In Homosexuality and Civilization (London/Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2003), emeritus
professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Louis Crompton has written what many recognize
as the most significant work in this area since John Boswell’s Christianity,
Social Tolerance, and
(1980). Although Crompton mainly cites Boswell to indicate minor disagreement or
correction, he  provides overwhelming confirmation of Boswell’s major (but universally neglected)
thesis.  Boswell sought to demonstrate how
anti-Semitism and homophobia developed as parallel
, especially in the late middle ages (1150-1400 AD):

    Most societies…which freely tolerate religious diversity also accept sexual variation, and the
    fate of Jews and gay people has been almost identical throughout European history, from
    early Christian hostility to extermination in concentration camps.  The same laws which
    oppressed Jews oppressed gay people [“sodomites”]; the same groups bent on eliminating
    Jews tried to wipe out homosexuality; the same periods of European history which could not
    make room for Jewish distinctiveness reacted violently against sexual nonconformity; the same
    countries which insisted on religious uniformity imposed majority standards of sexual conduct ;
    and even the same methods of propaganda were used against Jews and gay people—
    picturing them as animals bent on the destruction of the children of the majority” (1980:15-16).

Boswell’s critics, who are legion (from postmodern gay academics who hate him for being
Christian/Catholic to homophobic fundamentalists who hate him for being gay), have been obsessed
with what they judge to be errors and deficiencies in details of his historiography and Biblical
exegesis.  However, they universally overlook or ignore his fundamental point.  In the Biblical field,
for decades academics of all persuasions have been falling over backwards to defend the New
Testament against any charge or suspicion of anti-Semitism/Judaism, while at the same time blithely
propagating the notion that St. Paul in particular is responsible for centuries of homophobic violence
against sexual minorities. Crompton repeatedly shows how inquisitional torture and violence
promoting the legal killing of Jews and Sodomites remained characteristic of Western “Civilization”
(Europe and the Americas) until the early 19th century.Highly dubious exegetical conclusions in
works like that of Robert Gagnon (2001) continue to make their impact, even with academics who
should know better, despite blatant pseudoscientific notions of “curing” homosexuality with scandal-
ridden “ex-gay” treatments.  However, although the promoting of “ex-gay” quackery is an all-too
visible elephant in the china shop in works like Gagnon’s, the other elephant—
invisible–is the total
ignorance evidenced of the churches’ complicity in promoting the legal burning of Jews and
 Crompton grapples continually, sympathetically and profoundly with that great mystery for
Jewish and Christian believers:

    It is an irony of history that the two cultures which have done most to shape Western
    civilization should have adopted antithetical views on homosexuality at almost the same time.  
    In the sixth century before Christ, Greece produced the homoerotic poetry of Solon….But in
    the same century a few hundred miles away in ancient Palestine, a law was incorporated into
    the Hebrew scriptures which was ultimately to have a far greater influence and indeed, to
    affect the fate of homosexuals in half the world down to our own day….the so-called Holiness
    Code in Leviticus…about 550 BCE (2003:32; see also pp. 48, 130).

Concluding his study when executions for “sodomy” finally cease in Europe (1803), Crompton seeks
to analyze the data in his leitmotif:

    Looking back over twenty-four centuries, what pattern can we see in the dozen societies we
    have examined?  Most striking, certainly, is the divide between those that called themselves
    Christian and those that flourished before or independently of Christianity.  In the first we find
    laws and preaching that promoted hatred, contempt, and death; in the second, varying
    attitudes, all of them (barring Islam, which like Christianity, inherited the lethal tradition of the
    Hebrew Scriptures) to a radical degree more tolerant….Executions in England, which reached
    their peak in the early nineteenth century, were the result of centuries of campaigning by
    clergy who called up the nation to ‘exterminate the monster?’” (2003:536, 538).

