Independence Day 1993 found us on the eve of President Clinton’s “honorable compromise” to his original promise to lift the ban of same gender oriented personnel in the American armed forces. With the pledge of allegiance that I’d said so many times as a child on the forefront of my mind, I considered the numerous reactive comments from fundamentalist Christians, citing homosexuals as examples of the trend within Christendom to reject the inerrancy of the Word of God. They always refer back to biblical passages describing homosexual behavior as “detestable” and “an abomination to be turned from.” Speaking from the Word of God written on my heart, the heart of a woman identified woman, I am grateful for the liberties which I do hold. This emphasis on biblical authority represents a trend in Christendom as old as the canonization of those writings deemed by so many as the “Word of God.” The type of idolatry that the great I Am is reputed to have warned against may indeed have been the fact of people often tending to look for answers outside themselves. Luther saw through the idolatry of papal authority< in his day, standing firm amidst inevitable condemnation for heresy. Many today see how “biblical authority” represents a similar trend toward our own culture’s idolatry. The Reformation’s exposure of papal idolatry must find its equivalent in our time with biblical idolatry. I believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and all transgenderal phenomena of the human species contribute most significantly to that Reformation in our time. A part of our task is to expose the biblical idolatry that holds so many Christian fundamentalists and other upholders of America’s institutions tightly within its grip and threatens war on America’s children in the streets of America, in the name of God, no less.
Theological study has enhanced my understanding of the “Bible” of Christendom, shedding rays of light which caution us against biblical idolatry. Historical criticism, that is the study of the Bible with emphasis upon how culture affected the meanings, has enlightened my appreciation for these works within the context of the “Word of God.” I am grateful for the additional light it shed and recommend it to any serious student of the Bible, Christianity, religion, or even social justice, in general. A careful examination of these from within the context of the culture of its creation allowed me to focus on the issue of more importance, that of Christianity, as a spiritual faith with a message to me, in the midst of the modern world.
The faith of Christ, in himself as a child of God, differentiates itself from the laws of Judaism in favor of fulfilling not the letter, but the spirit of the law. In this he embodies an ethic which takes full responsibility for oneself in relationship to God, self, and everyone else. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Part of the healing capacity within Christianity is perhaps bringing Jesus (the Child of God) to the full stature of his differentiation of self from the background of the Jewish panorama into which he was born. In other words, growing beyond the tendency to idolize some other. In this case Judaism, the law, the Bible, a Male Only God, Jesus Himself, and finally Christianity. The combined writings of the Hebraic documents of the Old Testament, the Greek texts of the New Testament, and our own intellect allow us to examine a possibly codependent relationship between Judaism and Christianity that often blinds us from messages that I believe were inherent in, but not limited to, both of these religions of the world.
If Jesus’ intent were to merely bring us another to idolize, even himself, then his messianic promise may be of no relevance either to you or to me. Perhaps we should then shelve the Christian account of his life and his relationship to the God of Judaism with 20th century literature on codependency. But if in fact there is meaning in that life, even to us, it may be the Word of God — that Abiding Presence Within each of us. And it may be far beyond the pages of a document of selected writings that any church fathers of a specific place and time determined as orthodoxy.
I am ever more thankful for That Still Small Voice of My Soul now and as a child, both within and beyond the church of my childhood. For it was the wellspring of my self esteem on the path of my own womyn oriented self. The male oriented words of patriarchal prophets offered me nothing but justification for the inhumanities I suffer moment to moment in the modern day macho world into which I was born, and continue to live, move, and have my being. The doors of the temple slammed in the face of any full participation in the church in my adult life, simply because I share a womyn oriented home with another womyn. The church doors of my childhood — closed forever to my adulthood claim to a life of my own. Being a reflection of the image of God, however, enlightens my womynhood in a way that the heterosexist, male oriented culture could never. The Still Small Voice of the Soul Within Me, the glorious body of a womyn of rural, earthy, “pagan” roots, voices a spirituality rooted in the heart of Mother Nature. This Presence Within recognizes the misogyny of the male mass mentality whose Male Only God cursed woman and referred to a menstruating woman as an “abomination,” the same word also used to describe what most modern interpretations call “homosexual behavior.”
