“One day a man named Bill dies. Bill, having been a devout Christian, passes over without too much trouble. Arriving at the Pearly Gates, Bill enters and follows the signs to Reception. Walking up to Front Desk, he’s greeted by Saint Peter who checks him in. Handing the man his welcome package, St. Peter motions the Bell Angel to join them. “This is Gabriel. He’ll be giving you the tour of our facility while we get your mansion ready”. Like a celestial version of Mr. Rourke, Gabriel starts walking with Bill, talking about the infinite amenities of Hotel Heaven, pointing out various points of interest as they glide along. Soon they came to a cavernous shimmering hallway, its floors, paved in gold. “These are our ballrooms. This one is for the Catholics, and next door, we have the Lutherans. That one is for the Methodists and across from them, the Nazarenes. Over there are the Presbyterians…”, and on it went.
As they came to the last ballroom, Gabriel motions for the man to come closer and whispers. “Now, for this next group, we need to be really quiet.” “Why?” asked the man. “It’s the Baptists. They think they’re the only ones here.”
The Salt Lake Tribune – By Patty Henetz – First Published Apr 30 2012 02:20 pm • Last Updated May 02 2012 04:25 pm
“A week ago, an overflow crowd at the Weber County Library watched a documentary about the torments endured by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens at the hands of bullies. When 18-year-old Alex Smith’s turn came, he told the audience about the bullying his boyfriend experienced at his high school.
Unbeknownst to Smith or anyone else, Mountain Green resident Jack Denton Reese, 17, had ended his life the previous day. Funeral services were held Friday, and he was buried in Ben Lomond Cemetery.”
Bullying – for all kinds of reasons – has reached crisis proportions in communities all over America. Our kids would rather call in sick than run the gauntlet of abuse in the hallways between classes. Other kids are getting beaten up on a regular basis and choosing to go it alone rather than speaking up to a teacher or parent for fear it will only make the next beating worse. Little girls killing themselves because they can’t endure the hatred coming at them from their Face Book wall.
This has surely been a week. North Carolina joined some 29 other states in passing an amendment to their state constitution defining the only legally recognized relationship as being between a man and a woman. President Obama announced his support of marriage equality while a day later Mitt Romney was dealing with allegations he had led a small band of his classmates on a terror raid that ironically involved him, cutting hair.
Gays are encouraged, thinking maybe the civil rights movement has finally found them. Yet in the same news cycle, TV preachers have been filling the airwaves, loudly quoting one bible verse or another as the basis for their fervent warnings that run something like: ‘If we ignore God’s will and corrupt the traditional institution of marriage, God will turn away from us; terrorists will overrun our Society and looters will steal all the good stuff at Target.’
Why are some in the christian church so intent on using their bully pulpit to scare the rest of us? How have we, as a society, come to this point? And where are the young ones even getting the idea that bullying is acceptable?
Big surprise, they’re watching us do it. And while I am not proposing a direct and causal relationship, I’m worried about what’s being said in so many of our homes and churches every Sunday morning. Why are some of the worst bullies of gays the people who call themselves Christians? Whatever happened to ‘judge not, lest ye be judged”? I’ve gotta a funny feeling Christ is getting really pissed with those of us who carry His name.
So asking the patience of those who come from spiritual traditions other than Christianity, permit me to report back to my fellow campers some of what I’ve learned studying scripture over the first 25 years of my life as a 3rd generation Bible believing evangelical.
I was well on my way through grad school and headed for the pastorate before I began uncovering disconcerting clues that maybe, just maybe scripture was not so cut-and-dried after all. In fact, there were times in our history when scripture had been intentionally hijacked…even lynched for selfish purposes. Coming to understand what the Bible really said about gays stopped me dead in my tracks. ‘That can’t be true!‘. But the more university campus libraries I visited, the more glaring the real Truth became. Now I was spooked.
As a general rule, the whole lynching process starts with something as simple as a lack of good information. And when we don’t have good information? Our human imaginations have remarkable abilities to ignite brush fires of Fear in the presence of the Unknown. Time after time our history has shown that if given enough time, Fear will morph into Hate. And once Hate takes the field? You can pretty well kiss anything of value ‘good-bye’.
During my early teen years after years of church school and going to church 3 or four times a week, I remember two kids that attended my super church (both about my age). While I was busy lifting weights and running with ‘the guys’ (to avoid detection), Roger…and then later, Bobby were routinely harassed for being just a little too creative…a little too thin…a little too poofy. And this was by the church kids. Why? Like me, they were gay. But unlike me, they were as out as you could be and not get burned at the altar. I’d hear people at church say how we hated the sin, not the sinner…”but did you hear about Roger?”. No? And off they’d go, running their mouth with their juicy piece of made-up nastiness. Week after week, month after month, I watched both kids being systematically dis-assembled. I don’t how they lasted as long as they did. Oh that’s right…Bobby didn’t. He grew up to be a pastor with a church in the South. They found him in the woods behind his house, dead from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to his head. He left a note apologizing to God for being gay.
Even now, it drives me nuts to hear so many speak so confidently about what the Bible says about gays. I know enough really gifted scholars to know how much I still don’t know about the Bible and its twisted path to the man-made collection of writings that now constitute the Bible we see on our modern day bookshelves.
In fact, it’s many of those same scholars who taught me to view interpreting scripture like you would handling a kitchen knife. You have to show respect and handle it safely or you might just lose a finger when you plunge your hand into the dishwater. So what do you say? Let’s do some dishes.
I’ve done my homework and if you’re so led, I encourage you to do your own. There are only twelve references to what we view as homosexuality in all of what we now regard as the Old and New Testaments. If this is a topic you want to investigate on your own, here’s the grocery list:
Two refer to rape (e.g., non-consensual violations of hospitality rules (Genesis 19:5 and Judges 19:22).
Five refer to cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:23-24; 15:12-13 and 22:46, 2 Kings 23:6-8) while one refers to prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Four others are not as specific as some would like. Two of the four are in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:21-22 and Leviticus 20:13) while the remaining two are found in the Pauline Letters of the New Testament (e.g., Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10).
From everything I’ve read, the historical Jesus was all about asking questions. It must have driven his mom and dad nuts. So in that same rabbinic tradition, let’s take a little bible quiz of our own and see what that does to inform the politically charged conversation swirling around civil rights and religion.
QUESTION 1: The Old Testament talked about being gay as evil? TRUE or FALSE (circle one)
The word “homosexual” does not even exist anywhere in the ancient writings (Old Testament Canon or elsewhere). There was no knowledge or concept of ‘same-sex orientation’. There was just sex. Sex was sex.
What was viewed as wrong was for anyone to let their natural urges get the best of them. What the natural urges were for one person or another was pretty much left up to the individual to determine.. This is equally true in the New Testament era where no Hebrew or Greek cognate word even remotely equates to the modern day definition associated with homosexuality.
QUESTION 2: When I hear someone quote Leviticus 20:13 (King James Version (KJV)) does that mean being (or acting gay) is against what the Bible teaches? TRUE or FALSE (circle one)
You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of the Ancient Israelites. The Levites were members of the tribe of Levi and chosen to assist the Jewish priests. It was the Levites who were responsible for both criminal (e.g. secular) and holy law (Holiness Code). Much of the whole point of Leviticus was all about acting differently than the nations around them. It was a very specific time and place in the Jewish history.
There were a lot of criminal (or secular) laws in Leviticus. Some of them dealt with pork, tatoos, intercourse during menstruation and what fibers were to be used in clothing. It should be noted that homosexual acts were not mentioned once by the Levites in their criminal code…only in the spiritual law.
Why did they need spiritual rules?
The Jews were wanderers and routinely exposed to other cultures and religions that were not their own. These were dangerous times filled with dangerous people. The Canaanites were a prime example of that.
The Canannites were big on worshiping idols, witchcraft, spirits and sexual acts (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). Not knowing much about good agricultural methods, a big part of their worship had to do with having a fertile crop. Not too surprisingly many of the ‘worship services’ for these idols involved cult prostitution – both male and female. So if it were a female idol’s turn, the ceremonies were decidedly female. If it was the male god’s turn, the ‘worship services’ were decidedly male. This is where the idol Baal comes in.
Such practices would have been very strange to the Hebrews. Yet being farmers, some of the Israelites started toying with Baal…after all, who wants a failed crop? And if temple sex was the way to get the god or goddesses blessing, then so be it. The sin being spoken of wasn’t homosexuality, it was worshiping false gods and that, was a big deal.
