Why Every Church Must be Open and Affirming
By: Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker
"…O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths." (Isaiah 3:12)
"…he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry." (Isaiah 5:7)
Many years ago, I was asked by the then-pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Chico, Lynn Bolich, to speak to the congregation and community members who would attend as to why gay people should not be ordained to the ministry. Conventionally reading the Bible, I saw such words as “abomination” and “against nature” ostensibly associated with homosexuality, and I thought it was a no-brainer. To my current embarrassment, I gave that speech.
Subsequent to giving that speech, I started to think more deeply about the issue and asked myself the question, “Why would someone voluntarily choose to become part of a despised minority group?” I started searching the Scriptures, looking up the original languages to see what they meant and, more importantly, what they didn’t mean. I also read extra-biblical sources on the subject and finally decided that the Bible not only did not condemn same-sex loving relationships but, in fact, tacitly affirmed them.
I examined the relationship between David and Jonathan and saw that even a cursory reading of the biblical account of their relationship showed King David, called a man after God’s own heart (1Samuel 13:14), to have been at the very least a bisexual. (1Sam. 20:30-31; 41-42; 2Sam. 1:26; 9:1) Moreover, in Matthew 8, a centurion beseeches Jesus to heal his servant. The typical Greek word that is translated “servant,” although a more accurate translation is “slave,” is doulos. However, in Matthew 8, the Greek word that is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “servant” is pais and, given this account as recorded in Luke 7 that says that this slave (doulos) was “dear unto him” (Luke 7:2), it may very well be translated “slave boy.”
The term “slave boy” was a term that was commonly used to describe one who was in a homosexual relationship in those times. That may well be why the centurion was so concerned about this particular slave. This being a reasonable and probable translation in Matthew 8 given the context (Such as seen in Charles B. Williams, The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People.), it is interesting that Jesus never condemned the centurion’s relationship with his slave boy, and He had the perfect opportunity to do so if He felt that their relationship was in any way sinful or inappropriate. Jesus merely commended the centurion on his faith and promptly proceeded to heal the man’s slave boy.
The legalists and the self-righteous, smug fundamentalist professing Christians, who seem to monopolize the media, don’t speak for Christianity—at least not the Christianity that I know. These purveyors of a false Gospel impose their prejudices on the Bible, selectively picking certain verses that they feel affirm those prejudices, and preach a message of legalism and perfectionism that is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness.
The Apostle Paul, who adamantly fought legalism (Acts 15; Ephesians 2:8-9), saved his harshest words for those who preach a false Gospel. He said in Galatians 1:8 concerning those who preach a false Gospel, “…let him be accursed.” He felt so strongly about those who preach legalism rather than the Gospel of grace that he repeated himself in the very next verse.
To be “accursed” is to be damned by God! In other words, he wrote, “God damn them.” (Galatians 1:8-9) Once can’t use any stronger language than that!
These preachers of a false Gospel have wittingly or unwittingly attempted to hijack the true Gospel and redefine Christianity in their own twisted image of God, the Bible, the world, and of themselves. They make Christians look like a pack of hate-mongering, harsh, judgmental freaks and I terribly resent it!
Every single church and denomination is obligated to embrace and welcome into its fellowship everyone who worships Christ as his or her savior, and afford each such person full rights of inclusion, including the partaking of every sacrament of the Church, as befit members of the Body of Christ! Yet, many denominations are struggling with issues surrounding the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (hereafter to be called GLBT) people. The struggle is said to largely center on biblical interpretation regarding gay people and their relationships, as well as Christian tradition, despite the fact that Jesus says we make void the Word of God by our traditions. (Matthew 15:3)
Many people who seek to deny GLBT people rights of ordination, marriage, and other rights and privileges that accrue to others, may be well-intentioned, but they are misinformed. The root of this misinformation is largely the religious leadership that seeks to impose their world-views that bespeak ignorance and insensitivity upon not only other people, but upon the Bible and upon God Himself.
Just as Peter’s experience of Cornelius in Acts 10 showed him that even Gentiles were receiving God’s Spirit, we must realize that GLBT Christians can receive, and many have received, God’s Spirit as well, as the reception of God’s Spirit has absolutely nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation. Many people in the Church still think of GLBT people as Peter and Paul once thought of Gentiles. Yet God told them, and us, “…What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter and Paul called the Jewish Christian church in their day to not merely tolerate Gentile Christians, but welcome their full inclusion. Similarly, in our day we are being called by God to not merely tolerate GLBT Christians, but welcome their full inclusion in every aspect of the Church and society.
Had it not been for adherence to God’s revelation concerning inclusiveness, Paul would not have had a ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47), and had it not been for Paul and his ministry, Christianity would likely be but a mere sect of Judaism, rather than its fulfillment! We must obey God; not man-made dogmas, rules, regulations, and traditions!
On June 17, 2004, Reuters reported, “The Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts is considering firing gay employees who marry their same-sex partners in the only American state where such unions are legal, a church official said on Thursday.” Hence, even though the law in Massachusetts permits same-sex marriage, the Roman Catholic Church, viewing gay relationships as “intrinsically disordered,” may seek to discriminate against those who take advantage of that law.
Given the extensive sex abuse scandals that have rocked that denomination, it would seem prudent for it to take the beam out of its own eye before tackling what isn’t even a speck in another’s eye. Yet, sexuality and sexual orientation are such highly charged topics for them, and most others, that they may feel free to disregard the law and discriminate against people who seek to make a lifetime commitment to each other before God and the community through the sacrament of marriage.
Marriage is a matter of love, but also a matter of legal and property rights! Just ask anyone who has gone through a divorce! As citizens, GLBT people have every right to partake of the same rights and privileges, as well as the responsibilities, as other citizens.
Why would we allow a bunch of celibate men, men who seemingly choose to deny a core part of the self, a deep primal urge and vehicle for the _expression of deepest intimacy between two people, be allowed to define romantic and sexual reality for us? In this vein, we must ask, “Why are so many ‘religious’ people, clergy and non-clergy alike, so obsessed with others’ love and sexual lives that they read into Scripture, taking a few passages out of context and without regard to the original languages, justification for discriminating, stigmatizing, demonizing, and oppressing GLBT people, which judgment and discrimination is clearly un-Scriptural?” Their prejudices have clearly blinded them to the biblical mandate to love others and not judge or oppress them!
The Gospel of love trumps any particular verse or verses of Scripture, particularly those taken out of context and interpreted without regard to the original languages. In Leviticus, the men who sought to gang rape the two angels weren't gay, as Lot wouldn't have offered his virgin daughters to them. If they were gay, young women certainly would have been no inducement to them. The issue was gang rape, abusing others, not sexual orientation or gay relationships.
Indeed, whenever Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned in Scripture, homosexuality is never mentioned as its sin. Rather, the sins that are dealt with are inhospitality and not taking care of the poor. Moreover, if the two angels who visited Lot’s house had been women, it is unlikely that those professing Christians who discriminate against GLBT people would be condemning heterosexuality!
The word translated "homosexual" in some translations (Such as the New English Bible: New Testament.) is arsenekoitai, an obscure Greek word, which actually means "male bed." It probably refers to male cult prostitution (See the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.) that was not uncommon in much of the ancient world, where sex was sometimes a worshipful act to various pagan deities and to have the crops grow. Paul was most likely talking about the use of sex for these purposes. In this connection, it is important to note that the word “homosexual” does not appear in any of the biblical manuscripts, as the term was coined in the late 19th century, and first appeared in an English Bible translation in the 1946 edition of the Revised Standard Version.
Moreover, prohibitions against homosexual activity in ancient Israel was done in the context of a tribal society living on the edge, surrounded by enemies, that had to "be fruitful and multiply" in order for it to survive. Therefore, all types of sexual activity had to be geared to procreation. The sin of Onan, coitus interruptus, was to do otherwise. (Genesis 38:9-10)
Romans 1:21-32 that is erroneously used to condemn gay people talks about those who turned their backs on God. Even though many professing Christians and clergy have turned GLBT people away from the church, many of these people still worship God. Many of them have long, fulfilling relationships. For example, one gay couple who attend our church has been together for 40 years.
In any case, what those who quote from the first chapter of Romans to erroneously condemn gay people apparently don't read is the very next verse: "Therefore Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (Romans 2:1)
The word "abomination" frequently refers to anything the Gentiles did. For example, eating fish without scales was an abomination. Also, the Greek words that are translated "against nature," para physin, are also used in reference to God when He brought the Gentiles into the covenant relationship with Him. (Romans 11:24) Hence, the term “against nature” is not necessarily meant to be pejorative; may well refer in Romans 1:26-27 to heterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts as seen in cult prostitution.
In 1Corinthians 6:9 the word "effeminate" is used. The Greek word is malakoi, and it means "soft." It's used elsewhere in Scripture to denote soft clothing. In this connection, it probably means people of soft morals or people who lack courage.
It is important to realize that homosexuality is never mentioned in the Ten Commandments, never written about by the prophets, and never discussed by Jesus. If it were that important, it would have likely been dealt with in at least one of these contexts!
Yet these facts, and many others that have been put forth, are not likely to change the minds and hearts of those who actively discriminate against GLBT people. Those who spend a great deal of their time condemning other people “in the name of God,” by picking and choosing selected verses of Scripture without seeming regard to context and original languages, may well be materially and psychologically gaining a great deal from these endeavors, all the while claiming that they are being faithful to the Bible.
Just one example as to how these people don't seem to be as ‘Bible believing’ as they would have us believe: Jesus specifically condemned divorce and remarriage, saying that those who did so, absent fornication, were themselves committing adultery. (Matthew 19:9) I don't hear many homophobic clergy condemning these people and telling them that they should leave their current spouse and either reunite with their previous spouse or remain single. Nor should they! My point is that many of their constituents are made up of these people who give them tithes, offerings, and contributions and they don't want to bite the hands that feed them. They have, however, helped drive many GLBT people away from the church, so these people become viewed as “safe” targets to persecute.
The Gospel of love negates any attempt to misrepresent, stigmatize, demonize, or oppress other people. Those who seek to exclude GLBT people from partaking fully in the life of the Church and society have missed the message of the Gospel!
In any case, it's inappropriate to blindly apply the cultural practices of ancient societies to contemporary society, as it does not do justice to the Bible; the Bible makes no such claims for itself; to do so cheapens the Bible. As Peter J. Gomes wrote in his superb book, The Good Book: Reading The Bible With Mind And Heart, when we read the Bible we must take account of what it says, what it means, the text, the subtext, the context, what we bring to the text, and what we take out of the text. Without such examination, we have the egregious example of many Black churches, ministers and lay people, aligning themselves with the KKK to fight against same-sex marriage.
What is interesting in this context is that the KKK has demonstrated against same-sex marriage. So, the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (that, even with its checkered sexual history, talks of traditional family values) and others who oppose equal rights for gay people are aligning themselves with the KKK that opposes equality for all citizens. And these professing Christians have the temerity to do so "in the name of God."
For far too long we have listened to people who just uncritically assume that what they heard from the pulpit or Sunday school, as ignorant and hateful as it may be, regarding GLBT people is true. Being gay is not a lifestyle! It's a life! It's not a choice, any more than being straight is a choice!
Moreover, although each minority group has its own particular history, each has suffered from misinformation, discrimination, stigma, and oppression. Unfortunately, the Church has been the last institution in society to accept the disenfranchised and "least among us." As has been noted for many years, the Church has been, and continues to be, the most racially segregated institution that exists on Sunday mornings in our society. In addition, the major justification for oppressing minority groups has been appeal to the Bible. Witness the subjugation of women, slavery, and segregation.
Even the most "Bible believing" Christian would not condone such biblical practices as stoning to death adulterers, stoning to death those who work on the Sabbath, requiring all women to wear long hair, women not talking in church, women not teaching men, not wearing mixed fibers in our clothes, etc. Yet these are all taught in the Bible!
The Bible is part of God's revelation to us. It gives us a glimpse into a small part of God's heart and a few of His many dimensions. God didn't stop talking to His children 2,000 years ago! He still speaks to us regarding His will for our lives, and to proclaim in each generation, in and for His name, the cause of justice, and to manifest Jesus’ love toward others.
God bless the work of Soulforce that seeks justice for GLBT people, the United Federation of the Metropolitan Community Churches that largely minister to GLBT Christians, the Online magazine, "Whosoever," for which I have written a great deal, that is primarily geared to GLBT Christians, and to the work of Rembert Truluck who points out the destructive aspects of Bible abuse and how misuse of the Bible has caused the untold suffering of GLBT people. They have excellent web sites! It is these, and other such ministries, that have undoubtedly saved, and immeasurably enriched, the lives of countless GLBT people, Christian and non-Christian alike, who were previously wracked by feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, and condemnation, hitherto believing the lies and ignorant pronouncements emanating from much of the Church.
The seemingly oracular pronouncements regarding GLBT people and their relationships by those who parade their ignorance as “Godliness” have helped lead to the suicides, bashings, and murders of countless GLBT people. Indeed, in this connection, it is estimated that gay youth have at least three times the suicide rate of non-gay youth.
Make no mistake, every drop of blood shed by GLBT people either through suicide, bashing, or murder, are on the hands of all those religious leaders, their followers, and their allies who spew forth their ignorance, prejudice, and hate against GLBT people and their relationships! These wolves in sheep’s clothing take the Bible, God’s love letter to His children, and selectively and perversely use it as a club to condemn others, and deny GLBT people full inclusion in the Church and in society.
The tradition-bound parts of the Church have so indoctrinated people, many of whom have never even set foot in a house of worship, that many people even disown their own children when they “come out” and divulge their sexual orientation to those whom they thought unconditionally loved and cherished them. There are many children living on the streets because their own parents trusted ignorant clergy and their followers over their God-given duty and privilege to nurture and embrace their own children!
The Church should concentrate on the real sins that deserve our attention and that cry out to God for redress, such as invading another country on false pretenses; the working poor who can't afford medical insurance; the Supreme Court ruling that people can't sue their insurance company in state court for denying needed medical services; many elderly people having to decide whether to buy food or medicine; the gigantic rip off perpetrated by drug companies, hospitals, and the medical establishment on sick and vulnerable people. Why not focus on and address issues such as these, instead of obsessing on who loves who and who sleeps with whom? Such obsession tells us much more about the pathetic and moribund state of much of the Church than it does about the reality of the lives of GLBT people.
Indeed, those who seek to exclude others from full fellowship in church, and in secular society, commit the greatest sin of all: the sin of pride. Jesus “…spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Through out our lives, we have been bombarded with ignorant, homophobic messages from much of the Church world that don’t resonate with, and do contradict, the revelation of God in the Person and words of Jesus! Let’s not let the ignorant, the haters and hate-mongers, many of whom gain psychological, social, and financial advantages by their condemnation and exclusion of GLBT people, define Christianity for us.
We must rise above their ignorant and hateful pronouncements, cynically made "in the name of God," "tradition," "church law," and "family values," and finally practice Christianity. Hear Jesus' call for inclusion of all of His people, and let's fulfill His mandate for us to love our neighbor by embracing in every facet of our lives His GLBT children, whom He gave as a gift to the church and society to be cherished every bit as much as He cherishes us.
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