The next time someone uses Romans 1:26-27 to condemn you as a gay or lesbian person, all you have to remember is Cybele’s Temple.
At the time Romans 1 was written (around 58 CE) there was a pagan goddess named Cybele whose temple sat atop the Palatine Hill. The temple had a long bank of white stone steps at the entrance. No matter where you were in Rome, when you looked to the hill her temple stood out because of the white steps that made it seem to float in the air. “Cybele’s temple employed shrine prostitutes, both male and female. The men were usually castrated and had anal sex with the priests. Those people were called in the Hebrew scripture as kadesh and kadesha. These were fertility rites, offering their seed as the seed to the fertility God. This is what Paul is referring to in Romans 1,” said Rick Brentlinger.
Brentlinger’s new book, Gay Christian 101: Spiritual Self-Defense for Gay Christians – What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality puts a new spin on the “what the Bible says about homosexuality” books. He doesn’t just put the verses in historical context, but shows how early Christians interpreted the passages used against us today. The big surprise is that none of them used the passages to condemn homosexuality.
“Early Christians like Philo of Alexandria, who lived from 20 BC to 40 AD, understood that Romans 1 was dealing with shrine prostitution,” Brentlinger said.
Philo was not alone. Other church leaders like Justin Martyr who lived within about 100 years of the writings of Romans and Aristides also interpreted these passages to refer to the activities of Cybele’s Temple.
Brentlinger’s excellent book uses that same pattern throughout, searching the historical records for what the earliest Christians thought of the biblical passages used against gays and lesbians. What he found is that none of the passages, when put into their proper context, address homosexuality as we know it today. Interpretations of these passages as condemning gays and lesbians are relatively new developments used by conservative and fundamentalist Christians.
“It’s impossible to divorce that historical, cultural, and religious context from Romans 1 (or any of the passages used against us) if you’re going to be an honest interpreter of the scripture. A lot of non-gay Christians are just not honest or they haven’t studied. They ignore that entirely and try to make that a blast from Paul and God against gays and lesbians,” he said.
Brentlinger points out, however, that some anti-gay scholars are realizing that the passages used against gays and lesbians have nothing to do with homosexuality, like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
“Dr. Robert Gagnon, of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is one of the leading scholars against gays and lesbians. Yet, he admits that the Sodom story is not an ideal text to guide contemporary Christian sexual ethics. He also says the rubric under which the Sodom story is told in the Bible is inhospitality and not homosexuality. So, we have made some progress,” he noted.
Brentlinger, who grew up in a “radically conservative fundamental Baptist home” where the only permissible translation of the Bible was the King James Version, said he wrote the book because he wished he had a book like this 30 years ago when he was struggling.
“The thing that would have helped me as a college kid in a fundamental independent Baptist college that was not gay friendly would have been a book that explained all the clobber passages in proper historical, literary, doctrinal context so that people wouldn’t have to go through what I went through,” he said.
His Web site at gaychristian101.com contains even more historical information, including pictures, videos and links for more study for those who may still be struggling with the Bible.
He hopes his book and Web site will remove the many stumbling blocks he encountered along the way to reconciling his sexuality and spirituality.
“I hope readers will come away with the belief that the Bible is God’s word and can be trusted. God does not hate gay people and homosexuality. God loves us and we are a vital part of God’s plan for the church.”
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.