The Biblical Problem of the Prostitute

I used to believe that Christians could affirm monogamous same-sex relationships without rethinking our other theological commitments. It is possible, but now I question whether it’s such a desirable goal. That is to say, are we merely interested in bringing one more group into the circle of respectability? Or does Jesus want us to identify with others who are marginalized as our families once were, and settle for nothing less than a radical theology that includes everyone?

When Moses presents the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, they’re in an interesting position: rescued, victorious, but still homeless, with a lot of wandering to do before they reach the promised land. Without a nation-state, barely a unified people, they’re entirely dependent on God for their identity. And here we’re given a hint that that identity is supposed to transcend barriers of class, status, tribe, even species.  Consider Moses’ explanation for observing the Sabbath (emphasis mine):

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut 5:12-15, NIV)

We can’t truly understand what it means to be created, chosen, and saved by God, unless we see God’s other creatures as essentially like ourselves. The proper response to a blessing is to extend it to others, not to remain indifferent to the ways we benefit at their expense.

The above thoughts were prompted by hearing a gay-affirming evangelical pastor’s analysis of two of the Biblical “clobber passages”, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. This scholar made a plausible case that the obscure Greek words variously translated as “sodomite”, “effeminate”, “pervert”, and “homosexual” should be read narrowly to describe male prostitutes, pimps, and johns, not all sexually active gay men.

But wait…that doesn’t make the text more fair. To the contrary, it just kicks the condemnation down the road to an even more persecuted group.

The vast majority of prostituted children and adults are victims of sexual slavery, either literally, through human trafficking, or effectively, because there are no social resources to help them kick their addictions and escape from abusive men. (If you need convincing, see the extensive research at the Polaris Project, Our Voices Matter, and NoPornNorthampton.)

As the pastor in my discussion noted, the male prostitutes in St. Paul’s time would have been mainly pre-teen or young teenage boys, probably 14 or 15 at the oldest, servicing much older men. We don’t immediately notice the unfairness of including these sexually abused children in the Epistles’ condemnation lists because, even in our “liberated” culture, the stigma of being prostituted still attaches primarily to the prostitute, the most visible and most powerless member of the triad, while the pimps and johns remain in the shadows.

In the quest for mainstream religious and social acceptance, it’s tempting to divide the MSM community into “good” and “bad” gays. But what have we purchased here? In order for Bill and Bob to get married in First Baptist Church of Wherever, we’re scapegoating men and boys who never had the freedom to live our ideally chaste, monogamous life. Any sexual ethic that ignores class privilege–one of Jesus’ favorite targets–doesn’t seem very gospel-centered to me.

Looked at closely, the condemnation lists in Corinthians and Timothy, like much of the Old Testament holiness code, appear morally incoherent to us. Ancient writers didn’t draw the same distinctions between ritual impurity and personal culpability that we now regard as essential to compassion and fairness. Under a purity-based system, a raped woman would be considered “ruined”, compounding the assault on her dignity, whereas contemporary ethicists would insist that the shame attaches to the sinner, not the sinned-against. It’s a shift away from formalism and toward respect for the sacredness of each person, something else that Jesus cared about a lot.

Too much of queer theology comes down to fudging the facts or quibbling over Greek vocabulary in order to preserve the Biblical writers’ viewpoints intact at all costs. Like the Supreme Court searching for the right-sounding precedent to give a veneer of objectivity to political decisions, we pretend we’re not changing the tradition when we are.

Give it up.

We have a bold opportunity here to question our stifling reverence for a cultural moment that has passed. When we don’t allow ourselves to grow beyond whatever moral philosophy was current 2,000 years ago, we’re turning the Bible into a limit on our ability to follow the golden rule: Love your neighbor as yourself.

My Chapbook “Swallow” Reviewed at The Pedestal Magazine

The new issue of The Pedestal Magazine, a bimonthly online journal of poetry, literary prose, book reviews, and visual art, includes a wonderful review of my poetry chapbook Swallow by JoSelle Vanderhooft. It’s a treat to be read by someone who gets my work and appreciates its connections to other genres, including humor and horror. From the review:

The first thing that strikes the reader about Jendi Reiter’s Swallow is, naturally, the unusual cover illustration, which appears at once to be a multi-eyed cherub (the proper Old Testament kind), a brace of clothespins, a flock of nightmare birds, sewing needles, bent nails, and a heart-shaped crown of thorns. While one may have a difficult time explaining all of this, one need only know that this image by Richard C. Jackson is the best visual realization of the horror, madness, blood, and beauty that infuse Reiter’s work: Like something out of a fever dream, it just makes perfect sense.

