I have to admit that I agree with many of Kris Kristofferson's sentiments on the subject of Jesus and honestly, I started thinking about what would Jesus be like if he came back to earth today. A few years ago, one of the big things was WWJD? bracelets. Christians were challenged to ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" and sadly for too many of them, it was not unconditional love and acceptance. Would Jesus discriminate as so many Christians do today, especially against those who are different (that is , unless you are a Christian Republican and now have decided for the first time in your religious history to believe that Mormons are Christians just like you)? Instinctively, we all sense that the answer must be a resounding No! Yet we live in a time when many churches are leading the effort to deny gay and transgender people equal protection under the law. Since so many churches are invoking the name of Jesus to justify their assault on the rights of gay and transgender people, I invite thoughtful people everywhere to ask this simple question:
What would Jesus do?
The answer is not hard to find. One of the themes of Jesus' ministry was a recurring conflict with the Pharisees, a powerful group of legalistic religious leaders. The Pharisees were waiting for the Messiah to come, and they believed that would happen only when their entire nation became righteous. So, in their minds, anyone who failed to follow their particular set of rules was bringing down a curse on their nation and worthy of contempt.
Sound familiar? I see the same type of attitude and arguments from the Christian conservatives, who increasingly are becoming the voice of the Republican Party.
The list of people despised by the Pharisees was long:
- The Samaritans were considered religious heretics and ethnically impure.
- Sick people were believed to be sinners whom God was punishing.
- Women were deemed unworthy of discipleship.
- Tax collectors and Roman soldiers were regarded as the enemy.
- The poor, who had neither the time nor resources to maintain rigorous rites of religious purity, were thought to be beyond God's grace.
Jesus emphatically rejected each one of these prejudices as I believe he would the prejudices in the world of today. You can read the stories yourself in your own Bible. E.g., John 4:1-42; Luke 10:29-37; John 9:1-34; Luke 8:1-3; Matthew 11:16-19; Matthew 5:38-48; and Matthew 9:18-26.
A classic example is provided in Matthew 8. There, a Roman soldier asked Jesus to heal his "pais." This is a Greek term often used in ancient times to refer to a servant who was his master's same-sex partner. [K.J. Cover, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978), p. 16]. When the soldier said, "Lord, my 'partner' is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress," Jesus was immediately compassionate and spoke no words of exclusion or condemnation. He simply said, "I will come and heal him."
In the dialogue that followed, Jesus commended this Roman solider for having more faith than anyone he had ever met and assured him that he would sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By this miracle of healing, Jesus preserved this loving same-sex relationship.
The Gospels are clear. Jesus refused to be bound by cultural prejudice. Repeatedly, he took up the cause of the oppressed and defended them against narrow-minded religious leaders.
A Call To Action
I call upon Christians of goodwill to have the courage to follow the example of Jesus. Specifically, I call upon Christians everywhere to take four key steps to end the Church's history of persecuting gay and transgender people:
- We must renew our commitment to honesty."Thou shalt not bear false witness." Exodus 20:16. This is one of God's most basic commands. Too many Christians today are playing fast and loose with the truth, making sweeping statements about gay and transgender people without ever taking the time to investigate. For example, some confidently assert that "gay people choose to be that way" and "gay people can change their orientation if they want to" and "the gay and trans lifestyle is inherently unhealthy." None of these statements have any basis in science or reality. As Christians, God expects us to love the truth, seek the truth, and tell the truth – even when it's not popular.
- We must educate ourselves by daring, like Jesus before us, to become genuine friends of all people who face persecution.Jesus set the example. He was a genuine friend to all kinds of people, including those that his contemporaries derisively referred to as "sinners." Anyone who really wants to know the truth about gay and transgender people needs to take the time to get to know us, have a meal with us, engage in a real conversation with us.
- We must carefully reexamine what the Bible teaches about same-sex relationships.On many occasions in the past, "accepted Christian wisdom" has been wrong. For centuries, many in the Church vigorously opposed the right of women to vote, condemned interracial marriage, and supported slavery – always insisting that the Bible supported their point of view. Now we know better.
- We must stop the use of the law to hurt gay and transgender people. Regardless what anyone believes about gay and transgender people, there is no excuse for doing us harm. Enacting laws that keep a dying gay person in an emergency room from seeing his life partner in his final moments of life is not Christian – it's plain cruel. Enacting laws that refuse to recognize the shared property of same-sex partners, thereby forcing one partner to sell their home when the other dies, is not Christian – it's just meanspirited.
The effort of some modern Christians to deprive gay families of basic civil rights is shameful and must stop. Jesus would expect no less.
I have to apologize for something in this post: the politics of it. I do not like to overtly mix politics with religion. Quite honestly, I think they should be kept separate. in America, though, that seems almost impossible. However, in the current highly political climate of election season, I just couldn't keep my mouth shut. So I hope you will excuse me for mentioning politics in this week's Bible study.