(the original post and conversation can be found at my homepage)
***A few weeks ago, I did a sermon that mulled over the following question: “What is the difference between a disagreement, a debate, and an argument?” Whatever you read below is my attempt at following my own ethics. We will disagree on this***
Michael Sam, University of Missouri DE, and now openly gay
Yesterday, University of Missouri football player Michael Sam came out as gay, and he’s a good enough football player that we can say now that he’ll be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Besides being another good story line in the soap opera that has become ESPN, his coming out will inspire, well, a range of comments from religious folk. We should look at all of them, because there’s about to be a LOT of righteous talking in the days to come, and you should know where you stand.
I know where I once stood. I was a baptist teenager who was taught that sex belonged between male and female. Except I wasn’t taught that at all…it was mostly assumed. And there were gay people in the church and it was an open secret, including now openly gay friends of mine who I knew even back then were gay. I never really cared, but I also never really knew what I felt about an issue that people always want you to feel some kinda way about. And same gender love is one of those issues that has never been an issue until someone told me I had to make a decision about this.
So I am responding today because the current urging for gay rights in American culture has become so ubiquitous. I am responding to the people in my industry who blacklisted me at the height of my career over the song I wrote for Obama back in 2008, refusing to see metaphor or how I support a man who support ______. [He was a black man from Chicago poised to lead the country. Whatever proves of his legacy, don’t overthink it ] I am responding to people who’ve said I’m soft on sin, and most of all, I am responding to people who honestly don’t know WHERE THEY ARE on this issue.
Let me help you with a few options. You are probably either in the…
–“I won’t judge” camp…or, “he without sin cast the first stone,” or, “I think it’s wrong but everybody has their sin, so who am I?”, or, “God loveseverybody, so will I.”
–“Kinda judgy” camp…or, “God calls us to be righteous, so we must stand against wickedness,” or, “I’m wrong to let you live wrong,” or, “Correction is a form of love too.”
–“I have no clue” camp…or, “I really have no idea how to feel about this but I know a lot of gay people, and they seem OK,” or, “What’s the big deal?”, or, “True love for each other isn’t concerned with this.”
–The “It’s not wrong” camp…or, “you should actually read the Bible because that’s not what it says,” or, “I’m gay, so leave me alone,” or, “Loveme and leave me alone.”
I was in the 2nd, then the 1st, then the 4th, and now the 3rd.
There’s no coincidence that all parties, even in disagreement, are concerned about what it means to love. This is the quintessential question of Christianity, emphasized by Jesus boiling down ALL the commandments (even the ones in Leviticus, but we’ll get to that) to a singular three-pronged commandment that deals with love (God–neighbor–self).
Confession: I don’t know what camp I’m in. I realized this when I filmed a spot for a urban video Bible, and after we were done the director called me [after hearing that I pastored at an Open & Affirming church, or after reading my response to Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage, or whatever…he didn’t say]. He wanted to know “where I stood” on this, to see if we could continue working together. **ASIDE** Christian Hip Hop is an intense place, mostly holding values that many would call conservative — the irony of this being “hip hop” is an entirely different article, but is not lost on me.
I told my good friend that I “wasn’t sure,” because I had taken a look at the scriptures myself, and I did not take them as EVIDENCE AGAINST homosexuality. I also saw other scriptures that named man and woman (Genesis), but did not condemn the alternatives. [In other words: when I say “Toyotas are good,” you can’t say I said, “Acuras are bad.” That is a simple logical fallacy called the Argument from Silence — when we draw conclusions from the absence of statements. Can’t do that.] So even if EVERY example in the Bible is of a man/woman relationship, this is still insufficient as evidence against same sex love.
I then said I wanted to read the Bible with humility, meaning that I see a text and don’t pretend I know what it means, or that the ancient context suits my context, or that the authors (yes, multiple and people) didn’t have the literary tools we have today, which further obscures knowing what a text MEANS or even SAYS.
So the director shared with me scriptures that were “clear” to him, and I said, “I’m not sure I agree with you on how clear that is,” and he said, “I’m not sure we can work together.”
The video Bible is out, and I’m not on it.
What I call humility he called relativism, and I respect his desire to maintain the integrity of the Bible. I respect yours. I also think “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine answer to the question of homosexuality in the Bible.
READING THE GOOD BOOK FOR YOURSELF
So what does the Bible say? I won’t pretend to be thorough here. If you need that, stop now and read Peter Gomes’ The Good Book (1996), and especially his chapter on homosexuality. He moves through all the scriptures that are famously used in support of traditional values, and he raises great concern with each of them. (He was also openly gay, but focus for now on him being one of the best bible scholars in the world). I read that chapter and was forced from mostly ignorant biblical literacy to a place of deep understanding.
I realized that Sodom was about hospitality, not gayness…the men who try to have sex with the visitors at the gate condemn the entire city because of their lack of hospitality to the stranger. Jesus says as much in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Sodomites are those who do not provide welcome, a tragic irony for Christians who bash gays and quote the Sin of Sodom. “Sodomy” incorrectly alludes to anal sex; it should allude to our immigration laws.
I realized that Paul is not writing about homosexuality, per se, but about self-worship and people who give up their “normal state” to be like the fold. In Paul’s world of Corinth, men who loved women were loving men because of the cultures values. He ABHORRED this, and so do I. Love who you are, even if it inconveniences others, but in all things: authenticity. IF Paul was condemning same gender love as we know it — IF — then he was still responding to a perverse version of it. Sex as he was witnessing it was corrupt (and most sex, not just the gay type, if you peep his views on marriage) What would Paul or Jesus say about two monogamous, loving, and faithful people of the same gender? We don’t know.
Here’s the rub: I love me some Hebrew Bible. And Judaism (in the HB/OT) is primarily concerned with cultural identity as tied to family, or “protecting Jewishness.” So, sex? Yes, for procreation and making more Jewish babies. Inter-racial marriage? Hell no. Dilutes Jewish bloodlines, endangers the covenant. Same-sex marriage? Hell no. Doesn’t make Jewish babies. [This needs a significant footnote, but the “hell no” is my emphasis, because they meant it THAT MUCH]. This is for GOOD REASON they feel this way; they want the protection and “chosen” status of YHWH. But Christianity decidedly expands the covenant beyond Israel – PAUL DOES THIS – and what happens to those commandments??? What happens to those abominations??? (SPOILER) ANYTHING that threatened Jewishness was an ABOMINATION, and you can speak today with a young Jewish girl about what would happen if she brought a black man into her orthodox Jewish parents’ home, or the taboo of infertile women.
*that above paragraph is waaay too short.
So context does matter, and ethnic identity is a profound concern for me as a black man, and I like babies. Something feels right about fatherhood for me. But then there’s adoption, unimaginable in the Bible (well, the Book of Ruth???), and there are new ways to define family. And what is not present at all in the Bible has become, thanks to Michael Sam and many courageous others, a question before us.
Or is it a question at all? Who am I to judge??? is one thing, but Who am I to decide what’s RIGHT and WRONG???
I can’t read the Bible literally because it would ask me to hate myself. Any non-Jew understands me, and I can only read and appreciate Jewish privilege in context.
I love humanity and want to give each person their full dignity, as I imagine God does. This is a dignity that includes but is not exclusive to sexuality. I really don’t care that you like women, whether you are reading this as a man or woman. Put it this way: I care, but only as much as I care about the other spheres of your life that make you YOU. I hope that you discovered your truth with integrity, and I hope that whatever you are, you can bring that to your God with confidence and faithfulness. Proper sexuality is a HUMAN concern, not a gay one, and I believe THAT is what Paul was getting at.
If it sounds like relativity, you know better than to think I’m saying, “Whatever you want to do, go for it.” Your happiness means nothing to me. Your integrity in Christ means the world to me. And if that means you are gay, I’d love to have a conversation of how you came to know that. I ask “straight” teenagers the same question all the time.
Righteousness to me is not about right and wrong, and lording over that, but about humility in our approach to life and others. It’s about knowing that something greater than us exists above/around/within us, and knows more than we do, and is constantly flipping the script.
We need to learn to say “I don’t know” more, and see what new possibilities come in the conversation. Michael Sam gives other youth the courage to be themselves, and for that he deserves acclaim. Macklemore gives other youth the courage to be themselves, and for that he deserves acclaim. Righteous moves. And if we are wrong, may GOD find ways to correct us.