I was a homophobe.
I am embarrassed about it, but I admit it. Truth is, I didn’t even think I was. My philosophy had always been, “whatever people do on their own time is their own business.” But that wasn’t completely true. There was something about gay people that bothered me and it would come out in what I said and how I acted. But because at the time so many people spewed such venom toward the gay and lesbian population I felt progressive in comparison. But I wasn’t. One time when I was in college, my friend Lisa and I were talking in the hallway between our rooms and she said to me, “Craig, you’re a homophobe.” I was sure I was not. In fact, I said so quite vocally. But she didn’t waver. She pointed out my attitude, my vocabulary and then said, “I bet you have friends that are gay and you don’t even know it.” I answered like most pig-headed, prideful people answer. “No, I don’t. I would know.” She looked at me and said, “Would you stop being their friend if you found out they were gay?” And I stopped and really thought about it for a minute, and that was the first time I ever took the time to really humanize my attitudes. “No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t stop being friends with someone just because I found out they were gay.” And that was the first step I took toward letting go of my prejudice and my attitudes and realizing that what really bothered me were my own irrational fears and misconceptions about all of it.
The second step I took was thanks to my friend Darcy.
A couple of years later Darcy and I were both leaders in our dorm and took part in a training session designed to help people to understand that at one time or another we have all been on the outside looking in. The moderator for the session had placed a line on the floor with masking tape and asked us to line up along side of it. Then she asked those who were women to stand on the other side. The moderator began telling us about the kind of demeaning comments women hear regularly and shared with us facts about being a woman that they had to endure based on their gender alone. I stood there looking across at my friends and thinking how wrong that was. Then she asked those of us who were ethnic minorities to stand on the other side and I heard hateful, mean-spirited things that others had said to me before and could only look on the other side and see my friends have love and sympathy in their heart, but I have to admit it was hard to look up. This went on for a while until she asked those who were gay or lesbian to step on the other side of the line and my friend Darcy was one of the few who did. I will never forget her bravery. Afterward, I asked her why she never told me and she said, “Because I didn’t know how you would react.” I told her I would never stop being her friend. And I haven’t.
It’s so easy to demonize people when we don’t know them.
But I have found that most people who make blanket statements against the LGBT community don’t ever engage with them. They don’t have friends who are gay or lesbian. They don’t have family members who are gay or lesbian. Or at least they don’t think they do. Because once you see them as people and not as “those people” you can’t help but re-examine your beliefs. Knowing someone who has had to struggle with prejudice and hate based only on who they are can’t help but make you sympathetic. At least for most people. We’ve all heard stories of parents who have disowned their gay children. Or people who have abandoned their gay friends. And to be honest I can’t understand that. Except to say that their own personal prejudices and fears are so ingrained that not even their love for someone can overcome it. But most people, once they make a real personal connection with someone who is part of the LGBT community, can’t help but soften their heart. I thought about Rev. Frank Schafer who had his credentials removed for performing the wedding ceremony for his gay son. But what would you do in that same situation? You might feel he knew the rules of the church and violated them and so the church was right to strip him of his ability to be a pastor. But at the same time, what parent could do any less for their child without feeling like they failed them? No matter which side of the fence you fall on in these matters, it is clear that there is a tension and a struggle between wanting to act out of love and following the rules we have established as a community.
But we need to ask ourselves, “Are those rules just? Do they account for mercy?”
This morning I want to share a passage with you from the prophet Micah. If you would find the writings of Micah in your Bible or if you have a Bible app go to Micah 6:6-8. Micah 6:6-8. The argument against marriage equality is often said to come from the Bible. But is that actually true? Often the passage in Genesis is thrown about as a defense for “traditional” marriage – Genesis 2:24 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In Matthew 19, Jesus cites this passage as an argument against divorce. But how we read the Bible and what the Bible actually says and what we actually practice are all completely different things. On an episode of The West Wing, “The Midterms,” President Bartlett has an exchange with a fictitious radio show host who calls herself Dr. Jenna Jacobs who calls homosexuality an abomination. As she clarifies in the episode, it’s not her who calls it an abomination but the Bible and she can even quote the chapter and verse she uses to justify calling them that on her show – Leviticus 18:22. But as the President points out, there are a number of other passages we seem to ignore. Exodus 21:7 allows for a father to sell his daughter into slavery. Leviticus 19:19 says not to plant two different seeds in the same field or to wear clothes made of two different materials. Exodus 35:2 says that any person working on the Sabbath should be put to death. I wonder if that means me. It doesn’t have any exemption clause for pastors. But those aren’t the only ones we violate on a regular basis. There are tons of other laws we break all the time – both in the Old Testament and the New. Yet, we seem to only pick and choose which ones we want to believe in while ignoring the rest of the Bible.
