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First Fruits: The Giving of the Harvest
God is Still Speaking!
In 2004, the United Church of Christ produced commercials with the tag line, "God is still speaking." The controversy that erupted was not so much over the assertion that God still speaks in this day and age, but over what the UCC was hearing God say - that Jesus didn't turn people away, and neither would the UCC. No human label straight, gay, white, black, Hispanic, disabled or anything else, would be a barrier to membership in a UCC.
That was a message that many television networks deemed "too controversial" to communicate to the masses. Certainly the UCC had misunderstood that still speaking God, for the networks, and many other religious folks were convinced that God would never say something like that, because after all, as Topeka, Kansas, anti-gay leader Fred Phelps so succinctly sums it up, "God hates fags." But, the UCC is convinced that its vision of God's realm is the correct one - so convinced, in fact, that in July 2005, the denomination voted to endorse same-gender marriage. The still speaking God that UCC has heard has told them something new, "I'm blessing even the GLBT person in your midst."
The UCC, and other denominations that are coming to understand the importance of including GLBT people in their churches, are hearing the prophet Isaiah loud and clear:
God does new things. God said so himself. Our job is to perceive it - to see those new things - to weigh those things that come to us and make sure that those new things bear the fruit of the spirit:
We have evidence of God doing new things. Jesus was God doing a new thing - sending his son into the world to show the world that being in relationship with God is not a matter of law, but of grace - not a matter of right doctrine, but a matter of right living - not a matter of right believing, but right acting - not a matter of the letter of the law but the spirit. When asked what the greatest of the laws were, Jesus responded with two - love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. That's odd for a religion that practiced eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. But, there it is - a new thing - all the laws and the prophets hang on love of God and love of neighbor as self - removing that ego before God and man. Totally a new thing.
It got Jesus killed. The Pharisees back then are not much different than our modern-day Pharisees, seeking to silence (often permanently) anyone who dares to contradict their doctrine or dogma.
But, we are called to be about our Creator's business, just like Jesus. We have the ability and the authority to recognize God doing new things in our world. Jesus renewed God's promise to continue speaking anew to each generation. In John 14:12 Jesus tells the disciples that his followers (those who have faith) will do even greater things than he did. To do greater things than Jesus means, guess what? Doing a new thing - doing something Jesus never did. A greater thing - a completely different and new thing! These things we are doing will not be recorded in the Bible, but they will still be God's work in the world.
Those who think the Bible is the be all and end all of what God has taught us worship not a living God, but a dead, leather-bound one. God does not live in a book. The Bible has not swallowed God whole and spit God back at us in the form of rules and regulations. To believe that is to make the same mistake the Pharisees made - failing to perceive God doing a new thing.
We must constantly remind ourselves that God spoke before the Bible was written and God continues to speak even though the canon is closed. Those who worship the Bible instead of the living, still-speaking God say that God would never do anything to contradict the scripture, but wasn't that the purpose of Jesus' entire ministry? Whenever Jesus opened his mouth he contradicted the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew 5, Jesus is depicted as taking the scriptural precepts of the day and not just contradicting them, but turning them inside out. The scriptures said you shall not kill, but Jesus said anyone who is angry with, or even insults, a brother or sister is condemned. The scripture said adultery is forbidden, but Jesus said just thinking a lustful thought about someone who isn't your partner is equal to adultery. The scripture proscribed an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but Jesus instructed us not to resist evil. The scripture said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
These were all brand new things that Jesus taught and they all contradicted the scripture of the day. So, yes, when Isaiah tells us that God does new things that means those things may often be so new that they contradict some of the things we hold near and dear. Ask those who defended slavery with scripture if God ever contradicts the Bible. Ask those who defended oppression of women and racial minorities with scripture if God ever contradicts the Bible. Ask those who defended laws against inter-racial marriage with scripture if God ever contradicts the Bible. Now, ask those who keep using the scripture to defend the exclusion of GLBT people from full participation in church and society if God ever contradicts the Bible.
God certainly has a great track record of doing new things that directly contradict biblical traditions, placing commas where humans have placed periods. God has liberated the slaves, women and racial minorities and reformed the idea of marriage to include racial diversity. All these things directly contradict scripture - but they demonstrate, just as effectively as Jesus demonstrated in Matthew 5, that God is still speaking, erasing periods and inserting commas, and doing brand new things.
An argument from tradition against the inclusion of GLBT people in church and society is therefore a weak one. Both the church and society had deeply held traditions of slavery, repression of women and racial minorities and discrimination against those who wish to marry. Just as society and the church have renounced these past traditions, I believe they will one day renounce the historical bias against GLBT people as well. This is just one more new thing that God is doing - our work is to help everyone perceive it.
This has been Whosoever's mission for the past ten years - helping not only the church and society understand that God is doing a new thing in our world when it comes to GLBT people, but to help our own community understand that God is calling her GLBT children home. The original vision for Whosoever was to help GLBT people understand that God's love is not conditioned on them giving up their sexual orientation, but instead, God calls us to reconcile our sexuality and our spirituality - to recognize this amazing new thing God is doing, and live fully into our wholeness. We don't have to separate from God to be GLBT and we don't have to separate from our sexual orientation or gender identity to be with God. Both sexuality and spirituality are given to us by God and to live fully we must embrace both.
When I began Whosoever, I had no idea how long it would last. I never really planned for a long-term future for Whosoever. The fact that the ministry turns ten years old this year is shocking to me - but it affirms for me that Whosoever is God's work, not mine. Whosoever is proof to me that God continues to do new things in the world. Whosoever was a brand new thing ten years ago. There were no online magazines for GLBT Christians before I put Whosoever out there. Even today, there are no organizations doing exactly what Whosoever does. God has created an entirely new thing and I am humbled beyond belief to be part of it.
I believe God has amazing plans for Whosoever's future and that this ministry will play a vital role in helping the world to realize God's new plan to fully integrate GLBT people of faith into the church and society at large.
Whosoever has been, and will continue to be, a ministry that helps people realize their full potential as loved Children of the living, still speaking God. It has been our goal to help people discover God's purpose for their lives. As Thomas Hart puts it in his book "The Art of Christian Listening:"
If we truly live as Jesus lived we live understanding that God is still at work, still speaking, still doing new things, bringing us new visions of God's purpose for our lives and our world. We are to be vigilant - praying and meditating so that we may recognize God's movement in our world. Whosoever is a movement of the spirit - one of God's new things in the world.
With the support of our readers, Whosoever will continue to play a vital role in God's purpose as the human community evolves toward fullness. We at Whosoever will continue to listen to the still speaking God, eagerly awaiting the new things that we are led to do through God's grace and guidance. We hope you'll continue to be part of our journey.
Behold, God is doing a new thing.
Do you not perceive it?
Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. She is an ordained minister and holds a master's in theological studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. She currently serves as assistant pastor at Garden of Grace United Church in Columbia, S.C. She is also a spiritual director, trained through the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She has worked for the past two decades in journalism and public relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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