[I]t wasn’t until Europeans took over North America that natives adopted the ideas of gender roles. For Native Americans, there was no set of rules that men and women had to abide by in order to be considered a “normal” member of their tribe.
In fact, people who had both female and male characteristics were viewed as gifted by nature, and therefore, able to see both sides of everything. According to Indian Country Today, all native communities acknowledged the following gender roles: “Female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and Transgendered.”
“Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh Manidoowag (two spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few. As the purpose of “Two Spirit” is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for ‘women who feel like men’ and vice versa.”
The “Two Spirit” culture of Native Americans was one of the first things that Europeans worked to destroy and cover up. According to people like American artist George Catlin, the Two Spirit tradition had to be eradicated before it could go into history books. Catlin said the tradition:
“..Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded.”
However, it wasn’t only white Europeans that tried to hide any trace of native gender bending. According to Indian Country Today, “Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native beliefs and history, including those that told of the Two Spirit tradition.” Throughout these efforts by Christians, Native Americans were forced to dress and act according to newly designated gender roles.
One of the most celebrated Two Spirits in recorded history was a Lakota warrior aptly named Finds Them And Kills Them. Osh-Tisch was born a male and married a female, but adorned himself in women’s clothing and lived daily life as a female. On June 17 1876, Finds Them And Kills Them gained his reputation when he rescued a fellow tribesman during the Battle of Rosebud Creek. An act of fearless bravery. Below is a picture of Osh-Tisch and his wife.
In Native American cultures, people were valued for their contributions to the tribe, rather than for masculinity or femininity. Parents did not assign gender roles to children either, and even children’s clothing tended to be gender neutral. There were no ideas or ideals about how a person should love; it was simply a natural act that occurred without judgement or hesitation.
Without a negative stigma attached to being a Two Spirit, there were no inner-tribal incidents of retaliation or violence toward the chosen people simply due to the fact that individuals identified as the opposite or both genders.
“The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Indians believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.”
Religious influences soon brought serious prejudice against “gender diversity,” and so this forced once openly alternative or androgynous people to one of two choices. They could either live in hiding, and in fear of being found out, or they could end their lives. Many of whom did just that.
John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born on March 20, 1947.
Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).
Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.
Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.
Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBTQ Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms queer people in Christian history.
Boswell is buried beside his longtime partner Jerone Hart (1946-2010) at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. They are pictured together in photos on Boswell’s Findagave page with the caption, “partners in life, for life.” Their shared headstone is shaped to look like a book. An inscription reads, “To live in one’s memory is never to die.”
John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
The majority of Americans who identify as religious say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry and oppose policies that would give business owners the right to refuse services to same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm released a new analysis drawn from interviews with 40,509 Americans throughout 2016 for PRRI’s American Values Atlas.
The data, which has an error margin of less than 1 percentage point, finds that the majority of only three religious demographics — white evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — said they oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.”
While 58 percent of Americans said they support same-sex marriage, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 55 percent of Mormons and 53 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses signaled that they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, which happened in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, making it legal nationwide.
By comparison, only 28 percent of white Mainline Protestants and white Catholics, 25 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 30 percent of Orthodox Christians said they oppose allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry.
found that 54 percent of all Christians surveyed agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Over half of all Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christians and African-American Protestant respondents said they believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, while only 36 percent of evangelical Protestants, 36 percent of Mormons and 16 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed.
As reports have indicated in the last week that President Donald Trump is considering a possible “religious freedom order” that conservative religious freedom advocates say could do many things to protect the rights of religious institutions and federal contractors to operate their organizations in accordance with their beliefs, the PRRI data also shows that most American religious demographics oppose allowing businesses to refuse services for same-sex wedding ceremonies based on religious objections.
In recent years, small business owners across the U.S. were fined, sued and punished over their refusal to provide services for same-sex weddings because their participation would violate their religious beliefs. Advocates have called for state governments to give these religious business owners accommodations to non-discrimination laws, while opponents claim such exemptions would give these businesses a license to discriminate.
That was also the day that Archbishop John Myers, who had suspended me from priestly ministry for refusing to hide my identity as a gay man and for refusing to stop supporting others in the LGBT community, would be officially and completely retired.
I was very humbled and full of gratitude for the tweet from the parishioner, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken, N.J., where I had been serving until my suspension last Aug. 31. I had seen a few other postings expressing a similar sentiment since the announcement that Tobin would replace Myers, and I had been contacted by family members and friends asking the same question.
It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.
