Sunday, October 10, 2010

EVERY CHURCH MUST BE OPEN AND AFFIRMING

The following article is an edited version of one I wrote several years ago entitled, Why Every Church Must Be Open And Affirming, that was a sermon I preached in a Methodist Church that was contemplating becoming a "Reconciling Congregation."

Here is the new version:

The legalists and the self-righteous, smug fundamentalist professing Christians, who seem to monopolize the media, don't speak for Christianity—at least not the Christianity that I know! These purveyors of a false Gospel impose their prejudices on the Bible, selectively picking certain verses that they feel affirm those prejudices, and preach a message of legalism and perfectionism that is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness.

The Apostle Paul, who adamantly fought legalism (Acts 15; Ephesians 2:8-9), saved his harshest words for those who preach a false Gospel. He said in Galatians 1:8 concerning those who preach a false Gospel, "...let him be accursed."

He felt so strongly about those who preach legalism rather than the Gospel of grace that he repeated himself in the very next verse.

To be "accursed" is to be damned by God! In other words, he wrote, "God damn them." (Galatians 1:8-9) Once can't use any stronger language than that!

These preachers of a false Gospel have wittingly or unwittingly attempted to hijack the true Gospel and redefine Christianity in their own twisted image of God, the Bible, the world, and of themselves. They make Christians look like a pack of hate-mongering, harsh, judgmental freaks and I terribly resent it!

Every single church and denomination is obligated to embrace and welcome into its fellowship everyone who worships Christ as his or her savior, and afford each such person full rights of inclusion, including the partaking of every sacrament of the Church, as befit members of the Body of Christ! Yet, many denominations are struggling with issues surrounding the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (hereafter to be called GLBT) people.

The struggle is said to largely center on biblical interpretation regarding gay people and their relationships, as well as Christian tradition, despite the fact that Jesus says we make void the Word of God by our traditions. (Matthew 15:3)

Many people who seek to deny GLBT people rights of ordination, marriage, and other rights and privileges that accrue to others, may be well-intentioned, but they are misinformed. The root of this misinformation is largely the religious leadership that seeks to impose their world-views that bespeak ignorance and insensitivity upon not only other people, but upon the Bible and upon God Himself.

In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, why would we allow a bunch of celibate men, men who seemingly choose to deny a core part of the self, a deep primal urge and vehicle for the expression of deepest intimacy between two people, be allowed to define romantic and sexual reality for us?

In this vein, we must ask, "Why are so many 'religious' people, clergy and non-clergy alike, so obsessed with others' love and sexual lives that they read into Scripture, taking a few passages out of context and without regard to the original languages, justification for discriminating, stigmatizing, demonizing, and oppressing GLBT people, which judgment and discrimination is clearly un-Scriptural?" Their prejudices have clearly blinded them to the biblical mandate to love others and not judge or oppress them!

It is important to realize that homosexuality is never mentioned in the Ten Commandments, never written about by the prophets, and never discussed by Jesus. If it were that important, it would have likely been dealt with in at least one of these contexts!

Those who spend a great deal of their time condemning other people "in the name of God," by picking and choosing selected verses of Scripture without seeming regard to context and original languages, may well be materially and psychologically gaining a great deal from these endeavors, all the while claiming that they are being faithful to the Bible.

Just one example as to how these people don't seem to be as 'Bible believing' as they would have us believe: Jesus specifically condemned divorce and remarriage, saying that those who did so, absent fornication, were themselves committing adultery. (Matthew 19:9) I don't hear many homophobic clergy condemning these people and telling them that they should leave their current spouse and either reunite with their previous spouse or remain single. Nor should
they!

My point is that many of their constituents are made up of these people who give them tithes, offerings, and contributions and they don't want to bite the hands that feed them. They have, however, helped drive many GLBT people away from the church, so these people become viewed as "safe" targets to persecute.

The Gospel of love negates any attempt to misrepresent, stigmatize, demonize, or oppress other people. Those who seek to exclude GLBT people from partaking fully in the life of the Church and society have missed the message of the Gospel!

For far too long we have listened to people who just uncritically assume that what they heard from the pulpit or Sunday school, as ignorant and hateful as it may be, regarding GLBT people is true. Being gay is not a lifestyle! It's a life! It's not a choice, any more than being straight is a choice!

Moreover, although each minority group has its own particular history, each has suffered from misinformation, discrimination, stigma, and oppression. Unfortunately, the Church has been the last institution in society to accept the disenfranchised and "least among us." As has been noted for many years, the Church has been, and continues to be, the most racially segregated institution that exists on Sunday mornings in our society.

In addition, the major justification for oppressing minority groups has been appeal to the Bible. Witness the subjugation of women, slavery, and segregation.

Even the most "Bible believing" Christian would not condone such biblical practices as stoning to death adulterers, stoning to death those who work on the Sabbath, requiring all women to wear long hair, women not talking in church, women not teaching men, not wearing mixed fibers in our clothes, etc. Yet these are all taught in the Bible!

The Bible is part of God's revelation to us. It gives us a glimpse into a small part of God's heart and a few of His many dimensions. God didn't stop talking to His children 2,000 years ago! He still speaks to us regarding His will for our lives, and to proclaim in each generation, in and for His name, the cause of justice, and to manifest Jesus' love toward others.
The seemingly oracular pronouncements regarding GLBT people and their relationships by those who parade their ignorance as "Godliness" have helped lead to the suicides, bashings, and murders of countless GLBT people. Indeed, in this connection, it is estimated that gay youth have at least three times the suicide rate of non-gay youth.

Make no mistake, every drop of blood shed by GLBT people either through suicide, bashing, or murder, are on the 
hands of all those religious leaders, their followers, and their allies who spew forth their ignorance, prejudice, and hate against GLBT people and their relationships! These wolves in sheep's clothing take the Bible, God's love letter to His children, and selectively and perversely use it as a club to condemn others, and deny GLBT people full inclusion in the Church and in society.

The tradition-bound parts of the Church have so indoctrinated people, many of whom have never even set foot in a 
house of worship, that many people even disown their own children when they "come out" and divulge their sexual 
orientation to those whom they thought unconditionally loved and cherished them. There are many children living on the streets because their own parents trusted ignorant clergy and their followers over their God-given duty and privilege to nurture and embrace their own children!

Throughout our lives, we have been bombarded with ignorant, homophobic messages from much of the Church world that don't resonate with, and do contradict, the revelation of God in the Person and words of Jesus! Let's not let the ignorant, the haters and hate-mongers, many of whom gain psychological, social, and financial advantages by their condemnation and exclusion of GLBT people, define Christianity for us.

We must rise above their ignorant and hateful pronouncements, cynically made "in the name of God," "tradition,"
"church law," and "family values," and finally practice Christianity. Hear Jesus' call for inclusion of all of His people, and
let's fulfill His mandate for us to love our neighbor by embracing in every facet of our lives His GLBT children, whom He gave as a gift to the church and society to be cherished every bit as much as He cherishes us.
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2 comments:

thegayte-keeper said...

ONE DAY I SUPPOSE...ONE DAY!

Jerry Maneker said...

Hi thegayte-keeper: My guess is that, save for the Roman Catholic Church, all churches will "accept" LGBT people as full parts of their church, but it may well be that churches like the MCC will always exist, just like Black Churches will always exist.

Prejudices die hard, and with stridently homophobic messages being preached and taught as we speak, it's going to be much harder for LGBT people to have full acceptance than it was for women and even African Americans. Best wishes, Jerry.