It is certainly timely and appropriate, particularly highlighted by the Equality March that occurred on October 11, 2009, to honor those who are sinfully demonized and, in one way or another, assaulted by those clergy and others who commit the cardinal sin recorded in the Ten Commandments of “bearing false witness” against our brothers and sisters. It is high time that houses of worship throughout this and every country stand up and be counted as not only rejecting the all too often hate-mongering rhetoric that comes from pulpits throughout the world, but stand up in the embrace of God’s LGBT children. It is patently clear to me that the major “justification” for the disproportionate amounts of suicides, bashings, and murders of LGBT people comes from the rhetoric of those who claim to speak for God, and who falsely appeal to such virtues as “family values,” “tradition,” “morality,” and Christianity itself to justify their ungodly exclusion of our brothers and sisters. It is high time that all Christians, and all people of good will, stand up and say, “That’s enough! You will not preach your false gospel of exclusion in our name! We will not allow you to hijack Christianity and the Prince of Peace and use them as justifications for your own twisted prejudices, for which you are so frequently and handsomely rewarded. No! You will not do this evil in our name!” After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, it is no accident that the first proclamation of Jesus as He began His public ministry was His recitation of the following verse of Scripture taken from the book of Isaiah (61:1-2). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus came to set us free! We are not only freed from the eternal consequences of our sins, but we are freed from the yokes and blandishments of this world; we are freed from the bondage that others and institutions seek to place on us. Once we yield ourselves to Jesus and are His slaves, we are freed from everything in this world that stands in the way of our relationship to God. We are freed from sin! To sin, means to fall short of God’s requirements of perfection and holiness. Hence, we are all sinners solely saved by the Blood of Christ. All of our past, present, and future sins were nailed to that Cross two thousand years ago. Indeed, in the spiritual sense, we who are slaves of Christ were nailed to that Cross with Him, so that we are now reckoned as dead, and dead people can’t sin. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “… for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Whether we be tall or short, fat or thin, black or white, gay or straight, we who belong to Christ are reckoned as dead men and women in God’s eyes. Hence, when God sees us He is seeing His Son; when He sees our sins He is seeing Christ’s Blood! Indeed, our sins have been covered over by the Blood of Christ, so that we are reckoned as righteous, pure, and holy because of the perfect sacrifice of our Kinsman-Redeemer. Therefore, righteousness and holiness are imputed to us unworthy human beings who have yielded our lives to Christ. That’s why David can assert, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2) Put another way, God’s grace is far greater than any sin we can commit! I like this quote from the great reformer, Martin Luther: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. (“Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon,” August 1, 1521.) Our Warrior, our Intercessor, our Kinsman-Redeemer is more than worthy of our fealty. All Christians, regarding their lives and ministries, sing along with David, “ in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?” (Psalm 56:11) Increasingly, God’s gay and lesbian children are recognizing that being Gay is not a sin, but it is a sin to deny the value of what God has made! No longer are many LGBT people content to live their lives in quiet desperation, riddled with shame, guilt, and self-loathing. No longer are they willing to listen to the ignorant hate-mongers who spew their venom from assorted pulpits throughout the world. No longer are they going to let those who pervert the Gospel message define their reality, deny their worth, and deny the value of their love. God’s children take Jesus at His word when He affirms that He has come to heal, to bind up wounds, to anoint the broken-hearted, to deliver those captive to the religious predators who don’t give a damn that their hateful preaching helps create high gay youth suicide rates and the bashing and killing of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. God’s LGBT children are increasingly taking Him at His word when He says that He has come to give His children liberty from the hateful and hurtful words of many religious leaders who have completely missed the point of the Gospel message. It must be remembered that Jesus saved His harshest words for the arrogant, legalistic, religious leaders of His day who sought to put others in bondage to their ways of thinking. When we fight for the full equality in religious and secular society for all people in the LGBT communities, we are doing God’s work and, in the words of St. Augustine, we are coming closer to making earth a colony of heaven. Jesus came to enable us to not only be reconciled to a holy, righteous, and just God, but to enable those who yield themselves to Him to live an abundant life. Indeed, when we are in bondage to Jesus, we are not in bondage to any person or institution on the face of this earth! To live an abundant life, we must be authentic and embrace not only each other, but embrace ourselves as well and submit to the reality that God made us as we are; He has called each