It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.
That’s given me a lot of time to think about what would happen when a new archbishop came to Newark, and what my future would be.
But as I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.
How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.
One of the reasons for the ban, per the latest document, is that “gay men find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
I’m thinking I would like to go back to all the men and women who I’ve had the privilege to minister with and to over my 27 years of priestly service to ask if I was hindered in relating to them.
Apparently, the parishioner cited above would not think so. We should keep in mind that the original 2005 teaching came out at a time when gay priests were made scapegoats for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Since then science and mental health studies have proved that very few acts of pedophilia in general are committed by gay men.
The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!
And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”
Look at the Council of Jerusalem in the first century, when the debate was whether you had to convert to Judaism prior to becoming a Christian (you didn’t, they decided). Or when church authorities argued whether Catholics could marry non-Catholics. (They can, but to this day a Catholic who wants to marry a non-Catholic must request a “dispensation”!)
Those were challenging issues with strong emotions on all sides of the debate. We are again in one of those times in the church’s history, and like those previous eras there are strong emotions on all sides.
Is the language in the church’s teachings referring to same-sex attraction as “objectively disordered” and same-sex relations as an “intrinsic moral evil” offensive? I believe it is. Theologians will posit that these descriptors reference behavior and not the person but either way it’s still offensive.
So too was the language of the Good Friday Liturgy when it referred to the “perfidious Jews.” Pope John XXIII determined that the language was offensive to our Jewish brothers and sisters and he did not just change it but completely removed it from the Catholic lexicon.
Will the day come when “disordered” and “evil” referring to LGBT people are changed or, better, removed from Catholic teaching? I believe it will. But today is not that day. Therefore, until that day arrives, we have to keep discussing, debating and perhaps even being “disobedient.”
So, will I seek reinstatement as a priest in good standing?
I can’t, simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”
I’m not talking about the matters of faith but matters of discipline. I’m sure pretty much all Catholics pick and choose what teachings to follow, and in a sense that’s what I’ll be doing when it comes to the church’s views on gay men and women.
But that teaching is hardly the most important one. I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.
It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves! As bishops sit on their thrones the view has to be disturbing. What Cardinal Tobin saw from the altar at his new cathedral in Newark was a gathering of the faithful hoping for a kinder, gentler and more pastoral shepherd — and from all accounts they got one.
Yet as open as he is, I don’t believe the new archbishop can even make an offer to reinstate me. If he did it would be tantamount to a cardinal defying his own church’s teaching.
Also, I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.
So I’ll continue to be Catholic, albeit the “pick-and-choose” kind, because I still love and have hope for my church. I have found a wonderful parish with terrific ministries, including one especially for its LGBT parishioners — I now count myself one of them.
At this point I consider myself a “former priest” and will just move on with life as a lay person. There will probably be some paperwork so the diocese is no longer legally responsible for me. But I don’t see any reason to bother with formal laicization.
I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.
In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
There’s a deep struggle going on in the Catholic church when it comes to power and who exercises it.
Pope Francis has shaken things up, and he has some of the bishops and cardinals mightily unnerved. The Vatican bureaucrats, known as the Curia, are unhappy with this pope.
On matters of faith and morals, Francis is mostly winning so far.
Francis is comfortable with “speaking truth to external power”: demanding governments pay attention to refugees and asylum seekers, to growing economic inequality, and to climate change.
Francis is also at ease with a less-than-certain church, particularly when it comes to questions of human relationships and moral prescriptions. Unlike his predecessor, the current pope is insistent that issues like birth control, divorce and remarriage are not black and white issues.
Earlier this year Francis released a document Amoris Laetitia, (On Love in the Family), in which the pope encouraged Catholic priests to confront the reality that human lives are messy and complex. He asserted that complicated moral issues that arise in human relationships must be responded to not with hard and fast rules, but rather by making conscientious decisions in the sight of God.
As Francis put it, the church is there to form consciences, not replace them.
This approach hasn’t sat well with some. Four cardinals recently sent Pope Francis a letter demanding yes or no answers to five questions they say he has left unanswered in Amoris Laetitia.
It’s unlikely Francis will give them the certainty they want. He wants them to get used to uncertainty, and discern the right approach in these modern times.
However, there is one area where Francis is ceding ground to the cardinals and the Curia: ordination.
Ordination equals power inside the Catholic church. Only the ordained can contribute to theology, form church teaching and set church rules. Only the ordained can control the money and the property. Only the ordained can respond to issues like the child sexual abuse crisis. Only the ordained can choose new bishops and cardinals. Only the ordained can administer the sacraments. Only the ordained can vote for the next pope.
