Image from LivingOS (flickr)
I'm republishing the following sermon in co-ordination with an exceptional short-story written by my friend David Henson entitled "The Rain Bow." His short-story is available on Patheos or downloadable as a pdf here. I'm telling you, it is brilliant story-telling and includes brilliant insight. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
I'm re-publishing this sermon precisely because of the brilliant insight I mentioned. David was kind enough to share an early copy of his short-story with me and I complimented him on his clever wordplay with "rainbow" and "bow," to which he replied he wasn't so sure it was a play on words. So, I decided to head straight for the origional Hebrew text. Much to my surprise, and ultimately my delight, I found that David was right on the mark (if you'll pardon the pun). I knew then that I had to pull out one of my own perosnal favorite sermons and do a bit of editing to reflect this new insight. I've also updated it to reflect recent struggles in LGBT rights. You'll find both a downloadable pdf and an audio recording of this piece at the bottom of the post. So, without further adieu, I give you:
Building Arks. Surviving Floods. Rainbow Promises.
The Peanuts characters Linus and Lucy are standing at the window watching the
rain. Lucy says, "If it doesn't stop raining everything will be washed away."
"Oh no!" says Linus. "Genesis chapter 9 says that never again will God wash
"Thank you." says Lucy, "that is a great comfort to me."
Linus replies, "Sound theology will do that."
Now, some of you didn’t laugh at that. And with good reason, I’d say. The irony in that cartoon is two fold. First, when you are in the middle of a monstrous storm, an old story recorded some 3,000 years ago really isn’t all that comforting. But secondly, and possibly more disappointing, just as frequently as not “sound theology,” at least on the surface, can seem anything but comforting.
As a child I remember the Noah story being one of my favorite stories. I could pass endless hours drawing pictures of a large boat with an old man wearing a rain hat hanging over the stern. On a side note, I have to admit to being remarkably confused about how Noah actually put all those animals on one boat when I couldn’t even think of all the animals, more-or-less draw them on my sheet of paper.
The truth is, most of us really love this story. How many children’s rooms, across the US are decorated with animals, arks and rainbows all painted in vibrant pastels? Somehow, there is something comforting about it. Somehow, there is something beautiful in the promise for the future captured in an acrylic rainbow that has been painted in an exaggerated arch just over the baby’s crib.
I’d have to say my perspective has change considerably since my naïve childhood. As I come to these texts again, the reality of the chaos and violence comes crashing through with every imagined wave. This is not a pretty story and I’m not talking about how far humanity had fallen.
Place this story in modern times. What would be the newspaper headline? One noted reporter penned this headline for the Noah Flood Event, “God Destroys the World – One Family Survives.” Sounds like the perfect chair-rail border for the little toddler’s room doesn’t it? “God Destroys the World.” No, it really doesn’t, does it?
I like calling North Carolina home. (I know, it sounds like I stole a line from James Taylor or the Allman Brothers, but I actually think it's from a old PSA for traveling to N.C. ... sung by none other than North Carolina's own: Andy Griffith). But seriously, I like calling North Carolina home.
I mean, what's not to like? We have majestic mountains for snow skiing. Beautiful, uncrowded beaches that are perfect for sunbathing or bodysurfing. Over 120 colleges and universities. We are “first in flight” with the Wright Brothers and we are the site of the Woolworth Sit-in (which is now the home of the International Civil Rights Museum). We also have the preacher who told his congregation to knock the gay out of their “limp-wristed sons” and the guy who became a YouTube sensation by blowing holes in his teenaged daughter's laptop for complaining like a... well, teenager. And, we are voting in just a few days to make same-sex marriage, which is already not legally recognized in the state, a constitutionally prohibited thing. Ah, soak in the goodness and machismo of the Tarheel State. Come in and stay awhile. Ya'll come back now, ya' hear?
Oh... and our state bird is the Cardinal (almost forgot).
Yep, the Cardinal is a gorgeous bird, particularly the males who are a brighter red than the females. Considering the beautiful landscapes of our state, what a perfect bird to represent us! And the Cardinal is a terribly aggressive bird. Considering the machismo of some of our residents (even some of our preachers), what a perfect bird to represent us.
Don't get me wrong, I really do like calling North Carolina home, but I'm not going to pretend like we don't have our problems. As a minister, some of the problems are terribly concerning to me. Recently, one particular problem keeps floating to the top – machismo.
My concern began growing stronger when this guy started blowing holes in his daughter's laptop as a way to teach her a lesson:
I'm not sure what lesson he was trying to teach her, but the one she was likely to walk away with was: Violence solves problems. Or maybe: Many men prefer to solve problems with violence. The first conclusion is sadly wrong and the second is sadly sometimes true.
But that's not what I found most concerning about the whole thing. What bothered me the most was the way the dad was cheered on by so many other parents. Even those of us who tried to point out the aggressive and violent nature of his actions received aggressive and violent responses from people who were defending their right (need/desire?) to be... well, aggressive and violent.
Then, along comes Amendment One. An attempt to make it constitutionally illegal for two people who are in love but happen to be of the same sex to get married. Which is a stereotypically hyper-masculine thing for which to advocate all by itself, but the language of the amendment is so vague that it actually makes it harder for a woman, who is being abused by a man she is living with but not married to, to get protection via the state. Fantastic, a constitutional amendment that not only tries to normalize the false Christian notion that the Bible prescribes marriage to only be between one man and one woman
, but also makes it easier for one man to abuse one woman (or quite frankly, more if he feels so moved). Seriously, whoever picked the aggressive Cardinal as a state bird was some kind of a soothsayer... or, more probably, male and he simply self-identified.
