I have thought a lot about same-sex relationships as the topic intersects with the Bible and religion, and have blogged about it in the past. I don’t feel as though anything I read previously transformed my perspective on this topic quite as much as having sat in recently on a class about gender and sexuality in Islam, focused in particular on same-sex eroticism in Ottoman poetry.
What’s the connection, you might ask? Think about it. The Greek world and the Ottoman Empire largely overlapped. The cultural worlds in which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam appeared are not precisely identical, but there are extensive shared values across the relevant regions, and nothing like the borders that now exist between modern nation states existed then.
Learning about how widely accepted it was to give expression to erotic sentiment towards someone of the same gender, and how the Islamic tradition defined what in English was historically referred to as sodomy (anal intercourse) as prohibited, I was struck more clearly than I had ever been reading about the Greek cultural context of the New Testament by how this relates to the Bible. Indeed, we could start with the Hebrew Bible, which may condemn this type of intercourse but says nothing about the sentiments and seems perfectly fine with the love expressed between David and Jonathan. In the context of the Greco-Roman world in which Christianity emerged, there was a view of same-sex intercourse of particular types as involving one of the two individuals adopting a role and thereby a status belonging to the other gender. Patriarchy is the dominant context for this viewpoint.
In other words, the thing that so many modern conservatives rail against, discriminate against, and falsely claim to be able to cure, namely same-sex attraction, is not merely what is at issue in these religious traditions and cultures from the Mediterranean and Middle East. The issue is a particular form of intercourse. I am not suggesting that this ancient viewpoint ought to be adopted as normative instead. What I am trying to highlight is that the modern conservative repulsion towards same-sex eroticism is not there in the sacred texts they tend to appeal to in an attempt to justify their aversion.
Of related interest:
Many have expressed disappointment about the Pope’s recent statement on this topic.
Franklin Graham agrees with the Vatican on this.