SOGI opponents not biblical enough

We shouldn’t be surprised that several Christians have recently used the Bible as a weapon against the LGBTQ community in Springfield, particularly when it comes to the matter of relationships and, by extension, equal rights. Their use of the Bible is extraordinary. It’s not that their arguments are unbiblical. To insist that scripture is clear about marriage being between one man and one woman is quite true (which is the primary claim made to oppose same-sex relationships and LGBT identity as being normative). The problem, however, is that their arguments are not biblical enough. If we are going to insist that biblical norms related to human sexuality and relationships dictate the laws of the land (even though, last time we checked, we live in a democracy and not a theocracy), then we need to embrace everything the Bible clearly teaches about human sexuality and relationships, beginning with marriage.

From a biblical perspective, we can insist that marriage is between one man and one woman, but what else? Aside from women being literally treated as property (emphasis on literally), should we also insist, as Deuteronomy 22:28–29 does, that a woman who is the victim of assault marry her attacker? Should we pass a law stating that a widow with no sons must marry her brother-in-law in order to keep the command of God (Genesis 38:6–10 and Deuteronomy 25:5–10)? Perhaps we should—in light of Deuteronomy 7:3, Ezra 9:11–12, and Nehemiah 13:25, 27—prohibit U.S. citizens from marrying non-citizens and/or those outside of their particular religion. Or perhaps we could invoke the examples of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon and finally legalize polygamy.

And what of the New Testament? Should divorce be outlawed, since Jesus himself unequivocally condemns it in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12, then offers it a qualified condemnation in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9? Should all divorcees be denied the right to remarry, since both Jesus and Paul are against it (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)? Or, in terms of equal rights, perhaps all women who hold supervisory roles over men should be fired by legal precedent and be replaced by men (1 Timothy 2:12)? Why aren’t Christians trying to prohibit and repeal such things, since they represent clear violations of biblical principles? As far as SOGI is concerned, based on this criteria, shouldn’t a Christian have the right to deny housing to someone who is divorced, or fire an employee for getting remarried? After all, this is the logic that opponents to SOGI invoke.

But whether they’re aware of it or not, Christians who stand opposed to equal rights, protections, and relationships for LGBT people aren’t doing so on biblical grounds. Rather, they draw on a select few verses that support their previously held beliefs and assumptions. And in case you’re keeping count, there are twice as many verses cited in this article alone (verses that support mandates no Christians in the community are trying to repeal) than all the references in the Bible (six at most) that are used to condemn LGBT people.

When it comes to making ethical decisions based on faith, let us appeal not to our worst instincts, but to the timeless truths of love, dignity, and compassion that our sacred traditions point to at their very best. As Christian pastors, we’re in favor of “No repeal” — not because all of our traditions have been perfect in all times and all places, but because Love is the one thing that is (1 John 4:7-8).

Rev. Darryl J. Schafer
Senior Minister
Billings Christian Church

Rev. Phil Snider
Senior Minister
Brentwood Christian Church

norepealsgfcoverphotowithhashtag

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In memory of Marcus Borg — great scholar, and even better human being

I’m really sad to hear that Marcus Borg has passed away. I’ve looked up to him for many years now, and countless people from my church have expressed how much his writing and speaking touched their lives, as it has mine. Just last night, before any of us had heard the news, someone at Brentwood mentioned that it was his writing that brought them back to Christianity.

I will always remember the time Emily Bowen-Marler and I had just finished final proofs for our book, and all the endorsements were supposed to be ready, but the publisher somehow got its wires crossed and didn’t get the manuscript to the endorsers like they were supposed to. Which meant that I had to ask Marcus a huge favor. I didn’t know him all that well, but here I was, a new author, just a couple of weeks before my first book was supposed to go to press, having to ask if he would still read the manuscript and still consider endorsing the book, and “oh by the way, can you do it in two weeks time?” (which is far, far from ideal in the publishing industry, to say the least). But he graciously agreed, and wouldn’t you know it, two weeks later he contacted me with an endorsement for our book. He could’ve easily, easily said he didn’t have time, but he still offered his support. Reading his endorsement felt like an out of body experience for me. Surreal, lovely, magical. It’s one of my favorite memories. I once told him that he is a bit of a patron saint at Brentwood, and I wasn’t entirely kidding (perhaps not at all, now that I reflect on it). He is now among that great cloud of witnesses. I am grateful for him, and I am in his debt. Rest in peace, Marcus. This world is a better place because of you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Honor Dr. King by fixing societal structures

My latest Springfield News-Leader column

As each year goes by, I’m experiencing more and more mixed feelings when celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It’s not that I think Americans shouldn’t take time to honor the legacy of Dr. King. After all, I believe Dr. King is the greatest Christian theologian in our nation’s history.

And it’s not that I think we shouldn’t have a national holiday in his honor. We have a variety of national holidays, and one of the primary things Dr. King left us with is a legacy of non-violent resistance (deeply rooted in, but not confined to, the example of Jesus), and it’s vitally important for us as a nation to remember the virtues of non-violence, especially when we so frequently rush to arms and valorize warfare.

Every year my church and my family march with hundreds of others in the Springfield area out of a shared commitment to justice, dignity and equality, and I wish to continue these practices well into the future. Indeed, I want to see them grow.

So why am I experiencing such mixed feelings?

Part of it, I fear, has to do with the way our nation frequently runs the risk of trivializing the deep import of Dr. King’s memory and message — a trivialization that harbors the potential of distracting us from the true — and much more difficult — pursuit of justice and equality.

During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, we hear a lot of quotes on television and social media related to how everyone — no matter their background, race, or class — is created equally and therefore should be treated with dignity. Which is no doubt true. And we celebrate the beautiful call in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, reminding ourselves that our treatment of another person should be based on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin. Something else that is no doubt true.

