Intersexuals in the Body of Christ

Click here for information on same-sex unions in the early Christian Church.

[For those subscribed to the intersex-androgynous Yahoo group, the following can also be read at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Intersex-Androgynous/message/8429.
This posting has been reprinted here with the permission of its author, Jim Costich.]

Date: Tue Jan 1, 2002 11:28 pm
From: Jimdcs@aol.com
Subject: Intersexuals in the Body of Christ
To: Intersex-Androgynous <Intersex-Androgynous@yahoogroups.com>


Dear Friends,

After reading Andrew Fraser's post I wrote the following to share with you. The topic at hand is one that I have been intensely researching for most of my adult life. The perspective I use here is distinctly Christian because my life centers on this religion. My partner is a professional church organist and I've been a church musician in many different denominations. I know that many on this list are Pagan, Jewish, agnostic, Unitarian and more. Please understand that my positive tone and Christian perspective ARE NOT intended to prostheletize, or show disrespect to any other faith. I am NOT a fundamentalist and do not subscribe to any dogma that considers one religion or philosophy superior to any other.

"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. God did not give his son into the world to condemn it, but that through him the world would be saved."

This famous passage from John (the Gospel of the disciple Jesus loved) is so well known most people can recite it as easily as the Lord's Prayer. Re-read it. It says whosoever. There is no list of exceptions after whosoever. It is a failure of humanity that we set out to divide the world into "us vs. them". It is not the intention of God.

Tim (my partner) and I have done extensive research and had the honor of meeting and talking with some of the great GLBT [Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender] theologians and teachers currently writing and teaching today, like John McNeill and Mel White, and Janie Spahr. A gay Presbyterian Minister with a PhD in theology from Union Seminary once told us that it is not enough to know what the Bible says, you must learn what it means. This means studying culture, history, language, sociology and linguistics -- or at least be able to pick the brains of those who have. I grabbed two of my many resources, both from a Catholic view to make a few points in answer to the question of "how can the church reject the gay, intersexed, and transgendered". They are, John J. McNeill (ex Roman Catholic Priest and out gay theologian) "Freedom, Glorious Freedom"; and John Boswell (theological historian), "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality". McNeill's book I recommend to any and everyone. Boswell is serious academics.

John Boswell reconstructs the minds of ancient people in his books. One of the most important things he offers us is an understanding of how ancient people in Rome, Greece, Europe and the Jewish states each viewed sexuality. Homosexuality, hermaphrodism and transgender were, to the ancient mind inter-related and merely degrees of a spectrum. The idea that the mind resides in, but is separate from the body is a very recent concept that fortunately is disproving itself. Ancient people would view an effeminate personality to be the "nature" of an individual in the same way as they would view the "nature" of a mixed genital body, (intersex). The language regarding the intersexed, transgendered and the homosexual is frequently interchangeable in ancient cultures. All such people also fall under the common catch words for Eunuch. In our age we think of a eunuch as a man whose testicles have been removed. In the ancient world the term and the concept included anyone who did not or could not use sex for reproduction. This included the thousands of Eunuchs surgically altered as servants and slaves, homosexuals, hermaphrodites (intersexed), and the transgendered. In ancient Judaism no one incapable of reproduction could be considered ritually pure and was denied access to the temple, whether for biological or behavioral reasons -- they did not perceive these as mutually exclusive. This view was challenged and changed, and actually abhorred by Christianity. Once we understand that the word eunuch would have been used to describe the intersexed we are given access to wonderful news. Please refer to Isaiah 56, Acts 8, and Matthew 19. Isaiah, the prophet who foretells Jesus reassures us that although the world thinks we're inferior, God considers us quite differently. In Acts, the first Christian convert is a Eunuch. In Matthew, Jesus calls himself one of us and tells his followers that there will be people who just don't get it. They still don't get it. Most people read this and think that Jesus means that as a 33-year-old unmarried Rabbi he was just saying that he'd chosen to be celibate. This doesn't jive well with his feminist-like practices, or his relationship with John. Many sources that don't understand that Jesus' use of the word Eunuch would be the equivalent of the word "queer" in today's vernacular think that Jesus never mentioned GLBTI [Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Intersex] people. Not only did he mention us, he speaks directly to us. The early church, even St. Paul, considers the goal of enlightened Christians to view humanity as being "neither male nor female" but rather that all are one in the body of Christ -- a community based upon love. It is beyond the scope of this missive to address the mistranslations of St. Paul that have resulted in the popular opinion that he condemned what would be currently thought of as gay people, but it is in fact owing to mistranslation.

