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 map out 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.

When Your 6-Year Old Daughter Smashes the Patriarchy

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My daughter is a six-year old force of nature.

She doesn’t so much walk into a room, as she touches down like a tornado; altering the temperature, shaking the walls, and knocking stuff over when she arrives. Fearless and blissfully wide open, she spins her way through this life—and as her Daddy I get to live in the eye of her storm.

She has always been a complex little girl, equal parts Barbie Dolls and flaming swords; tough as nails to stand up to the brash little boys in the neighborhood who cross her, yet sugary sweet, hopping into bed every night for “snuggle time” with Daddy.

But lately there has been a profound disturbance in that equilibrium, a specific rebellion—one that Walt Disney might not sanction.

Today I walked into my daughter’s bedroom, and piled in a corner behind the door, were all her books featuring princesses or crowns or tiaras. One of the covers had even been ripped off. They had all been specifically removed from her book case, which was now left with only animal books and adventure stories. 

This discovery was made just before she walked into my room to tell me that she would no longer be wearing any princess dress pj’s (which until recently constituted nearly all of them). Pink is out, as are ornate detailing and taffeta of any kind. The bedspread and wall decorations can’t be far behind. Heck, we may be approaching total “Flip This Room” territory.

But these grenade revelations were all nothing, compared with the atom bomb she was about to drop on us:

“I don’t want to be a princess for Halloween anymore” she said with great confidence,”I want to be Harley Quinn.”

I may have blacked out for a brief second or two. After composing myself I asked her why, admittedly hoping the hot pants and sledge-hammer were really low on the list. She said, “Because she’s strong.”

I could be wrong, but in some 6-year old way I think my daughter is beginning to smash the Patriarchy—or at least giving it a good swift shot to the mid section. 

“I don’t want to be pretty” she insisted. “I want to be cool. I want to be strong.”

As I tried to explain to that she could be all of those things, I quickly realized that she didn’t want to talk about that right now. That’s a little complicated for her 6-year old mind to wrap itself around just yet. Right now, she just knows that she doesn’t see herself in gowns and sparkling shoes, and certainly doesn’t identify as a damsel in distress waiting for rescue from a cleft-chinned prince on horseback. She’d rather have a lightsaber and the plans to the rebel base so she can kick stormtrooper behinds and take out the Death Star—which is all perfectly fine with me.

I’d be lying if I said that seeing my daughter shed this earlier version of herself, doesn’t come without a bit of grieving; not so much losing the princess part, but losing the little part. She’s growing-up at light speed, and yet as bittersweet as it is, I know she needs to do this. She needs to become who she will become, even if that means I lose a little of who she was

Over the coming years she’ll likely meander into all sorts of personas; maybe eventually even ending up back in tiaras and taffeta. But right now, if shedding those things and resisting the color pink and saying goodbye to princesses for a while, helps her small arms push back against a big world that already wants to tell her what little girls should be and what toys are appropriate and who gets to play the hero, I’m good with that. I’ll celebrate the rebel in her every time.

My daughter already seems to feel a pressure from outside that would seek to define her, and she is already refusing to be defined by anyone but herself. This gives me great joy. Whether she becomes soft, abrasive, girly, tomboy, sassy, independent, spirited, clingy, or all of the above, I’m looking forward to it.

I don’t know who my daughter is going to grow into, but I’m hoping I’ll get a few decades to have a front row seat, because it’s going to be something to see.

Anyway, even though I won’t say it out loud, I know deep down she’ll always be my little princess—even if it is less Sophia and more Leia.

A Love Letter to Teens in the Closet

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If I remember it correctly, being a teenager can be Hell.

In the middle of so much changing in and around you, it can impossible to figure out just who you are.

Trying to navigate it all; the desire to fit in, the fear of rejection, the cruelty of other people, and your own daily inconsistency—can all be rightly disorienting. Some days it’s a battle just to take the next tentative step into the world, knowing what might be waiting for you out there. It’s not a natural thing to purposefully walk  toward pain that way.

I don’t need to tell you this.

You know it all too well. You understand better than most teenagers, and that’s why I’m writing to you.

I can’t fathom what it’s like to be stumbling to finding yourself, while being told by the voices around you that this self is an abomination; to be discovering truths about you, that instead of bringing joy, only confirm your greatest fears that you are different and that this difference is a liability. The tension that can create within a young soul must be nearly too much to bear.

I can’t imagine how much it hurts to hide in the middle of the crowds, to be silent about the deepest longings of your heart with those close to you, to sit in the middle of a joke that is about you and having to laugh along with friends and peers oblivious to the bomb going off inside you—and to believe that God Himself is against you.

It must be exhausting to keep your guard up all the time; to have to weigh every word, manage every conversation, carefully maintain the facade at home and at school and with friends, so as not to ever be fully transparent. It must be a nightmare to never get to be real anywhere.

