I believe that before we can begin to bless our persecutors we really need to understand what they are saying and also exactly what is reported in Scripture of God’s requirements for all people. Basically our persecutors would have us believe that our sexuality is not a God-given gift, but a perversion of what they consider to be the only right and proper sexual expression, viz. heterosexuality. Because of our refusal to deny this part of our nature, we are considered to be sinning, and therefore not able to access the gifts of God or claim a relationship with Christ. To back up their arguments they quote portions of the purity laws given to the early tribal Israel, and also the words of Paul, an apostle, yet one who was schooled as a rabbi, and therefore whose opinions were based on his narrow experience within the Jewish culture, and whose words have been taken out of context and used to brand us as abominations.
Perhaps we could start our search through Scripture with the lectionary reading for 9th September – Deuteronomy 30: 15-20: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways and keep God’s commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
It seems very clear that all people are commanded to love God, walk in God’s ways, and keep God’s commands, decrees and laws. For those who choose to turn away from God the curse is there, such will be destroyed. What are God’s ways, decrees and laws, so that we may hear what God desires of all people? Jesus, God incarnate, just as clearly defined what God expects from us. In Matthew 22 verses 36 to 40 his words are reported: “Master, what are we to consider the Law’s greatest commandment?” Jesus answered him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.”
In John 14 verses 15ff we find Jesus expounding to his friends and disciples this love, linking it with a promise. “If you really love me, you will keep the commandments I have given to you and I shall ask the Father to give you someone else to stand by you, to be with you always. I mean the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, for it can neither see nor recognize that Spirit.” In verses 20 and 21 he continues: “When that day comes, you will realize that I am in my Father, that you are in me, and I am in you. Every person who knows my commandments and obeys them is a person who really loves me, and every person who really loves me will themselves be loved by my Father, and I too will love that person and make myself known to them.”
In The New Testament In Modern English, translated by J.B. Phillips (author of Your God Is Too Small etc.) we discover the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel commences with the sentence “Now all the tax collectors and “outsiders” were crowding around to hear what he had to say.” Perhaps this sentence appeals to me because I see the GLBT community as the “outsiders” who have been denied our rightful place in our churches and our society by those who would condemn and judge us. Even today we may be found, despite what our detractors claim, “crowding around to hear what he had to say”. Why? Because we are assured that we are included in those in whose hearts Christ has come to dwell. We are loved by God incarnate, who continues to make himself known to ALL who believe in him and keep his commandments.
Do we keep Christ’s commandment to love God and to love and serve our fellow humans? Do our detractors, or are they so convinced of their own self-righteousness that they fit the claim by Jesus that there is more joy over one sinner whose heart is changed than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance? Let us share the words of the prophet in Amos Chapter 8 Verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land” … To those who deny our Christian experience we could reply, “Our needs and our spiritual hunger continue to be invalidated by you, unless we accede to your demands that we deny our God-given sexuality.” For some people spirituality can be defined as access to God. This involves the removal of all humanly constructed barriers, so opening up the door to God’s living presence to us.
When we hear voices of those who condemn us I wonder do we consider the following questions:
- When were we ever asked about our Christian experience?
- Have they ever paused to dialogue with us?
- On what grounds is it argued that we cannot be GLBT and have an ongoing relationship with God if these people have never heard of our daily walk with God?
Let’s look at what forms this persecution has taken. Primarily our relationship with God is denied. Our place in churches and many other organizations is denied. Barriers are erected which are designed to prevent us claiming our places as true daughters and sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. On flimsy grounds, no more reasoned than the arguments offered to support the continuance of apartheid and slavery, and on Bible texts quoted without reference to new scholarship but based on tradition rather than God’s laws, we have been condemned. We have been isolated, tortured, killed and disgraced, all in the name of Christianity, whose roots and basis are love.
What has this persecution done to us as individuals and as a community? Many in the GLBT communities equate Christianity with pain, prejudice and persecution, and turn their backs on the source of all love and light, Jesus the Christ. For those of us whose experience with Jesus has been intimate and ongoing, the persecution we have known has caused us to rethink our faith. We have needed to strip away any archaic cliches and get to the bare bones of our interaction with Jesus, with his commandments, his promises and his infilling. When churches have denied us our place we have needed to develop scholarship techniques of our own so that we may delve more deeply not only into Scripture but also the recorded experiences of others who have grown through trials. We begin to bond more closely one with another as we share our spiritual experiences. In fact we begin to exemplify that loving that Jesus commanded of all who choose to follow him.
A rare example of this concerned loving can be found in the January 2001 edition of “Let’s Talk”: – “When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation to catch up with the rest of the flock. If we have as much sense as geese we will stand by each other in difficult times, as well as when we are strong.” To those glbt Christians whose relationship with Jesus is an ongoing, moment-by-moment experience, caring for each other, financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually is simply part of daily life. They have been so loved by God that their loving is not contained within any boundaries for it knows no limits.
In all of this where does the command, to love even those who persecute us, fit? If we are honest, we will admit that through the trials caused by the attitudes and beliefs of our tormentors, we have grown much closer to God and to each other. As Daniel knew, even in the most fiery of all furnaces there we find God standing firmly with us. Just as the angels shut the mouths of the lions who would devour the young princes of Israel, so God’s angels stand between our eternal souls and all the attacks that are made upon us. Should we condemn or hate these people for providing us with opportunities which we can use to receive blessings as we have been drawn even closer to God, and have found incredible strength in our relationship with our Creator? Should be want to strike out at people who by their attitude have caused God’s love to spill from our lives so that it illuminates the paths of those around us?
I believe that herein lies our capacity to bless, for since we have found God’s blessings poured out upon our lives as we recognized God as our source of all, we cannot withhold sharing these blessings with our detractors. These people have been the means by which God has refined our lives so that we may be perfected reflections of Christ’s love. Let us not be distracted by the words they use, nor focus on their accusations. Instead let us be ever mindful of the two commandments Jesus gave to all those who would follow him, that we love God and one another, so we may be found to be among those who truly belong to Jesus. May we continue to lift up our persecutors into God’s presence and bless them. We truly want these people to know the deep, sustaining love of God that we experience. They have driven us by words and blows into the sheep-fold, and we have found Christ waiting there for us.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.