Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Posts tagged “homophobia

Exorcising America’s Murderous Demons

The Creation of Adam by Harmonia Rosales

 

[In an earlier version the title was misspelled as “exercising.”]

In the Name of the God who loves we who are hated, those who hate, and those whom we hate. Amen.

Forty-nine. Forty-nine lives cut short. Forty-nine people murdered. Forty-nine souls martyred. Forty-nine of God’s children executed for living and loving out loud as gay, trans, bi and lesbian human beings, and for loving them, being with them, dancing with them, serving them, entertaining them, and protecting them. They were targeted on Latin Night at the Pulse Nightclub one year ago, an evening that was known to draw in the Hispanic gay brown and black community.

They were killed because a man decided they didn’t deserve to live, that they weren’t deserving of God’s gifts of life and love to them. Who was he to say who was worthy of God’s love, worthy of life, worthy of being created in the image of God? He was someone who chose an image of God to worship that was as broken and twisted as he was, a god who hated what he hated and feared, perhaps even what he hated and feared about himself. We may never fully understand all the reasons why he chose a god who hates over the God who loves.

Here I do not speak of Allah or al-Islam. Allah is one of many names for the One true God whom we share with Muslims and Jews—in spite of Trinitarian arithmetic. Allah it is the name in which Arabic-speaking Christians have always prayed because it is God’s name. Islam like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and even Buddhism, has followers who choose the most hateful and violent texts and traditions, interpretations, misinterpretations and misunderstandings of their religion. The hate cult to which the murderer pledged allegiance is as far beyond mainstream Islam as the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are beyond mainstream Christianity.

Nine. Nine lives cut short. Nine people murdered. Nine souls martyred. Nine of God’s children executed for being black in a Charleston church two years ago this week.

Our nation and our world are full people who choose hate and death for others, and sometimes for themselves. The Alexandria shooter who hated Republicans for being sexist and racist also chose hate and death. He too took it upon himself to decide who should live and who should die because of his personal and political beliefs.

The Pulse shooter represented a particular ultra-conservative ideology and the Alexandria shooter an über-progressive one, and what they have in common is the self-righteous justification of their own lethal violence. They share a belief that other human beings with whom they don’t agree have neither a God-given right to life nor a constitutionally protected right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They both chose hate and death, but God offers us life and love.

God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. [and]…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:8, 5)

We have the Spirit of God within us. She breathed us to life with our first breath and she was poured into us at our baptism. And the defining characteristic of that Spirit, of God, is love. God is Love. And God loves. God loves all, without exception. God loves those who hurt and hurt others and God loves those who hate. God loves those we do not yet know how to love, those we do not want to love, and God loves those we hate. Some of us hate. It’s hard not to in the crucified and crucifying world.

Love is a choice. In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony we ask if the beloveds will love and they answer, “I will.” The real question is not “do you,” today, but “will you,” next week, next year, in some cases, once all the guests leave. Will you love? Will you love when it’s hard? Will you love when you don’t want to? Will you love? That question is not just for those who take vows of love, marriage and life-partnership.

The question is for us as well. Will we love? Will we choose life and love?

The choice to love is a difficult one. Have you met people? They’re horrible! But… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We are not on our own. God’s Spirit, God’s Love, is with us and in us and among us. And that love comes with responsibilities. It is not for us alone. It is for the world, for the healing of the world’s hurts and hates.

Some of those hurts and hates have been baked into our American bones.

Philando. Philando Castile. Sitting in his car with his baby girl and her mother. Live on Facebook. Like many here in Texas and across the US, legally exercising his Second Amendment rights with a licensed handgun tucked away in its holster. He even notified the officer so there would be no misunderstanding. But he was black. Black like me, black like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and 6 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, shot in her own bed, black like Walter Scott who was running away unarmed when shot in the back by a police officer and blackness is terrifying, in part because this nation was founded on the idea that to be black is to be inhuman and there fore not entitled to life, liberty or justice.

