It’s June 16 – just past halfway through Pride Month 2017. If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ve noticed a steady stream of pictures and stories oriented around the struggles (and victories) of many in the LGBTQ community, many of whom I count as friends as well as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me provide a little background on what drove the sheer volume of my activity, and then a little more about the purpose behind my actions.
In February, I daily honored Black Americans for Black History Month. In March, I daily honored women, particularly those who gained prominence in roles traditionally dominated by men. At the time, a friend of mine, who happens to be gay, made the comment, “I will be interested to see what you do with Pride Month in June.” Thus, the gauntlet was thrown.
But it wasn’t just about the challenge of regularly putting something about the struggles of the LGBTQ community on my wall, although that has been fun and educational (did you know that the Native Americans at Mesa Verde recognized more than two genders?). No, it has been about something that has been growing and changing within me for many years, ebbing, flowing, and at times warring internally within me as I sojourned through life, through each Christian faith tradition I entered and exited, and with each new and different person I met, came to know, and loved.
My June posts have led several Christian friends to ask me questions like, “You haven’t changed your stance and are now affirming, are you?” and “You still believe it is a sin, right?” These are questions that are at once both very easy for me to answer but also complicated to fully unravel and explain. Yes, I have changed my stance and am now welcoming, accepting, and affirming of my LGBTQ friends in my life, in my family, and thankfully, in the church I now attend. Any of you who know me understand that I don’t pound a stake into the ground on something unless I have fully considered all of the sides and ramifications, so please know that this is not an article I write capriciously.
I was raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin. I spent 40+ years in churches that taught homosexuality is a sin. Now that I have been openly celebratory of my gay friends, many Christian friends want to know now what my “sin meter” has to say about homosexuality (or any other form sexual orientation or gender identity in which regular, normal, beautiful people find themselves). Over the course of MANY years of talking with, working with, interacting with, and worshiping with LGBTQ friends, EVEN IF I WERE STILL TO CONSIDER THEM TO BE “IN SIN”, I would no longer reject them or keep them from being part of the full life of the Church, including leadership and marriage.
“But Ben, the Bible is clear on this.” Actually, no, it’s not. But I’m not choosing to make that argument here. In fact, if you like, assume for now that I DO think a person with an LGBTQ orientation is “living in sin”. It would not change my response, nor should it change the response of a Christ-follower. I would compare it to tragic situations I’ve watched over the years like where a Christian refused to attend a friend’s wedding because the couple had lived together before getting married, or a father who cut off communication with his daughter because she “walked out on her marriage” (even though she had endured 20+ years of emotional abuse from the man). My question is this: What on earth do you hope to accomplish by shutting people out of your life when they do things (or ARE things) that you don’t happen to understand, like, or agree with? The “Biblical” answer I usually get is that they will be “drawn back” from their sin by being removed from the circle of faith. Malarkey. Plain and simple. Are there scriptures that can be wielded to support this approach? Of course. I’m sure there are examples of where it has worked, but I haven’t personally experienced them. There are also verses to support women keeping silent in church and keeping their heads covered, the stoning of disrespectful children, being punished for Going to church within 66 days after giving birth to a girl (Actually, she’s unclean a week, and then another 66 days. Then she has to offer up a sacrifice), or (most notably) Jesus’ TOUGH teachings on divorce and remarriage. Most Christians have conveniently written off most of these named sins and punishments as “Old Testament law” or “written for a particular group of people in a particular church at a particular time.” Yet, time and again, when we find a particular “sin” especially unfamiliar and threatening, we immediately seize on THAT ONE as the one that is undoing society, undermining the traditional family, and “devaluing” heterosexual marriage (I still haven’t figured out the logic on that one – how does extending a right that you already have to someone else diminish or devalue that right?)
But I digress – I did not intend to litigate the sinfulness (or not) of sexual orientation or gender identity. My intention is to communicate this: Life really is as easy as love and kindness. The Gospel really is as easy as love and kindness. If you want “churchier” words, substitute “Grace” and “Mercy”. Everything else is up to God. The Spirit convicts of sin, Christ on the cross draws all of humankind unto him. It is God who will ultimately judge – not us. And a pretty cursory reading of the gospels will quickly show you that most of Jesus’ contempt and condemnation was reserved for the religious elite, who spent much of their time deciding who was “in” and who was “out” depending on the appropriate following of or breaking of religious laws. Most of us who spent any time at all in Sunday School are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. According to Jewish law, Samaritans were “out”. Big time. There was centuries old enmity between the Jews and Samaritans. And Jesus focused this parable directly AT the Pharisees after they tried to trick him into saying something they could seize upon that would land him in hot water:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Perhaps that’s why the Gospels and Acts provide so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with the message of Jesus. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world who is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from one’s own.
Pride month is not about a people group trying to take rights away from anyone else, and it’s not about devaluing heterosexual marriage or undermining the traditional family unit. It’s CERTAINLY not about trying to “make someone gay” (I’m pretty convinced it doesn’t work that way). It IS about saying “I am proud of who I am.” The LGBTQ community is proud that in spite of centuries of marginalization (at best) to outright extermination (it wasn’t just Jews being gassed and cremated in German camps), they are human beings who want and deserve the rights afforded to everyone else in a free society that holds all humans as being “created equal”.
So here are my Pride Month (and every month) challenges:
- Stop judging and start loving.
- There is never cause to be mean.
- Kindness is never wrong.
- Get to know someone who experiences sexuality differently than you do.
- Seek first to understand before expecting to be understood.
- Hold a hand, wrap someone in your arms
- Shower everyone you encounter with honor, value, and worth.
- You don’t have to “get it”, but make an effort to TRY and “get it“
There are a lot of people out there who are waiting and PROUD to tell you about themselves.
Go. Listen. Love.
Who is your neighbor? I think you can answer that for yourself.