sexuality

The Creatively Maladjusted

Given the fact that it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and injustice toward vulnerable people persists, I thought I might offer a few thoughts about what it means to remain silent in the face of that injustice—and about what it means not to, what it means to be creatively maladjusted.  Disclaimer: My analogy with the Civil Rights movement is only meant to be suggestive, not to establish easy equivalences

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those whowere selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:1319).

Following the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus and his new disciples take a few days off, then head into Jerusalem.

Where do they go?  Straight to the temple.

What happens?  Jesus makes a whip of cords and starts turning over the tables of the money changers.  He’s ranting and raving about how they’re turning God’s house into a marketplace.  The folks in charge don’t much care for his attitude and say, “Who are you?  What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Then, Jesus commits the ultimate Jewish faux pas by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

What Jesus has done, in effect, after making such a grand splash at the wedding at Cana, is to guarantee that the very people who might have helped promote his ministry are the ones whom he has alienated by his little foray into temple finances.  He’s made some pretty influential enemies in his first trip to Jerusalem.

So what?  What’s the significance?

Well, think about it.  When Jesus cleanses the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it occurs at the very end of Jesus’ ministry—after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and just before being snatched up and crucified on Good Friday—which, if you think about it, makes more sense.  You can see why Jesus would be upset with the religious establishment in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They’ve hounded him for three years, and are plotting to kill him.  A little righteous indignation seems appropriate.

But in John, the cleansing of the temple comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s had nothing but smooth sailing up to this point.  Why upset the temple bigwigs right off the bat?  It makes much less sense, from a narrative standpoint, to have Jesus challenge the money changers in the temple just as his ministry is taking off.  Why does John set up the story this way?

John puts the story of the cleansing of the temple right next to the wedding at Cana on purpose.  He’s making some rhetorical hay about the shape and trajectory of Jesus ministry.

What do I mean?

Well, how must the disciples be feeling after seeing Jesus pull a Bobby Knight in the temple? They have to be terribly confused.  They thought they were getting a pretty engaging guru, fun to have around at parties, somebody to keep the open bar open—but what they got instead was a loose cannon, an unpredictable guy who knows his way around the business end of a whip.  Jesus' impatience with the way things are calls to mind what Martin Luther King wrote in Strength to Love:

 “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Well, Jesus is nothing if not creatively maladjusted.

Jesus explodes our tame, self-aggrandizing expectations about how joining up with him will be the end of our problems.  John wants to show us that just because you follow Jesus doesn’t mean everything magically becomes sweetness and light.  In fact, joining up with Jesus may cause you a whole new set of problems you might otherwise have avoided if you’d just stayed home and watched Jeopardy.  Sometimes we have to follow Jesus into the temple, where only hostility awaits us.

And that bothers us, doesn’t it?  If not, we haven’t been paying attention to what happens to people willing to walk into the teeth of the storm.

In April of 1963, a group of well-meaning (I think) white clergy in Alabama got together and issued a statement calling for the end of demonstrations they considered “unwise and untimely,” by “some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders,” even though this group of white clergy recognized “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, responded to these clergy in his, now famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Not surprisingly, Dr. King’s anger at the unjust social systems made bolder through their embodiment in law is present throughout his letter, raising again the Augustinian question about whether unjust laws—laws that degrade “human personality” and “distort the soul”—ought rightfully to be considered laws at all.

Dr. King reserves his biggest disappointment, however, for the church.  He rightly criticizes white moderates, whom he considered to be “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice’; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”   He speaks candidly in his letter about weeping because of the laxity the church, about how “blemished and scarred” is the body of Christ “through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformist.”

At one point, Dr. King recalls with a certain wistfulness “a time when the church was very powerful.”  It’s interesting to note, though, just how he sees the church’s relationship to that power.  The church was at its most transformative, he argues,

when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than humans.  Small in number, they were big in commitment.  They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’  By their efforts and their example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.

