UPDATED 3 January 2016
“Why God Is Not a Bully”
Homosexuality was never a big issue in my family as a child – one way or the other. Maybe ’cause like in most African American families such issues were simply not discussed. (Does the silence make it a big issue?) Despite having LGBTQ family members, which made it a relevant and needed conversation, we never talked about it. However, I do recall hearing close family members utter disparaging comments about gay men whom we saw in public (e.g., grocery store, college football games, etc.). I remember being very uncomfortable with the particular disgust and despicably tinged venom with which they commented about the men. When I looked at the focus of my family’s prejudice, I sensed about the men what I can best describe as discomfort – maybe even pain. Perhaps it was from the incredible struggle to be themselves in a society and subculture that disdains their very ontology.
This memory stirs a recollection of the testimony of a clergywoman as she struggled with her sexual orientation. Her story recounts a time of standing in front of a mirror, confident of her call to professional ministry, yet pleading to G~d for forgiveness for being lesbian. She cried out, “G~d, I’m so sorry!” Reading her story was heartbreaking. I cannot imagine asking G~d to forgive me for being black or for being a woman – for being exactly who I am, how I was born, for something I cannot change. Ahhh, for something G~d created me to be 😉 . . .
The family members to whom I refer were older and would babysit me until I became old enough to babysit their children. Hanging out with them was no different than hanging out with my straight relatives. They cared well for me, loved me, took me to fun places where I could play – generally spoiled me like most only children who are the youngest in their extended families for years at a time. Ya know, important stuff! 😉 What makes them “different” has no bearing on the critical parts of loving and living as family.
Where I learned to meditate and practice being in G~d’s manifested presence was a wonderfully vibrant and socially conservative ministry. I cringe today when I remember the culture, recalling the countless times preachers proclaimed, “G~d created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Wow. How did hearing that powerful proclamation make our LGBTQ congregation members feel? (I know they were there – most closeted, 1 or 2 not.) Yet this ministry had a strong influence on me, to the point that I accepted their anti-gay rhetoric for a time – love the sinner and hate the sin. So I came up with this oppressing theory. A person can be gay; s/he just has to be celibate for a lifetime. That would be her/his cross to bear. We all have crosses, right? No – wrong, twisted perspective. Thank G~d for G~d’s forgiveness of my meantime, immature ignorance.
THE NEED TO KNOW, THE NEED TO BE RIGHT
When I accepted my call to professional ministry, I had an almost obsessive concern with getting the right understanding of G~d and theology. I wanted to be right. I wanted my teachings and sermons to be right. The very first thing I learned in my very first class, Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is that there is no such thing as the right anything. At first I found the lack of right to be quite disturbing, disconcerting. Yet what I knew for sure was not only G~d’s call, but G~d’s call to my particular seminary. So, whatever questions or confusion I had would eventually be answered and clarified. Not only am I today in a place of peaceful understanding that there isn’t any universal right, I get that the lack of it does not lead necessarily to chaos and ambiguity. That it does lead there is a great fear among those who cling to numerous rules and order to provide what is essentially a false sense of security through exclusivity. Rather, truth and reality live most purely in the respected freedom of difference and diversity.
A few years after seminary, some event or news story sparked a question within me about what is right concerning homosexuality. I sought G~d for an answer, as I do with any question for which I don’t have an explanation. For some time, G~d’s answer to me was the kind of silence I know to mean, “Not now.” I didn’t get my answer until it was time. And G~d’s response happened over a course of years – through recalling my childhood experiences; meeting, getting to know, and coming to love some wonderful people beyond my family who happen to be LGBTQ; reading literature, including the Bible, addressing this topic; and reasoning out all of this. (Wesleyan scholars recognize this process as The Quadrilateral.)
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
The Bible is a relevant, inspirational, potentially living testimony of G~d’s interaction with a certain group of humanity during certain periods of time. It can be “useful for teaching . . . and training.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NRSV) Whether it lives and whether it is useful depends on our perspectives, worldviews, interpretation, and application. It is not the Word of G~d in the sense that it is an unfiltered dictation of G~d’s voice to 2012 human ears, minds, and hearts. Therefore I tend to resist biblical debates aimed to establish the right side of an argument. My exegesis of a scripture or pericope to support my position can still directly oppose another’s exegesis of the same scripture or pericope.
For example, the part of the story of Sodom & Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-11, NRSV) that we have historically considered to be an indictment against homosexuality is actually about hospitality, or the lack of it. The male residents of the city objected to Lot’s display of hospitality to the male visitors of Sodom (the angels). Their objection manifested in their demand to Lot to bring the male visitors to them so that they could have sex with them. This is a despicable act because of the view of women at the time. Part of women’s lower role in that society is the fact that she receives penetration in sexual positions. The fact that the man is the penetrator was part of what made him superior. So this act was the ultimate show of disrespect that the male residents could show the male visitors – put them in the position of a woman. It is interesting that in most of the conservatively moral objections to the characters’ behavior in this story we don’t hear of the horror that Lot offered the male residents his virgin daughters to appease their anger and desire to be inhospitable. Given the marrying ages of young women at that time and that his daughters were virgins, have we thought about how young they likely were?!?
SO, HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT’S RIGHT?
This question returns us to my seminary quest as described earlier in this post. It also leads me to a determination that a sacred text (the Bible) alone is an insufficient resource for making decisions. I must also include my intellect/knowledge, my ability to reason, and my contemporary experience – with a spirit of discernment operating throughout all of them.
Now, may I share some frustration (and anger)?
I struggle writing this post, feeling like every word choice, that every turn of phrase is filled with heterosexual privilege and unintended offense to my LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
To even pen this post, to feel like there’s a need to explain, defend, support, add my voice to a debate over the inclusion of people is some craziness. To say we love the sinner and hate the sin doesn’t cut it, not with most of us and not regarding an aspect of a person’s being as intimate and as integral as sexuality. To characterize living out one’s sense of love and attraction to another as a choice that is somehow intrinsically different from our own just because of how that choice appears is incredibly demeaning, condescending, and abusive. Whom we love is often not a choice – who we are never is. How can sincere love choices ever be considered a sin, like coveting, lying, stealing, or killing?
“‘[Love] the Lord your G~d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘[Love] your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV)
So, then, the choice, determination, etc. not to love is the actual sin – the actual separation from G~d.
(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc