Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. -Colossians 2:18-19
On a recent Prairie Home Companion radio show, Garrison Keillor was playing a singing cowboy in a talent contest at the state fair. He didn’t get too far in his song before the judge yelled, “Disqualified!” “What?” Keillor the cowboy asks, “What did I do?” “You ‘whooped’,” the judge informs him. “There’s no ‘whooping.’ You’re disqualified.” Keillor is confused. No ‘whooping’? “Well,” the judge says, “if we let one person ‘whoop’ then everyone will get up there and think they can ‘whoop.'” The contest is ultimately won by a man who does a loon call as a song. Keillor, as the cowboy, is fit to be tied. “Why isn’t that ‘whooping’?” he asks incredulously.
To gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians, the rules that disqualify us from God’s realm by more conservative factions in the church seem just as arbitrary. LGBT people are shunned while other “sinners” – murderers, adulterers, financial cheats, or others with less than stellar moral convictions, are welcomed heartily as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The difference, we’re told, is that they have “repented” of their sin – but we, as “practicing” LGBT people have not. We are rightly confused by this excuse to disqualify us from God’s realm. It’s like disqualifying us for ‘whooping’ while someone doing a loon call wins the contest.
The difference, that they won’t acknowledge, is that being LGB or T, and living into that reality, is not a “sin” in need of repentance any more than being heterosexual is a “sin” in need of repentance. Being who we are is no sin. Now, if a LGB or T person murders someone, commits adultery, cheats another, or commits another moral sin, then we can talk about their need for repentance.
What is apparent here is that the “rules” that disqualify us are simply made up by the conservative Christians and have no basis in the Bible or simple fairness. Paul has good advice: “Do not let anyone disqualify you!” No one has the right to say that you are not welcome in God’s realm. All are welcome – no matter who they are, what they’ve done, what they haven’t done, or what sins they have committed. Just as we are welcome in God’s realm, so are the conservative Christians who would block our acceptance.
The problem for conservative (or fundamentalist) Christians is that, for them, God’s love is a zero-sum game. If God loves gay and lesbian people, then God can’t possibly love them. God’s love is either/or – they can’t imagine a God whose love is both/and. But, hear the good news: God’s love is not a zero-sum game. 1 John tells us that God IS love – which means love is omnipotent, all-powerful, all-mighty, and all encompassing. If God is love itself, and God loves us, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t love them.
The game the conservatives play is the one where they lie to us so often about God that we believe God doesn’t love us. They know their lie has been completely and totally accepted and internalized by LGBT people when they abandon God all together.
But, who can blame LGBT people for abandoning God? They’ve been given a picture of God that is one of a hateful deity who plays favorites – loves some more than others – and will damn a good part of His (and it’s always “His”) creation to the pits of a fiery hell for all eternity. They’ve been told that their very existence disgusts this God so much that this God hates them and will condemn them unless they “repent” of their sexuality. If I believed any of that about God I’d stop believing in God, too.
If anyone needs repentance, it’s those who have borne false witness about God. “Love is of God,” we are assured in 1 John 4:7. Those who love, then, the verse concludes are “born of God and knows God.” Therefore, love – genuine, caring, and mutual love – between two men or two women, is from God.
But wait, there’s more! 1 John continues – at verse 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”
Fear is the main weapon of those seeking to exclude LGBT people from God’s realm. Be afraid, they tell us, because God will damn you for who you are if you dare live into it. You will be punished! Be afraid, because if you actually dare to live into how God created, we may come and take your life from you ourselves. Meaning, if God doesn’t punish you sufficiently, we will.
LGBT people are afraid for good reason – many who espouse a belief in God have no problem advocating, or even inflicting, physical violence on us. By lying about God and trying to instill fear in us, they are already doing mental and spiritual violence to us. Physical violence is not a big leap after that. But, perfect love – the love that God really does offer to every single person on this earth, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity – is a love that is not based on fear. We don’t come to God out of fear, but out of love, because God “first loved us,” as 1 John 19 concludes. We are drawn to God because of this perfect, fearless, love.
Anyone who makes you fearful of God is not loving, and therefore, according to 1 John, is NOT of God. Do not let anyone disqualify you – especially those who try to scare you away from God (or try to scare you to God). Instead, let us refuse to play their zero-sum game and counter their fear with love.
“Beloved, let us love one another … if we love one another, God abides in us and God’s love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7, 12
So whether we ‘whoop’ or sing like a loon – we are all winners in God’s realm. Whoopee!
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.