But what we don’t hear much about are Dr. King’s penetrating critiques of societal structures that systematically take advantage of people — structures that produce unfair playing fields in which a person — no matter how good the content of their interpersonal character may or may not be — doesn’t always share in the same advantages that others might have, whether related to education, business, safety, or economic security (this is why racism is always about far more than personal prejudice — it’s also about systems of power that are set up to benefit some at the expense of others).

When Dr. King retold the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, he certainly highlighted the importance of the Good Samaritan helping the man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the Jericho Road. But he didn’t limit his analysis to the interpersonal virtues of the Good Samaritan. He went on to say that:

“A true [transformation] of values will cause us to question the fairness of many of our policies. On the one hand, we’re called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.”

Even though segregation and inequality are actually on the rise in America, we’re conditioned to believe that to talk about systemic racism is no longer necessary in our so-called “post-racial America.” After all, doesn’t our annual celebration of Dr. King prove that we’ve arrived? That justice and equality have been achieved? Hardly.

It’s far too easy for us to neglect the full import of Dr. King’s legacy — a legacy that many white Americans like myself wish to conveniently repress or ignore. But when we reduce his legacy only to how we treat one another in interpersonal exchanges, and don’t pay attention to the way systems of power can be structured in unfair ways that prevent everyone from getting a fair shake, we don’t truly honor the man or the message. In such cases, we prefer celebrating the parts of his legacy that don’t challenge or push us out of our comfort zones.

If we really wish to honor Dr. King, we must look at the way systemic injustice is structured and brokered in a society in which too many people are left hurt and abandoned along the Jericho Roads of our world. This is no easy task. But it’s precisely what Dr. King did. It’s also what got him killed.

Do we truly have the courage to pick up where Dr. King left off? Or is the weight of pursuing true justice — and liberty for all — more than we can handle?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Some thoughts on Charlie Hebdo, satire, religious violence, freedom of speech, and the baptism of Jesus

theophanyMark 1:1-11
Brentwood Christian Church
1/11/15

The Gospel of Mark begins with a bit of satire. Its opening words declare, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Now, to our modern ears, we don’t quite catch the satire, and we need to know some background.

When evangelists roamed the countryside of the Roman empire, visiting villages and hamlets such as Nazareth or Bethlehem, they were evangelists of the Roman emperor. The word evangelist means “bringer of good news,” with the word evangel meaning good news. And well before Christians were known for being evangelists — televangelists and otherwise — the Roman empire employed evangelists working on behalf of the Roman emperor, to share the “good news” the emperor had for his subjects.

The beginning of Mark’s gospel is a direct play on evangelists who represented Caesar Tiberius, evangelists who would enter a town and say, “Hear the good news of Caesar Tiberius, the son of God” — as you might recall, well before Jesus was proclaimed as Son of God by Christians, the Roman emperor was proclaimed as the divine son of God, Lord, Savior, and so forth.

But in a striking rhetorical move, the early Christians took these titles and phrases surrounding the Roman emperor and subverted them — bestowing them upon Jesus instead. This was a provocative, satirical way of saying that if you really want to hear good news, don’t look to Caesar, who, like most politicians and rulers of the day, is just out for political and material gain, often at your expense, but rather, look to Jesus for good news, for he wishes to liberate the oppressed and not exploit them, he longs to heal and mend without asking anything in return, he is the true prince of peace (remember the symbol of the dove appearing at his baptism), who brings peace not through conquest and military might — ala the Caesars of this world — but through justice, equity and reconciliation that is not about establishing a dominant empire through violence but is about ushering in a world built on mutuality and care and restoration for all people. In other words, it’s the narrator’s way of saying if you really want to know where God’s goodness is located, where true power can be used for the greater good, don’t look to Caesar or to Rome — which stand for the conventional, violent powers of empire that have ruled the world down through the centuries — but instead look to what is stirring in the life of Jesus — for there is a much better picture of where God’s goodness is located, hence the reasons early Christians reappropriated the titles son of God, savior, and Lord, bestowing them upon Jesus and taking them away from Caesar. This subversion or satire of Roman titles and phrases begs the question, where does one locate the truth of God — in the good news stirring in the life of Jesus, or the good news of empire? While Christians down through the ages have often sided with empire, the early Christians subverted empire, and said that hope is hope when it seeks the good of all subjects, as opposed to the expendability of all subjects.

The Bible is full of satire such as this. Even John the Baptizer, who plays a key role in announcing the significance of the life and ministry of Jesus, functions in the subversive capacity of turning the tables on the expectations of what God’s evangelist, or messenger, or announcer of good news might look like — instead of embracing excesses of empire, symbolized by white horses and gold rings and purple robes, John the Baptizer arrives on the scene wearing clothes made of camel hair and a simple leather belt, eating locusts and honey (he was backwoods ya’ll).

I mention all of this in order to raise the question of the value of satire as a truth-telling mechanism, which is fresh in our minds following the tragic massacre in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo paper. In the wake of the shooting, many around the globe began tweeting with the hashtag #WeAreCharlie, announcing solidarity with the satirical newspaper itself, which is not necessarily the same thing as announcing solidarity with the victims of violence and their grieving families. Part of the #WeAreCharlie response, of course, is connected to showing support for freedom of speech, which is viewed as a major value in democratized societies. Charlie Hebdo is a paper known for its provocative satirical pieces that push freedom of speech to its max, making fun not only of Muslims but of anything that might get a rise out of others.

And it’s here I must confess a bit of confusion. While I am all for freedom of speech — and while I believe satire can be used for great gain, as is often the case not only in the Bible, but, say, in the genius of Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart or the American pseudo newspaper The Onion — satire for the sake of satire, especially if it is demeaning and dehumanizing of others, as Charlie Hebdo often is, does not strike me as something to be in solidarity with. Instead, ought not we express solidarity with the lives of those who were lost and their families, the victims of tragic violence, rather than with the paper itself? And at the same time, ought not we take this moment to unequivocally denounce all forms of violence? Including violence done in the name of Islam, as well as all forms of political violence, economic violence, systemic violence, and religious violence that’s not exclusive to Muslim violence? And ought not we ask questions about the value of freedom of speech that’s only employed for freedom of speech’s sake? Isn’t the primary value of freedom of speech the freedom to speak truth to power, without being imprisoned, as opposed to simply provoking for provoking’s sake?

When the Bible tells us the story about Jesus being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, with the descent of the dove making its way toward him, it’s a way of saying that if you follow this one, you will find truth, and such truth harbors the promise to set you free. Rest assured, following this one may lead you toward encountering uncomfortable truths, uncomfortable truths about our lives and about our society, but they are truths that ultimately harbor the promise to set us free. And they are truths that don’t provoke for provoking’s sake, but in order to bridge divides, mend fences, break down walls of separation. And they are truths that set free in large part by virtue of their condemnation of violence and dehumanization in all its forms, whether physical or verbal, political or religious, implicit or explicit, personal or systemic.

The Bible uses satire to describe the kinds of truths that harbor the promise to set us free. This is what satire can do at its best. But when satire is used simply and vapidly to provoke and agitate and anger and dehumanize, with no viable greater good, it may very well be an expression of freedom of speech, but it’s hardly the kind of truth that can set us free. And when one feels like their faith is so threatened by such provocations that violence becomes the answer, as was the case with the massacre in Paris, then it’s in that moment that religion cedes its high ground and becomes nothing more than another self-defeating nihilistic pursuit. Which is precisely what any religion worth its salt is supposed to save us from.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mary, Did You Know?

I collaborated on the following sermon with my friend, Darryl Schafer (we preached our own versions of it at our respective churches). You can listen to the full audio here, or, if you’re just interested in the string of text messages we exchanged that gave birth to the sermon, here are a few of them:

Mary, did you know that your son would be a champion of the poor, only to see so many of his followers 2,000 years later blame, victimize, and dehumanize the poor?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would be called the Prince of Peace, yet countless wars would be waged in his name?

Mary, did you know that even though your son treated women as equals it would only take two generations for those following in his name to reestablish patriarchal gender norms?

Mary, did you know that followers of your son would deny basic human rights to others in the name of your son?
Mary, did you know that your son would be brutally tortured by state powers and that, 2,000 years later, most of his followers would turn a blind eye to the evils of torture still done by state powers?

Mary, did you know that those dipped in the fount of baptism in your son’s name would readily sanction dipping the heads of others into the waters of torture?

Mary, did you know that if your family tried to escape Herod’s violence by crossing our border today that most of your son’s followers, at least according to the statistics, would want to send all of you back?

Mary, did you know that if your son earned an executive job in America many would assume he was nothing more than an affirmative action hire?

Mary, did you know that the color of your son’s skin would make him more than twice as likely to serve time in an American prison today?

Mary, when you held your baby boy in your arms, did you know that he would end up becoming one more brown child unjustly killed by state powers?

Mary, did you know that that while your son was hanging on the cross that the cause of his death was suffocation? He could not breathe.

Audio of full sermon:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Christmas at Brentwood

Originally posted on Brentwood Christian Church:

Dec. 17, 6:30pm — Children & Youth Christmas Program
Dec. 24, 6pm — Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Dec. 28, 10am — One combined worship service

View original

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Danny Cortez’s sermon, “Why I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality”

I’m grateful to the Rev. Danny Cortez for graciously allowing the following sermon to be included in my forthcoming book, Justice Calls, which should be out early next year.

—————————————————

“Why I Changed My Mind On Homosexuality”

Danny Cortez

The Rev. Danny Cortez, an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, is the pastor of New Heart Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in La Mirada, California. This sermon was preached at New Heart on February 9, 2014, just a few weeks after Rev. Cortez informed the elders that his views on homosexuality had changed. The congregation then entered a period of discernment, and on May 18, 2014, voted not to dismiss Rev. Cortez. Instead, they chose to become a “Third Way” church, leaving room for congregants to disagree with one another regarding the affirmation of LGBTQ people—which is a significant step for a Southern Baptist church. Later that year, on September 23, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to break ties with New Heart Community Church. [Editor’s note: This is an edited transcript that closely follows the audio file of this sermon. Slight modifications have been made to make it read more like a manuscript than a transcript.][1]

 

______________________________

Romans 1

I’ve been so grateful in the sixteen years of New Heart that we’ve never had a church split. We’ve never had any major crisis. We’ve never had any huge ordeals that created major chaos. But, unfortunately, we are now embarking on our first one.

Many of you received an email asking you to attend today. The subject matter was about homosexuality—some of you know why, and some of you don’t. The reason there is chaos right now is because I recently revealed to the elders that I have changed my stance on homosexuality. It was understood that this was a radical shift from the longstanding belief of our church. This was a radical shift from our statement of faith aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the news that I delivered to the elders, I realized that I had dropped a bomb on them. For that, I am saddened I created that confusion. They expressed to me that they wished I had shared that with them earlier on in the process, as I was going through this shift. In retrospect, I realize that I did them wrong by not sharing this with them sooner, and that I had done the church wrong.