And I guess I just wanted to tell you that I see you and that I’m sorry if this is the road you have to walk, because you deserve far better.

I wanted to encourage you not to let the voices around you drown out the one within you, because that one is the only one worth listening to. And I don’t mean the voice that now parrots back the terrible things they may have said about you. I’m not talking about an inner voice that’s gradually learned to agree with the bullies and bigots and the brimstone preachers.

I’m talking about the voice that says, “Yes, this is who I really am.”

Because that is the voice you need to cherish and protect and to hold tightly too, until you are able to speak and fully live what that voice tells you. One day I pray you will be able to do that. One day you’ll feel strong enough or loved enough or safe enough to say everything. But that day isn’t anyone’s business but yours. It will happen on your terms and in your time.

But in the meantime, I wanted you to know that you are loved; not only the carefully crafted version of you that you share with the world to protect yourself, but the real, true, most authentic you that so rarely gets to show itself.

That you, much of whom you are still discovering, is original and beautiful and made for greatness.

Keep going, dear friend and know that someone sees you and is for you.

Be so encouraged today.

 

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The Day I Chose My Heterosexuality

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I still remember the day I chose to be heterosexual. It was the fourth grade.

I was 10 years old and I already knew all about girls. I knew to take precautions with them. I knew to be very careful.

I knew they all had girl germs.

And if there’s one thing a worldly young man like myself already realized, it’s that you definitely did not want to catch girl germs.

And so I spent every recess sprinting through the schoolyard, tearing around the jungle gym, and barreling through clusters of scattering kids, trying to escape being touched by one of the female runners. It was like the cornfield human round-up in the Planet of the Apes (or maybe The Walking Dead, a few decades early). I did my best to help the other boys when I could, of course, but we all knew that when push came to shove, it was every guy for himself. Better them than me.

We ran for our lives every lunchtime, knowing that to be touched was to be contaminated. But I was super fast. Maybe it was my sweet new pair of Zips, maybe it was my natural ability, or maybe it was Adrenaline and desperation—but I was one heck of a runner.

That is, until Lori Kopcash.

Up until that day, Lori had been my greatest playground nemesis, and her very presence struck fear in my 10-year old heart. She was gross and icky and absolutely crawling with girl germs—and she could run fast too.

One afternoon Lori was chasing me through the blur of the screaming crowd around me, when I suddenly realized I wasn’t running as fast as I could anymore. In fact, I was sort of dogging it on purpose. The truth blindsided me like a truck: something in me really wanted Lori Kopcash to catch me.

That was the day I chose my heterosexuality.

Of course, there was no real decision to be made here; no furious debate in my mind, no great wrestling with the choice at all. I simply became aware that Lori Kopcash made me feel something I’d never felt before. I couldn’t rationalize it or explain it—I just liked her. I just liked girls. My perception of girl and their respective germs was never quite the same again.

We all can point to those moments early in our journey when we realize something true about how our hearts and bodies work. There would be more times, but this was the first.

It wasn’t until later that I learned through the faith tradition I’d inherited, that apparently not all people worked this way. Some people, my Christianity told me, choose to be gay; they reject the very natural reality of what God had hard-wired into them, and make a conscious decision to be a different way. What I experienced without thinking in that playground—they somehow decide. What was an awareness for me, was for them a premeditated choice.

I knew right away how ridiculous an idea that was.

I knew that it was both arrogant and ignorant to imagine that anyone else’s experience of attraction or affection or desire was any different from mine, simply because their conclusion was different. The story that my religion told me just didn’t ring true. It still doesn’t.

Later when I became a pastor, I was committed to remembering how natural what I felt that afternoon for Lori felt, and to work toward a Church that respects that we each have a truest truth; that we should be allowed to live and love and worship from that most authentic place. If God made any of us to naturally feel what we feel without getting to choose it—God created all of us this way.

One of the greatest failings I see in my fellow Christians, is assuming that they can determine what is natural for someone else; what is their real, their truth, that they can decide for another person who they are.

It grieves me when I see followers of Jesus dismissing someone else’s story; their sense of identity, their inclination to love, the orientation of their affections, and the revelation of their own hearts—as if they know more about those people than they know about themselves. It’s the height of hubris.

One of the prayers I carry daily, is that more people who claim faith in Jesus will find the humility to remember what they learned about themselves at some point in their lives, and to allow everyone the dignity of coming to their own conclusions.  

There in the playground of St. Mary’s Catholic school, Lori Kopcash made me stop running. And when I did I woke up to the way my heart worked. I didn’t choose anything, I discovered it.

That is a gift we should give everyone, both inside and outside the Church: the joy of being who they really are and trusting them with their own stories.

We should tell all people that when it comes to how they love and who they love—they can stop running.