Instinctively, we all sense that the answer must be a resounding No!
Yet we live in a time when many churches are leading the effort to deny gay and transgender people equal protection under the law.
Just last year, Indiana's legislature initiated a four-year process to amend our State Constitution to ensure that gay couples never gain access to the same legal rights as straight couples.
This is the first time since the slavery era that Indiana's legislature has singled out a specific group of people for exclusion from Indiana's Equal Protection Clause.
The practical effect of the proposed amendment would be to deprive gay couples of basic rights -- such as being able to visit each other
in a crisis in the emergency room or inheriting property from each other.
Since so many churches are invoking the name of Jesus to justify their assault on the rights of gay and transgender people, we invite thoughtful people everywhere to ask this simple question:
What would Jesus do?
The answer is not hard to find. One of the themes of Jesus' ministry was a recurring conflict with the Pharisees, a
powerful group of legalistic religious leaders. The Pharisees were waiting for the Messiah to come, and they believed
that would happen only when their entire nation became righteous. So, in their minds, anyone who failed to follow their particular set of rules was bringing down a curse on their nation and worthy of contempt.
The list of people despised by the Pharisees was long:
- The Samaritans were considered religious heretics and ethnically impure.
- Sick people were believed to be sinners whom God was punishing.
- Women were deemed unworthy of discipleship.
- Tax collectors and Roman soldiers were regarded as the enemy.
- The poor, who had neither the time nor resources to maintain rigorous rites of religious purity, were thought to be beyond God's grace.
Jesus emphatically rejected each one of these prejudices. You can read the stories yourself in your own Bible. E.g., John 4:1-42; Luke 10:29-37; John 9:1-34; Luke 8:1-3; Matthew 11:16-19; Matthew 5:38-48; and Matthew 9:18-26.
A classic example is provided in Matthew 8.
There, a Roman soldier asked Jesus to heal his "pais." This is a Greek term often used in ancient times to refer to a servant who was his master's same-sex partner. K.J. Cover, Greek Homosexuality
(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978), p. 16. When the soldier said, "Lord, my 'partner' is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible
distress," Jesus was immediately compassionate and spoke no words of exclusion or condemnation. He simply said, "I will come and heal him."
In the dialogue that followed, Jesus commended this Roman solider for having more faith than anyone he had ever met
and assured him that he would sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By this miracle of healing, Jesus preserved this loving same-sex relationship. (For more information about the Greek term referred to above
and how it should be translated, see the book recommended below.)
The Gospels are clear. Jesus refused to be bound by cultural prejudice. Repeatedly, he took up the cause of the oppressed and defended them against narrow-minded religious leaders.
A Simple History Lesson
Unfortunately, the Church has often failed to live up to Jesus' example. Too often in the past we have misused the Bible
to justify discrimination, acting more like Pharisees than followers of Jesus. We now look back with shame on these incidents. Consider the following examples.
Slavery – Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America:
"[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God. . . . It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from
Genesis to Revelation. . . . It has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."
Women's Right To Vote – Justin Fulton, writing in 1869:
"Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class.
There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel's cheer to the favor of God and the love of the
Christian community. It is because of this tendency that the majority of those who contend for the ballot for
woman cut loose from the legislation of Heaven, from the enjoyments of home, and drift to infidelity and ruin."
Interracial Marriage – a Virginia trial judge writing in 1959 in defense of laws prohibiting such marriages:
"Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate
continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages."
For a fuller discussion of these historical examples, visit www.faithinamerica.com
Looking back, it's difficult to imagine that so many Christians could have defended such shameful discrimination.
These examples ought to cause every thoughtful Christian to step back and think – is it possible we are repeating the same terrible mistake with gay and transgender people?
A Call To Action
We call upon Christians of goodwill to have the courage to follow the example of Jesus. Specifically,
we call upon Christians everywhere to take four key steps to end the Church's history of persecuting gay and transgender people:
- We must renew our commitment to honesty.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness." Exodus 20:16. This is one of God's most basic commands. Too many Christians
today are playing fast and loose with the truth, making sweeping statements about gay and transgender people
without ever taking the time to investigate. For example, some confidently assert that "gay people choose to be
that way" and "gay people can change their orientation if they want to" and "the gay and trans lifestyle is
inherently unhealthy." None of these statements have any basis in science or reality. As Christians, God expects
us to love the truth, seek the truth, and tell the truth – even when it's not popular.
- We must educate ourselves by daring, like Jesus before us, to become genuine friends of gay and transgender people.
Jesus set the example. He was a genuine friend to all kinds of people, including those that his contemporaries
derisively referred to as "sinners." Anyone who really wants to know the truth about gay and transgender
people needs to take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, engage in a real conversation with them.
- We must carefully reexamine what the Bible teaches about same-sex relationships.
On many occasions in the past, "accepted Christian wisdom" has been wrong. For centuries, many in the Church
vigorously opposed the right of women to vote, condemned interracial marriage, and supported slavery – always insisting that the Bible supported their point of view. Now we know better.
Given this history, we ought to be careful. Cultural prejudice is a powerful force that often overwhelms our
attempts to interpret the Holy Scriptures objectively. We invite you to carefully reexamine what the Bible says about gay and transgender people. We recommend:
Rev. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley, The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships (2002). Click here for more information or to order.
- We must stop using the law to hurt gay and transgender people.
Regardless what anyone believes about gay and transgender people, there is no excuse for doing them
harm. Enacting laws that keep a dying gay person in an emergency room from seeing his life partner in his final
moments of life is not Christian – it's plain cruel. Enacting laws that refuse to recognize the shared property of
same-sex partners, thereby forcing one partner to sell their home when the other dies, is not Christian – it's just meanspirited.
The effort of some modern Christians to deprive gay families of basic civil rights is shameful and must stop. Jesus would expect no less.
We the people of the Metropolitan Community Churches wish to stand with Jesus in defense of those who are being unfairly targeted – and we invite you to join us in doing what Jesus would really do!
Options For Greater Involvement