household. Women are seen to be subordinate and therefore submissive to men. In fact, the wife of the man is his property and it was the religious duty of the women to be producing babies, taking care of the family, and satisfying the sexual needs of men. You will find a number of Biblical passages describing this role of women. Can you subscribe to this restrictive feminine role today?
This famous quotation from Greek writer Demosthenes makes it clear: "This is what it means to be married: to have sons one can introduce to the family and the neighbours, and to have daughters of one's own to give to husbands. For we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to attend to our daily bodily needs, and wives to bear children legitimately and to be faithful wards of our homes."
Furthermore, the passages of same-sex acts must be seen in the light of the Jewish opposition to pagan religions. The Greek and Roman culture influenced those who wrote the New Testament and coloured their reactions to pagan temple prostitution and sexual acts.
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 6:9. The two Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai have been translated differently at different times in different versions of the Bible in English. The King James Version in 1611 regarded them to mean those who are effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind, which was close to the Greek meaning.
The original Revised Standard Version (the New Testament first appeared in 1946) was the first translation ever to use the word "homosexual." It translated the two words to mean homosexuals or sexual perverts. Then in 1978 the New International Version translated them as male prostitutes and homosexual offenders. It was the New Revised Version in 1989 which renders them as male prostitutes and sodomites. It must be noted that the word homosexual was not used in the earlier period. It was in 1180 that the word sodomy was first used. There is no such word as "sodomite" in the original languages (Ezekiel 16:49-50 describes the sin of Sodom as pride, gluttony, not caring for the poor and needy).
Roman culture which expected people to engage in sex with both men and women. The majority of people, then as now, had a heterosexual orientation. Thus, to participate in same-sex behaviour, and to meet society's expectations, they would have had to disregard their sexual orientation. They would have gone beyond their own nature. "The resulting activity was "unseemly" and an "error" only because the men were heterosexual by orientation. Again, it was their attempt to violate their own nature, that is, their attempt to alter the orientation God created them with, that Paul was addressing... The bottom line is, God created each of us with a sexual orientation. To attempt to change it is, in effect, telling God that He created us wrong. The creation (us) does not have the right to "re-create" itself."
The situation to the ancient Romans is similar to the situation that homosexuals find themselves in today: society expects them to be heterosexual, and to engage in sexual activity with persons of the opposite gender -- even to marry. And so, many gays and lesbians go against their nature and try to pretend to be heterosexual.
The NGPA also notes that Paul referred to this as an "error": a mistake, not a sin.
Seow Choon Leong of Princeton Theological Seminary: "I used to believe that divorce is wrong under any circumstance, simply because that is what the scriptures teach. I could -- and still can -- quote chapter and verse from the Bible (Matthew 5:31), particularly the words of Jesus. I have since learned from friends and loved ones what horrible traps bad marriages can be. People suffer enormously; some people even kill themselves because of bad marriages that they cannot otherwise escape. Some people suffer physical abuse in such marriages. Some are even killed. Unlike the friends of Job, I am not willing to uphold dogma at all costs, certainly not when I know that people are suffering and dying. I have gone back to reread the scriptures and I have heard the gospel anew.
"I also used to believe that homosexual acts are always wrong. Listening to gay and lesbian students and friends, however, I have had to rethink my position and reread the scriptures. Seeing how gay and lesbian people suffer discrimination, face the rejection of family and friends, risk losing their jobs, and live in fear of being humiliated and bashed, I cannot see how anyone would prefer to live that way. I do not understand it all, but I am persuaded that it is not a matter of choice. Seeing how some gay and lesbian couples relate to one another in loving partnerships, observing how much joy they find in one another, and seeing that some of them are better parents than most of us will ever be, I have reconsidered my views. I was wrong.
"From the testimony of homosexual persons and from various reports, I have learned that there is an extraordinarily high rate of suicide among homosexual persons. People are dying every day because of society's attitudes -- indeed, because of the church's stance. Many people hate themselves because of what society and the church say about them. I know of many homosexual persons in the ministry who have been very effective for the cause of Jesus Christ, but they suffer tremendous guilt because they have to keep their secret from the church they love dearly.... They are hurt by the church. I cannot believe that we are called to perpetuate such pain and suffering in the world.... For me there is nothing less than the gospel at stake."
