reconciliation

Jesus Didn’t Say Anything About Same-Gender Relationships?

What Jesus did and didn’t say about same-gender relationships is absolutely key to how we frame the conversation around sexual ethics today.

A common defense of lgbt relationships against religious bigotry is the insistence that Jesus says nothing about same-gender relationships in any of the Gospels.

This is technically true. It’s important to notice how unimportant to Jesus is one of the issues so many modern evangelicals choose as their hill to die on.

But there are several passages in the Gospels that shows us how Jesus treated those with nontraditional sexual relationships. One of them is the centurion and his “boy servant” in Luke chapter 7. The same event is also referred to in Matthew chapter 8, and the word the centurion uses to describe his servant is “pais,” which is widely acknowledged to mean the younger partner in a pederastic relationship, common for that time.

The barebones of the story are that the centurion asks for Jesus to heal his “servant,” and Jesus agrees, but before he can come there in person, the centurion insists that if he just spoke the word, his “boy” would be healed. Jesus is amazed, and declares “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

The usual slew of sermons written about (or incorporating) this passage mainly emphasize the power of faith to heal. The centurion had so much faith, it’s often said, that he didn’t need Jesus to come in person, even though Jesus was about to.

And since we in the modern world are about two thousands years too late to invite the incarnate Jesus into our homes, it’s wonderful news that our faith without sight can be rewarded so powerfully and immediately.

The whole thing slurps easily into prosperity gospel (if you just ask hard enough, it’ll happen), and perpetuating the Christian bubbles that promote individual moral uprightness instead of awareness of larger systems of injustice.

But there’s more to the story if we look closer.

After speaking to great crowds, Jesus moves on to the city of Capernaum, where the centurion lives. From the second verse, we learn that the centurion’s “boy” was someone “whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.” In other words, this was not a post-on-facebook, please-send-prayers kind of situation.

It was desperate, it was deep heartache, it was life-or-death.

In the next few verses, we learn that the centurion made his request through Jewish elders. These guys are not just acquaintances of the centurion; they appeal “earnestly” on his behalf, insisting that “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 

This tells me that the centurion was a great ally to the Jewish people. He built and sustained strong community with his Jewish neighbors, and directly invested his time and resources into supporting Jewish culture and religious practice. The Jewish elders said “he loves our people,” and he’s “worthy” of Jesus’ ministry of healing.

Sounds like a stellar candidate for divine miracles to me. If Jesus had a problem with helping anyone, it wouldn’t be this guy.

But then, why all the countermeasures? Why send other people, instead of going himself, when it’s clear the centurion knew right where Jesus was?

No particular answer is given, but something changes: the next verse says that when Jesus was “not far from the house,” the centurion interrupts Jesus’ journey with another message. This time, he sends “friends” to tell Jesus not to “trouble yourself” by coming any further. The reason he gives? “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.”

Can you feel the shame? Obviously this man was worthy (and we know that Jesus would come regardless, because he specifically reaches out to the “unworthy”). But there was something that held the centurion back, that made him sure that if Jesus met him in person, entered his home, saw his “boy,” something would go wrong.

I want us to live in the space between the elders and the friends.

I can feel the centurion’s anxious spirit, the back-and-forth between taking the step of courage to invite this man into your home, and maintaining the distance you know will preserve your social standing (and perhaps safety). I’ve walked that balance myself countless times. I know the tug-of-war of coming out at the risk of losing valuable relationships. I know the frustrating fear I have to overcome every time I choose truth and love where it hurts.

For the centurion, Jesus was an orthodox Jewish rabbi, thoroughly Hebrew in culture and upbringing, with every reason to look down on his relationship with his servant. How impossible to invite someone you know disagrees with your lifestyle to pray over the very person whose involvement in your life is under scrutiny?

How much more powerful, then, is the healing that Jesus performs. How much greater the centurion’s faith. Perhaps this is why Jesus said he had never seen such faith even in Israel.

This matters because it reveals Jesus to be deeply, intimately, and passionately involved in the personal lives of those he ministered to. Jesus was not the shrug-your-shoulders, not-my-problem type. His silence was not neutrality. He was unequivocally for the centurion, in full knowledge of his same-gender relationship.

For this reason, I can feel that Jesus is unequivocally for me, and all other sga folks, in full knowledge of our relationships.

When we read Scripture, let’s spend time in the uncomfortable spaces where decisions are made. Let’s lean into the tension, and live and love in ways that honor the full depth of who we are.

And let’s stop pretending Jesus was neutral when it came to same-gender relationships. He wasn’t neutral: he stood up for the outcast, extended blessing to the marginalized, time and time again.

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Why I Feel Homeless in the Church

Nearly 40% of this nation’s homeless youth are lgbt.  That is no accident.  Family rejection is the leading cause, which means that when young lgbt people come out to their families, they are far too frequently kicked out of their homes, and left to fend for themselves in the streets.

I have never been without shelter myself, but I submit that the homelessness that besets the lgbt community, especially those of us raised in the church, runs far deeper than we are comfortable to admit, and that the staggering number of our homeless youth is one symptom among many.

In my sophomore year of college, I participated in the Emmaus Scholars program, a residential year-long exploration of the intersection of faith and justice. It was also an experiment in Christian living, where we aimed to recreate the beloved community enjoyed by the early disciples.

One of the most valuable lessons I gleaned from that year is that poverty takes many forms. It is from a mask of privilege that we think and speak about poverty as only referring to material or monetary lack. Far more affecting, perhaps, is the devastation materially disadvantaged people experience in their psyche. When I learned this, I suddenly saw two things: I was reminded of my own privilege as a middle-class college-educated white American, and I was struck with how exactly this insight gave language to the internal anguish I experienced as a gay man in the evangelical church. More on that specific intersection later.

As I learned to take better notice and care of physically homeless people, I began to see all the ways in which so many of us are victims of “homeless hearts,” as Jay Emerson Johnson says in Peculiar Faith. Specifically, I realized the depth to which I personally felt unmoored, without a home, especially as I fought my way out of the closet.

It’s difficult to express, but absolutely essential to communicate, this hard truth: exactly as much as I have had the courage to come out, so I have felt alienated and distanced from the evangelical church.

I say difficult to express, not only because it is painful and I avoid confrontation like the plague, but also because it’s difficult for me to point to specific moments when I was actively rejected by the Body of Christ. My family never kicked me out; I enjoy intimate and honest relationships with both my parents. My home church never kicked me out; Mosaic LA is a vibrant and diverse community of artists and visionaries, who embraced me when I came out to certain people in the congregation. Nevertheless, the distance is real. And it was certainly not because I walked away.

I say essential to communicate, because the church needs to understand its position in regards to lgbt people. As Christians, we know what is at stake: the flourishing of humankind, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, the salvation of souls. But I posit that we’ve had the picture upside-down this whole time: lgbt people are not in danger of eternal damnation just because we live sexually gendered lives that are different than most people. Christians, however, should consider their eternal fate when perpetuating theologies of exclusion, lest we become those who cry “Lord Lord,” and hear in return “I never knew you.” It was the Pharisees, the religious right, whom Jesus called white sepulchers, a brood of vipers, those who heap on burdens, and misuse the law.

To my great sadness, whenever I reenter evangelical spaces, I immediately strike against walls. Previously, these were the closet walls, and I had erected them myself, and they were small enough to fit inside me, so that I could fit inside Christian spaces without damage. But now that I have dismantled the closet, at least enough for me to climb out and breathe clean air again, I have come up against more formidable walls.

