Harvard professor seeks ‘gay’ term in Bible

According to Harvard Divinity School professor Mark Jordan, the terms LGBT and queer are confusing and unnecessary.

“No one knows what queer means, and no one can know what queer means,” Jordan said in a lecture Tuesday before an audience of more than 50 Yale students and faculty in the Yale Divinity School’s Niebuhr Lecture Hall. Critiquing homosexual labels, Jordan said Christians adopt these terms — which he called scientific and psychological but not religious — and use these words to create polarized arguments either attacking or embracing homosexuality.

In the lecture, Jordan argued that Christians should adopt a term that both includes homosexuals in their community and embodies Christian values based on biblical canon. But in a question-and-answer session after the lecture, he said he could not describe what the term should be.

A prominent Christian ethicist and scholar of philosopher Thomas Aquinas, Jordan said he now focuses his research on the relationship between Christianity and sexuality. His latest works, including “The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism” and “Bless Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage,” explores controversial religious topics, such as whether the Christian clergy should bless same-sex unions.

Jordan began his lecture by recounting the story of a 16-year-old boy named Zach Stark, whose Christian parents in 2005 sent him to a religious “ex-gay” therapy program called Love in Action after he revealed his sexuality to his parents. As Stark participated in the program, he documented his troubled, occasionally suicidal thoughts in a blog that was soon picked up by the online media.

Jordan said the media coverage on Stark — and the term “ex-gay” itself — resulted in polarized debates nationwide. This example, he said, shows how the general public, using terms of sexuality, often simplifies the relationship between religion and homosexuality, condemning Christians as the enemies of homosexuals.

Jordan said a problem arises when Christianity “borrows” too many of the terms of sexual orientation from the scientific and political communities. Thus, he argued, because Christians do not have their own term to express sexual orientation, Christian organizations have not accepted homosexuals as readily as secular institutions.

“When we measure by other standards, we don’t measure progress for [Christians],” he said.

Jordan said in the lecture that the term LGBT is not a cohesive descriptor of sexuality, rather a laundry list of non-heterosexual “subdivisions.” To create a more precise term, Jordan said, churches should look to the Bible.

“What we need is the positive equivalent of the sodomite,” he said, referring to the residents of the Biblical city Sodom who engaged in homosexual and heterosexual acts depicted as perverse.

Of the eight students and faculty interviewed after the event, the majority said they had a difficult time grasping the argument of the lecture.

But M Adryael Tong DIV ’12, a first-year divinity student in ministry, said she agreed with most of Jordan’s points. She added that she does not think there is enough intellectual discussion of sexuality within the Christian community.

In an interview after the lecture, Yale Co-op Co-coordinator Rachel Schiff ’10, who did not attend the event, said the use of specific and limiting labels, such as ‘gay’, instead of all-inclusive terms, such as ‘LGBT’ — lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer — and transsexual, ignore the diversity of the non-heterosexual community because terms such as ‘gay’ have the connotation of applying only to homosexual men.

“The term ‘queer’ is being used and reclaimed by the younger LGBT movement to embrace and celebrate the diversity of sexuality and gender identity in our community,” Schiff said.

In 2008, Jordan was named the first Richard R. Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at Harvard. The professorship is named for Richard R. Niebuhr GRD ’55 DIV ’55, the emeritus Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.

Correction: Oct. 28, 2009

An earlier version of this article misreported the all-inclusive sexuality term LGBT Co-op co-coordinator Rachel Schiff ’10 used in an interview. Schiff used the term LGBT, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, not LGTQ, which stands for lesbian, gay, transsexual and queer. In addition, the fact box accompanying the story misrepresents the views of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on homosexuality; the ECLA now accepts clergy and lay leaders in “lifelong” and “monogamous” same-sex relationships.

Correction: Nov. 7, 2009

An earlier version of this article also misreported biographical details about Richard R. Niebuhr GRD ’55 DIV ’55. Niebuhr is the emeritus Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, not a theological ethicist who taught at Yale Divinity School and died in 1962, which refers to to H. Richard Niebuhr.


  • yale11

    Okay seriously.

    The ELCA (Lutheran) formally voted on a revised statement on human sexuality over a month ago, and now allows for the ordination of gay clergy. It was pretty big news. Misinformation isn’t good YDN.

    You can read the statement here: http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/JTF-Human-Sexuality.aspx

  • And now for something completely different…

    …here’s a thought. How about people stop judging anybody through the supposedly moral views of an invisible man in the sky?

  • yale11


    Upon a simple google search it becomes clear that the wording “the practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God’s intent for his children” is taken from a statement issued in 1980 by the American Lutheran Church (ALC), a church which no longer exists, having merged into the ELCA.

    I hope to see a correction, but more than that I am shocked that such a mistake could get by. All the quotes in a way seem to have an agenda. I miss the days when reporters did actual research.

  • http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

    What the Niebuhr lecturer from Harvard Divinity School, Mr. Mark Jordan, is tacitly acknowledging in his lecture at Yale Divinity School outlining his search for a new label from the Bible to deescribe same gender sexuality, is that we have become the fractured faces of Picasso’s paintings.

    We but “slenderly” know our selves.

    In fact we have no selves. We are in search of our lost selves to recoin Proust.

    See http://theantiyale.blogspot.com September entry on “Transgender dorms at Yale…”

    Nobody says “my heterosexual parents” or the man and woman who created me “heterosexually”. Why should they say “She’s queer” or “He’s gay” Or “They’re the people who perform lesbian acts in bed?”

    Just as it is antiquated for a male to achieve manhood through the ritual of deflowering a woman, so too is it antiquated to attribute personhood to another on the basis of the twitches and impulses of one square foot of their body from navel to knee and whether or not they transform those twitches into sexual acts.

    Carve another knotch in yer holster pardner.

    Is that not in fact what the Niebuhr lecturer seeks to squeeze from biblical texts?

    Has anyone ever considered how foolish all this sexuality nonsense is?

    People are people. They make different choices. Sometimes they make declarations about those choices and discover decades later that those declarations weren’t true to their ongoing interior monologues.

    This goes for people who do different and contrary things with that one-square-foot of their bodies.

    “In the begiginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh” is being transformed by Mercantilia into “In the beginning was the flesh and the flesh was made Word (or Label.”

    My, what fools these mortals be.

  • Dink Stover

    There is a term for homosexuality in the Bible — “sodomite.” What other term is Professor Jordan looking for? Why did he not suggest which other term he would like us to use? And more importantly, why in the world is he specifically looking for a “positive equivalent of the sodomite,” when the Bible’s take on homosexuality is that it is an enormous sin?

    In a sense, though, “sodomite” is a far more charitable term than “homosexual” or “gay” (to quote the preferred term of the PC left). “Sodomite” implies a conduct component. A man who has a proclivity for homosexual sex but does not act on it may well be deemed to be a homosexual, but he would not be a sodomite. Very apt term from a Christian perspective, which ought to distinction proclivity from action.

  • yale 08

    Truth is not determined by a majority vote.

  • Yale mom

    It is really quite simple – intercourse exists for the express purpose of creating the next generation. Sexuality is a gift from God which is meant to be expressed as mutual honor and affirmation between partners. We humans have perverted this divine intent for our own selfish purposes.

  • Recent Alum

    “Of the eight students and faculty interviewed after the event, the majority said they had a difficult time grasping the argument of the lecture.”

    I literally lolled. If this nonsensical PC distortion of religion is what they teach at YDS, I see why people on this blog always bash the school…

  • Yale 2008


    Do you want to take a shot at this, or should I go first?

    Yale Div School strikes again.

  • Yale02

    What is it that he’s really trying to accomplish? Can someone help me with the point here?

