Beyond the Centurion and His Servant
Many gay Christian books and Web sites mention the theory that the centurion whose pais (a Greek word meaning servant or boy) was healed by Jesus in Matthew 8:5-13 was in a pederastic relationship with the boy. The only lengthy scholarly treatment of this passage that has appeared in English was written by the Rev. Donald H. Mader, now assistant pastor of the Pauluskerk (St. Paul's Church), Rotterdam, noted for its ministry to sexual minorities, including pedophiles.
PASTORAL WORK AND RESEARCH
Born in 1948, Rev. Mader majored in history with minors in religion and art at Michigan State University; his particular interest was classics. In 1971, he began attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City. During that time, he did research on the first gay poetry anthology, published in 1924, and eventually edited a reprint of the book, which was entitled Men and Boys.
Rev. Mader looks back on the time following his graduation from seminary.
After two years as student assistant at a black parish on the edge of a housing development in Queens, for 13 years I was pastor of a small, old parish in a declining docklands neighbourhood in Brooklyn, although toward the end parts were being gentrified. When I arrived it was basically a handful of elderly white ethnic people, which we built up through active social programming and outreach in the community (English as a second language for adults, remedial tutoring for children, adult education, space for AA, AlAnon, Scouts, Block Associations, etc.). I recall at one time counting, I think, sixteen different ethnic groups represented in the congregation – Germans and Scots probably being the two largest of the original groups, with Hungarians and one lone old Dutchman; among the new groups a large Puerto Rican presence, and also Poles, Italians – both from disaffected Roman Catholics – Jamaicans, Guatemalans, briefly some Koreans who didn't stay in the neighbourhood . . .
The drug problematic was there, and illegal aliens, although in nothing like the concentration at the Pauluskerk. Seuxal minorities were not there as such, although we did have an elderly gay couple, a florist and hairdresser, whose obvious sexuality everyone tacitly ignored, in good inner city fashion. Thus, the constituencies differed, but the approach to ministry – active social programming – was the same.
To give an example, one of my proudest memories is the needlework class in the church's "Free University." We provided the advertising, registration and space for people in the community who wished to teach non-credit classes in any subject (cooking, furniture refinishing, needlework, literature, theatre, dealing with addiction or abuse, Bible, etc.) in return for a small part of the registration fee. The needlework was taught by a half-Indian woman who was a member of my church, who had married a Slovak man from the neighborhood when he was stationed in Oklahoma during World War II (and who though nominally Roman attended my church with his wife), and every term drew up to 30 Polish and Hispanic women, in the only place in the whole neighbourhood where the two groups, between whom there was considerable friction (including killings in the park down the block from the church), sat down in peace with one another, to trade sewing tips! I would see that as the practical application of the Gospel should explain how I would end up at the Pauluskerk.
In 1986, Rev. Mader moved to the Netherlands.
As my background had been over a decade in an inner city parish, after a few years of "cooling out" here, I became involved in the closest thing I could find here to committed inner city work in the U.S., which was [the Rev. Hans] Visser's Pauluskerk – first as a volunteer in the drop-in centre for the homeless, then, when West African refugees asked for an English-speaking Christmas service in 1993, with English language ministry there, and with the Doucé Committee [a work group at Pauluskerk that addresses pastoral issues related to sexual minorities, including pedophiles], for which I function as an advisor. My role as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Homosexuality allows me to follow literature and recommend many items.
Rev. Mader joined the editorial board in 1990, coincidentally the same year that the Journal of Homosexuality published a double issue entitled "Male Intergenerational Intimacy."
I was in no way involved in that issue, which had been planned years before. However, there was a 1988 conference in Amsterdam, "Homosexuality – Which Homosexuality?" at which I met John DeCecco [editor of the Journal of Homosexuality] and others, which led to the invitation to join his board, and also to the placement of the "Homosexuality in Dutch Churches" article in the Journal of Homosexuality (Volume 25, Number 4), which did not get run until several years later – the Journal of Homosexuality has a very long wait between acceptance and publication.
Rev. Mader's interest over the years in the historical aspects of homosexuality inevitably caused him to face the issue of adult-minor attraction and sex.
