As the State Senate and Governor of Arizona consider allowing "religious freedom" to deny goods and services to people who identify as gay or lesbian, why not revisit what the religion of those seeking to legalize discrimination really teaches? We all know the out-of-context Torah verses about extramarital gay sex and the Christian letter to the Romans verse that lists extramarital gay sex with a host of other sins. But what about monogamous partnership between same-sex partners sharing a household, not able to legally wed by Jewish or Roman law, but living as if they were?
Did Jesus praise the faith of a gay man who asked for healing for his partner as greater than that of the religious faithful? Did Jesus then say that self-righteous religious types who expected to dwell at God's table would be surprised not to be permitted there, while those like this faithful gay man would be seated at a place of honor? At the recent Biola Queer Underground event "Transgender and Christianity 101," Reverend Gina of Good Samaritan MCC Whittier (CA) shared with me that this indeed is what the Bible teaches in the story of the Roman centurion in the Gospel of Matthew 8, and she seems to be right.
Study of the original text in contrast with English translations suggests that the gay aspect of the relationship has been deliberately hidden from every English version most of us have ever read by translators with a heteronormative agenda, but in the gospel's original Greek, the word for a sexually receptive gay male partner ("pais") is the word used by the centurion (v. 6 and 8) and by the gospel writer (v. 13) to describe the one who is sick and suffering at home, who will get well on Jesus's command, and who is then healed by Jesus. The Roman centurion is lovesick, worried and has faith in God, specifically as channeled through Jesus. In response, Jesus never condemns or even questions the love between this man and his gay partner, but rather Jesus praises his faith and restores his partner to health so their relationship can continue. (This healing is not one of those times Jesus heals then says, "but go and sin no more.")
When Luke retells the story in a gospel written considerably later, "pais" is replaced by the word "doulos" or servant, and Bible translators into English replace "pais" in Matthew with that Lucan term. Many Greek-to-English Bible lectionaries likewise give preference to less common, more generalized translations such as "son" or "child" without mentioning the far more common translation in relation to gay partnership. Specifically, "pais" is the root word of "paiderastia," pederasty -- the Greek social relationship in which a slightly older male mentors and loves a slightly younger male in an erotic love relationship, "erastes" for the older or dominant male, "eromenos" for the beloved receptive partner. In contrast, ancient Greek-to-English dictionaries that are not Bible lectionaries primarily focus on contextual information as to how and why "pais" is a gay erotic partnership term throughout ancient Greco-Roman culture and literature, as it would have been understood by the gospel writer of Mathew and by Jesus Himself. Most importantly, the preservation of this story in the gospel witnessed to the blessed presence of committed, loving, monogamous same-sex pair-bonding to the original audiences who heard and read it in Greek, who would have understood this term in this way.
We who love partners of the same sex then can embrace this Jesus who affirms and preserves our partnerships as our Jesus, but as the One who heals our lovers and celebrates our faith. We are not condemned by a God who hates us and our love, as religious bigots with a heteronormative agenda would claim. Jesus praised and honored the faith of a gay soldier in love and healed his lover, and the Bible itself preserves the story, proclaiming this loving gay partner's faith to the whole church as an example for the whole Christian faith community of what real, living faith is. Without any shame or doubt, we who are LGBTQ can celebrate our loving partnerships and praise God for them -- not in hesitant hope for God's mercy and mere tolerance, but knowing that God's praises and preserves our love and faith. We are free indeed, free to love faithfully our God and our beloved with no hesitation or self-doubt but with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, as Jesus commands later in the gospel of Matthew (22.37). I praise God for the gift of same-sex faithful love as a means of grace.
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