  • Hieronymus

    Well, I did like this sentence best:

    “What we need is the positive equivalent of the sodomite,” he said, referring to the residents of the Biblical city Sodom who engaged in homosexual and heterosexual acts depicted as perverse.

    I like how, all in one sentence, we get a sense of the lecturer’s stance (that the term “sodomite” carries pejorative connotations–and that this need not be so) and the YDN’s stance (“depicted as perverse” versus objectively perverse).

    Also, I can just picture the sort of bobble-headed faux confusion by the interviewees (“Sodomy? Bad? Um… I’m confused your assertion…”). It is that sort of affectation of innocence/ignorance that keeps from most pews.

    Weirdly, I respect most Muslims more than I do most (avowed) Christians–at least they believe in their book!

  • http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

    #9 There is something unplesant in your tone here—like a schoolyard bully making fun of a weakling. If you think of the divines as worthy of scorn isn’t it sadistic to indulge your impulse to torment them? I am the last person to quash legitimate criticism but taking the pleasure one gets from a skeet shoot seems a bit much. And then, to egg on Hieronymus to join your fun?
    Paul Keane

  • Yale 2008

    Paul Keane,

    Yale Div School is a joke. Just like your blog.

  • Another view

    Instead of political terms, can we use spiritual terms? We all have incompleteness: we get angry or greedy, we desire to abuse or misuse others, we eat too much, etc. In a Christian context, this means we are dis-ordered, not in the sense of a clinically defined disease, but in the sense that we sometimes set ourselves to be ordered to things that are not good for us and others. The secular view says that things are only disordered when they violate the personal autonomy of another (ie: rape, murder etc) and so that is the highest crime. One of society’s supreme values is personal autonomy. Hence the phrases like “keep YOUR rules off MY body.” The reason to even discuss moral codes is not only the Hobbesian view of preventing harm to the neighbor, but to help people rise above their broken human condition and achieve perfection. Notions of God as Zeus with a lightning bolt ready to cast sinners into Hell are not helpful here. Notions of God as a loving parent, rather, are. Just as a human parent helps his or her child become a better adult, so the notion of “rules” or “laws” not only regulates bad behavior, but helps inculcate habits which lead to becoming better than you are. This is the case with musicians who practice, athletes who work out, etc., and also with people who are prone to rape, theft, etc. We want them not only to not rape, but to no longer desire to rape. And the reason is that we think it is better for the individual to be ordered toward respecting the rights of others– as well as preventing the one reaped from being raped. This means we are concerned for his well-being, not just his effects on society. (And please try to avoid the reponse: “So you’re saying that being gay is the same thing as being a rapist?” Of course that’s not what I’m saying.) con’t.

  • Another view, pt. 2

    So our time and era indeed has a set of values that come from “the invisible man in the sky”– whether you think that is Jefferson or Marx or (who are dead and therefore invisible) or the wisdom of scripture’s prophets. Can we see the question of sexuality this way? We use sexuality the best way when we reserve it, promise it and keep it only for a committed other. And rules develop abut not using it lightly– precisely because it is good and not to be wasted. This is not so much a “thou shalt not” as it is a “thou shalt.” But one should use it the best way possible in order to avoid become less than one is– not an animal, but a rational person who channels bodily impulses to their properly ordered end. And the properly ordered end includes not only pleasure for the self and pleasure for the other, but –and here’s where the conversation gets difficult– allows for the possibility of procreation. That is one of the things that sex is made for by its very nature. It is the means of procreation in the same way that food is made for nourishment as well as pleasure. Sure, one could use food badly and eat unhealthily, but that is not its best use nor its intended use.
    If a dietitian saw a bunch of people misusing food, eating too much, he or she would, of course, want that person to reform his or her inclinations and habits. It is not the opportunity to hate that person, but in love, ask him to reconsider. But the person might say “I’m made this way, I want to eat too much and its not hurting anyone.” Yet somehow, we are comfortable making laws about trans fat and nutrition information on labels– because we see harm to the self and others. We don’t see this in sexuality, and its understandable that we don’t. Sexual impulses seem so normal, the desire for being united with another person is indeed good. It is a perceived good and therefore we want to move toward sexual union. It seems to me that we have to stop hating people, stop using terms invented by the political establishment of revolutionary France, and start talking about how we decide what is an acceptable way urge people to regulate our own human behavior (in our own personal lives, I’m not talking about laws here).
    The obvious question arises: “Who are you to determine this for me?” It’s a fair question. And it is one that deserves serious inquiry rather than soundbite rejections about “flying spaghetti monsters” or “invisible men in the sky.” If there is a God who loves us like a parent and wants us to live happily and therefore guides us like a coach, then it is worth asking the question if 10,000 years of Judeo Christian values are something that should not be tossed out too lightly. Is there some wisdom in scriptural teachings, even if a bunch of judgmental “church ladies” (or men) have caricatured them into arbitrary sounding rules? I think the answer is yes. And here one can have a civilized conversation if someone else thinks the answer is no.