John Boswell has found ceremonies for the celebration of same sex unions as early as the 3rd century. For 1500 years the Christian church consecrated gay unions. The church disdained heterosexual marriage because it was considered a business transaction of women used as chattel for the purposes of property and lineage. Christianity valued love above all things and society did not include love in marriage. Marriage did not become a sacrament until the 13th century, and then many of the ceremonies include speeches entreating heterosexual couples to pattern their love after the famous gay couple who were martyred for Christendom, Serge and Bacchus. John McNeill states beautifully, "Gay and lesbian Christians should be aware that in requesting the right to a rite of covenantal union in the Church, we are only reclaiming what is an ancient tradition in the Church." Again, I must remind my fellow intersexuals that we, as well as the transgendered are included in this concept because we were commonly seen as "cousins" and routinely mistaken for each other regardless of whom we were sexually attracted to.   [ return to top of document ]

Recently a very young FtM [Female-to-Male] transsexual I've just met stopped me in the middle of a conversation to ask if I thought God loves GLBTI people. The frightened little voice sounded from a pit of desolation that instantly recalled Psalm 130, "Out of the deep have I cried unto thee, Oh Lord." I told him that I don't just think God loves us, I know it. The church does not belong to heterosexual people who are set at it's doors like watch dogs to judge the value of humanity based on sexual orientation, or who we love, or whether our bodies adhere to their fantasy of what male/female should be. The church belongs to God and we are all God's creation made in God's image, each members of one body, each given the hope that we can be perfected in love, and gifted with divine grace. Whosoever includes us all.

A suggested website for GLBTI Christians, www.whosoever.org

Jim Costich 1/2002

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Three Follow-up Comments Made re the Posting Above

Comment 1

[For those subscribed to the androgynes Yahoo group, the following can also be read at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/androgynes/message/2010.
This posting has been reprinted here with the permission of its author, Russie Spice.]

From: RussieSpice@gmx.de
To: androgynes@yahoogroups.com
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2002 23:44:19 +0100
Subject: Re: [androgynes] Intersexuals in the Body of Christ

Hi Stephe,

In the article, the author writes, "In Matthew, Jesus calls himself one of us [a eunuch] and tells his followers that there will be people who just don't get it" . . . only problem is, after reading various translations of the passage (Matthew 19:12), I see no evidence of Jesus calling Himself a eunuch (which is to be understood as someone who is either psychologically or physically unable to reproduce e.g. today's GLBT or castrated people). If the author surmises that because Jesus was single he was a eunuch . . . well, I am missing the evidence that Jesus was single. The reason I say this is because I know of no passages that say that He was single. Just because it may not be mentioned was married is no proof he was single. Some authors (e.g. Baigent & Leigh) contend because he was considered by some to be a rabbi, it would have been a given that he was married, and only if he wasn't would one mention it because this would be truly extraordinary.

In other words, the article has some potential flaws and it would be good to get some clarification! Any arguments arising from the Bible must to be factually rock solid, or some clever fundamentalist will unfortunately tear you to pieces.

Regarding Biblical eunuchs being the equivalent of todays GLBT people and not just someone who is castrated, I have read the same on a site devoted to the Koran, so indeed it makes sense. Also that "barren" or "virgin" women could also refer to today's lesbians (one example being Mary). Lotsa potential stuff for GLBTs in the Bible . . . just gotta get those arguments right.

cheers,
Russie

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Comment 2

[For those subscribed to the ANDROGYNE Yahoo group, the following can also be read at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANDROGYNE/message/556.
This posting has been reprinted here with the permission of its author, Phillip Bernhardt-House.]

From: Phillip Bernhardt-House <alfrecht@hotmail.com>
To: ANDROGYNE@yahoogroups.com
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 04:34:55 -0800
Subject: Re: [ANDROGYNE] Intersexuals in the Body of Christ

Hello everyone,

I read the short article, and while a lot of it is fairly right-on (and I would not disagree that modern Christianity -- as well as that of the past -- has betrayed its own ideals repeatedly, including its exclusion and discrimination against non-hetero folk), it is by no means certain that the passage in Matthew 19 is self-reference (I think I've said this before).

Since one of the things which we deride fundamentalists and highly dogmatic Christians about is the fact that they selectively read texts and are not aware of their own biases quite often, we should be vigilant to this same tendency in ourselves, and strive to be true to the motives and messages behind all of these texts, and not be afraid to admit that some of them might be unambiguously against "proposition x,y,z." If it is the truth, then there's some merit to recognizing it as such, and then deciding to reject it. As a counter-example (not having anything to do with gender and sexuality studies), various parts of the Hebrew Bible unambiguously advocate genocide of non-Israelites; parts of the genuinely Pauline epistolary advocate upholding the institution of slavery (though there is the passage which everyone quotes from Galatians on in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female . . . and if he says this but then upholds the institution of one, why might he not also be clearly against certain alternative forms of sexual expression?). So, let us tread cautiously in this regard . . .

