In the beginning, there was God. And then He decided to create a world full of flyers and walkers and swimmers. The sun, moon and stars – the G-man just decided to bring these marvelous wonders into being. On the sixth day, He made man and woman in His image and gave them free run of the place. Unfortunately, there was a snake involved, and that’s where things got complicated. But let’s go back to that original situation. God, who had to be existing for at least a billion million years before the creation of the earth, gives Adam and Eve – essentially man-and-woman-babies compared to Him – complete dominion of the earth: the flyers, the walkers, and the swimmers. He gave a couple of teenagers the keys to the Ferrari. While undocumented in this specific story, I’m willing to bet that what He told them mirrors what He said 2,000 years later in front of the multitudes in Matthew 5:48:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is what I imagine the God of the universe told Adam and Eve – those lovely, scantily clad kids – that warm summer day. This is what I imagine God’s conception of us is – one that is infinitely higher than our conception of ourselves. When God handed Adam and Eve the keys to that never-been-touched, green and blue Ferrari called Earth, I imagine that He said something like the verse above, which I paraphrase as the following:
That’s the message that I take from that verse. It shows that Jesus clearly isn’t interested in micromanaging the minutiae of everything you do, in much the same way as my mother has yet to provide an exhaustive list of things I can’t do in a restaurant when I’m with her. However, I’m pretty sure swallowing escargot whole off a passing waiter’s tray is off-limits. This points to a very important issue in the Bible and a crucial skill when talking about LGBTQ issues – discernment.
Camp Counselor God
Because I’ve worked at camp for several years, I can see a lot of similarities between God and a camp counselor. While some might find the comparison blasphemous or sacrilegious, I’m down for anything that helps you understand God in a real way, or something that can help you apply the Bible’s lessons to real life, which, as I understand it, is the goal of many in the Church already. So let me tell you a story.
Being a counselor means that you are going to forge long-lasting connections with some of those kids, and they may remember Counselor “So and So” for the rest of their lives. But no matter how seriously you take this responsibility, mistakes will be made. Here’s the first mistake you will make as a summer camp counselor. The first mistake you will make is to assume. You will assume that the children have the most basic understanding of what to do and what not to do. You will assume that they have a rudimentary grasp of what is and is not permissible. You will, no matter their age, assume that there are certain unspoken agreements between you and your disciples, and that you all know the vague boundaries of that sphere of acceptable comportment. And you will be so very, very wrong.
If you thought it was acceptable to stay between 8 and 12 on your scale of acceptable behavior, your cabin will immediately do something that is a 2 or a 15. Not only will they blatantly and vigorously cross the lines that you considered unspoken but reasonably well-defined, but they will appear to, before your very eyes, create new lines and cross those. You will have a child look you directly in the eyes and tell you that they didn’t know that it wasn’t okay to push Jimmy into the pile of horse dung, as that was not properly articulated. What you will realize is that the things that the children do are either A) Something that you thought that they would not do and therefore did not make a rule about it, or B) Something that you could not conceive of another person doing at any point in time, therefore you were unable to make a rule about it. In either case, you’ll realize that the children were right. Justified? Perhaps not. But they were right about your failure to properly articulate the rules.
This is how I imagine God. Our beautiful and most loving Father has the highest possible opinion of His creation. He gives us access to what He truly loves, other than us, and trusts that we have the discernment to know what to do with it. Once again, this is not meant to be sacrilegious, but if we accept the idea that this world is not as God intended it to be (which most Christians do), then it wouldn’t be that much further to understand that at some point maybe some things happened that God didn’t think of. The Bible paints a picture of God as our Heavenly Father, which, by definition, would make us His children. And if there’s anything that I know about children, it’s that they are infinitely surprising.
Bottom line: We’ve long since crashed the Ferrari.
I like to think that God thought that “Be good” was a sufficient commandment. After all, He made us in His image, and He’s good, so being good should be a piece of cake for us. All the stuff in the Garden of Eden was either “good” or “very good”, so He must’ve assumed that we were at least half as talented at judging the quality of things as He was. Just like the camp counselor, He assumed that we were more developed in our moral reasoning than we were, probably because He is so advanced. But as I mentioned before, there was a snake, we got confused, and things got a lot more complicated.
