Persecutions and the Fullness of Life
By: Stephen Hanchett
"If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19)
Many Christians seem to believe that whenever a Christian group is denied the free use of a public building because of the separation of church and state, this is a form of persecution - or when the public schools teach their children about evolution, but fail to teach the Biblical Story of Creation they learned in Sunday School, that they are once again being persecuted for their beliefs. Their definition of persecution seems roughly equivalent to that of a spoiled child who expects to always get their way, and when they don't, they cry out as if they're being cruelly mistreated.
As Christians, we really aren't being persecuted just because the laws aren't always tailored to suit our every whim, desire, or prejudice. According to a 2001 poll by the Barna Group, 85% of Americans call themselves Christian. It's difficult to imagine how that other 15% would be able to persecute the vast Christian majority, especially living in a democratic Republic. Though there are Christians being persecuted in China, and in some predominantly Moslem countries, this goes on without most Americans ever noticing, let alone doing much about it.
When Jesus talked about persecutions he was talking about the sort of hatred that's directed at someone when they are perceived as very different - not just because you go to church every Sunday, and your neighbors only go on Easter and Christmas, or because you call yourself 'born-again,' while other Christians don't. Persecution happens whenever people perceive your values or lifestyle as being profoundly different.
Gays and lesbians are hated in exactly that way. They are hated because they are perceived as being different from the vast majority of people styling themselves heterosexual. Our sexuality is very important in that we typically spend a lot of time thinking about sex, and most people end up centering their domestic life around the person of the opposite sex to whom they've chosen to remain faithful. Our world is centered around the heterosexual lifestyle - that is the way of the world- and the world loves it's own, and doesn't easily abide the unconventional.
This means as long as you are heterosexual - or you just play along even if you aren't - the world will reward you with a marriage license, children, tax breaks, and a host of other fringe benefits, all intended to make your life secure and happy. Most importantly, the world will enthusiastically approve of your 'heterosexual lifestyle,' and everyone will congratulate you for settling down, getting married, and raising a family of your own. The world cannot hate you, because you are just like the vast majority of people living in the world today - and just as Jesus pointed out, the world loves its own, though it tends to persecute those who are different. The world hates gays and lesbians because it sees them as being very different in a way that is very important to the rest of the world - their sexuality. And even though Jesus never indicated that our sexuality was very important to him, it's certainly very important to the world.
"If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20)
Most Christians in America aren't that different from everyone else. They may use Christian jargon a lot more than most people, and they many may have adopted somewhat radical and right-wing political views; yet it almost seems as if they're over-compensating for the fact that they remain just as materialistic and worldly as everyone else. They may be even prouder, less loving, and more intolerant than most people. It's not so much that they're different, as whatever differences there are tend to cancel each other out … and then some.
If they seem less like other people in more superficial aspects like speech and politics, they often seem more solidly allied with the world in their hypocrisy, arrogance, intolerance, and greed. No, the world doesn't really hate born-again Christians; it is they along with the rest of the world that hate gays and lesbians for being different.
"the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:14)
Of course, Jesus wasn't only talking about gays and lesbians when he warned that the world would hate us; though he was explaining how the world tends to hate those who are truly different. He wanted all of his followers to be different - not so that they could be persecuted, but so that they could help to change the world. The world cannot change itself, and it follows that people who conform to the ways of the world cannot thereby change the world. Adapting and working within the system was not something that Jesus advocated, since that really meant becoming as corrupt and hypocritical as the world itself. Jesus knew that only people who practiced a much different lifestyle could significantly change things; though the same thing that makes someone very different and able to change the world, also makes them hated.
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savior, wherewith shall it be salted?" (Matthew 5:13)
Jesus saw his disciples as light and salt in a fallen world. He had chosen them, taken them out of their former occupations and lifestyle, and instructed them in a much different way to live. Jesus advocated a radically alternative lifestyle, and that's why the Christian faith was/is/will always be revolutionary.
Unfortunately, most Christians in America have lost their distinctiveness. They are no longer salt and light in a fallen world, nor are they being persecuted for their distinctiveness. On the contrary: they have become the promoters of a growing religious hypocrisy; the conservative defenders of the status quo (or returning to the past). Having lost their own distinctiveness, they now persecute others for theirs instead. Christians, who at one time were persecuted for their beliefs, have now so completely conformed to the world, that they are the world's designated persecutors of those who are truly different. At least in America this seems to be the case.
