by Mark Sandlin
This is a bit long for a blog post, but some may find it to be a helpful resource. I wrote the piece for another project and it just wasn't a good fit. Honestly, if you are well read on the issue of the Bible and its take on homosexuality (or lack thereof), there is little new in here. For you, I hope this can be a quick reference. If you are not well read on such things, this may be a bit of a bumpy ride, but bumpy rides can be a lot of fun. Either way, I hope I was able to take what is sometimes thick reading, albeit important reading, and make it at least bearable and mostly straight forward.
Christianity and “Biblical” Hatefulness
We Christians are good at a lot of things. Helping others. Dressing up on Sunday. Quoting scripture. Pot luck meals. Taking care of church members. Weddings. Funerals. Worship. But perhaps the thing at which we are the most persistently exceptional is misinterpreting the Bible then running amuck in the world because of it. Honestly, mad skills. And history backs me up on this one.
We have used the Bible to support, promote and act upon some pretty un-Christian things: slavery, holocaust, segregation, subjugation of women, apartheid, the Spanish Inquisition (which, no one ever expects
), domestic violence, all sorts of exploitation and the list could go on and on. Oddly, if you ask theologians to pick one biblical theme to rule them all, most of them would say “love”... well, love and grace. Okay, love, grace and forgiveness. Fine. They probably would not specifically agree on a single term, but they would most likely name something that is, in every way, the opposite of the oppression, belittlement, hatred and marginalization represented by the numerous atrocities committed by the Christian Church.
More times than not, these atrocities are the result of trying to play God, pretending as if one group of people has complete knowledge of God's will and is more blessed or chosen by God. Not surprisingly, the people who see the world this way are always exactly the people who also happen to belong in the group they believe to be the uber-blessed. Lucky them.
Time and time again, Jesus made it clear that we should not put ourselves in the place of playing God and that, unlike far too many humans, God welcomes and loves us all equally. Period.
But we keep doing it. We keep doing it even though each time after we argue, name-call, suppress others and fight for centuries, falsely playing the role of heavenly judge and jury, we slowly realize that we got it wrong. We realize that, in fact, Paul was not promoting slavery. We learn to contextualize his statements and letters. We become more skilled at interpreting the original Greek and, over time, we decide to stop quoting the Bible to support slavery (or the subjugation of women, or racism, etc.) because we finally come around to realizing that, as Rob Bell's book points out, biblically love wins. Always.
And so we find ourselves here again. Doing the thing we do best: misinterpreting the Bible and ruining lives with it. We are, once again, ignoring the biblical bias for those who are marginalized, abused, belittled and negatively judged. Ignoring the biblical directive to show all the children of God love (and grace... and forgiveness). Hate By Any Other Name
Oh sure, this time around we have “softened” our approach, saying things like “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but we fail to recognize that what we are calling a “sin” and the person we are calling a “sinner” are one and the same. A person whose sexual orientation is homosexual, or bi-sexual, or queer can no more separate themselves from their sexuality than a heterosexual person can. It's like saying “hate the toppings, love the pizza.” It's just not the pizza without the toppings. We just aren't loving the person if we don't love the whole person.
I suspect the “softening” of the language we use has everything to do with making us feel better and very little with making LGBTQ folk feel better, because it certainly doesn't make them feel any better. As a matter of fact, the love/hate (emphasis on hate) relationship that the Church continues to push on this group of people only serves to push them into closets and into even darker places, which sometimes leads to suicide. The Church and its approach to this issue are at fault for most of the hurt, anguish, self-doubt, abuse and death associated with being LGBTQ. Not very loving. Not very grace filled. But it certainly leaves us in need of forgiveness.
Many Christians have lost their way in this twisty, turny maze of how to practice our faith. We would much rather reinforce the things we want to believe than believe the sometimes difficult teachings of Jesus. Who, on a side note, never said a word about homosexuality but did tell us to gouge out our lustful eyes. Which seems to me is more likely to leave us all blind than the “eye for and eye” thing.
(Mark is a member of Salem Presbytery, PC(USA), which will be voting Saturday, April 9 on Amendment 10-A to "The Book of Order" concerning ordination standards. [UPDATE: 10-A passed in Salem Presbytery: 186-107-2. UPDATE #2: PC(USA) passed Amendment 10 making it possible for local governing bodies to ordain LGBTQ members.)
Here's the thing. There are gay ministers. Always have been, always will be.
Surprisingly, at least if you listen to the Anti-Gay Minister Movement (yes, that's a name I just made up), the church hasn't gone to Hell in a hand basket because of it.
The thing that confuses me, to a degree at least, is the fact that the very people who want to keep gay minsters silent (effectively living a lie in order to follow the call which God has put upon their heart) would also recognize how important it is to live a life that is real and honest if you ever hope to grow closer to God. Some of them may even go as far as to agree that the ability to fully be who God made you to be and to be fully loved at the same time is a gift of the grace of God. Yet, they are not willing to extend that same grace for a specific group of people: gays called into ministry.
No single group is as marginalized in the Christian church, particularly in relationship to ordination, as the gay community. Interestingly enough, the only thing Jesus ever said about homosexuality was, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Oh wait, that wasn't about homosexuality at all, was it? Come to think of it, that was about all of us, wasn't it? Well, food for thought nonetheless.
At some point, those who stand against ordaining people whose sexual orientation happens to be homosexual are going to have to admit that they believe two things that most of the rest of the Christian community do not see as core values in the teachings of Jesus: 1) that God's love comes in degrees; that God loves some people more than others; that if you are gay you are less worthy of that love and hence less capable of being called into ministry and 2) they personally know better than the individual who feels called into ministry whether or not God is actually calling them into ministry.
Personally, I have to say, I'm completely over the archaic arguments of "it's a sin" or" it's a choice that can be 'cured.'" To even engage in these arguments is to accept that they are rational, reasonable and have some hint of the truth in them. I suspect, but would never presume to say I know, that God laughs every time we do engage in those arguments. Well, maybe not every time. The way biblical texts are contorted and misused for the express purpose of marginalizing this specific group of people probably comes about has close to ticking God off as I imagine God might get. If these same people had fought to keep me out of ministry (I'm divorced; but they wouldn't do that being that many of them are also divorced) and were picketing Red Lobster every Friday night with “God Hates Shrimp Lovers” signs, I might feel a little bit differently, but they don't, so I don't.
For that matter, why aren't we already ordaining lesbians? Out of some 31,000 verses, the Bible only has one verse that is even remotely judgmental about two women having a loving relationship and Leviticus alone has multiple verses condemning the consumption of shellfish. It just may be that this is less about biblical perspectives and more about personal preferences. Kind of ironic isn't it? People who claim being gay is a choice are making the choice to condemn begin gay in the face of a largely missing condemnation of it in the Bible particularly when compared to other 'sins' which the Church has, in large part, chosen to overlook. Just a thought.
My argument for ordaining homosexuals into ministry? We already do it and many of them are among the wisest, hardest working, nurturing, insightful, creative, inspiring, spiritual and loving people in ministry. They do it even though many in ministry want them out, profess to “hate their sin” (but love the sinner – how nice), criticize them, judge them, marginalize them and use them as scapegoats for everything that goes wrong in the world (particularly those things insurance companies call “acts of God.”). I submit, as my main witness in this debate, the works of already ordained gay ministers. We straight ministers should be as forgiving, loving, positive, giving and hopeful in the face of criticism, accusations and judgment as they are. What a wonderful world that would be – Kingdom of God like, even.
I'm not asking you to agree with me or disagree with me. Your choice is your choice. I'm just a bit weary of the hypocrisy in the Church over this particular matter and needed to say it out loud. It's time to stop the divisive infighting. It's time to turn outward to the world and get to worrying about the things about which Jesus actually did have something to say: loving our neighbors, advocating for the marginalized, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, mending up the broken hearted and proliferating peace. What a wonderful world that would be – Kingdom of God like, even.