The most resent national display of this hyper-masculinity of the Tarheel soul comes from Pastor Sean Harris who in a sermon which told his congregants to vote for Amendment One (can someone please get the IRS to revoke their tax exempt status?), also told them to knock the gay out of their “limp-wristed” sons. Yes, really. He, of course, now says it was just a joke, has apologized and even sort of retracted his statement, but why don't we let you
decided if it was a joke or if it sounds like he didn't really mean it. You can listen to him here
(as welll as the laughter of the congregation). Or just read the transcript below:
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“So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is 4 years old, and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, 'Man up, son! Get that dress off you, and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do!' you get out the camera, and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female, and then you upload it to YouTube, and everybody laughs about it, and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid, is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed ... Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. OK? 'You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male, and you are going to be a male.'”
You can almost feel the testosterone oozing through your computer can't you?
Well, I'm tired of sitting by and simply shaking my head over all of this or just posting a particularly well worded Facebook status update to express by deep sense of disdain. So, Rev. Zac Bailes of libsandcons.com and I came with a campaign to let people like Pastor Harris
know that there are Christians out there who not only disagree with advocating for bullying LGBT folks (particularly kids) but that the bullying frequently has horrible outcomes.
We are asking you to send a letter (even if it's only a few lines) to Pastor Harris and along with it, send a page from your Bible or a photocopied page with a verse highlighted. It might be the verse that Zac and I are using, Micah 7:8, or you may chose Micah 6:8 or Mark 12:31 or even Psalm 23. Then across the page write the name of a child who committed suicide due to bullying. I added the age and date of their death to mine. Here's picture of the page I'm sending to him and the page Zac is sending.
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Rev. Zac Bailes of libsandcons.com
Send your pages and letters to:
Berean Baptist Church
517 Glensford Drive
Fayetteville, NC 28314
Here's the letter I'm sending:
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Dear Pastor Harris,
Greetings to you in the name of the One who called us to a vocation of serving the Prince of Peace! I hope this letter finds you doing well, even if troubled by your latests proclamation against children who are, (how did you put it?), “limp-wristed” and “effeminate”?
Let me start by saying, I am with you 100% in trying to help our congregations understand what it is that God calls them to in this life. After all, God made it. Who would know better than God about how it best works?
I do need to say, however, that we seem to disagree on what it is that Jesus was trying to teach us about God. Admittedly, with the constraints of pastoring my own congregation, I have never attended one of your services, but I have read the words from your most recent sermon and even parts of your blog. In doing so, I'm left to wonder how is it that you justify not only preaching and exclusive faith, but a violent one?
The things for which you advocate, from Amendment One to knocking the gay out of a kid, are wrapped in the clothing of privilege and exclusivity and, dare I say, even hate and machismo. It is more than just difficult to justify this when paired with the teachings of Jesus which told us to love everyone and to seek out equality for all, it's impossible.
Kids who are bullied for being who they are, you might say who God created them to be (and, yes, having their parents knock the gay out of them is a form of bullying), find themselves very conflicted between knowing who they are and wanting to please others. The lack of love and support, the lack of core Christian values, for which you are being an advocate, eventually pushes some of them to believe that it is better not to live than to live in the constant conflict and bullying for being who God made them to be. To put it as simply and directly as possible: their deaths, their blood, are on your hands and on the hands of others who advocate or practice this kind of bullying.
I've included a page from the NKJV Bible. On it you will find the name of one such child. As a collegial favor, I'm asking you to keep it on the desk where you research, reflect and pray over your sermons. May it be a reminder that God loves us all and asks us all to love one another.
Peace and blessings,
Rev. Mark A. Sandlin
Finally, while I will not ever address it directly from the pulpit. I would like to make my position clear on Amendment One. As I've referenced once already, the idea of many Christians that same-sex attraction and acting out on it are against what the Bible teaches is simply and utterly false. While it is true that our English translations were made to read that way, as I have demonstrated in my blog post “Clobbering 'Biblical' Gay Bashing
,” which draws on the best scholarship available on the topic, it is also true that the authors of the Bible never tried to address homosexuality as we understand it today, nor could they have.
Amendment One, not only tries to push this false Christian belief on the rest of society regardless of their own religious beliefs or lack thereof (which seems like a very unloving and unChristian thing to do), but because of it's poorly worded dictates it also further marginalizes folks who are already looked down upon by certain groups of people and it opens the door for those who are abused to find themselves less protected and more at risk than ever before. When I read the teachings of Jesus, a man who reached out to those society marginalized, I find no way to justify supporting Amendment One.
Amendment One is nothing more than hate on a page, legalized discrimination. It is divisive, damaging and disingenuous for those who truly seek to follow the teachings of Jesus. There is nothing loving, supportive or nurturing about it. Its end results will only be to limit love, to hurt those who are already being hurt and to further divide the Body of Christ. As a Christian and as a minister, I cannot, I will not, vote in favor of it. I will be voting against Amendment One and I am asking you, in the name of the One who loves us and asks us to love one another, to do the same.
I really do like calling North Carolina home. I just want it to be a place everyone would like to call home.