Monday, September 8, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go

No, this is not about The Clash.

Someday, maybe. But not today.

The readings from this past Sunday I would categorize as those that can really, really, really make a person think twice about coming back through the church door. Particularly, the gospel taken from Matthew 18...which has the part about pointing out when someone sins against you...point it out to them privately. And it keeps escalating from there that if the person who has sinned refuses to listen even to the church, "let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." In other words, they aren't part of your church any more.

Taken alone, this portion could make anyone squirm. No doubt each of us, if we were really honest, are aware of the sins we commit against one another, some more serious than others. And this idea that we might get 'called out' for it is a little daunting.

Some of my brothers and sisters who are LGBT people of faith have already experienced this kind of exile. Passages, such as the one from Matthew 18, provide the perfect self-righteous weapon to wield in excluding, excommunicating, and otherwise excoriating us from our houses of worship. After all, if the community of faith believes that homosexuality is a sin, then one who is a homosexual must be told and told and told again to "Repent!" or risk banishment to the badlands.

But never forget that the same Jesus who talks about reproving another who sins also warned those ready to stone an adulteress in John's gospel: You without sin, cast the first stone. And, suddenly, nobody had it in them to hurl a rock at this woman. Score one for Jesus.

And you don't even have to leave Matthew's gospel to get the idea that Jesus' first desire, and seemingly fervent desire, is to look to forgiveness:

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I will tell you, seventy-seven times".

What's more: the other readings from this Sunday went a long way toward fleshing out what appears to be the underlying message in the gospel. The Romans passage, (Chap. 13: 8-14), starts:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law......Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.....Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

And the First Reading, from Ezekiel 33:7-11:

"As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live."

All of these readings, when allowed to stew together in the pot of my brain, lead me to think the message is clear: God is kind and merciful, and does not desire to see us fail. We should support and love each other, as brothers and sisters, and if a brother or sister rejects our love, we must be prepared to move on. But if a brother or sister comes back to us with an apology, we have to forgive.

Alright, but what about those churches and other places of worship that accuse gay people of being the sinners? It's a shame such institutions exist. It's a shame that people who profess a belief in the one who lived, died and was resurrected for everyone feel they can put themselves in God's place to determine who is and is not a sinner. And furthermore, look at the starting point that was there in Jesus' explanation:

"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone."

My translation: if you aren't gay or lesbian, and the queer member of the congregation isn't touching you or trying to hit on you or otherwise get into your physical and emotional space, then where's the sin? How has this person's mere presence caused you fault?

And if an LGBT person of faith does find themselves in a congregation that would drive them out for being who God has made them to be.....well, you may find a new home elsewhere. Kick off the dust, and leave the place where you are unwelcome. And remember that vengeance is God's. And the God who knows you better than anyone will guide you to a better place. Trust it and don't let fear and anger dominate you as you move on.


redselchie said...

The problem with using that passage in order to discriminate against gay folks, is that a person's being gay - is not a sin against anyone.

Of course, people will use whatever passage they want and distort it, anyway.

SCG said...

Exactly! Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning (have I missed any of 'em?) is not a sin. The mere presence of someone LGBTQ in a congregation should be of no concern to the straight people in the congregation. And the only time it would become an issue is if the LGBTQ person were to try to force themselves onto a non-gay person...the way any unwanted advance on another person would be an issue. Usually, such matters (if between adults acting like adults) can get resolved in that private way without any additional drama.
But there are those churches, even in Episcopaland, who will twist scripture into a stick and use it to whack gay people of faith repeatedly until they either "fake it" and try to be straight (which often is disasterous) or they leave, and sometimes confuse the wrong-headedness of a congregation for what is actually God's repeated message to "come home!"
Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

My comment is what I was going to say anyway. God loves us all and accepts us all and I think that trying to be something you are not is sad when you should always know that any LGBTQ persons add so much to the mix that it is silly for anyone to try and work against them or try and change them.


DragonLady said...

I used to be Episcopalian when I lived in Houston. I was part of the Redeemer community. I was invited to leave after I told my pastor that I just didn't like men that much and certainly not enough to date one. I hadn't even come out to myself then. It took another 15 years or so before I even began to suspect that I was lez and then another 10 before before I knew for sure. But because I wasn't willing to marry and make babies for the community I was no longer welcome. I left not only the community but the church as well.

Oh you don't know me but I followed you here from Anita's blog. You should check out our forum.

SCG said...

MCG: Yes!

DragonLady: I recognize the blog ID from Anita's wonderful "". I'm so sorry about your Houston experience, and sorrier still that it was an Episcopal Church. Not all those in Anglican Land are created equal unfortunately. Same Book of Common Prayer, same hymnal, but still a human institution with all-too-human abilities to "get it wrong". But my congratulations to you on shaking off the dust of that church...and not God. And there's Anita, me, and many others who will always say again and again that we are ALL accepted into God's loving arms, even if the people are telling you otherwise. Peace be with you and have a great weekend.