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August 2007

Same-sex relationships sanctioned by law in Medieval Europe

To add to records of same-sex marriages in ancient Rome, John Boswell's research on same-sex marriages in early European history, and research I read and blogged about last year on same-sex domestic partnerships in colonial Virginia, here's more evidence of prior legal support for same-sex relationships. This is one more piece of evidence to point out the falsehood of the argument that providing legal recognitions now would violate thousands of years of tradition.

Civil unions between male couples existed around 600 years ago in medieval Europe, a historian now says.
Historical evidence, including legal documents and gravesites, can be interpreted as supporting the prevalence of homosexual relationships hundreds of years ago, said Allan Tulchin of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
If accurate, the results indicate socially sanctioned same-sex unions are nothing new, nor were they taboo in the past.
“Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize," Tulchin writes in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History. "And Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.” . . . [Read More]

This Week in Medical Crises

What a strange week. Grandpa has been in the hospital all week after going to the ER on Monday. They still don't know what is wrong with him, but will go exploring tomorrow.

Last night Revis, my step-dad, was rushed to the ER with an extreme allergic reaction to something, though we don't know what.

J.C.'s funeral is tomorrow afternoon.

And this weekend Michael and I will celebrate our one year anniversary by getting out of town and spending the weekend alone at a lake cabin, which will be wonderful.

Though I had planned on turning my phone off the entire time, but with these family medical emergencies, I probably won't be able to.

J. C. Farrand

J. C. Farrand has died, after a hard fought battle with cancer.

J. C. was the longtime Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of Shawnee.

J. C. was good to me. We met while I was a college student and new to FBC. He loved the college students and interacted with us often. Of course, it didn't hurt that I had been friends with his daughter when she was a freshman at OBU and had struggled as a liberal Democrat to fit into that place -- she received threats and was the victim of vandalism.

I rememer J. C. leading a discussion about worship and hymnody in the college Sunday school and addressing questions like gender inclusivity in language.

I remember J. C. fondly as director of our college choir and handbell choir. He even gave me free, private voice lessons for awhile.

I remember playing cutthroat rounds of Jenga with J. C.

Or watching "Noodlin' for Catfish."

Or going to Six Flags.

I remember him taking me to lunch many times to talk over the years, especially as I went through a period of depression in 1996.

I remember notes he would send me from time to time, saying he had prayed for me, congratulating me on something, or thanking me.

Though we didn't see one another much over the last few years, when I did see him, he was always just as wonderful to me as he had always been.

Here's one for a good man, a good minister. Anyone want to play Jenga tonight?

You are Fabulous, Each and Every One

You Are Fabulous, Each and Every One

Galatians 3:23-29

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

26 August 2007



    Cary Grant is one of my favourite actors. In fact, Cary Grant is probably about as close as man can get to perfection. That class and grace, the wit and romance. And talk about sexy! Maybe Justin Timberlake felt the need to bring sexy back because Cary Grant had been dead for twenty years.

    A couple of months ago I saw a Grant film that I hadn't seen before – I Was a Male War Bride. It was a comedy based on a true story. It wasn't one of his best films, in fact, he didn't really act in it so much as he just occupied the role with his comic ability.

    Grant plays a French military officer stationed in Germany in the months after the victory in the Second World War. He falls in love with an American female officer and they get married. As soon as they were married, it was time for them to return home to the U. S., so everything has to be arranged. The movie is filled with one comic moment after another as Grant is classified a "war bride." There wasn't a category of "war husband" or "war spouse" in any of the military procedures, so Grant has to appear in all these documents and lists as a "war bride."

    But, then things get worse after the documents are processed and it is time to head home. The folk who processed the documents laughed at classifying a man as a war bride, but the lower level soldiers and sailors who have to process him through won't accept a man as a "bride." One night he wanders alone from dorm to dorm with no place to sleep. They won't let a man stay in the war bride's dormitory. But he can't stay in the men's dormitory because he isn't an American military officer.

    It all finally comes to a head when he must be sneaked aboard the homeward bound ship. He dresses up as a woman in order to get past the guards who weren't going to let a man through. Finally he gets caught, but in the end everything gets solved.