In reading Swallow, I was struck by how much Reiter’s work appears to have been informed by the conventions of horror poetry. Namely, both frequently concern themselves with the strangeness and gradual decay of the body, altered states of mind, and grotesquery. The first of these themes appears prominently in “Body I” (here reproduced in full), which I consider to be one of the chapbook’s finest poems. Here Reiter makes a subtle and powerful statement about the baseness of life and the commonality of death that would seem cliché in the hands of a lesser poet. Yet Reiter’s conversational tone and her suggestive use of repetition and imagery make this poem truly sing.

Read the whole article here (I’m the fourth of four books reviewed). Sign up for The Pedestal Magazine’s free email newsletter to be notified of new issues. Donors to their fund drive can receive free copies of editor John Amen’s gorgeously apocalyptic poetry books, or other books or CDs by staff members.

For your reading pleasure, here’s a poem from Swallow:

Body I

Here’s the thing about a body:
There’s no one inside.
Here’s the body the body was born in:
In the ground.
Here’s the body that went into the body:
A small sword, withdrawn.
Here’s the thing that came out of the body:
The sane bury it.
Here’s the thing that came out of the body:
The mad write with it.
Here’s the thing that covered the body:
Keep washing till it smells like nobody.
Here’s the thing the body needed:
Take it away boys take it away.
Here’s the way it entered the body:
Enough holes to breathe.
Here’s the thing that holds the body:
Pinewood planks for a final ship.
What holds the body becomes the body:
All hands meet underground.

Orientation Versus Identity

The Nervous Breakdown, an eclectic intellectual blog covering poetry, politics, the arts, and popular culture, recently ran this insightful essay by Peter Gajdics, a survivor of ex-gay therapy.
(Hat tip to Paul A. Toth, who blogs about
psychology, atheism, the writing life, and the cultural bankruptcy of
Sarasota at Violent

In “One Road Diverged: Same Sex Desire & the Closet of Homosexuality“, the author observes that both conservative Christians and gay activists tend to conflate same-sex desire and gay identity. The former has always been with us, while the latter is a modern invention. So-called conversion therapy rarely changes one’s inner feelings, but rather teaches participants how to perform a mainstream heterosexual identity. From the introduction:

Trying to “change” oneself from homosexual to heterosexual is a displacement of social identities under the erroneous belief that by changing one’s map, one’s territory will also, oftentimes Divinely, “change.” Such a “change,” however, is destined to fail, with the resulting dissonance between identity and desire ensuring the individual either “tries harder” at changing themselves, or breaks the cycle, like an addict, once and for all, and addresses the conflation between their map of identity, and territory of desire.

Later in the essay, Gajdics writes:

…The institutionalization of homosexuality performs three distinct functions: 1) it divorces same sex desire from the experience of many by projecting it into the experience of few, thereby maintaining a binary view of sexuality generally, and a normative view of heterosexuality specifically; 2) it reinforces the either/or mentality that sustains a hegemonic patriarchy, and relieves a cultural anxiety over what it means to be “male,” a “man,” “masculine”—in other words, as long as I am on the side of the fence marked “straight,” I am safe, loved, accepted, all-powerful; 3) it promotes the implicit idea that “changing” sexual identity from the category of “homosexual” to the category of “heterosexual” is not only possible, but highly desirable—after all, who wouldn’t want to be “safe, loved, accepted, all powerful”?

In his essay, “Love Me Gender: Normative Homosexuality and ‘Ex-Gay’ Performativity in Reparative Therapy Narratives,” author Jeffrey Bennett examines the Paulks’ co-autobiography, Love Won Out, in which the two juxtapose their early immersions “into homosexuality” to their later involvement with Exodus International and “entrance into ‘heterosexuality . . . [in order] . . . to pursue a ‘normal’ life of marriage and children” (2003, 332-34). Their stories spawned national attention, with articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, as well as with guest appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes. Can gays “change”? Should gays “change”? These and other questions were raised amongst media, and public. Unfortunately, there was little, if any, inquiry into what the Paulks, or others like them, were attempting to “change,” when they said they wanted to change their sexuality. While the implication always seems to be a change from same sex to “opposite” sex attraction, this is precisely what does not occur, as I myself can testify, for those who undertake such therapy. How, after all, does one change desire? In practice, the locus of attention in reparative therapies becomes less about desire, about changing one’s desire, than it does the obligatory avoidance of same sex temptation, engagement in “opposite” sex scenarios, and modification of behavior to reflect a normative stance on male and female gender roles.

