He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Parent.
If the author of this epistle was indeed the Apostle Paul (scholars dispute that, by the way), then he must have been smoking some good Corinthian hash. Thinking that there could be “one new humanity in place of the two” – Jews and Gentiles – was just crazy-talk to a lot of people – many of them Christians. Some Jewish Christians were having a rough time accepting Gentiles – who they believed were not among the people (specifically, Jews) that Jesus came to save as the Messiah. Not to mention, the whole lot of their men were uncircumcised – and that was definitely against God’s law.
“One new humanity?” What was this letter writer prattling on about? But, these words must have been music to the ears of the Gentile hearers in this church at Ephesus. Jesus came and abolished the law – not just the one about circumcision – but all the laws that kept Gentiles and Jews separated by ritual and by rite. Jesus, through his great love and sacrifice, brings reconciliation and peace, bringing in even those who had been excluded in the past.
Crazy talk, pure and simple.
It’s the kind of crazy talk that still happens in churches today. Accept gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into full communion in the church? Allow them to teach? Allow them to preach? Allow them to serve on church boards and councils? Crazy talk!!
We have our rules, our regulations, our laws and commandments, and there is no room for those kind of people within our churches. Witness the recent votes by the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. The Methodists once again refused to remove its language that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and the Baptists denied LGBT people the language of the civil rights movement. The Baptist move is thick with irony, since Southern Baptists were such staunch supporters of Jim Crow laws and led the movement against black civil rights in the 1960s. To have them now defend the black civil rights movement is kind of like the Klan, well, defending the black civil rights movement.
With all this “two steps forward and one step back” progress in not only LGBT civil rights, but in our right to stake our claim to God’s realm, all this talk of “one new humanity in place of the two” (our modern straight v. gay, or even Christian v. gay dichotomies standing in for Jew v. Gentile) still seems a bit crazy.
Our enemies are dug in against us, fearing that if they fully accept us then they lose something very dear to them – their belief in the authority of the Bible as they read it. Just as those ancient Jews thought they would lose their identity and the authority of their law if they accepted the Gentiles.
The author of Ephesians has some bad news – those laws are already gone – nailed to the cross with Jesus. If we are to still live by the law, then Jesus’ death would have been in vain – that’s something Paul did write in Galatians 2:21. So, it is not our human laws that dictate who is in the community and who is out. Instead, it is God’s grace that draws a circle big enough to include us all – creating one humanity out of the two, or two thousand, or two million.
This is the message that we are called to proclaim, even in the face of division, despair and damage still inflicted by those who refuse to be reconciled to one another through Christ. As author and historian Karen Armstrong has written in her book The Great Transformation: “We now have to develop a global consciousness, because whether we like it or not, we live in one world.”
She reminds us that “compassion and concern for everybody” is the best policy – even in the face of angry and stubborn opposition. As she writes, those ancient prophets, and even this writer of Ephesians, “developed their compassion ethic in horrible and terrifying circumstances. They were not meditating in ivory towers but were living in frightening, war-torn societies, where the old values were disappearing.”
Sounds familiar. We, too, live in war-torn times, old values are disappearing and those who hold them are scared to death. They do not deserve our scorn, but our compassion. Now is the time for LGBT people to be prophets of God’s dream of one humanity. Instead of persecuting our persecutors, let us develop a keen and lasting sense of compassion and good will toward them. We cannot have sympathy just for our own group, but it must extend out to even those who have sworn to be our enemies.
Will it be easy? No. But, doing the work of Jesus’ love and compassion never has been. We are not called to an easy task, but we are called to a task that, when done right, can help us transcend the hatred and violence, and be the peacemakers the Holy calls us to be.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.