Call Me Bonhoeffer, part 2

Thanks to all who responded to Saturday’s blog with so much encouragement.  I hadn’t planned to add to this blog so soon. But today’s Washington Post confirms so much of what I said that I want to share some quotes with you. I’m hoping that you will go online to find and read the articles.

Bannon choice draws flak over ties to alt-right. By Jose A. DelReal--“President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist in the White House has drawn a sharp rebuke from political strategists who see in Bannon a controversial figure too closely associated with the alt-right movement, which white nationalists have embraced.” The “alt-right” is defined as “a fringe conservative movement saturated with racially insensitive rhetoric and elements of outright white nationalism.” In my words, the “alt-right” is too gentle a word for people who believe in white supremacy.

Global perspective: After Trump’s win, a worldwide populist deluge? By Griff Witte, Emily Rauhala and Dom Philips–“The populist wave of 2016 that carried Trump to the pinnacle of international power and influence didn’t start in the United States. And it certainly won’t end there. Instead, the biggest prize yet for a global movement built on a seemingly bottomless reserve of political, economic and cultural grievance is likely to be an accelerant to even more victories for people and causes bent on upending the existing world order.”

One issue I didn’t mention–Trump’s plan to greatly increase “defense” spending. Increased defense spending anticipated. By Karoun Demirjian.“Trump and congressional Republicans are on the same page on a host of defense priorities, including increasing the number of active-duty troops in the Army and the size of the Navy; modernizing military facilities and the nuclear arsenal; and focusing more on missile defense.” Trump plans to send more of our citizens out to fight wars. Combine that with white supremacy and a global mission……

Trump taps skeptic of climate change to oversee EPA transition. By Brady Dennis–“The man planning how a Trump administration can obliterate Obama’s environmental legacy is Myron Ebell, a Washington fixture who has long been a cheerful warrior against what he sees as an alarmist, overzealous environmental movement that has used global warming as a pretext for expanding government. Ebell has argued for opening up more federal lands for logging, oil and gas exploration, and coal mining, and for turning over more permitting authority to the states. And he has urged the Senate to vote to reject an international climate accord signed last year in Paris.”

Trump’s mission impossible? By Robert J. Samuelson. “Near the top of Trump’s to-do list is a pledge to double economic growth from its recent desultory rate of 2 percent a year to 4 percent–through massive tax cuts, the relaxation of government regulations and measures that curtail imports.” (emphasis added.)

This stuff is real, folks. Keep the faith and remain strong in the Lord.

Call Me Bonhoeffer

Dear Friends,

I’m restarting my blog because it’s time and because I have a lot to say. This first one is about the disaster of a Trump presidency. Please know that I have other more hopeful thoughts to share with you, but this one needs to be shared right now.

CALL ME BONHOEFFER

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran priest in Germany during Hitler’s Nazi regime. A great theologian and scholar, he was best known for his staunch and open resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. He vocally opposed the genocidal persecution of Jewish people. He was arrested, placed in a concentration camp and executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just a few weeks before the Germans surrendered. His writings are a continual source of deep Christian encouragement and faith. Please click on the above link (in green) to read his biography, which shows that he was likely influenced by spending time in Harlem in 1930. Call me Bonhoeffer. I may not agree with everything Bonhoeffer said or did, but I admire his willingness to stand against the major evil of his time, even to the point of death.

Hillary Clinton won the majority of our votes, but the Electoral College twisted that into a victory for Donald Trump. His power over our country will be solidified by Republican control of the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Based on what Trump has said and who his allies are, here is a list, in no particular order of priority, of some things that we can expect to happen. These are things that we must challenge with Bonhoeffer-style courage and faith.

Racial Hatred and Inequality. Trump is enthusiastically supported by the Arian Nation, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups.His call to “Make America great again” was heard by many to return this country back what it was like in the 50‘s, when segregation was legal and racists could comfortably and openly display their hatred towards African Americans. Include now Hispanic Americans, Muslims and who knows who else.

Gun Proliferation. ‘nuff said. His support by the gun lobby is clear. Expect more gun violence in our country.

No Equal Pay for Women. Gone.

Limits on Immigration. Forget about the statute of liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Will he really try to build a wall on the Mexican border?

Repudiation of Black Lives Matter. Those who don’t understand how important this movement is will do everything they can to stop it and other grassroot efforts to make our country more fair for all people.

Cutting Back on Prison Reform. The facts that our country incarcerates more citizens than any other nation in the worldand that our penal system is biased against people of color, will no longer be seen as a sin and a shame.

Failing to Protect and Conserve Our Natural Resources. Trump doesn’t believe in global warming, and he has promised to “get rid of” government regulation of big businesses. This means that the Standing Rock protest of the pipeline through the Dakotas will be under attack. Just two days after the election, Mitch McConnell asked Trump to approve the Keystone pipeline through the Rockies. The global warming accord will no longer be strongly supported by the U.S.