As detailed by Bennett in his essay, the Paulks’ memoir “attempt[s] to reconstitute the discourses that shape and stabilize abstract notions of the self . . . [by] . . . relegate[ing] identity and authenticity to a system of anticipatory acts that can be modified by altering the conduct of the actors” (332). Nowhere is it claimed the Paulks end up changing their desires; rather, they reduce themselves to actors, playing the part of the “homosexual”: In order to play the part of the “heterosexual,” they simply modify their performance. “If Anne can learn to wear make-up, and John to throw a football, they are taking the necessary measures to redefine and stabilize their heterosexuality by employing an illusory ontological identification” (ibid). In a reversal to Butler’s theory on gender performativity, the Paulks have reframed their collective “homosexualities” as the normative, and their modification to heterosexuality, its subversion.

Throughout their book, the Paulks point to the unreality of “gay life” as justification for “replacing . . . the unnatural homosexual self with the ‘true’ heterosexual identity” (335). This statement alone necessitates delineation. If “homosexuality” points, as I’ve suggested, to the territory of same sex desire, then in one respect the Paulks, or all advocates of such therapies, are correct in their description of an “unnatural homosexual self.” Homosexuality, as with heterosexuality, is the symbol for the thing, and not the thing itself—symbols are, to a large extent, “unnatural.” However, as the Paulks also evidently conflate their map of homosexuality with their territory of desire, their same sex desire, they illogically deduce that if homosexuality is unnatural, heterosexuality must consequently be natural. The “naturalness” they, and others like them, seek lies not in a different map, a different symbol, but in a consciousness, an awakening, to their own, incontrovertible territory of desire. Maps, if lived as territories, will always disappoint: sooner or later they will always be experienced as unnatural, inauthentic, unreal.

Read the whole essay here. Read more of Gajdics’ work here, and see a video of him reading at Opium magazine’s Literary Death Match in Seattle.

Friday Non-Random Song: Emmy Rossum, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”

I offered some brief thoughts on the sublime in my last post, honoring fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide last week. “Every angel is terrifying,” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, expressing how we feel when art touches us with something more than mere beauty, something so far beyond mortal experience that it leaves us feeling brushed by the corner of Death’s robe.

Perhaps it’s a myth that artistic geniuses are more affected by depression and suicide than the general population. Nonetheless, I wonder whether they push themselves to walk that tightrope between this world and the next…and some fall off.

This scene from the 2005 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera” seems to me to express the artist’s dilemma. Christine must choose between the sinister, disfigured, passionate Phantom, her musical mentor, and Raoul, her rather bland but aristocratic childhood sweetheart. Like thousands of other female fans, when I first saw this musical at the impressionable age of 18, I felt she’d made the wrong choice.

Though my crush on the Phantom lingers, I saw a different dimension when I watched the film 15 years later. Christine appears to turn away from the source of her musical inspiration, toward a safer life as a conventional upper-class wife, because she fears where this romance with grief, darkness and death might lead. As W.B. Yeats wrote:

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

That’s not to say that one must live a dangerous or sensually excessive life in order to produce great art. (Sorry to disappoint you.) I think it does mean that we have to be willing to enter the dark places in ourselves.

Alexander McQueen, R.I.P.

Acclaimed British fashion designer Alexander McQueen was found dead in his home on Feb. 11, CNN reported. Later news stories confirmed that the 40-year-old designer had committed suicide by hanging.

I was deeply saddened by this news. It goes without saying that premature death is always terrible, especially by suicide, and especially when it seems to outsiders that the person had so much to live for–genius, success, and an appreciative community.

But McQueen was special to me in particular because his aesthetic matched my ideals as a writer. Through fashion, a medium that many dismiss as frivolous, he achieved that marriage of beauty, sensuality, horror, and the uncanny that philosophers of art have called the sublime.

The Associated Press writes:

…Known for his dramatic statement pieces and impeccable tailoring, McQueen dressed celebrities from Cameron Diaz to Lady Gaga and influenced a generation of designers.

The son of a cab driver, McQueen grew up on a public housing estate in London’s East End, left school at 16 and entered the fashion world the old-fashioned way, as a teenage apprentice to a Saville Row tailor. He later studied at Central St. Martin’s art college in London and was discovered by fashion guru Isabella Blow, who bought his entire graduation collection. She became a friend and mentor; her suicide three years ago shook the designer, who wept openly at her funeral.

McQueen was a private man who avoided the limelight, but his Twitter postings show emotional turmoil after his mother’s death on Feb. 2. McQueen had posted messages four days before his death about his “awful week,” and said he had to “somehow pull myself together and finish.”

His mother’s funeral was held the day after McQueen died.

Friends also said he might have felt under pressure to outdo himself at the unveiling of his spring collection in Paris next month.

“I don’t think success was easy for him,” friend Plum Sykes wrote in the Sunday Telegraph this week. “He told me he was driven by his insecurities, and he believed that all successful people were.”

McQueen became chief designer at the Givenchy house in 1996, but was best known for his own label, in which Gucci bought a majority stake in 2001. McQueen retained creative control, and became famous for his dramatic and often uncategorizable creations: sculptural cocktail dresses in psychedelic patterns; headwear made of trash; 10-inch (25 centimeter) heels shaped like lobster claws.

The GLBTQ website, an online encyclopedia of queer culture, includes a good description of McQueen’s unique and controversial aesthetic:

McQueen always attracted (if not courted) controversy. His theatrical fashion shows gained him as much of a reputation as his stylish clothes. Some fashion experts deplore his “shock tactics” and publicity seeking, while others defend his exploration of radical ideas. The latter see his shows as questioning accepted notions of fashion and beauty.

For his March 1995 “Highland Rape” show, McQueen sent his models down the catwalk in ripped lace dresses and skirts with what appeared to be tampon strings attached. The 1996 “Hunger” show featured clothing and jewelry that evoked bondage and decay, while the “Untitled” show of 1998 (originally named “The Golden Shower” but changed because the sponsor, American Express, felt it was too risqué) highlighted a model with what looked like a bit between her teeth, walking through water lit with yellow light.

The outrageousness of McQueen’s shows has led to accusations of misogyny (an accusation often leveled at gay designers for the supposed fantasy women they try to create) and exploitation, but the “bad boy of fashion” is quick to counter these accusations. “Highland Rape,” he explained, was about the “rape” of Scotland by the British, a subject that had a personal resonance as his family is of Scottish descent.

Moreover, he insisted that his attitude towards women is informed by his having witnessed as a child scenes of violence involving his sister: “Everything I’ve done since then was for the purpose of making women look stronger, not naïve,” he was quoted in The Independent Fashion Magazine in 2000, “models are there to showcase what I’m about, nothing else. It’s nothing to do with misogyny.”

One of McQueen’s most controversial shows grew from his art direction of an issue of the alternative fashion magazine Dazed & Confused about models with severe physical disabilities. The subsequent catwalk show inspired by the issue featured model Aimee Mullins, whose legs had been amputated from the knees down, walking down the catwalk on hand carved wooden legs. The show was presented in a spirit of empowerment and inclusivity.

McQueen’s family has temporarily taken down all videos and photos from the designer’s website as a gesture of mourning. Readers interested in seeing images of his signature collections, with critical analysis, should pick up a copy of Caroline Evans’ excellent book Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (Yale University Press, 2003).

Evans suggests that a fascination with the body’s abjection, its traumas, disfigurements and decay, is the shadow side of our culture’s bodily hedonism and individualism, and of fashion’s impossibly narrow standards of physical beauty. Stories of violence and political instability fill our news media, juxtaposed with ever-more-luxurious images of products for sale. The genius of designers like McQueen is to express these tensions and paradoxes in costume, creating a modern self that we can wear.

Since Evans references the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire in one of her chapters on McQueen, I’ll close with this poem from his collection Les Fleurs du Mal, which to me expresses the McQueen signature themes of shock, eroticism, and the grotesque. This website includes several English translations; I’ve chosen the one that I like best because the free-verse rendition sounds more natural to my modern ear. With a poem like this, one runs dangerously close to the edge of the ridiculous, which English rhyme seems to accentuate.

