There was a time in my life that I was an M1 tank platoon sergeant(19K40) in the National Guard. Typical tank company organization then (and probably now) was made up of three tank platoons; each platoon having four M1 tanks. Normally an officer would lead the platoon, but in the absence of the lieutenant, the platoon sergeant was in charge. Since officers were usually in short supply then, the "plat-daddies" were in charge.
On the long nights of overwatch, waiting on firing lines, etc, the three platoon sergeants often discussed what we would do if the federal gov't asked us to take arms agains the civilian population of the U.S. Back then, there were rumors the Marines were conducting civilian crowd control. So we talked about it.
It was an unambiguous declaration between the platoon sergeants: the citizens would immediately have at their disposal 12 M1 tanks and crews. It was utterly unthinkable that we would use our training and equipment against the very civilians we pledged an oath to protect. We considered such an order, if it were to be issued, totally unlawful.
Passage of the 2011 NDAA bill, recalls those discussions and commitments. I sincerely hope there are still enough of those in uniform who will not allow themselves to be used as an illegitimate force against those to whom they've pledged to support and protect.
Led by the child who simply knew
The twin boys were identical in every way but one. Wyatt was a girl to the core, and now lives as one, with the help of a brave, loving family and a path-breaking doctor’s care.
Nicole Maines, 14, her twin brother, Jonas, and their parents have traveled a long, trying road. Nicole Maines, 14, her twin brother, Jonas, and their parents have traveled a long, trying road. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Bella English
Globe Staff / December 11, 2011
Jonas and Wyatt Maines were born identical twins, but from the start each had a distinct personality.
‘Wyatt needs hair accessories, clothes, shoes . . . likes to wear bikinis, high heels,mini-skirts.’
Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.
Wyatt favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, he insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Wyatt wanted to be a princess; his mother compromised on a prince costume.
Once, when Wyatt appeared in a sequin shirt and his mother’s heels, his father said: “You don’t want to wear that.’’
“Yes, I do,’’ Wyatt replied.
“Dad, you might as well face it,’’ Wayne recalls Jonas saying. “You have a son and a daughter.’’
That early declaration marked, as much as any one moment could, the beginning of a journey that few have taken, one the Maineses themselves couldn’t have imagined until it was theirs. The process of remaking a family of identical twin boys into a family with one boy and one girl has been heartbreaking and harrowing and, in the end, inspiring - a lesson in the courage of a child, a child who led them, and in the transformational power of love.
Wayne and Kelly Maines have struggled to know whether they are doing the right things for their children, especially for Wyatt, who now goes by the name Nicole. Was he merely expressing a softer side of his personality, or was he really what he kept saying: a girl in a boy’s body? Was he exhibiting early signs that he might be gay?Was it even possible, at such a young age, to determine what exactly was going on?
Until recently, there was little help for children in such situations.But now a groundbreaking clinic at Children’s Hospital in Boston - one of the few of its kind in the world - helps families deal with the issues, both emotional and medical, that arise from having a transgender child - one who doesn’t identify with the gender he or she was born into.
The Children’s Hospital Gender Management Services Clinic can, using hormone therapies, halt puberty in transgender children, blocking the development of secondary sexual characteristics - a beard, say, or breasts - that can make the eventual transition to the other gender more difficult, painful, and costly.
Founded in 2007 by endocrinologist Norman Spack and urologist David Diamond, the clinic - known as GeMS and modeled on a Dutch program - is the first pediatric academic program in the Western Hemisphere that evaluates and treats pubescent transgenders. A handful of other pediatric centers in the United States are developing similar programs, some started by former staffers at GeMS.
It was in that clinic, under Spack’s care, that Nicole and her family finally began to have hope for her future.
The Maineses decided to tell their story, they say, in order to help fight the deep stigma against transgender youth, and to ease the path for other such children who, without help, often suffer from depression, anxiety, and isolation.
“We told our kids you can’t create change if you don’t get involved,’’ says Wayne, 53, sitting in the living room of their comfortable home in a southern Maine community they do not want identified.
They have good reason for caution. Their journey has included a lawsuit to protect their daughter’s rights, and a battle against bullying and insensitivity that led them to move to a new place and new schools.
It has been a hard road, but nothing that compares with the physical transformation of Wyatt into Nicole.
“I have always known I was a girl,’’ says Nicole, now 14. “I think what I’m aiming for is to undergo surgery to get a physical female body that matches up to my image of myself.’’
When Wyatt and Jonas were born, their father was thrilled. Wayne looked forward to the day when he could hunt deer with his boys in the Maine woods. The family lived in Orono, near the University of Maine campus, where Wayne is the director of safety and environmental management.
They had no preparation for what would come next.
When Wyatt was 4, he asked his mother: “When do I get to be a girl?’’ He told his father that he hated his penis and asked when he could be rid of it. Both father and son cried. When first grade started, Wyatt carried a pink backpack and a Kim Possible lunchbox.
His parents had no idea what was going on. They had barely heard the term “transgender.’’ Baffled, they tried to deflect Wyatt’s girlish impulses by buying him action figures like his brother’s and steering him toward Cub Scouts, soccer, and baseball.
When the boys were 5, Kelly and Wayne threw a “get-to-know-me’’ party for classmates and parents. Wyatt appeared beaming at the top of the stairs in a princess gown, a gift from his grandmother.
Kelly whisked him off and made him put on pants. Though she and Wayne were accustomed to his girly antics, they were afraid of what others might think.
To this day, she feels guilty about it. “I know she was totally confused and felt like she had done something wrong,’’ says Kelly, 50, who works in law enforcement.
“Even when we did all the boy events to see if she would ‘conform,’ she would just put her shirt on her head as hair, strap on some heels and join in,’’ Kelly says. “It wasn’t really a matter of encouraging her to be a boy or a girl. That came about naturally.’’
Kelly and Wayne didn’t look at it as a choice their child was making.
“She really is a girl,’’ Kelly says, “a girl born with a birth defect. That’s how she looks at it.’’
Fear of the unknown
After Wyatt began to openly object to being a boy, his mother started doing research on transgender children. There was little out there; it seemed they would have to find their way largely on their own.
During those early years, while Kelly was doing her research, Wayne was hoping that this was no big deal, that this was a stage Wyatt just had to go through.
“I felt it had nothing to do with how they would grow up,’’ he says.
But as they grew older, his concern grew. “I feared the unknown,’’ he says.
Even the family Christmas card became a challenge. They would write about Jonas’s affinity for sports and Wyatt’s “flair for the dramatic.’’
Their elderly pediatrician, nearing retirement, did not want to discuss the matter with them. Finally, Kelly picked another pediatrician out of the phone book. “I told her how it was, and it turned out that she understood and was very supportive.’’
When the twins were in the first grade, their parents found a therapist for Wyatt, who was starting to act out. In the third grade, before the GeMS Clinic was even open, Kelly heard about Dr. Spack and made an appointment with him.
“He told us everything,’’ Wayne says, recalling that first meeting. “I didn’t understand it all, but I saw the weight lift off Kelly’s shoulders and a smile in Nicole’s eyes. That was it for me. There were tons of challenges for us after that, but I knew my daughter was going to be OK, medically.’’
