I am not a little bemused by the clamor surrounding gay people who want to follow Jesus in sincerity and truth – across the spectrum, churches from exclusive fundamentalist to liberalist mount their holy high horses to crusade against our inclusion in the ranks of the faithful (or the elect, depending on whether one is a Calvinist or an Armenian in doctrine!).
We all know those verses that are trotted out to `prove’ the doctrinal soundness of the clamor for our exclusion from the assembly of the faithful – it’s as if we were coming to that particular church or fellowship rather than to Jesus for salvation and spiritual succor.
So, where do hats and hair come into it?
I was reading the other day in 1 Corinthians 11 what St. Paul had to say to the church at Corinth about men with long hair, women with short hair and having one’s head covered when praying. This takes up 13 verses – about as many in number as all the verses scattered throughout the Bible that are trotted out whenever church people are faced with gays in their midst or with gay issues – particularly those they don’t understand.
St Paul summarizes his `head’ dogma in verses 13 – 16: “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.” (Italics mine.)
Now, if anything is clear and unequivocal to me, that is. No debate will be entertained – at prayer and in church, women cover their heads, have long hair and men wear their hair short.
Why then do contemporary Christian women not have their heads covered when they pray? And why do many of them wear their hair short? And why do many Christian men now boast longer tresses than women?
Does this not seem contrary to what the Bible teaches?
So, we argue, we have come some way along the path of modernity since St Paul wrote this and it now no longer counts. Or, at the very least, the behavior of millions of Christians says this.
Why are we lenient regarding one aspect of church dogma but harsh with another?
Christianity seems to have become a legalistic faith – full of `Thou shalt nots’ and `thou shalts’. Especially when these serve our own purposes and particular points of view.
Love and forgiveness and tolerance (all of which I learn about and from Jesus in the Gospels) have a very minor place compared with dogma, legalism and exclusion in the behavior of many of today’s Christians and churches . For the gay person, Christianity often appears to be an exclusive faith instead of an inclusive one.
I read in 2 Chronicles 30 : 9 “the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”
And later in that same chapter God demonstrates this grace and compassion when “most of the people from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written” (verse 18).
Then, king Hezekiah, the king who brought his people to a renewed worship of God after years of idolatry under previous kings, “prayed for them saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the Lord, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30 : 18 – 20 [NIV], italics mine.)
This for me is the example the church and its leaders should display towards `outsiders’ who truly seek God. Which one of us, whether inside or outside the church, is totally clean in his heart and behavior, according to the rules of the sanctuary?
This chapter goes on to say “The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the aliens who had come from Israel and those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” (25 – 26, italics mine).
Could this not be an archetype of the joy the church will experience when it welcomes gay and other excluded people into its fellowship who have “set their hearts on seeking God” (vs 19) instead of, as so many do now, criticizing, judging and pushing us away?
Then it will be a faith of inclusion and people will look beyond other people and see God in Jesus.
For us as gay people, the Bible (in the words of St Paul) is also clear on what we have to do : we have to become “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3 :26 – 27).
Then the Christian church will truly be a church of unconditional love (a “Whosoever” church) because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3 : 28).
2 Chronicles 30 ends with these words “The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place” (vs 27). Included in `the people‘ were those for whom king Hezekiah had made intercession and to whom God had shown mercy.
In the final analysis, it’s neither hats nor hair nor homosexuality that are the issues: its faith in Jesus Christ and a life that matches His example.
A translator by profession, Dave Reid lives in a rural town in a wine-producing area of the Western Cape, South Africa, where he retired with his partner in 2003 after living in Cape Town. A lifelong amateur church musician and organist, he spent most of his corporate career in leadership development and change management consulting.