I am referring to secular, historical research – S. O. Murray on Africa and Islamic lands, Hinsch on China, Schalow on Japan, Dover and Percy on Greece, Boswell and Williams on Rome, Rocke and Ruggiero on Renaissance Italy, Bray on Stuart, Restoration and early Hanoverian England (although I think there is probably much more that he didn't say, or didn't wish to say – there are the famous pair of highly sexualized boy pictures by Joshua Reynolds – Cupid as a Linkboy and Mercury as a Cutpurse – which suggest to me that there was a larger pederastic underground than Bray, who wants to focus on the beginnings of egalitarian homosexuality, will admit), Crompton on the era of Byron and Bentham, Chauncey on turn-of-the-century New York, to take just the most prominent books in English – all of which show clearly the continued simultaneous existence of the three strands of age-structured, gender-structured and egalitarian homosexualities, in different proportions, in the different eras and cultures. This is one of the pillars on which I base my assertion that boy-love has been improperly removed from its context in homosexuality and pasted on with age-structured "girl love" and with "pedophilia" proper – if such a thing exists – neither of which share much in common with it aside from the age difference.
With the advantage of having known many more "pedophiles" now, and having yet to find one who actually seems to be equally attracted to all children alike, no matter what they claim), and also of the increasing amount of research on the variety and persistence of the three different strands in "homosexuality" (age-structured, gender-structured, and egalitarian), I am now very firm, personally, in rejecting even the existence of "pedophilia" (except as a social construct, which, for the rest, comprises various unrelated phenomena). In other words, having answered to my satisfaction (or actually rejected) the Biblical and theological objections to homosexuality, and not seeing the Biblical and theological issues surrounding boy-love as any different, that was sufficient for me. And of course, homosexuality too was less doctrinaire thirty years ago than it rapidly became after Stonewall.
Rev. Mader believes that the different assumptions underlying ancient arguments on sexuality means that the classical authors do not address the same issues modern authors do when discussing adult-minor attraction and sex. He mentions the common statement in modern faith communities that pedophilia is immoral because the adult and the child are of unequal power.
In another – totally unpublished, as it was presented only orally at a Pauluskerk conference – paper I went into the "inequality" argument as it is used in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which in its sections on friendship and love has a good bit of rhetoric condemning "unequal relationships." However, what Aristotle condemns are relations between partners with unequal virtue, not power, which is what we bang on about today in the Western world – perhaps having no virtue to speak of at all, and having guilty consciences about our abuse of power. Once again, as with sexuality, the ancients thought in absolutely different terms. The age difference simply was not a factor for them.
What [Martti] Nissinen says of homosexuality in his Homoeroticism in the Biblical World – "Ancient same-sex interaction and modern notions of homosexual orientation are two different things; although they can be compared with each other, they must be kept separate. Ancient sources know no 'homosexuality', at least not as modern educated Western people use this word" (p. 131) and "Biblical texts that mention same-sex eroticism, therefore, can make only a limited contribution to modern discussion about what is today called 'homosexuality'" – applies to pedophilia too. Change Nissinen's "homosexuality" to "pedophilia" – which has even a shorter history than "homosexuality" – and his "same-sex" to "age-structured" (or even add "age-structured" to his "same-sex") and the conclusion is the same: the Bible and church fathers can tell us something, but nothing very specific.
THE BIBLE'S PERSPECTIVE
One of the difficulties in discussing such matters, Rev. Mader says, is that sexual relationships without power imbalances do not exist in the Bible.
In point of fact, the Bible knows no egalitarian sexual relationships. Mutual ones, yes – as the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible stresses in its article on marriage, in the section on "marriage by purchase," seeking to nuance that category. Rachel's relation to Jacob was far more than an act of commerce, although Jacob, an older man, bought her from her father, a transaction in which she had no say. In marriages which were contracted, as Biblical marriages were, in a profoundly unequal patriarchal society, where only the man could initiate a divorce (to take only one example), to speak of egalitarianism is nonsense. One could not even have thought of condemning relations because they had power imbalances in them; they would all have been condemned. But the Bible does condemn abuse of power (husband/wife, master/servant, landlord/tenant, etc). And it does picture mutuality as existing in these unequal situations.
But, for goodness sake, we shouldn't need the Bible to tell us that!
Rev. Mader is unable to find any direct references to pedophilia or pederasty in the Bible.
Yes, we have Jacob wanting to marry Rachel when she was nine [Genesis 29], and David being "warmed up" by young girls furnished by the Royal Procurer [I Kings 1:1-4]; Amos denounces fathers and sons who abuse the same servant girl [Amos 2:7] – though I suspect Amos has a somewhat larger model of abuse in mind than merely sexual.
Although I have seen some ingenious isogeses of the passage about "those who cause one of these little ones to stumble" which end up with Jesus favouring the death penalty for pedophiles, applying that passage is sheer nonsense; it has nothing to do with sexuality whatever. It is almost certain "little ones" in the original words of Jesus, referring to "believers" (and in particular perhaps simple or beginning believers), rather like John's "children" in I John 2:1, 12, 18 and 28, and 3:18, and the context makes it clear it is about doctrine, about compromising the faith of simple believers, not sexual ethics.
On the matter of other useless passages, there is of course the Beloved Disciple chestnut (not sexual, not John, and the "youth" of John is established only by having to keep him alive long enough to write Revelations – which was probably not by John the Disciple anyhow), and the Youth without a Loincloth in Mark 14:51-52. Both C. Morton Smith with his Secret Gospel of Mark, and that group calling itself the Godparents of America, have gone to town on that one.
Seeing Joel 3:3 as applying to the sexual use of children is a misreading: this is not what the translations imply, "given a boy [to be used as] a harlot," but [instead] "given [sold] a boy for [the price of a visit to] a harlot" – see the Peshitta [the ancient Syrian translation of the Bible] on this verse, and of course also the parallelism with the next phrase "and a girl for [the price of a skin of] wine." A nasty enough commerce, but nothing about children and sex.
Although Rev. Mader does not see any direct references, he believes that a number of indirect references to adult-minor attraction and sex exist in the Bible.
I have recently received a rabbinic commentary from the imprisoned Rabbi [Alan J.] Shneur Horowitz on the Jacob passage demonstrating that both Leah and Rachel were under marriageable age – the latter well under, which accounts partly for the wait until she was given in marriage, evidently something well known in Talmud and Midrash but unknown to Christians – but also suggesting, in the analysis of some of the choice of language, that there may have been a unusual degree of intimacy (father-son incest, the arrest warrant would probably read) with Joseph and later with Joseph's sons. Evidently the "rape of Dinah" (Genesis 34) also involves an underage girl – and possibly underage boy.
Rev. Mader believes that the New Testament scholar Robin Scroggs, who argues that St. Paul's passages on homosexuality were only meant to condemn a particularly degrading form of pederasty, falls short in his analysis.
I personally believe Paul was thinking of gender-structured homosexuality, but probably if pressed would have blustered that the other two [age-structured homosexuality and egalitarian homosexuality] were indistinguishable from it. Paul already has problems with other "gender incorrect" behaviour, such as hair styles (I Corinthians 11:14) and hats (11:13-16) and women (or possibly wives, but it is still basically a gender-role issue) speaking in public (also I Corinthians 11). And Craig Williams's new book on Roman Homosexuality rather convincingly demonstrates that Roman attitudes were gender-centered, and these of course would have been the gentile context for Paul's thought. If I recall Nissinen rightly, he concurs.
Moving to the words themselves [that Paul uses to describe the people God condemns], common opinion at the moment seems to favour rendering arsenokoitai as something like "libertines" or, by extension, "effeminates" (a linkage Williams demonstrates in general Roman discourse!), and malakoi as the passive partner in homosexual intercourse. These would both be consistent with a critique of violation of gender-roles – though no doubt many of the younger male prostitutes also "played the woman" both in appearance and in bed, thus coming under this critique too (we must not think that gender- and age-structured homosexuality never coincided!). Of course, there is also the very good chance, as is well argued by Scroggs, that Paul was using these all as rhetoric, invective, without in his own mind having any clear referents.
Aside from the centurion [and the Pauline references], there are no other [references to homosexuality by] New Testament authors – for instance, Scroggs, p. 100, note 3, on Peter and Jude, where "strange flesh" is angels! The Old Testament, of course, has cultic prostitution (although it remains a bit vague what role homosexual prostitution could have played in a fertility cult, unless it was simply potency that was being celebrated), and the proper "handling" of semen as a sacred substance, as well as playing a woman's role in lying with a man. Needless to say, most of our society no longer views any gender roles as God-given.
