Mel White and the GLBT Christians who traveled to Lynchburg to demonstrate their love and faith accomplished their mission. They went, they listened, and they told personal stories of their experiences with God. Special thanks to Steve Schalchlin, Lawrence Reh, and other friends who have written and shared their experiences in Lynchburg with the rest of us. The response of Jerry Falwell and his associates was not all that we had hoped might happen, but their response was itself very important and revealing.
Jerry Falwell said that much of his extreme anti-gay rhetoric was developed by his advertising agency in his promotional and financial campaigns. This is shocking to me. If Jesus had hired the political/religious consultant firm of Caiaphas, Judas, and Associates to design his ministry, the Gospels would have been completely different, and, in fact, we probably would never have heard of them.
The extreme importance of our mission of information and truth about the Bible and homosexuality as set forth in my web site and book on “Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse” was obvious from much of the response to Mel White and those who shared in his mission of outreach, love, and truth.
JESUS WAS NEW AND INCLUSIVE
My own conclusion at this point in my studies and ministry is that the Gospels clearly demonstrate two consistent facts about Jesus. The first is that Jesus was always creative, new, and different. Jesus was revolutionary and challenged all of the ancient traditions and “made all things new”. The main teachings and actions of Jesus in the Gospels are presented as something new that had never happened before in the forms and with the effects manifested in Jesus. The second is that Jesus was always consistently inclusive and accepting of all people, which itself was also brand new and unexpected. Looking for these two features of “new” and “inclusive” has led me to appreciate the underlying meaning of a lot of the stories about Jesus that did not seem clear before.
FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND
All four Gospels tell the story of the feeding of the multitude (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13), giving basically the same account in each Gospel. This the only miracle in Jesus’ ministry that is included in all four Gospels. Many scholars have debated the question of how the food was multiplied and whether or not everyone shared what they had when the young boy shared his food. This preoccupation with how the food was multiplied misses the two obvious features of this story that tells about a brand new and extraordinarily inclusive event.
Others before Jesus had provided unexpected food in the wilderness. Moses provided the manna, and Elijah and Elisha miraculously fed the hungry. What was new about Jesus feeding the multitude? We miss the impact of the story if we neglect the details.
Several years ago I was preparing a study of this event as recorded in The Gospel of John and was struck by the statement that these things took place near Tiberias. I visited Tiberias in 1958 on a study trip with Dr. William Morton of Southern Baptist Seminary. Tiberias was the capitol of the Roman Province of Galilee, but since it was built on a site that contained tombs, the Jews would not live in the city. I had never put these things together before. The multitude that Jesus faced on that day was a mixed multitude of people from many races, religions, cultural traditions, beliefs, and situations in life.
The crowd included Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, lepers, cripples, children, men, women, outcasts, “sinners,” the “unclean”, soldiers, Pharisees, priests, and a cross section of humanity. Jesus told them to recline on the grass. The term “recline” was used in describing the Last Supper and was the posture that one assumed when dining in the home of a friend. To “recline” was to become vulnerable to an enemy. The rigidly observed custom at the time was that you did not eat with anyone of a different rank, race, religion, or other social or cultural distinction from yourself.
Many examples of this custom are found throughout the Bible. See Galatians 2:11-21, where Paul condemned Peter, “for prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing those of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.”
Jesus challenged the legally enforced separation of people from one another and invited the whole multitude to share food with him. He blessed the food and gave it to the disciples to distribute. The recovery of 12 baskets full of food is highly symbolic in saying that the multitude is the new people of God, the new 12 tribes of Israel, based not on law or race but based upon Jesus and the one whom Jesus represents. Nobody was left out. All were filled. Jesus represented both God and all humanity, as he did in his baptism, his life, and his death and resurrection.
Look in the Gospels for what is truly new and radically inclusive. The truth about Jesus is not hard to find in the Gospels. The truth is everywhere. Don’t be distracted by traditional interpretations that ignore what is truly new and what clearly teaches and demonstrates the unconditional inclusive love of God for all. To follow Jesus is to celebrate human diversity.
Jesus was condemned for “eating with sinners” and for associating with outcast and “unclean” people. Whatever Paul might have said about problems related to issues that divided early believers in certain often uncertain situations in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere, nothing Paul had to say can negate the clear teachings and actions of Jesus that all people have equal value before God and the obvious fact that Jesus demonstrated his acceptance and identification of himself with all people by eating with them and inviting them to share a meal together.
It all depends on whether we follow Jesus or somebody else.
The use of out-of-context selected Bible verses to avoid “eating with sinners” as a sign of rejection and judgment against homosexuals is just like the selected use of a few incorrectly translated and misunderstood verses to condemn and reject homosexuals in the first place.
Never underestimate the destructive power of ignorance. Misinformation about the Bible and the true meaning of following Jesus is of incredible and inexcusable danger to GLBT believers. A recent news item pointed out that 28 gay men have been murdered since the vicious killing of Matthew Shepard a year ago.
This information is sobering in itself, however, it is pale when you realize that in the past year, thousands of GLBT people have committed suicide because of the relentless religious, family, and social pressure against them. Many thousands more have given up on life and engaged in self-destructive attitudes and actions that have effectively destroyed their self-esteem and their will to live. “The truth will set you free,” but the truth has to be seen as true.
Repeated errors in biblical interpretation and religious teachings about homosexuals and homosexuality along with a blatant denials of the clear findings of the medical and psychiatric professions about homosexuality have poisoned the air that millions of people are forced to breathe in their churches.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can give a bigot the truth, but you can’t make him think.
We have no choice but to keep praying, keep sharing our personal testimony, keep loving, keep dialogue going, and keep following Jesus in all things.
Thank you, Mel and Gary. You and all of our “Soulforce” friends who went with you have our love and appreciation.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.