No, Christianity and homosexuality are not the same thing, but they do have a common foe, and the real reason that the world hates both genuine Christians and out-of-the-closet homosexuals is because they both represent a threat to the status quo. Lesbians and gays have more in common with genuine Christians than many very adaptable and worldly Christians would care to admit.
Jesus wanted his disciples to be different, not only so that they could help to change the world, but also so that they could live much fuller lives, in spite of all their persecutions. Jesus understood that the real problem was in the world's fallen, constricted, and extremely limited view of life's possibilities. Remember that Adam was created immortal, a spiritual being who had infinite possibilities; but he sold out his spiritual birthright for the sake of an apple, and a narrowly materialistic existence. Humankind fell into sin at that moment in time when all human possibilities were reduced to that fateful bite of the apple; they exchanged their spiritual birthright and communion with God for an abstract knowledge of good and evil.
The fallen world is one in which we've reduced our world to dollars, and our lives to the pursuit of material possessions. Our sins can be measured by how far we've impoverished our lives by seeking merely to enrich ourselves. We sin because we have fallen into the habit of sinning, and don't know how to extricate ourselves. Original sin is a habit that narrowed our view and perception of the world, while enslaving our lives to a more worldly and material existence. That being the case, we desperately needed someone who could free us from our bondage, and show us a much better and fuller way to live.
"The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment." (Luke 12:23)
The world retreated into materialism because people felt they could no longer trust God for their daily bread. So they fashioned a world that was much more predictable, and one that they could control - or at least seem to control - much more rigorously, without ever needing to rely upon God. Towards that end, humankind succeeded in reducing all the color, variety, and all the complications of life, to one seemingly very simple but overwhelming complication - money.
"For the love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Timothy 6:10)
At least, people tend to obsessively focus on the almighty dollar, and pretend that's all that matters in life. The only problem with the world that we've fashioned according to the almighty dollar is that it wasn't the one God created, and it isn't the much fuller spiritual life that He wanted for all of us. We've settled for what amounts to a worldly prison cell wallpapered in dollar bills, when we could have trusted in God and received all the fullness of life.
Christianity was never intended to limit our experience of life. If that's the sort of life we are leading - if we've fallen into the same dull materialistic rut as everyone else, where all we think about is money and surviving - than how can we change the world? And if everyone has to be the same as you are - how can you appreciate the fullness and rich variety of life as it exists in all the colors and styles of our humanity?
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)
The Greek word used for `abundantly', (perisos), means exceedingly abundantly, over and above, much more than is necessary, exceeding any measure, number, rank, or need. When we look around at the abundance of life all around us - in the raw beauty, variety, and differences that exist in all the diverse forms and species of life, and how they interact with each other and with the earth and the sky and through all the seasons - this is the abundance Jesus was talking about. We see much more diversity in life than seems absolutely necessary; there are exceedingly more subtle differences and unique variations between and within various species than seems to make sense.
God has blessed us with a world that is as awesomely beautiful as it is varied and complex. Wherever we travel, we can see something or someplace completely different; or even if we can't travel, the days are never exactly the same, and life around us is constantly changing with each season. This wasn't an accident, or something that got completely out of God's control - life is like this because God's beauty is like this. What we see all around us is a reflection of God's infinite love for us.
"Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
When Jesus said that he came into the world so that we could experience life more abundantly, he meant so that we could more fully experience God's love in the breathtaking fullness of the life that he has given us, in all that He has created. And when Jesus says the Kingdom of God is within us, he means that we will recognize God's Kingdom once we accept God's will, and recognize own unique role in God's Kingdom, even though this may bring on persecutions.
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)
Our world becomes God's Kingdom once we accept God's will for our life, praising Him for how wonderfully He created us. But we fall back under the influence of sin whenever we conform to the world by sacrificing that uniqueness. The moral connection between Christianity and being homosexual lies in the fact that one aspect of the fullness of life lies in the diversity of sexual expression that is found in nature, which is something that gays and lesbians participate in. Their diversity is a reflection of God's will, and to reject life's natural diversity is the same as rejecting the will of God. That's why, rather than rejoicing in life's abundance, the world persecutes those who are different; in the same way they persecuted Christ, because he didn't conform to their lifestyle.
Not only is homosexuality common in nature, but sexual reproduction is only one way of propagating species. Asexual reproduction is very common in nature, and even within sexually reproducing species, the theme of male and female is often played out in ways that would give many conservative Christians a headache if they cared to think about it. Some females play a role that's usually reserved for males, some individuals are transformed into male and female based upon local needs and conditions, and some are both male and female at the same time. Many species use sex to show dominance or submission, to cement alliances, or to reduce conflict within a group. The point being that if God had listened to the religious right when it came to assigning sexual and gender roles, the world would be an infinitely duller place than it is right now.
The diversity of sexual expression that we see in nature is a very important part of the fullness of life. Insofar as two consenting adults do no harm to others, we should welcome whatever variety we see in other people, just as we do when we see it in nature and in other species, because we are also part of nature, and we have the same Creator. Sexual and gender diversity only adds to the fullness of life. God does not change homosexuals into heterosexuals because he will not change the fullness of what he created for the sake of our bigotry and narrow-mindedness. We can lie to each other, and even lie to ourselves about who we are, but we will never be able to convince the God who created us for a reason and purpose.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
He has created differences in all of us - straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender - we are all unique, and we all contribute to the fullness and diversity of God's creation. Only with gays and lesbians, their sexuality marks a difference that also brings a lot of hatred and persecutions, inasmuch as human sexuality is fraught with powerful emotions. Though there certainly are other differences, and many other things that are unique about individuals who may also be gay or lesbian, and they contribute these as well, they don't usually tend to provoke the same sort of persecutions…unless of course you happen to be black, Jewish, Arab, Hispanic, etc.
"And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." (John 1:16)
If gays, lesbians, and transgender people are often found in creative occupations, it's by virtue of their unique experience that they are able contribute something unique to others. This isn't something that stands against God's will; it's how God created us, and exactly why He created the world as he did; so that we could all contribute something from our unique gifts and experiences in life. God didn't create us to become exactly like everyone else; He created us different in some important respects, so that we could all share something about those differences with others. We all contribute to the fullness and diversity of life by adding something about our own created differences.
Jesus wanted his disciples to retain their unique and fresh perspective on life, so that they'd have something to contribute to others. God created some people lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender so that they'd also have something to contribute from their own unique perspective. Christians were chosen to become set-apart and different from the rest of the world, so that they could contribute something from their own unique perspective as the children of God; that's why the world hates genuine Christians, and that's why both Paul and Peter called Christians 'a peculiar people.' (Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9) But homosexuals were also created and chosen to be different - even peculiar - because the same God who created lesbians and gays different from other people, also chose them to contribute something about that difference, even if they are persecuted for trying.
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
God created all people in His image, and our spirit was created in the image of God's spirit. That's what it means to be created in the image of God, because God is Spirit. The spirit that God originally breathed into Adam once he was formed from the dust is the same spirit of humanity that we were born with. Even though we are all created unique and as individuals, our spirit was created to reflect all the fullness and love of God's creation; that is to say, our spirit was made to reflect upon and praise the fullness of God, because we were created in the image of God.
Unfortunately, sin not only divided humanity from God, but it also divided people from each other, and this created wounds and divisions within every person's spirit, reflecting the divisions we see within humanity. Consequently, we lost that fullness of spirit we were created to possess.
That's also why the gift of our uniqueness is really the gift of reconciliation. We are reconciled to others in accepting their differences, and reconciled within ourselves in accepting our own. We then become reconciled to God and to ourselves, and we find within ourselves and within our spirit a new understanding and deeper appreciation for what it means to be a whole and healthy human being. We are finally able to experience the fullness and joy of being as wholly alive as God intended us to be.
But just as with any other gift, the gift of reconciliation that we both receive and have to give to other people, can be appreciated or ridiculed, valued or belittled, honored or dishonored, accepted or persecuted. It's when we appreciate, value, honor, and accept those differences that we see in ourselves as well as in other people, that we are healed within our spirit and reconciled to God. It is whenever we ridicule, belittle, dishonor, or persecute ourselves or others for being different that we wound our spirit, and forfeit that experience of the fullness of life. Because we weren't created unique in order to hide what makes us different - nor was our spirit created to only glorify our own uniqueness, or to be held prisoner to our prejudices. Our spirit was meant to rejoice in the fullness of God's creation, and to continually praise and glorify the fullness of God.