    The film is a delightful comedy about gender roles and the sorts of strange cultures that we've developed around them. Of course, on the meta-level the film is even more interesting. Now we know that Grant himself was a homosexual who felt the need to pass as a straight man in the public light. Here's Grant, the closeted and passing gay man, playing a straight man who has to dress as a woman. Grant in that role is itself a commentary on our creation of gender categories.

    Grant, of course, did play with these coded messages about his sexuality. There is the famous scene in Bringing Up Baby where he is dressed in Katherine Hepburn's very feminine bathrobe and when he shocks the old woman he jumps up and down, flaps his hands, and yells, "I've gone gay!" Cultural historians tell us that this was the first mainstream popular culture reference to the word "gay" meaning "homosexual," even though the word had been used in the subculture since the 1400's. Grant, closeted gay man, the first person to use the term gay for homosexual in mainstream culture. And this, again, while he was in drag.

    Today we have read the text that is probably the core of any pro-queer reading of Christian scripture. And that it comes from St. Paul himself is one reason it is so delicious. Paul, whose writings have been used against us by so many, is the source of our best argument.

    I don't think Paul had any sense that he was writing holy scripture. In fact, I think he'd be horrified by the very thought. Paul was a missionary and a pastor who was working this new faith out on the go. He was taking what he knew about Jesus and was struggling to apply it to every real world situation that arose. We must forgive a little inconsistency here and there.

    Of course Paul can be interpreted many different ways, and has been and will continue to be. But the truth is, we should learn to read Paul like we would any literature. What are the key, central themes? And then use those to interpret the more obscure and difficult passages. Plus, it is those key themes that continue to work themselves out over time, whereas the obscure passages become even moreso.

    And there are only a very few passages more essential to understanding Paul than this one. This passage that tells us that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave nor free, no male nor female.

    Back in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new statement on the family to add to their confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. This was the first addition to the confession since 1963 and laid the groundwork for the drafting of a new confession in the year 2000. The 1998 document came after the success of the fundamentalists in ousting the more traditional, moderate leadership of the denomination. The 98 statement showed how concerns had changed since 63, when the confession had included statements on war and peace, poverty, and social justice but didn't feel the need to comment on "family values."

    This 98 statement really was a statement about gender roles. The crux of the document was its views on women. Women were not to be pastors. Wives were to submit to their husbands. And, of course, only heterosexual marriage was legitimate.

    Like was tradition, this statement included not only the written text, but a paragraph length set of biblical references with chapter and verse to back up the statement. Oddly enough this Galatians passage was missing from a theological statement about gender identity.

    Shortly after the statement came out, I was talking to an Oklahoma Baptist University Bible professor who told me that if a student had handed in that document as a paper, he would have flunked it because it ignored Paul's teaching here in Galatians, which ought to be the primary text when dealing with what the Bible has to say about gender.

    But, then, it is obvious why a group of social troglodytes would ignore this passage. Because it is a revolutionary text. St. Paul identifies the three most common social construct categories that have traditionally been used to discriminate in society – race, class, and gender. These categories are the source of harmful identity politics that create an "us" and a "them." They are used to separate people and keep them apart. The evils perpetrated in the name of race, class, or gender are so obvious and numerous that there's no reason to belabor the point.

    Paul jumps right in and names these categories and then explodes them. In the Christian community these categories of division have no place. Remember, the central teaching here in Galatians is that Christians are defined only by their faith. Your membership in the people of God is not based on ethnicity, cultural background, observance of rules, or any other category. Paul is proudly saying that membership in the people of God is not and will not be based on race, class, or gender. In Christ we are all free from these distinctions. He's telling us that they are passé, out-of-date, have no place in the new world.

    Christianity has always seemed to have two broad views that have competed with one another. One view is particularist, setting some distinction or category that you must meet in order to be in the people of God – you've got to have the right knowledge, be in the right denomination, wear the right clothes, don't play cards, don't drink or dance, observe communion a set way, demonstrate specific spiritual gifts, etc., etc., etc.

    Then, there is another view. It is universal in perspective. It says that everyone is welcome in the people of God, that God does not discriminate but accepts us just as we are.