Rest in peace, Lee McQueen.

Une Charogne

Rappelez-vous l’objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
Ce beau matin d’été si doux:
Au détour d’un sentier une charogne infâme
Sur un lit semé de cailloux,

Les jambes en l’air, comme une femme lubrique,
Brûlante et suant les poisons,
Ouvrait d’une façon nonchalante et cynique
Son ventre plein d’exhalaisons.

Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
Comme afin de la cuire à point,
Et de rendre au centuple à la grande Nature
Tout ce qu’ensemble elle avait joint;

Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe
Comme une fleur s’épanouir.
La puanteur était si forte, que sur l’herbe
Vous crûtes vous évanouir.

Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
D’où sortaient de noirs bataillons
De larves, qui coulaient comme un épais liquide
Le long de ces vivants haillons.

Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague
Ou s’élançait en pétillant;
On eût dit que le corps, enflé d’un souffle vague,
Vivait en se multipliant.

Et ce mo
nde rendait une étrange musique,
Comme l’eau courante et le vent,
Ou le grain qu’un vanneur d’un mouvement rythmique
Agite et tourne dans son van.

Les formes s’effaçaient et n’étaient plus qu’un rêve,
Une ébauche lente à venir
Sur la toile oubliée, et que l’artiste achève
Seulement par le souvenir.

Derrière les rochers une chienne inquiète
Nous regardait d’un oeil fâché,
Epiant le moment de reprendre au squelette
Le morceau qu’elle avait lâché.

— Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
À cette horrible infection,
Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
Vous, mon ange et ma passion!

Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
Apres les derniers sacrements,
Quand vous irez, sous l’herbe et les floraisons grasses,
Moisir parmi les ossements.

Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine
Qui vous mangera de baisers,
Que j’ai gardé la forme et l’essence divine
De mes amours décomposés!

A Carcass

My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed,

Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases.

The sun shone down upon that putrescence,
As if to roast it to a turn,
And to give back a hundredfold to great Nature
The elements she had combined;

And the sky was watching that superb cadaver
Blossom like a flower.
So frightful was the stench that you believed
You’d faint away upon the grass.

The blow-flies were buzzing round that putrid belly,
From which came forth black battalions
Of maggots, which oozed out like a heavy liquid
All along those living tatters.

All this was descending and rising like a wave,
Or poured out with a crackling sound;
One would have said the body, swollen with a vague breath,
Lived by multiplication.

And this world gave forth singular music,
Like running water or the wind,
Or the grain that winnowers with a rhythmic motion
Shake in their winnowing baskets.

The forms disappeared and were no more than a dream,
A sketch that slowly falls
Upon the forgotten canvas, that the artist
Completes from memory alone.

Crouched behind the boulders, an anxious dog
Watched us with angry eye,
Waiting for the moment to take back from the carcass
The morsel he had left.

— And yet you will be like this corruption,
Like this horrible infection,
Star of my eyes, sunlight of my being,
You, my angel and my passion!

Yes! thus will you be, queen of the Graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath grass and luxuriant flowers,
To molder among the bones of the dead.

Then, O my beauty! say to the worms who will
Devour you with kisses,
That I have kept the form and the divine essence
Of my decomposed love!

— Translated by William Aggeler

Jeff Worley: “On Finding a Turtle Shell in Daniel Boone National Forest”

The column below is reprinted by permission from American Life in Poetry, a project of the Poetry Foundation. You can register on their website to receive these columns by email every week.


American Life in Poetry: Column 256


A poem is an experience like any other, and we can learn as much or more about, say, an apple from a poem about an apple as from the apple itself. Since I was a boy, I’ve been picking up things, but I’ve never found a turtle shell until I found one in this poem by Jeff Worley, who lives in Kentucky.

