So I am reading the fist letter to the Corinthians by the Apostle Paul and lo and behold, I come across this little gem of hope and more confirmation.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which reads from the King James Version as such:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
Jesus has transformed these sinners and forgiven them. Now in terms of how this relates to the LGBT community, consider Paul’s use of the word “effeminate” and the phrase “abusers of themselves with mankind”. These words and phrases are typically associated with homosexuality but what the criticism really is focusing on is based on stereotype and generalization. The assumption is that all gay men look and act effeminate or behave or look or present feminine in appearance and are effeminate by their nature or by their choice. And the reality is, the wide spectrum of gender expression and gender variance was never understood or considered in Classical Greco-Roman culture. The assumption was that men would be idealized manly men who we might describe as authoritative, strong, physically fit, aggressive, athletic, virile, and firm in their emotions and brusque in their mannerisms. Women were expected to be submissive, subservient, docile, coquettish, meek, mild, conservative, modest, and often quiet in manner and sexually pleasing to their husbands or attractive to potential mates. The idea of a man becoming more like a woman was unheard of. The notion of a man assuming feminine roles was unheard of. Yet this is not the same thing as homosexuality. Homosexuality is about sexual attraction rather than gender expression or gender identity or whether or not someone lives up to society’s expectations of gendered roles. But to paint the picture that to be a homosexual means to somehow be effeminate or overly feminine sensitive or to have feminine aspects at the expense of one’s manhood seems to be glossing over reality and making gross assumptions about how gay men view themselves.
The real criticism that should occur here is a matter of whether or not men or women are fulfilling their expected societal roles within that culture or society. Whether a man is effeminate or gay should be irrelevant to whether or not he is a good provider for his family, a responsible citizen, a responsible believer who does good works and charitable actions, and so on. Is the woman, lesbian or not, providing for her family as she would be expected to? Is she keeping her house in order and fulfilling her role as a nurturer, teacher, or homemaker?
Now whether gay, lesbian, or straight, the issues Paul raises as I see them, are matters of focus rather than matters of sexuality. Are the Corinthians and people in general focused on spiritual purity or have they been caught up in the thrills of fornication and the temptations of idols, thievery, perversions of the flesh, and so on? Have they moved on from their pasts and have they renewed their commitments to living purer spiritual lives?
It is one thing to be a homosexual, but a vastly different thing to be engrossed in abusing others, abusing yourself sexually with risky behaviors and promiscuous, unprotected sex with a partner. It is one thing to be a homosexual, but a whole other thing to shirk one’s civic and spiritual responsibilities as a man or woman in society.
In verse 11, it is made clear that through Jesus, these sinners have been purified and washed of their sins and their guilt through the blood of Christ, which he sacrificed so that all sin may be forgiven. These people are not just washed of sin but sanctified and made pure again and then justified for being who they are and what they are– humans who are imperfect but always striving to be better people. And the Spirit of God sees this, recognizes this, and makes this so as well. If belief in Jesus did not cleanse us and purify us of our sins, then what would be so significant or great about Jesus’ crucifixion? Why would we seek forgiveness if Jesus’ sacrifice was ever considered meaningless or empty?
To be effeminate or masculine or gender-variant or to have differing gender expressions relates to who we are and how we see ourselves– but this does not suggest or mean we stop being spiritual individuals or we stop being responsible people or that we shirk our duties as members of families and communities.
Always remember that we are all created in God’s image–man and woman. How we express our manhood or womanhood does not change the fact that we are created by God or that we’ve stopped being worthy of forgiveness or purification.
Paul may have linked gender expression with sexuality and sexuality and gender expression with crimes against society, but Paul’s concerns reflect a criticism of a perverted sub-culture confined to Classical Greco-Roman history. His criticisms and observations have to be taken into proper context for where he was and when he was making those criticisms and why.
To better understand Paul’s criticisms of homosexual expression in Corinth, we have to understand some basic historical facts. Firstly, the letter is intended to the church of Corinth, in Greece. The criticism against effeminate behaviors and abusers of themselves with mankind speaks specifically to expressions of homosexuality present in Greek culture found in Corinth, Greece. There are many expressions of homosexuality just as there are many expressions of heterosexuality. In Classical Greek culture in the time Paul sent this letter and held these views, it was considered acceptable or tolerable for older, senior men of a city-state community with intelligence and wisdom and authority to have intimate social relations with young boys and adolescents. Primarily as an expression of a non-sexual mentor-student relationship. The communal upbringing of young men by older men spans even the Greco-Roman culture.
However, do keep in mind that Greco-Roman culture of the Classical Period idealized the human forms– through sculpture, art, poetry, and drama. The seeking of perfection, the appreciation of women and men was overtly sexualized and at least in the case of some expressions of homosexuality, it was viewed as tolerable and acceptable that older men, idealizing and appreciating youth and vitality and virility and athleticism would consummate their appreciations sexually with boys and adolescents in pedophiliac expression. Pedophilia by our current definition could be applied to their behaviors– but do also understand that the age of adulthood and the age of consent and culture norms were vastly different than our own at present. Sexual relations between older men and young boys and adolescents was at least one expression of homosexuality. Before these young boys and adolescents could form their own sense of selves as sexual beings, their identities and bodies were being exploited for the sexual gratification of older men who they regarded as their mentors and men of high regard and status within their community. Consent between the two parties is questionable at best. The intent of these older men is also suspect. These relationships were not based upon the intent looking at the well-being of these young boys and adolescents. It was idealization. It was glorification of their physical qualities, their youth, and their sexual innocence these older men were generally after. Appreciation of the human form had wandered into the realm of sexualizing and lusting for those qualities they could no longer have as they aged.
This is the source of the behavior Paul was criticizing– the sexualizing and exploitation of youth sexually by older members of the same-sex. The cultural acceptance of this overtly sexual appreciation of nubile, pre-pubescent youth and adolescence.