He provides a classic summary of a few highlights in the history of homophobic violence:

    It can hardly be argued that these horrors were a necessary stage in the development of
    civilized societies.  In China and Japan the philosophical wisdom of Confucianism and the
    religious teaching of Buddhism did not foster them.  Indeed, China was more tolerant than
    ancient Rome, lacking that empire’s deep-seated fear of male effeminacy,, and Japan, in its
    Samurai code, produced an ethos remarkably akin to that of classical Greece.  In contrast, to
    look back on the history of homosexuality in the West is to view a kaleidoscope of horrors:

  • Justinian’s castrated bishops;
  • The dangling corpses of Almería [Spain];
  • The burning of the ‘married’ couples of the Renaissance Rome;
  • The priests starved to death in cages in Venice’s Saint Mark’s Square;
  • Women burned, hanged, or beheaded on the charge of lesbianism;
  • Men tortured and burned by the Spanish Inquisition;
  • Indians savaged by Balboa’s mastiffs or burned in Peru;
  • The deaths at the quemadero in Mexico City;
  • The men and boys of Faan [village in the Netherlands];
  • And the scores of men and adolescents hanged in Georgian England.

All these atrocities were committed with the certainty that they were the will of God, necessary to
stave off the kind of disaster that had overwhelmed the Cities of the Plain [Sodom and Gomorrah]”
(2003:539; I have added the formatting).Crompton does not write without sympathy and appreciation
for Christianity:

    The debt owed by civilization to Christianity is enormous.  How can we not be grateful for its
    works of compassion, its service to education, and its contribution to the world’s treasury of
    great art, architecture, and music?....Christianity has proved itself a creed with a conscience,
    not lacking in men and women of good will.  Even in the case of homosexuality there have
    been Christian Christians, though they are still a prophetic minority disconcerting the church
    officialdom (2003:547-48; 130).  

Crompton’s approach, however, commonly evidences a fundamental methodological weakness.  For
instance, he provides an excellent account of Emperor Justinian’s “reign of terror” (527-565 AD)
involving the torture and castration of several Christian bishops who slept with men (2003:142-49),
but indicates his disagreement with Boswell for insisting that early Christianity was not really hostile
to homosexuality (144).  However, while Boswell may minimize hostility, why accept Crompton’s
decision to acknowledge Justinian as really representing “Christianity,” rather than the tortured
castrated bishops?  Since heterosexuals represent an overwhelming majority of the population and
commonly dominate the power structures of institutions, it is not surprising the Christian institutions
commonly conform to the worldly pattern (despite Rom 12:1-2).  But if the norm for identifying
authentic “Christianity” be Jesus’ praxis and teaching or even the canonical New Testament books
(including Paul), why not accept the bishops who were persecuted and tortured as representing the
Christian norm, rather than the cruel emperor, with whose brutal laws, as Crompton concludes “the
medieval world was inaugurated” (2003:149)?  Lesbian scholar Bernadette Brooten in her
magisterial work makes quite clear her view of the implications regarding Paul:

    I have argued that Paul’s condemnation of homoeroticism, particularly female homoeroticism,
    reflects and helps to maintain a gender asymmetry based on female subordination.  I hope
    that churches today, being apprised of the history that I have presented, will no longer teach
    Rom 1:26f as authoritative (1996:302).  

Robert Gagnon basically agrees with Brooten’s exegetical conclusions, but differs theologically and

    Those who engage in same-sex intercourse act contrary to God’s intentions for human sexual
    relations….Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of
    Scripture (2001:487).   

Authors like Gagnon, who would perpetuate the homophobia of the medieval world—backing off
somewhat reluctantly and totally inconsistently from Leviticus’ requirement of the death penalty (20:
13)—gather support and comfort from the conclusions of Brooten and others who interpret Paul as
condemning all homoerotic relations.  Without in any way pretending to treat or resolve the issue of
Pauline and Biblical authority in general (which would require another volume and many excellent
works already are available), I have sought to develop the case initiated in other “Third Way”
theologians that locate the problem not so much in Leviticus and/or Paul, but in the misinterpretation
and misuse that has been made of such portions of Scripture.  As has happened in the case of the
citations from Bible to support slavery, monarchy against democracy, and inferior status for women, I
am convinced that this is the way forward, both for the edification of the church and for justice in

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

Part 4

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