Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (Part 10)

10. When Jesus forbade judging, that included us.

Negative responses to point 10 divided into two camps. Some said they were not judging other people, but merely pointing out what scripture says. A second group of responses said that Jesus never meant that we shouldn’t judge.

I would certainly agree that we need some kind of discernment. We need to “judge” the difference between right and wrong in our own lives. If someone is being bullied and asks for our help, there is a sense in which any intervention implies we have “judged” the victim’s claims over that of the bully. And, we sometimes must sometimes protect children even though they cannot make a justice claim. In these two senses I would agree that we need to “judge.”

But what if no one has made a justice claim and there are no victims? What if we simply believe we know better than others how they should live their lives? Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says we should not judge.

Some understand the Jewish Covenant to be based on obedience to the law. The New Covenant is based on an understanding that we all fall short of perfection. In the New Covenant, God will offer clemency to all who offer it to others. So Jesus said:

The measure you use on others, will be the measure God will use on you.
Judge not, lest you be judged.
If you forgive your brother or sister you will be forgiven.
If you are on your way to worship and you remember that someone has a justice claim against you, leave the church and go make up with your brother or sister.

Judgment does not cease being judgment just because we find a Bible verse to back it up. The Bible is a huge book. Any of us can find a scripture to make others feel bad. Paul said there is not a person alive that could stand up to that kind of scrutiney so we should all stop doing it whenever possible.

What does it mean for Christians to say that Jesus died to free us from sin, and yet still needs us to sit in judgment of others? Do we think Jesus botched the atonement and needs us to pull it out of the fire? Do we really think Jesus was a such a bad teacher that we have to correct what he said?

When Jesus said “judge not,” it included us. “Grace” means we can stop trying to do God’s job, and, instead, make ourselves a living sacrifice to love. Show love equally to those who deserve it and those who do not, and you will be like your heavenly parent who sends rain on the just and the unjust.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew about Homosexuality” (part 9)

9. If we do not do the right thing in our day, our grandchildren will look at us with same embarrassment we look at racist grandparents.

Some respondents found it offensive that to compare the struggle for civil rights for American Blacks with the struggle for GLBT rights. I would agree that there are major differences in the two movements, but I also think that all forms of oppression have some things in common as well.

We all like to think we would have marched with Dr. King or Gandhi had we been in the right place and time. Hindsight is 20/20 so it is easy to think we would have been brave at key moments in history, but social issues are not always that clear at the time. We forget that some of the most passionate defenders of slavery came from the church. At the time, many Christians looked at the biblical passages on slavery and saw that whereas several passages condemned slavery, no where did the Bible specifically condemn slavery.

If we could go back in time hear we would hear the same kind of excuses about why we should be patient and work within the system. In our praise of prophets from the past we conveniently ignore the fact that what made them prophetic was a vision unshared by the people of their time, and a courage to cross the line to do justice even if that meant they would have to break unjust laws.  There comes a time when mere acceptance is not enough. There comes a time when, if we do not respond in our own place and time, we have failed to be prophetic.

Those of us who are old enough remember the racism of our teachers and family members. We can still love them for who they were to us. We can understand how they were a part of the culture of their day, but we cannot respect them as fully as if they had found the courage and the vision to get ahead of the curve and stand on the right side of history.

It is easy to say we love and accept everyone, but if our love is to mean anything to the oppressed, there are times we must leave our place of acceptance and safety in the hierarchy of our culture and stand with the oppressed of our day. This is the message of prophets, but church is usually the last to get on board. On the topic of homosexuality, it is humiliating to realize that the marines got to this insight before the church did. If the struggle for human rights were a train, the church would always be the caboose. It is time to change that.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew about Homosexuality” (part 8)

8. To condemn homosexuality, you must use parts of the Bible you don’t yourself obey. Anyone who obeyed every part of Leviticus would rightly be put in prison.

One of the most common form of rebuttals I received was that of the Socratic questioner. People would send a very long letter with a list of yes or no questions. “Is homosexuality a sin, yes or no?” “Is incest a sin, yes or no?” If I did spend the time to wade through the mousetraps my reward would be an email with more mousetraps. Respondents would usually ignore any points I had made, and would just bring up more parts of scripture I was “ignoring.” Having a conversation with someone who has already memorized the answers is like trying to have a conversation with an answering machine.

Here’s what I couldn’t get across. The English word “sin” is a translation of over 72 Hebrew words. And, this is very important, some of those words for “sin” refer to  ceremonial infractions not ethical violations. In other words, some of the words for “sin” come from ethical codes like the Ten Commandments, but others come from the rituals that made one “clean” to approach holy things.

The list of ceremonial infractions is long and creepy. A church that truly honored the Levitical Code of cleanliness would never allow pork to be served at its family night suppers. Men would be expected to impregnate their brother’s widow. Every Sunday someone would check the women to make sure they weren’t having a period, and the men to make sure they weren’t trying to enter the temple with crushed testicles. In addition to condemning homosexuality, the clergy might need to condemn vasectomies as a varient of “crushed stones” and tampons for hiding a woman’s “sin”.

Thank God the new covenant did not include the cleanliness laws. The gospels are full of examples of Jesus breaking the cleanliness laws to minister to people who would be excluded by them. One of the clearest expressions of this point occurs in Acts when Peter has a vision of God offering him unclean food to eat. Peter reacts with piety saying he has never eaten unclean food, to which god responds, “Do not call unclean what I have declared clean!” Peter awakes to some gentile visitors. He realizes that the vision was not just about food, and that he is to call no human being “unclean.”

Some people don’t realize that they trivialize the message when they take out the food laws, and leave in the discriminatory parts about people. It’s like Jesus died so we can eat ham. Christians have been called to a new covenant that does not exclude anyone as impure by reasons of physical condition. When Jesus said we can’t sew old parts onto a new garment he was saying we can’t shift between these two worldviews at whim. In the new covenant no one is born into second class existence. This new hospitality is very clear, but have to have eyes to see and ears to hear, which means you have to read all of scripture with love.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (part 7)

7. If how someone stimulates the pubic nerve has become the needle to your moral compass, you are the one who is lost.

Many of the responses to number seven assumed it was a typo. Some people who copied and forwarded the article corrected “pubic” to “public”. It would have been clearer if I had worded it, “if how someone stimulates a nerve in the pubic region has become the needle to your moral compass, you are the one who is lost.”

The point I was trying to make is that reducing ethics down to what happens to the scrotums in question misses the point. Ethics is about character, faithful relationship, and about what our actions mean to the whole world, not where people are touching each other.

Ethics based on universal love are much more difficult than moralizing based on rules about our physical bodies. It is a much simpler world if we mindlessly obey rules, but then our lives are mechanical, unresponsive and sometimes brutal. Such soulless living resembles the crude simplicity of a paint-by-number picture.

When the painting is done by a true artist we cannot see the lines of composition but still we sense that everything in the picture is in balance. The artist moves not by rigid and concrete rules, but by deep intuitions of the spirit. Rules trace the outline of the beloved, but only love can capture its heart.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (part 6)

6. Marriage is a civil ceremony, which means it’s a civil right.

In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus summarized our ethical duty as being a good neighbor. In the story, someone is injured on the road leading to the holy city of Jerusalem and lies wounded by the side of the road. Priestly types see the man lying wounded, but pass on by so as to remain pure for their religious obligations in Jerusalem.

Finally, a Samaritan man stops to help. The fact that Jesus used a Samaritan in this teaching story is important. Samaritans were considered outsiders in every sense of the word. They weren’t quite Israelite and not quite Jewish.  Why would Jesus use an outsider as the example of being a good neighbor?

Jesus seems to be asking us to consider what we owe to someone who is not from our group. The people passing by the wounded man used religion as an excuse not to meet the needs of a stranger. Many who think of themselves as followers of Jesus have never understood this parable. To update the story, the Samaritan might be Muslim or gay or atheist. The point is, it doesn’t matter what group someone is from, we have a duty to help them meet their human needs.

Being a good neighbor in the political sense means not depriving others of their rights and needs. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people have a right to have a home and family. While some would use scripture to deny them of that right, I think the parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a deeper understanding of the issue.