. . . and for f**k's sake, if we just believe or interpret something in a particular way because we like to, why not just say so! There's nothing wrong with doing that, and in fact I prefer that to someone quoting whoever the "experts" are. To contradict myself on that very statement (which as a metagender/tw-spirit, is part of my job!), there are a few words from Ralph Waldo Emerson which come to mind (and please excuse his use of the masculine-gendered terms and pronouns for inclusive humanity), "Man is no longer upright, he dares not say 'I think, I am,' but rather quotes some saint or sage."

Well, at least I think so anyway . . .

Take care everyone!

Love,
Phillupus &c.

Life is a game. Play it.
Life is a dream. Realize it.
Life is a challenge. Meet it.
Life is Love. Enjoy it.
This is the way to God.

Sai Baba
------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Comment 3

[This offlist e-mail has been reprinted here with the permission of its author, Jim Costich.]

From: Jimdcs@aol.com
To: scfeldman@juno.com
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2002 19:38:22 EST
Subject: trying again (Re: Fw: Re: [androgynes] Intersexuals in the Body of Christ)

Stephe,

Actually, nothing I've said is "MY" position, I'm really just relaying what I've learned from experts. My research has been to find out what the great reconcilling theologians have learned. I don't have anything original to contribute, it's all summarization, which is why I give references, and I've got a whole lot more than the few I've listed if anyone wants a book list. For the whole story it's necessary to read their works.

It's Matthew 19:10 specifically but you have to read from the beginning of 19 to understand the whole context of the conversation, and even then you can't get it if you haven't been told that in Jesus' day the word eunuch refered to anyone who didn't/couldn't reproduce whether for social/orientation/physical reasons. Jesus goes from talking about divorce to talking about eunuchs. You have to understand the translation and the social context to understand how/why he makes this jump. To the 21st century mind it's weird. The theologians who explain what he's talking about here say that Jesus is indeed telling the disciples that for some men it isn't "expedient" to marry, that indeed some men are born eunuchs, some are eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven and some were made eunuchs by men. He's refering to orientation/social and physical forms of eunuchs because in his culture that's how the word is used, and is refering to himself as one of these at the same time. Remember, he was 33 and a Rabbi and never married, and that would make him a eunuch. This doesn't sound like much to us, but in his society it made him way outside the norm and open to ridicule. We know that Jesus can't have been a PHYSICAL eunuch because he read in the temple and was a Rabbi and you couldn't do either of those things if you didn't have balls. Further more, the disciple who used to sit on his lap and gaze into his eyes after dinner, who the other disciples were jealous of and described as "the disciple Jesus loved" AND who Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to while he was dying and who was later called the disciple of Love ...... doesn't exactly paint a picture of heterosexuality. So Jesus did not reproduce, didn't even try to reproduce and states clearly that although some people won't understand this -- it is, in fact, ok for anyone not to. He goes on to say (in 19:28) that those who leave behind their biological families to follow him will inherit eternal life. These are NOT heterosexual society family values, then or now! His kingdom is based on love. Not biology, not legal ties, not property, not wealth, not any of the things that society, (and often the church!) then/now teaches us to value. The early church followed and understood this teaching, and valued relationships based on love. Same sex committed relationships have little reason to exist BUT love and these are the relationships that the early church celebrated for just that reason. If you can wade through John Boswell's work (Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, and Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality), he does an absolutely thorough job at what I'm just poking at here. Start with "Same Sex Unions", or better yet, just read "Freedom, Glorious Freedom" by John J. McNeill. He summarizes Boswell, and is a lot easier to read.

Jim C.

Bibliography

Boswell, John.  Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay 
     People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to 
     the Fourteenth Century.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago 
     Press, 1981.  Paperback, ISBN: 0226067114 

Boswell, John.  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.  New York, NY: 
     Villard Books, 1994.  ISBN: 0679432280  Also, New York, NY: Vintage 
     Books, 1995.  ISBN: 0679751645

McNeill, John J.  Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the 
     Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else.  Boston,
     MA: Beacon Press, May 1996.  ISBN:0807079367

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Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0226067114 (paper) http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0226067106 (cloth) Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0679751645 (paper) http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0679432280 (cloth) McNeill, John J. Freedom, Glorious Freedom. http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0807079375 (paper) http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0807079367 (cloth)

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This page first created 1/17/02. Copyright Stephe Feldman, 2002. Last update: 11/18/07.