I remember sitting as a child in Southern Baptist churches while the preacher said the Bible validated segregation and discrimination of African-Americans and how God was fine with the way things were because he created it this way.
I remember sitting in a congregation while the preacher quoted Scripture to prove that Catholics should never be elected president of the United States and when a minister railed about the stain on the Jewish people and how they would go to hell if they don’t convert to Christianity. I remember sermons using the Bible to perpetuate second class status for women in Southern Baptist Churches and to keep them from leadership roles.
I say all that to say this: I wish I could say that I’m surprised that the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelicals continue to use as the Bible as a cudgel to beat their latest scapegoat: the LGBT community.
In the Nashville Statement issued by evangelicals this week, this group of anti-Christlike Christians rely on their continued selective reading of the Bible while stressing Biblical tradition. Unfortunately, the tradition is about standing with discrimination, intolerance, and injustice.
Copernicus Mean Anything to You?
The group would have more credibility if they had not just last November voted in a way that showed that their principles are hollow.
We predict confidently that there will be a time when these kinds of screeds will be viewed with as much disbelief as we now view Father Coughlan’s hate-filled sermons of the 1930s. Like his diatribes, the pronouncements in the Nashville Statement seem more than anything to be aimed at supporting pre-existing prejudices.
History has a way of overtaking religious-oriented bigotry, from the Inquisition to the Crusades and from anti-Semitism to Copernicus. In other words, the Bible accepts things that we condemn today and we accept behaviors now that it condemns.
These true believers discount historical context, such as how women were marginalized centuries after the death of Christ in decisions that were more political than theological and that centuries after the books of the New Testament were written, church councils were being called to debate and decide whether Jesus was divine and if He was, to define the nature of that divinity. There’s also the question of translations and decisions about what books to be excluded from the Bible.
Sign Of The Times
So many people are willing to accept interpretations of the Bible with little understanding of the context of the times as Israelites wandered and struggled for survival. Conformity was needed because there were no prisons for a nomadic people, and as a result, death was the punishment of choice for crimes ranging from murder, adultery, masturbation, cursing a parent, and to a false claim of a woman’s virginity at the time of marriage.
Curiously, the anti-gay evangelicals ignore the inconvenient teachings for heterosexuals – when’s the last time you heard a sermon against adultery or divorce? – and obsess on people’s sexuality, ignoring the central truth that everyone deserves loving relationships, regardless of the sexuality that God chose for them.
The strangest thing about this fixation on other people’s sexuality is that it relies heavily on a questionable interpretation of a scant few verses that can be interpreted other ways when the culture of their day is taken into account. If homosexuality was such a major concern, it’s strange that Jesus said nothing about it nor did the Jewish prophets.
There are many people of good faith and deep faith who are wrestling with the angels of their nature and what evangelical preachers are telling them the Bible means. Some feel that while they have no personal objections to LGBT relationships, they see the Bible as unyielding and unequivocal. And yet, it seems to us that if they believe that the Bible is infallible, it’s still dangerous to assume that humans are infallible too as they interpret what it says.
Years ago in a blog post here, Rev. Steve Montgomery of Idlewild Presbyterian Church made the point that Christians are strong believers in the power of the Holy Spirit to move through history, and because of this, it is this Spirit that leads them to see modern applications of ancient texts that were once seen as inviolable.
After all, why don’t we heard from evangelicals in the Nashville Statement about the Bible verses about when it’s acceptable for a man to have sex with a prostitute, and there’s the small matter of polygamy, concubines, sex with slaves, marriage of girls at an age that Warren Jeffs would have envied, and women as property? That said, it’s equally confusing to us that so many evangelical leaders are transfixed by our friends who are LGBT while ignoring the Bible’s many calls for helping the poor, welcoming the stranger in our midst, and helping people in prison.
We thank God that we have finally left the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitudes that passed as progressive thinking, and regardless of things like the Nashville Statement, we will not go back to that world. At times of great change in history, there is often a brand of extremism that does everything possible to resist and to attack the symbols of that change. Our LGBT friends and neighbors are merely a convenient stalking horse for this fear of a more fair, just, and diverse country.
Here’s the secret for evangelicals about people who are LGBT – the values they exhibit in their daily lives and their dreams are no different than the rest of us. They are committed to their neighborhoods, they love their families, they follow the law, they volunteer to charities, they try to be good citizens, they seek meaningful relationships, and most remarkably of all, they are more often than not religious.
Basic Human Dignity
As we read the Nashville Statement, we were reminded of the words of Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel a few years ago (these days, we are confident you can substitute LGBT for gay in these comments): “Contrary to what some preach, discussion about ending discrimination based on sexual orientation is not a gay issue any more than racism or anti-Semitism is a black or Jewish issue. Racism in the 60s wasn’t the fault of black America; it’s about what whites did to blacks in America. Similarly, anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Judaism; it’s about what others have done to Jews.
“My point? Gays should not be held accountable for the discrimination perpetrated against them – it’s the rest of us who aren’t gay who must stand up and speak out against bigotry…After all, isn’t this what the faith of Jesus and all good religions teach?…That is why I subscribe to Jesus the Jew’s central idea – not Jesus the Baptist – but Jesus the Jew’s central idea to love one another, especially those different than me.
“The shameful demonization of people who happen to be gay or lesbian underscores what must happen now. We must all take a stand for non-discrimination and basic human dignity in the public square or be labeled a pious fraud. People of all faiths need to be remember that we forfeit the right to worship God whenever we denigrate the image of God in other human beings.”
Join us at the Smart City Memphis Facebook page for daily articles, reports, and commentaries relevant to Memphis.