Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Sex got out of hand in the Church

"Homosexuality, Christianity, & the Gospel"

How Masturbation and Homosexuality got out of hand in the eyes of the church        


What Happened To My Masturbation Thread?[1]

This video from the Equip Forum from Summit Church deals with the difficult issue of Same-Sex attraction from a biblical perspective. [Twisted as it may be] 
J. D. Greear: "We tried to get past the myths, the political talking points, and discover how the gospel challenge$ this issue and those of us on both sides of it." Source:

 Some commentators have looked for a rationale in the story of Sodom, in which the men in the town attempt to rape the visitors to Lot’s house. (See Genesis 19; the word “sodomy” comes from this incident.) However, the occurrence in the story was a case of homosex­ual rape, hardly a legitimate precedent for the kind of consensual homosexual acts we are considering. Others see the root of the prohibition in the verse “No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Cultic prostitution, both hetero‑ and homosexual, was a common feature of idolatrous worship in the ancient Near East, but, like the story of Sodom, it is no longer a relevant precedent for modern homosexuality.

Sex outside Marriage [2]

Morality consists of suspecting other people of not being married.
George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor's Dilemma

Before Christianity started to take an interest in controlling marriage, there had been little or no taint associated with illegitimacy. Even in the Middle Ages families would be proud to admit to having been founded by bastards. Many still bear surnames starting with the element Fitz-, which often indicates that the first bearer of the name was a royal bastard. As Church influence over marriage grew stronger, sex was increasingly discouraged outside marriage. Penances were imposed that depended on factors such as age, marital status, and whether or not the man was in Holy Orders*. Class came into it as well. A man who seduced a serving girl could expect half the penance of one who seduced a girl who was his social equal. As Christianity grew stronger, so did the stigma of illegitimacy. For example, fornication was not a crime in the American colonies until Puritans made it one in 1692. In some states it remained an offence until the late twentieth century. In Arizona, for example, fornication was punishable by three years imprisonment.

By Victorian times it was common for women's lives to be ruined by a single indiscretion in their youth. The child would be sent to an orphanage and the mother to a mental asylum. This practice continued well into the twentieth century. In the 1990s, there were still old women in mental asylums who had been there for decades, and who were first committed for no other reason that they had given birth to a child out of wedlock. Others escaped their fate by murdering their new-born children and hiding the bodies. Every so often such grisly relics are found, often in old shoeboxes in attics. Children who were sent to orphanages were generally informed that their parents were dead. Thousands of such "orphans" were shipped from Britain to Roman Catholic orphanages in Australia after World War II, without the knowledge of their parents. Some discovered in adult life that the Church had lied to them and they were not orphans at all. Forty such women, brought up by the Sisters of Nazareth in Garaldton, returned to Britain on the fiftieth anniversary of their exile to be reunited with their families in 1997*.

The term living in sin has a mildly humorous ring to it now, but not so long ago it was widely used in all seriousness. In 1995 there was considerable opposition when a Church of England report suggested abandoning the term. In the past all Christians genuinely believed, as a minority still do, that unmarried couples are committing a grave sin. If one of the partners is married to someone else, then they are committing adultery, an even more serious matter under Church Law. After all, the Old Testament clearly prescribed the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10). As recently as 1959, Geoffrey Fisher, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, stated that adultery ought to be a criminal offence.

One of the worst sexual sins in the eyes of churchmen was masturbation. Masturbation was particularly loathed, yet priests felt compelled to inquire into the minutest details during confession. A leading fifteenth century theologian, Jean Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, wrote an entire treatise on hearing the confessions of masturbators. Countless generations have been terrified by stories of what God would do to those who practised masturbation. They would go blind or deaf, or become insane, or develop syphilis or gonorrhoea. The usual term for masturbation was "self pollution" or "self abuse". As for many other harmless practices, biblical authority was found to condemn it, and as so often the interpretation was questionable. According to the book of Genesis, God was displeased with Judah's eldest son, so he killed him. Since he had died without issue, Judah was concerned about his succession. The Leverite law stated that in such circumstances a brother of the dead man should marry the widow and raise any children in the dead man's name. This duty fell to Onan:

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went into his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.
Genesis 38:8-10

The reference to spilling seed probably denotes coitus interruptus, rather than masturbation. Roman Catholic theologians have traditionally favoured this interpretation because it provides grounds to prohibit coitus interruptus as a form of contraception*. In fact Onan's offence is clearly not so much what he did, but what he did not do. His error lay in disobeying his father, and not doing what he had been instructed to do. This latter interpretation, that Onan's offence was the wilful disobedience of the Leverite law, is the one accepted by most rabbinical scholars*. No matter, there was no other text to justify criticism of masturbation, and Christian moralists needed one, so this one had to be pressed into service.

Well into the twentieth century the state of New York officially held that masturbation causes insanity. God, too, apparently shared such misapprehensions for he revealed all manner of erroneous information to Protestants, Roman Catholics and other Christians. To Ellen White, the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists, he disclosed that masturbation would render a man a cripple and an imbecile. Such stories were supported not only by churchmen but also by Christian physicians who gave the stamp of medical approval. Doctors assured their patients that masturbation caused all manner of ills, from back pain to epilepsy. Up until the middle of the twentieth century almost every adult in a Christian community was, as Bertrand Russell said, more or less diseased nervously as a result of the taboo on sex knowledge when he or she was young. Even today it is not difficult to find fervent Christians who will affirm in all seriousness that masturbation causes impotence, blindness, deafness, insanity, and venereal disease, and that it will result in hair growing on the palms of the hands. Although all of these supposed symptoms are imaginary, Christian children of many denominations are still threatened with them.

William of Auvergne pointed out in the thirteenth century that male masturbators are automatically guilty of a number of crimes including homicide and sodomy (homicide because the semen was spilled unproductively, sodomy because it was not being deposited in a proper vessel). Apart from the shame, guilt, and embarrassment associated with masturbation, penalties for it could be severe. At one time seminal emission attracted a penalty of seven days fasting if it was involuntary and 20 days if it was physically assisted. Monks masturbating in church were liable to a fast of 30 days, and bishops to 50*. No punishment succeeded in eliminating this vice, and masturbation was still a major problem in Victorian times. Boys might be infibulated, i.e. have wires threaded through their foreskins to prevent them from masturbating. Alternatively, spiked metal rings could be fitted around the penis to discourage tumescence.

For girls, matters could be worse. Father J. C. Debreyne, a Trappist monk and physician, who had his own list of imaginary symptoms caused by masturbation, favoured the surgical removal of the clitoris from female offenders. It was after all only an organ of pleasure, superfluous to the act of procreation. Clitorectomies (sometimes called female circumcisions) were performed on Christian girls, just as they still are on Muslim girls. In the late nineteenth century Dr Jules Guerin of London claimed to effect excellent cures on masturbators by cauterising the clitoris*. All this because Christian theologians believed masturbation to be worse than incest or murder. Infibulations and clitorectomies are no longer tolerated, but the Church still clings to its ancient attitudes. As a modern theologian has observed:

...anyone who derives his theology from Catholic moral theologians will be convinced, even today, that masturbation wastes the spinal marrow, softens or desiccates the brain, and can generally impair the constitution*.

Because of their association with sex, the genitals were generally seen as vile and disgusting. So it is that we refer to them by the Latin name pudenda, from pudendus meaning "of which one ought to be ashamed". In England our straightforward native Saxon terms have been forced out of use or reduced to the status of obscenities. Missionaries down the centuries, even to the present day, have encouraged potential converts to think of their genitals as shameful and dirty. Shame is introduced to make all cultures more like the guilt-ridden ones of Christendom. Even so, it seems that clothing does not always guarantee freedom from temptation to natural desire, at least if we are to make inferences from the incidence of red-haired aborigine babies in the wake of Irish missions in Australia.

For many non-Christians it is difficult to credit the extent to which Christian societies have gone to suppress sexual matters. Not so long ago nuns and convent girls were expected to take their baths in swimming costumes, or with the bath sheeted over. The reason was that otherwise their naked bodies might be seen by God, or by their guardian angel, or by one of the host of other spiritual beings who frequent our bathrooms. Many children in Christian countries still reach puberty without having learned anything of basic human sexual physiology. Adolescent boys raised by Christians are often surprised to find themselves experiencing spontaneous nocturnal seminal emissions, and girls are often horrified at their first menstruation. In many non-Christian cultures such events are much less traumatic: children are familiar with sex and sexuality from an early age because such matters are ordinary, natural aspects of everyday life.

Christian societies are now slightly more realistic than they once were. The second Council of Mâcon in 585 decreed that male corpses should not be buried next to female ones until they had decomposed*. One could never be too careful in matters sexual. The obsession with sex often had dire results. Not so long ago gynaecologists could carry out physical examinations only when absolutely necessary. And even then it was common practice for such examinations to be carried out under sheets in darkened rooms. In the early nineteenth century a Philadelphia professor could boast of American women that they "prefer to suffer the extremity of danger and pain rather than waive those scruples of delicacy which prevent their maladies from being fully explored"*. We shall never know how many thousands of women have died unnecessarily, protecting their Christian modesties from the attentions of the medical profession.

Most of the extreme Christian ideas are now discarded and forgotten, having been superseded by liberal, secular and scientific ones. Sometimes all that was necessary was for a non-believer to bring the Christian-inspired practice to public notice, and public opinion did the rest. As we have already noted, at the end of the nineteenth century female masturbation was sometimes prevented by excising the clitoris, or cauterising it with red-hot irons, this operation being advocated and practised by Christian physicians. Such practices fell out of use after being publicised by an atheist physician named Sigmund Freud*.


Homosexuality and Transvestism [3]

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Leviticus 18:22

The ancients seem to have accepted homosexuality without too much concern. Plato recounts a myth that sets both male and female homosexuality firmly within the realm of normality. Zeus himself kept a catamite (young male lover), his cup-bearer Ganymede. And no one thought less of Alexander the Great because of his male lover, nor found it odd that one of his best fighting units was composed exclusively of homosexual couples.

Christianity brought new attitudes, more extreme than those of its parent religion, Judaism. Homosexual sex was now an outrage. The Church's view on this matter was founded in the scripture cited above "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination". This however was not thought to be a strong enough indictment, so the early Church reconstrued the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. To the Jews, Sodom had traditionally been identified with shortcomings such as irreligiousness, pride, and adultery. It was these wrongdoings that they thought had incurred the wrath of God. Only later, when they came to be outraged by liberal Hellenistic and Roman attitudes to sex, did they start to associate the cities of the plain with misdeeds such as fornication and homosexuality. It was Philo of Alexandria, living in the first century AD, who seems to have first interpreted the story as one principally about homosexuality, and this was the version that the Church Fathers preferred. So it is that, to this day, anal intercourse and sometimes other sexual practices are referred to as sodomy, and practising male homosexuals as sodomites or sods. (Several American states still regard sodomy as encompassing any form of intercourse other than that carried out using the missionary position).

As the Roman Empire crumbled, the Church succeeded in replacing traditional sexual liberality. Homosexuals were soon being punished by forcible castration and public display. A law passed under the Christian Emperor Valentinian in 390 prescribed death by burning as the penalty for homosexuality, and this was confirmed by the Code of Justinian in the sixth century. Through Gratian's Decretum the death penalty was adopted by European nations, for example under Edward I in England and Louis IX in France. Alfonso X of Castile favoured castration followed by hanging upside down until dead, but at the end of the fifteenth century Ferdinand and Isabella changed this to the more traditional burning.

According to the Golden Legend all sodomites throughout the whole world had been divinely exterminated in preparation for Jesus Christ's arrival , but somehow the practice had become popular again. In Europe, homosexuals were burned to death like heretics throughout the Middle Ages — the non-clerical ones at least. The French continued to burn homosexuals as late as 1725.

For centuries heresy and homosexuality went together in the Christian mind, twin evils both deserving of death. Virtually all non-Christians were believed to practice homosexuality, and virtually all heretical groups were accused of it as well, whether or not there was any evidence. One such heretical group is particularly notable in this respect, the Bulgarians a group of Gnostic Dualists related to the Cathars. They flourished in the eleventh century, and as the name suggests were based in Bulgaria. In Old French a Bulgarian was a boulgre, modern French bougre. In English the word adopted another spelling — bugger. Historically it was applied to a succession of heretical groups, each of which was accused of sodomy. So it is that under the headword bugger the Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions: the first obsolete "A heretic ...", the second current, "One who commits buggery; a sodomite ...". (If the Bulgars really did practice anal intercourse, it was almost certainly with their wives and for contraceptive reasons. Anal intercourse between man and wife was a common form of contraception throughout Christendom for many centuries.)

Homosexuality has always been particularly common in single sex institutions (such as prisons, mental asylums, sailing ships and boarding schools) and no less so in religious ones (monasteries, nunneries, seminaries, etc.). Medieval Church commentators freely admitted that homosexuality was common among clergy. St Peter Damian was particularly worried by priests who engaged in homosexual activity with each other, then confessed to each other and gave each other light penance. He was also critical of the practice of soliciting male penitents who revealed their homosexual inclinations during confession. As for other crimes, clerics tended to get off lightly, if they were charged at all. While other offenders were executed, clerics could expect a mild punishment, even though they provided a high proportion of offenders.

Despite the prevalence of homosexuality in their own ranks, Churches have, until the last few years, consistently expressed abhorrence at homosexual practices. Now, for the first time, some of the traditional views have been softened, and homosexuality is accepted by the Church of England, for example, merely as "falling short of the Christian ideal". In the Republic of Ireland homosexual acts such as kissing could until the 1990s incur two years in prison with or without hard labour. Buggery was punishable by penal servitude for life.

Christian attitudes to homosexuals still reverberate. The Church enjoys exemptions from laws on sexual orientation in many countries so that it can continue to discriminate. Every major natural disaster is still accompanied by sermons from pulpits asserting that the disaster is God's punishment for unchristian sexual activity. Many senior Churchmen have declared as a fact that the AIDS epidemic is a punishment from God for homosexual activity.

The Church has traditionally held views on transvestism similar to those on homosexuality. In support it has been able to cite Deuteronomy 22:5:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination to the L ord thy God.

So it was that one of the main accusations against Joan of Arc, which ensured her death at the stake, was that she insisted on wearing men's clothes. This was also one of the reasons the Church so disapproved of theatre. Having forced women of the stage acting troops had no choice but for men to play women's parts, and right-thinking Christians found this nearly as bad as seeing real women on stage.

Women were prosecuted in the early twentieth century for wearing trouser suits — their sentences were less severe, but only because the Church was no longer able to enforce its views as strictly as it could in the Middle Ages.

6 Things Mom Taught Me About Church + Homosexuality & the Gospel

 “No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Cultic prostitution, both hetero‑ and homosexual, was a common feature of idolatrous worship in the ancient Near East, but, like the story of Sodom, it is no longer a relevant precedent for modern homosexuality."  Torah does not explicitly prohibit les­bianism, and because lesbianism does not involve the spilling of seed." 

This video from the Equip Forum from $ummit Church deals with the difficult issue of $ame-$ex attraction from a biblical perspective. [Twisted as it may be] 
J. D. Greear: "We tried to get past the myths, the political talking points, and discover how the gospel challenge$ this issue and those of us on both sides of it." source:

Homosexuality and Halakhah  [4]

Homosexuality and Halakhah

Traditional sources on homosexuality.

By Rabbi Michael Gold

The following article is reprinted with permission from Does God Belong in the Bedroom? Two claims made by Gold in this article are disputable and should be noted. First, is the assertion that Judaism is not concerned with inner feelings. While it is true that in Judaism actions are more often than not privileged over thoughts and feelings, certain manifestations of Judaism, including hasidism and musar (a 19th century movement that focused on the study of Jewish ethics and values), do stress the importance of inner feelings. Second, is Gold’s assertion that natural law is a concept foreign to Judaism. While some scholars have assumed this to be true, others disagree.
An important point to make from the outset is that Jewish law does not teach that it is forbidden to be a homosexual. On the contrary, Jewish law is concerned not with the source of a person’s erotic urges nor with inner feelings, but with acts. The Torah forbids the homosexual act, known as mishkav zakhar, but has nothing to say about homosexuality as a state of being or a personal inclination. 
In other words, traditionally, a person with a homosexual inclination can be an entirely observant Jew as long as he or she does not act out that inclination.

