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Why include LGBTQ characters in a Novel of the Early Church?

Two male characters in the historical fiction, Because She Was Called: From Broken to Bold, A Novel of the Early Church, appear to be companions, partners living together. Why are they in a Christian fiction? To show they belong. To show how past believers may have accepted and affirmed Queer Christians in their congregations.


The novel represents the full diversity of society in the first century and today. It imagines how the early church overcame barriers in ethnicity (Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Palestinians), class and citizenship (nobility, freedmen, slaves), gender (men, women, eunuchs), and sexual orientation. All of the believers are testifying what they have experienced, teaching and baptizing. It shows both straight and gay obeying God and being moral and faithful without changing their orientation.


Paul wrote that Jesus broke the dividing walls between us (Ephesians 2:14-15) and that no part of God’s body receives more honour (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). God shows no partiality of favouritism for the majority (Galatians 2:6 and 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:19, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 and 12:13, Acts 10:34-35, 1 Peter 2:9, Romans 2:11 and 3:22, James 2: 1- 9, John 3:16-17 and 4:13).


A Christian believes in Jesus and obeys his commands (Matthew 28:20, John 14:15-24). These commands may relate to Paul’s sample lists of sins (1 Corinthians 5:9-11, 6:7-11, 2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-8). The Bible did not include the word homosexuality until 1946[i]. It was added in 1 Corinthians 6:9 to replace whoremongers and sodomites, two words which relate to an active or passive role in prostitution and sexual exploitation. The Bible does not condemn same-sex relationships of love and mutuality[ii]. What if immorality has nothing to do with sexual orientation? Immorality in the Bible can refer to unfaithfulness, pride, judgement, idol worship, temple prostitution, promiscuity, abuse, human trafficking, and exploiting young boys or women as prostitutes. Jesus condemns adultery, defining it to include lust and pornography. What if God intentionally creates some to be same-sex-oriented, not as an error or result of a broken world? How can a person repent for being as God created them to be? Affirming LGBTQ+ does not mean ignoring sin but understanding that orientation is neither a choice nor a sin.  


We are all made righteous by faith (Romans 3:22). We show our faith by obedience. The greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus said our love for one another should mark us as his people (John 13:35). A Christian, regardless of orientation, is to be faithful to his or her partner. God gives some the gift of celibacy, but it is not a requirement based on sexual orientation[iii].


Our faith is shown by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:17, Galatians 5:22, James 2:18). What if the fruit of opposing homosexual activity has harmed LGBTQ+ folk and inhibited God’s redemptive work? What if God has sought out and embraced LGBTQ+ people? What if it dishonours God when the church treats some believers as secondary? Representing LGBTQ+ characters in fiction is a public way to honour God and the diversity God has created.


Because She Was Called is a fiction. It does not replace Scripture. Fiction set in Bible times can aid our understanding and contemplation, stimulate fresh perspectives, and drive us to look again at the Bible. This story dramatizes the scholarship of egalitarian and affirming Christians, imagining a past that might have been forgotten or sidelined in our history. It amplifies the stories of women in the Bible who were apostles, evangelists, preachers, and church-planters. This fiction is consistent with Scripture and with history and first-century Roman culture. My hope is that it will strengthen your faith and encourage you to look again at how God equips and calls all people, and the Holy Spirit fills us with wisdom and boldness.


Let's look at the fictional LGBTQ+ characters in my novel and the facts that form their base:


medieval knights
Roman soldiers freepik https://www.freepik.com/serie/49106419

Longinus

Facts:

The fictional character of Longinus is based on three biblical events:

  • A Roman centurion demonstrates faith by asking Jesus just to say the word to heal his dear companion. Jesus heals the companion and praises the centurion despite him being a non-Jew, a Roman officer, and an enemy of the Jewish nation (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10).

  • A soldier at the crucifixion pierced Jesus’s side with a sword (John 19:34).

  • A centurion at the crucifixion states that Jesus truly was the son of God (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39).

  • Cornelius had gathered his relatives and friends (Acts 10:24); the Spirit came on those who heard (Acts 10:44-46), and they were baptized (Acts 10:47-48).

