Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church
by: L. William Countryman, M. R. Ritley
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Building on the Cornerstone
at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the
builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that
stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable
against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour…
Luke 20:17-19, NRSV
Indeed, what DID Jesus mean? He got the religious
bigwigs pretty angry at Him, and had they been able to seize and kill
Him at that time, they certainly would have. Nor did they ever forgive
Him. They waited grimly for their chance to get Him out of their way until,
at long last, they had it.
The followers of Christ have always understood Him to be speaking, here, of
Himself. Jesus is the stone – rejected by the builders – who became the
Cornerstone. And, as the Psalm He was quoting tells us, “This is the LORD’s
doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)
To say that Jesus was rejected by the builders – the religious leaders – is an
understatement. He was tried and convicted for blasphemy, rejected for “having
made Himself a king,” driven outside of the holy city of Jerusalem with whips and
scourges and nailed to a wooden cross. As He died there, He was reviled as a
criminal and worse. As some of His last words make clear, He Himself felt as if He
had been forsaken by God (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus had the last word, however, that first Easter Sunday. And for
twenty centuries, those who have placed their faith in Him have built
upon that Cornerstone – rejected by the builders, but marvelous not only
in the eyes of the psalmist, but in the heart of God.
Modern Christian scholars are, it seems to me, far too willing to dismiss “the
builders” of whom Jesus spoke as a bunch of dead Jews. Not only does this
interpretation smack of anti-Semitism, but it reeks of a vanity and triumphalism that
ill becomes those who rest their faith on a formerly-rejected Cornerstone. To put it
more simply and bluntly, they’re missing the point.
Had all corrupt and narcissistic religious leaders died along with those First-
Century scribes and priests, there would be no reason to read about them, today, as
anything but relics from a dusty and distant past. Does merely “calling upon the
Name of Jesus,” as so many religious leaders in the centuries since have done (and
still do today), serve as evidence of a Cornerstone foundation? Or does Christ’s
warning to His adversaries serve, as well, as a warning to the religious leaders of
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians can well identify with the
plight of the rejected cornerstone. We, too, have been rejected by “the builders” –
cast aside, outside the walls of the holy city, neglected, rejected and reviled. When I
read of the cornerstone – mentioned, actually, several times in Scripture – the story
resonates with me in a special way.
Religious conservatives have had to cast aside some pretty important
concepts – crucial concepts – in order to continue their blanket condemnation of
“homosexuality.” For example, Christianity has never believed that one’s gender, or
that the way one loves, is more important than one’s humanity. To suggest that
anything that separates us – be it gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or
whatever else – is more important to who we are than the humanity we all share in
common is nothing sort of heresy. No human being is more valuable, or has more
rights, than any other human being. To believe otherwise is to reject the very logical
foundation upon which Christianity has always stood.
Another name for the builders is The Religious Establishment. These are the
people who hope to fulfill their ambitions for power and wealth via their prominent
positions in the religious system. They always gravitate toward the system
predominant in the society of their time. As Christianity has now reached that
exalted position in our own society, the hierarchy of the organized Church (either
Catholic or Protestant) is, today, the ladder they aspire to climb.
“Something greater than the Temple is here,” Jesus told all who would listen
to Him. The Temple – that is, the organized religious structure – is, in and of itself,
not a bad thing. But when fashioned into a legalistic, ritual-bound system, it becomes
yet another idol. When the Temple was first rebuilt, it was a glorious, communal act
of faith in, and of fidelity to, God. It was meant to bring us closer to God, not to take
the place of God.
Whenever “the system” becomes more important than mercy, and whenever
the law takes precedence over love, then the cornerstone has – yet again – been
rejected. Those who reject the cornerstone would rather trust in human efforts than
in God's all-powerful love.
Many religious people confuse the cornerstone with the blueprint. Their
religion is all in their heads; they say they believe this or that, but in reality, they
merely think it. Believing something means putting one’s faith in it to the point of
depending upon it; it truly becomes the foundation upon which the lives of the faithful
Let’s look at another way of comparing the difference between the sort of
faith that builds upon a cornerstone and that which keeps admiring the blueprint, yet
never gets around to building. If you sit on the shore, admiring a big, beautiful boat
that’s moored to the dock, yet do not come aboard the boat and set sail on it, you
may think you have faith in that boat, but you are not willing to rest your faith upon
it. Building on the cornerstone is like venturing aboard the boat and taking her out
for a sail – confident that even if the waters get rough, it will be able to return you to
the land in safety.
Those who put their faith in Jesus take the risk of living their lives as He did.
They dare to love extravagantly, even when the people they love are unattractive or
unpopular by the standards of this world. They love others because Jesus loves
them – which is to say, because God loves us all. All sin, at bottom, is rooted in a
refusal to accept God’s love. Those who do not love others, for whatever
superficial, trumped-up reason, are those who do not really believe in the love of
Christianity is not merely a religion, but a relationship – a loving relationship
with God in Christ. All, in God’s realm, will always be based upon love. God is
strong enough to be weak for the sake of love, rich enough to be poor for the sake of
love, righteous enough to be merciful for the sake of love.
This is the all-important message Whosoever has been attempting to impart
these past ten years. This magazine has dug in to do the backbreaking work of
rebuilding the broken-down walls of the Christian faith – a faith devastated, in the
public heart and mind, by heartbreak and cynicism. We must continue our work,
insisting more than ever that the structure of Christian faith remain rooted on the
cornerstone of Christ. The Temple will not stand unless it is anchored to something
greater than itself – and of course, that is none other than Christ Himself.
The Cornerstone of Christ is, very frankly, all we Whosoeverans have got.
We’ll never get rich or powerful being Christians. We languish among the despised
and trampled-upon – the very ones for whom the Gospels tell us Jesus showed a
special love and with whom, for the most part, He chose to spend His time on earth.
The “builders” reject us, because we cannot make them rich or boost their big
careers. But just as the first Christians – who were again, for the most part, the
humble, the despised and the ignored – first let the world to Christ, it may very well
be we who lead it back to Him today.
All we ever hear about, from the media, are the people who threaten to leave
the church if we are invited into it. What few of us realize is that many other people
are inspired to see that we are among those some brave churches now welcome. I
don’t want to sound mean, but maybe the Church needs a good bloodletting. Maybe
some of the haters and excluders need to leave to make room for those willing to
love as generously as they are loved.
Is there room enough for all? Of course there is. All except for those who
will not make room for others. One of the most persistent themes in Jesus’
teachings was that compassion will be given to all who offer compassion to others.
Those who refuse compassion and welcome to others will actually, in the end, find
the doors closed to themselves – and will be forced to stay in the darkness outside,
watching through the windows as the rabble they would have kept out enjoy the
Bridegroom’s feast in their places.
God doesn’t exclude anybody. Indeed, if God had “His” way, nobody would
be left out. The only people who will be excluded are those who tried to exclude
others. Those who are willing to love will not be forced to suffer alongside those
who insist upon hating.
All we must do to love Christ, according to Jesus Himself, is to love all of
those He loves. Those who cast Christ’s love aside because it won’t make them
rich, gain them power or boost their careers – even as they claim His Name – think
that their rejection of us is our tragedy. In reality, it is their own.
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