of us to one or more ministries to fulfill our purpose in life; He has told us to hear His voice and not let other people usurp His claims on our lives or tell us how to live those lives. Many gay people live lives of shame, guilt, and self-loathing because they have bought into the lie that God condemns them and their lives. Indeed, they hear the erroneous interpretations of Scripture dealing with this issue from preachers and teachers who are ignorant concerning what the Bible says and, more importantly, doesn’t say about Gay life. Interestingly, the Bible provides the mandate for the liberation of all oppressed people! We are not to let religious, or other, people tell us what the Bible says on any matter. We owe it to God, ourselves, and our fellow human beings to find out things for ourselves. Even if someone is sincere, he or she can be sincerely wrong! When it comes to such an important, hot-button issue as homosexuality, we must discern what the Bible says and doesn’t say. In this connection, if you would like to read an excellent source dealing with the Bible and homosexuality I urge you to read the late Rembert Truluck’s book, Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse and Rick Brentlinger’s Gay Christian 101: Spiritual Self-Defense for Gay Christians – What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.
As Peter J. Gomes says in his superb book, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, that I recommend everyone read, Christian and non-Christian alike, when we read the Bible we must discern what it says, what it means, study the text, the subtext, the context, what we bring to the text, and what we take out of the text. Moreover, biblical principle must always trump biblical practice! Just because a practice existed two or three thousand years ago, doesn’t necessarily make it applicable or Godly now. Witness slavery, segregation, and the subjugation of women! We are called upon by God to live the abundant life, the good life! To engage in this endeavor, we must be authentic and not only accept but embrace ourselves and others for what we and they are. Indeed, we are not to judge others or even ourselves! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3). Paul knew that “Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24) So, if you’re Gay, a term that embraces gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, take heart that God made you that way. We can look at the love relationships between David and Jonathan; Ruth and Naomi. We can look at Deborah, a Bible character who has always fascinated me, who, though married, was a judge and a mighty warrior in Israel. She was undoubtedly transgender! She certainly didn’t live up to the cultural expectations of “woman” of her time. Being Gay, like being straight, is not merely about sex! It’s also about love and relationship. We’re all human beings with sexuality being merely one component in our lives. Indeed, we’re spiritual, sexual, intellectual, and emotional human beings with all of the complexities and diversity that God made in His creation. We are called upon by God to embrace these complexities and diversity in others and in ourselves! If you’re Gay you’re committing a grievous sin if you condemn yourself, as you are condemning what God has made and, like those who oppress LGBT people, you are thereby thwarting God’s sovereign purposes. As the old Sunday School saying has it, “God doesn’t make junk!” So, let’s not listen to the ignorant and the hate-mongers in the religious world who foment internalized and externalized homophobia. Let’s listen to God, the Prince of Peace, and His commandment to love Him, others, and ourselves! When we throw ourselves upon the mercy of God, the Holy Spirit enters us and empowers us to love both our neighbor and even our enemies. Indeed, if someone really loves you he/she will accept you, warts and all, and embrace you, regardless of whether or not he/she agrees with you or not. If someone only “loves” and accepts you if you conform to their wants, needs, and expectations of how you are to be and act, their so-called love is not really worth much or really worth having. Christians are to embrace others and leave judgments to God! We are not to twist the Bible to suit our prejudices and project those prejudices onto others and invoke God’s name to discriminate or oppress others. In fact, the Bible is a book for oppressed people everywhere: whether they be the poor, women, LGBT people, or people of color. Many black people discovered this truth when they adopted the religion of their oppressors. They saw in the Bible that was used to justify slavery and segregation a call to equality and liberation for all of God’s children. They saw that the exodus of the children of Israel from slavery to the Promised Land was their story too; they could count on a righteous, just, and loving God to lead the way for them out of slavery to full equality as befits all children of God. When heterosexist interpretations of Scripture are removed, it can be seen that the Bible belongs to LGBT people too. Witness the relationship between David and Jonathan! Nancy Wilson, in her pamphlet, Our Story Too … Reading the Bible with New Eyes, writes concerning their relationship as seen in such a passage as 2 Samuel 1:26 (“I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”), “The author is clearly attuned to David’s classic male beauty (1 Samuel 16:12) in this story of love and loyalty marked by romance (1 Samuel 18:1-5), secret meetings (1 Samuel 20:1-23; 35-42), kissing and weeping (1 Samuel 20:41), refusal to eat (1Samuel 28:32-34), and the explicit warrior/lover covenant which David kept