It occurs to me that we who have committed ourselves and our communities of faith to seeking justice are the inheritors of that legacy—a legacy that hears the cries of inequity and injustice, and remains incapable of turning a deaf ear.

We are the spiritual offspring of the creatively maladjusted.  We cannot stand by and do nothing.  We join together across the diversity of theological and denominational lines to take our place in the procession—a procession that, just in this country alone, stretches back through the Civil Rights movement, through women’s suffrage, and through the abolition of slavery.

We are people who cannot abide and will not stomach the excuses offered up by unjust systems that somehow “now is not the time,” or that raising a ruckus only contributes to the problem.  We draw together because we’ve been called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God—not because there is anything necessarily heroic in us, but because we’ve been passed a torch by heroes and saints who’ve gone before us, and who have called us to bear witness that God is not satisfied with either an unjust society or a lazy church “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘peace.’”

There's a constituency within the church today urging caution, who think it "unwise and untimely" to press the issue of justice for young African American men who suffer disproportionately at the hands of the legal system, for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church, for a beloved community that includes our Muslim sisters and brothers—even though this constituency recognizes “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  They believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if Jesus is our model, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is sometimes not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing with which we lead, the thing that sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.

If we are indeed the offspring of the creatively maladjusted, we will never have a better time than the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to start living like it.

No more Either/Or; Now Both-And

By Rev. Mindi 

“The world has changed.”

I hear this all the time in the church: “The world has changed.” And of course it’s true, and of course it’s the same. Nothing new under the sun. World without end. And we don’t like change.

I think one of the most difficult changes for people, however, has been this shift from Either/Or to Both-And. This is within the church and within society in general. And perhaps the shift has come in waves across generations, through Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and in GLBTQ equality; and this wave of Both-And is just finally smacking the shore and changing the Either/Or landscape forever.

Church doesn’t look like it used to. Church was in a big building with a big committee and the most important thing were two-parent-heterosexual young married couples with children coming through the door.

Churches now have a building and don’t have a building. Churches now have heterosexual and homosexual couples and single people and no children and children and couples not married and older people bringing their grandchildren and animal blessings for pets in October and they meet in traditional buildings and coffee shops and movie theaters and homes and schools.

Even in the SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) debate the wave has drawn over the conversation: Church now is full of religious and spiritual people, and so are coffee shops on Sunday mornings and bars on Tuesday nights. The either/or dichotomy is not working.

It’s not working among families where dads stay home and moms go to work or *gasp* both parents share parenting and work roles. Or parents partner with other adults to co-parent and form relationships beyond traditional models. Or among people who are genderqueer and do not claim a traditional male or female identity. Either/Or thinking does not work in families or churches anymore.

And while we have a long, long way to go, many of our churches are starting to look different among the younger generations as multiethnic families grow up. We all have heard the statistics: White-Euro-Americans will no longer be the majority racial/ethnic identity among those under 20 by the year 2020. Everything is changing. Our identities are going to be changing, and this will be huge for traditional White-Euro-American churches. Some of our traditions and cultural practices will change and I don’t think we’ve recognized that yet. But it’s coming.

Either/Or isn’t working anymore.

And in fact, I’m not sure it’s never worked, if we believe in the fully-human-*and*-fully-divine Jesus. Jesus was not Either/Or. Jesus was Both-And.

Jesus ate with the leaders as well as with the poor. Jesus welcomed the children and welcomed the adults. Even when Jesus said, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not hate father and mother,” we know James and John loved their mother and Peter his mother-in-law and we know they were flawed people who still were Jesus’ disciples. Even when Jesus used either/or language with the disciples, we know that Jesus still came to that group who had utterly abandoned him to the cross and said, “Peace be with you.”  Even Jesus cannot be bound to the Either/Or. It’s Both-And.

Both-And gives us room for tradition and innovation.  Both-And gives us room to teach our history and embrace the newness of change. Both-And says all people are welcome, whatever kind of family or no family.  Both-And says traditional pastoral ministry and new community ministry are needed by the church.  Both-And says yes to traditional church at 10am on Sunday and yes to new ways of being spiritual community. Both-And says that our understandings of gender and sexual orientation and race and culture are all being challenged and are more fluid than we had thought. Both-And says we have more than one option when it comes to challenging the human rights abuses in Syria and in other parts of the world. Both-And says there are many options for peace.

We’re moving to a Both-And world. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. The things we once knew we don’t anymore. The world is changing. I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t say it’s always a good thing, but it is what it is.

Everything is changing. Let’s be sure we’re alert, aware, and ready for the wave coming. World without end.

SCOTUS Decisions—Reflections Part 2

By Rev. Mindi

This morning on the West Coast I quickly turned to the news at 7 a.m. just in time for the breaking news to be revealed that DOMA had been struck down, and in the revealing of the decision and the minority opinion it was clear that Prop 8 would also be struck down.

I rejoice in that there is no federal reason for denying people the right to marry or to deny benefits for certain types of marriages. However, the ruling leaves it still up to states to pass equal marriage laws.

As many have already noted, if one really is for civil rights, for human rights—we cannot rejoice fully. Voting rights have been restricted; Euro-American cultural values have been valued as the norm; we still do not acknowledge the T in LGBT. Trans rights are often ignored or scoffed at, though there are currently several court cases for trans teens fighting for their rights in state courts. Teenagers are the ones speaking out for their own rights because teachers and administrators have failed to do so.  And as a parent of a child with special needs, even though we have had the IDEA act renewed in 2004, we find our rights and our son’s rights violated everywhere we turn in the public school system. And we are Euro-American—add in other cultural differences and different languages, and we find that even Supreme Court rulings do not guarantee rights for all will be granted.

As people of faith, we must lead the way on human rights. We must listen to the minority voices in our congregations and beyond in our communities, and work for justice for all. It’s easy to take a quick look at one’s congregation and see some of the issues they face, whether it’s the right to marry, the right to receive disability benefits, the right to get a driver’s license; it’s much harder to know whose rights are violated with the lack of a comprehensive immigration law, who doesn’t have access to adequate health care, and other rights that may be violated or ignored. If we assume a certain issue does not apply to our congregation so we can ignore it or evade it, we are failing the community at large.

SCOTUS Decisions: Reflections, Part 1

By Rev. Mindi 

 Due to the SCOTUS decisions of Tuesday and pending Wednesday’s decisions, I thought I would forgo my usual Wednesday article and reflect on some of the court decisions made on Tuesday, with the idea that others may contribute reflections following the decisions announced on Wednesday morning. For a comprehensive list of the decisions made, go to http://www.supremecourt.gov/  These decisions impact us as Americans, but are often not mentioned on Sunday morning. As clergy and church leaders, I feel that it is imperative that we reflect within our faith communities on these issues and offer some way of responding, through word, action, and prayer.

Tuesday’s decision on the Voting Rights Act http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf was a split decision, with the court upholding the 1965 act in that voting procedures must be approved by the federal government (preclearance) in areas where racial discrimination in voting practices has taken place. However, the court struck down the part of the law that dictated which states and jurisdictions were affected by this, stating that the coverage formula needed to be readdressed to be up with the times.  The Supreme Court is sending this part of the act to Congress to decide.  Seeing how it’s been difficult to get Congress to act on anything, this is frustrating to those of us who know how prejudice is still used in discriminating at the voting booth.

As people of faith, what can we do? How can we respond? I think of the number of churches that have partnered together with other organizations for voter registration drives and work to make sure those in our communities are registered to vote. Secondly, we also need to listen to those who have experienced prejudice at the polls, for those whose registrations were considered to be illegitimate, for practices that deterred others from voting. We need to make sure that we speak out for fair voting procedures in our own communities and be involved in voting rights for all citizens. And we need to speak up and take action against unfair voting practices.

Another decision on Tuesday was about adoption http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-399_8mj8.pdf This was a hard case. This story gained nationwide attention in the news, and so it’s easy to take sides and feel sympathetic with all parties involved. But what we need to keep in mind is the history of white governing officials making decisions for American Indian children, and the continued intervening and taking children away from their family and culture of origin. It’s important for us as people of faith to be mindful of our history, to be aware of how Euro-American culture is still perpetuated as American culture and that Euro-Americans still push values associated with that culture on to others.

Finally, I want to end with some reflections on a situation not in the Supreme Court but in Texas. Senator Wendy Davis, as I write this, is standing for thirteen hours without a chair or ability to lean on anything to filibuster a law that would basically prevent abortion clinics from operating in Texas http://news.yahoo.com/texas-senator-filibusters-against-abortion-bill-164526586.html  (side note: my husband pointed out that these rules by the Texas Senate make it so that anyone who has a disability in which they cannot stand is inherently discriminated against from being able to do their job, but I digress… somewhat).

This ban on abortion clinics and restrictions on clinics and doctors ignores Roe V. Wade, ignores the laws that protect a woman’s right to choose and places women’s health and responsibility to make choices about her health.  I have written in the past about the need for both sides on the issue of abortion to come together and find some common ground in reducing abortions, but laws like these will not reduce abortions. Many women will be forced to go out of state, possibly into Mexico where the health regulations for such clinics are not at the same standards in the United States, and many more will probably receive unsafe, illegal abortions. Besides abortion, many of these clinics provide health screenings, birth control, counseling and other vital services to low-income women, and they will be shut down because of one procedure they perform that is controversial. Also, all abortions would be banned after 20 weeks. Seeing how the 20 week mark is the screening ultrasound date that is covered under most insurance policies and not before that, many women and doctors do not know that there is any health risk to fetus or mother until that point, and under Texas law if it passes, it would be too late.

As people of faith, we may differ on the issue of abortion, but we need to stand up for women’s health in the case of extreme measures. The Texas law will go too far, will ignore the Constitution and will trample on women’s health.  I’ve shared in previous articles about the need for conversations on health, birth control, and sex in general in the church to reduce abortions and raise the level of women and men’s health.  As leaders, we cannot be afraid of speaking out on these issues, when people's very lives and health are at risk.

*****

As people of faith, we watch and wait in earnest for Wednesday’s decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. We pray for justice to be done, for freedom to be upheld, and most of all, for love to prevail. Check back for reflections here after the decisions are released.

Coming Out as a Christian Liberal

By Rev. Mindi

I attended and graduated from a small, liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, a college affiliated with my denomination.  In my first year, I became involved in all of the different Christian organizations on campus, ranging theologically from middle of the road to conservative. The few theologically liberal Christians on campus that I knew (that admitted to being Christian) didn’t attend most of the Christian organizations’ events or kept quiet about being theologically liberal most of the time, as I did for my first year.

But by my sophomore year I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I didn’t like hiding part of myself just so I could feel like I belonged and fit in to Campus Crusade or any of the other groups. I grew up in a congregation that was Welcoming and Affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, and there was a group on campus that was the equivalent of a gay/straight alliance. In addition, my pastor had recently written a book about his journey as an evangelical pastor coming from a place of “love the sinner,” to full acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people. I wanted to share this book with the group and hopefully find a place where I was welcome with my liberal Christian theology.

I attended my first meeting and after about a half hour, I finally introduced myself. When I mentioned I had brought copies of my pastor’s book for free, I heard a collective gasp as people’s eyes grew wide. I suddenly realized they thought I was there to condemn them and I quickly had to assure them that was not the case.  Once they knew I was not only an ally but convinced by my beliefs that God’s love meant a full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the tension left the room.  Following the meeting, several people stayed and we chatted about our religious backgrounds.

What followed was story after story of rejection. A Missouri Synod Lutheran who had faithfully attended church with her grandparents until she came out at seventeen and when the church rejected her, she rejected the church and Christianity. A Catholic who now identified as spiritual but not religious. An evangelical Christian who was now an atheist because she had not experienced love from Christians in the way she imagined love was supposed to be.  Story after story after story. 