  • http://lomanchildren.blogspot.com

    # 13 Yale 2008

    In the last 50 years, Yale Divinity School has produced William Sloane Coffin, one of the driving forces behind ending the Viet Nam War and considered,to be one of the three great speakers of our time (Fulton J. Sheen and Norman Vincent Peale are the other two);and, Senators John Danforth and Gary Hartt, neither of whom is an intellectual light-weight.

    In 1976 the Divinity School’s students hosted a talk by Quentin Crisp, then starring in his one act show at the Long Wharf Theatre entitled The Naked Civil Servant, about his life as Britain’s most famous transvestite.

    At that talk, faculty from the University’s Psychology Department invited Mr. Crisp to participate in interviews about what it is to be a trans-gendered person (he accepted), blazing the way for Yale’s entire sexual liberation movement in the late 70’s to present.

    Try as you might, to trivialize the Divinity School as a “joke” is a limp effort, even if one confines its contribution to society to these few examples mentioned above, ignoring its two three century history in the new world.

    Add to those recent examples H. Richard Niebuhr’s own struggles with depression and the fact that he pioneered the presence of divinity student volunteers in mental hospitals 50 years ago, a presence which has brought untold hope to thousands of suffering humans,and Yale Divinity School becomes a very serious and potent force for social change and for alleviation of suffering in our world.

    Indeed, even though I was a gadfly on their sacred hide during my years there as publisher, editor, and writer of Holy Smoke,(and for the thirty years since)they astonished me by presenting me with the John S. Mersick Award at my 1980 graduation “For effective public address, especially in preaching.”

    One cannot with puerile barbs discount such a potent force for freedom of expresion and pursuit of the truth as is Yale Divinity School.

    As for my blog http://theantiyale.blogspot.com (one of twelve blogs): It stands on its own merits or demerits,
    comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable I hope, including the privileged undergraduates who throw verbal darts while shielding themselves behind the anonymity of digital posts.

    Paul Keane

  • Alum

    Jerome (#11) and Yale 2008 (#9 etc.): I thought you were merely self-satisfied. Now I see you have a mutual admiration society too. I confess I find this article a bit of a head-scratcher for a variety of reasons but suspect it may relate to the reporting as much or more than the Harvard Divinity School professor’s speech.

  • Carl

    Wow, I’m glad I didn’t waste money on getting a divinity degree at Harvard.
    Harvard was founded by Christians, wasn’t it?

    We are simply repeating the same historical process that all great societies followed during their decline.
    Open acceptance of homosexuality has always lead to their downfall.

  • erk

    His reasons are queer, but I have to agree with his argument. Let’s claim back our language. Activists have no right to take pervert words.

  • tickled

    Aw, it is kind of cute to see Hieronymus and Yale 2008 working together to cast aspersions on the Divinity School. Who knows what they can do when they combine their powers?

  • Yale 2008

    If a Div School Student writes a paper about transgender inclusive proto-feminist liturgies, but no one is there to read it, is it relevant?