Elementary school changes
In elementary school, Wyatt told classmates that he was a “girl-boy.’’ In the fourth grade, he grew his hair longer and started talking about a name change. That same year, he drew a self-portrait as a girl, and in a class essay, wrote: “Wyatt needs hair accessories, clothes, shoes . . . likes to wear bikinis, high heels, mini-skirts.’’
Emma Peterson of Orono, a close friend from the elementary years at the Asa Adams School, recalls playing dolls with Nicole’s giant dollhouse, and the two of them putting on makeup. “Before Nikki started growing her hair out, she looked exactly like Jonas,’’ Emma says.
In fourth grade, Wyatt started using “Nicole’’ as a name, and many classmates were calling him “Nikki.’’ The next year, the family went to court and had the name legally changed to Nicole.
To Kelly, it seemed the next logical step. Family discussions merely centered around what the name would be. In the end, Nicole chose it. “I believed in Nicole,’’ her mother says. “She always knew who she was.’’
Wayne was nervous. Could he call his son Nicole? As usual, he relied on his wife’s instincts. “I have to tell you, Kelly’s the leader in our family,’’ he says. “Both she and Nicole are extremely strong-willed, and I went with the flow.’’
At first, though, he couldn’t bring himself to use the new name. An Air Force veteran and former Republican, he realizes now he was grieving the loss of a son. “But once you get past that, I realize I never had a son,’’ he says.
When fifth grade started, Wyatt was gone. Nicole showed up for school, sometimes wearing a dress and sporting shoulder-length hair. She began using the girls’ bathroom. Nikki’s friends didn’t have a problem with the transformation; there were playdates and sleepovers.
“They said, ‘It was about time!’ ’’ Nicole says. She was elected vice president of her class and excelled academically.
But one day a boy called her a “faggot,’’ objected to her using the girls’ bathroom, and reported the matter to his grandfather, who is his legal guardian. The grandfather complained to the Orono School Committee, with the Christian Civic League of Maine backing him. The superintendent of schools then decided Nicole should use a staff bathroom.
“It was like a switch had been turned on, saying it is now OK to question Nicole’s choice to be transgender and it was OK to pursue behavior that was not OK before,’’ Wayne says. “Every day she was reminded that she was different, and the other kids picked up on it.’’
According to a 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 90 percent of transgender youth report being verbally harassed and more than half physically harassed. Two-thirds of them said they felt unsafe in school.
To protect her from bullying at school, Nicole was assigned an adult to watch her at all times between classes, following her to the cafeteria, to the bathroom. She found it intrusive and stressful. It made her feel like even more of an outsider.
“Separate but equal does not work,’’ she says.
It was a burden that Jonas shouldered as well. The same boy who in fifth grade objected to her using the girls bathroom made the mistake of saying to Jonas in sixth grade that “freaking gay people’’ shouldn’t be allowed in the school. Jonas jumped on him and a scuffle ensued.
“He’s taken on a lot,’’ Wayne says. “Middle school boys and sexuality, you know . . . boys can get picked on.’’
Nicole and her parents filed a complaint with the Maine Humans Right Commission over her right to use the girls bathroom. The commission found that she had been discriminated against and, along with the Maines family, filed a lawsuit against the Orono School District. The suit is pending in Penobscot County Superior Court, and the Maines family is represented by lawyers from the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston and by Jodi Nofsinger, who serves on the Maine ACLU board.
“What Nicole and Jonas both went through in school was unconscionable,’’ says Jennifer Levi, one of the GLAD lawyers on the case. “Their one huge stroke of luck was having Kelly and Wayne as parents.’’
A huge relief
Since that first visit to Spack when Nicole was 9, her parents discussed putting her into the GeMS Clinic when the right time came. They were glad there was time to adjust to the idea. “Baby steps,’’ Kelly calls their path toward treatment.
“I wasn’t always on board,’’ Wayne says. “Kelly and I were not on the same page. My question was, what is this doctor doing? It scared me. I was grieving. I was losing my son.’’
But the more he watched his child struggle, the better he felt about going to Spack. And once he got there, he says, it was a huge relief. “Not only does he know what he’s doing, he’s extremely comforting. He’s got to deal with a ton of dads who are just freaking out, and he made me feel good.’’
Spack’s experience runs deep; before the clinic was established, he had long worked with transgender youth, as well as with adults. “The most striking thing about these kids was the fact that they were just normal young people who had this incredibly unusual and problematic situation,’’ says Spack, 68.
He believes it is crucial to intervene with such children before adolescent changes begin in earnest.
“Most of us look pretty similar until we hit puberty,’’ he says. “I bet I could go to any fourth or fifth-grade class, cut the hair of the boys, put earrings on various kids, change their clothing, and we could send all those kids off to the opposite-gender bathrooms and nobody would say boo.’’
He adds: “We can do wonders if we can get them early.’’
Not everyone agrees that they should, of course, and Spack has heard the arguments: Man should not interfere with what God has wrought. Early adolescents are too young for such huge decisions, much less life-altering treatment.
Though GeMS treatment is now considered the standard of care by mainstream medical groups, some have their doubts. Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and head of the gender-identity service at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, says he worries about putting youngsters on puberty blockers, drugs that suppress the release of testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls.
“One controversy is, how low does one go in starting blockers?’’ Zucker says. “Should you start at 11? At 10? What if someone starts their period at 9?’’ Nicole started on the blockers at age 11.
He also questions the role the parents have played; have they simply followed the child’s lead? “Say a 5-year-old says repeatedly that he wants to be a girl,’’ Zucker says. “The parents deduce this must mean the child is transgender, so they socially transition him to living in the other gender.’’
Spack and others, however, say the issue is a medical one and that early intervention makes sense. “We’re talking about a population that has the highest rate of suicide attempts in the world, and it’s strongly linked to nontreatment, especially if they are rejected within their family for being who they think they are,’’ says Spack, who adds that nearly a quarter of his patients admitted to “serious self-harm’’ before coming to him.
As for the criticisms about “playing God,’’ Spack quotes from the Old Testament: “Leviticus says, ‘If thy neighbor is bleeding by the side of the road, you shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.’ It’s a mandate. I think these kids have been bleeding.’’
The next step
The clinic, which includes geneticists, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses, has so far treated 95 patients for disorders that range from babies born with ambiguous genitalia to cases where normal sexual development does not occur.
About a third of the patients have undergone puberty suppression.
Each patient must have been in therapy with someone familiar with transgender issues and who writes a letter recommending the treatment. The child’s family also must undergo extensive psychological testing before and during treatment. And the patient must be in the early stage of puberty, before bodily changes are noticeable.
Nicole and Jonas are the first set of identical twins the program has seen, and they have provided critical comparative data, Spack says.
The effects of the blockers - an injection given monthly to prevent the gonads from releasing the unwanted hormones - are reversible; patients can stop taking them and go through puberty as their biological sex. This is critical, Spack says, because a “very significant number of children who exhibit cross-gender behavior’’ before puberty “do not end up being transgender.’’
Since the 1970s, the blockers have been used for the rare condition of precocious puberty, when children as young as 3 can hit puberty. They are kept on the blockers until they are of appropriate age. “The drugs have a great track record; we already know that these kids do fine,’’ says Spack. “There are no ill consequences.’’
It is the next big step - taking sex hormones of the opposite gender - that creates permanent changes, such as breasts and broadened hips, that cannot be hormonally reversed.
“In puberty,’’’ Spack says, “when your body starts making a statement, you either have to accept it or reject it.’’
There is no definitive answer to the question of what causes gender identity disorder, though studies suggest a genetic contribution. “It’s still a very open question,’’ Zucker says. And how could it affect just one of two identical twins? “There can be genetic changes during fetal development that maybe hit one twin but not the other.’’
After the family’s lawsuit against the Orono schools was publicized, the atmosphere in town changed. When they went to the movies, people pointed and whispered. There were fewer party invitations, fewer sleepovers.
In the sixth grade, the twins joined the school’s Outing Club. All year they attended meetings to prepare for the crowning event: a whitewater rafting trip. Wayne went to several meetings, too, so he could serve as a chaperone.
Wayne thought he had a good relationship with the club leader. But then the man informed him that Nicole would not be allowed to sleep in the tent with the girls - the same girls who had slept over her house several times. She and her father could have a separate tent.
A difficult family conversation followed. Jonas and Wayne went on the trip. Nicole stayed home.
After that episode, Kelly and Wayne decided a new start would be good for the family. The summer after the sixth grade, they moved to a larger, more diverse community in southern Maine, and the twins enrolled in public school. Wayne still works at UMaine and stays in Orono during the week, spending weekends with his family.
For two years, in seventh and eighth grade, Nicole went “stealth,’’ as she calls it: passing as a girl. She did not tell anyone that she was biologically male. Though she made friends at school, she never brought them to the house. After that hard last year in Orono, the family was afraid to come out.
This fall the twins entered high school, transferring to a smaller, private school known for open-mindedness. Before they arrived, the school changed its bathrooms to unisex. And before classes started, the family met with members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance - “so she’d have older kids watching her back,’’ says Wayne. After the meeting, the group changed its name to include transgender; it is now the Gay Straight Transgender Alliance.
“It made me a lot more comfortable,’’ Nicole says. “I thought, this is OK. I can do this.’’
She recently started telling some of her new friends her story. One girl replied: “Does this mean you’re going to start wearing boys’ clothes to school?’’
“No,’’ replied Nicole. “I’m male to female.’’
The girl’s reaction? “She was like, ‘Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.’ ’’
Concerns about safety
The male hormone suppressors have done their job, and the next step is to add female hormones so that Nicole will undergo puberty as a girl and develop as a woman, with breasts and curvy hips. She is due to see Spack in January, and a date may then be set for adding estrogen, which she will take every day for the rest of her life. Though she will have a higher risk of breast cancer than if she were a male, she will have a lower risk of prostate cancer, Spack says. The treatment will leave her infertile.
But before the estrogen is administered, the GeMS clinic will reevaluate Nicole to make sure that she still identifies as a female and wants to continue.
“In my experience, the patients just blossom physically and mentally when they get the hormones of the gender they affirm,’’ Spack says. “It’s quite amazing. I feel good about Nicole and who she is and where she’s going.’’
An endocrinologist in Maine now administers the blockers Nicole needs, but Spack still sees her in Boston every four to six months. The Maines family has grown close to him and others in the clinic. “I love going to see him,’’ says Wayne, who has thanked Spack for “saving my daughter’s life.’’ The Maines family declined to talk about the cost of the treatment but said insurance has covered much of it.
But as well as things are going, the Maines family still worries about Nicole’s safety. Last year Wayne and Nicole attended Transgender Day of Remembrance in Maine, which honors those who have been killed in hate crimes.
Wayne spoke to the crowd, telling them that as much as Nicole is loved at home, her family cannot always protect her.
“I remind her that she needs to always be aware of her surroundings, to stay close to friends and her brother if she feels uncomfortable, and to call me anytime she feels threatened,’’ he said.
Lobbying the Legislature
Last winter, Maine state representative Kenneth Fredette, a Republican from Penobscot County, sponsored a bill that would have repealed protections for transgender people in public restrooms, instead allowing schools and businesses to adopt their own policies. The bill was a response to the Maines’ 2009 lawsuit against the Orono School District.
Last spring Wayne and Nicole roamed the halls of the State House, button-holing legislators and testifying against the bill. “I’d be in more danger if I went into the boys bathroom,’’ Nicole told the lawmakers, who ultimately rejected the bill.
“She knows how to work a room,’’ her father says proudly. “She even convinced a cosponsor to vote the other way.’’
In October, the family was honored for its activism in helping defeat the transgender bathroom bill. The Maineses received the Roger Baldwin Award, named for a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, from the Maine chapter of the ACLU.
Surrounded by Kelly and the kids, Wayne told the audience that he and his wife have had top-notch guides as they confronted the unknown.
“As a conventional dad, hunter, and former Republican, it took me longer to understand that I never had two sons,’’ he told them. “My children taught me who Nicole is and who she needed to be.’’
In some respects, Jonas has had as tough a time as Nicole. For one thing, there’s the personality difference: Nicole is the dominant twin, talkative and tough, while Jonas is cautious and reserved.
“If this had been Jonas, I would have had to home school him,’’ his mother says.
The twins have always been close. During an interview, Nicole sits next to her brother on the couch and occasionally lays her head on his shoulder. At one point, when Jonas goes silent as the twins talk of their lives, she whispers words of encouragement into his ear.
But the next minute, like typical teenage siblings, they’re teasing and tussling. Jonas displays a faint scar on his arm where Nicole jabbed him with a pencil. Both have black belts in tae kwon do, which they started at age 5.
They often hang out in Jonas’s spacious basement room, where they watch TV and play video games.
“I love having a sister,’’ says Jonas, who acknowledges being protective of her. “We have a very strong relationship.’’
Nicole calls Jonas her closest friend.
“I would say my brother got lucky with me. Because we grew up with only boy neighbors, I developed a liking to shoot-’em-up and military video games,’’ she says. “I could have come out a lot girlier.’’
At 14, Jonas is handsome, Nicole pretty. Jonas is midway through puberty. His shoulders have broadened, his voice has deepened, and there’s a shadow on his upper lip. He’s 5 feet 6 and weighs 115 pounds, with a size 11 shoe.
Nicole is petite: 5 feet 1, 100 pounds. She’s got long, dark hair and she wears girls’ size 14-16. Her closet contains nice shirts and jeans, party dresses, glittery shoes, and a pair of footy pajamas.
“The thought of being a boy makes me cringe,’’ she says. “I just couldn’t do it.’’
Excited, worried about surgery
Nicole’s final step on her journey to womanhood would be gender reassignment surgery. Doctors generally won’t perform it until the age of consent, which is 18. No hospitals in New England perform such surgery, says Spack. The nearest that do are in Montreal and Philadelphia.
Nicole says she’s excited about the idea of surgery, though a bit worried about the results - “and maybe the pain, too.’’
While she’s interested in boys, she has expressed fear that “nobody is ever going to love me.’’