    This week I caught a little glimpse of this universal vision. Thursday I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as the guest of a friend of mine who asked me to go along with her. Two months ago we were talking and she asked me what I knew of the program, and I told her just a little surface knowledge. She thought I needed to know more, as a minister, and I've been excitedly looking forward to us getting together so I could learn more. After she walked me through some background, we went to a noon meeting that was packed. There were at least seventy people there. I didn't know what to expect. And boy was I not prepared. I enjoyed myself. It was amazing to sit and listen and watch as people shared about triumphs and struggles and shared openly and bluntly. And everyone in the room responded with compassion and understanding and overwhelming enthusiasm.

    And these people were from every walk of life. Business men and society wives. Poor travelers and students. Laborers and lawyers. Black and white and Hispanic. Young and old and middle aged. Gay and straight. Even a transsexual who was one of the group leaders.

    This room overflowed with love and joy. It's what the Christian church is supposed to be. A place where we all come because we realize we are no better or worse or different from anyone else. That we each need help. That we only get better if we help others. Where all barriers between us are broken down and we share knowing that we can trust everyone else to accept us for just who we are.

    That is God's vision, I am convinced. God doesn't have time for these categories.

    Our aim is not simply a society where gays and lesbians and transsexuals receive equal rights. Our aim is a world where categories like that don't serve any sort of purpose. Where everyone is free to be whomever they are. Where the lines that divide such categories become so blurry and fluid that everyone recognizes them for the absurdity that they are. As Cary Grant tried to demonstrate a half-century ago.

    We could spend the next century debating what Paul really meant in Romans 1 or other of the obscure and difficult passages that supposedly refer to homosexuality. We could debate what Paul knew and didn't know about same-sex relationships – the science, the philosophy, the culture. Or, we can look at his plain and clear statement here in Galatians and realize that no matter what Paul knew about social categories, he knew something about Christianity. He knew it in the deepest recesses of his heart. It was central to his faith. Christianity does not discriminate; it sets people free.

    It is a universal message. Maybe you don't think you're smart enough. Rich enough. Good-looking enough. Maybe you struggle with a physical or mental disability. Maybe you were abused as a child. Maybe your parents didn't give you enough love or attention. Maybe you are an addict or an alcoholic. Maybe you are alone and lonely. Maybe you are rich or beautiful or smart. Maybe you are a man, or a woman, or one of the infinite possibilities in between.

    I'm telling you what Paul was telling you -- that when it comes to category distinctions, God doesn't give a damn!

    You are a child of the majestic creator of the universe. You are loved with a mother's love. You are the apple of your father's eye. You share the same body as your brother Jesus the Christ. You are filled with God's Holy Spirit, your partner and lover throughout life. You can claim God's power and glory. You are fabulous, each and every one.

Why Marriage Matters

After the LGBT Presidential Forum on Logo I was talking with one of my good friends, and we got into a discussion about marriage. He said he doesn’t think marriage is the big issue we need to be fighting for, that there are other more important things. I disagreed, and here’s why. . . . [Read the rest of my column here, though I apologize for all the typos that slipped by me!]

O Thou Afflicted, Tossed with Tempest, and Not Comforted

For more than a year I have been working on my story, entitled MyQuest. I've taken various blog posts on my coming out, my spiritual formation, my political development, etc., reworked them, expanded them, etc. The comments that have been left on these have been helpful in writing the fuller account. I'm still a long way from being done. Michelle Williams and I recently talked about it, and she predicted that it would be a decade-long project. Right now I'm just trying to get everything down and expect and to be constantly reworking it for some time. For the first time I want to share a segment of the story. This has never appeared on the blog before. Many of you friends have given helpful comments in the past, so please continue. Workshop this! Peace, Scott

I preached my first sermon on August 21, 1988 at the age of fourteen.

    In June I had been asked to preach for our upcoming youth Sunday. I can't remember if I was asked by our pastor, Dr. Jerry Field, or our youth minister, Jeff Payne. After that first sermon, Jerry would ask me to preach a number of times, usually on a Sunday evening or Wednesday night prayer meeting.

    Pretty quickly I figured out which passage I was going to use. I can't really remember why I settled on it so quickly and easily. I don't even think it was my favourite passage at the time. Maybe I had just read it recently in my normal bible reading and it had stuck with me?