On ordination, the Curia are pulling the pope’s puppet strings.
Case in point: gay priests.
Just a few years ago, during a “free-wheeling” conversation with reporters on a flight back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked about gay clergy. Here was his response:
There is so much being written about the gay lobby. I haven’t met anyone in the Vatican yet who has “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. Lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome.
The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
It seems the Curia decided that gay priests needed to be judged, after all.
In fact, the prohibition against homosexual men receiving ordination as cited above first appeared in 2005. The fact that this paragraph re-appeared, word for word, in 2016 seems to indicate that the Curia felt it necessary to clarify that the pope’s words – “who am I to judge” – in no way replace or modify formal church teaching when it comes to homosexual priests.
Francis’ pronouncement on women priests didn’t come out of the blue. It was a sop to the Curia and those bishops and cardinals alarmed by the pope’s promise earlier in the year to review the question of whether women can be ordained as deacons.
Many assume that if women were granted ordination as Catholic deacons, ordination as priests would inevitably follow.
The Curia has for many years hoped a pope would declare the ban on women’s ordination as infallibly held – the highest, most solemn form of church teaching and most difficult to overturn. Pope John Paul II came close to doing so in 1995, and Francis’ statement this year, while not infallibly issued, made clear there would be no room in his papacy to move toward the priestly ordination of women.
Francis is fond of saying that “God is not afraid of new things.” But when it comes to ordination, Francis seems afraid of the Curia, and the Curia in turn seems afraid of women priests, married priests and gay priests.
This is the fatal flaw in Francis’ approach: by not speaking truth to internal power, by refusing to contemplate how ordination could be expanded, Francis is limiting his own legacy.
Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.
All his emphasis on the poor, the dispossessed and the climate will end up being just that – emphasis only. All his commentary about facing uncertainty and complexity of modern life will be just that – commentary.
Francis said he imagined his papacy will be short, maybe only four or five years.
Once Francis leaves the papacy who will hold the power? Who will make the black and white rules? The all-male priesthood, the traditionalist cardinals and the Curia, no longer unnerved, and back in charge.
Transgender rights. Same-sex marriage. Federal protections against discrimination.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, some of the hard won rights and protections that the LGBTQ community have gained in recent years are once again in the national spotlight.
President-elect Trump has appointed several members to top government posts that have supported so-called religious freedom laws and opposed same-sex marriage, leaving many in the LGBTQ community concerned that their civil rights hang in the balance.
“Rather than getting a respite we’ve got almost an overload of emotion because things are heating up,” said Joshua Lesser, a gay rabbi in Atlanta. Rabbi Lesser is one of three openly gay clergy members CNN interviewed who say they are not only worried about their own rights, but they’ve been busy counseling a number of parishioners about a wide range of issues since Trump was elected.
Trump received 81% of the vote among white, born-again/evangelical Christians and significant support from Mormons, white Catholics and Protestants, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
The deep support from evangelicals in particular means a Trump administration “will feel obligated to deliver a set of promises to them,” many of which will be based in conservative values, said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University and the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.
Trump’s spokespeople did not return a request for comment.
Rabbi Lesser said he and other gay couples he knows are considering moving up their wedding plans so they can be registered before Trump takes office in January. Lesser, who watched the election results with his partner, said he got tearful and “felt existential dread” when Trump was declared the winner. “It was the immediate sense that I’m not safe,” Lesser said.
That feeling of insecurity has hit the LGBTQ community in other ways, too, said Franke.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that allows any individual, organization or business that receives federal funding to eschew the federal protections aimed at preventing discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals.
For instance, a gay person who is turned away from a government funded homeless shelter will not be protected by non-discrimination laws. The consequences for such a bill could be severe, Franke said.
Trump’s vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, has further fueled fears. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into a law a measure that could have allowed individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers in the name of “religious freedom.” After activists, corporations and other organizations — including the Indianapolis-based NCAA — threatened to boycott the state, Pence amended the law and prohibited such discrimination.
Trump has said he also plans to repeal President Obama’s executive orders, one of which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
Fred Daley, a gay priest in Syracuse, New York, said he was also concerned about Trump overturning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children apply for work permits, driver’s licenses and without the fear of being deported for at least two years.
“We are a pretty open, progressive parish,” Daley said. “There’s a coalescing of people who are concerned with these issues saying – we just can’t sit back idly now, we have to do something.”
