by Jeffrey Hoffman*
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13: 34-35, Authorized Version of 1611 (King James Version)
I have a confession to make. I have been angry. Very angry. Some days, the anger turns to a white hot rage. I have had a lot of those days recently and I need to tell you why.
In my last two posts, I asserted two central doctrines of Christian faith: 1) that sin and sinfulness are a universal human condition (“all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”); and 2) that grace is a free gift from the Creator, unearned and undeserved (“while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”). Grace covers our sinfulness for all time, because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3: 16-17) There are no exclusionary clauses, no exceptions or limitations in that simple statement of eternal, self-sacrificing love from the Creator of the Universe. In fact, it is both an express and an implied warranty that lasts for all eternity; so when people who claim that they are Christian ministers start placing conditions on God’s love, denying their own sin and pretending that some people are not covered by God’s grace, I get angry. And I believe Jesus gets angry, too.
I get really angry when a gay college student tells me “my roommate was reading my email without my permission, discovered that I am gay, and turned me in to my Christian college administrators, who expelled me.” I am furious when another person says to me “I was made to feel like a leper — unclean and unloved — when they expelled me from Bob Jones University.” I am livid when someone tells me “I was fired today because I told my boss the truth about my gender.” I get really steamed when one of our BJUnity.org writers is called by name and berated by his former fundamentalist pastor with words of condemnation at a Gay Pride march; when that pastor and other fundamentalist protestors, whose palpable hatred is visible in their glaring eyes and the poorly proof-texted slogans wrenched from de-contextualized scripture printed on their picket signs, likewise berate all the Christian groups and churches who are marching in solidarity with LGBT+ Christians. I am absolutely enraged when someone says to me “my family has rejected me, shunned me. They believe I am Satanic. They won’t let me around my younger siblings or my nieces and nephews; they treat me as though I’m contaminated or a pedophile. I love those children and I would do anything in my power to protect them from danger, but now I am viewed as the threat to their safety.” And yes, I hear these things daily, from a number of people… new and different people all the time. I have heard and seen a lot of these things recently. My heart is breaking because so many people are in such pain; pain which was inflicted on them unnecessarily by people who claim to love them, by people whom they deeply love. And that makes me angry. Really angry.
You see, when Tony Perkins tells the parents of queer children that they should “not condone and enable” their children, when Ann Coulter calls for a “national disown your son day” in response to “National Coming Out Day,” when fundamentalist and evangelical preachers — including my old friend Dr. Stephen Jones and others at Bob Jones University — talk about “loving the sinner, but hating the sin,” their words have a very real and very deleterious effect on very real people who have very real lives.
This rhetoric gives a supposed “biblical” cover for the families who abandon and reject their own loved ones, often forcing those people, especially teens, into homelessness at alarming rates (homelessness that for many young people leads to prostitution as a means of survival and drug addiction as a means of attempting to cope with their pain). “Loving the sinner, but hating the sin” sounds an awful lot like “I love you in the abstract but I hate who you really are as a person” to a teenager who is already full of internalized bigotry and self-hatred from years of anti-gay sermons in the Independent Fundamentalist movement. When so very often gay people are the whipping boys (and girls), blamed for everything that goes wrong — from the current economic malaise to Islamofascist terrorism – is it any wonder that fundamentalist LGBT+ teens begin to believe these lies, which they understand are directed at who they privately know themselves to be, and feel compelled to commit suicide at four times the national ratio for suicide within the general teen population? (These facts are borne out by statistical studies that show conservative, religious areas of the country having much higher rates of LGBT+ teen suicide than less conservative areas). Let me be very clear: homelessness, prostitution, addiction and even suicide are very real problems that have affected very real people with very real lives and very real pain who are a part of BJUnity. Homelessness, prostitution, drug addiction, and suicide aren’t just theoretical concepts or abstract statistics that happen to other people’s children. They are and have been a very real threat to the safety and well-being of people within the BJUnity community, people whom you, dear reader, may very well know or have known, people whose despair following their expulsion from school at BJU or another similar school and/or subsequent abandonment by their loved ones led them down a dark path of destruction, people whom Jesus loves and for whom He died.
I ask you, is there anything more unloving, is there any more blatant abandonment of “natural affection” (the Greek word ἄστοργος – astorgos in the Latin alphabet – found in Romans 1: 31 and II Timothy 3:3 translates as the love within families, i.e. between parents and children) than the selfish impulse to forsake your own flesh and blood over a perceived sin — a personality trait you dislike or a “lifestyle” of which you disapprove? What was Jesus telling us in His parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32)? Did that father, whom Christian theologians have interpreted as an archetype of God the Father for millenia ever once abandon his son?
