Part 2 in a multipart series exploring the scriptural basis and theological explanation of why I say that there is no sin in one’s gender identity or orientation, and that there’s no peculiar sin in these relationships that isn’t present in every marriage or partnership involving human beings. Click here to start with Part 1.
Please note that this describes an encounter with a man possessed of religious hatred for LGBTQIA+ persons. The conversation is a best recollection, but I’ve tried to faithfully represent what we both said. Also, I cuss in this story and that’s factual — what can I say, I grew up in construction and that’s how we punctuated sentences in my house. If you don’t want to read a story about either of these things, this isn’t the post for you and I suggest these cute kitten memes instead.
I walked out of my first ever root canal (0 of 10, do not recommend) and walked past St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston (note, the featured image in this post is from the Googles, it’s not mine).
I hadn’t even noticed it was there as I walked past on my way into the dentist’s office, probably because I was still struggling with tooth pain. On the way out I saw the front steps chalked in a rainbow rising toward the sanctuary (a lovely image). I witnessed one hand of Christ in the pavilion tent set up on the curb giving water and other needed items to the homeless and receiving stories. I saw the other hand of Christ giving gratitude and stories while receiving water and other needed items from those in the tent. From where I was standing, this is the image of who we are and who we’re called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ. We become great by sharing love in relational servitude, and I saw the mutuality of the relationship as the two wounded hands of Christ smiled and chatted like any two people would on a beautiful Boston morning.
Then I looked a little farther, about twenty feet past that on the sidewalk, and I saw three large men who I later found out were there for assistance standing at the back and two sides of a young man’s bicycle, a masking taped cross affixed to the back of his helmet. One man was bumping up against him in what seemed more like a “you get on out of here” bump than any real attempt at harm, but his bumps weren’t gentle and his message was unmistakeable.
I walked over to get a better look, but I’m from the South and I know a street preacher when I see one.
As I moved closer, I heard the two men at his sides telling the younger man loudly that it was time for him to move on.
Closer still, I heard the young man’s message, “…an abomination! If the whole world were gay then the human race would die out! You’re all going to hell and I see what the false prophets at this church are supporting and it makes me sick! It makes God angry! Repent or suffer eternal hell!”
“‘Repent’ is a word of grace and it should never be used as a threat, asshole!” The words popped out of my mouth before I’d even fully processed what the guy said. This probably won’t come as a shock if you know me.
“Oh yeah? Do you even know what the word ‘repent’ means?”
“It means ‘turn aside’ or ‘turn away from one thing and toward another’, from the Greek word ‘metanoia’. It’s a word of relationship and hope.”
“Yeah? And turn toward what?”
“Toward God, of course. You know, it’s not too late for you to take that turn.”
“What do you mean? Don’t you see these homosexual lovers pretending to be the church?”
“I see God’s children loving each other by doing what Jesus commanded us to do: feed, clothe, provide for one another, and love God by loving each other. I don’t see them doing anything that Jesus told them not to.”
“They’ve got those steps done up in rainbow colors”, he said gesturing behind me to the rainbow chalked steps immediately behind the wounded hands of Christ loving each other, “and they’re just acting like homosexuality is okay. God calls it an abomination in the Bible, have you ever even read the Bible? Can you explain why it’s called an abomination?”
“Well, I know that the word translated as ‘homosexual’ and other similar words in Romans are derived from the Greek word ‘arsenokoitai, and that they weren’t translated as “homosexual” until the 1666 Wycliffe translation. While it probably does point to a general prejudice against LGBTQIA+ relationships, we certainly can’t consider that to be a wholesale condemnation of it since Paul was very clearly speaking against a wide range of behaviors including some otherwise tame ones that become offensive to God when done in the worship and service of an idolatrous life. What about…”
“You can’t even answer my question about why it’s called an abomination.”
“Are you referring to Leviticus in which a man shall not lie with a male as with a woman? That’s also not a conclusive argument, because there are different words for man and male, where the words of man and woman, ish and isha…”
“What are you even talking about? It’s right there in the Bible in black and white. What would happen if the whole world turned gay? The whole population would die out!”
“Well it’s really unlikely that this would happen considering that less than about 10% of the worlds population —”
“We’d be dead! How can you say this is right? Haven’t you heard Jesus say ‘therefore a man leaves his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh? How can you say Jesus would condone all this gay stuff?”
“When Jesus says that, it’s in a larger context and not on it’s own. It’s a larger conversation about divorce and the Jewish customs surrounding it handed down by —”
“And what about all those places where Paul condemns it, huh?”
“Well we —”
“And haven’t you read Genesis where God makes the MAN and the WOMAN? Do you understand what that means?”
“It depends on which of the two creation sto —”
“And how can you read scripture and tell me you’re okay with this?”
“If you’d let me —”
“Can you even tell me one scripture to support your blasphemy?”
“Look, you keep asking me questions about scripture and then interrupt me when I try to answer”, at which point he interrupted me again, so being the soft-spoken soul that I am I offered in my own gentle way, “well if you’d just shut the fuck up then I might be able to tell you what evidence I use and how I support it biblically!”.
“You pretend like you’re some kind of Christian and you talk like that?”
“I’m a Christian pastor and I talk like that because you’re calling what God declared to be clean unclean. You’re acting violently toward people who God loves, and it makes me angry that you choose to do it in a place where people are clearly trying to do something good for each other! How can you look at all this and say it’s evil?”