She has gone on weekend retreats sponsored by the Trans Youth Equality Foundation and to summer camp for transgender children, where she developed her first crush on a boy.
Over the years, the family has become close to several adult transsexuals, and Nicole has seen that some have found happy marriages. “She says she does feel better about it,’’ Kelly says, “but still wonders if she ever met a boy who falls for her, and then found out that she was trans, if he would still like her, or say awful things as he skedaddled out the door.’’
Nicole knows there is a long road ahead, but she feels she’s on the right path.
“Obviously my life is not going to be as easy as being gender-conforming, but there are perks like being able to get out there and do things that will benefit the [transgender] community,’’ she says. “I think everything’s going to turn out pretty well for me.’’
For now, at least, life feels more normal to the Maines family.
Wayne recently spoke at GLAD’s Spirit of Justice dinner in Boston and was introduced by Nicole. She kept her composure in her brief remarks and thanked GLAD for giving them a rare chance to “safely speak out.’’
Wayne choked up when thanking the group for its support. He recounted young Wyatt asking him, sadly, “Daddy, why can’t boys wear dresses?’’ Wayne hated to tell his son that society wouldn’t accept that.
But today, when Nicole asks her father what he thinks of a certain dress she’s wearing, his typical response, he told the audience, is: “That dress is too short. Go change your clothes.’’
In conversation later, Wayne tells another story of how things have changed, for good and forever. He and the twins were getting out of the car recently, and he grabbed their hands to walk with them.
Jonas, being a teenage boy, shook his father off, while Nicole was happy to walk hand-in-hand, swinging arms.
“She’ll do that the rest of her life,’’ Wayne says with a wide grin. “It was an epiphany for me.’’
This is a bit long for a blog post, but some may find it to be a helpful resource. I wrote the piece for another project and it just wasn't a good fit. Honestly, if you are well read on the issue of the Bible and its take on homosexuality (or lack thereof), there is nothing new in here. For you, I hope this can be a quick reference. If you are not well read on such things, this may be a bit of a bumpy ride, but bumpy rides can be a lot of fun. Either way, I hope I was able to take what is sometimes thick reading, albeit important reading, and make it at least bearable and mostly straight forward.
Christianity and “Biblical” Hatefulness
We Christians are good at a lot of things. Helping others. Dressing up on Sunday. Quoting scripture. Pot luck meals. Taking care of church members. Weddings. Funerals. Worship. But perhaps the thing at which we are the most persistently exceptional is misinterpreting the Bible then running amuck in the world because of it. Honestly, mad skills. And history backs me up on this one.
We have used the Bible to support, promote and act upon some pretty un-Christian things: slavery, holocaust, segregation, subjugation of women, apartheid, the Spanish Inquisition (which, no one ever expects), domestic violence, all sorts of exploitation and the list could go on and on. Oddly, if you ask theologians to pick one biblical theme to rule them all, most of them would say “love”... well, love and grace. Okay, love, grace and forgiveness. Fine. They probably would not specifically agree on a single term, but they would most likely name something that is, in every way, the opposite of the oppression, belittlement, hatred and marginalization represented by the numerous atrocities committed by the Christian Church.
More times than not, these atrocities are the result of trying to play God, pretending as if one group of people has complete knowledge of God's will and is more blessed or chosen by God. Not surprisingly, the people who see the world this way are always exactly the people who also happen to belong in the group they believe to be the uber-blessed. Lucky them.
Time and time again, Jesus made it clear that we should not put ourselves in the place of playing God and that, unlike far too many humans, God welcomes and loves us all equally. Period.
But we keep doing it. We keep doing it even though each time after we argue, name-call, suppress others and fight for centuries, falsely playing the role of heavenly judge and jury, we slowly realize that we got it wrong. We realize that, in fact, Paul was not promoting slavery. We learn to contextualize his statements and letters. We become more skilled at interpreting the original Greek and, over time, we decide to stop quoting the Bible to support slavery (or the subjugation of women, or racism, etc.) because we finally come around to realizing that, as Rob Bell's book points out, biblically love wins. Always.
And so we find ourselves here again. Doing the thing we do best: misinterpreting the Bible and ruining lives with it. We are, once again, ignoring the biblical bias for those who are marginalized, abused, belittled and negatively judged. Ignoring the biblical directive to show all the children of God love (and grace... and forgiveness).
Hate By Any Other Name
Oh sure, this time around we have “softened” our approach, saying things like “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but we fail to recognize that what we are calling a “sin” and the person we are calling a “sinner” are one and the same. A person whose sexual orientation is homosexual, or bi-sexual, or queer can no more separate themselves from their sexuality than a heterosexual person can. It's like saying “hate the toppings, love the pizza.” It's just not the pizza without the toppings. We just aren't loving the person if we don't love the whole person.
I suspect the “softening” of the language we use has everything to do with making us feel better and very little with making LGBTQ folk feel better, because it certainly doesn't make them feel any better. As a matter of fact, the love/hate (emphasis on hate) relationship that the Church continues to push on this group of people only serves to push them into closets and into even darker places, which sometimes leads to suicide. The Church and its approach to this issue are at fault for most of the hurt, anguish, self-doubt, abuse and death associated with being LGBTQ. Not very loving. Not very grace filled. But it certainly leaves us in need of forgiveness.
Many Christians have lost their way in this twisty, turny maze of how to practice our faith. We would much rather reinforce the things we want to believe than believe the sometimes difficult teachings of Jesus. Who, on a side note, never said a word about homosexuality but did tell us to gouge out our lustful eyes. Which seems to me is more likely to leave us all blind than the “eye for and eye” thing.
The Bible As A Sex Manual
So, as others have pointed out before, we use the Bible as if it is a sex manual, telling us what is and isn't acceptable in the eyes of the Lord your God. Thereby delineating out those whom it is okay for us to judge, and toward whom it is okay to direct all kinds of nastiness and holier-than-thouisms.
The reality is that the Bible is not a sex manual. I know, shocker. Right? Actually, it's a good thing (depending on your particular level of sexual prudishness – personally, compared to the Bible, mine is pretty high). You see, the Bible not only promotes marriage between a man and a woman, but it insist that that marriage be within the same faith. Not only should a wife be subordinate (Ephesians 5:22), but she should also prove her virginity... lest she be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Oh, and the whole thing would probably be much better if it were arranged (Genesis 24:37-38). And that's just the warm up act.
According to the Bible, if a woman's husband dies and she hasn't had a son, she must marry his brother and have intercourse with him until she has a son (Mark 12:18-27). Sometimes, biblically wives are good, but concubines are better. Many of the “men of God” were not only married, but at least three of them had more than one concubine (Abraham, Caleb, Solomon) and they remained “men of God.” But like I said, “biblically wives are good” and there's no such thing as too much of a good thing. Right? So, why not have may wives? God frequently blessed polygamists (Esau, Jacob, Gideon, David, Solomon, Belshazzar).
As far as sexuality and the Bible's perspective on woman as property and as slaves... well, as you can imagine, it does not get any better.
The point is this: most of us have matured enough theologically to recognize that we need to contextualize the writings of the Bible, and because of it we have moved passed using these examples as the end-all-be-all on acceptable practices of sexuality. However, somehow, we have not managed to apply the very same understanding to the Bible verses that have become known as the “clobber verses” in the Bible. “Clobber" because they are the verses most used to clobber people who are gay or who support gay rights.
That is really interesting when you consider that, of all the topics I just mentioned, sexual orientation is the only one that is not a choice. Polygamy, concubines, marrying your brother's widow? All choices, and we have decided to “get over” the biblical directives for them. Sexual orientation? Not a choice. (There are those who still argue otherwise, but the science is clear, so I'm not even having that discussion). So many Christians just aren't able to get past that one. Equally interesting to consider: it is actually more of a choice to judge and marginalize people over being homosexual, or, bi-sexual, or queer; than it is a choice to be homosexual, or, bi-sexual, or queer. Yet we judge them and not ourselves.
Since we clearly have a difficult time letting go of the clobber verses, let's take them one by one and very briefly consider what is really going on in them. It should help us arrive at a clearer picture of what the writers of these scriptures were trying to tell us. What we will find is this: as we get caught up in judging others over what we want the verses to say, we miss the opportunity to understand how to be the people God is calling us to be.
As we get started, we all need to be on the same page on one thing. When the Bible was written, the earth was flat, the sun orbited the earth and the idea of a person having a sexual 'orientation' was completely foreign. There is some debate about who actually kick-started the understanding of sexual orientation (Heinrich Hoessli or Karl Heinrich Ulrich - personally, I am on Team Heinrich), but it is clear that the concept of people having a sexual orientation was first introduced in the 1800's making it a thoroughly modern construct.
Clearly, there are a few Bible verses that involve same-sex acts (and of those, almost all of them are male-male sex), but given the modern advent of recognizing the existence of sexual orientation, we must accept the reality that the writers of those verses were in no way trying to, let alone capable of, acknowledging, understanding and addressing homosexual orientation. What then, might they have been trying to tell us in the clobber verses? Let's take a look.
The Clobber Verses
Let me just say right off the top, three of the verses that are sometimes considered clobber verses have nothing to do with the question of homosexuality. Putting Genesis 2:21-25, Deuteronomy 23:17 and Jude 1:6-7 in the category of anti-gay verses is nothing more than an attempt to beef up the number of verses that are supposedly “against” homosexuality. They have nothing to do with it. So, I am simply going to ignore them. If someone attempts to use them as proof of the “abomination” of homosexuality, I suggest you simply ignore them as well.
The great thing about defending the Bible against people who want to use Genesis 19:1-11 to gay bash is that you really don't have to do any work. The Bible does it for you. For better or for worse, this is also the verse with which the general population is probably most familiar in terms of what they think of as verses about homosexuality. Even the term “sodomy” is linked to this Bible passage.
It is the story of two travelers (messengers from God) being given shelter by Lot and his family. Hospitality was a very big deal in those days. In this story, the men of Sodom decided to approach Lot's home and to make less than hospitable demands on him and his guest. To get a sense of how important hospitality was, when the men of the town say they want to force themselves (most likely sexually) on Lot's guest, Lot actually offers up his daughters instead. Despicable, deplorable, a great way to permanently damage your relationship with your daughters and the rest of your family (to say the least), but a sure sign that hospitality was a big deal.
In the end, the men of the town did not get what they wanted. They wanted to exert their dominance of the guests. They wanted to humiliate them, as warriors after conquering a foe might do in those days, sexually putting another male into the position of a woman (who after all was thought of as property, as weak, and as soft and therefore less than a man).
Even though the men never actually exerted their power over Lot's guests in a male-male sex act, people still insist on using this text as proof that homosexuality is an “abomination.” Well, like I said, “the great thing about defending the Bible against people who want to use Genesis 19:1-5 to gay bash is that you really don't have to do any work. The Bible does it for you.”
Sodom is referenced multiple times in the Bible as an example of great sinning. And what might that sin be?
In Isaiah 1:10-17 it is thought to be injustice, not rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow. In Jeremiah 23:14 it is adultery. In Ezekiel 16:48-49 it is the sin of not aiding the “poor and needy.” In Zephaniah 2:8-11 the sin is bullying, boasting and pride. In the Wisdom of Solomon it is “the bitter hatred of strangers.”
The sin is not about being gay. It is not about non-straight sexual orientation. The sin of Sodom was lacking hospitality, not being just, bullying, hating strangers, not caring for those marginalized. Funny, they are all things Churches (and individuals for that matter) sorely need to keep in mind and be better at practicing when it comes to how we do or do not welcome LGBTQ folk into our lives. After all, in today's society, who is more marginalized, more bullied, more treated like a “stranger,” than them? Come to think of it, not so funny.
Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13
If someone were to canonize a buzz-kill, it would look remarkably, and uncomfortably, like the book of Leviticus. Honestly, this three-thousand plus year old holiness code is not exactly a big ball of fun. For starters, just try reading it. On second thought, I like you, so don't. Fortunately for you, I've done it for you. (I know, nice. Right? I'm just that kind of guy).
Among the jewels you'll find in it are a mandate to kill disobedient children, a dietary restriction to not eat shellfish (God Hates Shrimp!), a law that would prevent bowl-cuts (or “rounding off the side-growth of your heads” – and to think I liked the Beatles), direction to not touch or eat the flesh of a pig (no bacon and cheddar soup for you!), and a prohibition on the rhythm method of birth control (you know who you are!). Oh, and presumably, gay sex (which, of course, is why I bring it up).
The section of Leviticus where we find the clobber verses is often called the Purity Code. “Purity” was mostly about two things. First, it was about keeping things the way they “should” be. “Should” is in quotes because the guidelines they used for what should and shouldn't be were mostly made up. Said differently, they arrived at their conclusions in a time that didn't have any science or at least not science like we have today. Which is to say, they didn't have any science.
What they had was mostly superstition based on observation. A big part of this purity code was the idea that the world is consistent or follows particular preset rules. For the Israelites this meant things like: all fish have fins, animals with divided hooves chew cud, and male sperm contains the whole of life (women provided the incubation chamber). When things didn't adhere to this particular three-thousand year old way of understanding the world, they were considered an abomination or more precisely impure.
The second thing the purity code did was define the Israelites as purely not Canaanites. That is, much like many Christians receive the mark of a cross on their forehead on Ash Wednesday or give something up for Lent, the codes in Leviticus helped define the people of Israel as the people of Israel. For the Israelites it was particularly meant to define them as not Canaanites. Basically, it's a way of showing “we are not them.”
It is true that there are other reasons for many of the laws (just like there are many other reasons to give something up for Lent), but these are two of the larger ones, and they are ones that most directly apply to these clobber verses.
So what do we, presumably enlightened Christians of a scientific age, do with this code? Clearly shrimp are good to eat (for most of us). For that matter, as far as I'm concerned, to borrow from an old Benjamin Franklin quote, they are proof that God loves us* – that's just how darned delicious they are.
What we do is recognize Leviticus for what it was: a good thing for the people of God based on how they understood the world some three-thousand years ago. Interestingly enough, when it comes to things like shellfish, eating and touching pigs, cutting our sideburns and beards, and stoning children who mouth off to their parents, we have already managed to do exactly that. Why? Because we understand that they are just flat out silly laws. Not all “fish” have fins. Some come in the shape of pink commas and are delicious with a nice Riesling. Because not all split hooved animals chew cud. Some roll around in the mud and make breakfast just that much better. For that matter, wrap them around a shrimp, throw them on the grill. I promise you, God will not smite you and once you bite into them you'll agree, they are not an abomination (they might, however taste slightly “impure” if you do not devein them well).
What many people have not been able to do is extend that simple understanding to these clobber verses. We have already established that it would have been impossible for these texts, or any biblical text, to be about sexual orientation. However, they do clearly describe a male-male sex act (sorry ladies, this one's just for the guys). But what we have to begin to understand is that the issues which these specific laws presumed to address within their society, much like the other laws I've mentioned here, are no longer recognized as true.
Scholars have pointed to various reasons for ancient Israel's seeing male-male sex as taboo in Leviticus. It may be the same reason the rhythm method was thought to be wrong in the eyes of God, which presumably is that, as I have mentioned, they thought sperm contained the whole of life (how typically male-dominated-society of them). Therefore, in their way of seeing it, “Every sperm is sacred. Every sperm is great. If a sperm gets wasted, God get quite irate.” On the other hand, it may be that they thought it was taboo because it went against their understanding that mixing of kinds, just like the mixing of two kinds of cloth was taboo. Male-male sexual relationships, in that way of seeing things, mixes up their understanding of gender roles.
Whatever the reason, the perspective in these clobber verses were based on an understanding of sex and sexuality that was just as misinformed as their understanding of the earth in relationship to the sun, of fish, of pork and of reasons for stoning children. In our scientific age, it is time to let go of archaic perspectives and start recognizing the things that are truly an abomination in the eyes of God: lacking in compassion and love, exercising judgment against others, and practicing and encouraging hate.
(*The actual quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin is, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Sadly, while Ben most probably enjoyed a mug of beer from time to time, the actually quote is, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” In a happy coincidence, the same rains nourish the barley and hops that are changed into beer. In an even happier coincidence, wine and beer both pair exceptionally well with shrimp. God is good).
Good news ladies! Up until now, all of this clobbering has been about the guys. In Romans, you get to join in. Lucky you.
Romans is the one place the Bible speaks specifically about a female-female sex act. If you listen to Bible Thumpin' Gay Bashers, you'd be surprised to learn that, while the counts vary on how many places the Bible directly address heterosexual relationships, it is a lot. Then again, compared to the precisely one verse the Bible has about female-female sex, even two is one hundred percent more.
The number of heterosexually oriented verses isn't exactly clear. One thing is really clear, there's plenty of them and, much like the Levitical purity code, we've managed to ignore many of them. So, if you aren't also denouncing the divorced, then get off your lesbian judging high-horse, because otherwise you are just picking and choosing who to judge out of your own accord, and then quoting the one Bible verse that seems to support your choice. And even then, as we will see, it doesn't actually support your argument. It actually does just the opposite.
In Romans, we have the most extensive discussion of same-sex intercourse in the Bible, a whole two seemingly specific verses – astounding.
There are plenty of approaches to understanding what Paul is trying to teach us in these texts. Any good exegesis ultimately points to the reality that what Paul is talking about and what people who use these verses as clobber verses want Paul to be talking about aren't the same thing. That is, this is not about homosexual people having consenting homosexual relationships.
One convincing analysis of these texts looks at the fact that one of the most prevalent forms of same-sex sex in the Greco-Roman world was male prostitution which frequently involved boys. In that analysis, the texts become a condemnation of pederasty and prostitution, things of which most Christians (conservative to liberal) disapprove even today. There is also the perspective that Paul's pointing to same sex intercourse as being idolatrous could be referring to the practices of priests and priestesses of Mediterainian fertility gods who regularly practiced that type of prostitution but elevated it, within a religious context, to the state of idolatry. Those approaches are valid and mostly convincing perspectives, but they do require a small leap of logic to arrive at their conclusions. Much less of a leap of logic, mind you, than believing that these texts are about something of which people at that time had absolutely no comprehension, but slight conjecture all the same.
The analysis that I find the most convincing concerns itself with the word “natural.” It is the word that has led many to speak of LGBTQ behavior as “unnatural” acts even though they occur throughout nature (in one study they were found in more than fifteen-hundred species).
As it turns out, the word is actually not “natural.” Not surprisingly, Paul did not speak English. While Paul performed a number of miraculous things, speaking English (which wasn't around even in its earliest Prehistoric Old English form yet) was not one of them. Not to bore you too much, but the word Paul used was the Greek word, physikos. (Now that didn't hurt too much, did it?).
It's important to know the word in Greek because when it is translated into English, it loses a little of its original meaning. Without even knowing it, Lady GaGa has provided a better modern and contextual translation of physikos than the frequently used translation of “normal.” We will get to that in a minute. It doesn't mean “natural” or “nature” so much as it means “produced by nature.” Those who use these verses as clobber verses tend to understand “natural” to mean something closer to “normal” than “produced by nature.” Not surprisingly, they also then define what is and isn't “normal” based on their personal biases rather than on science or the reality of the world around them (e.g.: “I think gay people make me feel creepy, so I henceforth do hereby dub it as an act of not-natural.”).
In reality, physikos has more to do with how things naturally occur in God's Creation. At this point, you may have begun to guess that physikos is based on the same root word from which we get the word “physics” which is, of course, the study of the realities of nature. Conveniently, the way Paul uses physikos here in Romans, it also means something very similar to “the realities of nature.” It is concerned with what is of our nature and not with what is defined as acceptable. That is to say, Paul is concerned with how God created something or someone to be. He is concerned with people going against their nature or in the words of Lady GaGa herself, if they are “born that way” he's concerned with them behaving as if they were not.
That is the sin here in Romans, acting against the very nature of who God created you to be. In this case he seems to be addressing the idea of a same-sex sex act in which at least one of the two are not attracted to someone of the same sex; they just are not born that way.
Understood this way, it would be equally sinful for someone who is only attracted to someone of the same sex to have sex with someone of the opposite sex. It goes against their nature; they just weren't born that way. Ironically, those telling LGBTQ folk that these verses mean they have to stop being LGBTQ folk are actually telling them to commit the very sin against which these verses warn, going against their nature. God has a wicked sense of humor.
Because these texts have been used so much to address homosexuality, it was important to address the issue directly, but the worst thing we could do is to think it is primarily about homosexuality. It is not.
Immediately following verse 28, Paul provides an extensive list of sins. It is so extensive that we all fall into at least one of the categories. “So there you have it,” says Paul, “we all sin. Don't try to deny it.” And let's face it, we all go against who we know we were created to be. How many times have you done something, felt guilt or shame, and then said, “I shouldn't have done that. That's not who I am.”?
As Paul says in the very next chapter, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As he also says to start that chapter, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 & 1 Timothy 1:9-10
So, remember back a few paragraphs ago when we talked about a Greek word? And remember how it didn't even hurt one little bit? Good. We are going to do it again.
I have put the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy clobber verses together because they both use a particular Greek word in a particularly similar way. The word is arsenokoitēs and it means “male prostitute.” (Behold the Greek scholarship. See that it is good and rejoice). Actually, it could also mean “the customer of a male prostitute,” or “boy molester” or “someone who abuses themselves with a man” or “using sexual manipulation to acquire money” or … (eh hem, “Behold the great and powerful Greek Interpretation!” ).
So, the word in these two verses, that is frequently interpreted as “homosexual” (which is absurd because, in Greek, it is clearly only a word referring to men) or “sodomite” (which is absurd, among other reasons, because that was not the sin of Sodom, as we have already discussed), is really difficult to translate. Why? In part, because it is only found in these two places and also, in part, because it is entirely possible that it is a made up word. It is very likely that Greek speaking Jews created this word to port a Hebrew word to Greek and over time the meaning has been lost. So, it is just hard to translate. So difficult, in fact, that scholars can't agree on a single best translation. What most biblical Greek scholars can agree on is that it is not meant to be a blanket statement about a male-male sex act. Moving on.
There is another word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9: malakos. The good news about this word is that it is found in lots of literature, so there are plenty of references about its typical intended meaning. It literally means “soft.” Some say it means “soft” as in “effeminate, but not in terms of sexual orientation.” Others, say it is connected with being wasteful of sexual and financial resources. Still others convincingly point to it singling out a particular type of male prostitution involving young boys. Also in the list of contenders: sexual perverts, sodomites, weaklings, the self-indulgent. (“Behold the great and powerful Greek Interpretation!” ). Like with arsenokoitēs there really is no expert consensus on this.
Malakos was a word that could be used to refer to things as diverse as men who were weak in battle (or who were “soft”), to men who lived extravagant and pampered lives (or who were... well, “soft”). It was not specifically about sexual relationships. If Paul was actually trying to describe something about a submissive male in a male-male relationship (which is still not the same as homosexuality as we understand it today), it's very likely that he would have used kinaedos, which was frequently used to describe that very relationship. But he didn't. So, stop acting like he was.
In summary of my look at the Christian Church's use of the clobber verses, if you want to call homosexuality a sin, go ahead. But you are going to have to admit that it is not biblically a sin. Which means you are also going to have to admit that you are calling it a sin simply because that's what you want to do. Because of that, you are going to have to admit that you are a sinner for using God's name for false pretenses (it's a little thing we like to call using God's name in vain). And then, Paul has something to tell you, “...you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1).
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Ed Schultz asked on his radio show recently, “Is there a ‘religious left’?” Yes, Ed. There is. We are The Christian Left. We’re all around you. We’re among the people. Take a look. We’re part of the Body of Christ. We’re Christians. We’re Liberal. We make no apologies. In fact Jesus' ways are “Liberal.” That’s why He was killed. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the conservatives of their time. This is clear. Oh and Ed, we love you. Keep up the good fight!
We’re not ‘New Age.’ We’re not waiting for some earthly leader to come and make everything alright - that man already came. When He comes back, there will be no doubt who HE is. Everyone, without exception, will know. Until then, we are part of the Body of Christ.We’re not ‘Communists’ or ‘Marxists’ either. We reject all such labels. We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’ We’re Christians. We’re Liberals. Please get used to it. Thank you.
Ann Coulter, thinks we're Godless? Really? Wow …
See, it wasn’t just Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection that matter. It was his life too! The life he lived is a huge part of the deal, and he asked us to do a few things if you look at his words. Not only is what Jesus said the Word of God, but what Jesus DID is also the Word of God. Looking at the life of Jesus we see that Jesus made room forthose cut off from the rest of society. Jesus put a name and a face on all who had been forgotten or pushed aside, even the dead. Jesus called us to carry our cross daily and follow him. That’s what Social Justice means.
“The Christian Left” -- left hate behind; left prejudice; left callous attitudes; and followed Jesus as HE left the 99 in the fold, to go find the ones who were lost, ignored, excluded, overlooked, abandoned, uncared-for -- all “the least of these.” We left hard-heartedness in order to be like the Samaritan who stopped to care for those in need.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 2:15-16 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
What We’re All About:
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Wikipedia says it pretty well in the following paragraphs:
The Christian left is a term originating in the United States, used to describe a spectrum of left-wing Christian political and social movements which largely embraces social justice.
The most common religious viewpoint which might be described as ‘left wing’ is social justice, or care for the poor and the oppressed. Supporters of this might encourage universal health care, welfare provision, subsidized education, foreign aid, and Affirmative Action for improving the conditions of the disadvantaged. Stemming from egalitarian values (and what Jesus Himself said), adherents of the Christian left consider it part of their religious duty to take actions on behalf of the oppressed.
The Christian Left holds that social justice, renunciation of power, humility, forgiveness, and private observation of prayer (as opposed to publicly mandated prayer), are mandated by the Gospel (Matthew 6:5-6). The Bible contains accounts of Jesus repeatedly advocating for the poor and outcast over the wealthy, powerful, and religious. The Christian Left maintains that such a stance is relevant and important. Adhering to the standard of “turning the other cheek,” which they believe supersedes the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye,”the Christian Left often hearkens towards pacifism in opposition to policies advancing militarism. Many passages in the Bible illustrate the example set by Jesus regarding violence:
Luke 22: 49-51 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Luke 9:53-56 And the town did not receive him, because he was headed to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elisha did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
While non-religious socialists sometimes find support for socialism in the Gospels (for example Mikhail Gorbachev citing Jesus as “the first socialist”), The Christian Left does not find that socialism alone is an adequate end or means. Christian faith is the core of their belief which in turn demands social justice.
The Christian Left sometimes differs from other Christian political groups on issues including homosexuality. This is often not a matter of different religious ideas, but one of focus — viewing the prohibitions against killing, or the criticism of concentrations of wealth, as far more important than social issues emphasized by the religious right, such as opposition to active homosexuality. In this case, similar to philosophies expressed by writers such as C.S. Lewis, these members of the Christian Left believe homosexual sex to be overemphasized when compared with issues relating to social justice, or even matters of sexual morality involving heterosexual sex. Bottom Line: We welcome ALL to their place at God’s table, just as they are. All means ALL. No exceptions. We reject all attempts to define our Faith by the two wedge issues of Gay Marriage and Abortion. -- End of Wikipedia content.
The Christian Left doesn’t get uptight about the same things as their right-wing brothers and sisters. Lefties tend to accept that we’re all trapped in the human condition, that we all struggle, and that we’re all sinners. They tend to focus on behaviors that Jesus focused on while he was here in body -- things like hypocrisy, organized oppression, exorbitant greed, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, selfishness, abuse of power, violence, etc.
Paul defined the human condition well: Romans 7: 14-25 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Too many Christians espouse a deeply ingrained code of written and unwritten expectations and rules that shame them and drain them of spiritual strength. The Christian Left focuses on a message to help people unmask the lies that keep them on a works/righteousness treadmill; a message to help people discover the liberation of the gospel, the grace in Jesus Christ, and the rest that comes from what Christ has done on the cross. Salvation is a free gift. It cannot be earned. But Grace isn’t cheap. After what Jesus has done for us, we offer our best to live up to what he asks from us (to follow his commandments).
