… I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
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 queer life. Interestingly, the Bible provides the mandate for the liberation of all oppressed people!
I, too, used to believe that being gay was a sin! I read the Bible as most people do and saw such words associated with homosexuality as “abomination” and “against nature,” and thought that this issue was a no-brainer. Indeed, many years ago I was asked to speak concerning why gays should not be ordained in the Presbyterian church and I gave that speech.
However, sometime after giving that speech, I asked myself why someone would voluntarily decide to become a member of a despised minority group. So I searched the Scriptures, looking at the Hebrew and the Greek, and read a great deal of extra-biblical sources on the topic, and I found that the Bible does not condemn same-sex love; indeed, it affirms it. I have written on this matter before in a previous column, so I won’t reiterate it. However, if you would like to read an excellent source dealing with the Bible and homosexuality I urge you to read Rembert Truluck’s website, Steps to Recovery From Bible Abuse.
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.
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 of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.” (1 Corinthians 4:3)
Paul knew that “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” (Psalm 37:23) So, if you’re queer, a term that embraces gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (one who is unable or unwilling to play the sex role to which he or she has been assigned by the expectations of the culture), take heart that God made you that way. If you’re transsexual (someone who feels trapped in the body of the opposite sex), it may be viewed as a birth defect that you may want to correct.
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 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!
As I wrote my last article, if you’re queer you’re committing a grievous sin if you condemn yourself, as you are condemning what God has made and, like those who oppress queers, 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!
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)
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 they will accept you, warts and all, and embrace you, regardless of whether they agree 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, queer 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.
Queer people too are being delivered from the slavery of oppression, shame, and self-loathing to the Promised Land of full equality, albeit incrementally, thanks to some recent court decisions and the existence and growth of the Metropolitan Community Churches that primarily minister to queer people. Moreover, many churches are grappling with ordination for queer people.
In addition, when heterosexist interpretations of Scripture are removed, it can be seen that the Bible belongs to queer 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 (1 Samuel 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 queer 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, 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, 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 queer 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.
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.