    The passage was Isaiah 54:11-17:

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

    Of course, I look at it now and realize that this passage is perfect for a teenager who feels like something of an outsider from the rest of his world. At the time I thought my difference was explained by my Christian piety, so, of course, I would preach a sermon about Christians being different from the rest of the world.

    The title of the sermon was "A Christian's Heritage as a Servant of the Lord." There were three main sections: Christians are set apart, Christians' growth in God, and trial and temptations. The basic point was that we suffered trials and temptations because of our difference, but if we were "established in righteousness" and obeyed God, then God would protect us. The sermon included a dozen scriptural cross references! It concluded with this Reginald Heber song that I also had somehow come across in my poetry reading. I did not know then that it was a classic hymn in some traditions -- it was not in mine:

From Greenland's icy mountains, from India's coral strand;
Where Afric's sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error's chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth's remotest nation has learned Messiah's Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o'er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

    I rehearsed that sermon for months. Seriously. I would run through it over and over again at home. And Mom would take me up to the church to run through it there when no one else was around. I've never rehearsed a sermon quite like that.

    With all that content and all that rehearsal the sermon only took sixteen minutes! Nowadays that seems like a good length of sermon to me. But in the churches of my upbringing, sermons were at least twenty minutes and were often a full thirty, so sixteen was quite short.

    I keep all of those old sermons in my old briefcase. They are stored in manila envelopes that record their title, subject matter, and where and when I preached them. As I looked back over these, I was surprised by how often I did preach back then. I guess I had forgotten. As the young preacher boy in our local association, I was called on regularly by the Director of Missions to fill in for one or another of the rural pastors on days when they were gone. I preached a lot of places in high school and college, including more times than I remembered at my home church of First Baptist Miami. I still can't believe how much Dr. Field opened his pulpit to a teenage boy.

    My home church was always so proud of me. People said I'd be the next "Billy Graham." As a friend told me a few years ago, that was the highest compliment that those folk knew to make.

    The week after I preached that first sermon Kelly Phillips died. Kelly had been a member of our youth group and had recently graduated and was in college. She was a very active and important leader in our church youth group in my early teen years. Kelly was someone we had all looked up to.

    As a teenager she was diagnosed with some form of cancer; I forget the details. She battled her illness with great courage, and we prayed for her earnestly. After everything I'd been taught about God and the power of prayer, I firmly believed that if we prayed hard enough and had enough faith that Kelly would be healed and that this miracle would be a great sign that would lead to revival in our community.

    But it was not to be. She died on August 25, 1988 and her funeral was on Sunday afternoon, August 28. The church was packed. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional service. To this day I can't hear Michael W. Smith's "Friends," which was played at her funeral, without thinking of Kelly and getting a little sad. I remember how I came out of the church bawling and grabbed my youth minister, Jeff Payne, and cried and cried in his arms.

    Kelly's death struck a great and lasting blow to my faith as received up until that time. I came to realize that much which I had been taught was simply not true. If it had been true, then Kelly wouldn't have died. I think I was scared of the full implications of this realization. Maybe that played a part in my spiritual crisis over the next few years as I wondered, as a last ditch effort, if the fault really lay with me. Did I lack faith? Was I really a Christian?

    From that moment prayer, as I had understood it, was not quite the same. A few years later after other, more significant deaths had occurred in my life, someone at church during a fellowship time in the Fellowship Hall said something to me about my faith in spite of the deaths. I told them at that time that Kelly's death had struck a more difficult blow to my faith than those of my grandparents and my father. I remember that the person didn't know how to respond.


    Grandpa Jones died on January 10, 1989.

    When someone dies in my family, the entire family comes together and spends the days between the death and funeral together. This often meant fifty people. The house will be filled with family, visiting friends, and church members bringing food. These are solemn, significant rituals of grieving.

    I had been through these rituals before with the deaths of my great uncles Pete and George, but Grandpa's death was the first in a series of deaths of my closest relatives.

    Grandpa had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983. I distinctly remember my parents sitting me and Kelli down on the stairs of our house to tell us that grandpa had cancer and might not live. But with an aggressive treatment that included chemo, grandpa's cancer had gone into remission. His last check-up in the summer of 1988 had been great.

