Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coming to the 2014 PC (U.S.A) GA: Rainbow wedding rings & myths of ancient same sex martyrs

Sadly,  Presbyterians will probably find that at the 2014th Generally Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) they are confronted by rainbow knitted wedding rings and stories of ancient Christian martyrs and early church fathers and mothers who were married in Christian rites intended as same sex rituals.
 On the More Light Presbyterians' web site, tucked neatly at the end of an article about knitting rainbow scarves for the 2014 GA, is a suggestion to also knit wedding rings in honor of two ancient martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus. According to the author of the article, Janet Edwards, Serius and Bacchus were a married gay couple. She references the historian John Boswell, writing:

“Since the focus in Detroit will be upon overtures regarding marriage, MLP is adding an additional wrinkle to the rainbow witness at this assembly. St. Sergius and St. Bacchus were early church martyrs who were Roman soldiers in Syria. According to the historian, John Boswell, they were united in an official church liturgy of their time. Perhaps we can agree: today, we would recognize their love and commitment as marriage. A mosaic preserved in a Syrian church portrays them wearing identical rings.”

This mythological idea has been soundly answered by a theologian who teaches church history, who was, herself united in a “same sex union” with a friend. As Robin Darling Young writes, when reviewing Boswell's book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe:

This is a subject about which I have the good fortune to speak not merely as a scholar or an observer, but as a participant. Nine years ago I was joined in devout sisterhood to another woman, apparently in just such a ceremony as Boswell claims to elucidate in his book. The ceremony took place during a journey to some of the Syrian Christian communities of Turkey and the Middle East, and the other member of this same-sex union was my colleague Professor Susan Ashbrook Harvey of Brown University. During the course of our travels we paid a visit to St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem, the residence of the Syrian Orthodox archbishop. There our host, Archbishop Dionysius Behnam Jajaweh, remarked that since we had survived the rigors of Syria and Eastern Turkey in amicable good humor, we two women must be good friends indeed. Would we like to be joined as sisters the next morning after the bishop's Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Intrigued, we agreed, and on a Sunday in late June of 1985, we followed the bishop and a monk through the Old City to a side chapel in the Holy Sepulchre where, according to the Syrian Orthodox, lies the actual tomb of Jesus. After the liturgy, the bishop had us join our right hands together and he wrapped them in a portion of his garment. He pronounced a series of prayers over us, told us that we were united as sisters, and admonished us not to quarrel. Ours was a sisterhood stronger than blood, confirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, and since it was a spiritual union, it would last beyond the grave.

Our friendship has indeed endured and flourished beyond the accidental association of two scholars sharing an interest in the Syriac-speaking Christianity of late antiquity. The blessing of the Syrian Orthodox Church was a precious instance of our participation in the life of an ancient and noble Christian tradition.”

Young's article “Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History,” was written for the Journal First Things in 1994. It is very relevant for PC (U.S.A.) members today.  Young points to the many historical errors and poor translations in Boswell's book.

This is particularly evident when he writes of  St. Sergius and St. Bacchus. As Young writes:

“In the story, Bacchus dies first, and appears in a vision to exhort Sergius to preserve his Christian faith in the face of certain martyrdom the next day. Boswell asserts that "Bacchus' promise that if Serge followed the Lord he would get as his reward not the beatific vision, not the joy of paradise, not even the crown of martyrdom, but Bacchus himself, was remarkable by the standards of the early church, privileging human affection in a way unparalleled during the first thousand years of Christianity."

To arrive at this conclusion requires that Boswell read Sun soi gar apokeitai moi ho tes dikaiosynes stephanos as "For the crown of justice for me is to be with you." But that is not how it reads; the Latin version more correctly translates the Greek as Tecum enim mihi reposita est justitia et corona: "For with you is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (in the Latin, "righteousness and crown") [cf. 2 Timothy 4:8]. In other words, the two will together gain the crown-not primarily one another's person, as Boswell wishes.”

More Light Presbyterians with the help of some very bad history, are setting up a scenario where affection/friendship between two women or two men is impossible.  In their prevailing context, one cannot think of friendship without thinking of the erotic. With this they hurt the communion of the saints, they destroy the connectionalism of the church.

But MLP and Janet Edwards, in using Boswell's book, will undoubtedly go much further. Boswell in his book, and as Young also points out, does more than slander ancient martyrs,  he slanders the Lord of the church, suggesting that Jesus and the beloved disciple were perhaps lovers:

“Certainly the most controversial same sex couple in the Christian tradition comprised Jesus and John, the beloved disciple. The relationship between them  was often depicted in subsequent art and literature as intimate, if not erotic. John refers to himself six times as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”[1]  

This touches the very heart of the gospel. For those who claim that the PC (U.S.A) is not changing the church's Christology—let them stand against this immoral heresy invading the denomination.  

Read Young's article,  Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History, and prepare as followers of Jesus to stand for his sake in witness and kneel in intersession for the broken hurting people of this denomination, including ourselves. May Christ have mercy on his people, may the Holy Spirit turn many to the Savior, may the Father walk with his children through this dark time. the furture there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 8)

[1] found at Amazon in  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Picture of Serius and Bacchus taken from Wikipedia




Debbie said...

One of the arguments that those who favor same-sex marriage often use is that the type of mutual homosexual love that we see in the 21st century was unknown in earlier times, and all they had back then was exploitation. But now some of them are bringing this up? They can't have it both ways. Either it was unknown or it was known. They'd better pick one argument or the other, but not both.

Mike Armistead said...

I get references to John Boswell's work all the time on my Marriage Conservation Facebook Page. He was a tragic figure, a gay activist dying of AIDS when he wrote his last work, Same-Sex Union In Pre-Modern Europe, in 1994. He was critiqued accurately as seeing homoerotic relationships everywhere, and seemed to be trying to find some justification for his sad life. It was bad scholarship then, and we don't need to revive it now for a PCUSA General Assembly. That book is getting a bit of a revival since it was re-released in digital form in August. There are thorough reviews of it 1994 editions of First Things (which you quoted) and The New Oxford Review. This past summer even the Huffington Post had to critique his ideas in the article below. It is helpful to hear of the author of the First Things review describe his friends' experience in Syria to affirm that Christians can have spiritual unions without turning them into erotic unions, something the modern world just can't seem to understand.

Mike Armistead
Fayetteville, NC

Jim Stochl said...

"Historian John Boswell", I needed a morning chuckle. Alas, what passes for scholarship these days is nothing more than advocacy of one's own bent. (And we conservative Christians are very much in danger of the same practice.)

One of my colleagues at an evangelical university taught 1-2 Samuel. And when discussing the Jonathan/David story, always had students jump to the conclusion that Jonathan and David were gay lovers. His response was along these lines: "I find it more than a little sad that we in the modern West cannot possibly imagine genuine and deep friendship without sexualizing it."

Jim Stochl, Ceres, CA

Walter L. Taylor said...

Boswell's work has been discredited over and over. But so desperate and dishonest are the Covenant Network and their allies that they will grab hold of anything for the sake of their cause. The end justifies the means for these folks.

Viola Larson said...

Walter, It is the More Light Presbyterians-but they do seem to be working together recently.

Anonymous said...

Lord, help us.