The biases of the church fathers, along with those of the writers of the “Bible” as well as too many of its subsequent interpreters, support certain assumptions taken for granted: that woman was about the last thing anyone would want to be (that is on the surface, we will leave the subject of “womb envy” to another chapter), and as evidenced by one of the daily Hebrew prayers, “Thank God I am not a woman.” There is a very real cultural redemption in pregnancy amongst a people threatened with genocide, and it is understandable that the state of pregnant womanhood might become the major cultural focus. In keeping with the fact that the pregnant woman is considered to be the ultimate state of womanhood, and certainly the only redeeming one in such a context, the menstruating woman is referred to, by contrast, as an “abomination” in the original scriptural works which define womanhood as a curse. That the term used to describe “homosexual behavior” is also referred to as an “abomination” is no accident. Implicitly inherent in the “homosexual behavior” of the biblical world was the generally accepted assumption that to be equated with a woman was a despicable fate to suffer.
I was born woman into a world in which men either perceived themselves as God’s gift to women or the woman as possessing penis envy (wanting to be a man, or like men). I embarked on my own healing journey of the self and a celebration of the Uncompromised Feminine which has been a core part of that necessary journey, as a direct result. I am not opposed to men or relationships with them, but the natural course of my life is one focused upon feminine rather than phallic reality. In fact, some of my best friends are men! But the womyn oriented home that I share with the womyn of my choice celebrates that which was never honored in the world of men who define power as power over others, especially women. From the time of puberty, young girls typically begin a life of relying upon their relation to males, and its consequent privilege rather than their own self esteem, in preparation for their second class citizenship of being female in a man’s world. I, however, cannot afford to compromise my gift of being female for greater status in structures that deny the very vital essence of life in their lack of honor for that which is of woman, beyond the context of childbearing. Being a womyn oriented womyn is most natural for me, although I recognize that exclusion from the halls of male privilege is part of the price I pay. I do not accept the traditional assumptions that negate my value as a womyn, and a womyn oriented womyn, nor do I align myself with the political powers that be, either patriarchal religious orthodoxy, or the cultural status quo. To do so would be to compromise my integrity.
The Christian Bible, including the laws of Judaism, consists of books understood by many to be the word of God, although they did not actually come to us as one document delivered and signed by God. Instead, they are a variety of writings selected by church fathers for whom they represented a certain orthodoxy or party line. Frequently, these writings are used today as justification for prejudices against persons with a same-gender orientation to life, just as they have been used as justification for prejudice against persons of various races, hopefully in the past. Modern interpretations have journeyed a long way from the original Hebrew and Greek writings, for which there was no actual word for a homosexual orientation. The references, examined in the language and cultural context of the time of their being written, seem rather to refer to abusive practices such as gang rape, male prostitution and sexual slavery in the context of religious hierarchy, and pederasty (sex between an adult and youth). These practices which have nothing to do with a same-gender orientation to life, are neither compatible with common decency and respect for others, and certainly not with the universal ethic of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
That the biblical story of the sins of Sodom got misunderstood, mistranslated, and generalized to a homosexual orientation to life, of homosexuality, in general, or even homosexual practices, or behavior — is a product of a serious psycho-sociological phenomenon, called homophobia, which affects all people gay and straight. I believe at the core of homophobia, lies a basic mistrust of oneself, which manifests itself in ways which diminish our capacity for intimacy with God, with ourselves, and with others, regardless of whether we are what you would call “queer” or not. In other words, the fear which calls into question our potential intimacy with another, calls into question our most basic sense of trust for self, or our relationship with our Core Self, or if you will, God.
The massive shadow of that fear, homophobia, is a great human tragedy, that has contributed so much unnecessary pain and tribulation to numerous gay and lesbian people throughout history, not to mention the price that “society” pays for its banishment of the talents and gifts of some of its gentlest human creatures, simply because it cannot get its mind off what other people do in their bedrooms, or what they think other people do in their bedrooms.
