Romans:  Paul Deconstructs the Jewsish Homophobic Propaganda Line

    Amongst his opponents and fellow Jews, mainly married, whom he was soon to face again in
    Jerusalem, with almost fatal consequences, Paul's law-free Gentile mission created suspicion
    about his manhood and that of his  mainly unmarried co-workers (see the evidence from 1-2
    Corinthians presented by Jennifer Larson 2004:85-97; also Jennifer Glancy 2004:99-135).  
    Hence, in Romans 1:24-27 Paul first echoes the traditional Jewish propaganda line against
    Greco-Roman homoeroticism, which he had imbibed from his youth (Wisdom of Solomon 14:
    24-27) and assimilated in the form of interiorized homophobia.  This approach would have
    reassured Paul’s potential allies in the Roman house churches that not all rumors arriving
    from Jerusalem were true.  However, once the party line had been echoed, Paul first springs a
    trap on judgmental readers, showing that those who condemned common pagan idolatry and
    deviant sexual behavior (Romans 2:1-29) were even more guilty than the Gentiles who
    applauded it (Romans 1:32).  In the succeeding chapters Paul then proceeds to deconstruct
    the Jewish homophobic propaganda line, showing:  

  • that the queer Jesus’ shameful experience of being crucified was in fact the decisive
    revelation of God’s liberating justice (Rom 3:21-26), then

  • that behavior “against nature” was precisely what God himself engaged in when
    ingrafting believing Gentiles into the Olive tree of Israel (Rom 11:24; by referring to
    Gentiles as uncircumcised “by nature” Paul makes the very rite of circumcision itself a
    human cultural imposition, an act “against nature”;(Rom  2:27; see 2:14);

  • and finally, that behavior traditionally condemned as “unclean” (Rom 1:24) had now
    been cleansed (Rom 14:14,20)

    In Chapter 16 Paul wisely avoids reducing his gospel to any narrow “identity politics” of a
    single oppressed group.  The three married couples are warmly greeted and affirmed without
    any sense that such support might threaten or endanger the stability, felicity and sanctity of
    the many sexual minority partnerships and living arrangements.  The Apostle had made quite
    clear elsewhere that he thought those who decided to become heterosexual and get married
    had settled for something less than God’s best (1 Cor 7), but he would not condemn them for
    their weakness.  If they would be co-laborers in his law-free Gentile mission, their handicap
    would be graciously overlooked.   

    Although many imagine that Paul sought to condemn all male slaves subjected to same-sex
    and anal intercourse (the dominant  interpretation of Rom 1:27), that definitely could not
    qualify as “good news to the poor,” since slaves (male and female) commonly were expected
    to satisfy their owners sexual desires (Craig Williams 1999:30-38; Jennifer Glancy 1998:481-
    501; Karen Lebacqz 1987:21-22, 42-43). Had Paul really intended to demand that Christian
    slaves be willing to face the death penalty rather than fulfill their sexual obligations to their
    masters, he surely would have made that clear when he gave his instructions concerning
    Christian sexual behavior later in the epistle (Rom 13:11-14).  However, Paul’s epistolary
    exhortations address agents who are free to fulfill them, such as Christian males tempted to
    visit prostitutes (see 1 Cor 5-7).  For Christian slaves to be “free from sin” (Rom 6) and free
    from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9) did not imply that they became free from fulfilling their sexual
    obligations to their owners.  The common interpretation of Romans 1:27 as condemning all
    males involved in any kind of “homosexual act” in effect has Paul proclaiming God’s wrath
    against the poor, the oppressed, victims of violence and rape, and not just their oppressors.

The Twelve Young Tress That Make A New Forest

    1 José P. Miranda and Tom Hanks: Oppressed sexual minority churches with slave
    members and women leaders (Rom 16).

    2 Elsa Tamez: Justification of the oppressed as acceptance and vindication of
    marginalized --poor slaves, sexual minorities, led by women (Romans 3:21-5:3;  14:1;

    3 Dale Martin and David Frederickson: Excessive desire/covetousness prohibited—
    transcendent norm: (Romans 1:24, 26-27;  13:8-14).

    4 Elizabeth Stuart and Eugene Rogers: In excess of / against nature, deconstructed
    norm (1): (Romans 1:26-27;  2:14, 27; 11:24).

    5 William Countryman and Daniel Helminiak: Uncleanness, deconstructed norm (2):
    (Romans 1:24;  14:14, 20).

    6 Halvor Moxnes and Robert Jewett: Shame / loss of honor (1:24, 26-27) and the
    Gospel of a crucified Messiah as Redeemer-liberator, deconstructed
    norm (3): (Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 5:2-3,11).

    7 James Miller: Romans 1:26 not lesbians (Bowen 1997; cf. Brooten 1996; Moore 2001).

    8 Robin Scroggs: Paedofilia and Rom 1:26 (since 1:26 does not refer to lesbians, Scroggs
    remains unrefuted).

    9 Matthew Kuefler: Cultic Prostitution. (Romans 1:25, center of Romans 1:24-27;  Romans1:
    18-23; Lev 18:21-22; 20:1-5, 13).

    10 Saul Olyan: Lev 18:22 and 20:13 condemn only male-male anal sex, not males of
    homosexual orientation nor male homoeroticism in general.

    11 Freed from the Law (Rom 10:4; 7:1-25) but filled with the Spirit for a praxis of
    liberating justice (2:12-29; 8:1-4) and walking in love (12:1-14).

    12 Diana Swancutt (2003): Our limited hermeneutical perspective: caught in the
    Rhetorical Trap of a “repressed homosexual” (Gerd Theissen 1983/7): Rom 2:1-16.

    13 Excursus. Philip Esler: Sodom and Gomorrah in Rom 9:25-26, Paul’s lost rhetorical

A Gay Apostle’s Queer Epistle for a Peculiar People: Romans 1:24-27 in its Context
Rev. Dr. Tom Hanks

Part 2
Twelve Young Trees That Make a New Forest   

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