Friday, September 14, 2012

When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite


I recently read a study the results of which surprised me at first. But after thinking about it, I understood exactly why the study results were correct. The study found that only a very small percentage of those who identify as Fundamental Christians had ever actually read the Bible!

At first this seemed counter intuitive to me, but then I started to think back on my own years as a child in a Fundamental Christian Church. The study results made perfect sense. 

For Fundamental Christians the Bible is a talisman, and not much more in reality. They wouldn't admit that of course, but its very much the truth. In Fundamental Churches people are encouraged, if not required, to keep their Bibles with them at all times. They are told the Bible is the answer to every problem. It is, in reality, like a good luck charm on steroids. In every worship service the scripture is read and each member is encouraged to read along, and most do. But they read passively, because they know the next order of worship will be the preacher telling them exactly what the verses they have just had read to them mean. No thought is required of them, no study. All they have to do is hear the minister and believe what he has to say.

The same kind of thing goes on in the Sunday School classes of Fundamentalist groups. A scripture is read and then the members of the class are told what it means. The only discussion allowed is discussion that parrots back what they participants have been told and shows acceptance of the meaning of the scripture as related by the teacher. I first ran afoul of the system when I was only 10 years old when I dared to suggest the story of Jonah and the whale was only a myth. I was immediately labeled a heretic, and my teacher went to my father to tell him he had better get a hold on me because I was already on my way to Hell.

Most Fundamental Christians do not question what they are told; and if they do, more often than not, they choose to keep their questions to themselves rather than risk the almost certain censure of the group.

This dynamic leads to the findings of the study in my opinion. There is no reason for Fundamental Christians to read the Bible on their own. It will be read to them and they will be told how to interpret what is read to them. There is no need to read and study and think on one's own. Indeed, to do so would be dangerous.

Thus, reason is suspended. The unquestioned authority of the minister is accepted, and the Bible becomes nothing more than a talisman. 

Some may find it hard to think that large groups of adults could suspend reason in such an important area of their lives. But any study of human behavior makes it clear that the urge to be a part of a group is strong. The urge to be accepted into something bigger than one's self is also strong. The ability of even intelligent people to be brainwashed is also well documented. Adolf Hitler managed to bend a whole country to his will, and no one would suggest that the German people are not highly intelligent and well educated. The suspension of reason is a very dangerous thing, but it happens all the time and it happens continually in Fundamentalist Churches.

In the United States of America, our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but that guarantee has been voided by the power of the Right Wing Fundamental Christians. One need look no further than the Federal Defense of Marriage Act to confirm this. The act is clearly a violation of human rights, yet it is the law of the land because the Fundamental Christians have the power to make it so. No one can run on a Republican ticket and win election in this country unless he or she bows to the Right Wing Christian Fundamentalists. They are very powerful indeed, and in the Defense of Marriage Act they have made their personal view of marriage the law of the land. The same is true of laws prohibiting abortion, and the distribution of birth control. Some state laws bar same sex partners from adopting children because Fundamental Christians believe it is better to shuffle children from one foster home to another than to let them be raised in a loving non traditional family environment. Such laws are clearly not in the best interests of the people of the United States of America, but they are of interest to the Fundamentalists and might makes right.

The only problem is, as in most beliefs held by Christian Fundamentalist, what they preach as truth and gospel is often controversial, sometimes even patently false. Contrary to the myth they would have us believe, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.

Professor John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University's history department, was himself a very controversial historian and writer. He discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th centuries), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th centuries).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

Some of those who dispute Boswell's conclusions do not dispute the ceremonies he describes. However, they dispute the purpose. They contend that the ceremonies were used for the blessing of men who wished to be sealed in a non-sexual bond. As yet there is no proof either way, but such an elaborate ceremony for the recognition of "blood brothers" seems far fetched to me.

The original article by Boswell follows:


A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.

Is the icon suggesting that a gay "wedding" is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (AD 512 - 518) explained that, "we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life". This is not a case of simple "adelphopoiia." In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers". In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.

Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the "Office of Same-Sex Union" (10th and 11th century), and the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiatied in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.

Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12thand/ early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.

Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, "Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union", invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to "vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union", uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.

The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope's parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, "taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together" according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.

Prof. Boswell's academic study is so well researched and documented that it poses fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their own modern attitudes towards homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be cowardly and deceptive. The evidence convincingly shows that what the modern church claims has always been its unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is, in fact, nothing of the sort.

It proves that for the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom, from Ireland to Istanbul and even in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given love and committment to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honored and blessed, through the Eucharist in the name of, and in the presence of, Jesus Christ.

*********************

Although I was a history major in college I make no personal claim as an historian. Further, I make no claim as a Biblical expert. However, I point out to those reading this article that there are hundreds of denominational churches, each with their own view of what the Bible purports to be and to teach. Actually, most of these denominations are a unique product of America. Many saw their beginnings on the American frontier which was isolated from the traditional churches of Europe by the Atlantic Ocean and an ever broadening expanse of territory as the American west began to be settled. As Americans moved ever west they became more and more isolated from the educated clergy of the traditional European churches. Inevitably, the resulting vacuum was filled by those who had their own personal views on scripture and were more than willing to share it in spite of any formal designation as a preacher, or more often than not any seminary education.

Thus, the many and diverse denominations of this country were born. The Fundamental Christian movement which is so powerful today in this country is, itself, a product of this evolution, while the more liberal churches of America are those which maintained closer ties to their European roots.

My point is, I don't know that Boswell was correct in his view of Christian history. Neither do I know that he was wrong. Neither does anyone else at this point. It is a matter of controversy just as is almost every dogmatic issue of the universal Christian church.

Those who insists the loudest they know the truth are the least likely to know it in reality. In matters involving individual human rights, the wise man would do well to err on the side of caution and individual liberties.

Jack Scott

3 comments:

  1. Jack, your point about fundamentalists not reading the Bible is so good. Actually it sadly applies to too many christians. And I don't like how people are told by others what to do and what to think. People don't overcome their insecurity or don't care of trying to understand and make their brains work... so they just accept it and don't use their own mind and their own logic. The other thing that I don't like about religion in general is that many people will put their future in the hands of God. It's as if they dont take any responsibility in what their life is. It truly saddens me. We can all make a difference in our own lives... All in all, what I see is that too many people will erase who they are by not thinking by themselves and not trying to have an impact on their own life... Like I said I think it's very sad.

    Also I was quite surprised and happy to read about those same sex marriages in the past. This is definiteluy good to know.

    That was a very interesting post.

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    Replies
    1. JF, you raise a couple of points that are so valuable. One MUST always remember that religion, especially Christianity, Judaism and Muslim faiths are always double edge swords. In this country one has to only look at the Christian Fundamentalists to see they have forgotten or never learned the joy Christ took in life and living life. He gave up being God to live in joy with us for 30 plus years. He recognized the bitterness life can offer, but he also tried to teach us that it is up to us as to how we react to life. Our Jewish cousins often make the same mistake of dwelling on the negatives of life. There have been so many negatives in the historical Jewish faith, many have simply become overwhelmed. And of course, one only has to see the current headlines from around the world to know that our Muslim cousins have major disagreements within their faith as to how one should live his faith.

      It is not directly a quote from the Bible, but my Dad did a very good job of teaching me that God helps those who help themselves. For me hard work has always been a given in life. It brought me from that little 3 room shack in which I was born to a life I would have never dreamed possible. In addition to teaching me, my Dad demonstrated the value of work to me. As a young married man just starting out in family life, all he could afford was that shack. But he became a very successful man.

      It is indeed so irreligious to see people sitting on their asses waiting for God to "tell" them what to do. I see it all the time in Fundamental Christians. I have found God speaks in a very very small voice, one rarely "heard;" but more often sensed while one is hard at work.

      Thanks for a great comment.

      Jack Scott

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I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

The only reason I take the time to write this blog is to spur your thoughts and comments. Please do not let the spammers cause you not to comment. I know entering the verification words and numbers is a pain in the ass, but I hope you will not let the spammers cause you not to comment.

I still very much look forward to hearing from you.

Jack Scott

Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott