The World Meets God:
Mediating an Introduction
By: Lori Heine
"World, meet God!" Does that sound like a silly and totally unnecessary introduction? Even in the midst of our religion-steeped society, I'm inclined not to think so. Maybe especially here and now. Jesus is, of course, supposed to have already introduced the world to God, but the antics of many of His so-called followers indicate that even they themselves have no idea who He is.
We, in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian community, can show the world some new things about God. Not really new, of course, but apparently unknown to all too many because the religious establishment never mentions them. An awful lot of people persist in the blissful unawareness that we even can know Him, but a growing number of us know Him better – by hard-won firsthand experience – than those content to leave us in the outer darkness ever have. Indeed, Jesus lived among us to show the world Who God is. We follow in Christ's footsteps when we do the same.
Just as the scribes and Pharisees Jesus so bitterly challenged would traverse land and sea to make a convert, only to make him or her a hundred times more a child of Hell than themselves, so today do the "born again" preach to the already-comfortable and self-satisfied, bringing in those already blessed to be blessed a hundred times more. Not knowing, evidently, that any "blessing" that would curse others is itself nothing but a curse.
Knowledge is, indeed, power. Religious tyrants try to keep true knowledge of God from the people in order to keep the power to themselves. But "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free." Knowledge is also freedom. Luther understood this, which is why he fought and worked for the right of each individual believer to be able to read Scripture for her- or himself.
GLBT Christians, and all believers who have been marginalized and oppressed, are considered dangerous to the status quo. We know things about God that the leaders of the Church do not want getting around. And with knowledge comes responsibility. We have a charge from God that we must keep.
Far from being scandalized, many people are inspired when they see GLBT and other people the established church has cursed living, nevertheless, in happy relationship with God in Jesus Christ. It gives them hope that they can have this treasure, too.
God intended the good things of life to be for all – not merely for a privileged few. Those in the cozy confines of the establishment have tried harder to keep these good things from us than they have from anyone else. If they can't keep them from us, then they truly can't keep them from anyone. We must, by all means, spread the word.
We can show the world that's looking for God just what God looks like. And we can show those running from God that "He's" not as scary as they think.
Some react in anger to the idea that we haven't given up on God. Because they have – and because they're looking to justify that – we are a fly in their ointment. We keep them from feeling good about the choice they've made by refusing to be miserable and alienated from God ourselves. Or, perhaps, by being unhappy apart from God and restless – as St. Augustine put it – until we rest in "Him." It's good enough for them to be alienated from God, so who (they seem to think) do we think we are to insist upon a lot better than theirs?
The light we bring to others won't make everyone happy. Many of those who so strenuously proclaim their desire to win the souls of the whole world for Christ, indeed, don't seem to like it in the least. Instead of leaving the judgments to God – as Jesus said we should – they are determined to condemn us. That our condemnation is more important to them than our salvation, our "moral" and "righteous" foes have already made abundantly clear.
The children of darkness love the darkness, as Jesus said. But we are children of light – just as much as anybody can be – and we must go right on shining forth that light, no matter how much flak we get for it.
I never cease to be inspired by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in the GLBT community today. This is, quite truly, a miracle of biblical proportions. Out of the death of the AIDS crisis, and the darkness of oppression – even by the self-proclaimed "righteous" – God is calling us. Like the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, like Lazarus out of the tomb, God is now summoning us forth in a tremendous revival.
This revival goes underreported because the toadies and bootlickers of the mainstream media dare not provoke the anger of their corporate lords and masters. They know who pays them, and they cringe at the thought of biting the hand that feeds them. We must not make the mistake, so common to the modern masses, of confusing what the media reports for the sum total of reality. Just because it goes underreported (and would be altogether ignored, if not for the entertainment-value of "controversies" over GLBT inclusion in the churches), that certainly does not make it any less real.
Now of course the kind of God we show the world is vastly different from that portrayed by our self-proclaimed foes. Our God is not a vain and power-hungry tyrant, hell-bent on the enforcement of nitpicky and controlling rules and willing to condemn to Hell anyone who doesn't conform to those rules. I can't help but wonder how long it's going to take the majority of Christians to realize that isn't the kind of God Jesus loved, either.
How those who claim to follow God choose to portray "Him" has enormous consequences. The politicians and members of the press, who trumpet forth their own version of God to most of the rest of our society, take their cues from our self-proclaimed "religious leaders." How, indeed, can they take a more compassionate and reasonable approach to GLBT issues when they are continually preached at about how "evil" we are, and how we supposedly plot the overthrow of all decent civilization?
Who does Jesus say that God is? Hello? Why does that seem so irrelevant to so many who call themselves Christians – including those who have taken it upon themselves to teach the rest of us what that means?
A Christian, by any definition of the word that makes sense at all, is someone who believes in the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Period. It isn't by necessity someone who believes in the Rapture, or in the Virgin Birth, or in the literal, historical existence of Adam and Eve. It certainly isn't measured – one way or another – by what one does or does not believe about homosexuality or transgenderism.
A very large part of the problem, in defining Christian faith, is that we have gotten two entirely different concepts all mixed up together. There's what we believe – and then there's what God supposedly thinks we must believe, or will presumably punish us for not believing.
Is God going to make us all get out our papers and take a test on Judgment Day? And – to allow for differences in human societal circumstance or the just plain luck of the draw – will "He" grade on a curve?
Truth has a majesty all its own, just as God does. Is it better to believe truth than error? Life is certainly easier if you believe that two and two make four, instead of three or five. But does that mean God punishes those who don't add two and two and get four? Is the "stern schoolmaster" concept of God truly the right one?
There is absolutely nothing about Christ's gospel to suggest that. Jesus' God is a loving parent, not a stern schoolmaster. Can God sometimes be stern? Well, yes – as any loving parent can be. But in showing forth the light of God in Christ, that love must shine through, for without it, there is only darkness.
We shine forth Christ's light because it makes life happier and just plain better. Because, as a matter of fact, it makes life worth living. There is no other genuine purpose. God loves us, and wants us to be happy – as loving relationship with God, in faith, is the ultimate way to be happy. That is, quite plainly and simply, all there is to it.
We need to tell our stories. We must not be ashamed of them simply because they will make some people uncomfortable. We can't hide our light under a bushel-basket of forced politeness, or out of some fear that others won't understand.
Some won't, that's true – usually because they are determined not to. But many others are hungry for good news about God. They will hear our stories and be inspired by them. We may give them the first reason to hope they've had in a long time. Perhaps ever.
People are not leaving the church, by and large, because they have difficulty believing some traditional doctrine. They are leaving because they are being treated shabbily, even abominably, by the religious powers-that-be. The church establishment has come to see its role as that of maintaining the status quo in society. And it is being richly rewarded for it by those who benefit from that status quo, just as they punish – often with frightful cruelty – those who do not seem to fit into its neat scheme.
It is sheer folly – nothing but culture-bound myopia – to blame this problem on Christianity alone. In fact, in every society with a patriarchal power base, its predominant religion has been hijacked to serve the same purpose. This has been true not only of Christianity, but also Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and – perhaps most obviously these days – Islam. Paganism, today, is praised for its gender egalitarianism, but in its heyday in the ancient world, it was brutally patriarchal. A society that repudiates religion can even use atheism for this purpose, as did the Soviet bloc countries that punished many GLBT citizens for their "deviance" by imprisoning them in work camps and mental hospitals.
We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle against it. If enough of us light candles, we can light the world. I believe that those who call GLBT folks "mistakes" are wrong on that score. God doesn't make mistakes. It is highly possible God made us precisely so we could shine our light forth into this dark and violent world, offering it a different, more inclusive and newly-compassionate understanding of the power of love.
The last thing we should do is despair, or quit. That would hand our self-proclaimed foes the victory. The victory rightfully belongs to the God Who made us. And I mean the God Who made us exactly who and what we are.
Religion is, in fact, where human beings intersect with God. This means that when we go there, we find a mixture of "God stuff" and "people stuff." Those with an inclination to believe tend to overestimate how much of the stuff is God's, while those inclined to reject belief tend to see only the part that is human. The way we help light the world may, among other things, help sort out which is which.
In most holy scriptures – certainly in the Judeo-Christian – the people who encountered God lived in a deeply patriarchal, male-dominated and homophobic culture. This can mean one of two things. The first might be (as the Religious Right insists) that God broke into the world at that time in a special way as an endorsement of everything going on in that culture, and a signal that all must go on as close that way as possible 'til the end of time. The alternative (which progressives believe makes more sense) is that things had gotten so bad by that time that God could no longer stand to let human beings go on the way they were.
Which view is right? Well, for Christians there should be no contest. Christ Himself settled that issue for us, and when we examine His life, work and words, He came down decidedly on the side of not only liberal, but radical progressive reform. Shining forth the light of Christ must – if it means anything at all – most definitely mean a commitment to such reform.
When we introduce the world to the God we've come to know in Jesus Christ, we proclaim all that and more. The light we set on high, as a matter of fact, will never be extinguished. That is good news – even for those who have yet to hear it. Even for those who think they have heard it. They may have heard the news, but they've yet to see the light.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911.
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