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My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality
February 9th, 2011
10:31 AM ET

My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality

Editor's Note: Jennifer Wright Knust is author of Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire.

By Jennifer Wright Knust, Special to CNN

We often hears that Christians have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin - that Scripture simply demands it.

As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing.

"I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them" is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability.

Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged.

In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.

Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.

Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.

According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”

When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”

From these perspectives, God’s original plan was sexual unity in one body, not two. The Genesis creation stories can support the notion that sexual intercourse is designed to reunite male and female into one body, but they can also suggest that God’s blessing was first placed on an undifferentiated body that didn’t have sex at all.

Heterosexual sex was therefore an afterthought designed to give back the man what he had lost.

Despite common misperceptions, biblical writers could also imagine same-sex intimacy as a source of blessing. For example, the seemingly intimate relationship between the Old Testament's David and Jonathan, in which Jonathan loved David more than he loved women, may have been intended to justify David’s rise as king.

Jonathan, not David, was a king’s son. David was only a shepherd. Yet by becoming David’s “woman,” Jonathan voluntarily gave up his place for his beloved friend.

Thus, Jonathan “took great delight in David,” foiling King Saul’s attempts to arrange for David’s death (1 Samuel 19:1). Choosing David over his father, Jonathan makes a formal covenant with his friend, asking David to remain faithful to him and his descendants.

Sealing the covenant, David swears his devotion to Jonathan, “for he loved him as he loved his own life” (1 Samuel 20:17). When Jonathan is killed, King David composes a eulogy for him, praising his devotion: “greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

Confident claims about the forms of sex rejected by God are also called into question by early Christian interpretations of the story of Sodom. From the perspective of the New Testament, it was the near rape of angels - not sex between men - that led to the demise of the city.

Linking a strange story in Genesis about “sons of God” who lust after “daughters of men” to the story of the angels who visit Abraham’s nephew Lot, New Testament writers concluded that the mingling of human and divine flesh is an intolerable sin.

As the New Testament letter Jude puts it:

And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and went after strange flesh, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (Jude 6-7).

The first time angels dared to mix with humans, God flooded the earth, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals. In the case of Sodom, as soon as men attempted to engage in sexual activity with angels, God obliterated the city with fire, delivering only Lot and his family. Sex with angels was regarded as the most dangerous and offensive sex of all.

It’s true that same-sex intimacy is condemned in a few biblical passages. But these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific sex acts and specific persons, not to all humanity forever, and they can be interpreted in any number of ways.

The book of Leviticus, for example, is directed at Israelite men, offering instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners so long as they are living in Israel. Biblical patriarchs and kings violate nearly every one of these commandments.

Paul’s letters urge followers of Christ to remain celibate and blame all Gentiles in general for their poor sexual standards. Jesus, meanwhile, says nothing at all about same-sex pairing, and when he discusses marriage, he discourages it.

So why are we pretending that the Bible is dictating our sexual morals? It isn’t.

Moreover, as Americans we should have learned by now that such a simplistic approach to the Bible will lead us astray.

Only a little more than a century ago, many of the very same passages now being invoked to argue that the scriptures label homosexuality a sin or that God cannot countenance gay marriage were used to justify not “biblical marriage” but slavery.

Yes, the apostle Paul selected same-sex pairings as one among many possible examples of human sin, but he also assumed that slavery was acceptable and then did nothing to protect slaves from sexual use by their masters, a common practice at the time. Letters attributed to him go so far as to command slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands as if they were obeying Christ.

These passages served as fundamental proof texts to those who were arguing that slavery was God’s will and accusing abolitionists of failing to obey biblical mandates.

It is therefore disturbing to hear some Christian leaders today claim that they have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin. They do have a choice and should be held accountable for the ones they are making.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Wright Knust.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Homosexuality • Opinion • Sex

soundoff (4,235 Responses)
  1. Born-again Christian

    I guess Ms. Knust first forgot to read 1 Timothy 3:2 "A bishop (Pastor) then must be blameless, the HUSBAND of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;" It amazes me how people over the past 20 years want everything to be equal, including a position of Pastor. Ms Knust hasn't proven anything she said here. Like many people who are not Christians, they pick and chose scripture when it applies to their own evil desires. After reading further, she also forgot to read 2 Peter 1:20; "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." This whole article is based on just that...her interpretation. God's Word is the same as it was from time past, present and future. It is people like Ms Knust who want to change God's Word.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • hiltz006

      Her PROBLEM is that she is trying to reconcile what she was raised to believe, and what the world IS. To reconcile this in her brain, to make the world make sense, and to control her world, she had to interpret it the way she did. WHO SAID RELIGION will be in alignment with modern day beliefs? She is the type of person who every 20 years will make a new reiligion to fil the trends.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Mikey

      Ironic....aren't you interpreting the Bible yourself??

