Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Truth Will Set You Free

What if everything you've been told your entire life about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and same sex relationships turned out not to be true. That is exactly what a student at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana argues in a study entitled "The Bible, Christianity & Homosexuality". Justin R. Cannon says he undertook the study several years ago out of intellectual curiosity "when [he] decided that [he] need[ed] to know once and for all what the Bible says about homosexuality." Specifically, his study took a look at the six Bible verses that are so often cited by Christian fundamentalists as a condemnation of homosexuality and same sex relationships. What may come as a surprise to many is Cannon's conclusion that the Bible really has little to say about homosexuality at all. Instead, Cannon argues, the oft-cited Bible verses were actually directed at particular offenses such as prostitution, breach of hospitality or an assault on male patriarchy.

Justin Cannon's study opens with the astute observation that the word "homosexual" did not exist in Greek or Hebrew as it does in the modern English language. In fact, the word was not even coined until about 100 years ago and did not appear in the Bible until the 1946 Revised Standard version. Similarly, Cannon notes that the words "sodomy" and "sodomite" did not exist in early Greek or Hebrew languages. A Sodomite Cannon says "would have been simply an inhabitant of Sodom, just as a Moabite would have been an inhabitant of Moab, though the word sodomite does not show up in biblical Greek or Hebrew." Cannon continues, "Any translation of the Bible making use of the words sodomy or sodomite are clear interpretations and not faithful translations."

Cannon begins with the Sodom Account found in Genesis 19:1-9 because it has played a central role historically in Biblical interpretation of homosexuality. The City of Sodom was visited upon by two male angels sent by God to warn Lot of the approaching destruction of Sodom. When Lot welcomed the angels into his home and prepared a meal for them, his house was surrounded by a group of men demanding to have sex with them. Lot refused to give up the two angels, but instead offered the group of men his two virgin daughters. The group of men demanded that Lot give them the two angels and tried to break down his door. The angels secured Lot in his home and blinded the crowd of men. Because Lot offered his daughters to the men rather than the two angels, Cannon says this has been interpreted to mean that homosexual sex would have been worse than heterosexual sex. Whatever is happening in the scene, Cannon notes that "the crowd of men wished to sexually assault or 'gangbang' the angels" and that it was a "form of rape." Lot offered his daughters to the crowd instead of the angels because they were guest in his homes, and, according to Cannon, "in Lot’s day, hospitality was a nearly sacred concept, and it is that distinction that Lot expresses: the visitors are his guests."

The only thing we can really conclude from the passage, if any, Cannon says is that homosexual rape was worse than heterosexual rape. Cannon says, "To use this story to condemn loving and committed homosexual couples is unfounded and truly stretching this story outside of its historical framework, but that is exactly what has happened." In fact, it may say as much about a breach of hospitality as it does anything of a sexual nature Cannon suggests. He also observes that God had already made the decision to destroy Sodom before the angels were sent to Lot's home. Accordingly, the incident with the gang of men outside Lot's home was not the cause for God's destruction of Sodom.

The condemnation of "sodomites" found in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is actually translated from a Greek word "arsenokoitai." An analysis of the true meaning of the word leads Cannon to conclude that it was more than likely a reference to male prostitution. Cannon observes that it was a common practice in Paul's time to have slave "pet" boys whom adult men would exploit for their own sexual gratification. Cannon cites Dr. Ralph Blair as saying, “The desired boys were prepubescent or at least without beards so that they seemed like females.” It is fair to conclude, according to Cannon, that it was this practice that was being condemned and not homosexuality or same sex relationships in general.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 we are told that "sexual perverts" will not "inherit the kingdom of God." This terms is actually derived from two words, "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai" according to Cannon. Again, these terms refer to the same male prostitutes mentioned in Timothy, "those soft prepubescent 'pet' boys." It is this form of male prostitution that is being condemned by God Cannon argues.

Similarly, in Romans 1:24-27, the following passage has been taken out of context to condemn homosexuality: "Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error." Cannon notes that what these men and women referred to by Paul were giving up was what was natural to them: heterosexual sex. In Cannon's view, "[t]hese men, we see, divorced themselves from their own nature, that of heterosexuality (natural relations with women), and were consumed with passion for one another." Cannon added, "Women did likewise"[, and "[a]s we see, Paul is talking about heterosexual individuals filled with lust and engaging in homosexual sex, which is contrary to their nature." An accurate reading of this text and a little historical knowledge "would identify this situation as an orgy, wherein everyone is filled with lust and 'dishonorable passions' having sex with whomever however" according to Cannon. What is really being condemned in Romans, according to Cannon, is going against what is your natural sexuality, which in reference to these persons was heterosexual.

It is the passage in Leviticus 18:22 that is most often cited as a condemnation of homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” But does it really mean what we've been told? Cannon points out that you have to understand the relationship between men and women at this time. Women were the property of men. Cannon quotes Rabbi Arthur Waskow in explaining the passage's true meaning who said the following: “The whole structure of sexuality in the Torah assumes a dominant male and a subordinate female. In other words, women were obedient to men, and men in that time would have been dominating and controlling in sexual encounters. The woman did what the man wanted and how the man wanted it. For a man in a sexual encounter to be treated in that way, within the Jewish culture of the time, the man would have to be taking a lower status, as well as being sexually dominated and controlled. To do so would have been reducing him to property and in effect defiling the image of God, which man was considered in that culture. This, however, is exactly how men would have treated the male temple prostitutes—in a controlling and abusive manner, and also is how individuals would have been treated in the sacred sexual orgies with which Baal was worshiped. They would have lied with other men 'as with a women'”. Again, Cannon concludes that Leviticus doesn't mean what it first appears to mean. "[The Leviticus passage] has to do with abusive cultic practices, and says nothing pertaining the issue we are faced with today—that of loving and committed homosexual relationships," Cannon says. Cannon thinks the the passage probably had more to do with the assault on male patriarchy than homosexuality.

In his conclusion, Cannon says it is important for "homosexual and heterosexual Christians alike . . . to know what the Bible says about homosexuality " Cannon says, "It is [his] prayer that we may set aside our fears and prejudices and open our minds and hearts to the truth which the Holy Spirit longs to make known to us all. [He] offer this study as one seeking that truth. May the Spirit of peace, which surpasses all understanding, guide our hearts and minds as we continue to prayerfully consider this issue".

Cannon should be applauded for undertaking this study, which is a sincere attempt to search for the truth on an issue that has so divided religions across the board based on solid research and facts. If you would like to learn more about Justin Cannon and his work, you can visit his website, And may the truth set you free.


Gary R. Welsh said...

Correction From Justin Cannon:

Hi Gary,

Thanks for mentioning my site in your blog. I look forward to sitting down and reading it. You do mention, "Justin R. Cannon says he undertook the study several years ago out of intellectual curiosity..." The study actually began not out of intellectual curiosity, but out of my desire as a gay Christian to know God's direction in life as pertains to my sexuality.


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