BJUnity does far more than publishing this web site. Behind the scenes, we are building a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex people, as well as our affirming straight friends — people who have been disparaged, despised, and even destroyed simply for being honest about who they are, some of them over the course of many long, lonely years — who can finally speak to one another the truth that we are loved and that we are not, and indeed never have been, alone. Through Facebook, Twitter, conference calls, text messages, e-mail, and in fact every form of social media we can deploy over the few short months since our incorporation and “coming out,” we have become for each other a means of support and affirmation that never before existed in the fundamentalist world. We are growing, because our ministry is vital, our message is life-saving and life-affirming, and our mission is the right thing to do, because Jesus Christ Himself has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:” — Ephesians 4: 25-26, Authorized Version of 1611 (King James Version)
So what was Paul talking about here when he said “be angry and sin not?” Are we supposed to roll over when people hurt us or hurt other people whom we care about? Are we supposed to pretend that it’s alright to abuse other people, especially in the name of “loving the sinner and hating the sin?” Are we supposed to just let go of our anger? When I read Jesus’s words in John, Chapter 13 — words he spoke to his disciples just before He took His leave from them; those words which have defined the Church’s mission in the world for two millenia — when I encounter prevarication and prejudice from Christian people who will name every “biblical” reason they can think of not to treat their fellow human beings with kindness, compassion, and love, I am reminded of one of Jesus’s great rants from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23. The meek and gentle Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter and “opened not His mouth,” got good and mad about something. What was Jesus angry about? Why did he call some people these horrible names like “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “whited sepulchers,” and “ye serpents, ye generation of vipers?”
“…The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi… for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
The truth about “conversion therapy.”
The overwhelming experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people is that, for whatever reason, our sexual orientations and gender identities are immutable and innate. That is why the scientific community in the United States — representing millions of doctors, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, sociologists, and biologists – has categorically rejected religiously-motivated claims to the contrary. There are no data to support any such claims from a rational analysis, and there are plenty of data to suggest that forcing people into “reparative (or conversion) therapy” is an inappropriate use of psychological torture techniques that can cause inestimable damage to the victim’s mental health. Is it loving to subject your son or daughter to unspeakable torture in the (futile) effort to change the very fabric of their nature? Or did God, who made us all in His own image “fearfully and wonderfully,” know before the foundation of the world that we are exactly who He made us to be? And did He look at His creation and declare that it was good?
What if we have gotten it all wrong? What if Jesus wants your queer relative or your transgender friend to teach you how to love more deeply? What if Jesus wants you to show them how to love unconditionally? What if He was serious when He said “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets?” What if the many, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women who spend their lifetimes living in committed relationships that are every bit as loving and meaningful as their heterosexual/heteronormative counterparts are living out the truth of God’s love discussed in I John, Chapter 4 as well as any redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified human beings can do?
What if we’ve gotten it all wrong?
I thank God that despite all these horrid recent occurrences that have provoked my ire and indignation, I have also been witnessing the signs of an emerging hope for a new day of godly love among my fundamentalist and former fundamentalist friends. Just this past weekend, I was in South Carolina. My heart was overwhelmed when a group of people with whom I was invited to dine last Friday evening were all wearing purple in solidarity with BJUnity’s participation in Spirit Day (a day when people across the country wore purple to send the message that bullying and violence against LGBT+ people is unacceptable) when I arrived at the restaurant! At South Carolina Pride, I was moved to tears when I saw the mother of one of our young men – a mother who still attends a Bob Jones University-affiliated fundamentalist church – waving a rainbow flag in a quiet gesture of love and support for her gay son! And recently one of Bob Jones University Press’s authors has taken a very public and controversial stand with us here at BJUnity in calling for BJU to change the rhetoric and to stop giving young people a reason to kill themselves!
Thank you to those of you who are trying to understand your LGBT+ families and friends; who have made the choice to love us as Christ Himself loved us. Thanks to you, I believe that the sun is not going to set on my wrath. Instead, I believe that a change is coming, that LGBT+ people are about to experience the radical, transforming love of Jesus Christ in Christian communities across this nation; I believe that Christian people are about to see what the love of Jesus looks like in the eyes of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex families, friends, and neighbors; and I believe that God will look on all of us, His well-beloved children, and be well-pleased!
May God richly bless you.
*The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s alone.
Photos from South Carolina Pride courtesy of Bill Ballantyne.