Now, we could write off God’s actions and His faith in us as misguided, but I think that God deserves way more credit than that. I think that along with the commandment to be good came the knowledge of what was good. I don’t think that God gave us the commandment knowing that we were incapable of fulfilling it. But once we found out what evil was, we started to mix the two, and had a much harder time deciding what was good and what was bad. But God has an extraordinary gift for hope, and He hasn’t given up. Besides, He knows that He basically implanted everyone with their own personal Jiminy Cricket, or, as some like to call it, a conscience. God knows that even in our fallen state, we can understand what is good, what’s right, what’s of Him.
So what happened after the Garden and the downfall of man? Well, we as humanity went on to do some awful stuff. So awful, apparently, that God sent a worldwide flood to clean it up. Following that, we were slaves for a really long time until this cool dude named Moses asked God to part seas and other crazy stuff. And after all the chaos of living in Egypt and His previous experience with our lack of discernment, it became clear to God that “Be good” wasn’t cutting it, and that we clearly needed some more guidelines. So He gave us ten of them. Unfortunately, the more rules you give, the more room for loopholes and legalism there is, the argument justifying behavior being that you have not given an exhaustive list. This leads to gross infringements of the law based on the technicality of its reading, which we’ll see later on.
The LGBT Conversation
My point is this: I believe that God has given us all that we need to solve the complex problem of how to interact with the LGBTQ community as a Church, and I think He thinks so, too. Unsurprisingly, it’s the same way that we should interact with any community – with love, compassion, and genuine friendship.
Matthew 22 tells the story of Jesus condensing the list of rules. I can almost sense His frustration with the human race. In the beginning He says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:22) But because of the fall of man, what we ended up multiplying were imperfect people who had forgotten what was good. God tries to help us out by giving us the Ten Commandments, but by the time we get to the New Testament, people are asking Jesus questions like “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt 22:36) And here Jesus simplifies the list even further to two commandments, saying His famous lines, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.”
The reason that Jesus’s exchange here is so significant is because these weren’t suggestions. There are plenty of things that I’m sure Jesus was like “Yeah, you should do this” about, but this was not one of them. From the line “All the Law and prophets…”, we can see that, in Jesus’s opinion, these are the only things you need to do.
Furthermore, I know from various conversations I’ve had that the main trepidation in loving or accepting LGBTQ people in our churches is that based on the Bible, homosexuality is a sin (Sidenote: These conversations always center on homosexuality, possibly because our Church isn’t even close to being ready to deal with all the other letters.) But the Bible has some good words to say about discernment in Hebrews 5:12-14:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
What these verses are saying is that it’s time to grow up. Using our reason is not something to be frowned upon. The process of “cherry-picking”, as some call it, is the process of constantly analyzing our beliefs and interpretations of the Bible. It’s about intelligently reading and applying the Bible to our lives and choosing the parts that help us love God and love each other better. So when you’re frustrated, trying to reconcile what you read about homosexuality in the Bible with real-world context, think: “How will this bring me closer to God? How will this bring me closer to my brother or sister?” If you can’t figure out how a belief is doing either of those, you need to reassess.
This is why “Because the Bible said so” isn’t good enough for me in general, but certainly not in the context of our Church and LGBTQ people. Blind adherence to the Bible is not for the spiritually mature; it is one of two things. Either it is used as a mask to justify sneaky forms of bigotry, or it is for people not willing to be robust enough in their spirituality to create meaning from what they read, and to actually apply what the Bible has to say to the context of their lives. The Bible, while a beautiful book, is also littered with its authors’ interpretations, prejudices, and concerns, and we should be mindful of that when trying to shoehorn what appears to be doctrine from its pages into our everyday lives.
The saddest thing to God, and one of Jesus’s main concerns was not people that didn’t believe in God, but those that did believe thinking that that gave them a privileged position. They believed that their mission was to better the world, when the only way to do that in the first place was to better themselves. In His prayer for His disciples, Jesus says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” (John 17:9)
God’s biggest wish for us has never been that we might change the world, but instead that we might change ourselves. His most ardent desire for us is articulated in Jesus’s prayer that we could be ready for the world. That we might have wisdom and peace. And that we might have discernment for the tough issues of today, and the unseen challenges of tomorrow. Personally, I think that God believes that He’s given us enough to work with, that He’s given us a glorious sense of right and wrong, despite our circumstances, and possibly even despite what the Bible says. When it comes to the way that we treat LGBTQ people as a Church – how we actually treat them and how we should treat them – I think that Jesus’s commandment was enough: