It is problematic when someone is described as a “devout Christian” because the term implies a person’s bona fides; it implies that a person is a ‘true’ follower of Christ and the Bible.
Think Wallaby fullback, Israel Folau, who has attracted notoriety thanks to this recent twitter exchange with one of his followers:
“What was God’s plan for gay people?” tweeted Mike Sephton.
“HELL… unless they repent of their sins and turn to God,” responded the “devout Christian”.
Frankly, there is nothing remotely devout or Christian about Mr Folau’s tweet.
Indeed, it betrays an extraordinary level of ignorance.
Where to start? Let’s go to HELL first.
The word “hell” comes from the biblical Greek “Gehenna” which, in turn, is a transliteration of the Hebrew “ge-hinnom” – literally, the valley of Ben-hinnom located on the southern boundary of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:16).
Now, Ben-hinnom was notorious in the ancient world as a place where child sacrifices, and assorted other acts of idolatry, were performed to placate the god Molech (circa. 600 BC). Disgusted by the horror that abounded there, God told the prophet Jeremiah to ‘go to hell’ and curse it (Jeremiah 7:32-33; 19:1-15; 32:35). Dutifully, he did and overtime Gehenna came to symbolize punishment for those who died unreconciled to God.
Interestingly, today ‘hell’ is a peaceful recreational park shaded by Olive trees where locals and tourists seek respite!
One wonders what Mr Folau’s hell looks like.
As for homosexuality and the Bible, well, this is not nearly as black and white as some would have us believe – bearing in mind, among the 30,000+ verses that appear in the Great Book, barely a handful deal with this subject matter.
Further, there was minimal, if any, awareness or knowledge of the psychological and physiological realities inherent in human sexuality – no Freudian or Jungian wisdom, for instance; not to mention absolute ignorance concerning human anatomy: genes, hormones, neuro-plasticity etc.
What did, however, confront the authors of the Bible was the proliferation of male prostitution, along with a culture of accepted pederasty in parts of the Greco-Roman world.
As scripture scholar, Fr Michael Fallon msc, says:
The culture in [those] worlds was, speaking generally, indulgent towards male sexual behaviour. The male was considered to be superior, not only intellectually, but also from the point of view of physical beauty. It was not expected that wives would be chosen for either intellectual or romantic motives. It was widely considered that the appropriate partner for a male was another male. An adult male was encouraged to have a young male to give him pleasure, including the pleasure of sexual gratification. It was expected that the intimacy be intellectually stimulating, and that the older male would look to the education of the younger male, and behave towards him in a sensitive way.
One can readily see the dangers inherent in the pederasty that was generally accepted in the Greco-Roman world: dangers in the unequal nature of the relationship, in its impermanency, and in the occasion it provides for abuse and humiliation. However, the point being made here is that the culture saw its advantages as outweighing its disadvantages. Laws were enacted to protect young males against sexual harassment and rape, and moralists condemned those who ran brothels, and those males who made a living out of offering their sexual services to older males, but pederasty of the kind we have described was widely encouraged. (see mbfallon.com for more on this topic)
Given this backdrop and context, one must be careful not to assume that the biblical condemnation of obviously destructive sexual acts – male prostitution and pederasty – is inclusive of all same sex attracted actions.
Alas, too many of the Christians we hear from in the public square treat and quote the Bible as though it were proof text; a text set in stone that cannot, and must not, be contextualized. Thus, and especially in the case of homosexuality, they trot out a couple of favoured verses in order to condemn a particular group.
These imposters, these false prophets do untold damage to the beauty and truth of Christianity.
They are purveyors of a cruel, ‘lower case’ god: a god created in the image of man.
That all said, while I have little regard for Mr Folau’s theology, I would fight tooth and nail for his right to express his opinions. To this end, one just hopes that the Australian Rugby Union and its sponsors do not indulge in the populist victimhood narrative that seeks to muzzle non-conformists, as offensive or ignorant as they might be.
In the end, it behoves us all to ‘tweet others as we would like to be tweeted’!
Peter Day is a Catholic priest in Queanbeyan.