We have to talk about how this culture inculcates fear of blackness because it is killing us. Some of us more than others. It is not simply racism, biased opinions. It is a white supremacist structural system that infects all of us including black and brown police officers and jurors who believe it is so reasonable to be so in fear of blackness that no one should be punished for killing unarmed black folk because they too share that fear. It is the unholy communion[1] of the American enterprise. [American religious scholar Candace Benbow puts it more strongly: “Black bodies and Black blood. The holy communion of Whiteness.]

There is a deep-seated loathing of blackness and black people in this country. It is at best a disease, at worst a demonic affliction, perhaps both. It feels overwhelming but we are neither helpless nor hopeless.

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 10:1)

Jesus has authority over death, disease and demons and that includes white supremacy, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and all the hatreds and hurts that infect and plague our world, including toxic masculinity that batters at home then terrorizes in public. (The two things most mass-shooters and perpetrators of domestic terror have in common is being men and having a history of domestic violence.) And Jesus has given that authority to us. Jesus called his disciples, empowered his disciples, then he sent them out to do the work of the reign of God. That work is now ours: Proclaim the good news, ‘The reign of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

That is our work, the dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism and the hate and fear of non-white peoples and cultures that are behind them. Those are the demons that bedevil us. Those are the diseases that sicken our nation and the church. We do this work by accepting our calling to it, by identifying the demons and diseases, cutting the infection out of our society and its systems—educational, health and justice—and where it cannot be cut out or cut off, let it die. For we are also called to raise the dead and some of what is broken in this world simply needs to die and be raised to new life in Christ Jesus, and that includes the Church.

The gospel is that the reign of God is among us, the love of God is among us, the antidote to all that is broken and diseased is among us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. The work is ours. It begins in earnest when we go out of these doors. Our gospel less says that Jesus first sent his disciples to his own people, their own people. The work of dismantling all of these structures and the hatreds on which they are built begin at home, in homes and families, and friendships and congregations and classrooms, move theatres and surgical theatres. Every place that we are, we must affirm the human dignity of all God’s children and call out and stand against every indignity and every injustice.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Amen.

 

[1] Martha Simmons, modified “holy” to “unholy” in response to Candace Benbow, Facebook, 16 June 2017.


She is God

Annunciation Tryptich by the late Robert Moore of the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas where it hangs in Philadelphia PA.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! For fifty days the Jewish and Gentile Christians of the early church told the stories of Jesus, his life, his death and his life-from-death over and over. Jesus was raised from the dead as he said he would be. I imagine everyone knew someone who had seen him, touched him, broken bread with him. They kept telling the story to those who knew and loved him, and to those who knew him not. The story was just too good not to share.

Here in our fifty days of Easter, many of us have lost track of the days. Some have forgotten that it is still Easter. Perhaps we should mark the days. In Judaism you count the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuoth, the Festival of Weeks, and mark them with special prayers and meditations. That fiftieth day, called Pentecost was a huge festival with pilgrims coming from all over to observe the holy day. This year, this first year of the newly born church, was going to be different, so different that the day of Pentecost would become a holy day for Christians.

While some in the church were counting the days to Pentecost because they were still, like Paul, Jews, others were waiting. Jesus made some promises before his death and now that he had risen from the dead there could be no doubt that his word was true. Our gospel takes us to one of those promises, back before Jesus’s arrest, back before his agony in Gethsemane, to the Last Supper after Judas had gone to betray him. There John’s gospel has Jesus make a farewell speech.

In it Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commandments. In the gospel of John, Jesus only gives us one commandment. Just before his farewell he says: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (Jn 13:34) Shortly after he repeats it: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (Jn 15:12) And Jesus says repeatedly before and after: If you love me, you will keep my commandments… You are my friends if you do what I command you… I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (Jn 14:15; 15:14, 17)

That’s all Jesus asks of us, that we love one another. What could be simpler? Jesus calls us to love. Well, if you know the church, you know we made it complicated. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows his flock so he knew we cannot even love faithfully and consistently—without preconditions and caveats—on our own, so Jesus promised that we would not have to try to love or do anything else in our own strength. The Spirit of God who is with us, who was already with the disciples, would now be with them—and us—in a whole new way. The gospel says the Spirit is with us already but now will be in us, a deep and intimate bond that can never be broken.

This Spirit is the Spirit of God; She is God. She is the fullness of God without limits, the Font of Creation, the Fire of Sinai, Water in the Wilderness. She is the one who hears the cries of the battered, abandoned and betrayed, and she is the one who guides and accompanies, saves, heals, and delivers. And, she is the one who folded her majesty into the womb of the Ever-Blessed Virgin and brought forth a life that could not be extinguished by death.

It is she who is with us, with us and in us. And yes, She. Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and in those languages the Spirit is only “she.” Translated from my Hebrew New Testament our gospel says: This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees her nor knows her. You know her, because she abides with you, and she will be in you. This is what Jesus said. Grammatically it was impossible for him to say it any other way.

In the Greek of the gospels, the Spirit has no gender. A more literal translation of the text would be: This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees it nor knows it. You know it, because it abides with you, and it will be in you. There is no masculine pronoun for the Spirit in Greek. It is simply not there.

So consider that in neither of the biblical languages is God’s Spirit ever male. A couple of hundred years after the gospels were written, literally centuries later, they were translated into Latin which used male pronouns for the Spirit of God. And since Latin became the language of the church we—well, not me—the church uses male pronouns as in the creed and most of its liturgy and wrote them into the scriptures.

Some might say it doesn’t matter. Any pronoun will do because God is beyond gender. And she is, but we are not, not yet, though we may be on our way. I want to suggest that it does matter and that how we see and describe God has everything to do with how and whether we love one another as Jesus commanded. It matters that we can see God in us and us in God, which is the point of the incarnation. God became human, to be like us, to be with us, to live as us, to love us to and through death, as Jesus commanded us to love each other.

As long as we do not see each other as fully the image God we cannot love each other as Jesus commanded us to love. And the measure for whether we truly see each other as the image of God is whether we can conceive of God in each other’s image. If your God cannot be female, feminine, or femme because that is too weak, unfit for power and leadership then your love for God and humanity is constrained by your love for masculinity and male power. And anything you love more than God is an idol.

Sometimes it is hard to see the image of God in others or even ourselves because the church has deified whiteness, even to the point of largely rejecting the historical Palestinian Jewish Jesus, for pale imitations. Can you see yourself in the images of God: on the walls, in the windows, and in the words of liturgy? What about in the Bread? It has been important to me that the body of Christ I proclaim is at least, sometimes, brown like me.

The insistence that God is male and only male in spite of all of the places scripture paints a broader and more nuanced picture served and serves to buttress patriarchal power and baptize it as the natural order and God’s will. In Deuteronomy God is the father who creates and the rock who gives birth. (Dt 32:6; 18) In Job God is the one whose womb birthed the seas and the frost and the ice and, God is the father of the rain and dew. (Jb 38:8; 28-29)

God’s womb is the source of her love for us. Over and over again the scriptures proclaim God’s love using a verb that means both the womb and the love that springs from it. The love that Jesus commands of us is an extension of that love. God is Love. We who love God love each other with the love of God within us. And in that love there can be no hierarchy, no domination, no bias, no privilege.

Any system of domination that subjugates one group of humans to another is not love. The love that Jesus calls us to is incompatible with patriarchy and sexism, just as it is incompatible with racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

We are in difficult days as a nation and around the world. The shouting we hear in the streets and on the news is not hallelujah. Not everyone is counting the days until Jewish or Christian Pentecost. Many are counting down to the next tweet, scandal or tweet about a scandal. Even in this we are commanded to love. It is here that we see love is not weak, does not condone or cooperate with evil. Love speaks truth, unwanted, unwelcome truth. Love holds accountable. Love resists injustice at any cost. And when necessary, love leads to death that others may live.