Legalism is an idolatrous religion. Legalistic judgmental religion is based on absolute commitment to biblical literalism, which is the conviction that every word of the Bible is literally true and every statement in the Bible has equal authority as the word of God. This approach to religion generates most of the religious opposition to civil and human rights for homosexuals. Biblical literalism is the basis for the rejection of homosexuals as an abomination to God and therefore unacceptable to God and to God’s churches and people. It is the basis for rejecting same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexual clergy. It is the reason for denying Gay and Lesbian couples the right to adopt children. It is the primary obstacle to opening the mind of America to the facts about sexual orientation and the truth about what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.
FACTS ABOUT LEGALISM
Legalism is a distortion and denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ as given in the Four Gospels and expounded in the rest of the New Testament.
Legalism is a mental disorder that masquerades as religion. Suspicion and fear are the chief characteristics of paranoid delusions and legalism. The severely suspicious person creates a rigid legalistic system that organizes and dominates all of life. Any question or attack on any part of the system is viewed as a threat to the person. This personal legalistic system is defended at all cost.
When I was a chaplain intern at Central State Hospital, Kentucky, during my doctoral program, I met a patient who was severely paranoid schizophrenic. We spoke to each other in a friendly way every day. Then one day he was sitting at a table and invited me to talk with him. I listened as he told me how he was a prisoner at the hospital so that they could perform experiments on him against his will. He went into detail to spell out his fears and to tell me how he was being watched and manipulated by the hospital staff. I listened for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, he would not speak to me again and avoided me. I “knew too much” and though I had not questioned his paranoid views, I was now the enemy and could not be trusted. I have experienced some of the same kind of behavior in far too many church leaders not to take seriously the pathology of suspicion and fear in legalistic religion.
Paranoid delusions are based on fear and an exaggerated view of one’s importance. When a person sees a group of people talking and thinks that “they are talking about me,” the subtle implication is: “Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.” One way to handle severe anxiety and fear is to develop the delusion that you are God and people are trying to take away your power. This kind of pathological thinking is not at all rare in churches and religious leaders.
Homosexual orientation is not a mental disorder. Legalism is.
Legalism based in biblical literalism is the foundation of many programs of economic support for religious institutions and churches. Fund raising demands and tithing techniques are often built upon distortions and inappropriate applications of biblical teachings about giving to the poor while clear teachings about accepting and loving outcast and unattractive people are ignored completely. The legalistic system that brings in the money is untouchable. Any threat to any part of the system is perceived as an attack on God.
Institutional Arrogance is one deadly product of legalism. The tightly wound coils of legalistic demands command absolute obedience and service to the institution that represents the legalistic system. Churches, colleges, schools, political movements, television and radio ministries, and various campaigns and programs demand and get sacrificial support from people who are convinced that these institutions are the “work of God” and have the right to require every resource that members and supporters might possess.
Until we as homosexuals can successfully challenge and change the dominant legalistic systems based on biblical literalism in this country, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgender people and many other religious outcasts will never be free from abusive oppressive religion. When religious leaders are committed to legalism, they see truth as threat and love as limited and conditional.
Our only hope is the conversion of religious leaders from legalism to Jesus plus nothing. We have to begin by being willing ourselves to follow Jesus plus nothing else. It takes a lot of spiritual confidence and courage to let go of all other “weapons” and trust only Jesus in a mortal conflict that determines our survival. Where will we find that confidence and courage? That is up to you.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.