The Biblical Sources

The basis of the prohibition against homosexual acts derives from two biblical verses in Leviticus: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (Leviticus 18:22) and “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—their bloodguilt is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). The Torah considers a homosexual act between two men to be an abhorrent thing (to’evah), punishable by death—a strong prohibition.
The Torah gives no reason for this commandment. Some commentators have looked for a rationale in the story of Sodom, in which the men in the town attempt to rape the visitors to Lot’s house. (See Genesis 19; the word “sodomy” comes from this incident.) However, the occurrence in the story was a case of homosex­ual rape, hardly a legitimate precedent for the kind of consensual homosexual acts we are considering. Others see the root of the prohibition in the verse “No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Cultic prostitution, both hetero‑ and homosexual, was a common feature of idolatrous worship in the ancient Near East, but, like the story of Sodom, it is no longer a relevant precedent for modern homosexuality.
Various rabbis have tried to come up with other reasons for the biblical prohibition of mishkav zakhar. (Note, however, that a Torah prohibition always stands on its own even if no cogent rationale can be found for it.) Some rabbis have argued that homosexuality is forbidden because procreation is impossible. Others have defined the homosexual act as intrinsically unnatural and therefore opposed to the purposes of creation. There are difficulties, however, with both explanations. Judaism grants sexuality a purpose above and beyond procreation, and natural law, although influential in the Catholic Church, is not an authentic Jewish concept.

A Talmudic Interpretation

A more likely explanation for the ban against homosexual behavior is given in the Talmud by Bar Kapparah, who makes a play on the word to’evah (“abomination”), claiming that it means to’eh atah ba(“you go astray because of it”). Both Tosefot and the Asheri (medieval commentators) comment on this passage that a man will leave his wife and family to pursue a relationship with another man. In other words, homosexuality undermines and threatens the Jewish ideal of family life, of marriage and children, articulated in the Torah. Heterosexuality is the communal norm for Jews; homosexuality, a perversion of that norm.

The Assumption of Heterosexuality

Rabbinic literature assumes that Jews are not homosexual. For example, the Mishnah presents the following disagreement between Rabbi Judah and the Sages: “R. Judah said: A bachelor should not herd animals, nor should two bachelors share a single blanket. The Sages permit it.” The halakhah follows the Sages because the Talmud says, “Israel is not suspected of homosexuality.”
The Shulhan Arukh (a foundational work of Jewish law from the 16th century) never explicitly mentions the prohibition against homosexual acts but mentions the precaution that a male should not be alone with another male because of lewdness “in our times.” However, Rabbi Joel Sirkes ruled about one hundred years later that such precautions were unnecessary because of the rarity of such acts among Polish Jewry.
A more recent responsum was brought by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi in Palestine. A rumor that a certain shohet (ritual slaughterer) had committed a homosexual act provoked the question of whether he should be disqualified for the position. Rav Kook ruled that the shohet could be retained because, even if the rumor were true, the man might have since repented of his act. It is noteworthy that Rabbi Kook’s responsum considers homosexuality an act of volition for which one can repent.


Lesbianism is never mentioned in the Torah. One talmudic passage refers to homosexual acts between women: “R. Huna taught, Women who have sex one with the other are forbidden to marry a Kohen(priest).” The halakhah rejects Rav Huna’s opinion and allows a lesbian to marry a Kohen. However, Maimonides ruled that lesbianism is still prohibited and should be punished by flagellation. The prohibition is not as stringent as that against male homosexuality because the Torah does not explicitly prohibit les­bianism, and because lesbianism does not involve the spilling of seed.

A Summary

We can now summarize the classical halakhic position:
Judaism is concerned with explicit acts, not inner feelings.
A homosexual act between two men is explicitly forbidden in the Torah.
A homosexual act between two women is forbidden by the rabbis (i.e. it was not forbidden by the Torah, but was in later times forbidden; this type of prohibition is less severe).
Homosexuality is considered an act of volition for which one can repent.
The reason for the prohibitions seems to be that such behavior undermines the Jewish family ideal of marriage and children as set out in the Torah.
Rabbinic thinkers in the past did not consider homosexuality a Jewish behavior problem. source:
Rabbi Michael Gold
Rabbi Michael Gold is the rabbi at Temple Beth Torah, Tamarac Jewish Center in Tamarac, Florida. He is the author of four books, and his articles have appeared inMoment, Judaism, Jewish Spectator, B'nai Brith International Jewish Monthly, and numerous other publications. He also served as co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly's committee on human sexuality.

[1]  Christian Church Today




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