Sunday, October 2, 2011

Belgrade: Gay Shame, Gay Pride and the Destruction of Sodom

My hometown of Belgrade is in uproar because today the gays were supposed to have their Belgrade Gay Pride Parade. It would have been the second time; last year was the first – ever - Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade. And the whole inner city was destroyed by right-wing hooligans, but of course, the brittle relations between gays and the city became marred anyway.

Belgrade Gay Pride Parade 2010 - photo taken from the CBC news site

This morning the news reached us that the authorities decided to ban the Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade. The CNN news feed read the same and now the whole world thinks that the Serbs hate gays. Far from it. The Serbs hate to have their cities destroyed and before anyone can exercise the elsewhere ubiquitous right to congregate peacefully, those who oppose a peaceful congregation of any kind with violence against civilians and property, will have to be dealt with first. What the CNN news feed forgot to mention is that the authorities also banned the counter-demonstrations.

Our Serbian culture is very slowly transforming into a modern democracy. Perhaps capitalistic democracy isn’t the way to go but there are very few alternatives, and as long as we’re not living in a theocracy under God, capitalistic democracy seems the next best thing. Right now, Serbia is flat broke, and change is inevitable. But the large majority of us hope to God that we’ll quietly grow into something sustainable, and that there will be no more war of any kind.

I’ve been watching the news for days now – very few pro’s raise voices proclaiming sexual freedom, and very many contra’s don’t want it largely because they’re not gay and so they can’t stand the thought of it, and if they don’t like it, then nobody should.
Our Patriarch, a very wise and highly respected man, pronounced that there is no such thing as gay pride and that the parade would be a parade of shame. And then of course, there are those who remind us that Sodom was destroyed because the Sodomites practiced homosexuality.

Belgrade, we should note, was most recently destroyed by NATO bombs, not homosexuality, but it takes no great heart to sympathize with this concern. I’m usually quiet about these things because I have sufficiently studied neither the causes and effects of homosexuality, nor the range of freedoms guaranteed by the various western constitutions, to have a right to say anything about it. But we live in a democracy, and democracy, inherently, gives us freedom of religion along with the freedom to pursue happiness. And that means that if I assume the freedom to say, from a hypothetical religious platform, that homosexuality should be outlawed, I automatically insist that the practice of homosexuality must be accepted in all corners of society. Hence I find these things too complicated to comment on.

Of course, parading one’s pride while knowing for sure one will be bashed by Orthodox traditionalists or else hooligans with no sensitivities other than the desire to destroy things, seems a bit silly and ultimately counter-productive. For the same reason, the little group of Evangelicals I’m proud to belong to, doesn’t take to publically singing up-beat Jesus songs on the Wednesday mornings fruit ‘n veggie market. And perhaps it’s also the reason why the Overcharging Landlords, the Corrupt Politicians and the Underpaying Employers aren’t parading their pride in Belgrade.

But, in all humility, I have some knowledge of the Bible, and when somebody on national TV states that (a) homosexuality should be outlawed, because (b) Sodom was destroyed because of it, then I have something to say.

Sure, Sodom was destroyed (Genesis 19) but it wasn't on account of the Sodomites practicing homosexuality. The prophet Ezekiel says it this way:

"Behold, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, abundant food and careless ease, but she didn't help the poor and the needy" (16:49).
And before anyone would want to use the Bible to condemn the matrix of behaviors that we now collectively see as expressions of homosexuality, he or she should first carefully consider the following:

In modern times the fear of being pegged as gay leads many men to live lives of emotional exile. We don't mind when our women hug or kiss each other, or even caress each other, but if guys show affection to other guys, either riots ensue or the guy in question will be helpfully moved towards what we now call the gay community. In the Bible, however, men are still allowed the celebrate intimacy without being labeled or stigmatized:

