Ni sa bula vinaka and warm Fijian greetings to you all!
I’m Amy, the current principal of St. John the Baptist Theological College, Suva, Fiji in the Diocese of Polynesia.
One of the responses you may get when the issue of Human sexuality is raised in my context, is that it is ‘tabu’. That does not mean it is not to be discussed or talked about as the word may imply in another context. It means that at this point in time – it is not for public consumption.
My reading of Roman1 is coloured by my social location – an ordained woman of mixed heritage in what is still a very patriarchal society – reared and nurtured in a large rural family where commitment and love of the family unit was of paramount importance.
When reading Romans 1 under the theme of the Bible and Human Sexuality I see only two verses that have direct reference to it. So it is good that they bet set in the context of the whole chapter in which firstly, Paul greets his readers, followed by a personal message about himself and his ministry. In verse 18 he begins a condemnation of the depraved life in the city of Rome, the context in which the Christians he is addressing live. He begins this with the condemnation of the religions of Greco-Roman empire.
Following the two verses that refer to human sexuality, he continues with a long list of immoral behaviour ranging from murder to boasting. Then he begins chapter 2 with a warning against being judgmental. Since Paul, by his own admission, had not visited Rome, he is writing his description of the depraved Roman city life from hearsay only.
From a historical perspective one discovers something of the Graeco-Roman religious scene. The Greeks had produced great philosophers over the preceding centuries; hence reason and logic took precedence over religion. There was, however, especially for the ordinary grassroots people, worship of the Greek/Roman pantheon. Statues of the gods abounded in the public areas of towns and cities. Worship was mainly sacrifice to the gods.
In addition, there was the so called ‘mystery religions’. Because of the secrecy surrounding the rites and ceremonies of these religions, it is difficult to know what transpired. However, because of the strong connection with fertility cults that abounded in the Middle East, and which are, in any case, a basic human response to the human environment with a reliance on agriculture for survival – some forms of sexual activity were undoubtedly involved.
In light of what I have mentioned above, I believe that Paul’s words in verses 26 and 27 are condemning unnatural sexual behaviour on the part of heterosexual people. To describe men and women as giving up their natural relations for the unnatural does not describe homosexuals or normal homosexual behaviour. By adding “burn with lust for one another” or in the NRSV “consumed with passion for one another”, it would seem that Paul is exaggerating. After all he is describing something of which he has no first had knowledge. But if there was unnatural sexual behaviour involved in the religions of the Greco-Roman world, as seems likely, then Paul has a right to warn Christians against becoming involved in such activities.
The question I believe that needs to be asked in this very different context of the 21st century is: “Do I have the right to use Romans 1 verses 26 and 27 to discriminate against and condemn homosexuals? Granted that we live in a society with loose sexual morality – we should be discouraging promiscuity and encouraging faithfulness to a single partner rather than condemning those whose sexuality may be different from our own but natural for them. Abusive sexual behaviour of any kind, heterosexual or homosexual is what requires our concern.
At the beginning of the chapter Paul is also calling for repentance. It often seems that these days heterosexuals are blind to their own faults and over-zealous in condemning homosexuals, whereas the lack of direct references to homosexuality in the Bible may means acceptance of that proportion of every human community whose sexuality is not heterosexual.
In 2000 a senior civil servant and his family moved from Fiji to make their home in New Zealand. This elderly Christian gentleman brought with him two things which he valued in the context of Fijian society – two things which had got him and his family many favours – his race, indigenous Fijian, and his position, senior civil servant. His driver, an Indo-Fijian man and his family made the same move a few weeks later.
In Aotearoa he realized that these two things carried no value and he had to change his attitude in order to survive the new environment with its many challenges. During this time of orientation, the only friend he had outside of his family was the Indo-Fijian driver, whom he had often looked down upon in Fiji. His words to me when I visited the family was, “Now I know what it means to be the “other” and in “minority”.
To conclude, allow me to say, God values homosexuals as much as heterosexuals, can you and I do that? In my culture we value people as people irrespective of their sexual orientation for we believe that they are God’s gift to us – they belong to us.
 Fijian word for tabboo
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