On Finding a Turtle Shell in Daniel Boone National Forest

This one got tired
of lugging his fortress
wherever he went,
was done with duck and cover
at every explosion
through rustling leaves
of fox and dog and skunk.
Said au revoir to the ritual
of pulling himself together…

I imagine him waiting
for the cover of darkness
to let down his hinged drawbridge.
He wanted, after so many
protracted years of caution,
to dance naked and nimble
as a flame under the moon—
even if dancing just once
was all that the teeth
of the forest would allow.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Jeff Worley, whose most recent book of poems is Best to Keep Moving, Larkspur Press, 2009, which includes this poem. Reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 62 & 63, Fall, 2008, by permission of Jeff Worley and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Toward a Gender-Inclusive Understanding of “One Flesh”

In the comments below my last post, Simon, a lay reader in the Church of England who describes himself as a conservative Christian, asks:

How do you feel the doctrine of ‘one flesh’ applies (or not) to gay marriage? Eve was taken out from Adam’s side and in heterosexual marriage the circle is closed as genders are reunited, but how does this work for gay couples? I have concluded that most apparently anti-gay proof texts have been wrongly translated and wrongly interpreted by sincere but mistaken homophobic cultures, but can’t get my head around a gay interpretation of ‘one flesh’. Can you help?

In addition to my response that you can read in the comments box, I put the question out to some Facebook friends. The poet Karen Braucher suggested, “I think the answer lies in the fact that we all have both masculine and feminine sides to our personality. So all those sides are joining, in gay and in hetero couples.”

Another poet and mutual friend, Carolyn Moore, observed, “I always have trouble with the line between the Biblical literal and the Biblical parable. We seem to know when we are in parable in the New Testament but are so rigid in the Old Testament about what is literal and what may not be. We never allow for something there functioning as a Fatherly parable to help us grasp a spiritual concept….[In the Garden of Eden] some knowledge was forbidden and we are to trust God to keep it to God’s self, right?…Well, isn’t it vain of us to assume we were told ALL of God’s plans? Why was he obligated to tell us if he was also trying out life on other planets? Why is he obligated to tell us why he created some people who are attracted to their own gender? Aren’t we to have faith that God knows best and we are here to help one another towards peace and light and not appropriate his power of final judgment?”

I also sought advice from Pastor Romell Weekly, an evangelical minister who runs the Gay Christian Fellowship website. He’s given me permission to reprint his thorough and Bible-based analysis below.

Pastor Weekly writes:

“What you’re ultimately referring to is called Complementarity. It’s a theory that male and female complement one another in a way that two people of the same sex cannot. As you have indicated, the primary basis for this theory is the Creation narrative. However, there are a few major problems with this theory.

“1) The theory is not in Scripture. It’s derived from conclusions based off of the biblical narrative; but nowhere does Scripture actually teach this theory as a principle.

“2) The theory REQUIRES all humans to get married, lest they live a lifetime incomplete. If the male is incomplete until his missing rib returns in the person of his wife, then no man without a wife is complete… and it would CERTAINLY mean that no woman is complete without a husband, as she only represents the rib, while he represents the rest of the body.

“3) The theory indicts all single people as not being whole, including Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the apostle, Paul, and, dare I say, Jesus Himself. All of these mighty men of God were single. Can we say that they were incomplete because they were not married, especially considering point #1–that Scripture doesn’t actually teach this theory?

“4) We have to ask what the point of the Genesis narrative is in relation to marriage. Is it that woman completes man, or is it that marriage provides a means for two people to become as one? I think the latter.

“I believe that the creation narrative shows a beautiful picture of two distinct people coming together in both body and soul and becoming as one through the joining of the heart and of the body. This principle certainly does not contain a mechanism that prevents it from being applied to people of the same sex in precisely the way that it’s applied to people of the opposite sex. They can, indeed, unite in soul (through emotional intercourse). They can, indeed, unite in body (through sexual intercourse).

“I think about David and Jonathan. God told Eve that she would “cling” to her husband. The Bible tells us that Jonathan’s soul was “knit” to David. There was, indeed, a clinging involved. In fact, the two Hebrew words used in both passages are synonyms of one another. Did the fact that Jonathan was a man prevent his soul from clinging or being knit to David? And, even more important, does it matter to God?

“When God created Adam and realized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, what did He do? Most people immediately state that He created Eve; but this isn’t true. He first brought every animal He’d already created and presented it before Adam in order for Adam to do to things: 1) name the animal, and 2) determine whether the animal was a suitable companion for him. After going through every animal life, “there was not found a companion suitable for him” (Gen. 2:20).

“This doesn’t mean that God would have been perfectly fine if Adam wanted a giraffe. But, God went through this process to demonstrate a principle to us. The point is that He allowed Adam to determine suitability. It wasn’t determined by the Divine, but my the human perspective. It was only after Adam found nothing suitable that God put him to sleep and took his rib to create Eve.