  • They weep (Jacob weeps after his first kiss with Rachel - Genesis 29:11; Jesus weeps when he sees Mary weep, even when He knows He'll raise her brother Lazarus from the dead - John 11:35).
  • They kiss each other (Absalom lavishly kisses his subjects - 2 Samuel 15:5; David and Jonathan kiss - 1 Samuel 20:41; Christian brethren ought to kiss each other by holy habit - 1 Corinthians 16:20).
  • They decline in each other's arms (the disciple who Jesus loved declined in Jesus’ arms- John 13:23)
  • They touch each other's private parts; non-sexually but intimately non the less (the word yarek literally means extremity or foundation, and commonly refers to the reproductive organs: See Ezekiel and Abraham - Genesis 24:9; and the "man" at the Jabbok and Jacob - Genesis 32:25)

In our day and age, we categorize sexual preferences or practices, but in the Bible that doesn't happen. Like everything else in the Bible, sex can be done shamefully or gracefully. Graceful sex occurs between people who are bound by an economical covenant; a husband who rules the house, and his wife who runs the house. In the Old Testament, when social structures left unwedded women, widows and orphans pretty much without care or protection, and when wars frequently decimated the male population, the husband could acquire as many concubines as he could afford. These concubines were part of the household but of lower rank than the wife. Their primary function was to produce offspring. Their "reward" was protection and belonging. Although romantic love is certainly acknowledged in the Bible, it was certainly not part of the regular marriage deal.

The only restriction was that sex had to be, like everything else, hygienic. When a woman was menstruating, she could not be approached (Leviticus 18:19). The phrase "flowing of blood" is used in the Bible mainly as an indication of murder and massacres. But when a woman menstruates, she has basically "failed" to conceive, or worse, is having a miscarriage. One who bears a child adds to life. One who lets blood flow, takes from life.

Shameful sex is any kind of sexual activity conducted with anyone not part of the above mentioned structure, or not aimed at the preservation of life, whether that is by producing offspring or by producing a strong and stable household based on love.

The Bible specifies some of these activities but these lists obviously don't cover forms of recreational sex that were invented later (sex with dolls or other artifacts, SMB, pornography, fetishes, or even the use of anti-conception devices such as condoms or devices that eventuate an effective abortion, such as spirals and certain pharmaceuticals). The pet-texts of Biblical gay-bashers all occur within these pools; they describe acts of sex that are conducted only and entirely to get rid of an itch that that has the function of preserving life. Our sex drive is the psychological equivalent of physical hunger. If ancient mankind would have devised a method to undo the sensation of hunger without having to eat for it, it would have been condemned along with shameful sex.

Shameful sex covers all forms of sexual expression that will ultimately lead to the disintegration of society, and is therefore closely akin to the failure to take care of the poor and needy.

But society evolves, even in the Bible. Where in the Old Testament men could have multiple wives and concubines, in the New Testament men were only to have one wife, or no wife at all (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9). Promiscuity of any kind is still radically condemned in the New Testament, but intimacy between people certainly isn't, and neither is a life-long friendship between men who love each other. Same-sex couples should be allowed to register their covenant if their society would deprive them of certain economical rights otherwise. They certainly should be allowed to take care of abandoned orphans, because neglecting to do so brought about the destruction of Sodom in the first place.

Their level of intimacy, however, is subject to the same regulations as that of anybody else. These regulations are part of a natural law; the same law by which we were formed, and by which we all, whether consciously or not, desire to live. We're part of it and it's part of us. It's written on our hearts and we and all the world around us are subject to it. The downside of this law is that none of us can keep it. That means that we're all entirely guilty, and will all completely die. And it doesn't really matter which part of the law we broke, or how much of it. The only way out is to let Jesus Christ fulfill the law for us, and to trust Him fully, and to allow Him to lead us towards a state in which no law can condemn us to death.

Until that happens, we'll die, and as long as we die, we'll have a sex drive, and as long as we have a sex drive, we can have sex shamefully or gracefully.

And for what it’s worth: I rather have a friendly gay for a neighbor than a hooligan, or someone who drops bombs on civilians.

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