“The empty tomb we celebrate today
represents to me
faith in the unseen
That with faith and hope in the goodness of
and love for and gratitude to God
Miracles are a reality
And anything is possible for one who believes”
— John H. Campbell, Easter, 2000
I won’t engage in a tirade of apologetics, nor feel compelled nor the need to defend my personal assertion that belief in the Resurrection as a literal and physical event is not to me essential to my beliefs as a liberal Christian. I will go so far as to say that I believe that the eyewitness accounts in the Gospels of those who say they saw Jesus may have, in fact been those who said they saw him witnessing a spiritual manifestation of His Spirit. I have a personal belief that His Spirit lives in and is a very real spiritual presence in my life as well as the lives of many other Christians but I think that even that is not essential to seeing the beautiful symbolism of what I think the Resurrection means. To me, in a nutshell, it symbolizes that the love that is God, and what I feel God truly is, cannot and will not ever die, for it is eternal and unending, there for us forever, most prevalent to me in the Spirit of Christ in my heart.
There are Christians who feel that the only “true” form of Christianity is reliant upon at least one and more often three key factors, all of which figure into the Resurrection story in some way. Those factors are: that Jesus was God assuming a human form; that the death and suffering of Christ was to “atone for the sins” of a fallen Creation; and that Christ rose from the dead in a literal and physical sense until the ascension. I want to focus on how I interpret these three theological concepts to express how I feel they are relevant to my faith as a radically liberal bisexual and polyfidelitous Christian, and express what the Resurrection means to me.
In a way, Jesus was God in a human form, but to me every human being is an expression of God in a human form. However, Christ, to me, through His teachings and His love captured the essence of the true and loving nature of God more dramatically than any human being ever has, in both His life and His death, as well as the promise that His Spirit would always be with us. That is not to say that I feel that Christianity, as a “religion,” is a better or the only way. I feel that in order for anyone, regardless of religious path to truly experience One-ness with God, the teachings of Christ light the path. Teachings such as: the Kingdom being within us all; the Spiritual Law of sowing and reaping; the Commandment to Love God and Love One Another as being the Greatest; the healing forgiveness offers; the path of peace, love, and non-judgmental acceptance as being the Highest Way; love for all of God’s Children, not just those who love us in return; and the teaching that Love is more important than religious law, dogma, and doctrine, and many others. These are, in my personal opinion, the master key to truly finding connection to God, regardless of the name one has for God. Christ, to me, was a flesh and blood embodiment for all that in my heart I believe God to be, and His teachings, although often misquoted and distorted by those who desire to further their own agenda, are very clear and timeless. So while I may not believe that Jesus was God in a “literal” sense of God putting on human clothes to walk the Earth, I do believe that Jesus truly was One with God, and that the love that is God was being expressed through the life of Christ.
Jesus did die for us, in that He gave His life to ensure that we got His message. But I do not believe His death was to atone for the “sins” of all humankind to appease a God who was displeased with us. Instead, I believe He willingly sacrificed Himself out of a greater love than anyone before Him had ever displayed. A love that was willing to suffer and die so that He might let us know of the true and loving nature of God. A God who not only Created but affirms us all, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual, celibate, monogamous and polyamorous, liberal, moderate and conservative, male and female, all races and religions. A God that calls us not to “repent” of our natural sexual orientation or sexuality, but who only calls us to show our gratitude for this wonderful world and the lives God has blessed us with by our love for one another. A God that was attempting to enlighten humankind, who had already, in the early stages of our civilization and evolution, begun to equate love for God with strict adherence to religious laws and doctrines. Jesus showed that the truest way to worship God was through letting God’s love flow through us to others, and not to allow fear to obscure our connection to God.
We too, as LGBT Christians, may relate to the concept of feeling persecuted by many conservative and fundamentalist Christians for our radically inclusive visions of Christianity in very much the same way Jesus was persecuted for His visions by the religious leaders of His day. Tragically, for many of us who have come out in a judgmental environment, it has led to our being symbolically “crucified” by the churches, exiled from their narrow vision of the “Kingdom of God,” that is influenced more by their personal prejudices than deep-seated religious or biblical beliefs. Far too many have found not only their sense of belonging, but also their very faith seemingly put to a painful death. Like Jesus on the cross, we can identify the feeling that God has forsaken us. Many have, unfortunately, silently put their faith in Christianity into a sealed tomb of dark hopelessness. I know that I did, for many years, after feeling that I was somehow an “unworthy” child of God due to the repressive teachings of the church I attended in my adolescence and young adulthood.
Yet, deep inside, I know now that God had never truly forsaken me. Instead, God was calling me to a new life and a new understanding of God’s love in a place where I could truly feel affirmed and accepted, this time TRULY “Just As I Am,” by the God who Created me that way. And it was my faith that underwent a miraculous Resurrection, as well as really feeling God’s unconditional love for the first time in my entire life.
God Does Not Change, But We Do
Traditional Christians may accuse liberal Christians such as myself as believing that “God has changed,” and accuse us of “rewriting the Bible.” God has never “changed,” but human understanding of God, in light of the discoveries humankind has made regarding issues such as human sexuality, psychology and sexual orientation, has changed. I know with all my heart that if Jesus walked the Earth in human form, His concern would not be whether we believe one word or every word of the Bible verbatim, nor what our sexual orientation or sexuality was, but how we were expressing God’s love to one another. When, after years of spiritual death after having been cast out by the fundamentalist churches I grew up in, I renewed my faith and accepted Christ not as a magical “get out of hell free” card but as the guiding force in my heart, and His teachings of love for God and neighbor as my spiritual compass, I truly did feel as if I was resurrected to new life. For the first time I felt truly one with God and committed to doing the best I could to being a conduit of God’s love to all others. I could do this while still being true to who I am, instead of living up to human ideas of a God that seemed more like a construct of people determined to write their own prejudices based on fear into the words of Christ.
As far as the assertions that the Resurrection was a literal physical event, where the flesh and blood body of Christ rose from the tomb to walk again, I believe that the reported “eyewitness” accounts may have, in fact, been his followers seeing him in a spiritual form. They did not witness a literal “physical” resurrection but a spiritual one, as I firmly belief that the soul is eternal and never dies. But, to me, on a metaphorical level, the resurrection narrative is an allegory to represent that the way and the ethic of love that the real person of Christ taught would never die, even after physical death and that all life is somehow never ending. The followers of Christ, to me, had a deep sense of spiritual awareness that although the person of Jesus was no longer among them in a physical form, all of the love and the path He had taught to bring us each closer to God on a personal and intimate level lived on. Because of that His Spirit was still very much alive. On an even broader metaphor, I feel the story of the Resurrection is a testimonial that with faith in God and love, and through following the teachings and faith of Christ, miracles truly are possible.
For me, as a Christian and as a bisexual in honest, committed relationships with both a female partner and male partner, these interpretations are key elements of my faith. The teachings of Jesus, which I feel are a human expression of a better way, one based in love and not fear, are all at once both challenging yet liberating. In the Word made flesh that Christ represents to me, I see a God that is far more concerned with our spiritual behavior than sexual orientation or sexuality. The Love that is God that was expressed in human form through the life of Jesus Christ, cannot, and will not ever die. God’s Love will never leave us, especially in our darkest hour and time of need.
‘Believe? I Know!’
I have seen many efforts to prove biblical events, from the research surrounding the Shroud Of Turin to archeological research to the search for Noah’s ark, even though many theological scholars have long since concurred to be metaphorical. Some even go further, asserting claims as “proof” that God is a reality, as if life itself in all its wonder and diversity is not proof alone. As for me, I agree with what Carl Jung said when asked if he believed in God: “Believe? I KNOW!” One need not take the Bible literally to see the wonder of life, love and all of Creation and sense the Divine. One need not believe in a literal resuscitation of the body of Jesus to believe in the existence of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a very real Presence alive in the hearts of believers and in His teachings, and a Presence better experienced than merely felt or believed in or alluded to. His teachings, to me, not only have been tried and found true through the centuries for bringing us closer to God they are the key to unlocking a deep personal relationship with God.
I do not need to “see” the skies open, or see proof that Christ’s body rose after three days to know that the Spirit of Jesus is very much alive in the hearts of believers and that God is a reality. And to go a step further, one need to look no further than the wisdom God has blessed us with through science, psychology and biology to see that LGBT people are not “abominations” or those who engage in “unnatural acts,” but rather a part of the diversity that God created. Perhaps over time, as more people begin to witness the Love of God and the Spirit of Christ as something that is not limited to a literal reading of the Bible but a timeless truth that is, as all life is, eternal and not limited to one time or place or obscured by human fear, the less people will attribute their faith to adherence to fixed doctrine. Instead they can experience the reality of God, the Risen Christ in the hearts of those who believe, and the Holy Spirit that is there for us all.
So much of Christianity seems dependent on faith in the death of Christ and a literal flesh and blood Resurrection that it misses what I feel is the true Miracle — the teachings of love and the life of Christ. A life He was willing to sacrifice so that we might be free and fully know God’s Love for us regardless of our sexual orientation or sexuality, even when others to this day try to keep us “out of the Kingdom of God.” Do I believe that Christ literally and physically rose in human form to walk the Earth again? No. Do I believe that His soul, and His Spirit lives forever in my heart, and that He is there in the form of the Holy Spirit that is there for whosoever believes and invites Him to dwell in them, through doing our best to embody God’s Love the way He did, through love for God and others? Absolutely.
I know many Christians, whether liberal, conservative and moderate who disagree with my personal beliefs. But I hope they may agree with me in what I believe with all of my heart in the promise Christ made: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). For even though I was not there the day the empty tomb was supposed to have been found, or present for any of the events following the Crucifixion, I can feel His Spirit with me, every moment of every day. I may not be able to “see” Him physically. But I have an eternal faith in what cannot be seen. I can feel it in my heart.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.