Marriage is as much a civil institution as it is a religious one. Contrary to what some claim, the Bible gives no clear definition of marriage. Jesus’ statement at the wedding at Cana that a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife is hardly a complete ethical treatise on marriage. We find many examples of marriages that were not between one man and one woman. Lots of the heroes of scripture had more than one wife. So if the church wants to return to honesty on this subject, it must first stop pretending that its views on marriage are coming from scripture.

But even if there were a clear definition of marriage in scripture, Jesus is saying in this parable and throughout his teaching that we are never true to his teaching if we don’t care about what others need. The parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a secular response to human suffering. It does not matter if others are Christian or not, we have a duty to help them meet their human needs.

Jesus is saying not to read scripture in a way that deprives others of what they need. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people obeying scripture and passing by the wounded stranger to remain pure are the bad example. The good example is the one who knows when to lay down his Bible and respond from the heart.

Being a good neighbor in a democracy means being a good citizen, which means not requiring others to be like us before we honor their human and civil rights. The Bible does not clearly define what a marriage is, which has given the church great flexibility across history to adapt the civil definition of marriage to what people need in different cultural settings. But, because marriage is a civil ceremony, it is also a civil right.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (Part 5)

5. It is no longer your personal religious view if you’re bothering someone else.

As we have seen in this series, one of the most damaging aspects of prejudice is the assumption that our group is better than others and that we have a duty to reshape others in our own image. When we see ourselves as the norm, we unconsciously judge others in terms of how they are like or unlike ourselves. Because we are unaware of our sense of superiority, we can attempt to impose our personal understandings onto others without being aware that we are impinging on their own freedoms.

Then if others have the audacity to want to live their own lives without our direction, we can feel that it is our own religious liberties that are under attack. We can go to shopping malls and insist that the Christ is being taken out of Christmas even if people from other faiths would like to feel it is their town, too. We can treat any effort by gay people to talk about their own lives as an assault on our families. If I have been taught that we have a right to control others, their efforts to get free of our control may feel like an attack on our imagined right to take away theirs.

You and I both have a right to our own personal religious faith, but for that very reason if we are to live peaceably together, we must each be free from the other. I must be free from your efforts to dominate me, and you must be free from my efforts to dominate you.

A Christian Scientist can choose to refuse medical treatment, but has no right to oppose that same care for others. A Pro-life Catholic has every right to believe abortion is wrong, and even to try to persuade others to their cause, but they have no right to shut down the full range of women’s healthcare simply because they are in the majority in certain pockets of the country.

You have a right to your belief about how others should live their lives. You can even try persuading people to be more like you. But there comes a point where the other person has a right over their own life. They have a right to a home life that is different than yours. They have a right to seek happiness in a way that is different than yours. They have a right not to be harassed by you. It is not a violation of your personal rights, for others to refuse to let you take away theirs.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (part 4)

4. You cannot call it “special rights” when someone asks for the same rights you have.

When I was working on the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Bill here in Texas, I learned a very important lesson. I learned that the essence of prejudice is not a felt hatred of some other group, but an unfelt sense of privilege over that group. No one I talked to was aware of disliking people of color, or gays, or Muslims; but they did feel any concessions made to protect them from dangers that did not threaten white Christian heterosexuals were “special rights.”
By “sense of privilege” I mean the unconscious belief that whites are in a superior position because we worked harder or were smarter. By “privilege” I mean an unexamined belief that gay people are somehow less moral than heterosexuals by definition. By “privilege” I mean the belief Christianity is the only true religion and that other religions should conform to the world as we see it or move somewhere else.
I learned that because many white people think of themselves as the norm, any discussion of racial issues was talking about someone else. When anyone spoke to them of “civil rights,” they considered it to be someone else’s problem. Any efforts by people of color to have all the same rights white people take for granted were seen by some as wanting “special rights.”
I learned that men consider gender issues to be about women. Again, because many men have been taught to see themselves as the norm, when someone mentioned gender it was someone else’s problem. I often here people in the church talk about a “woman pastor.” What that tells you is that the person considers the woman to be in a male slot. Any effort by women to have all the same rights that men have (like the ERA) are considered as seeking “special rights.”
Finally, I learned that because many heterosexuals consider their own behavior to be the norm, any conversation about sexual orientation seems to be about those other people. There was little conversation about what was fair. The whole topic of sexual orientation seemed to be someone else’s problem. Again, any effort by non-heterosexuals to have the same rights to a home and family that heterosexuals take for granted we seen as the pursuit of “special rights”
It has been said the true test of a lover of justice is whether they offer others every right they claim for themselves. By this noble standard, few could be called lovers of justice. When some religious people presume to have a God given right to take away other people’s rights, I want to beg them to stop thinking about sex for one moment and realize that what these people are seeking is a home, and a family, and a sense of safety. I want to ask them, “Why, for the love of God, are you working so hard to keep them from having the same rights you take for granted?”