I have to sit through bible studies where we breeze through Romans 1, as if it doesn’t carry centuries of violent weight, where I look around and no one seems to notice that I’m sweating, my heart rate is up, and I’m just waiting for someone to say “and that’s why homosexuality…”

I have to struggle through times of worship, where we listen to the same songs that have molded me since childhood, and while I no longer substitute “gay” for words like “broken” and “sin” and “healing,” I still feel a sinking in my gut that says something’s wrong with me, and if that boy on the guitar stopped singing and looked over, he would see right through to my gay self, and be filled with disgust.

I have to watch other people touched by the Spirit; speaking in tongues, or moving trance-like, or praying with great passion, what I used to call “fire,” and remember how easy it used to be, to slip into those moments, recreate those feelings, feel the euphoria. Now my mind goes on checklist mode, I go over all the times I’ve still successfully communed with God on my own, thinking “yes, I’ve still got it,” I can still pray, I can still worship, I still have my Christian card, I still belong.

The fact that those questions and fears run through my head and cause me anxiety during times of worship and study is absolutely unacceptable.

I keep coming back, however. I keep returning to the altar, taking communion with the Anglicans next door, visiting friends’ churches, watching podcasts from my home church. It’s still home for me, even though I feel homeless at home.

So my goal is to formulate a theology of home-making, where the insights and lived experiences of lgbt people take center-stage after being pushed to the margins for so long. We cannot simply be let in through the backdoor; we cannot whitewash the damage done, or downplay abuses of power. If lgbt people are going to be fully grafted onto the Body of Christ (as we already are), the rest of the church needs to repent.

And if we can successfully navigate this grafting, this transformation in the body, then I believe whole new vistas will unfold, not only for lgbt people of faith, but all of us, in all our sexual and gendered experiences, of all walks of life.

 

We Are The Church–The Code of a Sarcastic Lutheran

It’s time the queer community stops being called an “issue.”

blogNadia1

“Our Inspiration”

One of the main problems queer people in the church face is that the moment their identity is made clear they suddenly attract all kinds of attention, positive or negative, that focuses on their sexual orientation as an important political, social, or religious issue to be discussed. Instead, the church should respond by accepting and affirming all its members equally, and focusing the discussion on how to best live in beloved community. The church should respond with joy at the diversity of its members, whether ethnic or sexual or economic or otherwise, and should seek to understand what the gospel of Jesus Christ looks like in the unique lives of each culture represented.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor in Denver, Colorado, produced a video that addresses this problem, and beautifully communicates the voice of her congregation as they reveal the truth that it is not only possible but powerful to be both queer and Christian.

Her video includes soundbites from several queer members in her congregation who give reasons for why they continue to attend church, why they continue to believe in Jesus Christ, and why they do not appreciate being called an “issue.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber was asked to upload a video for a leadership conference which focused on discussing “culture clash,” especially “the issue of homosexuality,” so instead of joining the throng of participants probably posting about their opinions and academic or political debates over the “issue,” she captured the real voices of her congregation.

The world needs more of these voices. Some of my college friends and I had the privilege of hosting Oliver O’Donovan (a world-class ethicist) for dinner a couple Sundays back, and one of the things he said that grabbed my attention and hasn’t left my head since is that he is disturbed by the relative silence of gay Christians, compared to the din of conservative and liberal political noise drowning out clearer voices in this critical conversation.

It was motivation like none other to get this blog going, and hopefully add one more clear and honest voice from the gay Christian perspective. My prayer is that more people, on both sides of this divide that should not exist, would see people like Pastor Nadia and come increasingly onto the middle ground, which is really the only place that reconciliation ever happens.

One more word about the middle ground: it does not mean compromise.

Neither the most conservative Christian nor the most liberal queer person needs to compromise anything about what they believe in order to find reconciliation.  The only things that we cannot bring to the middle ground are prejudice and fear. If we can believe the best in each other, not because everyone’s secretly good on the inside, but because love overcomes hate, then we can begin to have honest conversations about what it means to be gay, and what it means to be Christian.

Then we’ll discover more of what it means to be human.