Saturday, November 10, 2012

Letting God Out of the Box

If I were a preacher, this is the sermon I would give tomorrow.

How did you learn about homosexuality?  Where did you get your ideas about it?  What is your first memory of knowing someone who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer?  

Here is how I learned about it.  When I was a teenager, I went to fanatical evangelical churches (only-one-way-to-god types). Most of the things I learned went something like this:  someone in leadership would say that something was a sin according to the Bible. They would throw a couple verses out. And that was it. We did not have conversations with anyone who had had any experience in that realm, or any expertise on the behavior, or any knowledge about the cultural and historical context of these verses. We just accepted the leadership's definitions of what was black and what was white. Mormonism, I was told, is a cult. Homosexuality is a sin. Sex outside of marriage, a sin. Abortion, murder. Et cetera. I took on a lot of beliefs that kept me sheltered from the stories of people living their lives. I spent most of my time with people who went to my church.  When we moved, we found a church right away and got immersed in that community, and spent most of our time with people in that church.

When I was in my second year of college, I encountered a professor who was openly gay. I had heard about "homosexuals" from people who went to churches like mine, vague references, no real information, just negative references.  Anita Bryant-like rants.  I had never knowingly talked to any one who was gay or read any books written by anyone gay.  But here I was in 1980, 19 years old, deciding to change my major to Acting because I wanted to do Christian Theater, encountering an openly gay person for the first time in my life.  At some point outside of class, the professor and I got into a conversation in which I was unable to listen. All I could do was spout my own position, and in so many words, I told him he was going to hell. (My 20-yr-old arrogance boggles my 51-yr-old mind!)

About ten years later, I had learned how to listen to people's stories, how to suspend my judgement, how to trust the little voice inside me that said "something isn't right with this thing this church leader is telling me." I had encountered some tough life decisions that humbled me. I had experienced judgement from close friends and family members.  I experienced people telling me I was going to hell for things I had come to know, deeply, were true in my life. 

I started learning about the cultural and historical context in which the Bible was written.  I started learning about sexism and other oppressions, and how oppression works.  I met some lesbian women and not felt the need to judge them. So they became my friends.  They did not convert me, they did not tell me how wrong I was to love a man, they did not live lives of depravity.  They were regular people. (Surprise!) They were kind.  And fun.  And courageous. I realized that some people in this world are born gay, and that is not a flaw or a sin. And some people choose it for themselves, and that is not a sin either.

If you listen to people's life stories, without judgement - really listen, find out what makes them tick, and what their struggles are, and why they made the tough decisions in their unique life - you may find that everyone is doing the best they can with what they've got. All of us are flawed human beings just trying to love and be loved. 

I believe this:  there is no sin bigger than the sin of thinking I get to decide who is going to hell based on my limited little brain inside my one tiny little head. 

God is not our puppet. God is Lovingkindness, embodied only in our bodies, flawed as they are. How we human beings on this earth treat other human beings is how God loves us all. God is not pleased when we point our fingers and tell other people they are sinning. God is only pleased when we embrace other human beings, when we love them, when we are kind to them, when we treat them with respect, and when we trust them to make their decisions based on how they hear God speaking in their hearts. 

You may not believe these things. You may believe that God, the Supreme Being, the Holy of Holies, tells you to go tell people they are sinners and there is only one way, one set of words, one set of rules, one set of beliefs that will make up for that fact (save them from it) and get them to Heaven.  I am trying very hard not to judge you for that. I can't change this about you. If you want to hang on to that belief, nothing I tell you is going to convince you not to hang on to it. I can tell you that I have been there.  I can tell you I have changed. And here is my good news, if you are interested:  choosing non-judgement works so much better than choosing God-told-me-to-tell-you judgement.  I have been a much more powerful witness for Love since I have let go of that kind of evangelism. People have told me I inspire them to be a better person. That never happened to me when I was being Evangelical.  No-one was ever inspired by me to open their hearts to God or to be a better person by my telling them about their sins.

Everyone is going to make mistakes, everyone screws up, and it is not for us to say what is a mistake and what is not, except in our very own lives. Sure, if someone hurts you, you have every right to tell them, "when you did this thing, I felt hurt, because..." But you don't get to say to someone whose choice has no real effect on your life at all that their choice is a sin. You sure as heck don't have the right to codify your belief into the rule of law. If you call yourself a Christian, if you honor Jesus, then look at the way he lived.  He didn't go around telling people they were gong to hell.  He hung out with the lowest of the low and he LOVED them.  He fed them.  He healed them.  He did not get in their face and tell them how wrong they are.  He did not pronounce judgement upon them every chance he had.  Even the Pharisees, the leaders of his religious community into which he was born? He basically just asked them thoughtful questions.  The one theme I see in the gospels is this: love. Be love. Love, the verb.  The command: Love!

Jesus said, "If you are bothered by a speck in your neighbor's eye, remove the stick from your own eye." So, next time you are tempted to tell someone what they are doing wrong, look in the mirror. Don't worry about other people's problems. Figure out where you are making bad choices that separate you from Love and keep you from being Kind.

I'm so grateful for the courageous people who stand up and tell their stories in the face of judgement. Without that courage, without that sharing, the world can't change.  People cannot learn.  Oppression cannot end. My memory of that conversation with my professor is one of my biggest regrets in my life. It was one of my biggest sins. I hope he knew that his sharing with me, even though I could not listen, was a seed of liberation planted. 

If someone is telling you that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, I beg you to read this before you go around spreading that "good news."

And, in the interest of breaking down stereotypes and planting seeds of liberation, I am offering to you my story. Next time we see each other, let's have some tea and blueberry muffins and tell each other our life stories.  I promise to listen.  I promise to be kind to you.



1 comment:

Barb Aloot said...

Amen! This is beautiful and inspiring and completely makes my day. Thank you.