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (Part 3)

3. Truth isn’t like wine that gets better with age. It’s more like manna you must recognize wherever you are and whoever you are with.

Some of the people who disagreed with the article argued that the church shows an unbroken tradition of rejecting homosexuality from the very beginning. It seems to me that the focus on abortion and homosexuality are both relatively recent for the church. To be specific, they emerged after women began to gain power in the world and in the church. It is no coincidence that the religions most opposed to these two practices usually had a problem with women being leaders in the first place.

John Boswell has famously made the case that our modern concept of marriage evolved out of a “friendship blessing” that was based on spiritual commitment, not physical gender. Whatever one thinks of that argument, we have to admit that the argument from tradition has a long sorry record in times of great transition. To insist the earth is flat because it has a long tradition, or that slavery must be right because the ancients embraced it, is habit humanity needs to break. It has been said that the truth repeated becomes a lie. To mindlessly parrot a truth may be further from truth than honest error. The question for me is, is religion a futile effort to go back in time, or is a courageous leap into the future?

What does it mean to call the New Testament “new?” It is two thousand years old after all. Are we merely saying that it is a little less old than what preceded it, or by “new” do we mean it is still alive and breathing? To worship a “living” God means to leave the brackish water of tradition and to strike out on the open waters of life as we live it today. The “new” covenant is a response to the Jewish prophets who called people to sing a new song. Faith in a living God means to let go of our mooring from the past, to uproot ancient prejudices, to pluck up the toadstools of mindless belief, and to open our minds and hearts to a God that calls us from the future. To say one’s religion is ‘new” must mean it is open to the most brutally honest science, the most passionate art, and the commitment to universal human rights for all God’s children.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality” (Part 2)

2. You are not being persecuted when prevented from persecuting others.

 

Several respondents found my second point insulting. “We are not persecuting anyone. We love homosexuals, but we just hate their sin.  We have a right to hold our own viewpoints.  When you call us “persecutors” you are judging us like you say we are judging them.”

 

Looking at the actual words, I don’t believe I accused anyone of anything. I said it isn’t persecution to be prevented from persecuting others.  I didn’t say other people don’t have a right to their own conviction that homosexuality is wrong, I was saying no one has a right to take away the rights of others.

 

Suppose the shoe were on the other foot.  Suppose I were to act on my belief that fundamentalism is wrong. I believe that literalism and sectarianism result in misunderstanding and violence. Now suppose you are a fundamentalist. Wouldn’t you agree that I have a right to my opinion, but it is something very different if I am arrogant enough to force my belief into law? Now further suppose, as I do, that Jesus condemned fundamentalism in his core teachings. Isn’t it vital that I not presume to force my vision of Jesus even on the church? It is one thing to try to persuade you. I might even consider that my duty. But, it is something very different to coerce you. I am merely saying that I cannot call myself a victim if someone does not let me force my opinions on you.

 

I believe the unconscious root of all forms of prejudice to be a sense of entitlement and a belief that “difference” means “less than.” In other words, when I unconsciously think of my group as the model for all humankind, I will either attack those who are different, or try to cast them in my own group’s image.  And when we are bigoted against another type of person, we usually have no sense of our own presumption. It just feels like we are looking at the world from a higher vantage point. We are simply reading the text the way God intended it. Those who disagree obviously don’t care about scripture as we do. We, of course, humbly realize that we are sinners too. But because we are sorrier for our sins than others are, it is our duty to serve as referee for the rest of the species. Because our sense of privilege is invisible to us, any effort to describe what we are doing feels like an humiliating insult. So, if anyone steps in to defend our target, we view ourselves as the real victims.

