By Doug Bauder and Rev. Rebecca Jimenez
CW: discussion of homophobia, transphobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism
Source: Shane L. Windmeyer; Brotherhood: Gay Life in College Fraternities
“Love the sinner, not the sin!”
That’s what Jonathan Scaggs in his story titled “1 John 2:10” was told by a fraternity brother when, with fear and trepidation, Jonathan shared with this man the fact that he is gay. And in reading Jonathan’s initial response, it sounds like he was relieved by his brother’s response. It even sounds as if he felt supported by him! And it may be that when one is taking those first steps toward being honest, hearing “Love the sinner, not the sin!” is, at least, more welcoming than, “Well, you know you’re going to hell!”
That said, the line about loving the sinner and hating the sin still strikes us as an expression of smug superiority! What, in effect, someone is saying when they use that line is: ‘I know all about living a righteous life – a life of purity. You don’t! Clearly your lifestyle is evil, but, in spite of your depravity, I’ll be your brother because I’m such a great Christian!’ That’s brotherhood!? Not the kind that we would want to claim! And, of course, most people who use that line (Love the sinner, hate the sin) are certain that it’s scriptural…something Jesus probably said…something that’s in the Bible …somewhere. Isn’t it?
An interesting question, to be sure. And it’s also interesting the way many of us approach the Bible. In some sense, it is just about the strangest book in the world! (Or, maybe, it’s just the way people interpret it.) Still considered a best-seller by book marketers, what’s really weird is that few people actually READ it and, if they do, they fail to understand that it’s not one book, but many, written over a period of a thousand years by a variety of authors with different writing styles, life stories and perspectives on God.
Our experience with college students would suggest that most of them turn to scripture for one of two reasons: 1) because they are facing a crisis (the death of a friend, the break up of a relationship, a tough career decision) or 2) they are looking for some ‘facts’ to back up their opinion about some issue (“The Bible says…”)
You may have heard a friend, or yourself, say something like: “Our fraternity is based on the Bible and Christian principles, so how can we accept gay men into our membership?” Or, “How can I support a gay frat brother when the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong?”
Well…that depends, in part, upon 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 own personal understanding of God, our own life experiences, to name a few.
Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard and author of a fascinating work entitled “The Good Book: Reading the bible With Mind and Heart” 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 see gay men and lesbians as 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 and that those passages that refer to homosexual behavior are not speaking about loving, consensual relationships, but abusive and idolatrous behavior.
While the controversies surrounding sexuality and spirituality probably cannot be decided in the context of one simple exercise, we would like to invite you and your friends, at least, to consider the possibility of approaching scripture in some new ways. Chris Glaser, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, and a gay man wrote a devotional guide in 1994 entitled “The Word is OUT: The Bible Reclaimed For Lesbians and Gay Men.” It is a collection of 365 daily meditations.3 We have chosen two that we would like you to read and to reflect upon. After doing so, 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 own personal journey and not as a club 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 fraternity brothers who joined when you did and with whom you learned about the ideals and values of brotherhood. 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 – brothers in the best sense of the word. And now, precisely because you are so close, because of your common experiences through the university and fraternity, because your friend trusts and feels safe with you, because he embraces the same values you do, such as honesty and truth, he confides in you that he is gay. He finally must be honest and open, must unburden himself of the silence and the fear of discovery and he has to do that with someone he can trust. You are the person he 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 for your brother? In light of Psalm 139, can you honestly believe that either of you is NOT created in the image of God?
- Consider, again, Matthew 5:12. The Golden Rule may be the most concise expression of the Christian faith. Indeed, every one of the world’s religions bears this same foundational decree. Just as you wanted 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. Will you allow this calling to be extended to your brother 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 assumptions which are usually unconscious. We invite you to use the exercises on these pages to become more aware of those influences and assumptions. How have they colored your understanding of Christian teachings? In what ways might some interpretations of scripture come into conflict with its fundamental theme of justice and compassion? We, especially, invite you to be intentional about putting into action the Christian values on which your fraternity 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 own spirituality, our own understanding of who God is. 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 found yourself wanting to know more. We have included a list of some additional resources that you might find helpful. Whatever you do, don’t be fooled by anyone who glibly says: “Love the sin, not the sinner!” It might sound welcoming on the surface, but such a condescending attitude is about as far from brotherhood as anything we can imagine. Jonathan Scaggs and the brothers of your fraternity deserve better!
Fortunato, John E. Embracing The Exile. San Francisco: Harper, 1982.
Helminiak, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.
San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994.
Miner, Jeff and John Tyler Connoley The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same Sex Relationships. Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, Indianapolis, IN, 2002.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Sensuous Spirituality. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Pharr, Suzanne, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. Berkley, CA: Chardon Press, 1997.
Scanzoni, Letha Dawson and Virginia Ramey Mollencott. Is The Homosexual My Neighbor? San Francisco:Harpers, 1994.
Waun, Maurine C. More Than Welcome. St. Louis. Missouri: Chalice Press, 1999.
Wink, Walter, editor. Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience For the Churches. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.
Many other excellent resources are available through SOULFORCE at www.soulforce.org. We, especially, recommend the booklet “What the Bible Says – and Doesn’t Say – About Homosexuality” and these videos: “Homosexuality: The Debate Is Over. The Verdict is In. Not a Sickness! Not a Sin!” and “How Can I Be Sure That God Loves Me, Too?”
Doug Bauder is an ordained Moravian minister and Coordinator of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services Office at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
Rev. Rebecca Jim`enez is an ordained American Baptist minister and Director of the Center for University Ministries at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
- Peter Gomes, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Hearts” (New York: William Morrow, 1996).
- Daniel Helminiak, “What The Bible REALLY Says About Homosexuality” (San Francisco: Alamo Sqaure Press, 1994).
- Chris Glaser, “The Word is OUT: The Bible Reclaimed for Lesbians and Gay Men” (San Francisco, 1994).