Tikkun Magazine, July/August 2010
Christians Seeing Red: An Evangelical Perspective
To many in my faith, I'm a walking contradiction.
I'm a Southern-bred evangelical Christian pastor and a "gay ally" (as straight advocates for the gay community are so awkwardly called). I believe what the Bible says. I believe that Jesus died on the cross. I believe he rose in three days. I believe that in doing so he forgave us our sins. And it is precisely because of these beliefs that I am compelled to stand up for my gay brothers and sisters in Christ.
In condemning homosexuality, evangelicals hide behind the defense that they're just "keeping it real." It's not their fault that they come off like callous jerks. They didn't make up the rules. It's God's Law, His will. "Look it up," they say. "It's right there in the Bible. Right there in black and white ... "
My response: we need to look to the Red. You know how, in many Bibles, Jesus's words are printed in red type so that they can be more easily distinguished from the rest? Well, when we're confronted with an issue as bitter and divisive as this—an issue that is literally tearing Christian families, congregations, and entire denominations in two—we've got to look to Jesus for answers. We've got to look beyond the black and white. We've got to look to the Red.
A friend of mine has a T-shirt that frames the issue nicely. The front of the T-shirt reads: "What did Jesus say about homosexuality? Answer on back." But when you turn around, the back is blank.
That's right: Jesus cared so much about homosexuality that he mentioned it exactly zero times. He thought it so central to his message of love, so fundamental to his mission of redeeming the world, that he never touched on the issue in the course of his entire public ministry. Yet, somehow, this single issue (and our response to it) has come to define Christianity in many people's minds.
For conservative Christians, homosexuality has become a rallying cry and recruitment tool. It's something to get the troops fired up about. For non-Christians, it is an equally blunt instrument: a single-issue indictment of the Church, one that makes a mockery of all that Christian talk of love, forgiveness, and understanding.
What I love about the "answer on back" T-shirt is that it forces us to confront our misunderstanding of scripture and grapple with the sources of our ideas. Before seeing the back, people's minds scrawl all sorts of ungracious messages with their mental Sharpie pens (Sinner ... Abomination ... Unnatural). Then you see the bafflement on their faces when they're confronted with the fact that their savior didn't care enough about homosexuality to even mention it.
Confusion quickly turns to anger. People think they've been tricked. And in a way they're right—they've been tricked into compromising their faith and God's Grace for a lie.
Yes, there are a handful of scriptures, littered throughout the Bible, that seem to condemn homosexuality (note: properly understood and read in context, even these don't stand up). But Jesus didn't utter any of them, and they don't hold a candle to the inferno of Grace and love that burns through the better part of the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament).
Looking to the Red can help us get past this identity crisis in the Christian Church. Just as former generations had to overcome their supposedly "God-endorsed" racist and sexist attitudes, so we have to overcome our narrow-mindedness on this issue in order to experience (and share) the full potential of God's love.
When we make people feel unwelcome in our faith community because of who they are and how they love, we miss the true meaning of Christianity. We get lost in the black and white. We place false limits on God's bigheartedness when we organize rallies against gay civil and religious rights. We violate God's Grace and the principle of unconditional acceptance when we persist in the ill-founded idea that gays could—or should—deny their orientation in order to belong to our churches.
When we deny Grace for others in these ways, we deny Christ and his sacrifice. And when we take the Christ out of Christianity we're left with a religion that isn't worthy of the name.
Jay Bakker (yes, that Bakker, as in the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye) is the pastor of Revolution Church NYC, a ministry run out of a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You can find him online at www.RevolutionNYC.com.
Bakker, Jay. 2010. Christians Seeing Red: An Evangelical Perspective. Tikkun 25(4): 39