Physical safety is another big concern. In the weeks since Trump’s election, hundreds of hate crimes have been reported, several of them against members of the LGBT community. As a result, Lesser said he was considering increasing security for his congregation.
Winnie Varghese, a queer Episcopal priest in New York City said she knew of two Episcopal churches that had been spray painted with swastikas after the election. Varghese said that while many of the people in her congregation share a wide range of political views, “most people I meet in church are sympathetic to people in need.”
One of the first people to come to Varghese for guidance after the election is a refugee who is applying for political asylum in the U.S. and is terrified about whether or not she and her children will be able to stay in the country. (Varghese did not say which country in order to protect the woman.)
“We are on the side of the most vulnerable at all times,” Varghese said. “In this scenario, the most vulnerable are more vulnerable.”
Most of the ones I’ve known are serious about their vows. In my own experience—I was a monk for thirteen years—the vow of celibacy didn’t feel like repression. I’ve talked to a few people over the years who did resent it, but while I was a monk I never met anyone like that.
I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but the vow of celibacy can be a joyous thing. Monks are dedicated to living intensely in community. They’re like utopians who want to experiment with a better world. They believe that celibacy allows them to create a really close community, and their purpose in keeping the vow is precisely that—to make real community possible.
As I see it now, toning down your sexual behavior is a secondary aspect of the vow of celibacy. Let me compare it to the vow of poverty. “Poverty” in a monastic setting isn’t primarily about living with few possessions or having a Spartan lifestyle. I know monks who do live that way, but the main purpose again is to share everything in common and in that way intensify community living.
For the Christian monks I lived with, the particularly vibrant community made possible by the vows reflected the new way of being presented in the Gospels. The monastic community was a sample of the “kingdom” or new world that Jesus taught. So it was a utopian attempt to model a better world.
Oddly, I’ve deepened my thoughts about monasticism in the many years that have elapsed since I lived the life. My appreciation for celibacy has only increased, and as a married man I still try to keep the monastic spirit alive in my life, including celibacy. Obviously, I’ll have to explain what I mean.
My dictionary defines celibacy as “abstaining from marriage and sexual relations.” That’s the vow that I lived many years ago. But now as a married man I also find myself abstaining from sexual relations most of the time.
I go on trips. I get sick. My wife gets sick. She goes away. Either of us may not be interested for a while—never very long. As we get older, the erotic is ever present but not as persistent. Whatever the situation, we’re not having sex all the time.
In my experience today, celibacy is part of my sexual rhythm. At moments I’m very interested in sex, but other times there may be a lag, or it may be impossible due to circumstances. I know, this doesn’t sound like celibacy, a commitment to not having sex, but it turns out to be something very similar. As far as I’m concern, I’m still a celibate most of the time.
I think couples have to respect the spirit of celibacy as part of their sexual flow. They can even enjoy those times when they are apart and live for a while like real monks. I mean that in a very positive way. It might be better to really get into moments of celibacy than to treat them as deprivations.
You incorporate your times of not having sex as part of your sexuality. I’m a psychotherapist. I know that some people in a couple feel guilty because they can’t always be available to their partners—sickness, loss of libido, too much travel. Of course, they have to consider how much this enforced celibacy impacts the relationship, but they can also be temporary, situational monks.
Sometimes normal people don’t feel like having sex. Maybe if they made celibacy part of their couples vows, they could affirm those feelings rather than feel bad about them or overrule them. I think the acceptance of ordinary celibacy would actually add to and complete a person’s sexuality. Celibacy and sexual activity could be the yang and yin of sexuality.
Back to the question “do monks have sex?” Maybe you agree with me that not having sex can be a positive and even joyous decision on the part of a monk. It isn’t all that difficult in the right context. Of course, it can cause problems, and it’s not for everyone. But it can be an intelligent, psychologically healthy choice.
In the monastery I found that the joys of community life, and maybe even its tensions, created such a bond that I didn’t miss sex. I didn’t think about it much. I certainly didn’t feel bad about my vow.
Now as a married person I enjoy the rhythm of togetherness and separateness, which is played out in the yin and yang of sex and celibacy. I can still be a monk in spirit. I can still honor my vow of celibacy as part of my dedication to be a good sexual partner. I can still be a married man and enjoy the spirit of a monk’s life.
Growing up in a conservative Christian church, I was taught that the gospel was one, complete, and indestructible whole — particularly as it applied to human sexuality. But it’s not that simple.
