The rift between some Christians and homosexuality is not a recent one, but Harvard Divinity School Professor Mark Jordan argues it may be based on misrepresentations of certain terms in the Bible.
Jordan addressed contradictions in the theological arguments against homosexuality Friday, in a lecture entitled “How Christians Began to Speak about Homosexuality.”
Sponsored since 1997 by the College’s history department, William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association and members of the Boswell family, the memorial lecture series is meant to encourage intellectual discourse on gay issues.
Jordan argued that misrepresentations of certain terms in the Bible initially caused Christian moral condemnation of gays. Words like “homosexual,” “homophile,” “invert” and “gay” used by public anti-gay figures throughout history like Anita Bryant, who publicly campaigned against gay rights in the 1970s, are words that are not found in the Bible.
Instead, the words have been borrowed from other academic disciplines such as psychology and biology and put into a sinful context.
“I would have respected Anita Bryant more if she had used the term “sodomite” to back up her biblical arguments against homosexuals,” Jordan said.
Jordan said that that the biblical story of Sodom, the source of the contemporary terms sodomy or sodomite, is the only biblical story that mentions adverse sexual interaction. However, Jordan suggests that Sodom’s story does not condemn homosexuality, but “alien creatures,” which could be interpreted as a multitude of things aside from same-sex interaction.
“Christian rhetoric on homosexuality is a dizzying succession of terms,” Jordan said. “A newly abstract category not from the Bible is created and scattered scriptural authority is combined to apply to the new term. Then, this term is plucked out over history to apply to the appropriate contemporary homosexual debate, implying a deep logical discontinuity in Christian debate.”
Jordan related this progression of terms to the modern use of phrases like “queer” and “LGBTQ.”
“It will be interesting in the future to see what additional boxes we create to categorize human sexuality in order to help us lead more human lives,” Jordan said.
The lecture was the 10th of the Boswell Memorial Lectures, established in memory of the gay historical researcher Professor John Boswell ’69. Boswell was an historian and professor of medieval Europe and sexuality at Yale University until his death in 1994 of AIDS-related complications.
The lecture is part of a fundraising drive called the Boswell Initiative for LGBT studies at the College. Spearheaded by Board of Visitors member Jeffrey Trammell ’73, the Boswell Initiative recently reached its $50,000 target, allowing an endowment to be established. Trammell expressed his hopes for a future chair of the endowment who will attract the greatest LGBTQ minds.
“There will be students in the future, as there were in 1693, who will be part of a minority, and it is for those students that we are here tonight,” Trammell said.