Here’s what Jesus had to say regarding his commandments:
Matthew 22:34-40 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Many people accuse us of “Cherry-Picking” the Bible. We reject this silly sentiment. We think Jesus made things about as clear as they can get.
Another Christian Lefty, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Professor of English at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, put it this way in her article “A Voice from the Christian Left.”
“Many on the Christian Right are fond of posing the question WWJD?-- What would Jesus do? I’d like to remind them whatJesus DID do: He cared for the poor. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. He prayed alone. He commanded us to love our enemies. He preached peace. He ate, drank, and lived with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ -- the lowlifes and outcasts of his day, while reserving his condemnation for the religious leaders who, from a place of privilege, imposed their legalism and literalism on the people they were responsible for leading. He told his disciples not to oppose the healing work of those outside the ranks of his followers. And again and again he reminded us to care for the poor. (That moral issue gets more air time than any other in the gospels: 1 verse in 9.) If Christians concerned about how to respond to the grave global issues facing us all were to reread the Gospels for guidance, I think we’d find some pretty clear indications there about what Jesus would do ... and what he wouldn’t. (One of the few bumper stickers I’ve been tempted to affix to my still undecorated car in recent months reads ‘Who would Jesus bomb?’)
Whatever Jesus would do, given what he did do, and has promised he will do, I don’t think it looks much like what the insulated, self-congratulatory Fox News fans on the ‘Christian Right’ are doing.” [End of Marilyn Chandler McEntyre Quote]
Based on the Word, The Christian Left believes it’s obvious that the primary message of Jesus was love -- Love for God, and love for our fellow men and women.
Matthew 22:37-40 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Matthew 7:12 Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward in heaven will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
Mark 10:43-45 Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.
John 13:14-15 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
Love God and love people.Forgive people over and over again, as you have been forgiven by God over and over again. Show mercy, as you have been shown mercy by God. Help the weak, the sick, the depressed, the poor, the jailed, the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast -- for one day you could be weak, sick, depressed, poor, jailed, oppressed, marginalized, outcast. It is also the only reasonable response to God’s overwhelming grace – sharing the same grace with the world.
The Christian Left rejects exclusivity. We believe that John the Baptist wasn’t kidding when he proclaimed the coming of Jesus saying, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” We firmly believe that all means ALL. The exclusionary gospel of the Christian Right is foreign to us. We do not recognize it. Jesus came to set the captives free and announce the arrival of the peaceable kingdom of God where ALL are welcomed. Like a member of The Christian Left (Shannon Maynard) has said, one of our favorite words in the Bible is “whosoever.”
The exclusionary tactics and demonization that is so frequently practiced by the Christian Right is not of the Jesus we follow. John the Baptist said, “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The tree that is the Christian Right all too frequently bears fruit of anger, hate and judgment. It produces some strange fruit. “The same strange fruit that white supremacists hung from the trees in the South. The same strange fruit that the Nazis baked in the ovens of Auschwitz. The same strange fruit that was diced and sliced with machetes in Rwanda. The same strange fruit that is left to rot to death in Africa because the cost of a cure may undercut someone’s bottom line. The same strange fruit that is pounded to death daily with rocks and bombs in the Middle East. The same strange fruit that are depressed to death because of homophobic bullying. Trees that bear these fruits, systems that bear these fruits are to be cut down and thrown into the fires – they are the chaff that God wills to burn in an “unquenchable fire,” where they will bear the fruit of domination no longer.” (from Rev. Mark Sandlin’s sermon, “All Means All.”)
Unfortunately in this country today, we have a sort of spiritual revival of the Pharisees --people who don’t want to practice love, grace, or compassion, but would rather try to bury people under legalistic demands that they themselves aren’t capable of keeping. Culturally crusading right-wing Christians have substituted the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a Gospel of Morality. They've made it more about following rules than loving God (having a relationship with Christ) and loving their fellow brothers and sisters. This is unacceptable. It's exactly what Jesus spoke out against. People are stuck in the Gospel of Morality. They are drained by the shame it produces. Far too many are repulsed by this false religious system they can't live up to. This insanity must stop. When we walk with Jesus, he refines us as he sees fit, by his Spirit. Proponents of the Gospel of Morality don’t get that on some level. Jesus didn’t say “Get refined then follow me.” He said “Follow Me … and get refined, the way only I can refine.” Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:2; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 8:28; Matthew 4:19
Many folks stop by and tell us to keep up the great work in the name of Christian Charity. Charity is only part of the message. The danger here is allowing it to become about charity only, rather than social justice as well. Charity tries to fix up people so that the system will work better. Justice tries to fix up the system so that people will work better. We agree that a charitable attitude is important ... but it does not address the root of the problem, a system that sets up obstacles and barriers that make it nearly impossible for people to break the cycle of poverty, or the cycle of victimization, or marginalization, or the cycle of ...; Again, Jesus came to set the captives free. Colloquially charity clearly means to help someone with their immediate needs. Justice suggests that something deeper happens. Charity allows the cycle to repeat, justice readdresses that system that causes the cycle. Charity is as much about the giver as the one receiving. Justice is solely about the one receiving. Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime. The System will never be perfect here on Earth, so Charity will always be required, but that’s no excuse to not advocate for The System to be just for all. When it is, the need for Charity decreases. The two are inextricably enmeshed.
So why are we here and why are we making these statements? Because there should be tension, risk and discomfort while doing ministry work, especially when we challenge deep-seated, right-wing, fundamentalist theology. It’s ugly, messy and dangerous. Oh, but worth every minute!If you are not attracting the same people that Jesus attracted, your message needs to be fixed. If the way you live the Good News (advocating Justice as restoration, universal inclusion, preaching a God of love and grace, feeding, quenching, clothing, healing, welcoming, visiting) does not place your life under a constant threat, you might want to question how fully you are living the Good News. It is time for The Christian Left to decry publicly the lies the right are telling about the Bible, and the fact that their interpretation of Scripture is slanted toward their fears and alleged concerns.
“A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928
“No rabbi [or other minister] can be called a real rabbi, if his congregation doesn’t want to run him out of town at least once in a while!” (attributed to Rabbi Hillel, 1st century BCE)
Our Mission Statement would be meaningless and incomplete if we didn’t point out Christ’s finished work on the cross. His birth, life, death and resurrection mean everything to us. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that WHOEVERbelieves in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Finally, The Christian Left doesn’t tend to march in lockstep. All of the above statements may not speak for all members of this group. The Christian Left is a spectrum, just as The Christian Right is one.
“It’s easier to bow down and shout constant hallelujahs than to get our own hands dirty by following him [Jesus] out into the world of brokenness and mess.” -- Mark Townsend
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.” – Anonymous
This is the blog of a journeying person. My paths meander through autumn's season. I am learning to soar. There is a craftsman's cottage with a gated picket fence waiting for me. My heart sees it, but not yet my eyes. Hugs From The Heart.
Raise Your Children Not to Kill Another Mother's Child