Question: You marched in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. Was this your first time? What did you think of it?
Answer: Yes, this was the first time I marched in a gay pride parade. It’s the first time I even attended one.
As a student of ritual I should have attended one years ago. Gay pride festivals and parades are mounted around the world today, especially in North America and Western Europe. But I’ve seen pictures of Gay Pride festivals and parades also in Australia and Singapore. Gay pride restores the word “gay” to its original meaning as “festive.” Gay Pride activities have become a new form of carnival or festival. And, like all carnivals and festivals (think Mardi Gras) it is, as anthropologist Edward Muir says, about “the lower body” (see his Rituals in Early Modern Europe). This means that there will be a strong element of blatant displays of sexuality. In pride festivals around the world you see a lot of men and older youth parading in or attending parades in briefs and flip-flops and women marching bare-breasted except for tape over their nipples (because of local ordinances that prohibit exposing breasts) as well as cross-dressers and gender-benders.
We arrived at the designated line-up areas. The religious groups were all together on the east side of one block. This float was across from us on the west side. (My photo)
The waiting time as we lined up gave us a chance to meet one another in the Episcopal and other religious groups as well as marchers in some of the other floats and contingents, including fro the float across the street.
Of course, I marched in response to the tragic murders in the Pulse Night Club, about which I have offered reflections on this blog. I marched with a contingent of Episcopalians (although I’m Lutheran) and, as advised by the Episcopal organizers, I wore a clergy shirt and collar (black, of course). There were several church or religious groups among the parade contingents. The only clergy identifiable by “uniform” that I saw were about six of us in the Episcopal contingent of about 60 persons.
(photo from my iphone)
With members of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, the Rev. Kristin White, rector (next to me under my hat – protection from sun or rain, depending on the weather)
As we marched along I started getting into the spirit of the parade by slapping or grasping the hands of those attending (a million along the parade route in Chicago). Parade goers like interaction with those parading. Sometimes it was just for fun, but a few along the route held my hand a little longer and said things like “thank you, Father.” There were a few huggers along the route, and as I accepted their hugs I started getting behind. I found myself marching with the Catholic Dignity contingent. There was no Catholic priest with them, which I thought was too bad since Pope Francis has encouraged the posture of “accompanying” gay brothers and sisters in the faith. On the very day of the Gay Pride parades in many cities around the world, the pope said to reporters on board his return flight to Rome from Armenia, “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally.”
After a couple of blocks I caught up with the Episcopalians. Around a bend toward the end of the parade route there was a group of “Christian” anti-gay protesters exercising their right of free speech. Some of our group countered their shouts of “God hates fags” with counter shouts of “God is love.” (My photo)
This kind of witness is not likely to result in any dialogue, much less the repentance these Christians undoubtedly want from homosexuals. The attitude of newly empowered gays is more likely, “I’m gay, get over it.”
There were also those along the parade route who held signs that expressed sorrow for Christian hate. Some of these anti-anti-gay protesters received hugs from marchers (see also the photo below this post).
As I completed the parade and made my way back along the crowded sidewalks I came upon those anti-gay Christians. They were shouting insults against marchers and their floats. One that struck me as especially hurtful was when PFLAG marched by (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). They called out through their bullhorn, “You haven’t raised your children right. You’re sending them to hell.” I can attest that parents of gay children have searched their souls about why their children are gay. We don’t know why some people have same-sex attractions. We do know that it is our God-given responsibility to love and support the children God has given to us.
A large sign above the anti-gay protesters’ stand quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9. I don’t know which version of the Bible they were using. In their version, among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God were “the effeminate” and “homosexuals.” When I got back home I checked eight versions and none of them used both of these terms, although the Living Bible is the worst by joining St. Paul’s two Greek words together as “homosexuals.” Here’s how the New International Version renders the text: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men…”
The Greek New Testament doesn’t use the word “homosexual” because it is a modern term developed in the social sciences to contrast with heterosexual. The translation “men who have sex with men” is too general. Paul uses the specific words malakoi, which suggests someone taking the submissive role in sex, and arsenokoitai, which suggests someone taking the dominant role. Arsenokoitai is a neologism, which means it is a unique word. One issue in interpretation is why Paul would use a made-up word when Greek terms referring to male-on-male sex were generally available.