The continuing tragedy is that one so-called “sin of Sodom” has become encoded in laws continuing to exist in contemporary times, usually serving merely to justify official oppression and discrimination of same-gender oriented persons. None of the other sins of Sodom begin to get equal time in the contemporary drama. That sin of Sodom, which has immortalized the name, centers upon the evil intent of its men to subjugate strangers by forcibly raping them. Rape was a common occurrence in the ancient world and continues in modern day times, both as a sign of military conquest and as a sign of humiliation, a way of impressing defeat, of attempting to break the spirits of the conquered. The later commentaries attributed mostly to Paul in the Christian New Testament letters to the Corinthians, Romans and Timothy are in the context of prostitution and the practice of pederasty, the slavery of young boys for the sexual purposes of adult men. The writers of the ancient world who explored the compatibility of such practices with the Jewish and Christian perspectives saw the inhumanity thrust upon man by one anotherand especially as these were sometimes practices within the context of religion itself. It is commendable that the Hebrew writer, and later Paul, in his observations of the Roman culture, exposed such inhumanities, involving the exploitations of man to man. But the exploitation of females was taken for granted then as an unquestionable part of life, and has mostly continued to do so somewhat through the modern day.
As a woman, I take even further insult by the fact of Lot, righteous citizen of Sodom, offering his daughters as sexual sport for the men. And the fact of his display of moral compromise that is considered a fatherly (?) gesture of gracious (?) host behavior toward his guests — is despicable. The fact that sexual exploitation of women is taken for granted in the world of men both in times of Sodom and today, does not make it any easier to accept, or any more justifiable, and had I been one of those daughters, the story would hopefully have come out very different, and been told with a slightly varying view, from no less than a woman’s opinion.
In questions involving lifting the ban on same gender oriented military personnel in 1993 America, the Chiefs kept the argument within the framework of the guys horsing around in the shower. Never once did they consult the wise council of maids and matrons, and always the women were typically more or less invisible. Totally overlooked in the discussions is every woman’s vulnerability to being subjected to male harassment, sometimes subtle-sometimes not subtle exploitation of her, and rape and sexual assault. “Lesbian baiting” is often her “just” reward for refusing the sexual attentions of some male officer, whose eventual retaliation could prove most deadly to her career, her livelihood, and her future. After all, the prototype of the lesbian is about the same as the prototype of the finest female soldier: an assertive and decisive hard worker who doesn’t sleep around with a bunch of men. We heard much furor and worry over the threat of naked men in the shower with one another, and the fear that a straight man would just as soon shoot the queer in the foxhole next to him, rather than the enemy with a gun aimed at him, who truly did pose a very real threat. Always denied in the discussions were the realities of the average gay or lesbian soldier, who often find themselves caught up in an official witch hunt at tax payer’s expense, usually based upon someone’s mere rumor that he or she was a “queer.”
The contradictions inherent in the institutions of religion and government have in my time exhibited a most flagrant assault upon my being as a womyn identified womyn created in the image of God, and I defy their right to maintain jurisdiction over my body or my soul. The Sacred WombSource of Life shows her most beauteous reflections in the variations of Life Itself. And the insistence that my life will be a celebration of at least one of those Reflections is the essence of my being. From the Abiding Presence of God within me, the message which is a part of my identity and that which my life has to offer, says to you: get over it. We are here and we are queer! We are sexual beings, like everyone else. However, we are more than the sexual beings which become the focus of your imagination. Making us the object of your preoccupation prevents you from dealing with the fears inside yourselves. Facing your fears is about becoming more comfortable with whoever you are. Dealing with those fears will not make you queer, unless it is your own natural predisposition to be so. And even then, simply being queer does not necessarily result in some kind of uncontrollable behavior, or journey into a degenerate lifestyle.
Whether our same gender orientation is a consequence of nature, nurture, or both, we want no special privileges, but we want our equality recognized. We want careers and livelihoods which will reward rather than punish our talents. We want you to realize your oneness with us, rather than try to separate us out into second-class citizens. We want our right to pursue happiness in this “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we want that pursuit recognized for what it is, rather than labeled perversion, morally inferior, or whatever current rationale upon which you choose to draw in order to support your prejudices. We simply want to be that which we are — creative, honest, hard working human beings, rather than the dirty pictures of your runaway imaginations. Institutionalized suppression of our truth will not make us go away. And there is truth within us that deserves to see the light of day. I hope and I pray, and I pay my taxes — for defense of that honor, not of any precious few at the expense of anyone else, but rather, for each of us. With liberty and justice FOR ALL!
Carol Jean Stabel is a native of Texas who graduated from Booker (Texas) High School and currently lives in Corpus Christi.