In short, I think probably for Paul the condemnation extended to pederasty (and egalitarian homosexuality) by extension from a condemnation of gender-structured homosexuality: after all, somebody is violating a basic gender code of males being active in any male pair who do anything sexual. Equally, if it is gender which rules, then, as is still the case in "Mediterranean" homosexualities, it is only the passive who is violating the gender code, and thus, to this extent, Scroggs is right – the passive in ancient pederasty almost always being the younger partner: where it wasn't the older partner was mercilessly pilloried, as in Martialis. Unfortunately, Scroggs fails to see that this gender-based critique also cuts into his egalitarian homosexuality, largely because he, like Boswell [New Testament scholar John Boswell], starts with the aim of justifying "equalitarian" relationships at the expense of pederasts.
Through Tom Horner's book, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times, Rev. Mader learned of the theory that the centurion mentioned in Matthew and Luke was a pederast. In 1984, this topic arose during a conversation between Rev. Mader and Catholic theologian John J. McNeill; Father McNeill suggested to Rev. Mader that he write a paper on the topic. Since no in-depth scholarly treatment existed of this theory in English, Rev. Mader explored the issue, eventually writing "The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10."
The questions I was addressing at the time that article was written – although it stands on the edge of a time when I explored the idea of a "pedophilia" that united boy and girl love – were largely those of Christianity/Biblical theology and homosexuality. I really do feel (today, at least) that the article is more properly at home in the Studies in Homosexuality series than in Paidika. Specifically, the question was whether there was any reference to homosexuality (or anything which fell into that general category) in the gospels, knowing full well of the Old Testament and Pauline references. Horner of course had made the suggestion that this passage might be relevant, and McNeill also thought it was, but no one had ever seriously done the necessary, responsible analysis. I decided to put some time into determining whether, exegetically and historically, that was a real possibility. Despite some lingering problems with historical issues, I do think it is.
Rev. Mader's article on the centurion and his servant (which was later reprinted in Studies in Homosexuality, Vol. 12, Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy) was originally published in Paidika, an academic journal on pedophilia that Rev. Mader co-edited between 1984 and 1990 with Joseph Geraci.
In 1984 I had been introduced to Geraci by Norman Laurila, owner of Different Light Gay Bookshop, who had noticed that we always bought the same books and suggested to each of us we might want to meet a kindred mind. Geraci was also considering relocating outside of the U.S., and as we discussed our respective plans we in fact ended up flying across to Amsterdam on the same plane, with our cats sharing the cargo hold. The idea of a scholarly journal was developed together, and the "Entimos Pais" article, when it was finished, was my contribution for the first issue.
Rev. Mader believes that, if the centurion was indeed having pederastic sex, it's noteworthy that Jesus did not rebuke him for this.
Jesus has no problem about challenging someone's activities when those activities need challenging – see John 4:16-17, or John 8:1-12. That he does not include such a challenge here, along with performing the healing, and indeed praising the man, suggests to me a different attitude in this case.
Now: I know arguing from a silence is always questionable. I am also immediately aware that both the passages I have cited are Johannine (and in fact that one of them – the woman taken in adultery – may not even be Johannine), not Synoptic. I am further aware that it is precisely John who alters the entimos pais passage into a father-son story to escape the whole issue. And I am still further aware that none of these stories are biographical reports: that in particular the entimos pais story is a faith passage, told only to make a point about faith, and not to provide teaching on moral issues, or social attitudes, or about Jesus personally. (I am also aware that for many of your readers these source and higher criticism considerations will be perplexing, if not objectionable.) But the passage in Matthew and Luke, while it is designed and used to teach us about faith, does contain elements which can suggest attitudes on other things, and for myself I would accept that there is sufficient historical content in this report that if Jesus had seen fit to rebuke the centurion, he would have done so, and the gospel writers would have included that in their text too.
And Jesus was, as even his enemies admitted, no man to mince his words (Mark 14:12). The picture of Jesus I get from the whole of the gospels is that of someone who would have spoken here in condemnation if he felt it necessary, not the sort of wishy-washy liberal whose love knows no bounds and never sets bounds. In fact, his was the sort of love that does set bounds. Indeed, the general feeling I get is that he is even more ready to speak that way to male authority figures (scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, etc.) than to the two women in John with whom we began.
The issues raised in the article continue to interest Rev. Mader.
