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Renato Lings: Reflections on his LGBT/Bible presentation

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I was pleased to have thirteen people show up for this event on November 2nd; most were from our Meeting, but several people were not. Also, people asked nice, probing questions.

Renato Lings is a Danish Quaker who is also active in a liberal Christian congregation in Copenhagen. I met him through Friends World Committee. He can translate nearly simultaneously between English and Spanish, although neither of those is his native tongue. I didn't know until recently that he was a Bible scholar, because I have to admit that Bible scholarship in general is a low priority for me.

No one at the book session actually bought the book, but that was not because they weren't interested in the subject matter. It is 700 pages long--extremely deep and detailed. My own favorite part is the long bibliography listing hundreds of books and articles on the subject. Renato is working on a much shorter book on this same subject, so stay tuned and ask me later about that if you are interested.

At least one person in our Meeting has actually read the entire book! That is our resident Bible scholar, Esther Murer. The book is in the Yearly Meeting Library, if you just want to look it over.

Renato has studied the ancient languages that the Bible was originally written in, and his main thesis is to say that homosexuality as we understand it in the 21st century was rare to nonexistent in Bible times. Each different culture in the world has its own set of sexual norms. The Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament, and therefore has a lot more stories and other material to delve into. His first point was that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is the Bible story most often cited as God supposedly condemning homo- sexuality, is actually not about homosexuality at all but about treating guests in a rude manner. (This is described in many books, so I'll let you investigate that.)

The main part of Renato's talk was a description of four cases in the Bible where two people of the same sex had strong loving bonds that lasted for years and were deeper than simply friendships. In the Old Testament, those were Ruth and Naomi in the Book of Ruth and David and Jonathan in the two books of Samuel. In both of those cases, the couple pledged undying love for each other in ways that were way outside the norm for their societies. That love was basically a driving force of the entire Bible story about those individuals.

Both of the New Testament stories that he cites involve Jesus. First, there is the story of Jesus and "the beloved disciple," whose name is often left frustratingly vague. Jesus, of course, never married, and traveled mostly, according to the Bible, in a group of men--- although descriptions of women in the group, such as Mary Magdalene, are probably just suppressed by the male writers of those stories. The second example in the New Testament is a Roman Centurion mentioned in Matthew and Luke, who begs Jesus to heal a young man that he lives with who

is not his son. Jesus heals the young man, which is a kind of endorsement for the strong bond between the two men.

My own attitude towards the Bible is mixed. I grew up in a mainstream Protestant church and was taught that the Bible was infallible. I remember being shocked in first-year French class in high school when our teacher, who was a Unitarian, had to teach us French Christmas carols and said that she considered the Nativity stories to be quaint fiction. Just two years after that, still in high school, I started attending Louisville Friends Meeting. One of my earliest memories of that was when one of the weighty Friends told me that in her opinion, "The Bible is a word of God, but not THE ONLY word of God." I took that as meaning that the Bible was by no means infallible, and that in my branch of Quakerism we seek continuing revelation about what Divine will is for our own times. What that means is that, for me, what the Bible says on any given subject may or may not be of great importance.

So my last comment on Renato Lings' book is that it is a wonderful reference for people who are concerned about what the Bible does and doesn't say about same-sex loving. It is great to know that an actual Quaker has published a book like this. If you want to explore it more deeply before buying it, you can either go to the Yearly Meeting Library, or talk to Esther Murer about what she thought of it.


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