after Jonathan’s death (1 Samuel 20:12-17; 42).” She continues, “One cannot read this account without discerning that Jonathan was the love of David’s life. Centuries of homophobic biblical interpretations have kept them in the closet too long.” So, the question must be asked, “Why the venom and tremendous hostility directed against Gay people by others, particularly many religious leaders, who are called upon by Jesus to love each other, their neighbors, and their enemies?” As an example of this venom, it is reported that one prominent “Christian” spokesman said, [Homosexuals are] brute beasts … part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven.” (Quoted in Jim Hill and Rand Cleadle, The Bible Tells Me So: Uses and Abuses of Holy Scripture, Anchor Books, 1996, pp. 69-70) This man and his ilk have frequently given expression to similar sentiments and one must question why all the fuss? Why the single-minded hostility? There are several possible reasons for this vitriol. First of all, there is money to be made by demonizing a group of people and mobilizing people to contribute to a man-made evocation of unwarranted fear against the unknown. Another reason is that hate makes one feel stronger, it is a great energizer, and enables the person to feel superior to others. Third, there is a vested interest in creating “out groups” so that there can be an increase in “in group” cohesion and solidarity, making people have an increased sense of belonging in a world that lacks a sufficient sense of community. Fourth, it feels elevating to appeal to “virtue” by a studied ignorance of Scripture and using that Scripture erroneously and selectively to oppress those whom they don’t like, who invade their comfort zones, or who threaten their definitions of reality. However, there is an additional possible reason for the venom directed against gay people that should be explored. When one’s “ego integrity” is threatened by desires that contradict the social norms or one’s interpretation of the Bible, those feelings, in this case homosexual feelings, may be suppressed and the defense mechanism of “Reaction Formation” may become operational whereby one seeks to prove to oneself and others that he or she is not what one fears he or she is. They may well be denying a homosexual component in themselves and translating their fear of that component into hostility to those who manifest what they themselves suppress. In any case, the Bible belongs to LGBT people too, the Church is to lead the way for their full participation in all aspects of secular and religious life, including ordination and marriage, and we are to show forth the love of God to those who have been oppressed for far too long. It doesn’t matter what type of Godly people inhabit Christ’s Church! We see this truth typified in the Old Testament when the children of Israel were told that they must have the faith to apply the blood of an unblemished lamb on the lintels and door-posts of their homes so that the death angel would pass over those homes. (Exodus 12) Notice, it didn’t matter what kind of people were in those homes. All they had to do was have enough faith to do as God told them and place the blood on those places and their lives would be spared. That blood is a figure of the Blood of Christ that protects us, regardless of who we are, Gay or Straight, if we but trust Him. Throughout Scripture, God is exalted! There is only one chapter in all of Scripture, Hebrews 11, which exalts a certain kind of person: a person who trusts God over and above seen circumstances. There is a murderer and adulterer, David, mentioned by name; there is Rahab, a prostitute, mentioned by name. Indeed, David was called a man after God’s own heart! (1 Samuel 13:14) That’s how much God values faith! (See Hebrews 11:6.) God doesn’t particularly care what we do; He doesn’t particularly care who we are! He cares about what He can do through us! He will use our strengths and, more importantly, He will use our “weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:9) for His purposes. And when He works through us, He will have us become increasingly conformed to His image, which entails loving other people and, as we have been reconciled to God by the finished work of Christ on the Cross, seeking reconciliation among people with each other and with God. All people, Christian and non-Christian alike, should take the lesson of the Potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-6) to heart! Just like a potter working with clay, God can make of us anything He wants. If He wants to create someone straight, He will! If He wants to create someone Gay, He will do that as well! We are not to chafe under the sovereign choices of God! We’re to be the clay that God made of us! To chafe under God’s sovereign choices doesn’t do any good and it shows lack of trust in God who loves us and knows what’s best for us and who made us for His own purposes. We are not called upon by God to mimic what is culturally thought to be appropriate expressions of Christianity! We are called to be authentic and listen to His voice, and do what He tells us to do. We are to do His will, regardless of what others, including other professing Christians, think or say. To do otherwise, is to make gods of others and their paradigms, their ways of thinking, and allow ourselves to be put in bondage to them. We then allow them to usurp God’s call on our lives. For too long LGBT people have allowed others to define their reality for them and define for them what God approves and disapproves. They have believed others who said that God despises them; hence, many have despised themselves. They believed a big