Sunday, February 14, 2016

For God Is Love

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:7-8

Do we really believe that scripture?

I believe this verse would serve us well to consider in its literal simplicity: God is love.

I love how this verse opens up my ability to see God in the flesh, in the here and now.

See the love around you and there it is: there is God, in the flesh.

A father buying his daughter an ice cream conethere! An elderly couple holding hands–there it is again! A woman playing with her dog in a field–Again! God being love. A day care worker leading a crowd of children to the playground–there too! A group of friends enjoying an evening around a table of food and drink. There! There God is again! God being love, in the flesh.

And even better, whenever I myself experience a loving act, I know that God is there loving me.

When my partner comes home after a day at work and I get a hug and a kiss hello, God is there, loving me in the flesh. When my best friend and I hang out together and we get to talk about what’s been going on in our lives, there God is, loving me, loving us, in the flesh.

As a gay man I especially treasure these moments. For many years I was taught that my love is sick, sinful, disgusting, and abomination. I’m guessing the same is true for many of you. I treasure loving moments all the more because it took a lot of work to shake off those teachings, well, for the most part, I have shaken those teachings out of my head, and I have come to believe that my loving acts, yes–my loving acts–fully participate in the love that is God.

What a marvel that is! First John doesn’t add any restrictions or caveats: God is love. Not: God is mixed gender love; Not: God is white people love; Not: God is cis-gendered love; Not: God is highly educated love.

Simply and fully: God is love.

We are all invited to shake off those teachings we learned from society: God loves dark skin less? No! God loves accented English less? No! God loves women less? No! God loves trans and bi and lesbian and gay less? No!

It can be difficult to remember that God loves me without qualification. As a gay man, even after more than 30 years of being out, even after finding many safe and affirming places in my life, there is always–always!–the awareness that not everyone around me knows that I’m gay, the awareness that I am participating in my own oppression in the closet balanced with trying to remain safe and secure balanced with simply being. This is a balancing act I’m too well practiced at.

The need to struggle with that balance is deep in the bones, buried deep in the flesh of any queer person who grew up taught that same gender loving flesh and transgender flesh is an abomination. Perhaps you can relate as a woman or person of color or person with an accent.

For me, that struggle has been so deeply embedded for so long that I rarely notice it anymore.

Though I’d rather not think about it, it remains a costly struggle. And, if we ignore that cost the price can be dear in terms of self oppression, internalized homophobia and their companions depression, addiction, dysfunctional relationship, and other unhealthy destructive behaviors.

For many of us, we have reduced the struggle with oppression by finding safe places. We have reduced that struggle by finding healthy loving committed relationships. Many LGBT people have reduced the impact of our oppression with 20 or 30 years of being out, by claiming God’s love, by living openly and courageously. We have reduced our oppression and struggle, but we still struggle. As much as we want to forget, as much as we want to ignore it, we still live with our oppression.

And it serves me well to remember how precious is this knowledge: that God is love, that my love participates in God’s love, that God loves me in the flesh, that my flesh participates in the love that is God.

Too often, I have seen what happens to people who don’t know that God is love.

When I worked as a psychologist, I worked with too many young adults who spent their adolescence bullied daily. I worked with too many young people who were kicked out of their Christian homes because their parents’ church taught that this was the loving thing to do to LGBT teenagers.

I have read too many statistics about the number of homeless lgbt youth on the streets of our major cities, not because they want to be there, but because the emotional and physical abuse of their home life was worse than living on the streets of cities like New York.

Can you imagine? Worse than living on the streets of New York City–in the winter? homeless? hungry? These young people didn’t start out as homeless youth on our streets. They were, they are, typical everyday kids, usually from the suburbs, usually with no idea of what life is like on the streets of a big city–would you survive a day living homeless on the streets of New York City in the winter?

They are kids who ended up on the streets because of what the church, our churches, have taught about sexuality and gender identity.

Most parental rejection of LGBT youth is based on religious belief, and that must stop.

But, you might be tempted to say, we’re making progress. Look–Will and Grace! Look–marriage equality! Look–Glee!

You think it’s getting better?

That esteemed journal of modern life, Rolling Stone, had an article last September, describing the rising–yes, the rising–tide of homeless lgbt youth today.

Here is a quote from that article, from the founder of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth: “The summer that marriage equality passed in New York, we saw the number of homeless kids looking for shelter go up 40 percent.”

Wow. Up by forty percent? What happened? The article goes on to explain that these kids, hoping that it’s getting better, seeing marriage equality come to our states, watching TV and YouTube videos, these youth are finding the courage to come out younger–and when youth come out younger, they get kicked out of their religious homes younger.

This is why, my friends, it is so important that we love in the flesh, that we embody God in the flesh to our neighbors and their children. 

This is why it’s so important that our Open & Affirming churches name that affirmation and love out loud and visibly, in the flesh, so that everyone grows up believing that God does love them, so that every parent knows that every child is loved by God.

This is why, for me, the "open" in Open & Affirming is so important. We don’t proclaim our churches Open & Affirming for ourselves–we do it for our neighbors. We do it so that our neighbors know that there are churches that affirm LGBTQ people. We do it so that our neighbor’s children know there is a love that may not be present in their parents’ church, that there is a loving church different from the ones they see in the news on TV.

This is why it is so important that we continue the work to bring all our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations to a welcoming place, to proclaiming openly their affirming welcome of all people regardless of gender expression and sexual orientation as well as race, ethnicity, gender, class and, well, all people.

Let us build a church where no person grows up lacking the knowledge that God loves them, her him and trans, queer bi gay and straight, that God loves all, in the flesh.

Let us build a church where no person grows up encouraged to hide in a closet and participate in their own oppression.

Let us build a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and let us build Christian Churches across the US and Canada where all know that all are welcome.

It’s time to be God in the flesh for all our neighbors, openly, clearly, out loud. Amen.

Originally published by GLAD Alliance  and was written by Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston, Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program of Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance.

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have a mutual founding in the Stone/Campbell movement. If anyone knows of a Disciples of Christ in central Vermont please let me know. I think the Disciples of Christ is probably the only denomination I'd feel truly comfortable in.

I'm sure I've posted this hymn before, but the verse above always puts this hymn in my mind.  It's called "God Is Love":


Come, let us all unite to sing:
God is love!
Let Heav’n and earth their praises bring,
God is love!
Let every soul from sin awake,
Let every heart sweet music make,
And sing with us for Jesus’ sake:
God is love!


God is love! God is love! Come let us all unite to sing that God is love.

O tell to earth’s remotest bound,
God is love!
In Christ we have redemption found,
God is love!
His blood has washed our sins away,
His Spirit turned our night to day,
And now we can rejoice to say:
God is love!


How happy is our portion here,
God is love!
His promises our spirits cheer,
God is love!
He is our sun and shield by day,
Our help, our hope, our strength and stay;
He will be with us all the way;
God is love!


In Canaan we will sing again:
God is love!
And this shall be our loudest strain:
God is love!
Whilst endless ages roll along,
We’ll triumph with the heavenly throng
And this shall be our sweetest song:
God is love!


Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! May you feel God's love, the love of friends and family, and my love for each of you.


Michael Dodd said...

RE your question about the Disciples of Christ: I do not know Vermont and so cannot offer any particular help in that direction. What I was wondering though is if you might want to give further thought to the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 and the meaning of Peter's vision. Personally I think the issue is not simply Jew/Gentile, the division that believers faced at the time the book of Acts was written. Today the lesson might be applied to divisions among Christians themselves.

To borrow/adapt an image usurped by the Catholic Church, perhaps Christians are all in the same boat and don't realize it. You might find yourself more comfortable than you expect even though you are in a different part of the boat.

Be well, be loved, be love. Happy Valentine's Day!

PS -- I'm still not a robot.

Brother Doc said...

Joe I would underline that this passage in I John says, "Perfect love casteth out fear" (KJV). Indeed the passage rather culminates in that thought. So, accepting that God is love gives us, ALL of us, whatever our color, gender, orientation, age, socioeconomic status, etc., the confidence that we abide in God's love and need not be afraid. I find that so powerful. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

I was in the Church of Christ as a teenager and went back to the "Lord's Church" for a years much later in life but didn't fit in well. My sexual orientation is far less of a concern to me than at a younger age but most churches view middle aged singles with suspicion. I didn't challenge any of the doctrines taught but did feel very uncomfortable with the right wing political agenda (Jesus is for war, God favors laissez faire capitalism and of course, abortion/gay marriage are the only moral issues).

Having failed to find a compatible Church of Christ, I decided to check out the Disciples of Christ. For several years, I was very involved with a DOC congregation and left over matters having nothing to do with doctrine, lifestyle or politics. I attend another DOC congregation some of the time. The Disciples of Christ have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, they suffer from the same "mainline-itis" which afflicts liberal Protestant denominations. Most congregations are declining in part because they have neglected evangelism. The few growing Disciples of Christ churches have a more evangelistic but most are theologically like Southern Baptists rather than teaching the Restoration Movement's plan of salvation. I really believe that someone becomes a Christian at the moment they are baptized into Christ but the DOC tends not to emphasize baptism. The DOC will accept the non-immersed into church membership.

The DOC is very weak in New England. The lower Midwest is their strong area. I live in Florida which has some churches because so much of the Midwest moves here. I would like to return to the Church of Christ someday if a loving and accepting congregation can be found. There is a movement for gender equality in a few COC's which is a definite step in the right direction.