    Trick Question

    The Yale Div School is never relevant.

  • Edgar

    King Lear
    Act IV, scene i

    As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
    They kill us for their sport

  • Jordan

    “It is really quite simple – intercourse exists for the express purpose of creating the next generation. Sexuality is a gift from God which is meant to be expressed as mutual honor and affirmation between partners. We humans have perverted this divine intent for our own selfish purposes.”

    Ah yes, the old “God loves us more when we suffer in his name” argument. I will not argue with you that sex can produce more offspring, but I will argue that is its only purpose. Why would we desire to do it after we can no longer produce offspring if that were true? Did God screw up? I doubt it! We are all his Children, so why would he make some to have as much sex as they wanted, and others, who have an affection for the other sex, to suffer alone and without this “divine” gift? So if you claim ‘we have perverted [a] divine intent for our own selffish purposes,’ does that mean we should not drive cars. God gave us two legs, we should walk everywhere. And for that matter should those whom he made without two legs never walk? Please no comments about the difference between “gifts” or “divine” sex and legs. They are both a part of the human condition and there is no proof (except ones own weak, out-of-context interpretation of a certian bible translation) sex is any different.

  • Yale 2008


    Are you fully prepared to defend Positivism?

    Or are you unaware that you have just fully embraced that philsophy?

    People don’t even know what beliefs they espouse anymore. It’s not worth debating with willows in the wind.

  • No

    That’s not positivism. But clearly you’re not fully prepared to argue against him.

  • Yale 2008


    Umm, #23 exhibits classic positivist thought:

    + deny the metaphysical
    + insist on the empirical

    go back to section

  • Conservative Mark

    It seems to me that no homosexual scholar should be able to weigh in on matters that cause a debate to seem pro-homosexual. What we need is a truth in sexuality clause in scholarship so we know the possible bias of where some of these learned scholars come from. There is too much bad science in this world due to people operating from a personal agenda of bias. Homosexuality is, and always will be, a form of sexual deviancy.

  • Hrrrmph

    # 27

    Deviancy? Always? Homosexuality might just as easily be seen as Nature’s form of population control as having anything to do with norms. Who anointed you the Great Definer of Normalcy and Diviner of the Future anyway?

  • Reply to Hieronymus and Yale 2008

    Reply to Hieronymus and Yale 2008 can be read at http://heantiyale.blogspot.com


  • correction

    Correction: reply to Hieronymus and Yale 2008 is at http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

    not :”heantiyale”

  • No

    That post still isn’t positivist.
    Also, great idea, Mark–we shouldn’t have to judge people’s ideas; if we know which way they swing we’ll know right off the bat whether their words have truth content.

  • iggis

    Not sure what the term should be? Ok, when stuck like that, perhaps just simple descriptive details would clear things up:

    Penis penetration of the human female anus. (Yale students love this, right?)
    Penis penetration of the human male anus.
    Penis penetration of the anus of a female of some other specie.
    Penis penetration of the anus of a male of some other specie.
    Penis penetration of the human female mouth.
    Penis penetration of the human male mouth.

    Of course, we are talking about human penis here. Those who need to imagine further can take this away on their own. And, of course, we assume that penis penetration of the mouth of an animal is not advisable on safety grounds. But who know? We are talking liberal Ivy League here, right?

    So those are the possible terms. They might be – er – a mouthful. But perhaps they also help in eliminating any affectation that accompanies discussion about sex. See, I didn’t even have to go to Harvard. :)

  • The Anti-Yale


    Editor, Yale Daily News
    September 20, 2012

    Dear Editor:

    The link above refers to an three-year-old article which just “popped up” on your daily list of articles. When I scroll down to comments, all of my “theantiyale” comments have been replaced by the moniker “None”.

    Since “iggis” appears for at least one other comment as the commenter’s identity, the “None” troubles me.

    Is this a glitch or is it censorship?

    Best wishes,


    Paul D. Keane