by Doug Bauder and Rev. Rebecca Jimenez
CW: discussion of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and racism
Source: Shane L. Windmeyer & Pamela W. Freeman; Secret Sisters: Stories of Being Lesbian & Bisexual in a College Sorority
- Our sorority ritual is based on the Bible and Christian teachings, so how can we accept gays into membership?
- Since I was raised a Christian, how can I be expected to give up my moral beliefs in order to accept someone who is gay?
- How can I support a bisexual or lesbian sorority sister when the Bible says homosexuality is wrong?
Well, that depends, in part, on how you read the Bible. Each of us comes to understand scripture (or any holy writing) based upon a variety of things, including the religious traditions out of which we come, the values of our families, our personal understanding of God, and our life experiences, to name a few.
Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard and author of a fascinating work, The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart,1 has some suggestions about how we might approach this task. He spends considerable time looking at the ways the Bible has been used and abused over the centuries to justify racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and finally, what he calls “the last prejudice,” homophobia.
Is it possible that at the heart of the argument that blacks are inferior, that Jews are going to hell, and that women are “below” men is a particular way of reading the Bible? Unfortunately, it is! And Gomes and many other Christians and Jews believe that the Bible is still being used (abused) to keep gay men and lesbians second-class citizens. Some so-called “people of faith” have even used scripture as a means for advocating violence against those who identify as homosexual or bisexual.
There are others who believe, in effect, that the Bible says nothing about homosexuality as an orientation. Rather, those passages that refer to homosexual behavior are speaking not about loving, consensual relationships but about abusive and idolatrous behavior.2
While the controversies surrounding sexuality and spirituality probably cannot be resolved in the context of one simple exercise, we would like to invite you and your friends to consider the possibility of interpreting scripture in some new ways. In 1994 Chris Glaser, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and a gay man, wrote a devotional guide The Word is OUT: The Bible Reclaimed For Lesbians and Gay Men, a collection of 365 daily meditations.3 We have chosen two to read and reflect on. We invite you to consider the questions following each meditation. You may answer them on your own or discuss them with others. As you do this, we encourage you to think of the Bible as a compass for your personal journey and not as a club with which to beat up on other people.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
God wove together our bodies. God wove together our gender and our sexuality. The tender intimacy of God’s personal involvement in our embryonic creation is a cause for praise, awe, and wonder.
God must have conceived us the way we are: not the way we express ourselves – that is up to us – but who we are. If we are gay, God made us that way. If we are lesbian, God made us that way. If we are bisexual, God made us that way. If we are transgender, God made us that way.
Our sexual differences have made us a target for blame, fear, and horror by those who don’t understand. Rather, they should be a cause for praise, awe, and wonder that we exist. God is very creative and not committed to one formula of existence. God is not as dull or unimaginative as people seem to think!
- What messages did you receive as you were growing up about your own gender? List several. Were they positive, negative, or neutral?
- What is one message that you would like to have heard?
- How did you feel about yourself as a girl or a boy? How did you express those feelings?
- What messages did you receive as you were growing up about people with different sexual orientations (homosexual or bisexual)? How did you feel about those messages?
- Do you know someone, now, who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender? Has knowing this person changed your feelings about issues related to homosexuality? In what way?
- Think about your own gender identity and sexual orientation and, then, re-read Psalm 139:13-14. Is there something you need to do at this point in your life to affirm that you are “fearfully and wonderfully” made? What is it?
Prayer:Thank you for intricately weaving me ‘in the depths of the earth,’ my mother’s womb, Creator God.
In everything do unto others as you would have them do to you,; for this is the law and the prophets.
Jesus here turned into a positive what other teachers of this time had said in the negative: Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
Until we love ourselves properly, as Martin Luther encouraged, we may try to “feel better about ourselves” by putting down other categories of people. On eof my big disappointments when coming out as gay was discovering that the oppressed, who presumably would know better, easily fall into oppressive behavior. Though more sensitive to our own racism, for example, gay men and lesbians can behave as racist as the rest of the society. People of color, who might also know better, may be as homophobic. All all of us may be hesitant to share what little power we have.
Jesus transformed others’ prohibition into positive action: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.
It’s not enough to refrain from racism. If we want people of color to support our rights, then we must support theirs, whether or not they do so for us. The Golden Rule, expressed in most religions, does not make our behavior dependent on how others act. Rather, it’s based on how we want to be treated.
- Can you remember a time in your life when the Golden Rule first became real for you? What were the circumstances?
- As you think about a particular individual or group of people, to whom do you have the most trouble applying this lesson? Why?
- Imagine that you are struggling with strong emotional and/or sexual feelings for a friend of the same gender? What would be helpful for you to hear someone say that would make you feel accepted?
- Think of someone in your sorority/fraternity who might be lesbian or gay. In the context of your friendship, what would it look like to “do unto them as you would have them do unto you”?
Prayer: Help me to do for others what I would like them to do for me.
Finally, we invite you to think of one of your sorority sisters who joined when you did and with whom you learned about the ideals and values of the sisterhood. Together you discussed your reasons for joining, discovered your common bonds, shared your dreams and visions, your joys and sorrows, your triumphs and disappointments. Suppose through this process you became close friends—truly sisters. And now, precisely because you are so close, because of your common experiences through the university and sorority, because your friend trusts and feels safe with you, because she embraces the same values you do, such as honesty and truth, she confides in you that she is lesbian. She finally must be honest and open, must unburden herself of the silence and fear of discovery with another person she can trust, and you are the person she chooses.
- How do you respond? Can you suddenly change how you feel about your friend? Can you immediately forget the respect and affection you have held for your sister? In light of Psalm 139, can you honestly believe that either of you is not created in the image of God or is not a sacred, beloved child of God?
- Consider again Matthew 5:12. The Golden Rule may be the most concise expression of the whole of the Bible and of Christianity. Indeed, every one of the world’s major religions bears this same foundational decree. Just as you want to be accorded dignity, spoken to in truth and honesty, treated with compassion and kindness, so too are you called to act accordingly in all of your relationships with others. Will you allow this calling to be extended to your sister now?
We have seen how interpretation of the Bible and Christian teachings are influenced by various factors, cultural and personal. Every day we interpret our life experiences under the influence of these same factors, based on usually unconscious assumptions. We invite you to engage the exercises on these pages to become more aware of those influences and assumptions. For example, how have these influences and assumptions colored Christian teachings? In what ways might some interpretations of the Bible come into conflict with its fundamental themes of justice and compassion? And, especially, we invite you to be intentional about putting into action the Christian values on which your sorority is founded. How will you express justice and compassion in your daily interactions? How will you seek wisdom and truth?
Ultimately, how we see ourselves and relate to others is deeply rooted in our spirituality, our understanding of God. It may well be that the issues we have raised, the approach to scripture we have suggested, and the questions we have posed have enabled you to look at yourself or your beliefs in some new ways. Perhaps in doing so you find yourself wanting to know more. Here are some resources, in addition to those already cited, that you may find helpful.
John E. Fortunato, Embracing the Exile (San Francisco: Harper, 1982).
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Sensuous Spirituality (New York: Crossroad, 1993).
Suzanne Pharr, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism (Inverness, CA: Chardon Press, 1997).
Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollencott, Is The Homosexual My Neighbor? (San Francisco: Harper, 1994).
Maurine C. Waun, More Than Welcome (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999).
Walter Wink, editor, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999).
Rebecca Jimenez is an ordained American Baptist minister and director of the Center for University Ministry, Indiana University, Bloomington.
Douglas Bauder is an ordained Moravian minister and coordinator of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services Office, Indiana University, Bloomington.
1. Peter Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow, 1996).
2. Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible REALLY Says About Homosexuality (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994).
3. Chris Glaser, The Word is OUT: The Bible Reclaimed for Lesbians and Gay Men (San Francisco: Harper, 1994).