It is troubling that some will wade through thousands of verses in old testament canon looking for a handful of references to serve a modern purpose for which they were never intended.
QUESTION 3: My preacher told me to read Romans 1:24-32 (King James Version (KJV)) for proof that I’m going to hell if I don’t stop being gay. Is that what the scripture really means? TRUE or FALSE (circle one)
Joining with many scholars like Candace Chellew-Hodge, my own study and reflection tells me St. Paul was likely referring to same-sex sexual acts committed in idolatrous worship by people he regarded as heterosexual. The sin wasn’t being gay (remember, they didn’t even have a word for it). The sin Paul seems to be speaking about was being untrue to who they really were to begin with. Remember, in the early church there was a great deal of debate amongst the faithful about who were better believers – Jewish or Gentile. The point St. Paul was trying to make was, no matter what you did or who you were, everyone needed the grace of God. In fact, even the most conservative theologians can only give their opinion as to what type of same sex acts Paul was referring to. Paul’s point was reminding early Christians that Christ didn’t play favorites. His Roman church was being reminded that all had sinned and all needed to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and lead a holy life.
QUESTION 4: Having a gay child is the fault of poor parenting. TRUE or FALSE (circle one).
The preponderance of modern-day research across all fields of study indicate being gay is as much a part of us as our hair color, race or gender. In fact, in cases of adoption of children by same-sex parents statistics show no inclination for slanting a straight child to grow up gay. The same statistical distribution models represented across all populations for heterosexual or homosexuality hold true across adoptive populations.
QUESTION 5: Jesus was very clear when he said being gay was a sin. TRUE or FALSE (circle one)
Jesus said plenty on all kinds of sexual immorality, but nothing, not one word on the topic of homosexuality..not one word. Instead, he spoke to replacing the old Law (e.g, Old Testament) with a new covenant. His new rule went something along the lines of “Love your neighbor like you love yourself. Do that and you’ll all be just fine.” Modern-day Christians refer to this as the Golden Rule.
CONCLUSION: How’d you do? Learn anything?
America is by definition, a collection of minorities.
The first minorities were the Puritans (1620-1640 AD); then black slaves (1680-1790 AD). Then came the Irish (1815-1930)…and then the Germans (about the same time). And then there was the California Gold Rush and in came the Chinese (1850 AD). America is a nation made up of different people who came here from somewhere else, wanting something better than what they had.
As a people we don’t constrict, we expand.
Woman can vote. So can African-Americans. A white man can marry a black woman and no longer be afraid of getting arrested. Rosa Park’s children can sit in any damn seat they want. Pay the fare and ride as an equal. As a People, we don’t say “No” nearly as much as we ask, “Why not?”. It’s what makes us great.
So after 27 years of living with the same man in a committed singular relationship, please join me in walking towards a time when Society will grant me and my Love all the same rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage so many others don’t even question.
In this we are common and one when our forefathers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
They signed it. I do too. I am proud to be a gay American with the freedom to call myself Christian. I will ridicule no one for having a different opinion or coming from a different place than I do.
But by the same token, no one is going to bully pulpit me out of being true to what I was born to be.
For us to reach the better part of a more perfect union, we’re all going to need to decide to get there together. Besides…I like the company. Thanks.
Where the Wild Things Are: We knew they were there. Mr. Sendak stepped up outside his own difficult childhood to do the best thing an adult can do for a child. He told the Truth. We are greater for his Life and lesser for his passing. Travel well…Max is waiting.
Maurice Bernard Sendak
(June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012)
PHOTOS and SOURCE ATTRIBUTIONS:
Pearly Gates Cartoon: St Theodore’s Wattle Park, an Anglican Church in Wattle Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – ttp://home.vicnet.net.au/~sttheos/sermons/pearlygates1.jpg,
Newspaper Article: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54018293-78/bullying-gay-jack-edmonds.html.csp and http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/bulle/2012/05/romney_s_bullying_how_bad_was_the_vicious_incident_reported_by_the_washington_post_.html Ancient Texts: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2010/03/ Church and State Street Sign: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/04/u-s-bishops-issue-call-to-action-to-defend-religious-liberty/ Wild Things: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_the_Wild_Things_Are
READING LIST: Pro or Con, educate yourself with what all kinds of people are saying. Lots of material here…so much more to go.
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