 

Our prejudice is more easily justified if we can find some verses in the Bible that seem to say the same thing we are saying. There are certainly verses in scripture that seem to condemn homosexuality, but the reason they leap out of their context in the food and cleanliness codes, is because of a prejudiced reading. Prejudice has used the Bible to defend capital punishment for adulterers, banning of divorce, defended slavery, promoted sexism, and called for the corporal punishment of children. The reason those verses convince some and not others has nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with the prejudices we all start with before we take up the text.

 

Let me repeat that I didn’t call anyone a bully or a persecutor. I described bullying behaviors and some people self-identified. What I am calling “fundamentalism” is I believe our survival instinct to simplify the world, to group with people like ourselves and to try to find our way back to a simpler time. I was trying to state a principle that would protect all of us from this frailty we all carry in our human tissue. Let me assure you, I don’t trust myself to be your overlord any more than I trust you to be mine.

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality”

Answering the Rebuttals to “10 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality”

When my recent article on homosexuality went viral I was buried in responses. Many conservatives sent rebuttals for what they considered to be errors in my thought. Some were respectful, others not so much so, but I want to honor the time all of them took to respond by giving my answers to those rebuttals.

.1. If Jesus did not mention a subject, it cannot be essential to his teachings.

Predictably, many respondents had a problem with this first point. “After all,” some said, “Jesus didn’t mention rape or child abuse. Does that mean he didn’t care about those things?”

I wish the church did care more about rape and child abuse. It is ironic, when so much of the church covers up child abusing priests, or tells sexually abused wives to go back to their husbands, that anyone would use this argument, but yes, it is technically correct to say Jesus didn’t mention those words. But his teachings would clearly preclude any such abuse because he did address the misuse of power. The essence of rape is not sexual. Rape is essentially abuse of power expressed sexually. It is easy to infer a condemnation of any form of sexual abuse in the words of Jesus. But where is that same condemnation for loving same sex relationships implied in the actual words of Jesus?

Further, that whole argument is distorting what I actually said. I didn’t say that just because Jesus didn’t mention something, that we can assume he wouldn’t care about it. I said that it is dishonest to pretend that a topic is essential to Christianity when Jesus didn’t even mention it.

When conservatives pretend that abortion or homosexuality are central issues for Christianity, it is fair to ask them “whose Christianity?” I realize those meager references to homosexuality in the Bible jump out for some people, but why should others have to suffer because you are reading scripture through a lens of sexual obsession? Who gave you permission to put words in Jesus’ mouth?

I felt the respondents made a stronger argument when they said that because the whole Bible is inspired by God, the whole text can be said to be the words of Jesus. I say it is a stronger argument, not because I agree, but I think it is consistent within their assumptions that the bible was dictated word for word. I understand from that perspective that someone would say, “You can’t just pick and choose what you like from the text. Every word in scripture carries the same weight.”

Here’s is the problem with that argument. Jesus himself emphasized some things and deemphasized others, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23)

Jesus is both saying that the whole Bible matters, but he is also saying we should not give all scripture the same weight, which is why we no longer stone disobedient children. In fact, Jesus modeled disobeying the literal meaning of scripture when such obedience would be unloving. The reason people got mad at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath was that to do so broke the literal meaning of scripture. When he touched unclean people he was violating the very laws that fundamentalists now use to condemn homosexuals.

I had a biblical professor in Seminary who often said, “Don’t major in minors.” He was saying to focus on the great themes of scripture not the isolated verses. Literalism feels more religious, but it requires us to ignore the great themes of the text. The the original Bible wasn’t numbered, so it didn’t even have the verses we argue over today. When we pick verses out of context they become like “legos” we can use to construct a theology Jesus never intended.

Jesus said the whole law is summarized by two commands, “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” If you say you are a follower of Jesus, he should have some say in what it is you are calling his religion. So, my fundamentalist friend, what I am asking you to do is lay down your Calvin or other fundamentalist commentaries, and get thee back to the Sermon on the Mount.