Here is my column in the current edition of "the Triangle," a new publication serving the LGBTQ community in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area.
Great love stories share similar plot lines. A scene of early attraction when the lovers-to-be take note of one another. Declarations of mutual commitment once the relationship has moved into a serious stage. An obstacle to overcome, like the disapproval of a parent. Finally, the tragic ending when one or both lovers meet a premature death and we, the readers, are left heartbroken. From the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of writing, some version of this epic love story has appeared in many cultures.
The Bible, however, is a little short on tales of romantic love. The Song of Solomon is an extended erotic poem capturing the intense feelings of a man and woman. Needless to say, you don’t hear many sermons from this book. Many of the other romances in the Bible are clouded by a lack of detail, or to be blunt, a lack of love. Often the heroes of the Bible were not so heroic when it came to wooing someone. They took whom they wanted, when they wanted, and that just doesn’t make for a very good love story.
There is one exception. In the books of 1 and 2 Samuel we see a tale of love that follows the traditional plot line. In this story a prince falls for a commoner when the former witnesses the heroic actions of the latter. Once the relationship forms and deepens, the two profess their love in a covenant that they swear to uphold regardless of what may come. The obstacle appears when the king, the father of the prince, disapproves of his son’s love interest and tries several times to bring the relationship to an end. Finally, the prince is killed, but only after saving the life of his beloved. The grief of the surviving lover is captured in these words: “Greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)
What? You mean the commoner who was loved by the prince was a man? Yes, and not just any man. The surviving lover is David, the boy who saved his people when he slew Goliath and eventually would become the greatest king in Israel’s history. David is the most important figure in the Old Testament for many Christians because he is the ancestor of Jesus. But what is rarely talked about when David’s legend is chronicled is the great love of his life. No, not his multiple arranged marriages. No, not his tawdry affair with Bathsheba that led to all manner of ugliness. His great love affair was with Jonathan, the son of King Saul.
Most people of faith erupt in protest at any suggestion that David and Jonathan were gay lovers, but my interpretation of their relationship as such is not a new thing. For more than fifty years biblical scholars without a homophobic bias have noted the possibility. What would lead them to such a conclusion? They simply do what conservatives often insist that readers of the Bible do. They take the text seriously and pay attention to what it actually says.
One can understand why the church refuses to entertain the possibility that David and Jonathan were more than fishing buddies. To concede that one of the most important biblical figures, one often portrayed as a “man’s man,” was actually gay, well, that might cause a tear in the space-time continuum. Or at least change a few Sunday school lessons.
Why should we care about intramural squabbles over biblical interpretation? Because the rationale used by politicians to deny full civil rights to the LGBTQ community is often a biblical one. Push a homophobic legislator to explain his or her stance on marriage equality and other issues and you will usually hear some version of “the Bible condemns it.” We can scream that it is the Constitution, not the Bible, that is supposed to be the document legislators are interpreting when they make law, but it matters not. The flawed assumption that the Bible presents a clear denunciation of homosexuality is thick in our culture, and politicians usually mirror the culture.
David and Jonathan’s tale is the great love story in the Bible. Acknowledging this truth has important religious and political implications for our generation, but that is hardly the most important point. Their relationship is more than a footnote to the twenty-first century culture wars. The love and devotion they demonstrated to one another, openly expressed in the pages of the Bible, is filled with vulnerability and passion. Such a rare example of love inspires and moves us. Just like any other great love story.
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