Decreasing Consumer Safety and Protection. Again, Tump has promised to “get rid of” governmental control over big business. That includes businesses like food manufacturers, giant drug companies and banks. So scary in so many ways. Can you imagine?

Rescinding LGBTQ Rights. All people ought to have the right to choose who they will love, and that includes the benefits that come with marriage. The hard fight that led to marriage equality will likely give way to legalized discrimination and hate crimes.

Limiting Women’s Right to Choose. Abortions will become illegal again, like in the 60’s, when my 18-year-old friend died from an illegal effort that was fueled by her being kicked out by her parents and having no where to go. This doesn’t happen to rich folks who can just go somewhere else. It only hurts and criminalizes poor women–again, disproportionately people of color.

Wage Decreases. I say it a third time–Trump has promised to undo governmental regulation of big businesses. Yes, the big companies may come back to the U.S.  and create more jobs. But these companies will only come back if they can make the same margin of profit, or more, than they make in third world countries. The rich will get richer, which is what big business is all about, and will prove once again that trickle down just doesn’t work. Greed is a very effective tool of the evil one.

Religious Discrimination. This is one of the bedrock concepts of our great nation. Fear, th-1another great tool of the evil one, can turn people into paranoid fanatics, and the threat to Muslims in our country is now very clear.

Killing Affordable Health Care. Trump has vowed to end Obamacare (and replace it with what)?

I’m sure I’ve missed some things we must challenge as faithful followers of Christ.  If there are other issues you would like to add to this list, please let us know!

To put this all in a global perspective, please read this article by Anne Applebaum, published in the November 6 Washington Post. We ought to be aware that Trump and Putin are not the only ones in this collusion–also included are leaders of Brexit and other countries who threaten to bring back the white domination of the past “by force.”

This would be really scary if I were not a person of faith. From Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ….. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

I will always believe in the hope that is at the heart of our Christian faith. This hope activates and strengthens us. I believe that we are now facing challenges that will help us identify what is most important for people who really want to follow Christ, and not just claim the name “Christian.”

I believe that we will listen to Jesus more closely than we listen to Donald Trump. We will stand up for the poor, the hungry, the children, the immigrants, the outsiders and all of God’s people. We will learn how important it is to love all of God’s creation, and all the people who God has created. We will learn how to stand against the works of the evil one, and we will learn not to worship Mammon.

Call me Bonhoeffer. I hope you’ll join me in this, we can use more Bonhoeffer type faith!

Vanity

I woke up the other day with this song in my head:

If I Can Help Somebody

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

Chorus:

My living shall not be in vain,

Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,

If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,

If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

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This highly favored hymn/gospel song was written by little-known composer Alma Bazel Androzzo in 1945, later made famous by Mahalia Jackson, Tennessee Ernie, BillieEckstein and others. You can find all kinds of versions of it on the web (click here.)

I don’t know how that song got into my head.  I hadn’t heard it in a very long time.  But it is full of meaning, isn’t it?  It reminded me of how I ended up in the ministry.  I had a healthy career, working on a job that I liked, was making good money and had gained considerable expertise in my field.  My second son was graduating from college.  A comfortable life as a tax attorney, with the freedom to do pretty much what I wanted and when I wanted, was just over the horizon.

About that time my call to ministry became undeniable. The thought had been nagging at me for years.  I had a hunger that could not be satisfied with money, comfort or freedom. The thought that finally brought me over was “Life is too short.”

Life is too short not to dedicate it to something meaningful.  Life is too short to spend it chasing after material comfort at the expense of at least trying to make a positive impact in the world.  Life is too short not to give it your best to do what you know you ought to do. Life is too short not to fear living in vain.

The fear of living in vain can easily be pushed aside while we’re striving to make it in this world. Survival is important, but we can become mesmerized beyond surviving to wanting all that we see. Then, when we see the end of life approaching and begin to realize that living in vain might be a real possibility, we find ourselves searching frantically for ways to prove to ourselves and others that we’re here for some purpose beyond self-indulgence.

As the Teacher proclaims about life without meaning in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “All is vanity.”

This one life is all that we have.  Each of us is absolutely unique, which makes our lives all the more precious– and yet we are only temporary, which ought to give us a sense of urgency.  We have this one chance to do something with the precious gift of life that we’ve been given.  Just one chance to get it right, and we don’t know how long that chance will last. Life is too short, however long it may be, and it may be shorter than we hope.

If you believe like I do that our gifts, talents and opportunities are bestowed on us by God to use to make this world a better place, then you will agree with me that life is too short to be distracted by the material things of this world, which can be to us like that fruit on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden that seemed too good for Adam and Eve to resist.

This wonderful song helps to remind me that when we reach the end of our journeys, more than anything else, people will remember how well we did or did not love them. It helps to remind me of what’s really important–loving God enough to try to obey God, loving each other enough to do for others what we’d want someone to do for us.

If I can just stay focused on that, then my living shall not be in vain, no, my living shall not be in vain.

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Have We Yet Come to That Place?

On behalf of the children and their families listed below, on behalf of all of our incarcerated black children, on behalf of African American families struggling in lives of poverty and all the evils that come with it, I propose that we alter the second verse of the Black National Anthem, as follows:

LIFT EV’RY VOICE AND SING (Also known as “The Black National Anthem”)

by James Weldon Johnson

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring.

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise,

High as the list’ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

 

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chast’ning rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet And with a steady beat,

Have not yet our weary feet,

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

The jury in the case of Michael Dunn found him guilty Saturday night on four charges, including three of attempted second-degree murder, but they couldn’t reach a verdict on the most significant charge — first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The decision came on the eve of what would have been Davis’ 19th birthday. (February 16 2014 CNN)

 We have now come over a way that with tears has been watered,

The FBI on Tuesday was helping investigate who tied a noose around the neck of a University of Mississippi statue of James Meredith, who, in 1962, became the first black student to enroll in the then all-white Southern college. Officers found the rope noose and a pre-2003 Georgia state flag with the Confederate battle flag on the statue’s face. Sellers says two men were seen nearby early Sunday.The men were said to be heard shouting racial slurs, CBS affiliate WJTV reported. (CBS News: February 19, 2014)

We have now come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

No 8-year-old should live in fear for his life, with nightmares that keep him awake all night. But that is a daily occurrence for Donald Maiden Jr., known as D.J., who was playing tag outside his Dallas apartment complex when he was shot in the face by a neighbor last September.There was seemingly no reason for the attack by 46-year-old Brian Cloninger, a white man, who told police “he wanted to” when asked why he fired on the black child. (The Root: February 20, 2014 by Breanna Edwards).

Out from All through the gloomy past,

A retrial has been set for Joseph Weekley, the Detroit police officer who shot and killed a 7-year-old girl (Aiyana Stanley-Jones, African American)  during a 2010 police raid. (The Huffington Post: September 19)

Till Here now we stand at last, still fast

Police say John Henry Spooner (and killed) shot Darius Simmons (African American 13-year old) last May after accusing the boy of stealing $3,000 worth of guns from his home. The teen, who had lived with his mother next door to Spooner for only a month, was taking out the trash around 10 a.m. when Spooner accused the boy of the theft and demanded he return the shotguns.The teenager was unarmed when he was shot in the street outside their homes (in front of his mother). (Daily Mail Online: July 17, 2013)

 Where the white gleam of Seeking the place where our bright star is shall be cast.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) was a 17-year-old (unarmed) African American from Miami Gardens, Florida who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer….Zimmerman was not charged at the time of the shooting by the Sanford Police, who said that there was no evidence to refute his claim of self-defense and that Florida’s stand your ground law prohibited law-enforcement officials from arresting or charging him. Zimmerman was eventually charged in Martin’s death and a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges in July, 2013. (Wikipedia article: Trayvon Martin)

 God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who has by Thy might,

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,

Shadowed beneath thy hand,

May we forever stand,

True to our God,

True to our native land.

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Believers, Get Out of Church!

It’s the Christian thing to do.

You came to church in the first place because something led you there.  You came

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because someone invited you, and your heart was gladdened by the experience so you came back. You came because life had become difficult and you knew you needed help, and you came back because you felt healing and peace there. You came because something that you can’t explain nudged you, and you stayed because you found a new kind of joy, new friends, a new way of life and you loved learning to walk deeper with Christ.

So you stayed. Now you participate in church activities, attend Bible Study, contribute regularly and help out with the children or on leadership boards. You may be in the choir

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or on the usher board or even a deacon or deaconess.  You try to get there most Sundays, and every once in a while you might even give up an “Amen!” or a “Hallelujah.” Your life has changed for the better and you’re trying to be a better person because of your church involvement. You’re trying to be a good Christian, you are a true believer, and it’s all good.

But now it’s time to get out of church.

You see, Christ didn’t nudge you into the church just so you could feel better; He needs you to be your best self so that He can use you.  Jesus didn’t heal your broken heart, cure your illness, give you that new job, bring love into your life just so you could have a better life, He did it also because He needs you to be a witness for him. Jesus didn’t intend for you to keep that new joy, that new hope, that new peace all to yourself. He didn’t call you to become a church member. Jesus called you to follow Him.  And the way to follow Jesus is to allow Him to lead you to the places he wants you to go.

Once you’ve been healed, once you’ve begun to understand, once you’ve begun to deepen your walk with Him, then it’s time to go.

Jesus sends you out from the comfort of the pews to be His presence in the world, to go to the difficult places and sit with sinners and scoffers, because that’s where God’s message of good news needs to be heard. Christ sends you away from the church to places of pain and sorrow so you can bring healing and hope. He intends for you to get out of the church and raise your prophetic voice so people in power will hear “thus says the Lord” and lead this world to become a better place for all. Christ wants you to help the world to understand that “the kingdom of God has come near” because of your presence.

It’s your time.  It’s your turn. The world is still broken. Why are you still sitting?

After you’ve gone out with nothing but your faith to lead you, telling and showing the world that the kingdom of God has come near by your healing activities, your joy, your peace,

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your love and the word of God, then you can return to church.  That’s when Jesus will meet you there, praising God with you because you’ve been able to trample on snakes and scorpions in the name of Jesus. Jesus will join in praising God with you–not just because you’ve caused Satan to fall from the sky, but because your name is written in heaven. Jesus will meet you there and celebrate with you, laughing and singing and praising because God has revealed to you what you can do in the name of Jesus!

Luke 10: 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN.  WHEN WILL YOU BEGIN TO WIELD THAT POWER? 

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

It’s Time to Stop This

Little_Girl_Playing_Dress_Up_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_090529-016872-083053Children are really cute when they pretend to be adults.  You know, when the boys put on dad’s tie and hat and sunglasses, or when the girls put on their mother’s high heel shoes and lipstick and hats. How adorable they look.  It can be a good and positive thing when children pretend.

I recently saw a film in which a young girl about twelve was trying to walk in high heels. Just like most kids, she didn’t walk so well in the stilettos. But It wasn’t cute, or good. She wasn’t playing pretend.  She was walking down a dark street around 4 a.m., with her pimp following her in a car trying to make himself rich by offering her up to whosoever would come. I’m sure her life was a horror. The people filming her tried to reach her, but her pimp saw them and pulled her into the car. They got the license plate number, though.

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There is no such thing as a child prostitute.  There are only abused children who are themselves sex crime victims.

The film was shown at Asbury United Methodist Church here in DC, by Courtney’s House, a group that fights against the horror and enslavement of children by sex traffickers. It’s headed by Tina Fundt, herself once a teenage victim of a sex slaver, now the heroine for many young children she’s reaching through her program here in DC. The reason the meeting was at Asbury is because their location is a high sex traffic area.  We don’t see it because we’re not up that time of night. And because we don’t see it taking place, it’s really easy for us to simply to ignore it.

But it becomes difficult to ignore when we become informed.  Did you know that the average age of people entering the sex trade is 13?  That’s the average age, meaning there are about as many younger than that as there are older.  Pimps measure the worth of their victims by how many tricks they can pull in one night.

thDID YOU HEAR ME SAY THAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN??? PIMPS MAKE THEMSELVES RICH BASED ON HOW MANY MEN THESE CHILDREN HAVE SEX WITH IN ONE NIGHT!!!

It is slavery. Children who are the most vulnerable for this form of enslavement are those who are homeless and poor, as well as children of all races and income levels who suffer low self-esteem. The hold that pimps have over their victims is extremely strong, horribly vicious, psychologically damaging and often fatal. They are brutal slavers, always looking to increase their stable of girls and boys to satisfy the vulgar desires of a sick group of people, the users.

pimps2Yet, here in America, they’ve become almost a cult.  There are “pimp and hoes” parties, the tv show “pimp my ride,” and a movie, the American Pimp, all trying to make a fad out of the awfully horrifying sex trafficking of children.

Human trafficking has become the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world. There are presently an estimated 27 million sex slaves around the world, including many within DC. It seems like the pimps must be smarter than the local police and the FBI, because they don’t seem able to do anything to stop the pimps.

Courtney’s House works closely with Stop Modern Slavery, another DC group working to bring attention to the horrors of forced prostitution. Bill and I went to see a film they showed last week, Nefarious, produced by a Christian group called Exodus Cry–another heart wrenching film about how women all over the world are forced into sex trafficking.  What I learned from viewing the abuse and horror of this kind of slavery is that no prostitute chooses this kind of life.  They are forced into it either by being tricked into it as a child, lured into it through an unhealthy relationship or coerced into it by people who claim to love them–then they stay in it because they don’t know how to do anything else and don’t believe they can do anything else.  They come to believe it is their lot in life and accept it. They are mentally and physically slaves.

And too many in our society accept it, by doing what society so often does to the oppressed–they blame the victims–the slaves, the prostitutes–for their own situation. And because it does not take place in our sight, It’s easy to simply ignore it.

One of the two highest commandments that Jesus teaches is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That’s the basis for the golden rule:  We are to do for others as we would want them to do for us.

Think about how vulnerable and naive you were when you were 12 or 13 years old.  Close your eyes and imagine that you are that 12 year old trying to walk in heels at 4 am, with a pimp ready to beat you horribly if you did not give your body willingly to whoever wanted it.

What you would want somebody to do for you?  It’s time to stop this.

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

How I Came to Understand the Bible on Homosexuality

I wrote much of what follows in 2005, in some email conversations that took place when our denomination was struggling with whether to accept homosexuals in leadership roles. By writing it, I convinced myself where I stood on this issue–and stand by it even more strongly now. I’ve edited and updated it to share with you today. It’s long. In case you don’t get all the way to the end, here’s the bottom line for me: If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

Some issues are best discussed in deep, heartfelt one-on-one discussions, by people who know and trust each other. So this will be a long blog post because I can’t give you my opinion without letting you know more about me and some things that I believe first.

I love the Bible.  It is my source of knowledge about God, the book that instructs my life, the place I go when I need guidance, strength, wisdom, nurture, etc. It is the authority for my life, therefore I do not read it lightly and I do not think that any part of it has more authority than any other. I continually pray and seek to understand it in depth and with high respect.

I love to teach Bible study.  An important focus of my ministry has been to teach others to understand the Bible deeply, to explore the rich depths of unconditional love and amazing grace that shines through the written Word. One of my favorite thoughts to share in Bible study is that God’s grace is more amazing than we can understand or acknowledge.

I honor and respect the historical Baptist tradition that emphasizes the freedom of each person to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” I respect each person’s “soul freedom” to believe in God as it seems right to them, as well as each church’s independence to determine its own governing theological understandings and principles.

My personal walk with Christ leads and guides my theological perspective. My greatest desire is to walk closer and closer with Christ, to do God’s will on earth, and to do and say things that are pleasing in God’s sight.

I have absolutely no doubt that God called me into ordained ministry. My call to pastoral ministry has been confirmed for me by the members of the three congregations I’ve served, the numerous churches and groups where I’ve spoken and taught, and many family and friends who seemed to know even before I did that this was the call for my life.

God called me into ministry later in life, as a divorced female. I now believe that that was quite intentional on God’s part. According to some traditional biblical interpretations, I would have had three biblical strikes against me that would have stopped me from answering my call.

The first strike against me would have been because I am an African American.  At one point in our country’s history I would not have been considered a complete human being, but something less than human, a slave.  At one time in our country many good, Bible-believing Christians knew with all their hearts that the Bible supported and possibly required that there be slaves who were second-class citizens.  Since that time, God has enlightened most of our society that slavery is wrong, and that the Bible shouldn’t be interpreted to support slavery.

And as a divorced person, many good, Bible believing Christians feel very strongly that I should not hold a leadership role or office in the church.  The Biblical passages that tradition has used against divorced persons must be read with an understanding of their cultural background.  Jesus refused to support the divorce that Jewish tradition allowed because the simplicity of the procedure was being used by the males to oppress the females in that society.  The way I understand those passages is that Jesus’ pronouncements on the issue were for the purpose of helping the oppressed females of that culture, and that while divorce is not to be encouraged, what is more important is to ensure that people are not oppressed.

As a female, many good, Bible following Christians still believe that God would not call me to serve as ordained clergy, and certainly not to be pastor of a church.  I might not be overstating it to say that probably most Christians still believe that, considering the Catholic take on this issue. I was raised in an A.M.E. Church, which is one of the denominations that was ordaining women when I was a child.  I joined a baptist church as an adult, but it was one that was more progressive than many other baptist churches on this issue.  It never occurred to me when I finally answered God’s call on my life that anyone would have the right to tell me that God wouldn’t do that. I’m among the many who have explored the Bible more fully on the issue of women’s leadership, and I read the many Biblical passages that are supportive of women’s leadership as being just as authoritative as those passages that have been taken out of context to deny women’s leadership.  But there are still too many who ignore the support for women’s leadership shown in the Bible because they’ve been taught that only those oppressive-sounding passages (i.e. “Women shall keep silent in the churches…”) are “what the Bible says” on this issue. (See my “writings” page for a link to more of what I’ve written about this.)

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So when I discovered how the Bible was being used to oppress women, when I read what Jesus said about divorce, and when I paid attention to how the Bible had been used to support slavery, I knew that I needed to understand the Bible better.  I learned to study the Bible deeply and not to simply accept what many otherwise good church leaders have been teaching.  I now read the Bible for understanding in a deeper and more meaningful way, which involves knowing more about the historical background and the cultural, social and literal contexts in which the writings took place, as well as paying attention to our modern day predilections as we read through our own limited social locations.

Through this kind of in-depth reading, the beauty, majesty, authority and love of God comes shining through the Bible for me, and I have grown to love it even more and more. This is one of the reasons biblical interpretation is so important to me….not just for justifying my own position, but because deep bible study helps us to understand so very much more about just who is our God. I will not give up my beloved Bible to traditionalists and fundamentalists to have the final say on what the Bible says. And because of where I came into ministry, I will always question Biblical interpretations that support discrimination and oppression.

So yes, there are Biblical passages that seem to denounce homosexuality.  But my brother John and the gay people I have met in my life force me to think about this issue more carefully, to study the Bible more deeply and to reconcile what my heart and my head tell me who God is with the teaching that people who are born homosexuals are not to be allowed to live out the life that is natural for them.

In order to find guidance on issues such as this, I find myself leaning on what the Bible tells us about Jesus, His words and His actions. Jesus came to help the Jewish leaders understand more deeply the sacred texts and commandments, because they had interpreted them in a way that was oppressive, emphasizing complex rules and regulations that governed who would and would not inherit the Kingdom of God.  He helped the people delve deeper into the purpose of the commandments, teaching people to “turn the other cheek,” go the extra mile, give the extra coat, etc.  He sums up his discussion with a key phrase for me, and that is that all of the laws are for the purpose of helping us to love each other better—to treat each other the way we each want to be treated.

Jesus says to us that all the law and the prophets—all that God has taught God’s people—hang on the two highest commandments, which are to love God and to love each other.  I know there are many people who believe that love includes forcing people into acceptable molds, but from experience I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like love to be told that, because of who you were born to be, you are not good enough–especially when God is telling you something else!

Jesus’ grace is truly amazing.  His grace is so amazing that He angered the synagogue when He told the people that the widow of Zaraphath and the Syrian leper received the blessings of God versus the religious leaders who thought had a right to inherit the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He was willing to anger the Pharisees by sitting and eating with sinners and the hated tax collectors, people they knew were condemned to hell.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He used a hated and condemned Samaritan to show how much more important love is than holding positions of authority, and He allowed unclean women to touch Him and to engage in the priestly function of anointing Him before His death.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing that most of His disciples did not understand it, at least before His death.  We need to continue to allow Jesus to amaze us with His grace, and not try to limit it according to our limited understandings.

I need to understand that as soon as I believe I see a speck of sawdust in someone’s eye and think I need to correct them, I have a plank in my own eye.  It is not my right to judge, that’s God’s right.  It’s not my right to draw the lines on who’s in or who’s out, that’s to be left up to God. I always need to be reminded that I can never fully know God’s plan for salvation.

While I have not done a full-scale in-depth study of the passages that are used to condemn homosexuals, I have read some interpretations that made me think.  Here are some of the thoughts I’ve read on the subject:  The sin of Sodom was not just because the men wanted to have intercourse with men, but had to do with the sexual abuses of rape and sexual excess, and there were other abuses in that city as well.  Leviticus 18:22 sentences to death men who would lie with other men as with women, but Leviticus also had laws that sentenced to death people who committed adultery, children who curse their parents, and incest. There are a lot of rules that made sense to the people of that time that no longer make sense for us today.  These were rules that were designed to keep the children of Israel together and set them apart from the other nations around them.  Many of these nations were engaged in temple prostitution and sexual excesses, including sexually abusing and sacrificing male and female children.  This sexual worship formed much of what is the basis for Paul’s corrections to the churches, which had more to do with keeping the idol-based sexual excesses out of the church than with homosexual behavior.  Jesus had nothing to say about homosexual behavior, and neither did the 10 commandments.

Finally, I need to remember that I do not have the final authority on how to interpret God’s Word—no human does.  We all see through our glasses darkly. As soon as I think that I have the final and only interpretative take on the Bible, and that everyone who does not agree with me is wrong, I’m substituting my wisdom for God’s wisdom, and that makes me arrogant.  Jesus and the prophets had a lot more to say against arrogance than they did about homosexuality.

I know this way of looking at things does not provide hard and fast rules like many people like to have, and that’s part of the problem.  I truly believe we hurt the congregations we serve by laying on them hard and fast rules that are easy for us to pronounce, without teaching them to search for the deeper understandings that we must gain in order to see more clearly what God’s Word has to say to us today.  It’s a lot easier to lay down rules than it is to teach people to care enough to wrestle with how to love each other better.

For me, the answer to the question of whether God would want us to condemn and demonize homosexuals is that that doesn’t sound like the God of my experience.  I do know this: that I can recognize the people who are called by God because of their love for God and their love for others; and I know who are the people of faith because they try to do their best to usher in God’s Kingdom on this earth.  My experience is that some of those people happen to be homosexuals.

I don’t know why God has inclined some persons to homosexuality, but that’s not my knowledge to have.  I do know that when I don’t fully understand, all I can do is lean towards love and remember Jesus’ amazing grace.

My bottom line is this:  If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

I’m not alone in my thoughts on this; many progressive Christian leaders agree with me.  Here are a couple of links that I’ve seen recently: A blog post by Rachel Held Evans:  “The Bible was ‘Clear…” and an interesting view by Roger Wolsey: 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.  Here are some books that also can help: Struggling with Scripture, Walter Brueggeman (2002), Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers (2006), The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes (1996).

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

 

The Church and Gays

Let me first thank all of you who responded to last week’s post about my gay brother John–I heard from many family and friends who knew him. You helped me to recognize that I need to say a little more about John. I was so focused on my relationship with him that I failed to mention that he was quite successful; he traveled around the world in his early career and worked as a high level manager at AT&T towards the end of his career.  He was quite popular as an adult and had a multi-cultural group of friends.  He was smart and well loved by many.  His life was a blessing to many people, not just me.

I said last week that one of the things John’s life taught me is that he did not choose to be gay. This is important because many in the church have characterized a homosexual lifestyle as a sinful choice that can be reversed.  And while some church folks are changing their minds on this, many still use it as an excuse to discriminate against people in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered community.

thI have seen African American religious leaders become furiously indignant at the mention of equating the gay community’s struggle for equal treatment with the black civil rights struggle. More moderate religious leaders may welcome gays into their churches– as long as the gays will recognize that homosexuality is a sin and repent, and that means to me that they will be expected to change. Others take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” position. Many do not want them to marry in the church.  All of these positions view the gay life as less than acceptable.

But John’s life proved to me that God made him just like God wanted him. God formed John in my mothers’ womb. His sexual orientation was as natural to him as my brown skin is to me. I don’t know about all people who are LGBT’s, but I do know about John. And if homosexuals (at least some of them) were made the way they are by God, how dare we judge them?

That’s the question my brother John’s life begs to be answered.  And for all of my friends who knew John and his friends from the time they were young boys, you know that they did not choose to be different.  And I suspect that all of you reading this can remember children who you knew were gay when they were young, before they became sexually aware. They didn’t choose to be gay–they just were, despite any efforts their parents’ may have made to make them “normal.”

Neil Swidey wrote an informative and detailed article for the Boston Globe in 2005 entitled “What Makes People Gay?”  He provides an in-depth review of several scientific studies of how human sexuality develops, highlighted by the story of a mother and her identical twin boys, one of whom exhibited female characteristics and claimed to be a girl when he was a small child. Here are some excerpts:

“Canadian researchers have consistently documented a “big-brother effect,” finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has. (Birth order does not appear to play a role with lesbians.) So, a male with three older brothers is three times more likely to be gay than one with no older brothers, though there’s still a better than 90 percent chance he will be straight. They argue that this results from a complex interaction involving hormones, antigens, and the mother’s immune system.” (I didn’t know that!)

“Still, no matter how imperfect these studies are, when you put them all together and examine them closely, the message is clear: While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born. After spending years sifting through all the available data, British researchers Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman come to an even bolder conclusion in their forthcoming book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, in which they write: ‘Sexual orientation is something we are born with and not `acquired’ from our social environment.”

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Doesn’t it feel good when science catches up with our own experiences and proves to us what we already figured out?

I believe that God made my brother John to be just who he was, and there is scientific proof to back up my belief. And I see even better proof in my gay friends, some of whom are the nicest, smartest, most spiritual and dedicated Christians I know. How dare I judge any of them? God doesn’t make any junk! And God doesn’t make mistakes! A God who is love (see my post two weeks ago) would not make children only to reject them. God would simply love them with an unlimited, unconditional and permanent love.

th-2And I believe the church ought to accept what God has done and not discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation, which includes allowing them to marry in church. (This obviously does not imply my support for any behavior that violates, hurts or harms others, especially children– but that’s true for everyone, gay or straight, including clergy.)

 

I can hear some of you now– “But the Bible Says…..”

I love the Bible.  It is the most important, inspiring, life-changing book in my life. My own experience with the Bible has helped me to learn to explore it deeply. The deeper my understanding becomes, the more I love it. Biblical interpretation is my all-time number one favorite thing to talk about.  I’ll share my thoughts about the Bible on this issue with you next week.

If you’d like to comment to this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

 

Lessons I’m Still Learning From My Brother John, R.I.P.

I recently came across the obituary for my brother John, who died in 1991 at age 47.  I surely miss him. John was the 4th of my 5 older brothers, the middle of seven children.  He used to say “The middle child gets all the aches, the middle child gets all the breaks”–and I don’t think he meant the good kind of breaks!

brother johnJohn was my buddy. When sibling rivalries and competitions broke out, John was always on my side against my brothers Bill and Robert. (My two oldest brothers, Hosea, Jr., and Donald, were too old to be involved with our games, and the youngest, Rick, came along much later.)

John was a mentor for me my first year at Southern Illinois University– he was a senior when I was a freshman. When he got married, he and his wife became a part of the regular crew who used to party with us in Chicago during the 70‘s. I could count on him to help me out with the children after I divorced, before he moved to New Jersey.  After his two failed marriages, he was here in Washington DC with me, both of us divorced, helping each other out with the kids. His son stayed regularly at my house and vice versa. We played tennis together and sometimes he would even attend church with me.

I really enjoyed having John living near me–the rest of my brothers were in different cities across the country.  So I became angry when he told me he was leaving DC to move to San Francisco. But my anger was about more than him leaving.

You see, he told me that he was leaving not only to take on a new job, but also because he was coming out of the closet.

He probably knew it was hard for me to take because I didn’t talk to him about it. I was angry because I thought he valued his sexual orientation more than his son.  Hosea (named after my father) was a senior in high school, and didn’t want to go to San Francisco, so John asked if Hosea could live with me, which he did, even coming home to my house during his years in college.

But now I know that I was also angry because I didn’t want my brother John to leave me. I knew I was going to miss him.  And I still miss him.

my brothers

After he told me he was gay, I realized I should have known it. John was not like my other brothers, who were all into judo and karate and the like. John played tennis. When he was growing up, the other kids used to call him a sissy. He used to hang around several others in our community who were also called sissies. He got beat up at least once that I know of.

Looking back on my anger when he left for San Francisco, I realize now that I wasn’t thinking at all about his needs. He must have been wrestling for a long time with his sexuality at a time when it wasn’t acceptable for him to be who he was. For him to live out his life as a lie to all of us all of those years must have been terribly difficult. The job in San Francisco must have been like a dream come true. He could go to a place where he didn’t have to hide or to lie, where he could be who he was.

I wish I had gotten over my anger so that we could have been pals again, so I could have met his new friends. I don’t even know if he had a special partner or not. I didn’t get a chance to tell him how I felt, because he died of AIDS a few years after he left.  I suspect he knew that he had the AIDS virus when he left, but he didn’t discuss it with anyone in the family.

What I learned from his life is that being gay was not a choice for him.  He would not have  chosen that childhood. He would not have chosen to pretend at his marriages in order to fit in. He would not have chosen to suffer with AIDS without telling any of his family.

I’ve also learned that I didn’t have the right to judge him. I should have been more compassionate. I should have talked to him, listened to his needs and his desires. I should have been there for him the way he was for me when I needed him.

The reason I’m sharing this with you readers now, with tears in my eyes, is because my brother John’s life has helped me to understand some things about how the Church ought to approach homosexuality and LGBT issues.  I’ll share more of my views about that next week.

For now, I’m comforted by believing that John knows how I feel.  He knows that I finally get it. I love you, brother!

 

God’s Christmas Gift

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As prophesied by Isaiah and pronounced by John the Baptist, when Jesus came into the womb of the unwed teenager Mary, the valleys that separate time from eternity were ever so briefly filled in. The mountains that divide the all-powerful God from weak and lowly flesh were crushed down. The crooked paths that keep the unlimited presence of God apart from those who are limited by 3-dimensional space and time were straightened out.  The highways were opened up and smoothed out in order for God who knows all and sees all to become present and dwell in the world among those of us who can only see through a glass darkly.

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Love was born into the world on that first Christmas day, from a God who is love. Love came to walk with us and talk with us and to show us the way to truly love God and to truly love each other. Jesus is the Love of God whose life just shouts at us about how much God loves us. What a blessing God gave to the world! Jesus, the reason for the season, is Love himself, born into human form.

Love was born into the world to die for us. For God so loved the world. The truth about God’s love proven to us by Jesus is that love simply is. God is love. Jesus is love. There is no question about whether God loves or not.  God’s love is a permanent, fixed truth about who God is and there is no more or less about it. The truth about love is that if it was quantifiable, Jesus might not have stayed up on that cross.  He might have said, I love them a lot, but not that much.

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The truth about love that Jesus proved on the cross is that if you love, you simply love–there is no more or less about it. The way we increase love in this world is not by having more love, but by helping more people learn how to truly love.

Jesus proved to us up on that cross that God loves all us, including our enemies, unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how many tragedies happen in this world. It doesn’t matter how many bad experiences happen in our lives. God’s love can never be taken away from us. We don’t understand why bad things happen–we are not privileged to have that knowledge. But we must understand that God is love. That’s what Jesus came to show us.  God loves us with a love so true that He wouldn’t come down from that cross. That’s the truth about real love—it never fails.

The truth about love is that God is love. Jesus is love. The Holy Spirit is love.  Love is pouring out in unlimited abundance by all three persons of God, ours for the taking. Because Love was born into the world we are given hope even in the middle of chaos, peace that the world doesn’t understand even in the middle of fear and confusion, and such amazing joy that we have to sing, to shout, to jump about it, even though tragedies take place around us.

When we begin to understand the unlimited, unconditional permanence of God’s love for us, we’ll want to share it; we’ll want to go tell it on the mountain, that love has been born into the world. God’s love, when we open ourselves to share it, will overflow all across the world.

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May your Christmas celebrations be filled with the warm, comforting glow of love, awe and wonder that surrounded the birth of Christ–God’s gift to us–God’s amazing love for all of us, wrapped up in a little baby boy who was born in a manger.