Some commentators have suggested that Paul is trying to find a Greek equivalent for the Hebrew term in Leviticus 18:22, which refers to male-on-male sex as an “abomination.” The term “abomination” in the Old Testament is usually reserved for idolatrous practices, such as cult prostitution. Paul could have been referring to cult prostitution in one of the Corinthian temples since “idolaters” are mentioned in the list of those who won’t enter the kingdom of God. The city of Corinth had a huge temple to Aphrodite in which sacred sex was practiced. Others have suggested that he is referring to male prostitution in general in which the submissive (bottom) person is the male prostitute and the dominant (top) person is the paying customer. A port city like Corinth had many brothels. Boys and young men would be desirable sex objects for men. These call boys would be malakoi, “soft ones,” i.e. boys or youth. A further issue, especially with regard to temple prostitutes, is that slave boys were given to the temple for this purpose as a contribution.
This etching shows a man bartering with a young man for his services.
Pederasty was widely practiced in ancient Greece and was socially accepted. It would also cover both terms (both submissive and dominant roles). It had been a cultural practice for centuries in ancient Greece for men to become mentors to boys and initiate boys into adult sexuality. But the expectation was that boys would marry and assume their expected roles in society. There are explicit drawings of pederastic relationships on ancient Greek urns.
Cult prostitution, regular prostitution, pederasty — yes, these sorts of activities can’t come into the kingdom of God. But this text is not equivalent to saying that “all homosexuals are going to hell.” In fact, there is no reason to believe that these kinds of male-on-male sex is “homosexual,” as we understand the term. Pederasty in particular was pervasive in the ancient Greek culture as a rite of passage. Neither the “students” nor their “mentors” were necessarily homosexual, as we understand the term.
The terms St. Paul uses certainly don’t cover young men and women exploring their gender identities and sexual orientations. As the father of two gay sons I have no idea why someone is gay. Genes? Environment? Nature? Nurture? We know why persons of opposite sex are attracted to each other. Why are persons of the same sex attracted to each other and not to persons of the opposite sex? Human sexuality is still a mystery that we haven’t totally unraveled with all the studies of same-sex attraction in biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology.
The Bible isn’t as helpful in dealing with these issues as we might think. Every reference which suggests same-sex activities deals with specific situations. In fact, none of the biblical references to male-on-male sex describe homosexuality as we understand it today.
The Sodomites in Genesis 19 who wanted to gang rape the two angels, the “abominations” condemned in Leviticus 18 which may have referred to cult prostitution, the debaucheries of Roman high society in Romans 1:26-27 in which both women and men here “exchanged their nature” to have sex with persons of the same sex, or worse, don’t refer to those who have a same-sex attraction. In fact, the problem in Romans of “exchanging natures” was that free men should not take a submissive role and women should not take a dominant role in the sex act. These sexual positions for men (dominant) and women (submissive) continued to be taught by the medieval church as the proper sexual roles for husbands and wives!
When I review all these biblical passages, I find no clear biblical condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible in terms of our modern understanding of it as a same-sex orientation and attraction. This doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in the ancient world, but the Bible is silent about it. We can’t just read stuff into the Bible.
After a long list of “every kind of wickedness” in Romans 1:29-30, in addition to the sexual aberrations mentioned in 1:26-27, St. Paul goes on to say in 2:1, “…you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” The apostle is leading up to his main point in 3:23 that “Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Homosexuals are sinners like everyone else, but not because they are homosexuals. And they are justified by grace, like all who “fall short of the glory of God”.
Of course, we do not sin that grace may abound. Homosexuals, like all sinners, commit sins, including sins of the flesh, that are in need of repentance, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. We need a moral theology that helps us to sort out these transgressions. I think such sins would turn out to be not unlike heterosexual sins of the flesh — i.e. having more to do with relationships than biology, such as being insensitive to the sexual needs of others, demeaning others for their physical attributes, rape, and taking unfair advantage of others in sexual matters.
In any event, I’m glad I went to the Gay Pride Parade. I’m glad I made a witness to the God of love made known to us in Jesus Christ, at least by my presence as a Christian pastor accompanying gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, and queer brothers and sisters and providing comfort to their parents and families just by participating.
Many clergy and churches have yet to figure out how to provide appropriate pastoral care to GLBTQ church members. The Gay Pride celebrations in 2016 have also been celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a civil right and therefore should be legally recognized. This is a separate issue because the Bible is clear about marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman. It says nothing about same-sex marriage, even though it was practiced in the Greco-Roman world. Maybe that is our clue. The Bible doesn’t help us on that issue. So the church has to figure out how to respond pastorally to this new legal right available to its members.
The starting point for many is overcoming homophobia. How do we accompany those whose sexuality makes us uncomfortable? We might begin by becoming comfortable with hugging gays and lesbians. For me I had to become comfortable hugging anyone since there wasn’t any hugging in my family of origin. But besides my wife and my daughter, I also had two gay sons to practice on.
Pastor Frank Senn