“But, even then, God brought Eve and presented her to Adam, much as He did with the other animal lifeforms. God didn’t pronounce her suitable. It was ADAM who said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” It was Adam who basically said, “Alright now, God. THIS one works!”

“The suitable companion for Adam was Eve. But, the suitable companion for Doug might be Jason, while the suitable companion for Danielle might be Elise. We each determine suitability. We each determine the person that complements us, and allows our soul to join together in the way that Eve’s joined Adam’s, and Jonathan’s joined David’s. This is not determined in Heaven. It’s very much determined in the heart of each human being.

“So, I don’t think the doctrine of “one flesh” precludes same-sex couples at all. It’s not at all about whether the one has a penis and the other has a vagina. It’s much more about whether the soul is knit together in love. This certainly can be the case with same-sex homosexual couples, exactly as it can be with opposite-sex heterosexual couples. Contrarily, it CANNOT take place with opposite-sex homosexual or mixed-orientation couples.

“So, if love truly is what God is after, and if He truly looks upon the heart, while man looks at the outward appearance (1Sa. 16:7)–e.g. whether one has a penis and the other has a vagina–then gay couples absolutely fit into the paradigm of one flesh.”

Book Notes: Sara Miles, “Jesus Freak”

Who is Jesus? For liberals, a political role model; for conservatives, the heavenly gatekeeper. But for Sara Miles, author of the new book Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), he’s “the Boyfriend”, a tangible and loving presence who empowers her–and potentially all of us–to embody God’s love through fellowship and service to one another.

Formerly a secular political journalist and restaurant worker, Miles underwent an unexpected conversion at the age of 46, when she took communion at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and suddenly experienced a mystical awareness that the wafer was really and truly the bread of life, the body of God. She went on to become Director of Ministry at St. Gregory’s and start a food pantry that now serves up to 800 people each week. This story is told in her previous book, Take This Bread. (I would have liked a little more background in Jesus Freak for readers like myself who haven’t read her first book.)

Jesus Freak begins with the radical claim that Jesus empowers us to be Jesus. We have the authority to bring meaning, healing, nourishment and forgiveness to God’s people. The rest of the book shares anecdotes from her ministry: funny, poignant, madcap, heartbreaking stories about what it looks like “to live as if you–and everyone else around you–were Jesus, and filled with his power”.

In Miles’ telling, the Jesus-inspired community looks unconditionally inclusive and egalitarian. People of widely varying beliefs, abilities, and social classes find themselves bound together not merely by mutual tolerance, but by love and cooperation.

In her chapter on “Feeding”, for instance, she questions the divide between churches’ worship space and their community service programs. Why do the soup kitchen and the worship service take place in different locations, at different times, and serve non-overlapping groups of people? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Unlike me, Miles actually did something about it. The weekly food giveaway at St. Gregory’s takes place at the altar and becomes a ritual of sharing that harks back to the communal meals of the first-century church.

When Miles talks about “Healing” and “Raising the Dead”, she isn’t promising medical miracles, though she won’t rule those out, either. We may not always be able to cure physical ills, but we can offer something even more important. We can surround suffering people with an environment that gives their lives dignity, meaning and love.

For instance, toward the end of the book, Miles tells the story of Laura, a middle-aged woman who sought her counsel when dying of lung cancer. Over the last months of her life, Miles helped Laura’s family begin the process of grieving and taking care of one another. In a scene reminiscent of Jesus’ words from the cross in John 19:26-27, Laura arranged for her female companion to become her teenage son’s new mother. Miles was on hand not only to assist with the paperwork but, more crucially, to provide a spiritually meaningful context for the event, so that a sad occasion became in some way a celebration.

Finally, when Laura died, Miles had to help the paramedics hoist her stiffening, obese body onto the gurney from the floor where she’d fallen out of bed. Many another writer might approach this scene with disgust, despair, or pathos. Miles handles Laura’s body, in life and on the page, with tenderness and joy at being able to perform a last service for her. And if there’s a touch of humor, it seems like a joke that the dead woman shares. What is grace, after all, if not the erasing of shame, right here in the flesh from which we’ve been alienated since Adam and Eve first put on their legendary fig leaves?

