Sharing Ourselves
What a Difference 400 Years Makes

The Church Fathers Messed Us Up and Contemporary Moderates Are Inconsistent

As she concludes her research and argument in Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, Bernadette J. Brooten writes:

Augustine brings us to a new stage in early Christian thinking about the erotic. Paul and Tertullian and Clement condemned same-sex love as unnatural, exhorting their followers to live according to an order of creation in which man is head of woman. These three thinkers, even though they differed in their evaluation of marriage, nevertheless all assumed the sanctity of marriages characterized by sexual intercourse between veiled, subordinate wives and husbands who instruct them. Augustine introduces a note of profound sadness into the discussion by claiming that original sin is passed on to a child at the moment of conception. Even a "natural," procreative sexual act between a subordinate wife and a husband who rules over her is deeply disturbed and characterized by sin, since humans cannot totally submit their sexual urges to their will. By asserting that sin imbues even a "natural" sexual act within the legal confines of marriage, Augustine subtly banishes "unnatural" sexual acts even further outside the realm of holiness.


Part of Brooten's argument, and that of many others, is that ancient arguments against same-sex relationships were based upon ancient conceptions of gender. An argument like hers stands as a rebuke to contemporary moderates who have already dismissed ancient conceptions of gender as not being normative for today (in issues related to gender equality in the church), yet remain vague on their positions of same-sex relationships.

Comments

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natalie

...I would just like to comment to say that I have nothing to say about this post... :) I love you Scooter!

mary casey

are you coming to the block party this weekend?
-mc

call me

mary casey

are you coming to the block party this weekend?
-mc

call me

Scott Jones

Yes, I am.

marty

I get the distinct impression that Paul was very much uncomfortable with sexuality in general but found it easier to condemn same-sex intercourse in toto.
Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that Paul had some really good stuff to say. I get this image of him as somebody I wouldn't have liked much, a very conservative pastor type who had a "my way or the highway" attitude. I don't think I'm entirely right about that. I guess it displays the problem with bringing my own baggage to the table when reading the Bible, eh?

Robert Asbell

The baggage that I bring to the table when reading Paul (or any other Biblical text) is that of a recovering naturalist. Even though I was brought up in a conservative church and wanted to believe, my epistemic attitude would not allow me ground faith in reality. Now that I have become aware of this, I am no longer easily convinced that Paul did not have apostolic authority; that he wasn't sent by Christ himself to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In short, not everybody believes that Paul just merely 'had some good things to say', But that Paul and his writing were the word of God. Now if this is fundamentalism, then not only will my mind not allow me to dismiss it, But I'm proudly open to it.

marty

I should clarify. I'm not trying to dismiss Pauline writings, but rather I'm trying to reconcile the parts I don't like with the parts I do. I'm not one who believes, you know, in verbal plenary. But I do think God lead our forbears to include most of what they did (that's such a loaded sentence, ripe for refutation... I'll leave it as it is, though). And I like my Bible with what it has. (Note: my Bible is the New Oxford Annotated and includes the "Apocrypha" so... take that as you may.)

Joe

I always thought when Paul was condeming same sex intercourse he was doing so because it was being done as an adulterous affair. Meaning, husbands and wives were changing partners and experimenting with one another just to do it. Kind of like swingers.

Scott Jones

Joe, that was very common. There were examples of committed same-sex relationships in the ancient world, but a general bisexuality that was promiscuous was very common in the upper classes of the ancient world, though not ubiquitous.

Joe

So, would you say they were chosing that lifestyle instead of claiming to be born that way. And if that's the case, then I think it is a misinterpretation by theologians.

Scott Jones

Joe, the ancient world didn't have the same concept of orientation that has been developed only since 1879. For the ancients, the governing category in sex was power (not consent or mutuality or love or whatever it is in standard contemporary ethics). Sexuality was based on the division between active and passive -- some people were to be active and others were to be passive and it depended upon one's place in a social hierarchy based upon domination. Women were always supposed to be passive. Men of the upper class were always supposed to be active. Boys, slaves, and the lower classes could be active over women, but were to be passive to men who were their social superiors.

Of course, as with any society, there were a wide range of ethical positions. There seems to be the standard behaviour of the majority, with some figures calling for stricter standards, and some engage in very loose standards.

The idea that the social norm is that sex should be a mutual act between two consenting partners is a relatively modern development, even in opposite sex relationships.

Scott Jones

Robert,

I am posting the dissertation on its own site. It is slow going because it is on my home computer in Dallas. Plus, converting the format takes some time (I want to keep the references, so that means changing the footnotes by hand).

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