About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Quid

    “It also makes me wonder what we will be deciding ten years from now.”

    Probably the legalization of pedophilia or something equally depraved. This is the result of an evolving sense of a universal value.

  • Steven Tuell

    Thank you, Caryn, for this post. The Supreme Court, by these decisions, could have recognized that our moral position on the issue of gay marriage has changed: as it changed earlier regarding divorce and remarriage, and interracial marriage. Unfortunately, Kennedy’s opinion could instead be read (and has been read already, by some) as inferring, not only that moral disapproval is an invalid reason for a law, but that morality itself has no role in the law–hence the claims that polygamy, adult incest, or even (again that old bugaboo) bestiality may no longer be regarded as subject to legislative censure. It is the same old slippery slope, camel’s nose under the tent argument, which has never had any validity. Perhaps the Court could not use the positive language of moral persuasion, but people of faith can, and should. Solid moral and biblical arguments can be raised, and have been raised, for the full inclusion of LGBT folk.

    • Quid

      Do you mean like when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah?

      • Steven Tuell

        Thank you for asking. Sodom certainly becomes understood as symbol of God’s judgment on homosexuality (hence, the term “sodomy”), but not in the Bible. The Sodom story in Gen 19 is not about anyone’s idea of consensual sex–it is about rape, sexual torture, and violence performed on outsiders. The photos from Abu Ghraib–of prisoners stripped naked, forced into suggestive positions, piled atop one another–remind us of this: the (mostly male) perpetrators of this abuse were not homosexuals, and the humiliation of these prisoners had nothing to do with sex. God sends his representatives to Sodom because of the cry (Hebrew za’aqah or tsa’aqah)–a word used specifically for the cry of the oppressed and persecuted outsider (for example, Exod 22:21-24).

        There are some 47 verses that refer to Sodom in Scripture. The most common use of Sodom in these passages (21x) is as an example of total destruction brought by divine wrath (for example, Deut 29:23; Matt 11:24//Lk 10:12), with no specific reason given for the destruction. When a reason is given, the destruction is understood as a penalty for injustice and violence (Ezek 16:49-50; note that in the book of Ezekiel, the word translated “abomination” [Hebrew to'ebah] is used consistently for idol worship [for example, Ezek 5:11]). In only one place is Sodom’s punishment related to sex: Jude 7: they “pursued unnatural lust” (NRSV). However, in the context, this is not about homosexuality. A more literal rendering of the Greek opiso sarkos heteras would be “going after other, or strange, flesh.” The people of Sodom are said to act “in the same manner” as the angels “kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6), a quote from an early Jewish work sometimes called 1 Enoch (6-19). Those condemned angels had sex with human women (see Gen 6:1-4). In Jude, the men of Sodom, condemned for acting “in the same manner” as those condemned angels, try to have sexual relations with heavenly beings–that is what “other flesh” means in Jude, not same-sex relations.

        In short, the Sodom story has nothing to do with our contemporary debates about human sexuality.

        • Quid

          The “unnatural lust” in Jude explains the reason why God chose to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels show up after God has made his decision to warn Lot to get out of there. Clearly there must have been something the citizens were doing before the angels came to invoke God’s wrath. But even if you don’t believe that story, the Bible’s full of evidence condemning gay marriage, while it doesn’t condone it at all. Let’s look at the New Testament.

          In context of talking about a group whom God has condemned, Paul says “Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity” (Romans 1:26-27).

          Also from Paul, “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites…will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

          I could go on, but you have to completely twist Paul’s words to come up with anything different from the clearly stated message here.

          • Steven Tuell

            About Sodom: certainly there was something that prompted God’s response–the cry of the oppressed stranger (Gen 18:20). Lot, in contrast, shows hospitality to the strangers, and knowing that they would suffer abuse without his protection, insists that they stay in his house–without knowing who they are!