But the fact remains that I’ve been on this journey, and my thinking on this matter has changed. There are implications for that; there are strong implications. I realize that it’s grounds for termination. I realize that this might be my last message—I get that. But I’m also grateful that the elders have extended graciousness to me. Even in our strong disagreement, I want everyone to know there has been nothing but respect for one another. There’s been a genuine sense of struggle and disagreement—and yet there’s been love between us. And that’s really all I can ask.

They have set a course of action for our church to pursue. The church will get together for the next few weeks to be in a time of discussion, dialogue, and prayer. I know this topic is often a litmus test for Christianity and liberalism versus conservatism. I know this is often the thing that makes people say, “Oh, you’ve become a flaming liberal! You’ve lost the faith!” I understand that, but I please ask of you that we would all create space right now to listen, to pay attention, to allow all of our hearts to be formed, and that I myself would be taught by you. Because I confess that on this journey, I don’t have all of the theology down. My conclusions aren’t tightly knit. I have so much room to grow, to be taught by you, to be taught by God. And I pray that all of our postures are the same. This is a difficult time.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about my background. In my formative years of my faith, in high school, I attended Calvary Chapel. Then, in college, I became heavily involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (for the next twelve years). I also attended the Christian Missionary Alliance Church during college and was one of the youth leaders there. I also attended Biola University, Talbot Seminary, to pursue my master’s degree in pastoral ministry. In 1993, I was ordained in the Southern Baptist denomination, and since that time, for the past twenty-one years, I have been an ordained Southern Baptist minister, the last sixteen years here at New Heart.

I say all of that to show you that my spiritual upbringing has been in conservative Christianity. It’s been traditional in my bent towards theology and biblical interpretation. At the same time, I realize that my heart for the marginalized has continued to grow.

Sixteen years ago when New Heart started, I remember the first time someone came up to me and asked, “Danny, can I meet with you?” There was an individual who confessed to me their same-sex attraction. I remember not knowing what to do. I was caught off-guard and prayed for them. And lo and behold! For the next sixteen years—every year—either one or two or three people would come to me and tell me about their same-sex struggles. This pretty much became a pattern at New Heart.

One of the things that became clear to me as I began engaging in multiple discussions with people within the church—just trying to figure out and working through the anguish and the confusion they had—was that it always felt different from my interactions with everyone else inside the church and outside the church. Whenever I met with people with different problems—whether it be drug addiction or pornography or their spiritual walk or adultery or committing some kind of crime—I could sit with them engaged and deliver God’s word. And I always felt like I was giving them life. I always felt like, “Stay close to God, and follow these commandments of Christ.” And it was always received, “Yes, I know. That’s good; that feels right. It’s hard, but it feels right.”

But whenever I met with someone that had same-sex identity issues, I would sit down with them, and they would say, “Danny, what do you think about this?” I would tell them, “The Bible is clear. God is against homosexual behavior. And because of that, you have to remain celibate.”

In these dialogues, there was a sense of dread that would suddenly come upon the people I would talk to. It was basically me telling them, “For the rest of your life, you can never fall in love. For the rest of your life, you should never give yourself or anybody permission to love you in an intimate manner.” Those kinds of words—when I said those words—I could just feel the dread coming into the person I was talking to. I was always wondering why, of all God’s commandments, why is this the one commandment that just seemed like it was different from all of the other commandments that seemed to impart life? This was the one that created so much self-hatred. It made people feel like they were imprisoned—serving a sentence of life with no chance to love.

A quote by Matthew Vines puts it this way:

Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity. They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth. But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality. It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering. If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct.[2]

I remember one encounter I had with a young, lesbian girl who used to attend our church. She was in dialogue with me, saying, “Danny, are you sure you know what the Bible is saying?” We started talking about reparative therapy and what some people were pushing her towards, those who were trying to get her to change her sexual orientation. I’ll never forget what she told me that day. She said, “Danny, will you look at that man that’s sitting at the next table over? How would you feel if I told you that you had to somehow go over there and hold his hand? How would you feel if I told you that you had to kiss him? That you had to fall in love with him? That you had to learn how to be intimate with him?”

I remember looking over there, and I experienced a knee-jerk reaction because I’m straight. She said, “Danny, this is how I feel whenever I hear the church telling me, ‘If you don’t want to be celibate, this is the only option for you.’ Danny, do you understand how dehumanizing that feels? Do you understand how gross it makes me feel? In the same way right now—you reacted that way—that’s how I react. That’s why it’s so hard for me to understand why God would confine someone to this lifelong confusion and loneliness and imprisonment to celibacy.”

After she left New Heart, she said, “Danny, I know you’ve been thinking about studying this topic for a long time now.” She knew that I had a lot of topics that I was thinking through, and homosexuality was toward the bottom of the list. She said, “Danny, I pray that you would finally put this at the top of your list.” Three years ago, she left, and I said, “I will. I’ll do that.”

And I realized toward the beginning of this more intensified and intentional study that I had to admit that much of what I knew about homosexuality was not the result of a long period of study, but it was something that was passed down to me by either my parents or the church. I just never took the time to actually challenge any of those thoughts, but I was now at a place where I realized I had to engage in it.

As I began my study, I realized there were only six passages in all of Scripture that really were directly associated with homosexuality. Three of them are in the New Testament. Three of them are in the Old. And there’s not a lot of time this morning to go through all of them, so I want to focus on the main one, and that’s Romans 1.

Here, Paul is writing this most epic of episodes. Keep in mind, he’s trying to write about the glory of God and justification by faith and how grace abounds and how all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. He’s writing about these great truths, and like any good writer, he’s trying to come up with a great introduction. So what Paul does in the very beginning, in Romans 1, is write,

Although they claim to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore, God gave them over in their sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped the created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lust. Even their woman exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men abandoned the natural relationships with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful. They invent new ways of doing evil. Disobedient to parents, no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree, that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom. 1:22–32 niv)

Paul is listing here the result of exchanging the truth of God for a lie. He’s telling his audience, in effect, “You’ve exchanged God’s truth for a lie and exchanged his glory. Now you’re creating images made to look in the form of human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. You’re worshiping these idols. Not only that, because of that idolatry, God hands you over. You’re involved in this gross, sexual immorality. Men lying with men. Women committing unnatural relations. Then there’s gossips, slanderers, God-haters. All of that.”

As Paul is writing down this escalating crescendo of human sin and arrogance and evil, the listeners, the recipients of this letter, are tracking with Paul, and they’re saying to Paul, “Yes, that’s evil! That’s right! Everything about what you’re saying, we agree with!”

What Paul is doing—I think—is naming what everybody in the Christian circle at Rome (both Gentile and Jew) agree on—this problem in the temple at Rome. There was homosexual prostitution, violence, abuse, and all kinds of sexual immorality going on. Paul is setting up his letter, trying to name the most evil thing he can think of. And this is it. It’s the evil Roman Empire, especially the practices of its leaders and the immorality that occurs within the temple. Everyone is saying, “Yes! Yes, that is evil!” And Paul has them in his hands now.

Just as the people are resonating with Paul and pointing fingers, saying, “That is so despicable!” the very first verse in Romans 2 shows Paul turn the tables on his audience. He writes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Rom. 2:1 niv). Paul is saying, “The reason I wrote what I wrote in Romans 1 was to create a realization of how great your sin is.” In his magnificent, brilliant writing style, Paul gets his readers to agree with how evil all of this is but then tells them, “Guess what? You’re just the same way!” Therefore, Paul says, don’t judge anyone.

And yet, Romans 1 is the passage used most often to judge all sorts of people, especially those in the LGBTQ community. So, if I were to look at Paul’s intent in Romans 1, it’s not as a window into other people’s lives. Rather, it’s a mirror to look at my own life. It’s not a window where we’re supposed to be looking at homosexuality and other people with disgust. In the application that I read here—really the only clear application that Paul is giving in this extended passage—the reason he writes this is for us to understand our own sinfulness. So that we can understand our own need for God; so that we can understand our solidarity with humanity.

I think Paul is brilliant in the way he did it. It’s the New Testament equivalent of what the prophet Nathan did to King David in 2 Samuel after David committed adultery, taking someone else’s wife. Nathan tells David a parable about a rich man who stole a poor man’s only lamb and killed it. David hears the parable and says, “That man must be killed.” Nathan says, “Guess what, David? That man is you.” The purpose of the parable was to show David his own sinfulness.[3] And that’s the purpose of Romans 1.

But I know for many of us, that’s not enough. Yes, maybe that’s the purpose of Romans 1, but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that Paul is declaring that these things are still sinful. I get that. But I think part of the problem here in reading Romans 1—in regard to the homosexual passages—is that it’s very natural for us to read it with western eyes, from our own cultural context. We have to understand that Romans was written in the context of their own particular history.

Let me give you an example. If, one day, I were to preach a sermon on the depravity of modern America, and I said, “In our society, men take advantage of interns, and they have sex with them. They not only take advantage of interns and have sex with them, but when they’re confronted by that evil, they deny it, and they wag their fingers, and they say, ‘I did not sleep with that woman!’” All of you would understand what I’m talking about without me even having to say the names of the president and the intern I’m referring to.

But imagine if somebody two thousand years from now heard a podcast and said, “Hey, that teaching must mean that men shouldn’t have sex with interns.” That’s what happens when we lose the historical context of what’s going on.

So the question for me is, “What is happening politically around the time of Paul?” Is there something in that cultural context that was actually feeding a common story that everybody could automatically agree with and say, “Hey, Paul. I’m tracking with you, and we all know who you’re talking about.” And I think that’s what’s happening because there’s a person within history that nearly fits this Romans 1 passage to a “T.”

I want to read excerpts from James Brownson’s book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality. I pray that you would track with me on this. The portion I’m reading is a little lengthy.

Neil Elliott has called attention to the striking similarities of Paul’s language and the incredible greed, violence, and sexual excesses of Gaius Caligula, an emperor who reigned in a period not too long before Paul wrote Romans. First of all, Gaius is closely linked to the practice of idolatry. The Roman writer Suetonius reports how Gaius “set up a special temple to his own godhead, with priests and with victims of the choicest kind.” Another Roman writer, Dio Cassius, comments negatively on how Gaius was the only emperor to claim to be divine and to be the recipient of worship during his lifetime. Gaius also tried at one point to erect a statue of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem.[4]

That’s why the Jews despised this guy. Here’s a guy that was kind of defacing their own temple. “[H]e was dissuaded only by a delegation from Herod”—hence the link between Gaius and idolatry would have been well-known indeed, particularly in Jewish circles.[5] Brownson continues:

Gaius also serves as “Exhibit A” for out-of-control lust. Suetonias reports how Gaius “lived in perpetual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above. He records gruesome examples of Gaius’s arbitrary violence, vindictiveness, and cruelty. Later Suetonius chronicles Gaius’s sexual liaisons with the wives of dinner guests, raping them in an adjoining room and then returning to the banquet to comment on their performance. Various same-sex sexual encounters between Gaius and other men are similarly recounted. Finally, a military officer whom he had sexually humiliated joined a conspiracy to murder him, which they did less than four years into his reign. Suetonius records that Gaius was stabbed through the genitals when he was murdered. One wonders whether we can hear an echo of this gruesome story in Paul’s comments in Romans 1:27: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own person the due penalty for their error.” Gaius Caligula graphically illustrates the reality of which Paul speaks in Romans 1: the movement from idolatry to every insatiable lust, to every form of depravity and the violent, murderous reprisal . . . [The Jewish writer] Philo writes in similarly scathing terms of the evils of Gaius Caligula, interpreting his depravity as the result of his refusal to honor God, and his death as a manifestation of divine justice. This suggests that Gaius’s excesses and the divine judgment incurred by them were a common theme that would have been familiar to many Jews in the ancient world.

