I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
It’s amazing how three little letters strung together can cause such consternation, and perhaps utter repulsion, in the hearts and minds of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
LAW. It’s what the religious right says we violate every time we dare to fall in love with someone of the same gender.
LAW. It’s what the religious right keeps trying to pass to keep us from legally marrying someone of the same gender.
LAW. It’s what the religious right tells us will keep us not just from equal treatment in housing, marriage, employment or public services, it’s what will keep we filthy, rotten sinners from messing up their nice heterosexual-only heaven.
LAW. We have really good reasons to hate those three little letters put together in that particular order.
But, one thing we LGBT people are good at is rehab. We can take old houses and transform them into the pristine condition from where they began. We can take neighborhoods and return them to their former splendor and economic success. We can take marriage and transform it again into its heyday of commitment and success. We can take ugly words like “faggot,” “dyke,” “queer,” and “butch” and make them beautiful and powerful.
I say we apply this uniquely queer talent to this nasty word: LAW.
Jeremiah gives us a way to do that in this passage — but first we’ll need a wee bit of context.
This passage comes from the so-called “Book of Comfort” within Jeremiah — a prophet who is not known for many comforting words. However, in this passage, he is reassuring the Hebrew people that God has not forsaken them. In fact, God stands ready to forgive all past transgressions and make a new covenant with the people — one that Illiff School of Theology professor Amy Erickson writes:
… cuts out the middlemen and mediating institutions. He envisions a divine-human relationship unsullied by authorities and powers. The new covenant will no longer be entrusted to the elite; rather it will be inscribed on the heart of each individual. Hierarchies will have no place in this future.
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know [him]… (Jeremiah 31:34)
Which, when you think about it, is bad news for anyone who will preach that anyone else is condemned by God. If we look at our situation as LGBT Christians, what this means is we no longer have to listen to anyone say we are not worth of God’s love and acceptance. We no longer have to listen to the “elite” anti-gay preachers who tell us God hates us for who we are. We no longer have to listen to them prattle on about the LAW — because they no longer own the law — we do.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” Jeremiah reports the Lord as saying to Her people then and now. The law is not something to fear, not something “out there” that comes down from on high through preachers, institutions, churches or even the government. The LAW is written within each of us, deep inside our hearts, waiting to be uncovered, seen for the life-giving force that it really is, and lived into as fully as we can.
Which, perhaps, begs the question: “What is the LAW?”
If you listen to the anti-gay preachers, the only law they’re interested in us knowing is in Leviticus, or Romans, or 1 Corinthians. They want us to hear the modern LAW they have read into these ancient edicts against prostitution, promiscuity and idol worship, placing their modern day interpretations into texts whose original meanings are sketchy at best, and completely lost at worst.
But, that is not the LAW that Jeremiah is talking about. This new covenant isn’t like the last one, that was based solely on the Hebrew people following God’s law to the letter. No, this is a covenant of grace, a covenant of forgiveness — a covenant that invites not only these ancient peoples, but we modern day peoples, into a relationship with God based on the law of love, grace and forgiveness.
To live into this LAW, then, is not about keeping kosher or toeing some strict line. Instead, it’s about living in right relationship with everyone — with God, with family, with friends, and most especially with enemies. No one needs to tell each other the LAW anymore, because it’s written on our hearts — and what resides in our hearts is the law of love, the law of mercy, the law of forgiveness, the law against hardening our hearts toward anyone.
This means, my LGBT brothers and sisters, that we, too, are God’s people — chosen, beloved and made in Her image.
It also means that those who would harden their hearts toward us are also God’s people — chosen, beloved and made in the image of the Holy.
Which means, this passage is good news for all of us, because it provides grace and forgiveness to anyone who will soften their hearts toward each other and try to see the image of God reflected back — no matter how deeply one must look at the other.
Jeremiah holds good news for LGBT believers — we are God’s people, with God’s law of love written deep in our hearts.
But, the prophet has good news for those who hate us and preach against us, as well. The new covenant is open to them as well, and their sinful hatred toward their LGBT brothers and sisters can, and will be, forgiven.
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.