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.

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.  

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.

 

 

 

 

Exit Interviews: What I Wish My Former Pastor Knew, Part 1

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Note from John:

I’m very fortunate that I have a venue for my voice to be heard, and realize that most people do not. As a pastor, I spend a great deal of my days listening to people’s stories and trying to speak and write in such a way that those stories are represented in the world—and particularly in the Church.

I asked my readers a simple question, and the responses have been overwhelming in number, and in the depth of faith and pain they reflect. I believe they deserve to heard be directly, and over the next couple of weeks I will share as many as I can. I hope they will minister to you, that they will bring some comfort and encouragement. I hope you’ll realize how very not-alone you are in your desire to pursue faith in the tension between God and organized religion.

And if you’re a faith leader in any capacity, I hope you’ll sift these words to find the ones that resonate and reveal to you the ways you might better do the important, life-giving work you are called to do. 

As you read, resist the temptation to refute or argue anyone’s response. Simply listen and allow each person’s experience to weigh the same.

The question was: If you’re no longer in a church or struggle with the one you’re a part of—what do you wish your pastor/priest/minister/leader knew?

I want your message from the pulpit to be the least important thing you do for the week. I want to know that you see me, not just as a body on Sunday morning. Not just as someone who has something to give. I want to know that you see me and know my story. Nothing you have to say on Sunday morning counts, If I do not feel know and supported on the journey I am on. And I want you to give me permission to be on a journey, to be seeking. I don’t want to have to follow your rule book or listen to the answers you pull out of your playbook. I want permission to find my way. I want you to listen. And maybe even be open to learning from me in the way that I want to learn from you.

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I wish my former pastor knew is that my sexuality didn’t deter my love for ministry. If anything, it made it much stronger.

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That instead of working so hard to save people’s souls for the next life, I would like to see them working just as hard to help people during this life.

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That their complete silence towards me since I’ve left had hurt more than anything they might have said while I was there.

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That mercy and grace are indispensable when building community…
That we have all sinned and fallen short….
That doubt can foster growth…
That it is not a zero-sum game…
That where ever one finds love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, the Holy Spirit is there…
That I still want lovely things for them…

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I want them to know that I can’t come back until their love feels like love; when it validates and heals rather than condemns, when they treat me like a person instead of a project.

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Eighty percent of every church’s beliefs come from the culture around it, whether they conform or define themselves by nonconformity. Their beliefs follow or fight against trends in politics, the economy, changing social norms. What we believe and how we act rarely has anything to do with God, so let’s stop acting like every bit of dogma is God’s honest truth—and make some room for people.

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I wish the pastor of my Catholic church could understand how hard it is for me to attend Mass with my Transgender son in light of Pope Francis’ recent remarks. I wish he knew how I sat there in bitterness, resentful of having to tithe to an organization so intent on rejecting people like my young child. I wish the pastor could be brave enough to outwardly love and support the LGBTQ community, and even start a group so that we didn’t have to feel so alone. I wish the pastor could preach about how although not all Catholics might agree, we still deserve the same love and respect, not condemnation

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I would like my former pastor to know how free I am. He said when our family left his church that we were headed to destruction, but in fact we have never experienced more joy and freedom than we do now. I would like him to know that he is the one in bondage. Not only is he in bondage, he is putting chains of bondage on each and every one of his members. The damage he has done (in the name of Jesus) is irreparable. I want to believe in Jesus still, but the Jesus I was taught of doesn’t look anything like the Jesus you speak of.  “I like your Jesus…”

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I wish they knew how hurtful it is to receive emails inviting me to conversion therapy classes.

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I wish he knew I am not ‘back sliding’ or lost the plot or lost my faith in Christ. I really wish after 10 years and starting a ministry that I was worth a phone call or coffee date to say, “Hey, you ok? I see you and your family have left and we miss you, and if you want to share I would love to know why you left and if you guys are okay.” I wish he knew the cost of losing my church family and I wish he knew that all those people who have left are not just the trash taking themselves out, but people worth something.

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I wish they knew how the church’s overt sexism and bi-phobia, and eventually its rape apologetics caused me to feel more pain and anguish in the community than away from the community. That after 20 years since leaving Christianity, I still do not feel safe or welcome as a human being in the church, let alone loved. I am happier keeping my distance.

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I wish my pastor knew about how vulnerable I was at the time (as a teen), and how much I needed him to be who I thought he was. I wish he knew that I had caught on to every attempt at manipulation, every subtle mention of the situation at the podium, and every condescending tone of voice he used with me. I wish he knew how damaging that behavior was to my ability to trust people in a critical age of my life. And I wish he knew that my refusal to go back to any church is due to his hunger for power, not because I was a “confused sheep” that was led astray.

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I wish you knew how hard it was for me to walk away from a ministry that I would have done for free. I wish you would remember who you are as a godly man, swallow your pride, and seek my forgiveness. I wish you knew that it was because of your ungodliness that I have a very hard time trusting male leaders. I wish you knew there are no titles in the kingdom of God that we are all equal. There is no brotherhood or sisterhood—only friendship.”

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That God works in ways beyond our own understanding.  Just because we don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have His hands on a life that desperately wants to love and worship. No one believed Paul when he first spoke of the grace that changed his heart.  We who are gay or transgender can indeed be used and used effectively. All they need to do is give us a damn chance.

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I wish my pastor knew how hurt I am by him not being the friend he advertised himself to be.

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That hate drives young people away. Fear (“You’re going to burn if you don’t do x,y, and z . . .”) is very off-putting. It may have worked in the past. Not now.

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I would like them to know that having questions, experiencing doubts and being uncertain about things the church is teaching, does not necessarily equal spiritual immaturity. No one comes right out and says that you are spiritually immature because you are struggling with things like the concepts of Heaven and Hell, or substitutionary atonement, or the inerrancy of the bible, or the sovereignty of God etc., but when they kindly offer to pray that God will make these things clear to you, what they are really saying is that they hope you settle down soon and get back to seeing things the way they do.

 I think it would help if pastors stopped saying everything from the pulpit with so much certainty, if Christians were taught fewer answers and trained more in the skill of asking good questions, if the local church would be a little more humble about what they know and hold to be true, if it would not be considered heresy to think or believe differently in their midst, and if more people in the church believed that right living is more important than right doctrine.

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Our Episcopal Church is full of former Catholics and many many gay former Catholics. I often wonder if my Catholic priests and bishops know this. Do they see the good that we do and the glory it brings? Do they realize that so many of us would have been the priests and sisters that they so sorely need? Do they see that we are living out our Catholic faith through the Episcopal church because that is where we can truly be ourselves. Do they miss us? And beyond wondering if they see or know this or miss us, I want to know if they care that we are gone? Do they wish it was different? Are they fighting to change things and make things right from the inside?

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