And finally, a story of acceptance.  After almost everyone had left, a woman who identified as a Quaker and attended the local Friend’s meeting spoke to me. She spearheaded change in the food purchases by the campus cafeteria in regards to migrant worker’s rights and was involved in raising awareness of social issues on campus.  She shared that it was her trust in Jesus’ teachings in why she was involved so much in the local community.  But as far as I know, she never shared about her faith in that way outside of this small gathering, with the few who had not left.

It’s time for liberal Christians to come out and stand up. This week, Jason Collins came out (and I had to look up who he was because I’m not an NBA basketball fan). Sixteen years ago yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres came out on live TV. I was in college, junior year, at a “coming out” party put on by the student group and the one fraternity on campus that did not discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Every day, people come out to their families, to their pastors, to their bosses, to their friends.

How many liberal Christians still hide their beliefs, because they don’t want to rock the boat? How many liberal Christian pastors stay quiet when a member says a derogatory slur, making the excuse that “they are a long-term member, I can’t offend them,” or some other excuse? How many liberal Christian leaders say nothing because “the issue hasn’t come up in my congregation”? 

How many more stories will we continue to hear of people who have been rejected by their church, so they have rejected their church, their religion, or God, altogether?

It’s been seventeen years since I sat in that campus room and came out as a liberal, welcoming and affirming Christian. After that moment, I didn’t hold back from my friends my views. Eventually I dropped out of most of the campus Christian organizations, except for one, the Student Chaplain’s group. My junior year also marked the year I was not alone. While I had known a few other liberal Christians on campus involved in the different organizations, they had kept quiet in public about their views. But my junior year, two others from the Student Chaplain’s joined the gay/straight campus alliance group. And one eventually came out about her sexuality as well.  And that all happened because one night I was hanging out with members of the alliance group and these two Student Chaplains came up to me and I introduced them and invited them to join the alliance group.  

It’s been seventeen years, and yet I know so many pastors still afraid to come out as welcoming and affirming or open and affirming today. It’s long overdue, friends. Come on out. Stand up for equality and justice for all LGBT folks. Even if you don’t think your church is ready to join O&A or W&A yet, they aren’t going to get there at all unless they know their pastor will help lead the way. And you never know what youth is hanging on by a thread, needing to know not only that God loves them, but that God’s representatives in their community—their church and especially their pastor—love them too. Otherwise, I fear that more college campus alliance groups will be filled with the same stories mine was—stories of rejection and loss, instead of stories of Christ’s love, faith, and hope.

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Finding Our Voice

The church has a problem.

The trend in American public life over the past few years is undergoing a seismic shift. Acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people has begun to reach a tipping point. According to a leaked memo by Republican pollster, Jan van Lohuizen, the increase for those favoring something like same gender marriage was steady at 1% every up to 2009. Since 2009, however, support for same gender marriage has gained momentum, increasing by 5% every year. Mr. van Lohuizen’s memo announces that recent polling now indicates a 10% difference in favor of those who support same gender marriage.

For something less controversial than same gender marriage, like acceptance of gays and lesbians, the numbers jump to nearly two-thirds (64%) in favor. Even in a state like Kentucky, with a reputation for being socially conservative, over 8 in 10 people polled agreed that LGBTIQ people deserve workplace protections against discrimination, equal access to housing and public accommodations.

When it comes to the demographics of age, the numbers become even more revealing. Millennials, those roughly between the ages of 18 to 29, 62% favor same gender marriage, compared to 31% of those over the age of 65. 69% of Millennials support the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt, compared with 36% of seniors.

This demographic information is important because Millennials have reached distressing conclusions about the church’s handling of this issue. Indeed, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s findings, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) Millennials believe “that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.”

The situation is particularly serious for those Christians who care about the mass exodus of young people from the church. The Barna Group, an Evangelical polling organization, asked young people, ages 1- to 29, what words or phrase best describes Christianity. The top choice of 91% of those who self-identified as non-Christian? “Anti-homosexual.” As one might expect, among young Christians, the number who thought the words or phrase that best identified the church as “anti-homosexual” dropped … to 80%.

The church has a problem. While the culture has shown an increasingly amazing ability to adapt to the notion that LGBTIQ folk have every right to live the kind of flourishing lives God created them for as their heterosexual sisters and brothers, the church has, in many cases, not found a way to address this as an issue of justice. In too many cases the church has failed to lead.

More specifically, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) finds itself in the awkward position of wanting to say something, but not knowing how to do so—whether because it feels like opinion is too divided, or because there is no mechanism in place to find the consensus its leadership feels is necessary before advocating publicly for a position—either for or against.1

However, if Disciples are to have a place at the table of justice, we need to Find Our Voice.

If Disciples are to be, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not the thermometers of culture, but its thermostat, we are going to have to Find Our Voice.

To that end, the GLAD Alliance is sponsoring an endorsement page to allow Disciples the opportunity to begin the difficult process of gathering voices together to demonstrate the shift that is taking place, both within the culture and within the church.

The need for an endorsement page is explained:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people have suffered, often most egregiously at the hands of the church. This suffering has come as a result of outright violence in word and deed and, perhaps just as damaging, through silence in the face such injustice. As a denomination that proclaims itself “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) must accept a special responsibility in actively finding ways to bring wholeness and offer healing, in particular to those whom the church has had a hand in harming, as well as to those whom the church has failed to stand beside in the face of the harm perpetrated by others.

Unfortunately, our denomination—which has officially engaged in a process of discernment with respect to this issue since 1997, achieving mixed results and no definitive statement—continues to have difficulty finding its voice when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTIQ people in the life and ministry of the church. Because of the congregational polity that characterizes the organization of our denomination’s common life, many have argued that the CCDOC will never speak with one voice about extending hospitality and affirmation to our LGBTIQ sisters and brothers.

Given the nature of that denominational structure, leaders (the General and Regional Ministries, clergy, and laity) among the CCDOC occupy a crucial role not only in reflecting denominational self-understanding, but in helping to shape it. The pastoral role of ministry requires a willingness to stand out front and point the way forward in the presence of divided convictions about which way is more faithful. No one denies that a prophetic stance will be difficult; if it were easy, it would be neither prophetic nor necessary.

Moreover, a prophetic voice has been found in recent times among Disciples, a voice to call us beyond our division and into a more just and equitable future.

At the height of civil unrest in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the country remained violently divided on the issue of race, Disciples stood up and spoke with a clear voice at the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in 1968 “to address the sin of racism through resolutions and direct action.”

In 1973, when only 4% of the of professional church workers and 9% of seminarians were women, and congregations were divided over whether women should be allowed in ministry, the General Assembly in Cincinnati, Ohio found its voice and passed resolutions urgently seeking to address the inequities of gender discrimination posed by excluding women from serving the church in the same capacity as men.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in need of such a voice today to speak courageously against the exclusion of LGBTIQ people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church. However, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has taken shape over the last two hundred years with a particular ecclesiological bias toward the notion that ministry is a function of baptism and not ordination. Consequently, any progress toward a realization of our identity as “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” that welcomes “all to the Lord’s table” will necessarily derive a great deal of its energy and authority from people who express their passion without benefit of institutional sanction. If things are going to change in our denomination in a way that offers a more expansive welcome to those who have been forced to the margins, it will come as a result of committed lay and clergy voices joining together to speak about the demands of justice and the possibilities of the grace signaled by the coming reign of God.

The question that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will continue to contend with is the extent to which it can claim to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” that welcomes “all to the Lord’s table,” when in practice it defends or is silent in the face of a brokenness that excludes people from that table.