[What] I continue to consider the weakest point in the article [is the question of] whether pederasty would have been at all acceptable on the part of a God-fearer related to a synagogue in Hellenic Judaism. Would that community have tolerated him – worse yet the suggestion they tolerated him only because he was a benefactor? Would he have tolerated such a behaviour on his own part? After returning to Josephus and Philo-Judaeus, I am more convinced now than I was when I wrote the article that the answer to these two questions is no. And yet I cannot shake the conviction that so long as we know almost all we know about Hellenic Judaism through these two sources – admittedly two sources with very considerable personal and propagandist agendas – that that does not close the issue. I distrust "official", apologetic sources too much. Perhaps this is a place for the next scholar to begin; there must be other bits and pieces out there in manuscripts now being published that might allow a better picture than using only these two, which could help answer the question of what the limits were in such communities.
The theory that the centurion was a pederast has been publicized by other authors and has come under attack by some conservative scholars. For example, Derrick K. Ollif and Dewey H. Hodges have contended that such arguments could be translated into the following statement: "Since Jesus met a slave owner, and since the Scriptures do not show that He condemned him for that practice, it is almost surely the case that Jesus did not think that slavery is sinful." To which Rev. Mader replies: Indeed it could.
The truth is, as I stress in my sermon in [Pauluskerk's booklet] Misunderstood Intimacy, THERE IS NO ARGUMENT TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE IN THE BIBLE AGAINST SLAVERY. Their ironic argument is precisely what was in fact said, with all seriousness, until 1860 or so.
One the one hand, this exposes the problem of arguing from the word of Scripture alone. That the Bible clearly and overwhelmingly says something is right does not make it so. On the other hand, as I presume the authors are not supporting slavery, they will have to admit the knife cuts both ways: if the Bible, in almost all its pronouncements (except for a hint in Paul and Acts), can be wrong about slavery, it can also be wrong, in its overwhelming burden, about homosexuality, the limited role of women, or – pederasty. The authors no doubt think their example is an effective weapon, but only because they evidently fail to take in how totally pro-slavery the Bible is.
I would also note that the exception here is perhaps stronger than the rule. Paul's realization "neither slave nor free" has overwhelmed all the hundreds of approvals and acceptances of slavery in the rest of the Bible. May not the one exception to the witness on "homosexuality," where Jesus refuses to make an issue of it, overwhelm the dozen condemnations of it?
Although Rev. Mader has difficulty in finding specific texts that address pedophilia and pederasty, he believes that certain biblical themes provide help.
Obviously we have to go back to the Bible to begin theological discussions; it is the Word of God, or at least the words in which the Word of God is revealed. But we have two problems searching the scriptures for direct answers to questions.
The one is that scripture sometimes doesn't talk about the things we are asking questions about – warfare among nation states, for instance, or the death penalty in states where law is not divinely given, but the result of a political-social covenant, or homosexuality, or masculinity or femininity in a time when we see these as cultural constructs rather than divinely ordained, "natural" laws.
The other is that the Bible doesn't give unequivocal answers; sometimes it gives conflicting answers. Of course we can solve that by theories of progressive revelation, or by saying that the answers we don't like are talking about things which are not what we are asking about now, or by saying that the Bible is true with respect to salvation (and some add morals), but not science, or history (and some put morals on this side of the line too). Looking for the themes which run through the whole, even if they are opposed by specific texts, is similar, and must be done with great care that we are not selecting out what we want – but still, I think, has its validity.
I think there are three themes which I find important in addressing issues relating to man-boy love. The first is the acceptance of us (all of us) as sinners and our reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. That means that we can exclude, cut off, demonize nobody – not pedophiles, not Serbians, not criminal black drug addicts, not Islamic terrorists, not whatever our worst nightmare is. That certainly must happen within the faith community – but because none of us know exactly who is in, or will be in, that community, we cannot afford to exclude anyone, in or out. This requires that we enter dialogue with, not condemn out of hand, the boy-lover.
The second is the theme of response in thankfulness – the Jew gives thanks for and obey the law out of thanksgiving for God's establishing the covenant; the Christian gives his or her life in thanks for salvation revealed in Christ. That has moral implications: love your neighbour as you yourself have been loved. Our salvation frees us to live in new ways with others. The boy-lover has now got to examine and reshape the way he relates to boys (as does the man to woman, woman to man, etc.: see [William] Stringfellow here for his suggestion that he was only freed to become a loving homosexual and enter his relation with Anthony Towne when he became a possession of God . . .). That's addressed to the boy-lover.