I found this book to be a balm for the headache that theology often leaves me with nowadays. When doctrinal arguments become political weapons, the social gospel begins to look attractively simple. Visit the prisoners, give a cup of water to the thirsty–surely this is more straightforward, and better for my character, than reviewing yet another book on the “real” meaning of Romans 1:26-27. There’s something about theologizing, one could even say, that is intertwined with class privilege. It can be a diversion of energy away from the more urgent needs of people who don’t have a voice in the conversation.

At the same time, good works become a dry duty, another kind of works-righteousness, without a live connection to God’s love. I’ve bounced back and forth between Episcopal and evangelical churches in search of that encounter with the mysterium tremendum. Philosopher of religion and progressive God-blogger Eric Reitan recently noted that the common liberal dichotomy between Christian belief (bad, fundamentalist, divisive) and Christ-like action (good, crunchy, progressive) doesn’t hold up:

…I suspect that most Christians will agree that “having faith in Jesus” is much more than just believing in a set of propositions. It’s a way of leading one’s life. (Agreement among Christians is likely to break down as soon as we ask what way of life is implied by faith in Jesus.)

But even if faith in Jesus is much more than belief in a set of propositions, the way of life implied by such faith will certainly presuppose a set of beliefs. To have faith is, in part, to live one’s life as if certain things are true. In the broadest terms, having faith in Jesus means living as if Jesus’ life and ministry express the ultimate reality, the divine, in some unique and profound way. And having faith in Jesus as savior means living as if Jesus has secured the redemption of the world; as if the evils that shatter human lives and infect human hearts are never the final word; as if somehow, because of Christ, even the most devastating horrors and malignancies have been stripped of the power to deprive our lives of meaning and value….

Jesus is so real and immediate for Miles that she makes an end-run around theological debates. Perhaps because she wasn’t raised Christian, she doesn’t seem to carry around the baggage of guilt and fear, the need to defend her interpretive authority, or to tear down other interpretations of the Bible. She just goes out and feeds the hungry, and gives the glory to God.

Videos from My Green Street Cafe Poetry Reading, Plus Upcoming Readings News

Saturday, Feb. 20, 7:00-8:30 PM: I’ll be reading with poets Karen Johnston and Ellen LaFleche at Thirsty Mind Coffee and Wine Bar, 23 College Street, South Hadley, MA. For more information, call 413-538-9309.

Karen G. Johnston is a social worker by vocation, a poet by avocation, a socialist by inclination, a UU-Buddhist by faith, and mother by choice. Her writing has been published in Silkworm, Equinox, Concise Delight, WordCatalyst, and Women. Period. An Anthology of Writings on Menstruation.

Ellen LaFleche has a special interest in poems about working class people, and issues of health and healing. She has published in numerous journals, including Many Mountains Moving, Alehouse, Alligator Juniper, the Ledge, New Millennium Writings, and Naugatuck River Review.

And speaking of Naugatuck River Review

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2:00-4:00 PM: Launch party for the Winter 2010 issue, which includes winners of the 2009 narrative poetry contest, at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton. I’ll be reading with several of my fellow authors in this issue.

Readers include: Thomas R. Moore (1st place winner), Kathryn Neel (3rd place winner), Pat Hale, Gineen Lee Cooper, Jendi Reiter, Allegra Mira, Lynne Francis, Wendy Green Simpson, Don Lowe, Laura Rodley, David Giannini, Barbara Benoit, Christina Svane, Sharon Charde, Andrea Cousins, Paula Sayword, Jeff Friedman and Tim Mayo. Also reading are our poetry editors Oonagh Doherty, Ellen LaFleche and Sally Bellerose. Leslea Newman, our esteemed contest judge, will also read! Hosted by Publisher Lori Desrosiers.

Last month, I had the pleasure of reading with Charlie Bondhus, author of How the Boy Might See It (Pecan Grove Press, 2010) at the Green Street Cafe in Northampton. Thanks to my husband, Adam Cohen, and his ever-present Flip camera, our performances can now be viewed on Blip TV here (me) and here (Charlie). Each segment is about 25 minutes. We introduced each other, which is why Charlie’s segment starts with me and vice versa.

If you prefer to take me in small doses, as many people do, please enjoy these YouTube videos from the reading.

“Wedded” first appeared in The Broome Review. Regular readers of this blog may notice a familiar theme.

Buy Swallow!! I mean it.

And now for something completely inappropriate.

A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003) can also be yours.