“How can they be ‘declared clean’? What’s that even mean?”
“Well, you remember the story of Peter at Cornelius’ house after the dream where the sheet came down —”
“…and he was told to eat all the animals. God gave that house the Spirit! I don’t see the Spirit with these gay lovers.”
“Look, whatever you believe, you have to know that these people are beloved of God.”
“God might love them, but that won’t stop them from going to hell.”
“How do you know they’re going to hell? That’s above my pay grade.”
“That’s what happens with abominations who don’t repent of their sinful behaviors and turn to God. They can’t go to heaven unless they go to Christ.”
“Well, it’s true that there are places in scripture that say that, but remember that Jesus says, ‘I will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. Sin because they don’t believe in me; righteousness because I’m going to the Father; and judgement because the ruler of this world will be cast out”?
“At the climax of John in Chapter 12, Jesus says, ‘Now my heart is troubled, and what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour’? No! It’s for this hour that I’ve come!’ And just a little later in John 12 Jesus says, ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world has been cast out — remember Jesus saying that in John 16?”, he nods and I continue, “And Jesus continues, ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself — pan ton anthropon! ALL. OF. THE. PEOPLE! Everyone! Every one. In the death and resurrection of Christ God redeems this fallen creation and leaves nothing out!”
“Yeah, well —”
“And are you familiar with what it means to draw something like a sword?”
“Well yeah —”
“The verb “draw” used in John 12 is used four times in that Gospel. Do you remember where they’re used?”
“First, when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to draw water for him from the well. Second, when Jesus says he will draw all people to himself. Third, when Peter draws his sword to cut off Malchus’ ear (and isn’t it interesting that he gets a name when pretty much no one else there does?). Fourth, when Jesus tells the disciples to drag their nets in from the other side of the boat in John 21. So what’s similar about all those uses?”
“I don’t know where you’re going with this.”
“What’s similar is that the object of the verb has no control over any of it!”
“What do you mean?””
“Does a ladle, or a sword, or a net have an control over whether they’re drawn or dragged or what they’re used for after?”
“No, they can’t do anything. The one who’s doing the thing is the one in control.”
“And this is the word Jesus uses to announce that through his death and resurrection, he will draw ALL PEOPLE to himself. If we’re being drawn or dragged in the same way as ladles, swords, or nets, what makes you think God gives us any more choice than that when we’re dragged in to be used for God’s purpose? If God is drawing it, don’t you think it’s something God loves?”
He started and stopped sentences a few times, but didn’t really respond so I press on.
“If God loves something, and through the waters of baptism we’re made clean, don’t you think that calling these people unredeemable and evil and damned is taking what God has made to be clean and declaring them to be unclean?”
“I’m not wasting any more of my time. I need to go preach to people”.
“And I’m doing those people a favor by keeping you occupied here rather than being able to go out there and harass them and beat them over the head with a damn millstone when it’s supposed to be a teaching that’s easy and a burden that’s light.”
He starts pedaling away, and I call after him saying, “WAIT! Let’s pray together!”
He stops and turns around and says, “I’m not praying with you, what good do you think that will do?”.
“I don’t know, but we claim to be people who love Jesus, doesn’t that sound like something we ought to do?”.
He starts pedaling off and says something like “screw you, buddy!”.
And at this point I just can’t help myself and start calling out, “WAIT! COME BACK AND PRAY WITH ME! WHY WON’T YOU PRAY? I JUST WANT TO PRAY WITH YOU! WHETHER YOU BELIEVE IT OR NOT, GOD LOVES YOU — AND THEM!” Believe it or not, I was sincere in wanting to pray with him, I just found it ridiculous that after all we’d said, that prayer was what he found ridiculous.
I heard some people laughing and a someone kind of clapping, and I realized I’d been standing in front of people sitting in front of a wall and remembered that I’d originally walked over there because he started harassing them.
“Hey, I’m really sorry I got loud out here on your sidewalk. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
At this point the heart of God looked at Christ’s smart mouth and said, “I’m glad you said something. My son’s gay, and I just get so angry that I can’t say anything to that guy. I love my son so much, I can’t imagine someone trying to hurt him or do anything to make him feel bad”. He looked me dead in the eyes as he said all this, and I squatted down while the hearts of God told me about love.
Never in my life did I imagine that on a Boston sidewalk I’d feel the sudden urge to remove the shoes from off my feet because the ground upon which I stood was holy.
I’m not sharing this story as the protagonist.
Now I’m not gonna lie, I like telling a good story and I feel like this was a good one; but at least in this telling, what’s important isn’t what the street preachers said to each other. The protagonists were the ones who proclaimed the Gospel through their love.
I’m sharing this Gospel story because of what I witnessed.
Both me and the street preacher were outsiders to this community of love. We’re both interlopers, trespassing on the sacred ground where love meets life in service and need through mutual relationship. The protagonists in this story were the ones who continued handing out water and needed items. The protagonists were the people there to receive them who found that God had made a Place for them where they were welcomed, where at least for a little while, they had what felt like it was their own soil underneath their feet.
I also shared this story as a way of showing what I’ve seen for decades, as “good church people” and “street preachers” sound our gongs from our places of privilege while Plain Clothes Preachers go about their business without the world noticing a thing because love is just that natural.