            The words used in the sin list in 1 Cor 6, as in its rough parallel in 1 Tim 1:9-10, are uncommon, and their meaning is uncertain. “Malakoi” in 1 Cor 6:9 means literally, “soft ones” (see Matt 11:8//Lk 7:25 “soft robes”). The NRSV
            and NIV has “male prostitutes, the KJV has “effeminate.” Many have suggested that this refers to pederasty (malakos [“soft”] is used in that context, though not with that meaning). 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 both also used the term arsenokoitai (“lie with a man”?). The NRSV has “sodomites” in both places; NIV has “homosexual offenders” in 1 Cor,
            “perverts” in 1 Tim; KJV has “abusers of themselves with mankind” in 1 Cor; “them that defile themselves with mankind” in 1 Tim. This word is not found anywhere prior to Paul: Rob Gagnon suggests that he coined the word, with reference to Lev 18:22 in the LXX (the Greek translation of Jewish Scripture, where terms arsen, “male,” and koite, “bed,” specifically “marriage bed,” both appear). Robin Scrogg suggests that it is a translation of a rabbinic term, mishkab zakur (lie with a male) used for
            pederasty.

            Both of these obscure words, then, may involve child abuse. Paul’s near-contemporaries Seneca, Plutarch, and Dio Chrysostom also object to the sexual exploitation of boys (and sometimes girls) enslaved in households for
            same-sex relations–a common practice in the Greco-Roman world.

            As for whether we can disagree with Paul without twisting his words–we will have to agree to disagree on that.

    • Quid

      Or when Paul refers to homosexuality as a “perversity” (Romans 1:27)

      • Steven Tuell

        Romans 1:24-27 is part of a larger argument: Paul wants to demonstrate commonality of all, Jew and Gentile alike, before God–all are sinners alienated from God, and all now find reconciliation to God through Jesus (see 2:9ff; 3:21-26). The sin of Jews is easy to demonstrate, for Paul” God revealed God’s Torah, and they did not abide by it. But what about the Gentiles, who were not given the Torah? Here, Paul says, creation itself reveals God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (1:20). Idolatry, in Paul’s view, is thus the result of a perverse rejection of God’s revelation of Godself in creation. Because the Gentiles turned to idols, Paul says, “God gave them up” (1:24)—same-sex relations are a consequence of
        idolatry.

        This idea is grounded in Paul’s view of creation: as we are made in God’s image, our humanness is compromised and distorted by failure to recognize God. In his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreters Bible, N.T. Wright notes that 1:24-27 is an inseparable part of Paul’s argument “It is quite logical to say that we disagree with Paul or that in light of our greater knowledge of human psychology we need to reassess the matter. That can be argued either way. What we cannot do is to sideline this passage as irrelevant to Christian ethical discourse.”

        So, can we disagree with Paul on this? I suggest that we can, and do, do this. For example, in 1 Cor 15, Paul’s view of resurrection is grounded in Aristotelian science: just as celestial bodies (the sun, moon, and stars) are different from our earthly, terrestrial bodies, so the resurrection body is different from our present physical existence. Of course, we know that the same elements and fundamental particles that make up the stars are also make us. But the importance of Paul’s teaching on resurrection does not require that we adopt his physics. Just so, I would argue, understanding Paul’s argument about our radical need for God’s grace in Christ in the opening chapters of Romans does not require us to adopt Paul’s view of human sexuality. Further, as Wright goes on to state, Paul has something more important to say in Romans 1-2: “Romans 1 is followed at once by Romans 2, with its emphatic warning against a moral superiority complex. As the argument goes on its way, Paul’s most damning condemnation is reserved, not for those who engage in what he sees as dehumanizing practices, but for those who adopt a posture of innate moral virtue while themselves failing in their most basic vocation, to be the light of the world.”

        • Quid

          The Bible is infallible in matters of faith and morals. If you don’t believe that, you’re not Christian. There are plenty of scientific errors in the Bible that we don’t need to hold as true, otherwise we would have to believe the earth is a few thousand years old, for example. But you can’t pick and choose which moral teachings to believe in. If Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit when he condemns something as a sin, it’s a sin. If you’re not comfortable with the moral teachings explicitly stated in the Bible, either you’re wrong or the Bible is, in which case Christianity is a lie.

          I could make the same argument for murder–sure God is very clear in the 10 commandments, and Jesus and Paul are equally clear in their teachings, but I think that commandment limits my freedom, so I’m going to ignore the Holy Spirit on this one. I probably know better anyway.

          I think at this point it’s pretty clear what’s going on. The evidence against homosexuality is so clear in the Bible that not even those who support gay marriage can deny it, so they’re reduced to claiming only parts of the Bible are true and inspired, not all of it.


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