The idea that is still taught in some churches today is that the Christian sexual ethic came to earth fully formed, straight from heaven, about 2,000 years ago. Throughout all that time, there was exactly one way for Christians to express their sexuality — by staying abstinent until they got married to a person of the opposite gender. And then, you could have at it all you wanted.
But what I wasn’t taught in Sunday School is that the Bible’s teachings on sex have been interpreted in many different ways. I didn’t know that the early Christians actually started practicing celibacy because they were convinced the end of the world was near. No one told me that marriage wasn’t always defined and controlled by the church. And that even within marriage, sex wasn’t always something that Christians were taught to enjoy and cherish.
And the truth is that the standards on what it means to be a sexual person and live a Christian life have changed. A lot. Here are 6 facts to prove it.
1. Jesus had very little to say about sex.
Other than a some heavy admonishments against lust and against divorce, the Jesus of the Bible didn’t have a lot to say about issues of sexuality. (My guess is that he was too busy hanging out with the poor and healing the sick to care. Just a guess). He also had nothing at all to say about homosexuality or sexual identity as we understand it today.
Most of the instruction about sex comes from Christian leaders who started spreading the religion after Jesus’ death.
2. To be a truly devoted Christian during the earliest days of the church, you needed to stop having sex altogether.
Early Christians’ belief that Jesus’ second coming was imminent created an environment that exalted celibacy over marriage. It was a radical departure from Jewish teachings that the disciples would have been familiar with. But it makes sense — what was the point of getting tied up with worldly responsibilities, like taking care of a spouse, children and a household, when the end of the world was near?
The church got involved in regulating marriage much later on, as its influence began to increase in Western Europe. It wasn’t until 1215 that the Church formally put a claim on marriage and hashed out rules about what made children legitimate.
4. For much of the church’s history, sex within a marriage was only tolerated because it produced children.
Christian leaders didn’t just disapprove of premarital sex. Sexual desire itself was seen as the problem.
After St. Paul, one of the most prominent Christian early church leaders who had an impact on the way Christians view sex was St. Augustine. Influenced by Plato’s philosophy, he promoted the idea that untamed sexual desire was a sign of rebellion against God. It only became honorable when it was placed in the context of marriage and the possibility of children.
Augustine was one of a long line of theologians to promote the idea of sexual desire as a sin. Other Christian leaders have argued that being too passionately in love with a partner, or having sex just for pleasure, was also a sin. This idea would continue to gain momentum over the next few centuries. And it wasn’t long before things got really, really weird.
5. The Church developed some rules about sex that would seem strange to even the most conservative American Christians today.
In medieval times, the church became deeply involved with controlling people’s sex lives. Virginity and monogamy were still prized, while homosexuality could be punished by death. The church also had very specific requirements for what type of sex married couples could have. Since all sex was supposed to be for the purposes of procreation, certain positions were banned (no sex standing up, the woman shouldn’t be on top, no doggy style, oral, anal, or masturbation). And then there were restrictions on what days of the week people could have sex (not on fast days, or feast days for a saint, or on Sundays, for example).
Sex was also discouraged when a woman was menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding, (which considering there was no birth control, could have been a good deal of the time). All of these prohibitions meant that on average, sex between married couples was only legal about once per week, if that.
6. Despite these varying standards for sex, love, and marriage, Christians have usually ended up doing their own thing.
In the Middle Ages and now, many Christians have admired and strived towards these standards and ended up looking the other way. It took centuries for the church to enforce a ban against priests getting married. The Middle Ages was also a “golden era” for gay poetry, especially between members of the clergy.
It’s time to get real: There is no such thing as a traditional Christian sexual ethic.
I wish I’d known this earlier. The problem with teaching kids that the Bible is infallible and that Christian teaching has never changed is that the second they crack open a history book, or have sex, or fall in love with someone of the same gender, the carefully constructed house of faith that they’ve inherited from their parents starts crumbling apart. And that’s when doubt can come rushing in.
But that’s a good thing. It’s what I feel is missing in the way some Christians talk about sex today. If your faith calls you to abstinence before marriage, that is fine and good. But the problem for me is when people start preaching that their interpretation is the only way or the holiest way or the right way. From what I’ve witnessed, the fruit that this kind of teaching produces is often overwhelming guilt, anger, and pain.
On the other hand, acknowledging Christianity’s complexity can be life-changing. It can turn a faith assembled like a delicate house of cards into a faith that you worked hard to build from the ground up.