Would you be surprised to find out that the Bible doesn’t advocate for “traditional marriage?”
It never defines marriage specifically as between one man and one woman. I know most of us were taught to believe that, but if you carefully read the Bible many ideas we would find abhorrent today were accepted a long time ago. Polygamy being one of them. While a few religions continue the practice, it is an outdated one and one which is mostly no longer accepted in a world where a woman does not need a man for protection or financial independence. But way back when, many in the Bible were polygamists. Lamech in Genesis 4 had two wives, Jacob the Father of Israel had multiple wives (Genesis 30), and even King David (2 Samuel 12:8) had multiple wives. But we wouldn’t find that acceptable today. Still nowhere does it actually say in the Bible “Thou shalt have but one wife.” If the goal is to preserve “traditional marriage” does that mean we should defend polygamy as well?
I am not saying we should all become polygamists.
I don’t think that would work out very well for me. Nor am I saying we should go back to having multiple spouses. But what I am saying is that our method of judgment shouldn’t simply be “what the Bible said” because you might find out that the Bible didn’t say that at all. When you stand behind the Bible, sometimes it falls back on you. When you stand behind the Bible, sometimes it falls back on you. We keep treating the Bible as a book of law when in fact it is a book of love. We keep treating the Bible as a book of law when in fact it is a book of love. Instead of looking at it as a rulebook, we would do well to look at it as a guide to life. God makes it very clear what it is he expects from us and we hear those words out of the prophet Micah.
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. Where is the justice in persecuting a group of people based on one attribute of their lives? Would you consider it just to prevent someone from getting married because they were Black or Asian or Hispanic? Because at one time people believed that was the will of God, too. Some people still do. My point is that throughout the past 2000 years we have had the same book with the same words saying the same thing. But our understanding of it has changed time and time again. We would never think of going back to the times when we used to keep people from getting married just because they were of different races. Is this really that different? Will we look back at this 50 years from now and see it the same way we do about mixed race marriages? This passage is a perfect example of this. At one time, God’s people felt that they needed to make sacrifices to make God happy. They would leave food offerings or offerings of oil or the lives of their firstborn to make God happy. But by the time Micah came around, they had learned that wasn’t what God really wanted. What God wanted was for us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. Why isn’t this the model by which we live our lives? Why do we keep looking to the Bible to be this rulebook that it can never be?
We call the Bible the living Word of God.
And we call it that for a reason. It’s because our understanding of God’s Word continues to change and evolve as we change and evolve. Our perception of the LGBT community has continued to change drastically within our lifetime. In the late 60’s, being gay was considered a mental disorder. It wasn’t until the late 80’s when it was removed as such because we realized that it wasn’t. We went from referring to gay people as having a sexual preference to having a sexual orientation as more and more scientific evidence came forth to show that it wasn’t a choice and instead a part of who someone is. While we still don’t understand exactly what determines our orientation, scientists are convinced that it’s not just a choice as was popularly believed. If it was, conversion therapy would work, but it hasn’t. Not only has it been found to be ineffective, but it causes pain and suffering in those who go through it. If this is the case and it is not a choice but a part of who a person is, could we honestly say that God created his children incorrectly? Would we be that bold to question how God put a person together? And if we understand that God created people this way, do you think God would want to deny them the love he not only promises us all but the love which best reveals his presence in our lives? We need to do a better job of looking at how God is leading us today. I know that it can be tough to discern the truth. We have been brought up to believe certain ideas as truth. But we all know that sometimes what we hold to be the truth in fact isn’t. So how can we tell the difference? Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.