These contemporary parallels . . . give a clearer sense of the kinds of linkages and associations that Paul’s readers would have made as they read his words in Romans 1. Paul is speaking of sinfulness in its extreme and most obvious form here. His goal is to clearly delineate the essence of the human problem and to secure the unambiguous agreement of the Roman Christians in condemning such outrageousness . . . The twenty-one vices recounted in Romans 1:29-31 recount the full depth and breadth of human corruption, the sort of outrageous conduct that could be seen in Gaius Caligula.[6]

The readers of Romans 1, who were very well aware of this evil Roman ruler, would read this passage and think, “We know who you’re talking about.” We know that this is about the excesses. It’s not just homosexual behavior, but it’s the violence of the homoerotic behavior that is occurring in that evil Roman ruler and everyone around him.”

That’s why I think it’s so important for us to not make the mistake of reading Romans 1 and then saying, “Isn’t it clear? Isn’t it clear that God says this?” When, in actuality, the context of the history says so much more.

I wish I had more time to go through the other two Bible passages in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, where it speaks about homosexuality in a list of sins. The Greek word that is being translated is arsenokoites. And if you know anything about that word, you know that it is a very hard word to translate. In fact, it wasn’t until 1950 that the word “homosexual” was in any English Bible. Before 1950, the word “homosexual” wasn’t even in any of the translations before that because, partly, “homosexual” is a new word. It was coined in the 1800s. So, I grant that arsenokoites might refer to “homosexuality.” There’s definitely an argument to be stated that it could mean that. But it could also mean “sexual immorality.” It could also mean “sexual perversion.” In fact, there’s such little usage of it in antiquity, that people agree that Paul was probably the first person to coin this word.

The New Testament scholar Gordon Fee—if you’ve ever been to seminary, you know who this guy is—he says, “Arsenokoites is rarely used in the Greek literature, especially when describing homosexual activity.”[7] So here’s this New Testament scholar saying that this word is hard to figure out because it’s used in so many different ways.

Then you look at Martin Luther’s version of the Bible when he translated into German the words of Paul and his letters. He translated it as “boy abusers.” He saw arsenokoites as pedophilia. If you trace this word throughout history, you’ll realize there’s a wide spectrum of use, which has created doubt that anyone really knows for sure what the word means. Should we translate it as “homosexual”? Well, that’s what [some of] our modern versions have chosen. But I’m not so convinced.

When I think of Middle Eastern sexual practices, I realize I’m not an authority in them. In fact, whenever I think about the Middle East and see pictures and videos of it, I’m always thinking, “Wow, that’s a different place.” Whenever they sing their songs, or shout in the streets, I don’t get it. I know there’s a reason for all of that, but I don’t understand it.

Then I think, “How much more do I not understand Middle Eastern marriage and sexual practices? That must be even more different than I can comprehend.” Then I think, “How much more difficult is it to understand Middle Eastern sexual practices from two thousand, three thousand years ago?”

I knew if I was going to do a serious study of this, I had to immerse myself in what was going on. I couldn’t just read about it and look at the scholarly research on it. I needed to get a hold of homoerotic literature, and that’s what I did. I tried to grab every piece of homoerotic literature that has ever been written in the Roman and Greek periods. And I began to immerse myself, all in order to better understand.

There were times when my body just shook with disgust. There were so many times I read it, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I felt like I was being transported into this other-worldly reality that was just so bizarre and evil and disgusting and misogynistic. So brutally violent, where these old men would just treat young boys like they were nothing. I kept reading it over and over, and I thought, “You know what? That’s a different world. That’s a different world.”

This is why, if you ever read classical historians today, who research homoerotic literature and teach at the universities and write the books, they’ll all say with unison, “It’s really hard to talk about homosexuality because our idea of homosexuality is so different from what it was back then.” There’s always this thing in the beginning of the book that is asking us to try to think of this in a way that is very different [from what we understand].

One of the ways that it’s different is that in our western context, we tend to think of the dichotomy of homosexual versus heterosexual. But they didn’t think in those ways back then. They didn’t think, “Well, here are the straight people, and here are the homosexuals.” The way they thought was in terms of active versus passive, or dominant versus submissive, or masculine versus feminine. In other words, in homoerotic behavior, there’s a dominant, and there’s a passive. The dominant was usually older, or a free person. The passive was sometimes a young boy, a slave. The way this worked was the dominant would penetrate the passive, but it would never be reversed. Just that alone makes you realize that the type of homosexual behavior that was occurring back in antiquity was so different from what’s happening now. What was filled with violence and abuse, I look at, and I think about all the things I read, and I say, “Hey, God, you were right to condemn all of that. God, that was wicked! All of that stuff! That’s unjust! God, I believe your word; no one should behave that way.”

But as you begin to realize that we’ve moved away from that part of history, we find something very different.

It’s almost like Halloween. I remember when our kids were first born, I was thinking, “Should I let my kids do Halloween?” Because I remember watching a Calvary Chapel video that said it’s demonic. You go trick-or-treating, and you’re actually worshiping Satan, and blah blah blah blah. Then I realized, “No, I don’t think they’re really doing that, so let’s go trick-or-treating!”

But if you look at the origins of it, it’s true. It was cultic. They would build bonfires, sacrifice animals, wear costumes, go trick-or-treating, and receive food in return for prayers for the dead. So, in terms of Halloween, I could make a case that no one should do Halloween because of its origins, which are filled with cultic practices. But we know that it’s okay to do Halloween now. Why? Because the meaning has changed.

And that’s what I feel like has happened. Homosexual behavior is not what it was in biblical days, when it was filled with violence and abuse and rape and slavery and temple prostitution. When I go into that world and have to put down the book, and I meet with a lesbian couple who are friends of mine at Starbucks, I think, “What I just came from in my book doesn’t feel like this at all. Because here’s a lesbian Christian couple meeting me for coffee, and they’re praying for me. They’re sharing the words of Christ to me. They’re loving on me.” And I’m like, “This is not what I’m reading about. This is different. This is different.”

I know that someone will probably pick up this podcast and write a refutation of everything I’ve said. I’ve been following this debate for long enough now. One scholar puts out something, another will put out something, then they’ll put out something else.

And it just keeps going. And I’ve been following it, and I’ve been realizing that for every response, there’s an answer, and for every answer, there’s a response. And it just keeps escalating. Quite frankly, my head is hurting just trying to follow the discussion.

Then I think, “Here I am, someone who is seminary-trained, who has learned Hebrew and Greek. I’m tracking with this, I’m tracking with this. But what about the rest of the people who don’t have time for this? How are they ever going to come to their own conclusions? Do you really have to be a scholar to try to determine what the will of God is? Is truth only reserved for those who are debating in scholarly research? And then the way we arrive at it is by faith? All of us have to align ourselves with someone that we think is more respectable and smarter? So we align ourselves that way, by faith? ‘I think I’m just going to go with him.’”

Really, that’s how the blogs have been. Or is there a different way? Because I don’t think Jesus intended his truth to be revealed only to the learned, but to the simple. And Jesus says, “You look at a fruit, is it bad, or is it good? Because a good tree bears bad fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit.”[8] And everybody knows we’re wired to recognize hatred. We’re wired to recognize injustice. We’re wired to recognize things that are evil.

So we don’t have to have all that knowledge and then jump by faith, to lean on one scholar. I pray that none of you would look at me and say, “Hey, I’m with Pastor Danny,” because I’m fallible myself. I’m still in process. What God says to you, as people of faith, is, “Look at the fruit.” And what I see in my conversations with the homosexual community—I see the homosexual community being marginalized over and over and over again by the church. I say something’s wrong with that picture. Why is it that in our churches, it’s almost like there’s a sign outside of our doors that says, “No Homosexuals Allowed”? Or at our communion tables, “Are you straight? Only straight people here.” Really, that’s what goes on, and people in the LGBTQ community, they’re feeling like the churches don’t accept them.

Of course, what will be said is, “We have to guard the purity of the church. We have to remain strong. We have to look at God’s word and not compromise.”

Then I think about Jesus, who was the most morally pure person I can ever think of. He didn’t create walls of separation. He didn’t do that. What he did was he went to their homes. He went to their frickin’ homes. And when a prostitute came in, a girl who was an abomination and dirty—and no priest would want to be seen next to her—what does she do? She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, with her hair. Then he tells these scholars, these theologians, these pastors, “You study the Scriptures. In them, you think you have eternal life. You go around following all these rabbis. You can debate all you want. But do you want to know what true worship is? It’s not about debate and trying to figure out the Torah. It’s by watching someone like this girl who has been marginalized. If you want to know worship, you learn it through this person.”[9]

If you want to know what giving is, you don’t buy a book on giving. You look at the widow who had nothing. If you want to know what love looks like, you don’t buy a book about love. You look at the Samaritan who was considered faulty of theology, a compromiser by virtue of his identity. You look at someone who’s been marginalized, and you see that this is how to love.[10]

That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been going into the homosexual community, into the LGBTQ areas. I’ve been going to AIDS clinics. I’ve been going to gay bars. I’ve been going to gay coffeehouses, bringing my books, studying, trying to meet people. I’ve been going to gay conferences, listening to their stories, letting them vent to me the abuse they felt from the church. And there I am, listening, and saying, “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.” Within those conversations, I realized that in those places, I saw the presence of God.

Over the summer, I remember thinking, “Wow, did I just change my view?” I remember it was just a thought in my mind, and it caught me off-guard. “Do I now believe that same-sex marriage and relationships in a loving, monogamous way is permitted by Scripture?” And I remember thinking, “Whoa, that felt weird. Did I just become liberal? Did I just lose my faith?” I remember I was scared about that, actually. I didn’t intend to do that.

Then I heard a song on the radio, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s a pro-gay song, and I’m actually liking it.” I thought, “Oh, man. What’s wrong with me?” And I remember not wanting to talk it over with anybody until one day when I was driving my son, Drew, to school. That song came on the radio again, and I was like, “Oh, here’s that song!” I looked over at Drew, and I said, “Hey, Drew. Who sings this?”

Drew said, “It’s Macklemore. How come, Dad?”

I said, “Oh, because I like this song.”

Drew looked over and said, “Dad, you like the song? Do you know what this is about?”

I said, “Yeah, I know what it’s about. I think I changed my thoughts about homosexuality.”

He remained silent. I could tell that he felt a little confused. As we got out of the car—I was helping him with something in school—I looked over at him, and I said, “Drew, what do you think about it?”

He turned to me, and he told me in a nervous voice, “Dad, I’m gay.” I remember I just turned around, and I hugged him so hard. I said, “I love you so much, son. I love you so much. And I accept, and I affirm you. And I will love you unconditionally.”

It was just the most meaningful moment that I had ever had with Drew. I felt like I had lost so many years of not knowing the pain that was going on in his heart and thinking, “Drew, why didn’t you tell me before?”