      February 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Mark from Canada

      It is nothing but a myth anyway. Unfortunately, born-again Christians with literal interpretations of the bible like yourself are not a myth and a real sore spot for society. I'm sick and tired of the stupidity that this archaic idea breeds. Study science, evolution and take a practical look at the history of life on this planet and even around you. There is no such thing as a big magical guy in the sky surrounded by people with wings on their backs strumming harps all day. It is ludicrous. The bible, on the other hand, contains some great metaphors for discussion and I love listening to gospel music. It is the obstinate and ignorant Christians like yourself that create the real evils of this world, and I'm not talking about the some man with red skin, bad breath, a hot temper, and a tail – but real evil, like bashing gays or creating wars like the religious nutcases do all the time.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Dave

      Ms. Knust is VERY confused. And selective. God did not create man twice any more than Jesus was crucified four times – once in each gospel. It is a different "telliing" of the same story. And God does not have "afterthoughts". He is, was, and always will be. Time is not a godly dimension. Nor does god make mistakes. He allows human mistakes and often uses them to his advantage. It's sad to see such scholarly drivel printed on CNN.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Christine

    Pastor Wright Knust, my applause to you on writing such a needed article.

    First of all, thank you for the clear explanation of the original androgyny of humankind. This is an extremely important point, one expounded at length in spiritual Christian texts as well as Judaic writings, but one which is very misunderstood by "today"'s Christians. The separation of male and female is at the very core of our fall and redemption. Just as male and female were split into duality, so they chose duality through the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" (read: they chose to become flesh on the material plane in the "solid earth" that we live in currently), in order to come to this plane to "work back" to the original divine androgyny originally intended. We are to become androgynous not physically in this life, but spiritually, as well as together within marriage. Marriage is the main intended vehicle for the two to become "one flesh" again, and in other words, to become whole. This choosing to become whole again is the entire reason why humanity fell into matter! This is God's plan for our redemption on the plane of physical matter, just as we chose our sojourn through matter to mature spiritually, so we will return to God's original plan of wholeness/non-duality through our free choice of spirituality and leaving carnality behind. However, not one person has succeeded in this (for all fall short of the glory of God), as we are mired in carnality (sin aka "missing the mark of choosing spirituality") to this day. As we have been unable to pull ourselves out of our sin/mature spiritually out of carnality, Jesus was sent to nail sin to the cross for us so that we may not perish at the end of this age when the earth spiritualizes and this heavy materiality is done away with, but have more time in the next age to mature further. However, we are still able to mature spiritually and increasingly choose spirituality over carnality, and sacred marriage is the main vehicle given to us by God for that, by the act of sacred se-xuality.

    People seem to be misconstruing hom-ose-xuality as lust, when lust is in fact carnality itself. This carnality can occur in opposite se-x couples as much as same se-x couples. Se-x in marriage is defiled if it is not spiritual, ie. done for the right reasons, being loving the other individual unconditionally, giving selflessly to them, and for personal growth in these areas. It is defiled when done for physical gratification, which most se-x is these days, whether same or opposite se-x, whether in marriage or not. Opposite se-x marriage is the strongest vehicle for this to happen, to restore to "one flesh", however, if the "right thinking" and "right intentions" are there in a same se-x couple, the same outcome may occur. Many people fail to understand the fact that while same se-x couples may be the "same" on the outside, the literal physical level, they are "opposite" on the inside, meaning their inner se-xuality. If you will notice, almost all same se-x couples have a "male" and a "female" in them, regardless of the outward physical appearance. People place much to much emphasis on the outward appearance rather than the inner reality – people, God cares about the inner/invisible/spiritual, not the outer/physical/carnal!

    Congratulations to you in bringing this understanding to a clearer light. The vast majority of today's Christians would do well in analyzing the Bible as it is meant to be, which is inerrant in spiritual truth, but not everyone understands it is not all literal truth, a good amount of it is symbolic and allegorical, which is still inerrant spiritual truth. The whole point of the Bible is that we return to God once we live spiritually as divinity and not carnally as animals. This also brings physical evolution to an acceptable understanding and harmonization with the Bible. Humanity is still much a "child" in this regard, and thus humanity has a long way to go in reaching its divine potential. As the great Church Fathers have said: "As God is, man may be." (In other words, to the degree that Jesus became human, we will become divine, and that depends on our spiritual development and perfection.) Jesus died in order to save us from perishing when this material world perishes at the coming of the fullness of the church, but His death did not make us spiritually perfect, only working out our own salvation as Paul says, will do that.)