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)
Even though others might reject who we are, and reject the gift that we have for them, it is by forgiving that we become reconciled nonetheless. So that ultimately, even those who hate and persecute us can never rob us of the joy of being whole within ourselves and reconciled to God. Their choice to persecute and ridicule who we are can never overcome our free choice and decision to become reconciled in love, just as long as we also remember to forgive. By forgiving and praying for those who persecute us we find the peace and reconciliation that exists in the fullness of God. The temptation is to fall into a trap, and to become as angry and bitter as those who hate us. But in so doing we behave no better, and often condemn ourselves to leading lives that are just as narrow and empty. The only way out of the trap that persecutions have set for us is to forgive.
But how do we forgive, and find meaning and purpose in all the difficulties of our life? Potentially the most important aspect of the uniqueness of gays and lesbians is not in their sexuality alone, but it comes through persecutions. It is by suffering persecutions that God can forge within us a heart full of love and compassion for those who are poor, in distress, and who are also being persecuted. This work being done within our hearts is a gift from God, and it's the same gift that Jesus gives to all of his disciples - the ability to feel the pain of others.
"that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." (2 Corinthians 1:4)
Compassion is the greatest gift of all, and a heartfelt compassion for others in distress is a gift that is necessarily forged in adversity. It's as we help to heal others that we are healed and made whole within ourselves. The reason that we forgive those who persecute us is so that we can become an instrument of God's healing in the lives of others. We do good to those who hate us by allowing God to turn their hatred towards us into healing for others.
Most lesbians, gays, and transgender people have had an experience of life that is different from most people; but what we have to contribute is something even more important than our sexual or gender diversity. The injustice that we suffer becomes meaningful as we choose, by the grace of God, to give it new meaning. Jesus forgave and prayed for those who crucified him so that his life would have meaning for whosoever believed in him. He made his suffering into the gift of healing for others: he turned his death into the gift of life for all. So as we believe in Christ and we participate in his persecutions, our own life finds meaning and purpose, and the life that we live in Christ can become a way of healing for others.
"In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Because Christ overcame the world, we can be certain that the same spirit of love and reconciliation that overcame the world with Jesus is ours whenever we forgive others in Christ's name. People are afraid of homosexuals because they are afraid of living together with the fullness of life, as God created it. Consequently, they strive to reduce their world to one that they can control, manipulate, and ultimately persecute or spend on their own lusts, rather than trusting in the wisdom and power of God. They're afraid of the fullness of life because it's not something they can control or easily figure out in dollars and cents.
This lack of control that many fear - ever since gays and lesbians started coming out of the closet - is actually the truest measure of their lack of trust in God. Contrary to what many Christian preachers are saying these days, the danger isn't that we may all become more accepting and tolerant of each other. The real threat is in so fearing the inevitable changes that God has made part of the true abundance of life, that you would hate or do harm to others in order to avoid changing your mind or broadening your perspective. The real threat is the same as it has always been: it starts out by not trusting God, and ends up hating and persecuting your neighbors for being different.
"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Many people are so intent upon finding a few isolated scriptures to condemn homosexuality that they can't see the forest for the tress. They're so focused on telling homosexuals why God condemns their 'lifestyle,' that they've missed what God was saying by creating homosexuals in the first place. Because lesbians, gays, and transgender people are living proof that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:25)
Because even though homosexuality seems very foolish to many people, in that it goes against what many believe is the only legitimate purpose of sex - namely for procreation - lesbians and gays are an important part of the richness and variety of human experience, and by adding something of their own unique perspective, they make everyone's life that much richer and more interesting. Gay and lesbian artists, teachers, thinkers, and leaders have enriched our culture and broadened our perspective throughout the history of humanity. Therefore, we clearly see how God's foolishness in creating gays and lesbians was actually much wiser than the distilled wisdom (or cultural contribution) of Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
We also know that heterosexuals are vastly stronger in number - by at least ten to one - and that they will probably always seem mighty by comparison, to the extent that lesbians and gays have been persecuted and killed throughout the history of humankind. Nevertheless, they're still around, they're still queer, and now they're stronger and more vocal than ever before. We have all become eyewitnesses to the overpowering strength of God's apparent weakness that is demonstrated by the fact that homosexuals are winning their God-given civil rights for the first time in history, even though the much more powerful Family Research Council, doesn't even want to know they're still around.
The foolishness and weakness of God will always outshine the wisdom and strength of humanity, and because of that, gays and lesbians will still be contributing to fullness of our lives … long after the religious-right is gone and forgotten.
Stephen Hanchett is the author of The Good News for Lesbians, Gays and Straights. Visit his Web site at http://www.goodnewsforgays.com/
Copyright © by the author All Rights Reserved