He said, “Dad, if I said anything, I would be admitting that I was giving up. I was trying to fight my gayness. I didn’t want to admit it, and I hated myself. I hated myself all the time.”

I said, “Drew, I’m so sorry for not being there with you. But know that I will be your father, and I will love you. I will love you unconditionally.”

I couldn’t help but thank God. Drew was born two months after New Heart started, and the whole time of New Heart was in preparation for this. It was in preparation for this moment. I said, “God, thank you. Thank you that you brought me to a place where I’m no longer judging people that think differently from me. God, how freeing that is.”

As we caught up to my son’s life, we felt like we had lost so much time with him. On his birthday, last December 30, he said to us, “This is the first time I woke up on my birthday where I was at peace.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “Every birthday, I would wake up and realize I’m still gay, and I knew God hadn’t answered my prayer.”

There was another time in the car when he said, “Dad, Mom, I want you to know that if somebody gave me a pill that could change my gayness, I would take it right now.”

So, I thought about that. I went up to him the next day, and I said, “Drew, I want you to know that if I had a pill that could change you, I wouldn’t give it to you, because you’re perfect just the way you are. No more fighting, Drew. No more fighting. Accept the way God has made you. Because I love you just the way you are.”

For the first time, speaking to someone who was gay, I felt like I was giving them life. For the first time, I was actually offering words of life. I thought, “The fruit of this feels familiar. It feels so familiar.” I might not have all my theology down, and there are some passages that I’m still working through, but I know what fruit looks like. I know what good fruit looks like. I might not have all the answers, and someone might be able to stump me with a question so I say, “I have no idea. I don’t know. I’m just ignorant that way.”

But I do know what grace and mercy and peace and love look like.

And so we see in the life of Jesus—the perfectly sinless man who was willing to cross over forty-five boundaries in Scripture—he crossed social, religious, and political boundaries in an effort to stand in solidarity with the other person. That, for me, has been what my journey is about. That’s why I spend time talking with the elderly who have been abandoned. That’s why, last week, I sat down with a rapist who had been in and out of jail. That’s why I meet with brothel owners and prostitutes. That’s why I sit down with the homeless and listen to their stories. Because, for me, the study of God and the way I find truth is no longer trying to find the best arguments, the best books, the best scholarly research. It’s looking at the way Jesus lived his life and finding the kingdom of God in the things that people deem worthless and the people that are most broken.

My hope for New Hope isn’t that you all would agree with me. It’s been a sixteen year journey for me to finally get to where I am. I don’t expect anyone to agree with what I believe. I’m not here trying to push my beliefs on you but merely to share with you my journey.

And you have every right—I respect whatever you believe. But do we as a church have space for disagreement? Are we as a church willing to say that we have different ideas of homosexuality, and therefore, can we not judge anyone and just accept them into full membership? Or do we choose to say, “We disagree with you, and therefore, we have no fellowship with you”? Personally, I don’t think that’s the way of Christ. I don’t think that’s the way of Christ.

On January 8, my wife and I went to Chicago. Some of you follow us on Facebook. Many of you were asking, “Why in the world did you go to Chicago? It’s so cold!” No one knew the real reason why we were going except our family. The reason Abby and I went to Chicago was to go to the Gay Christian Network Conference. I found out there was a conference in Chicago to help parents who needed a support group, and Abby and I qualified for that because we’re so darned ignorant on how to raise a gay child. Somebody, please teach me.

But it wasn’t about raising him, actually. It was about raising ourselves. Erasing some of our biases. Our prejudices.

At this conference, there were over seven hundred people there—maybe sixty parents, and the rest people in the LGBTQ community. Here we were, sitting in a hotel conference room, singing the same songs we sing here at church. They were lifting their hands, and I was looking over at Abby, and I was wondering how she felt because she grew up Southern Baptist, all her life. Her grandfather was Southern Baptist, her uncle, her dad, her cousins. All those people are pastors in her family. I was wondering, “Dear, how do you feel?”

She was like, “It’s different.”

I remember thinking, “This is where Jesus would be. This is where Jesus would be.”

The last night, I met a man by the name of Coyote. He approached me, thanking me for my story—I told some people about my journey. He said, “This conference is meaningful for me and my friends because this is the only church we get to go to once a year.”

I was like, “What do you mean?”

He said, “In the places we live, in the small communities, there are no churches that will accept us.”

And my heart broke. I thought, “That really sucks.”

So, when I was asked the question recently, “How does it feel to know that you might be terminated in a few weeks?” I said, “I am at peace.” I’m at peace because I know my heart has been enlarged for people like Coyote who need a church. I know that whatever happens, compassion is giving me clarity. It’s giving me clarity in my calling; it’s giving me clarity in my purpose. People like Coyote, they need a church. They need to be pastored. They need a community of people that will not judge them because of their sexual identity.

So, I pray that as a church we would open ourselves to how God directs us, and I caution you to realize that it’s so easy to look at the word of God and merely look at the letter of the law. But there is something underneath it, a deeper current that is only understood by the Spirit, moved by love, and drawn into compassion. Our thoughts cannot just be about arguing the biblical text. It must be understood in the context of love, and that means in the context of real, human relationships. Because compassion is what gives clarity to this matter.

And I pray that our church would survive this.

[1] You may view this sermon online by visiting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqYvkVqVLFo. For more information on evangelical churches and “third way” approaches, see Wilson, A Letter to My Congregation.

[2] Vines, “The Gay Debate.”

[3] See 2 Sam. 12:1–13.

[4] Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality, 156.

[5] See Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 157–8.

[7] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 244.

[8] See Matt. 7:18.

[9] See Luke 7:36–50.

[10] See Mark 12:41–44 and Luke 10:25–37, respectively.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized