Tuesday, December 29, 2009

David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

Jonathan and David by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1985
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)

“Jonathan Made a Covenant with David” by Trudie Barreras, 2009
Acrylic, 20” x 16.” Collection of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, GA.

Intense love between men is celebrated in the Bible with the story of David and Jonathan. They lived about 3,000 years ago, but they still inspire GLBT people of faith. Today (Dec. 29) is the feast day of David, the king of Israel who is credited with composing many of the psalms.

The modern idea of a gay sexual orientation didn’t exist in Biblical times, and it’s impossible to know whether David and Jonathan expressed their love sexually. However, their powerful love story in 1 and 2 Samuel shows that gay relationships are affirmed and blessed by God. Many people honor David and Jonathan as gay saints.

The account begins with the two men making covenant of love, which is illustrated in the painting above by Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras. She paints the scene in 1 Samuel 18:3-4: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

After Jonathan was killed in battle, David mourned for him with his famous lament from 2 Samuel 1:26:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.

Gay-positive Bible scholars have written extensively about the relationship between David and Jonathan. I recommend the classic book on the subject, “Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Thomas Horner.

The icon above was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 are now displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The “David loved Jonathan” billboard below is part of the Would Jesus Discriminate project sponsored by Metropolitan Community Churches. It states boldly, “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26.” For more info on the billboards, see our previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”

David loved Jonathan billboard from GLBT Christian billboards from WouldJesusDiscriminte.com and WouldJesusDiscriminte.org

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


pennyjane said...

as difficult as it is for some to understand, but most of us know viscerally...homosexuality is about far more than sex.

sex is in fact...only a side issue in my mind. i take a christian view of sex...it is an expression of love, deep love for a person, not just a body. that the kind of love that might lead to sex is almost always generated by people of my own gender is only that part. why my love is that way is what makes me homosexual. sex is only one component.

i think we can see this dynamic at work in several of the "homosexual" relationships we find in the bible. beginning with ruth and naomi...sex is never mentioned but we know they were involved in a lesbian love affair. same with david and jonathan...their love was clearly that kind of love that can lead to sex.

if one looks hard...i can't think of a single place in the bible where sex acts are described. so why should we assume that sex didn't occurr between these couples? it isn't mentioned...it isn't integral to the love affair from an outside point of view...what God wants us to know about is the love.

if homosexual expressions of love were hurtful to God, wouldn't these be some perfect places to make the point? shouldn't we see such a verse as, "and though there was this deep love between david and jonathan they didn't know each other for God would have been displeased."

i don't see how any other reading of these love affairs than that they were homosexual, beautiful and blessed makes any sense.

much love and hope. pj

Turtle Woman said...

I think the gayness or lesbianness of Biblical figures actually points to the possibility that there were aspects of divine inspiration to it. And a lesbian love story... well I think a woman wrote parts of the Bible, but were not credited with writing these stories. Anonymous was a woman!

I love all the icons of late, they're just amazingly beautiful, and add so much to this blog.

KittKatt said...

Thanks for the great comments and vote of confidence, pj and Turtle Woman! Pj, you wrote an especially eloquent summary of the distinction between sex and love.

You wrote, “i can't think of a single place in the bible where sex acts are described.” That’s interesting. You’re right that they’re not described in the context of couples, but there are references to it in contexts where it is separated from love -- the masturbation of Onan, the visitors who came to Sodom with intent to rape…

David and Jonathan are a role model for us of what love between men should look like.

pennyjane said...

hi kitt. i stand corrected. but, what i "meant" to say was that the actual acts of sex...just exactly what it involved in any one, or myriad, of sex acts isn't described. God never laid out any specific methodology that He accepted nor any that offended Him.

rape doesn't describe an act itself, but more a motivation. i think the story of lot and the angels in sodom spells that out. the men of sodom didn't just all get horny at one time when the angels appeared, their aggression was about control and domination..not sex and definitely not love.

so...i think my point is, and it's just from the way i personally read the bible, is that sex as an expression of love always seems to please God, whereas sex for the sake of sex is questionable. i wouldn't say it is universally condemned by God...but i do think it's problematic. God loves love so expressed love must really tickle Him. just my reading.

much love and hope. pj

KittKatt said...

Thanks, pj. I agree completely with your interpretation of the Sodom story. You summed it up perfectly when you wrote, “Sex as an expression of love always seems to please God.”

In one of my summer jobs in high school, I worked with a girl who said it so plainly that I never forgot it: “Sex without love is dirt. Sex with love is spice!”