Our focus verse for today doesn’t condemn homosexuals. None of the other ones did either. But this one is particularly for us.
This, my friends, is how we know that we are Christians.
Let’s read all of Galatians 5. We’ll read this passage from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson. If you have your own Bible, you can follow along with the translation you have and note the differences in language.
2I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. 3I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.
4I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. 5Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. 6For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
7You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? 8This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. 9And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. 10Deep down, the Sovereign has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he or she is, will bear the divine judgment.
11As for the rumor that I continue to preach the ways of circumcision (as I did in those pre-Damascus Road days), that is absurd. Why would I still be persecuted, then? If I were preaching that old message, no one would be offended if I mentioned the Cross now and then – it would be so watered-down it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. 12Why don’t these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves!
13It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. 14For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. 15If you bite and ravage each other, watch out – in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
16My counsel is this: Live freely, animated, and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. 17For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. 18Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? 19It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; 20trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; 21the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s realm.
22But what happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. 24Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good – crucified.25Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. 26That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
The Controversy of Paul’s Day
It appears, from reading all of Paul’s writing to early-day Christians, that the abiding controversy of the time was whether a Christian male should be circumcised or not. Why? Because many people – whether they were Jews or not – believed that “one had to be a good Jew in order to be a good Christian.”
Have you ever heard that statement? Who was telling you that? And in what context?
Paul believed that the formalities and the trappings of Judaism were totally irrelevant to Christians. He felt strongly that belief in Christ’s central message should be the only criteria one needed in order to be called a Christian.
How can other Christians ignore Paul’s explicit message when trying to condemn GLBTQQA Christians?
“What makes you think you’re better than Paul?”
Recently, a friend of mine asked me a series of very pointed questions. He did it in an apologetic way, fearing that I might be offended.
“You’ve taken all these Bible passages that people have come to understand as condemning homosexuality and turned them all around,” he said. “What makes you think you know more about this than Paul did?” He continued, “What makes you think you are closer to the real truth of Christianity?”
I wasn’t offended, but I was challenged.
First, I think we’ve explained ad nauseum what Paul really meant when he wrote those Christian Testament passages. We’ve also worked through the Hebrew Bible stories that keep coming back to haunt us.
But second, I think it’s important to note that Paul was an amazing man. As a younger man, he imprisoned, tortured, and executed Jews who chose to believe the message of Jesus. He saw the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus and experienced a profound conversion. His repentance was a complete reversal of his old life.
Paul’s devotion to Jesus’ message was undeniable. Jesus started Paul onto the path of understanding God’s grace to all people – especially the Gentiles – and to understanding how people should treat each other.
In his earlier writings, Paul showed a certain amount of adolescent-like arrogance toward people who didn’t get it. In his later years, he realized that he was just somewhere on the journey toward discipleship and that not even he had arrived at the end. He told the Christians in Philippi,
I thank God that Paul was on that path and that his ministry started so many others on their way as well. If Paul knew that he wasn’t at the end of his journey to discipleship, he also knew that others would help him explain the basic truths of Jesus in new words to new Christians in new times.
I don’t ever want to stray too far from Paul’s basic message. Paul might have missed the mark on a few things: slavery, the role of women in the church, etc. But as God continued reveal how we are to treat each other in our present-day lives, I believe Paul would have changed his mind about even those things. He changed his mind before when he quit killing Christians! Of course he would change it again.
Paul’s big controversy was circumcision. It consumed much of his time. There’s an interesting parallel about this controversy that goes back to the beginning of our study. Essentially, Paul was dealing with the very same issue that came up at Sodom.
How are we going to treat people who are different from ourselves? Are we going to make them be and act just like us before we accept them? Before we welcome them into our lives?
I believe with all my heart, that if Paul had known what present-day Christians know about slavery and race relations, he would have preached loudly against the evils of human ownership and for the inclusion of all races in public and private life.
If Paul had known what we know about women in our society, he would have loudly affirmed the gifts they give God and and the Body of Christ in leadership positions in our churches.
If Paul were present today – watching us go ‘round and ‘round about the recognition of loving, committed, same-sex couples, Paul would never stand in the way of preserving those commitments. He would affirm and bless them. After all, “by their fruits, you shall know them!”
What have we learned about this?
Jesus Didn’t Give It a Second Thought2
There are two passages that jointly reveal God’s attitude towards homosexuals. Both tell a story that should reflect Jesus’ actual attitude toward homosexuality but, because of bad translation, does not: Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10.
In these two, a Roman centurion came or sent word to Jesus begging him to heal someone he cared about. Jesus said he would come to the centurion’s house, but the centurion said he did not deserve such an honor – he believed that if Jesus just said the word, his servant would be healed. Highly praising the man’s faith, Jesus pronounced the servant healed.
In Matthew, the word that the centurion used for his sick servant was pais. This word could mean “son” or “boy,” “servant” or “slave,” or “junior/younger male partner.”
Luke is more specific in his description of the sick man; he calls the man the centurion’s entimos doulos. The word doulos generically means “slave.” It could not mean son or boy. Entimos means “honored,” so the combination would produce the contradiction of “honored slave,” meaningless unless it applied to a “junior or younger male partner.” Thus the meaning of pais in Matthew is limited to the partner in a same-sex relationship (reputedly, the shield bearers for Roman soldiers were their lovers). In the only example in the Bible where anyone asked for healing for a slave, Jesus was not only healing for a conquering overlord, he was healing his male partner.
Jesus’ response ignores the man’s powerful, hated position and the implied sexual relationship; instead he highly praises the greatness of the man’s faith. By implication, love is not degraded by who shares it; and the model the world has been given to strive for in faith is that of a gay man. No matter what ignorance and attitudes homophobes thrust at you, keep firm in your mind that – because you are aware of Jesus’ real attitude towards you – you have an obligation to live up to the model of faith this tale holds up for you.
One of the most destructive results of the religious, political distortions, and misinformation about GLBTQQA people has been our self-destructive behavior. That behavior includes a steady rate of suicide among GLBTQQA people who have believed the lies forced upon them by their own families, churches, politicians, friends, and other sources of dedicated ignorance. No simple, easy remedy exists to the dilemmas faced by GLBTQQA people in our society.
For every web site and book that tells the truth about GLBTQQA life and issues, hundreds of anti-gay homophobic religion-based sources of misinformation flood the Internet, bookstores, media, and public institutions. We need each other. We need clear convincing presentations of the facts. We need allies in every level of society who can stand with us, stand in our shoes, understand us, accept us, and affirm our human value and human rights.
Where Do You Fit In?
Do you care how Christianity impacts the world? You have no control over how others live their Christian faith, but you do have control over your life and the way it can radiate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What are you personally doing to make a difference for truth, reality, and the facts? Are you well informed with the facts that you need to know? The sources of information are endless. You have to be selective and undistracted by false voices and uninformed people. Learning what you need to know in order to make a difference in this world for yourself and for other GLBTQQA people will demand and require everything that you can give of yourself, your time, your relationships, and your opportunities to touch others.
How Would You Respond to People Who Challenge Your Christianity?
I have some guidelines that work for me:
- Do not try to debate shallow beliefs! Instead, allow the fruit of the Spirit4 to bear witness to your place in the Realm of God. Let “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” show through in everything you do. If people won’t believe you’re a Christian, then they must deal with their own denial of the Spirit’s evidence.
- Remind them that Jesus loves them. Pray for them. Allow yourself to feel a longing that they might find a more loving, bigger God, but do not allow them to make you angry. Do not look down on them or their views. Do not pity them for their closed- or single-mindedness. Do not consider them to be ignorant simply because they have blindly believed the fear-mongers who have shaped them.
- Be absolutely real in every interaction you have with them. Always live in your truth to them and everyone you met. The truth will set you free!
- Regularly and purposefully surround yourself with affirming people who you know to be a part of the Body of Christ. Become an Ark to them, and allow them to be an Ark for you. Do not allow others to tear down your joy. Before others succeed in their attempts, run to your Ark.
- Establish, maintain, and strengthen clear physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries that will protect you from anyone who would abuse you. Never allow yourself to abuse anyone or be abused by anyone!5
|Bible Passage||What I Was Taught It Meant …||What I Realize that It Really Means …|
|Genesis 1:27||God created males and females. That’s it.||God still creates everyone, and we are being re-created every day.|
|Genesis 19:5||God punished the people of Sodom because they were homosexual, and God punishes homosexuals today.||God wants people – even strangers – to love each other and treat each other with respect and hospitality.|
|Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13||God hates homosexuals and wants them put to death.||God wants people to love each other and not treat others as if they are toys to be thrown away.|
|Leviticus 21:19-20||God hates people with blemishes and bans them from the community.||God wants us to have reasonable standards for ourselves and our leaders so we can be responsible in our community.|
|Deuteronomy 23:1||God hates Transgender people.||God found a way to include everyone in God’s family. We should do the same.|
|Deuteronomy 22:5||God hates men in dresses and women in pants. They are an abomination.||God wants us to be authentic – to come out of whatever closet we are in.|
|Romans 1:26-27||Gay men and lesbians do things that are unnatural and not what God created them to do.||God wants people to love everyone and not treat others as if they are playthings.|
|I Corinthians 6:9-10||Homosexuals are wicked – just as bad as adulterers, thieves, drunks, or extortionists. They will not get to heaven.||God wants people to love each other and not treat others as if they are worthless. All of us are a part of God’s realm!|
|I Timothy 1:9-11||Homosexuals are right up there with the murderers, slave traders, and liars.||God wants people to love each other just like Jesus loves us!|
Are you seeing a pattern here? Could it possibly be that the entire scope of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament is actually about the same thing?
No wonder the Pharisees were so angry at Jesus! He wanted to take away their power to condemn and replace it with LOVE!
Today, we’re going to meet a challenge. First, a warning: What we will do in the next few minutes may hurt some feelings. That is not our intention at all! Please keep in mind that we really do love each other and care for each other deeply, so during this role-play experience, some things said may make us hurt a little. I want you to be able to handle the arrows that some Christians may throw at you.
We will do two role-plays. In both, I will attempt to portray a staunch, conservative, close-minded, Bible-beating Christian who vehemently believes that homosexuality in any form is wrong and that homosexuals are not true Christians. In the first, a volunteer will attempt to debate me on the issue. In the second, a different volunteer will defend our membership in God’s realm as children of God in Christ Jesus without debate.
We will also need a timekeeper who will tell us when four minutes have elapsed and let us know when the five-minute time limit has been reached. If we don’t take the whole five minutes, that’s okay.
Each Participant’s Job
If you are not an actor in the role-play, it is your job to lovingly point out how the “discussions” could have been better. We’ll spend about ten minutes after each role-play to do that.
When we are done we’ll take a few minutes to debrief each other on how this went and what we learned.
Some Closing Questions…
What have you personally learned from our study together? Please share those things with us….
How have you been able to let go of your toxic shame? Please share the ways that have been most helpful for you….
Have you had an opportunity to discuss the issue with others who agreed with you? With folks who disagreed? How has that gone?
God Blesses Us!
God NEVER intended anyone to be excluded from the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! In fact, God wants us to live fulfilled, happy, loving lives!
God affirms and embraces us!
— words by the Reverend Wayne Lindsay
former pastor • St. John’s MCC
1 New Living Translation copyright 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
2 Taken directly from “The Roman Centurion” at Bible Abuse Directed at Homosexuals by Sean Isler which is available on this website.
3 from “Six Bible Passages” http://www.truluck.com/html/six_bible_passages.html
4 Galatians 5:22-23
5 For an intense discussion of boundaries from a Biblical perspective, please read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s landmark book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.