lie! The fact is that God made us as we are and, as we are to embrace each other, we are to embrace what God has made in ourselves and yield our very selves to our Creator Who has a plan for each of our lives. Undoubtedly, God not only has plans for Gay people’s lives, but He has enabled those who are His to realize His will for their lives and for the world precisely because He made them Gay. Just as He wanted! God beseeches us to fight for justice and righteousness! In the context of our love for all of God’s creation, the Church, God’s called out ones (“ecclesia”), is to be in the vanguard of embracing and cherishing people; fight any oppression visited upon others. If any institution in society should be fighting for full and equal rights for Gay people, it should be the Church! God’s gay and lesbian children are not only deserving of full acceptance, but must be allowed to marry, not only civilly, but in churches as well! Unfortunately, many spokesmen for Christianity, who preach a false gospel, have seen to it that gay and lesbian marriages are not performed in virtually all of our churches. These prejudiced legalists have thwarted God’s desire for full inclusion of all of His children in secular society and in the life of the church! Many people have been sold a bill of goods by the legalists who profess to be Christians, yet preach a false gospel and seek to put other people in bondage to their perverted brand of “Christianity.” These are very dangerous people, in that they give tacit permission for Gay people to be oppressed; erroneously define Christianity for those who listen to them. They commit the worst sin of all: the sin of pride! (See Proverbs 6:16-19; Luke 18:9-14.) These perverters of the Gospel (and Paul wrote, “God damn them,” in Galatians 1:8-9), who have attempted to hijack Christianity, appeal to people who like black and white answers in a very gray world; give them rules and regulations concerning how to live, think, and how to make sense out of things they don’t understand or of which they are afraid. We are not to listen to them, but recognize that Christ is our peace, and by trusting Him and yielding our lives to Him all of us “… are no longer strangers and aliens, but … are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God ….” (Ephesians 2:19) Unfortunately, many people have listened to the legalists who have attempted to hijack Christianity and make it over in their own twisted image. They froth at the mouth about sexual matters and are seemingly oblivious to corporate sins that cry out to God for redress. They don’t see that the Bible is our friend, that Jesus paid the full and only price for the redemption of all of our past, present, and future sins, and that God still speaks about the need for justice for all of His children; they convince the biblically illiterate, the deeply prejudiced, and/or those bound by tradition that their way is the right way and their brand of “Christianity” is the only one to be had. They and their followers don’t heed Jesus’ admonition that they make void the Word of God by their traditions. (See Matthew 15:3, 6; Mark 7:13.) One of the things that makes the Bible so valuable is the fact that it speaks anew and afresh to each generation, with its unique issues that can be addressed by articulating biblical principles of faith, love, reconciliation, justice, equality, freedom, and liberation. These principles apply to all of us as we are all terribly flawed creatures in need of God’s mercy, and He gives that mercy to those who implacably trust Him. A picture of God’s mercy to us is the story of Mephibosheth! You can read this account in 2 Samuel 9. King David, a type of God the Father, in fulfilling the warrior/lover covenant he made with Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:15-17), a type of Christ, asked, “Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (v.1) Saul’s servant, Ziba, told David about Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, who was lame in both his feet; who resided in Lodebar. Biblical names have meaning! “Mephibosheth” means “A shameful thing”; “Lodebar” means “The place of no pasture.” King David said to Mephibosheth that he would show him kindness for his father’s sake. (v.7) This account ends with the verse, “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king’s table; and was lame on both his feet.” (v.13) Without God, we dwell in a place of no pasture, in a wilderness of existential angst, with a sense of meaninglessness. In this condition, we rely upon our “reason” that is largely circumscribed by cultural imperatives and our “common sense.” However, by trusting Christ and His finished work on the Cross, we not only discern God’s plan for our lives, but we are taken from this desert and transplanted by God, for Jesus’ sake, into the Jerusalem of spiritual fulfillment. Such transplantation enables the Holy Spirit to be housed in our fragile crocks of clay, and He impels us to fight against injustice, to embrace all of His children, to see to it that His Church is a beacon of light in a sin cursed world. Straight and Gay, by committing our lives to Christ, we Mephibosheths are all invited and called upon to sit at the King’s table, and thereby partake together as members of God’s family both now and throughout eternity. It is high time we honor our LGBT sisters and brothers who God not only welcomes, but invites, to His Table to partake of His many blessings and come to “… taste and see that the Lord is good …” (Psalm 34:8)
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, 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. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.