And third is the theme of God's particular care for the weak and at least potentially oppressed. Where there is an imbalance of power, it is the particular responsibility of the one with power to make sure that it is used for the good of the weaker partner, not in exploitation. Boy-love relationships are by no means the only relationships with an imbalance of power – Christian parents, employers, etc. also are particularly challenged with this – but so is the Christian boy-lover.
But of course, these are themes basic to all ministry.
Rev. Mader's interest in Christianity's attitude toward pederasty has extended to later periods.
I suppose one might actually follow up on the non-judgemental attitude of Jesus in Matthew and Luke by noting that in the early church – up through the first millennium in parts of the West, and later yet in the East – there were pederastic "gay marriages." The documentary evidence in the way of preserved liturgical manuscripts for these is now overwhelming, summarized in John Boswell's last book, Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Now, there is some question whether it is actually correct to call these "marriages" as Boswell gradually slips into doing, or whether they were merely "friendship covenants." My own suspicion is that they were intended as the latter, but functioned as "marriages".
But what is scandalous is Boswell's refusal to acknowledge what is clear from his own arguments and even documentary evidence – that they were pederastic unions. As part of his argument that they were intended as "marriages," Boswell argues that they were a continuation of such "marriages" in the ancient world – but then denies, as he does in his earlier work, that the model of homosexuality in the ancient world was overwhelmingly pederastic – even referring to Hadrian and Antinoos as "two men," which is sheer bollocks. But much more fatal are the manuscripts which he reprints in his own appendices, where one clearly reads things like "the priest shall take the hand of the older and place it on the hand of the younger" (p. 305) or "the priest shall place the hand of the older on the Bible and on it the hand of the younger" (p. 335). You needn't take my word for it; Randall Trumbach trashes the book for the same reasons, well worked-out and documented, in his review in the Journal of Homosexuality [30:2, 1995].
Why these customs fell out of favour around 1000 is still mysterious. It probably has to do both with the gradual unification of Western liturgy and theology under Rome, which began with Charlemagne bringing French and German liturgy into accord with Roman practice (and Rome does not seem to be a place which had known this practice), and millennial panics which made "Sodomites" (and witches, and heretics in general) targets in a Europe faced with plague, war and uncertainties, wanting to clean things up before the end.
Over the years, Rev. Mader has published a number of studies of boylove in the arts.
My current, anticipated project – will it be a late doctoral dissertation? will I ever get it finished? – on which I have been working off and on now for five or ten years, is a study of four Christian boy-love poets of the turn of the last century, George Edward Woodberry, Willard Wattles, William Alexander Percy and Willem de Mérode – three American, one Dutch.
Woodberry was a professor at Columbia, founder of comparative literature as a study, deeply influenced by Emerson and Pater (in 1877 Harvard banned him from delivering his valedictorian's lecture because the professors found it too "pagan"), with a sort of High Unitarian Christ-and-Socrates-are-the-great-inspirations-of-mankind, suffering (both were martyred by benighted mankind!) being part and seal of this "salvation" kind of theology – who left Columbia suddenly at the height of his fame in 1905 to wander in Europe for the next decade (no records have ever been revealed explaining why); his poems and letters (published in a less knowing era) reveal him as a boy-lover, who took on boys when they were pre-pubescents and was still in touch with them when they were grandfathers.
Wattles, a literature professor at a series of smaller schools, was a "muscular" YMCA sort of Christian who made Christ and Whitman comrades on the road, working together under the blazing sun and curling up breast to breast at night under one blanket, while spewing his hatred on "homosexuality", by which he meant the scourings of vile Europe which were infecting our cities with effeminate creatures neither men nor women, and who wrote long odes to 16- and 17-year-old boy comrades. His Lanterns in Gethsemane is full of "Christian" poems depicting Christ as this sort of Whitmanesque homophile ("Kiss me, John!").
Percy was a Roman Catholic, son of a liberal Mississippi plantation owner, maintained relationships with black boys on the plantation and sponsored them on through their lives, was gutsy enough to hold off KKK attacks at gunpoint with his family and servants, to be decorated as an ambulance driver in World War I, and to establish cooperative sales arrangements for the poor farmers in his county. His poems are all, ultimately, about the conflict between the saving, uplifting promise of Christianity, and the vitality of "paganism" – a conflict he particularly saw in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II, where several of his long poems are set – and played out in his own life in the Roman ritual of penitence and absolution, although the reasons for his frequent use of the confessional are never openly stated.
