The following is a compilation of a few of my remarks regarding “Christianity and same-sex love,” as well as my response regarding the view propounded by one retired Episcopal Bishop that gay-friendly people should remain in their homophobic churches so as to be able to change them from within, that I made on a few blogs, one of which is my own entitled, A Christian Voice For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender Rights. I thought you would be interested in these remarks. Although reasonable Christians can disagree about points of doctrine and biblical exegeses, we all must agree that love of God and love of others trumps anything else.
The Gospel means “good news!” All of us are reckoned “free from sin,” because of the finished work of Jesus. An important verse of Scripture for me, in this context, is Romans 14:23: “…whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” We didn’t know “sin” before the Law; the Law was our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; Christ has freed us from the Law of sin and death! That’s the good news!
The legalists who pick and choose verses from the Bible to support their prejudices, their agendas, without seeing the context of those verses as they apply to the “good news,” the finished work of Christ on the Cross, not only do great violence to Christianity, but betray it and the Gospel message of that good news, seeking to put people in the same bondage they are in, the very same bondage Jesus castigated the Pharisees for imposing, and for which He came to set us free. In the context of same-sex relationships, they seek to inhibit or remove faith in one’s love and same-sex affection and, thereby, seek to create “sin” by having so many LGBT people question their God-given state where they are capable of loving another human being. The irony is that the Pharisees among us are the ones who show no love, and who condemn the love shown by others, and do so in the name of God and the very good news that removes the taint of sin from all those who cling to Christ.
It seems to me that even if a person “willfully” sins, that sin is forgiven, because God saved His children from the foundation of the world (e.g. Ephesians 1:4), and He doesn’t save us to play hide and seek with us, or does He change His mind in this regard, as we’re assured by Jesus Himself: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
Indeed, nothing takes God by surprise! So, even if we “willfully” sin, God knew about it before we even thought about it, let alone did it. That’s why we’re free, that’s why we’re liberated! God is not the author of sin, but He will frequently use our sins for His own sovereign purposes: maybe to make us more humble; maybe to make us better able to relate to the frailties and failings of others; maybe to enhance our ministries in some way by inculcating more compassion for others who struggle in this life. I don’t know! The point is that we are not to chafe under the sovereign choices of God!
For the “Church” to forgive murder but not “forgive” homosexuality (that virtually every respected behavioral and social scientist, psychiatrist, and psychologist says is immutable, save for very few who are confused or questioning regarding their sexuality), along with the fact that much of the organized “Church” obsesses over this issue, to the virtual exclusion of the sins of society such as poverty, war, corporate greed, etc., shows the ignorant, pathetic and moribund state of much of the organized “Church.”
I must disagree when some encourage people to remain in homophobic churches so as to be in a position to educate and change them. Beyond the fact that they have done more to initiate and foment anti-LGBT rhetoric and the ensuing shame, self-loathing, and suicides of LGBT people, they have also, by that rhetoric and their exclusionary practices, set the climate for the bashing and killing of LGBT people and they allow many of the perpetrators of this violence to feel they are doing God a favor by their hateful actions.
I feel that God is leading increasing numbers of Christians to leave these pathetic, moribund, frequently hate-filled “churches” and denominations, led by frequently ignorant and/or mendacious clergy, and calling us into a post-denominational era where Christians are going to form their own worship communities that preach and exemplify the only Gospel to be found in Christianity: The Gospel of Grace (God’s unmerited favor to us), Faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances), Love, Peace, Reconciliation, and Inclusiveness. By remaining in churches that preach and practice a religion of exclusion, and supporting them with our presence, energies, and monies, we are witting or unwitting accomplices to their perversion of the Gospel, and they are far more likely to change us than we are likely to change them!
I’ve had occasion to teach on the anti-Gay “clobber passages” in the Bible to fundamentalists, and regardless of the logic of my explanations of these passages, utilizing the original language, they tenaciously hung on to their prejudices. This battle is not about two sets of reasonable people sitting down and reasoning together. It’s about pure, naked prejudice and hate-mongering from all too many pulpits throughout the world. They have to be confronted by our turning our backs on them, not in any way supporting them, and going back to the model of the early Church where people met in each other’s homes, divested of edifices and careers that had to be maintained by keeping the money rolling in.
Unfortunately, many clergy know that the best way to have and keep the money rolling in is to practice a religion of exclusion, and encourage an “us against them” mentality that encourages even more financial giving to enhance clergy careers. All too much of the organized “Church” has for far too long, by practicing the false gospel of legalism, perfectionism, and exclusion, led the way in discriminating against assorted minority groups, from women to Afro-Americans to LGBT people. Change of the religious institutions in society regarding Civil Rights issues has never happened from within. When it comes to Civil Rights issues, it’s been the secular society that has largely led the way to freedom and emancipation, with the religious institutions following suit once the hard-fought-for freedoms have been won.
It’s high time we turn our backs on “traditions that make void the word of God” (Matthew 15:3), and on the institutions that embody those traditions that have the effect of historically demonizing assorted minority groups. The Church, the Ecclesia, the called-out ones, aren’t restricted to inhabiting buildings! Rather, they are in disparate places and we have to seek each other out and worship together “in spirit and in truth,” embracing each and every one of God’s children. To do otherwise is not being faithful to the Gospel, or to Jesus’ call on our lives, and His call for unity of His Church.
I refuse to let the perverters of the Gospel of Grace hijack “Christianity,” and convert it over to their own twisted view of the world and of the Christian life. We are Christians, dammit! And the twisted freaks, no matter how large their number, are to never take that name away from us . . . I turn my back on most of the institutional “Church,” but I’ll never relinquish the label “Christian” because of haters and hate-mongers who gravitate to “religion” in order to “justify” their prejudices and hateful acts in the name of God, or “because the Bible tells me so.”
Unfortunately, “sex,” be it same-sex love or opposite-sex love, is viewed synonymously with “morality,” and not the sins that cause the death and degradation of our fellow human beings, such as war and poverty. Where are the professing Christians, Black or White, who lament and condemn as “immoral” the fact that there are currently 45 million Americans without needed health insurance? Why the single-minded obsession about condemnation regarding sexual matters, and actually believing that with all of the corporate sins that exist, God is unduly concerned with who loves who and who sleeps with who? As I mentioned elsewhere, such single-minded obsession with condemnation, allying oneself with the most rabid, right wing forces in society, and with those who have historically made it necessary for there to be Black churches in the first place, tells us far more about the intelligence, discernment, emotional makeup, spirituality, and the understanding of the Gospel of grace by those who condemn than about anything else. One can’t fully appreciate the animus, the downright hatred of so many professing Christians against those they characterize as “the other,” “the stranger.” We are usually not dealing with intellectually and spiritually honest people when we deal with homophobes who cloak their prejudices in faulty biblical exegeses, and refuse to live out the Gospel when it comes to LGBT people. This fact is not unlike the role of racists in the “Church” in the middle part of the last century.
No, I don’t write off all those who disagree with me on this issue. However, the homophobes with whom I’ve dealt have not been intellectually or spiritually honest, and have refused to study the Bible, read extra-biblical sources on this topic to even question why someone would voluntarily choose to become part of a despised minority group, or even listen when they’re shown how their interpretation of the “clobber passages” lacks rigor and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, they presume upon themselves the right to judge others, thereby betraying the living of the Christian life; extol as virtues legalism, perfectionism, and exclusion, and thereby don’t acknowledge in word or deed the Gospel of grace. Dialogue is fine! However, it’s been my experience that homophobic people don’t seek dialogue, but, rather, tenaciously hang on to their prejudices, regardless of the evidence presented to them, thereby savagely hurting people, largely creating “justification” for self-injury, suicide, bashing, and murder of LGBT people. No! I don’t want to engage myself with such people, nor do I feel that the “Church” should be identified as a vehicle of God’s that in any way harbors or encourages them. Such people are toxic, not only to LGBT people, but to the Church and to Christians, as they betray the Gospel, and are frequently enmeshed with the most strident, radical right wing political and social forces in society. I don’t write anyone off, but since honest dialogue is neither sought nor tolerated by the prejudiced, their attitudes are not likely to change by the mere presentation of facts. Moreover, I think it’s a mistake to see each side as being on an equal moral footing regarding these differences. “Inclusion” and “exclusion” are not equivalent values or debatable issues in the Christian life! Besides, only God can change their hearts!
Beyond knit picking Scripture to justify our prejudices, and seek to blindly apply ancient cultural practices and values to contemporary society, it is well to remember that Jesus’ main commandments to us were to love God, our neighbor, and not to judge other people. I find it highly suspicious when there are professing Christians, or anyone else for that matter, who keep gnawing on the bone of same-sex love or attraction, and seem to virtually ignore the sins that cry out to God, such as war, poverty, and disease. Such obsessive condemnation tells us much more about the condemners than it does about anything else!
I like Peter J. Gomes’ assertion in his wonderful book, The Good Book: Reading The Bible With Mind And Heart that I strongly urge people to read. He says when we read the Scriptures, we must seek to understand what the verse says, what it means, the text, the subtext, the context, what we bring to the text and what we take out of the text. Clearly, he says, that biblical principle must always trump biblical practice. There is absolutely no room in Christianity, or in any civilized society that expects to survive, for hate, demonization, verbal or physical aggression, or anything else that separates our brothers and sisters from each other and from ourselves. We are, after all, members of the same family, whether some recognize that fact or not!
The following remark of mine is directed to a person who calls him/herself “Anonymous,” and frequently writes on assorted Christian blogs condemning same-sex love. The following is my reply to a comment he made on my blog. Anonymous: Your “legalism” is blinding you to God’s call to not judge others and to love others. You “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” Scripture is “liberating,” not mere words on a page that are to be slavishly imposed, regardless of time and place. That may, ultimately, be the major place we differ: We see the Bible differently. I see the Bible as God’s love letter to us, showing us how we are no longer under a Law that no one can follow, but under “GRACE.” Jesus came to set us free; you and other biblical literalists seek to place the yokes of bondage on others for which Jesus condemned the Pharisees.
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.