Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Clearly, Jesus enjoins us to forgive others for their failings and even their hatred of us, and He does so in many contexts. Indeed, He says that we will be forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Christians know how far we fall short of God’s standards of righteousness. Without His grace, or unmerited favor, to us we could not stand before Him. We know that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves; what righteousness we do have has been imputed to us by God.
Therefore, we are obligated to forgive others, even those who persecute us through word and deed! Only God is our righteousness, and we all are sinners saved by grace. Hence, if we compare our so-called “good works” all we are doing are comparing each other’s filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
When GLBT Christians are persecuted, they are in good company! As the verses of Scripture that preceded this article state, those who are persecuted for God’s sake are blessed, and we are to realize that few, if any, prophets died in their sleep. They brought a message to the self-righteous that the latter didn’t want to hear and the smug, self-righteous, frequently killed the messenger. These messengers were sent by God, as I believe GLBT Christians have been sent, and those who loved, and were embroiled in, the darkness couldn’t stand them or their message of truth; consequently, they tortured and killed them.
So, Jesus puts it up front: we are to forgive others and indeed even pray for them who despitefully use us. However, I can find no place in Scripture that says that “forgiveness” is equivalent to “acceptance” of those who hate us or in any way pervert the Gospel of Christ!
The haters in our midst, in the Church, are usually the legalists who have their own god of do’s and don’ts that is antithetical to the Gospel message of grace, faith, peace, love, compassion, and inclusiveness. To accept and embrace them and their false gospel is to commit a grievous sin, in that we thereby tacitly affirm and reinforce their perversions of the Gospel message.
In the Christian life, there is no middle ground! We either live in the Spirit or we live by the law. The Christian lives in the Spirit; the purveyors of a false gospel (which is no gospel) live by the law. The Apostle Paul said, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” (1Corinthians 10:21)
The perverters of the Gospel message, the legalists, those who non-contextually use selected biblical passages to justify their own prejudices against GLBT people, are wittingly or unwittingly drinking and eating from the cup of devils. We are to forgive them! But we are not called upon to accept or embrace them!
They are haters and hate-mongers, demonizers, who seek to exclude from fellowship in the Church and from mainstream society those whom they do not recognize as their brothers and sisters. To affirm them by acceptance or embracing, under the false belief that that is what God wants us to do, is to make a tragic mistake. Such affirmation and embracing merely serves to reinforce the false gospel they preach; does God a terrible injustice.
If pushed to the wall, I would have to admit that my favorite book of Scripture is the book of Galatians! I feel, as did Martin Luther, who said he was married to the book of Galatians. It is the nugget, the gem, of the New Testament, and cogently delineates the Gospel message, which the books of Romans and Ephesians particularly amplify.
This beautiful book hammers home our liberty in Christ! We are not under the law, and if we seek to live under the law we nullify the grace and sacrifice of Christ. Hear Paul: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7) He goes so far as to say that these perverters of the Gospel message should be “God damned.” (Galatians 1:8-9)
These perverters of the Gospel are “false brethren” who seek to remove our liberty that we have in Christ and we are not to give place by subjection to their perversions “not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:5) Paul continues, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ … for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
The leaven that leavens the whole lump of dough is sin and in the context of sin in the Gospel message is the self-righteousness that comes from thinking that one can, must, and does live by the law, simply because he or she adheres to current culturally approved traditions and values thought to be “Christian” in nature. Were you saved by the Spirit or by the law? Were you chosen by God to know that Christ is our only hope or did you think that you chose God?
Before the worlds were formed, God chose those He called by name; not because of any righteousness on our part, but for His own purposes to be used by Him. This initiative on God’s part is known as “prevenient grace.” We tap into this grace solely by trusting God and by so doing we are living and walking in the Spirit, despite our sins; despite the constant warfare between our flesh and our spirit.
Our persecutors embrace a false gospel and to the degree we affirm them we are reinforcing their perversion of the Gospel. The Gospel means “Good News.” The good news is that God is the Alpha and the Omega; the author and finisher of our faith! Our works are completely irrelevant to the good news, for if we hang our bodies on our deeds, and seek to live up to the law, we nullify the grace and sacrifice of God on our behalf and there is no greater sin than that.
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse … But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:10-13) Those who pervert the Gospel message through their preaching of legalism and do’s and don’ts, which have absolutely nothing to do with the good news of the Gospel, must be forgiven, but never accepted until they repent and return to the pure milk of the Word of God.
Those who preach the law are children of the bondwoman and God says to cast out the bondwoman and her offspring from our midst, as he told Abraham to do to Hagar and Ishmael. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” (Galatians 4:30-31) “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Galatians 5:4-5)
Notice, we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by our faith! No one is righteous; righteousness has been imputed to us by God’s grace; we nullify that grace by preaching legalism; seeking to live by the law, thereby being judged by the law. We are to forgive the misguided, the haters, the hate-mongers, those who persecute GLBT people and others, but we are not to accept them or their perversions in our lives or in the life of the Church.
We are enjoined to show forth the fruit of the spirit which “is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance.” (Galatians 5:22-23) And if one is captive to sin, “ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) It is those who trust in God’s grace, forgiving the failings of others, living lives of faith despite seen circumstances and despite the legalists in our midst, who are “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16)
As Paul did with Peter when the latter sought to capitulate to the Judaizers, the legalists, who came from James’ church to spy out Christians’ liberty (Galatians 2:11-14), which was undoubtedly a prelude to the Jerusalem council as depicted in Acts 15, we are not to give place to the enemies of the Gospel of Christ “no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue.” (Galatians 2:5)
Christians are free men and women in Christ! To the degree that others who have allowed traditions and their own prejudices to justify to themselves and others the persecution of GLBT people, it is to that degree that they must be “withstood to their faces.”
Of course, forgive them their ignorance and even their hatred! But never confuse that forgiveness with acceptance of them as fellow heirs in the kingdom of God, as they besmirch the name, sacrifice, and grace of Christ by their legalism, ignorance, and hatred.
If we do embrace them, we are indeed eating and drinking from the table and the cup of devils!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and the website Radical Christianity.