De Mérode was a Dutchman who had the same sort of conflict, the only one to serve a prison term for homosexuality with a minor, and stayed firmly in Calvinistic election and grace as the hope for sinners (it being fairly clear that his sense of sin was properly Calvinistic, much wider than sexual, although certainly informed by his sexual guilt feelings) – while clearly stating that it was not the erotic feelings, but the sexual practice with the boys, which had been his sin.
All of this will have to be wrapped up in a consideration of the currents in poetry in the day, and the conceptions of "homosexuality". I think that the question of how each of these men dealt with trying to reconcile their deep Christian (if not always traditional Christian) faith and their sexuality as boy-lovers – much more a strand in 1890-1925 homosexuality than today – and at the same time elevated it into art, could be helpful to those struggling to do so today, both homosexuals and boy-lovers. Also it might be a new brick in building a broader picture of homosexuality than today's "gay" paradigm. Woodberry, with his young Italians, and Percy with his Negro boys, also allow a consideration of crossing not only age but also other power differentials.
MODERN CHRISTIAN DISCUSSIONS
Rev. Mader believes that, in the United States, both the secular gay community and the faith communities were more tolerant of boylove in the 1960s and 1970s, before adult-child sex became an issue sharply separated from homosexuality.
Contemporary faith documents in those early years (I recall two in particular, from the Quakers and Unitarians) shared [the gay community's] inclusive approach [to boylovers]; while they perhaps (my memory is hazy on this) identified man-boy relations as a specific problem to be dealt with in the general re-evaluation of homosexuality by the faith community, it was at best a peripheral issue.
In the long run, Rev. Mader believes, it is impossible for Christians to separate the issues of whether to accept a person and whether to accept his sexual practices.
Is it possible to separate them? In the short term yes, in the long term no. The unconditional acceptance of the Other as a person, which we experience for ourselves in Christ and which we then share with others in the Church, does first of all mean accepting them as persons, irrespective of their actions ("loving the sinner but not the sins" and all that). And this is first of all what is necessary in relation to the pedophile today (as it was in the church dealing with the homosexual in 1962): not to reject, not to demonize the person who is a pedophile, was a homosexual.
But once one can enter into dialogue with that person, one necessarily has to begin evaluating their actions and experiences, seeking to understand what makes them tick, what they desire, what fulfills them. And that in turn will in time lead to an understanding that not all that they do is wrong or evil, just as not all that they do is ethical or good. In the case of the pedophile, this might first mean accepting that their relationships are motivated by love, not lust (where that is indeed the case – at any rate, not inevitably motivated by lust), and eventually perhaps accepting that expressions of that love which are not damaging (for even things meant in love can be damaging) are not wrong, however strange (or even revolting) those expressions may seem to us. It is exactly the same process for relating to a person whose sexuality is organized around S/M activities; I can find this bizarre, I can (I do!) find this threatening, but if I accept that person I also must try to (and in the end hopefully will) accept (if not approve) their sexual practices, if carried out ethically.
I would also note that this is historically what did happen with the homosexual community, as I outline in the "Dutch Churches and Homosexuality" article: things moved from pastoral acceptance of individuals, through dialogue and tolerance, toward acceptance of the persons as practicing homosexuals – without in any way saying that all homosexual actions or relationships are good (for discussing those distinctions is also part of the dialogue!). That, I think, is where the instance of the adulteress enters in: adultery, which involves unfaithfulness to another, is not good, but the heterosexuality of which it is an expression is not condemned. Jesus does not tell her to become celebate, to abandon heterosexuality, but to cease with adultery, to confine her heterosexuality to ethical paths.
Finally, I think there is something of this also in Bill Stringfellow's "Exhortation to Integrity" [reprinted in A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, edited by Bill Wylie Kellermann (Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 331-334]. Our sexuality is necessarily a part of who we are. A person cannot be divorced from their sexuality; to accept them means to accept their sexuality. At the same time, their sexuality must be redeemed through Christ.
