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    • Jun27Mon

      Fornication and love

      A sermon for LGBTQ2SIA+ Sunday June 27, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
      Filed Under:
      Pr. Sebastian

      Last Year, for Pride Sunday,

      the title of my sermon was quite provocative: 

      God’s family is queer.

      It was a lengthy and challenging sermon, but in a way it was easier to preach than today, 

      because there was nobody in the pews.

      This year is a little lighter, with the draft title, 

      “fornication; what you really need to know.”

      To begin, I wonder how homophobic the apostle Paul really was. 

      Homophobia is of course a modern construct and it’s hard to judge someone from antiquity based on modern constructs, but nonetheless, 

      Paul is used by the religious right to justify homophobia, 

      and so examining Paul’s writings on the question of sexuality is very important.

      There are of course the passages from Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 that are regularly used for anti-gay propaganda, 

      but if you delve into the texts and their interpretation, 

      it starts to get quite complicated and so using them in the context of a 21st century discussion on LGBT issues is not that helpful anymore.

      On the other hand, Paul writes to the Galatians, Chapter 3, 

      probably one of the most queer-friendly Biblical texts, in asserting that in Christ, 

      there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, 

      that all previous distinctions and categories of clean and unclean, 

      godly and ungodly, are done away with. 

      All divisions through Christ cease, 

      and so many can take the logical next step in saying 

      That in Christ there is no longer queer nor straight, cis nor trans, 

      binary nor non-binary.

      So maybe Paul, despite his passages having been used for irreparable damage to LGBT communities, is redeemable.

      In our second reading today, from Galatians Chapter 5,

      Paul writes: 

      For Freedom Christ has set us free, 

      the old laws no longer have hold over us,

      The only thing that counts is faith working through love.

      The whole law is summed up in a single commandment: 

      love your neighbour as yourself,

      Paul then presents two opposing lists of vices and virtues.

      One list is under the heading “works of the flesh”

      And the other is under the heading “gifts of the spirit”.

      Paul is proposing here that the spirit is somehow opposed to the flesh 

      (a concept that is not universally standard in the Bible, 

      but comes more from Greek philosophy of the time).

      Here, the characteristics of the flesh involve a focus on the self, 

      an inward, selfish, self-indulgent outlook,

      While the characteristics of the Spirit involve a focus on the other, 

      a self-less way of living.

      Humanity’s sinful and corrupt nature is listed as the works of the flesh: 

      or the behaviour that is of an unspiritual nature.

      The somewhat random order of the list is as follows: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, etc.

      Now what jumps out at me, and for most hearers probably 

      is the first word in that list: fornication.

      Fornication generally refers to consensual sexual intercourse between two people not married to each other,

      Or in another definition, fornication refers to intimate relations outside the norms of generally accepted sexual behaviour.

      Thus fornication is a relative or subjective term, that is it means something different to people in different context. Fornication for Old Order Mennonites is likely not the same as for polyamorous members of Metropolitan United Church.

      Sometimes the original word is also translated as prostitution 

      or simply “sexual immorality”.

      So there’s a wide range of meaning possible.

      Condemnation of same-gendered sexual activity as fornication 

      has been standard fare in homophobic discourses for a long time.

      However, according to one scholar, the listing of “fornication, impurity and licentiousness are not condemning sexual orientation or queer sexualities per se. Rather they are referring to acts of “hostility, anger and hate” and the way in which we “use people as things” instead of respecting other people.” (Cheng)

      In other words, what a lot of the listed activities have in common 

      is selfish abuse and disregard for the humanity of the other, 

      rather than mutuality, respect and love.

      The problem with much of the religious right’s discourse on same-sex issues, is that 

      sexual orientation is usually linked to bad behaviour, 

      and there is no recognition that sinful behaviours are not only the purview of, for example, homosexuals, but of hetereosexuals as well.

      The reality is that by twisting Scripture, 

      the Bible has been used to justify sexism, racism, slavery, rejection of blood transfusions and so on.

      Take the term “abomination”.

      By cherry-picking the LGBT communities as abominations, for example, conveniently overlooks whole other lists of abominations in the Bible, namely

      (Proverbs 6):

      Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, bearing false witness,

      Spreading strife among brethren

      Shellfood and pork are abominations,

      As well as cheating in the marketplace

      Pride, dishonesty

      Usury, oppressing the poor and needy

      All these and more are considered abominations in the Bible.

      One might even argue that 

      “legalistic judgemental religion that blindly condemns LGBT people” (Cheng (Queer Bible Commentary))

      Is an abomination.

      In Paul’s 5th chapter, he stresses that Christians are free from excessive laws of the past, yet there is not to be unbridled freedom,

      Freedom without consequences, 

      Freedom without thought to impact upon neighbour.

      Christian behaviour needs to be characterized by loving commitment to one another.

      This means, for example, a local option for LGBT inclusion.

      -it means not condoning true fornication: abusive, demeaning or selfish sexual acts.

      -It means understanding structures of loving relationships, 

      And how marriage (whether same-gendered or opposite-gendered) is the best form of relationship characterized by mutual respect, commitment, fidelity, legal protections, and public accountability. (Or at least in theory)

      I think where we get hung up on this list of vices is we focus too much on the sexual items, as well as on those ones which are easy to spot.

      It’s relatively easy to shun or condemn someone who is visibly different,

      Like someone undergoing transgender transitioning,

      Or two men holding hands or kissing,

      Or an unmarried couple living together.

      Yet, in Paul’s list there are a lot of items which are not so easy to spot

      I mean being envious is every bit as bad as fornicating,

      But do you ever see people with placards protesting Jealousy?

      Or people chanting “God hates quarrellers!” Or the “Angry will burn in hell”!

      You know, everybody is guilty of open or more items in this list of vices,

      But as Jesus said: let the one without sin cast the first stone. 

      2By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. 

      It’s interesting here that Paul lists love first. 

      Where fornication is a perversion of love for one’s interest, 

      true love is selfless and puts others first.

      The list is pretty simple and self-explanatory 

      joy, peace, patience, kindness,

      Who wouldn’t want to strive for those things?

      And in fact I think we all strive for these virtues 

      Anybody can, no matter if they’re queer or not try to

      Be more peaceful,

      Be more joyful, more patient,

      But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that they are called Gifts of the spirit! 

      Gifts. In effect

      These are not the result of the believer’s effort: 

      But come through God’s Grace!

      Which is perhaps a good place to stand, with all of humanity, 

      no matter sexual orientation or gender identity, 

      recognizing that through God’s grace 

      we are all God’s children, 

      forgiven, loved and free.

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