Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

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Christians will go to great lengths to get God to consent to their prejudices. It’s actually quite astounding and equally sad. 

Every day I watch and read fellow followers of Jesus attempting to use Scripture to discriminate against, marginalize, and condemn people who identify as LGBTQ. They engage in the most protracted, passionate, theological gymnastics, arrogantly and confidently tossing out chapter-and-verse grenades in an effort to make the case that God has a problem with being gay and that the Bible is proof. They do this with great authority, unwavering confidence, and very little tolerance for dissent.

This is one of the most irresponsible things Christians have ever done.

In truth, only a literal handful of the Bible’s 31,102 verses mention what could be translated as homosexuality (an English word first coined in 1946)and in even those few cases the reference is solely to a sexual act, never to anything remotely resembling what we understand as gender identity or sexual orientation. The reason for this is quite simple: such complex ideas were beyond the grasp of the writers, just as the shape of the planet or the inner workings of the human body or the nature of gravity were. This is understandable. They had no knowledge of how the brain worked and so they could only observe behavior and imagine that was the extent of sexual identity. 

This is the greatest flaw in attempting to use the Bible to address the intricacies of human sexuality—that it is woefully inadequate for that specific task. The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown, very human authors in multiple languages, during which time the concepts of gender identity or sexual orientation were formed at only the crudest levels.  

The Bible is a product of its time and culture and contains the inherent limitations of its writers. It isn’t an attack or mutiny to admit these things, it is simply being honest with our sacred text. Even fundamentalists and Conservatives understand this. We see it in the way our orthodox Christian understanding and approaches to slavery, women’s rights, mental illness, and divorce have all evolved with what we’ve learned over time. It’s the reason we no longer stone adulterers or accuse paralytics of moral failing or imagine Hell sitting below a flat earth.

This is why arguing incessantly about a handful of parsed out lines of Scripture, as if these verses answer the complex questions of sexuality is such misguided time and such a misuse of the texts themselves. Using these few bits of text to justify discrimination and bigotry is reckless and irresponsible. We don’t rely on the Bible to understand gender identity and sexual orientation for the same reason we don’t rely on a 2,000 year old medical text to understand the circulatory system, or use ancient hieroglyphics to understand the Cosmos. We know that these things are not enough because time has taught us.

When we put our bodies in the hands of surgeons, we want them to bring every bit of study and experience and historical learning to bear, because of the complexity of the task. We wouldn’t accept that what we knew in the first century was at all adequate. In fact, we’d demand that anything antiquated, technologically or intellectually be discarded. That is the only responsible decision when life is in the balance.

In this and in so many other ways, God has given us time as a gift in which to gain understanding about the world and about our bodies and our brains, that we didn’t and couldn’t know two or three thousand years ago. We gladly and wisely use this experience without giving it a second thought, without exception. In every other sphere of life, this is how we live; allowing new revelation to help us make better decisions and to override information when it proves to be incomplete or erroneous.

The damage the Church has done an continues to do to the LGBTQ community by trying to claim the writers of the Bible understood things they simply couldn’t have understood about sexuality, is one of our greatest shared sins. We need to allow all that we’ve learned to inform our faith perspective. We can go to the Scriptures for wisdom and guidance and inspiration, but we should never go to them as authoritative textbooks on biology or anatomy, and never as an excuse to ignore what we’ve discovered since they were first recorded.

If we don’t see and consider the Bible’s limitations regarding the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, we will continue to try to use God to reinforce our fear and sanction our prejudices, and we will continue to engage in behavior toward the LGBTQ community that makes our violence and mistreatment feel righteous, while not at all reflecting the love of Jesus.

America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?

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One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was raped by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this week.

This week she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the GOP candidate and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you this week.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect his may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have been the victims of sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with are okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you this week if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This week, America is speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault about their worth, their pain, their importance.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine what we’re saying to them right now.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.

 

 

If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)

 

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When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices

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I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.

 

 

The Church’s Sin Against the LGBTQ Community

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There’s a story Jesus tells, known as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man leaves his property in the hands of three servants to care for. Before departing, he gives each of them a certain amount of money (known as a talent). After a long time away, the man returns to discover that two of his servants have invested the money well, generating even more in his absence. They are greatly rewarded for their efforts, with shares of the property. The third servant, believing he had been wise, had buried his talent in the ground. When he presents it to his employer, the wealthy man is furious at the servant’s wastefulness. He takes the money from him and angrily sends him away.

The heart of the parable, is to use what you have been given by God well; not to squander your blessings or waste your time here. We church leaders teach the heck out of this when we’re looking or Nursery volunteers or we have a building campaign or when we want to get people fired up to evangelize—but it’s tough medicine to take for ourselves.

Seeing organized Christianity’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, it’s clear that we have been the foolish third servant—and we should repent of our reckless wastefulness.

Whether it’s championing anti-LGBTQ legislation, spearheading department store boycotts, aligning ourselves with hateful partisan politicians, rallying around incendiary celebrity preachers, campaigning against same-sex marriage, engaging in denomination-splitting battles, or daily using our pulpits and podcasts to beat the same dead homophobic horse, the result is the same—we bury our blessings in the ground. We waste our talents.

People (whether they identify as LGBTQ or not) are not coming to know Jesus through any of these things. They are rejecting them, condemning them, and using them to justify walking away from a religion they long suspected was fraudulent anyway. The Church isn’t shrinking in these days because people are turning from Jesus, but because they are turning from an institution that they can rightly see no longer represents him.

We have three resources in this life: time, creative energy, and money. We are given in this life, the opportunity to steward these things well, to cultivate them, to multiply them, to use them for goodness. They are finite, precious reserves we are entrusted with to reflect the character of Christ in the world. When I look at how much of these resources the Church has expended silencing, vilifying, eliminating, and persecuting the LGBTQ community, I am certain we are squandering them all and that we are flat-out failing our calling.

Seeing the massive investment Christians have made in recent years trying to keep LGBTQ people from marrying, from using the bathroom, from participating in the life of the Church, from ministering—or from simply living, I can’t help but wonder what far more redemptive things we might have accomplished here:

How many hungry people could have been fed?
How many people trapped in homelessness could have been released?
How many dilapidated inner city neighborhoods could have been cleaned up?
How many ministries to the poor and hurting could have been birthed, staffed, and funded?
How much racial reconciliation might have been engineered?
How many families and marriages could have been repaired?
How many suicides could have been prevented?

This is the sickening waste that the Church will have to account for.
It is the irresponsible frittering away of time that we each will have to personally answer God for.
It is the shared sin that we as the Church have to own, and decide whether or not we want to continue participating in.

I am praying that we will stop grossly misusing our talents to do things that bring God no glory, that do nothing to reflect Jesus, and that actively keep people from the abundant life he promised.

Church, stop wasting daylight. Stop burying your great wealth.

While you still can—pull your blessings from the ground.