All the religious, historical, social and cultural factors must be taken into account into reading and interpreting specifically the few Biblical texts regarded to be related to the issue of same-sex attraction. Just to quote the words of the Bible without looking at the context and the traditions related to them is just not enough and irresponsible.
Then we have to examine our contemporary understanding of ourselves and our community. We are sexual beings with our urges, drives, desires and attractions.
As a heterosexual, I just accept my condition and I don't question it. I was made that way in being attracted to the opposite sex. Since the majority of God's people are heterosexual this powerful majority became regarded as normal. They view those who are different from them as abnormal or deviant. Those whom God has endowed with same-sex attractions are forced to question themselves. Is this normal? Is this acceptable to God? You know that you cannot change your sexual orientation and we as heterosexuals know too well that we have no desire to become homosexual. We have to relate to our different sexualities as given by God and we cannot fully comprehend the purposes of God in ordering different sexual conditions.
Especially within the Jewish/ Christian/ Muslim religious and cultural traditions we have changing attitudes towards sex. It is made more difficult when we view the spirit or soul as spiritual, and matter and body as material, and we place a higher value on things of the spirit and tend to despise the material body. We tend to believe that God is only spiritual, dwelling in the heavenly realm and totally unrelated to the material and earthly plane. Consequently we regard sex as evil and celebrate the virtue of celibacy and the denial of all things sexual. Who dares to say anything about Jesus' being? He comes through as divine and therefore assumed to be sexless. Such is not the case of our friend Paul the Apostle who recognised the flaming power of sex though he did not give room to express it himself.
The Early Church Fathers viewed sexuality as a result of the Fall of Adam. The highest virtue for the Christian is that of martyrdom followed by virginity and celibacy. The lowest rung is the state of marriage. Sex is seen as a danger to Christian piety. Sexual abstinence in marriage is better than that of procreating children. The least good is that of enjoying sex. St. Augustine was troubled about sexual lusts and linked all sexual union with original sin. Later St Aquinas judged sexual acts in this manner: "They must be done for the right purpose (procreation), with the right person (one's lawfully wedded spouse), and in the right way (heterosexual genital intercourse)."
Now there is general recognition that sex is not only for procreation. In Biblical times we have injunctions about semen, masturbation and attitudes about menstruation relating to procreation. This was modified by the Catholic Church with regard to family planning and population control. The Protestant churches generally have no problems with the use of condoms to prevent conception and with the issue of abortion.
Today there is also increasing acceptance of sex as described by James Nelson: God's primary purpose in creating us as sexual beings is not that of procreation, but rather to give us the desire and capacity to love and to bond with others in intimacy. Thus, theology has given new attention to the insight that sexuality is crucial to God's design that creatures do not dwell in isolation and loneliness but in communion and community.
God's fundamental purpose in creating us as sexual beings was not that we might make babies, but that we might make love. I believe as sexual beings we are concerned with love, intimacy, mutuality, sexuality. Sexual intercourse is exploitative when it is not mutually satisfying or an expression of intimacy and love for one another.
John Boswell in his historical studies revealed that the Early Church did not generally oppose homosexual behaviour as such. The opposition that arose during the third to sixth centuries was due to the demise of urban culture, government regulation on personal morality and church pressures toward asceticism. Hostility appeared only in the late twelfth century.
Marriage was not celebrated by Christian wedding services in church worship until perhaps the ninth century. It was considered as a civil order and not a religious rite or church ceremony before that.
Today, I regard mutuality, intimacy, life-long committed relationships, and sexual pleasure as important values for marital relationships for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
What I have done in this presentation is to share with you the background of my perspective on same-sex attraction. We may not have the time to go into greater detail the different interpretations of the particular passages of the Bible which you have so much trouble with. I have outlined the way in which we should approach them. Maybe RedQuEEn! can structure some study sessions to further clarify them and help you to come to the realisation that same-sex attraction is not a sin but an orientation, holy and acceptable in the sight of God.