    Thank you for the great article!!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • marco

      kiss@ss

      February 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Marco

      back at you, but without the kiss

      February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  3. Johnny Triumph

    Man's interpretation of scripture will lead to his downfall. As soon as we expect that we can correctly interpret scripture on our own we have already outsmarted ourselves. If we are to appropriately understand scripture then we MUST involve the Holy Ghost; He can and will aid us in that understanding. Without His help we cannot understand things and, based on our own carnal nature, we will misinterpret. I do not want to hold my eternal salvation in my own fragile hands, and why do that when we're all promised so much more help!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Tboy

    "The first time angels dared to mix with humans, God flooded the earth, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals. In the case of Sodom, as soon as men attempted to engage in se-xual activity with angels, God obliterated the city with fire, delivering only Lot and his family. S-ex with angels was regarded as the most dangerous and offensive s-ex of all."

    This too can be interpreted in several ways. Looks like these "angels" were actually extraterrestrials. Based on scripture they came from the sky ad the obviously had physical bodies to mate with human woman. There are similar stories told in all ancient civilizations. BTW the Holy Bible is based loosely off of ancient Sumerian text. The Sumerians believed that beings came from the sky and mixed their genetic DNA with apes to produce the modern day human beings. That would mean we are hybrids. In fact the book of Genesis is says "Let US create man in OUR own image"

    In the Book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel describes seeing glowing wheels of metal in the sky. He goes on to say that there are creatures with the face of man inside the wheels and that the wheels move back and forth like a flash of lightening. This is a clear description of a UFO but Ezekiel associates this with God. Amazing people saw strange things and thought it was God.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  5. Gozie

    Pastor Jennifer Wright Knust, I weep for you and for the American Christians whom you mislead. I pray that someday you will allow Christ into your life and make amends for the destruction of truth which you have practiced for these number of years you call yourself a pastor.
    I am joyful that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek HIM. So, people who seek to know the truth will gind it and the truth they know and do will set them free.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  6. Angelina

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.(1 Timothy 4:1,2)...The scripture cannot be interpretted in many ways.....MAAM..There is only one truth......So have faith.....Do Not interpret it the way you want.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  7. 11

    This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever read.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Jim

      You think this is dumb, try reading the Bible itself!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • b

      I agree. Got decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah before he sent the angels. God sent to angels to get the only few righteous people out before the two cities were destroyed.

      This woman is very misleading. But the bible does address the "reward" that lead falsely will receive in the end. I'm sure she feels that doesn't apply to her. But...

      Jonathan and David were one in spirit, not in flesh. Another misconception. But the bible does say that those in the Spirit understand while others cannot.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  8. Joshua

    I think 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 sums this up. Yes God and Jesus shows love by forgiving us of our sins and giving us the chance to change and forgives us when we do. I dont like when people use the bible out of contends to cover sin. Jesus did teach love in forgiveness but if we dont change he will not forgive! Please follow 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and dont be Mislead!

    9 What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes,NOR MEN WHO LIE WITH ME, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11 And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  9. broken hearted

    I have heard a lot of Scripture-twisting, but this is one of the most extreme cases. But then again, we are all blind until He opens our eyes to the truth. It isn't my place to judge anyone, but one day each of us will stand before God and give an account of our lives. I'm not sure I would even want to take the chance that God does exist. If I'm wrong, nothing bad will happen after I die anyway. If you're wrong, you stand a bit more to lose... for eternity. Regardless of how you feel, the Bible is worth examination in the context of truth.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  10. vitorio

    In spite of religion man survives. Too many versions of Jesus and of this god....shameful

    February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Tom

    I thought shellfish was an ABOMINATION. I think people realize that their "good" book isn't actually that good at all, and so instead of giving up their beliefs on this sorry tale they have to patch it with nonsense interpretations. God hates a lot of things in the old testament. In the new testament Jesus says these things are good and true. There is no patch to this book. Give it up. There's no room for bronze-age morals in the 21st century! There's no sense in the tales of this book!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  12. Marc

    You can find passages in the Bible to support practically any stance you want to take. It was written by people, in different times, and in different places. They were an attempt to explain phenomina that at the time were unexplainable, and the easy answer was God. And if you do what I say you will go to some kind of paradise after you die (not that far away from Islam, huh?), and if you don't do what I say you will go to some unimaginally terrible place after you die. Let's see, what will frighten people the most? Oh yeah, fire. Why do otherwise intelligent, reasonable, and well-meaning people use this book to find artificial differences among us; differences that sometime result in our killing each other, or subjugating each other, or rejecting each other. Why? Because we believe something different about what happens to us after we die? The Bible has been proven scientifically false a thousand times. Let's see it for what it really is, and not use it as an excuse to hate each other and divide humankind.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  13. Amunaka

    Thank you ...

    February 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  14. Straight_From_The_Word

    False Teachers and Their Destruction
    2 Peter 1:19 – 2 Peter 2:3
    19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
    20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.
    21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
    1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.
    2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.
    3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Faleela

      I've heard that determining the books and the laws of the bible was a process conducted first by Jewish rabbis and scholars and later by early Christians. Maybe parts of the bible are false prophesies that have been "leading many astray"?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  15. Mike

    Her rationaliazation misses the core belief of Christianity, which is .... God loves the sinner and hates the sin in all of us. Differentiation of sin has become our way of justifying that our sin is less reprehensible than anothers. We all miss the mark and sin yet God provides hope, forgiveness for each of us.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      This is pretty much the most a-sin-ine thing I've ever read. Seriously.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Landon

    If man was meant to lay with man God would've made steve instead of eve. Everyone in the day and age has to have answers, have to go against the grain. There is nothing normal about a man acting like a woman which I think defeats the purpose, if you dont like women why the hell do you wanna act like one. And second you taking your penis and putting it in the anal cavity of another man thats twisted. Everyone just has their own selfish agenda in the world and cant take the fact that ppl aren't going to accept it so they say they are mistreated and come up with far fetched ideas (see above) to make it okay. Say whatever you want about me the point is I could care less I think any God fearing man has the ability to read the bible and take from it what it tries to get accross not make some grey area loopholes. Enjoy being depressed that you cant find satisfaction out of life without trying to condem others. I have never or will never tell a human they dont deserve to live regardless of gender preference but I'll never accept the fact that you want to put your weiner in another mans ass.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Jubril

      Thanks bro, you said my mind

      February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Sarah

      Weiner in another mans ass....very classy! That just about summed up your entire mental age right there! I was respecting your opinion until you reverted back to the 4th grade...

      February 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • RobA

      Basing your perception of the world's morality on what's written in the Bible is like basing your understanding of physics on sci-fi movies from the 1950s. Neither source is objective and logical, but is instead subjective, narrow and very, very limited.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • BMART

      That was awesome bro – you said what I was thinking.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Landon

      just gettin down to the reality of it. Cause in fact to be gay that falical member has to enter the anus of a man.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. OkieLee

    Bless you Katie Morris. By faith we will be lifted above all this some day.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  18. Luke

    It is rather painful to see how far she twists her interpretation of the Bible in a effort to reach her conclusion.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • RobA

      Almost every interpretation of the Bible involves twisting history to fit a preconception. The problem is that your reasoning process differs from hers...you make an assumption based on dogma and reinvent the facts to fit that assumption, whereas she does not reach a conclusion until AFTER doing the research.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Mike

      I suppose she thinks that the part about "Woman shall be silent in the Church" means its ok to become a priest too?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  19. mb2010a

    In the beginning G_D created Adam and Lilith from clay. Lilith and Adam fought all the time and Lilith flew away. G_d then created Eve from Adam's rib. Google the story of Lilith. Eve was Adam's second mate (they didn't have marriage back then).

    Pope Gregory rewrote almost the entire Bible back in the 1400's and eliminated over 500 of the books of the Bible as we know it today. Google "Missing Books of the Bible". He should have left out the book of Leviticus.

    The Bible is the word of man, not the word of G_D...

    February 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Adam and Lilith fought because Lilith wanted to be on top and be equal. Adam decided HE was superior, hence he should be on top.
      In short, it came to Adam's inability to compromise and accept equality with his mate, extending the view into the bed as well.
      Hence, she left, with angels asking and begging for her to return.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  20. christiansarecrazy

    I think the majority of Christians, and most religious people, are absolutely crazy. If you took a step back and looked at what y'all do in an objective way, i.e. followed some book word for word written by over 100 people over a 900 year period, gather weekly in a building and sing songs together and eat bread and drink wine as if it were anything but what it is, list goes on. Let's not forget that every war on earth has been the result of religious convictions and intolerance. I wish y'all would put that stupid book down and just start being nice and loving EVERYBODY for who they are. I imagine a peaceful loving world void of religion where everybody is kind and void of hate, because there is no hateful book to warp your minds.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • TheOracle8191

      "I imagine a peaceful loving world void of religion where everybody is kind and void of hate, because there is no hateful book to warp your minds."

      “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34
      "But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you..." Matthew 5:44
      "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14
      "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing" 1 Peter 3:9
      "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil" Psalms 37:8

      Wow, that's a real hateful book right there.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Tom

      @ TheOracle8191

      Congratulations, you know how to cherry pick the Bible. If we were to name the most influential books for violence, it would be the Bible and the Quran. Too many people read these books and don't give it a second thought. This makes the Bible one of the most divisive and dangerous books in the history of man. There are some grand verses in the Bible, and there are some grand verses in the Quran. I could never wish these bronze-aged texts as a guide-book on morality.

      February 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.