Believe me, it would never happen, but my good friend, Don Charles, who blogs at “Christ The Gay Martyr”, asked me to write what I would say if I were in the place of Bishop Gene Robinson and was asked to give a prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremonies. What follows is what I would say, and that I hope every Christian, non-Christian, LGBT and Straight person takes to heart:
The Church, made up of the ecclesia, “the called out ones,” called to follow the model Jesus gave us to be agents of God’s grace in the world, has all too often gotten it wrong when it comes to its rhetoric and treatment of assorted minority groups, those discounted by the larger society, and it and many professing Christians are continuing to make the same unGodly mistake.
The Church as Jesus initiated it was never meant to be enmeshed with the larger society, but was, in fact, called to be counter-cultural, to preach and live out the only Gospel that is to be found in Christianity: the Gospel of grace (God’s unmerited favor to all of us), faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances), love toward all people, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness of all of God’s children. There is no other Gospel!
Since most of the institutional Church enmeshed itself with the secular social, economic, and political forces within society, we can see that the larger culture has affected the Church far more than the Church has affected the larger culture. Indeed, the Church has all too often taken on the values and prejudices of that larger culture, and the results have sullied the Church, Christianity, the mission and work of Jesus, and has done inestimable damage to assorted disenfranchised and marginalized people.
We have seen this tragedy played out regarding the treatment of women, the treatment of African slaves, the treatment of Black people in South Africa, the treatment of African Americans in the U.S, and the treatment of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
Rather than be the arm of Jesus in teaching, practicing, and enjoining the secular forces within society to embody love and include everyone as equals, the Church and its functionaries have all too often adopted and encouraged hateful and exclusionary prejudices of many in the larger society. Indeed, all too many churches and clergy have even encouraged and provided religious justifications for hateful prejudices and hateful acts of discrimination to the point where those clergy and their many followers have fomented and, indeed, encouraged the oppression that has caused untold shame upon the very Person of Christ, as well as shame on His Church, and have caused untold sufferings and even deaths to their targets of oppression and persecution.
By aligning itself with reactionary social, economic, and political forces within society, the Church has ceased to be an instrument of God’s grace in the world, and has continued to lose sight of the fact that every time Jesus dealt with the religious and political leaders of His time it turned out badly for Him as it did for all other leaders of the fledgling Church.
You see, the Church has always been meant to be set apart from the values of the world. Indeed, it has been called upon to confront those values that in any way sully the name of God, sully the Gospel message of love, and that in any way oppress any of God’s children, God’s creation, whom God created in God’s own image.
It does Jesus, the Church, and Christianity itself a grave injustice to in any way cozy up to those who discriminate and seek to disenfranchise any of God’s children. Once the Church aligns itself in any way with prejudice and oppression, whether in “religious” or secular society, it is no longer the “Church” as it fails to in any way represent Jesus. To the degree that the Church enmeshes itself with oppressive secular and/or “religious” powers, it’s to that degree that it not only loses its moral compass, loses its credibility, loses its reason for being, but also ceases to be the Church, but becomes a mere handmaiden to oppressive forces within secular society, thereby contradicting and contravening the very life, message, ministry, and meaning of Jesus in this world; the Church itself becomes an instrument of oppression that the world would be far better off without.
The early Church was horribly persecuted by oppressive political and “religious” forces, and that’s the way it was always meant to be! To have a “peaceful” “Church,” to have a self-satisfied, smug, discriminatory bunch of people who call themselves “Christians,” is not what Jesus had in mind, and is not what Jesus’ Church has ever been.
And to the degree that the Church partakes in any way in the discrimination against God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children, or in the discrimination against any other group of people for that matter, it ceases to be the Church, as it has ceased in any way to represent Jesus.
To the degree we don’t stand up for those who are perversely viewed as “outsiders,” targets of oppression, it’s to that degree that we cease to be a “Church” or “Christians,” and become actors playing a part that the culture defines for us as being appropriate for “Christians” to play. All those who profess to be Christians must understand the basic Gospel message that Jesus and the Apostles left us, and that is that we are to love one another unconditionally, and never judge, condemn, or discriminate against other people.
There is no other Gospel to be found in Christianity! Most of us learned this hard truth during the civil rights era for African Americans, and although the remnants of that era are still with us, and we would be foolish to deny that fact, we have come a long way regarding the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights for African Americans. And just as virtually all the White churches tragically played the villain during this struggle, much as White churches did with the gross sin of Apartheid in South Africa, most have now come to see how wrong they were by fomenting, encouraging, and justifying the oppression of their Black sisters and brothers.
Now, all of the churches, all professing Christians, and all people who view themselves as decent people, are faced with another similar choice: Do they play the role equivalent to the White Supremacists who felt that Black people, by virtue of their skin color, were inferior to White people by claiming that Straight people by virtue of their emotional/sexual orientation are superior to Gay people? Haven’t we learned our lessons by now?
It is up to all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, to live out the law of love toward all of our brothers and sisters which certainly includes our Gay brothers and sisters, knowing full well that God created each and every one of us in God’s image.
And we now, at the time of this new political era in the United States, face a cold turkey choice: are we going to keep viewing and calling ourselves decent, upright, and good people and still advocate and/or practice discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, or any other group of people for that matter, or are we going to be decent and Godly people, be we Christians or not, and embrace all of God’s children?
The choice is ours to make! However, we must recognize that our final decision will reflect both our decency and Godliness as human beings, as well as whether or not the Church that preaches Jesus’ name does so cynically or does so genuinely by living the Law of Love that summarizes the whole of Scripture and the Christian life.
We must live the decent and loving life that we are all called upon to live, be we Christian or not, lest we as members of a society that presumes to call itself “civil,” degenerates into the madness of continually having a war of all against all that will still be encouraged, affirmed, and blessed by people many of whom have the temerity to view themselves as “decent” and “Godly.”
Our choice as to how we treat each other, and whether or not we demand and realize the acquisition of full and equal civil rights for all citizens of the United States, will define who we truly are as human beings, will define the very future of our Democratic Republic, and will define the very legacy that we and this new Presidential Administration will leave to future generations.
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.