Fiction/Tradition:

The non-canonical Gospel of Nicodemus gives the name of Longinus to the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus with a sword. This soldier is often associated with the centurion who declared Jesus was the son of God and who asked Jesus to heal his dear companion. The Greek word ‘pais’ can be translated as servant, slave, young man, or companion. It was often a word used to indicate a younger partner in a same-sex relationship[iv]. It was not common for a centurion to care much about an ordinary slave but very common for a powerful man to pair up with a young man[v]. Roman soldiers below the rank of centurion were not permitted to marry until they left military service.


This novel of the early church portrays Longinus, a centurion, and a fictional man named Griffin, a legionary, sharing a home and being baptized into the congregation of The Way.


Ethiopian Eunuch

Facts:

A eunuch and high-ranking officer under Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, was a non-Jew who came to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. The Holy Spirit directed Philip the Evangelist to take a desert road, explain the Isaiah prophecy and the good news of Jesus and baptize the eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).


In Matthew 19, Jesus explains that there are eunuchs who were made that way by others (slaves, prisoners, or guards), those who choose to live like eunuchs (choosing celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom), and those who are born that way (God creates some to be eunuchs). This last category may refer to those born queer, trans, same-sex orientated, or without the desire or capacity for heterosexual activity. Zach W. Lambert calls this an example of the radical inclusivity of Jesus[vi].


Fiction/Tradition:

A eunuch is a man who either has no testicles or whose testicles have been incapacitated. Eunuchs in the first century were treated as neither male nor female, being permitted in ladies' chambers but prohibited from the male-only Court of the Israelites. Ancient theologians Philo and Josephus considered eunuchs a ‘detested class of gender-ambiguous people’[vi]. They could not participate in procreation as either the male or female and could not leave a legacy of children. They were not viewed as true men and did not have all the legal rights of adult men in the Roman world.


The Holy Spirit directed Philip to baptize the eunuch and adopt him into the family of faith, regardless of how the world despised him, regardless of whether he was male or female or something in between[viii]. The account provides a model for how the church might adopt people of all orientations into the family of faith. The overarching message of the Bible is God reconciling humans, giving them equal rights as co-heirs in the family of faith[ix].



 


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history, and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor


 


Sources:


[i] Baldock, Kathy, “An Evening With Rev. David: The Story Behind a Historic Letter about Biblical Translation” The Reformation Project, 20 Feb. 2020,  https://youtu.be/rdfxPDZEO5k?si=Qv9xQpPN5S56ZnYn


[ii]“What does the Bible say about Homosexuality”, Human Rights Campaign, Accessed 25 March 2024 www.hrc.org/resources/what-does-the-bible-say-about-homosexuality


[iii] “Celibacy is a gift, not a mandate”, The Reformation Project, Accessed 25 March 2024, https://reformationproject.org/case/celibacy/


[iv] Green , Isabella. “Homosexuality in the Bible: The Centurion’s Servant.” Academus Education, Academus Education, 22 June 2020 www.academuseducation.co.uk/post/homosexuality-in-the-bible-the-centurion-s-servant-by-isabella-green

[v] Michaelson, Jay. “When Jesus Healed a Same-Sex Partner.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 2 Feb. 2016, www.huffpost.com/entry/when-jesus-healed-a-same-sex-partner_b_1743947

[vi] Zach W. Lambert, Restore Austin, “All-Inclusive - Homophobia and Transphobia.” YouTube, 25 Apr. 2022, https://youtu.be/k3d_mhbTwL4?si=UaUfdJ4Aa3F-1iGl

[vii] Keddie, Tony,‘God Made Them Male and Female...and Eunuch’: Why the Biblical Case for Binary Gender Isn’t so... Biblical.” Religion Dispatches, 11 May 2023, religiondispatches.org/god-made-them-male-and-femaleand-eunuch-why-the-biblical-case-for-binary-gender-isnt-so-biblical/


[viii] Richards, Jeremy. “Eunuchs, Cotillions, and the Boundless Love of God.” Grant Park Church, Grant Park Church, 25 Feb. 2019, www.grantparkchurch.com/sermons/eunuchs-cotillions-and-the-boundless-love-of-god


[ix Vine, Matthew. “The Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion.” The Reformation Project, 18 Oct. 2023, reformationproject.org/biblical-case/


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