“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58: 6, 10-12
The Christian church is suffering some serious integrity, public image and retention issues. You ask people outside the church for one word that describes Jesus, and they say “love”. You ask for a word that describes Christians, and the top three responses you get are : anti-homosexual, judgmental and hypocritical. That, my brothers and sisters, is a crisis. There is a disconnect between the message of the Leader and the image of His followers.
Can I put this any more directly? How can a Christian possibly be against the equality for others? Jesus said it all hangs on two things: loving God and loving others. As Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was repealed in the US Senate on December 18, 2010, the media and social forums exploded with opinions and reactions. In some conservative Christian arenas, I read frustrated and angry responses to DADT, and equality issues for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) in both society and the church.
Yes, I am a Christian and no, the United States is not a theocracy. We don’t get to dictate American behavior with the Bible. The courts decide what is legal, not our religious institutions. If we were to rule by our Holy Book, that would make the US like Islamic nations where law and religion are Holy Text-based. We complain when Muslims want to bring the law/religion combo here, yet, there are some Christian groups trying to do exactly the same thing. The Bible is filled with excellent ethics and spiritual guidance; I try to adhere to them in my personal life. My life. I do not get to tell you that you must use this Book to guide your life. And, how would we choose from amongst the 6,498 commands the ones we enact into law? We have hundreds of denominations who can’t agree on some basics. So, thankfully, we do not base our Laws on individual interpretation of translations of the Bible.
Until 1870, black men in the US were not assured of voting rights. The change began with a political (more Republican votes) and a social movement, not lead by the church. Women got the right to vote in 1920 after a seventy year struggle. This again was a social movement, not lead by the church. Both the abolition and suffrage movements in the United States changed our culture by challenging the deeply rooted Biblical traditions of slavery and patriarchy. The Bible was used to support retention of slavery and the discrimination against women. We get that now; it seems so clear from this distance. Were there Christians involved in either of these issues of equality? Of course there were, but did they initiate the movements based on Christian principles of justice? No. If we had taken Isaiah 58 seriously, the church should have been at the forefront.
In 1964, the Civil Right Act passed outlawing major discrimination against women and blacks in the US. The seed was originally a social movement; the Black church culture provided a framework for the social revolution. The end of legalized discrimination was certainly carried and advanced by the talent, passion and non-aggression Christian ethics of Dr. Martin Luther King. In this battle for equality, the black church became an essential and beneficial player.
We now find ourselves facing equality questions again. This time gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people are striving for civil rights. This has been a forty one year struggle thus far starting in the Stonewall Riots. So, how are we, as the church in America going to approach this discrimination challenge as Christians? Either God means stop oppression and fight for justice, or He does not. He told us 2, 700 year ago through Isaiah to “spend ourselves” on the hungry and the oppressed. We missed it with slavery; we missed it with the suffrage movement; the black churches got in on it in the civil rights movement, but what do we do this time?
Inequality is oppression. Discrimination is oppression. If you are reading this and muttering the words “choice” and “lifestyle”, please read “The Ten Lies about the GLBT Community from Christian Hate Groups: a Christian Perspective” . So, here we are again, witnessing a struggle for equality by yet another group of people. And, again, it is a social movement. Where is the church this time and how are we to behave? I am not discounting the many denominations working actively to be inclusive of the GLBT community; I am looking at the Christian church that is presented to those outside.
Ah, this time the reaction by the church to those seeking equality is very interesting. Not only are we generally not supportive in the battle for equality, the Christian church, for the most part, is fighting against equality. Against equality of GLBT people not only socially, but also within our churches. Conservative “family” groups lie, preachers condemn, and congregants dictate the necessity to change orientation. The reasoning: “they” are sinners (aren’t we all?); “they” need to repent of their sins first and change (I’m still finding stuff I need to repent of and change after 25 years into this. Good thing I did not wait for my sorry self to get all cleaned up before walking into a church);“they” can’t be Christians (hmmm, didn’t Jesus say all?). “I am commanded to tell them truth in love like Jesus did”. Well, when He did, it probably did sound a whole lot like love. He’s God, He’s made of love after all.
Jesus said to love our neighbors and our enemies; you should need nothing beyond this as your motivation to treat GLBT people with kindness and respect. Combine this with the Isaiah’s words from God, do not oppress others and that’s all you need to know. The appropriate expression of Christianity has always been displayed in the treatment of others, not the subjugation of others. We sing “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Now, they know we are Christians by our anti-homosexual stance, our judgment and our hypocrisy. Their words for us.
This is typical of the missives I get: I had a woman tell me this weekend (for the x hundredth time) to read Romans 1, I Corinthians . . . as if I never had. She did not like the way I translate and interpret the five verses used to examine same sex relationships. (They are each examined in the VERSES tab of Canyonwalker Connections.) She did not like my inclusivity. She did not like grace over rules attitude. She is righter than I; she uses her Greek Lexicons and Hebrew and Aramaic dictionaries. (So do I, but rarely do I the pedigree thing, it is pointless in these conversations.) And, her husband has a Master in Theology. Impressive, but that will not be what God checks on day final at the Awards Ceremony. He will only ask “How well did you love, how well did you serve, how much did you reflect Jesus? What did you do in My name?”
There are people who know and teach Greek and Hebrew and have no faith. And, there are people who know no Greek or Hebrew and have faith. They love and serve and look a lot like Jesus. The man I love is one of those; he “spends himself” on the poor and hungry. He reflects Jesus every day and has impacted thousands of lives with his compassion and kindness. He rarely has time to read or study his Bible. I am pretty sure he does not even own a Concordance.
The most well known example in modern times of Jesus-like love and compassion was Mother Teresa. And, how were her skills in ancient languages? I went to high school with David Van Biema, the man that wrote the award-winning Time article and subsequent book on Mother Teresa . I e-mailed him and asked about this love and compassion machine’s ancient language achievements. David replied, “Her faith was very deep but not very academic”. Not surprising. She spent her life on loving and serving others. In a society that shunned the outcast, she loved and displayed compassion in their midst. She did not demand that they get it right, repent of all sins and change. Now, this is a “poster Christian” that brings us good press. Imagine if we each acted so Christ-like, so Christ-ian?
So the point of all this? We are failing miserably in our image and reflection of Jesus. We were late to the game on equality for women and slaves. And now, we are actually using our efforts detrimentally against GLBT people in their quest for equality. You can hang onto every interpretation of every word and verse you hold dearest and try to build walls of exclusion to the gay and trans community. And, you will miss the dictate to love and the opportunity to aid others in a quest for equality. Can anyone actually imagine God thanking a person for keeping people from Him and for subjugating them? “Thanks for keeping that gay person away from Me. Good for you letting them know there are rules to follow and things to deal with before they get near Me. Nice work on the bouncer job.” Come on church, if God is so bothered by the same sex attraction, let Him deal with it. Just stop being a wall between GLBT people and God. Equality is a Jesus-value. Always has been. All get access to Him.
Equality is coming. Are you going to hold onto your rules and translations and fight for discrimination? Now something sounds really wrong with that. You can also choose to do nothing about discrimination. Or, you can fight for equality. What would Jesus do? Treat people as less than, remain passively aside and watch as they struggled or stand with them?
Separate from social equality, the issue of equality for GLB soldiers was decided in the repeal of DADT. The United States military has been in this place before too. On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman used an executive order to end segregation in the military. Eighty- two percent of the American public and Southern senators fought against it. “We’ll have to shower with them, bunk with them, eat with them, be in combat with them, depend on them in the trenches. It will be bad for morale.” Blacks were 10% of the population in 1948 and 82% of Americans did not want military integration, but still the President used Executive power to enforce it.
Here we are again. Conservatives are up in arms over DADT. Seventy- seven percent of the American public was for the repeal of it. The remaining 23% say, “They’ll have to shower with them, bunk with them, eat with them, be in combat with them, depend on them in the trenches. It will be bad for morale.” But still, the President will repeal DADT with support of the house and the Senate. Fear-based arguments were used in 1948 and they are being repeated again. And ,who is at the lead of the complaining? Conservative Christian “family” groups and people that quote their “Christian values” of anti-homosexuality.
Yeah gang, we have a crisis going on here. The Christian church is suffering some serious integrity, public image and retention issues. We keep making the same mistake over and over and, on this struggle for equality by GLBT people, we have up’ed the ante. The church is fighting against equality for discrimination. Same thing. Discrimination is not a Jesus value.
If equality for GLBT people scares you, then figure out why. I don’t think God is very impressed with His knowledge-fattened followers that neglect the weightiest thing of the Law: to love others.
Where will the people of God put their effort concerning this yoke of oppression? How you choose to treat the GLBT community is the picture they will get of God/Jesus. We have gotten uglier images from this issue than from any other in modern church history. We have caused incredible pain with our words and actions. We justify our poor treatment of GLBT people with our Bibles. We fight against basic human rights for an entire class of people. We drive people away from God with our arrogance and interpretations. We lie and believe lies about GLBT people.
Deeply rooted Biblical traditions denied women and slaves their equal rights, and that was wrong. We’re doing it again, this time with increased vigor. Knock it off Christians. If you are not known for the love you give all others, you’ve missed the point of the relationship with Jesus. We make Him look bad, really bad and our image sure could do with a boost. If we were to actually reflect the Man who came for all, loved all and served all, we’d get it right, finally. And, this equality thing, it is a Jesus value. People outside the church, sadly, seem to know this better than we do.