    Then the week after Christmas he went back for his check-up. Not only had the cancer returned, it had metastasized; he was given only a couple of weeks to live and never left the hospital again. We waited vigil those weeks for his death, often rushing up to the hospital in Joplin, Missouri.

    The night he died we got the call in the middle of the night and rushed up there. We made it in time and were present when he breathed his last. This was the first time I was in the room with someone when they died.

    In April my grandma Nixon, Mammoo, became ill while she and Pappoo were at their lake home in Grove. She was rushed to the hospital via ambulance. It was a kidney problem. Mammoo had been a nurse's assistant and told the doctor not to perform a certain dye test because she knew herself to be allergic to it. He did perform the test, she had the allergic reaction, slipped into a coma, was life-flighted to Tulsa where she underwent days of intensive medical care from a huge teams of doctors, and eventually died on April 18.

    It was a shocking, unexpected, and horrific death. My family waited in limbo those weeks hoping she would get well. Kelli and I never saw Mammoo while she was in the hospital and stayed most of those weeks with Grandma Jones as my Mom and her siblings stayed in Tulsa throughout most of the illness.

    My mother's grief over the loss of her mother was shocking. I had never seen my mother behave as she did. It scared me. Mom lay in the floor, screaming and crying, throwing a fit. It was an eye-opening moment into the fragility of adulthood and parents that one grows up believing are so strong and able. April 18 is my mother's birthday, now forever scarred by the death of her mother.

    In the subsequent months, my family considered suing for malpractice, but Pappoo didn't want to go through that.

    That year so many of our family traditions changed. We now had one grandparent who was a widow with declining health requiring more care from us. The other grandparent was a widower who soon began dating, not something any of us were prepared to deal with.

    I grew up with all these wonderful, idyllic images of family, images that began to undergo significant change in 1989 as death became a constant presence in my adolescent life.


    In the fall of that year I found out that my good friend Tonya Hopkins was pregnant. Well, this was something of a crisis in my conservative evangelical worldview as well. Our group of friends stood by Tonya in this difficult time. Though I still had conservative views on sexuality, I learned important lessons about compassion that trumped the black-and-white understanding that I had and which was beginning to face serious conflicts with the real world.

    Caleb was born on March 12, 1990 and I was sort of an honorary godfather. It was great joy to hold Caleb in our arms in those early days and then to watch him grow as a child.

    At one point it looked like Tonya might marry Chris Bailey, Caleb's father, so I approached my church asking about what steps I needed to take in order to legally marry someone. Tonya and Chris, quite fortunately, did not end up marrying, but I was licensed to the gospel ministry at the young age of sixteen.

    Shortly before, on February 25, 1990, our school and community were shocked when Bobby Wood, the incredibly handsome and popular quarterback of our high school football team committed suicide. I clipped and saved the Miami News-Record article about Bobby's death. It was on the cover of the paper and had a huge picture of Bobby. The article reports that his grandparents were in the backyard and heard a noise and his grandmother came in and found him dead, having shot himself in the head while wearing his football jersey.

    The paper reports:

"He left no note and we are still talking with those who knew Bobby best," Briggs [a Miami police detective] said. He said some of those already contacted have indicated the Miami High School senior was having difficulty dealing with some personal problems.

    Bobby's death basically shut down school for a week as many students stayed home or those that were there engaged in very public signs of grief. The day of the funeral there really wasn't any school as pretty much all of us attended. The First United Methodist Church was packed, with the crowd spilling out into every hall and room adjacent to the sanctuary. I listened from down a hallway.

    In the last couple of years as I've worked on some GLBT teen issues, I have wondered if Bobby's inexplicable death might have been one of those countless suicides of gay teens? I have no evidence to suggest that, but I wonder.

    At the time it was just one more significant dose of the real world.


    My licensing to the ministry came on Sunday, March 11. That afternoon was the annual piano recital for my piano teacher Elaine McFerron's pupils. That year I was the most senior (though not the best) pupil, meaning that I performed last. My piece was "Venetian Boat Song" by Felix Mendelssohn.

    That evening Todd Stiff and I, our youth minister, were both licensed to the gospel ministry. All of my family was with me. Many church members had sent wonderful little notes and cards. It was a wonderful, celebratory night; a fulfillment of my sense of calling from early childhood.

    The next Sunday my Dad was dead.