The Bible just might be the most dangerous book in the world.
Every week, people read from and interpret it in front of huge audiences all across the country — no, all across the world. And how we behave, what we say, the decisions we make, the candidates we vote for, the policies we enact, the purchases we make, the conversations we have, the doors we open (and the doors we close), the invitations we extend, the prayers we pray — all of those things depend, largely, on how this book is translated to us by the person preaching from it. Every time we read it, we do so through the lens of our own experiences, our own theology and yes, even our own prejudices.
I’ve heard some people say the Bible is a love letter from God. These days, it’s used more as weapon.
Except I’m reading that Jesus came because God so loved the world. He came to save it, not condemn it.
My friend Kate recently posted an excerpt of what we, as Presbyterians in the PC (USA), believe. As she reminds us, this is the official policy and position of our church:
Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities
Standing in the conviction that all people are created in the image of God and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people, the 223rd General Assembly (2018) affirms its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. The assembly affirms the full dignity and the full humanity of transgender people, their full inclusion in all human rights, and their giftedness for service. The assembly affirms the church’s obligation to stand for the right of people of all gender identities to live free from discrimination, violence, and every form of injustice.
Making these affirmations, the assembly acknowledges that the church has fallen short of these commitments and obligations. In the world and in the church, transgender people too often experience and suffer discrimination and violence. The church has failed to understand fully and to celebrate adequately the full spectrum of gender embodied in God’s creation. As a result, we have participated in systemic and targeted discrimination against transgender people, and we have been complicit in violence against them. The assembly affirms the scriptural obligation to work for justice for all God’s children, and particularly here to work for justice for people of all gender identities. We have fallen short of this obligation, and—by the grace of God—commit ourselves to do better.
These affirmations and this commitment are rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the breadth of Scripture, and in the Reformed Tradition. Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God. In God’s creation, we see and experience God’s image expressed across a broad and life-giving expression of gender. Honoring the breadth and variety of our gender identities and expressions is one of the ways we can come to an even deeper understanding of who we are created to be in relationship to God and each other. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel, and the Reformed Tradition affirm the dignity and worth of all people and call on individuals and communities to work for the well-being and protection of all people. Because we recognize that people of all gender identities are created equally in the image of God, we also recognize that we share a mutual obligation to stand for the right of all people and all gender identities and gender expressions to live free from discrimination and from violence. The image of God expansively and specifically includes people of all gender identities including transgender, cisgender, gender non-binary people, and people of all gender expressions.
This is the church I am a part of. This is the church I will, inshallah, help lead. One that doesn’t draw borders and build walls, hell-bent on drawing distinctions of race and gender and sexuality and ethnicity and language and religious practice. One that sees the big, wide welcome of God as one that embraces, not shuns, that celebrates, not shames.
This is not to say I’ll always get it right. This is not to say that, for all my questioning and poring over the original text and considering it from every angle, that I’ve landed on the one true and correct interpretation. But it is to say that I believe God is infinitely more concerned with how I treat other people than whether I’ve got my theology all figured out. On whether I approach scripture with an honest and teachable heart instead of twisting it to fit my own agenda. On taking a stand for welcome and not exclusion. On not labeling as profane what God has already called clean (Acts 10:15).
Jesus told his disciples we’d be known by our love — not by keeping score of what we consider to be someone else’s sin.
The hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and humanity’s feeble attempts to legalize its own discrimination are not born from the Spirit of God. They are rotten fruit that yield from diseased trees, trees of exclusion, misappropriation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and humankind’s need for control. And it’s high time the Church starts calling it out for what it is.
To my friends and family in the queer community, especially those who are trans, let me be clear about one thing: I love you. God loves you. Full stop.
I’m sorry that people in the Church and even the institutional Church as a whole hurt you, shamed you, made you feel less than or like something was wrong with you. Those voices are not God’s. God rejoices over you with songs of celebration, and Jesus’ banner over you is love.
ps: For anyone who wants to disagree with me about LGBTQ+ rights, in and out of the Church, I am happy to have a conversation with you and share why I, as a Christian, am fully affirming. I will not, however, have that conversation in an argumentative comments section.