An Open and Affirming Heart

John 13:34

People who know me well recognize that I seldom take short cuts on important issues. I don’t go along with the crowd, intellectually, theologically, or ethically.  Thomas the doubter is one of my intellectual heroes.  I ponder the yes and the no, the theory and practice, of issues. I regularly question my beliefs, recognizing their limits, and explore the truths of those with whom I differ, theologically, politically, or ethically, recognizing, as I’ve often said here, that there is more than one right answer to many questions.

But when I come to a position and am convinced of its rightness, I remain open-minded but tenacious.  People who know me recognize that I don’t follow the party line: it’s not uncommon for me to chided by both progressives and conservatives on a Facebook, sometimes on the same issue, because I believe truth can be found from a variety of perspectives. I seek to live by the words of Reinhold Niebuhr: Let us recognize the truth in our neighbor’s falsehood and the falsehood in our own truth.

When it comes to LGBTQ issues, my journey to becoming open and affirming is a long one.  When I finally was convinced to become an ally, advocate, and companion, comfortable with performing weddings and other rituals for members of LGBTQ community, a friend commented, “what took you so long?”

But I went at the right pace, letting my mind catch up with my heart, awakening to my own need for healing, so that my actions would come from a place of intellectual and spiritual integrity.

I was raised a Baptist, bible-toting and bible-believing.  While I don’t remember my father preaching any sermons on homosexuality, it was assumed that if the bible didn’t approve it, neither should we.  There was no live and let live about homosexuality or marrying non-Christians in our church, and even marrying a Catholic was a stretch in those days.

Then there was my brother Bill.  I remember him as hell on wheels for me.  He was my big brother and different from me in virtually every way.   He created chaos in our household and made my life difficult for nearly 50 years, and he was gay.  It was a slow dawning: he only had one boyfriend, who was in my class in high school and college and I never quite figured out the nature of their relationship till later.  Like many in their generation, my parents were embarrassed, ashamed, and felt they’d done something wrong to have a gay child.

Gay folks weren’t part of my life, at least overtly, even in my hippie days. Though my Sunday school mate and college friend David Keith was gay, I didn’t know it till years later.   David was a talented organist, and sometime in the 1980s, he got really sick.  No one knew what was wrong, or at least no one said. His parents never shared his diagnosis with their liberal church friends: perhaps due to their shame and fear of judgment.

Years later, I went to the Washington DC Mall, to view the AIDS quilt, and I found a quilt dedicated to David…and wept at my apathy and ignorance.

I really wasn’t opposed to LGBT folk, they just didn’t matter, and I didn’t feel their pain.  Perhaps, my alienation from my brother prevented me from experiencing his pain, until the last decade of his life.

I can’t identify the exact moment of my conversion, but one day, I was given a new heart.  I needed to declare myself, I needed to forgive my brother, I needed to open my heart, and I needed to say yes to all God’s children.  I needed to be open and affirming not just in my heart but in my mind and words and actions.

I am a theologian and bible scholar,  I know the bible has been used to proclaim the evil of homosexuality:  Persons who perceive themselves to be good Christians protest that “God hates gays” and that Gays should be stoned and outlawed from the church and society. They believe that transgendered people are an abomination, hated by God, defying God’s plan for humankind.

But, as I noted two weeks ago, the bible is a library, that speaks in many voices.   The bible says precious little about homosexuality as we know it today.  None of the few biblical verses directly speaks of loving relationships between people of the same sex.  Preachers invoke Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of God’s wrath toward the LGBTQ community.  In this tale from long ago, two angels are traveling with Abraham and stop at Lot’s home, and the men of Sodom want to use force to sleep with angels.  That violates every rule of hospitality in ancient society, but to placate them, Lot gives them his daughters for them to do as they wish.  Given the affirmation of rape in this passage, no person of conscience can quote the Sodom and Gomorrah story with any sense of condemnation of homosexual behavior.

The scriptures say that a man shouldn’t lie with another man, or a woman with a woman. Let him be killed for their sinfulness, scripture commands.   At the very least, this passage relates to community survival, having children to secure family well-being, and has little to do with loving relationships in an overcrowded world.

The highly condemnatory passage of Romans 1 is a theological and spiritual bait and switch.  Paul asserts that those who turn from God fall prey to their worst desires including homosexuality, but doesn’t end there – also gossip, greed, envy, and disrespect of parents, are condemned, and these sins are seldom prioritized in the bloviations of those who condemn homosexuality.

And then when everyone’s going after the evil ones, Paul says, “you have no excuse…you have turned from God, you deserve punishment too!” The scripture seems to assert that we are all in need of grace wherever we are on the sexual and ethical spectrum: There are no benefits to heterosexuality or even celibacy, for all have turned from God even in their so-called morality.

Recently a noted preacher quoted the passage about homosexuals being put to death as if this would be a good idea in the 21stcentury.  But, when we hear such theological violence invoked, we need to remember that in the bible, homosexuals aren’t the only group singled out for capital punishment – you may be killed for disobeying your parents, working on the Sabbath, not impregnating your deceased brother’s wife, or even going to Hogwarts, since witchcraft and wizardry are subject to the death penalty.

Nor do these preachers describe the serious biblical penalties for those who eat pork, ham, bacon, crabs, lobster, and clams.  Can you imagine the penalty for someone who eats a scallop wrapped in bacon?

Now, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality: but it’s clear that Jesus loved outsiders, welcomed those who were persecuted, and embraced those called unclean.

I believe that Jesus would welcome the LGBTQ community just as he welcomed people from other countries, tax collectors, and persons with skin and blood conditions.  I believe that Jesus would stand with the LGBTQ community and challenge the church to repent its violence throughout the centuries.  For Jesus, the great commandment involved “loving one another” and that includes everyone.

Bible scholar John Crossan stated boldly that Jesus created a kingdom of nuisances and nobodies and that rings true.  Jesus says to the LGBTQ community, “God loves you and I love you.”  Jesus invites the outsiders to a great feast – God’s wedding feast – everyone in the front row, no one left out – and if we’re willing, the door is open for us, too.

“Love one another,” our Savior counsels, and that’s our calling – to be a house for all peoples, a place of healing where our prejudices are challenged, and a community where love wins, and though we cannot always understand our neighbor, we can love them with all hearts, minds, and souls, letting God’s love flow through our open and affirming hearts.