Reading the above over, I am reminded here of a point made by the Gereformeerd reviewer of Andere kant van de medaille [The Other Side of the Coin, a collection of essays on pedophilia issued by Pauluskerk], whose recurrent theme is that he cannot accept Rev. Visser's idea that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, including acts which may or may not be abusive, but is a sexual act which is always abusive – thus parallel not with heterosexuality or homosexuality, but parallel with rape or adultery. This is of course a cultural, definitional question, not one that can be resolved theologically.
American churches' commentaries on adult-minor attraction and sex, Rev. Mader believes, rest less on theology than on non-religious arguments.
The issue here is largely not Biblical, but psychological: Can persons of, say, 12 or 15 knowingly consent? Are all sexual relations in which there are power imbalances damaging? Except to speak calmly and question assumptions, and ask that victims of prejudice be heard, and evidence for them be seen – always a prophetic act – the church has nothing to say on these issues.
As a result, Rev. Mader says, the churches will have to wait while these issues are resolved through secular debate.
For that is in fact what has happened in each of the great cultural debates of the last two centuries: the church was nowhere in the vanguard in relation to slavery, or fair labour practices, or anti-war agitation, or women's rights or homosexuality (though that does not say individual Christians were not deeply involved as witnesses, at least in the first three).
But more what I meant was that in fact the church (and behind it the Scriptures) has nothing specific to say on most of these issues – and if it does, as on slavery or women, it is most often wrong. The vocabulary and concepts are different. We live in a different world, where we do not view gender roles as God-given, bodily substances as sacred. There was no such concept as "homosexuality" then; how can the Bible speak on it? The concept of a "child" has changed; if we want to follow Biblical examples, we should go back to arranging marriages for girls of nine – though I hear no one advocating that, while still claiming Biblical authority for saying sex with a fifteen-year-old is evil, because she can't consent! It is absurd to use the Bible as a guide there.
If we want to ask a question about, say, age of consent, we will have to turn to politics (hopefully with some input from philosophy and ethics) to get a definition of "consent", and then ask psychology at what age it can be assumed most persons have developed the capacity to accomplish that. Theology at best can lay down some framework for the discussion. I do not wish to offend, but the attitude of many Christians, who seek diligently for a Biblical answer from God, a story or verse which will make it all clear, is absurd.
What the Bible does do is lay down parameters. Persons are to be valued – because God has valued them – loved us while still sinners – enough to come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ (and behind that, reach out to us in the Old Testament covenants). It is particularly the weak and abused whose cry goes up to God. The church's job is to keep insisting on these fundamental things, as we seek our specific answers in our present circumstances.
That says it must speak for, uncover, the abuse of children by a patriarchal society with nuclear families where the child has no way out, that it must make sure that our perverse obsession with sex does not blind us to the violence and neglect that is much more prevelant than sexual abuse (and the consequences of which, because it is present in most families/situations where there is also sexual abuse, often get submerged in those of the sex).
But it also says that when any group – as pedophiles are suffering now – are beaten, burned out of their homes, murdered, physically mutilated, imprisoned without hope of release, arrested for expressing their views, systematically lied about in all media, the church should be saying that that must stop, that their voice too should be heard, that the truth about them should be heard. A lesson of the gay movement was that when enough people "came out" that enough people were confronted in their own experience with persons – friends or family, perhaps – who gave the lie to prejudices about homosexuals (based often on those who had been visible, or become visible when society wrecked their lives), prejudice yielded, a bit at least. The church wasn't a part of that happening. For pedophiles the stakes are now much too high to attempt that without a sanctuary – and the church is far from willing to offer it.
The church should also be seeking to have the voices of those whose experience of mutual, though intergenerational sexuality gives the lie to the idea that every time, always, it must be utterly damaging, be heard. (Frankly, the arts are doing better at that . . .) They too are persons of integrity whose experience is being denied. Standing up for one group of victims cannot justify creating new disenfranchised victims.
Maybe it should even begin questioning whether, as ages of consent rise (The Netherlands has now begun the process of raising the age of consent to 18) young people themselves are not becoming victims of those who, seeking to protect them, are denying their humanity and dignity.
The church is the crucible in which dialogue with these groups should now be being heard. It isn't happening. The Gospel – God's love for all mankind – demands it.
"One in Christ Jesus". By Donald H. Mader. [Unconditional Love]
Pederasty in the Bible [Unconditional Love]
A Reformed Response to Daniel Helminiak's Gay Theology. By Derrick K. Ollif and Dewey H. Hodges. [The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics]
© 2000 Heather Elizabeth Peterson