Therefore, we call on all within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—those within the General and Regional Ministries of the Church, those clergy, who help to organize and shape the course and direction of ministry, and finally, those lay leaders, who inspire and often provide the passion and wisdom that result in faithful ministry—to find their voices and speak out publicly against the injustices visited upon LGBTIQ persons.

As an aid to gathering together these disparate voices in one place, GLAD offers an endorsement page inviting a public endorsement of a commitment to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people in the life and ministry of the church.

If it’s not clear to you by now, I think the church needs to move on this issue. And this is one way to begin the process.

Follow this link to help the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Find Our Voice!

Follow updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FindOurVoice and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/find_our_voice (@find_our_voice)


  1. Once again I find myself having to be clear about how I am framing this plea. If you don’t believe LGBTIQ folks should enjoy full inclusion in the life and ministry of the church, the purpose of this article isn’t to argue you into submission on this issue. If, however, you do believe that LGBTIQ people have been created by God this way and ought to be allowed to bring their gifts to the life and ministry of the church, the purpose of this article is to argue that the need for the church to take a position of advocacy on this issue is urgent. ↩

An Open Letter

http://dmergent.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/queer_jesus01.jpg?w=300 Last week, I received a letter that maybe many of you in the Disciples world have received regarding an argument for not taking sides (or perhaps taking both sides) on the issue of sexual orientation.

This is my open response:

I was not raised in a faith community and I spent much of my life ridiculing the institutions of what I considered to be a hypocritical, irrelevant and corrupt religion, often distracted by the pursuits of worldly interests such as self-serving power or wealth, and impotent to bring any real change to gross social injustices. Fortunately, I have come to recognize and take responsibility for my own blindness. My faith journey has been unexpected, to say the least, and my call has been only accepted with a fair amount of kicking and screaming. I have not, however, forgotten how it was possible for me to see Church the way that I had for so long. Sometimes I wish I could slip back into that blindness, so that I could align myself closer with the many visionary revolutionaries in our society, who are often atheist and almost always anti-religious. But alas, it is my faith that sets me apart from them, while it is strangely my passion for social justice that sets me apart from much of the institutional church.

I am not writing to berate the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). But I am writing to implore one to consider that above and beyond the call for tolerance of a diversity of opinion, is the imperative to advocate for the marginalized, the abused, the powerless, the oppressed. The problem with a call to accept all at the Table of Christ, is that the table we have to offer is inherently crooked. Not because we are bad people. But because we are people. Those who conform to the current power-structure (those who are not marginalized, abused, etc) take no risks by coming to that table and take no risks by inviting others to join them there. But those who have been systematically denied a place, those who have been denied a voice at all, those who have been told implicitly and explicitly for centuries in this society that who they are is an abomination in the eyes of God, those people risk everything. In fact, they not only risk everything, they actually pay the price with their identities, since the proposition is that they come to the table stripped of the dignity of being in a community that affirms that they are not created as an abomination but rather in the image of God. In other words, it is not sufficient to ask those who have been oppressed and ridiculed to be the bigger person and come to the table of reconciliation without demanding that the oppressors who wish to join them give up their power.

What I have heard is that conservatives and liberal-minded folks are both children of God and must sit side by side, for the sake of unity. I understand that. But getting conservatives and liberals to get along is not the imperative of Christ. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God, which radically overthrows oppressive systems, is. Doing so at the risk of one's life is Christlike. There is no neutrality when it comes to justice and there certainly is no playing on both sides of the field. And there should be no patience when it comes to justice. We cannot rely on secular society (again) to perform our moral duties for us. If justice is what God demands, then the due date was yesterday.  If justice is what God demands, then it is up to Her people to clear the way.

Furthermore the line is not between liberals and conservatives on this issue. The line is between the few who actually do something by taking a stand and the majority who do nothing while debating ideas. I lump liberals and conservatives together on all social justice issues so long as human beings are subordinated under chatty theories that hardly challenge the status quo. I am especially critical of so-called liberals like those of the Jim Crow era who, as Malcolm X put it, preached integration while practicing segregation.

So what about the privileged? What about the powerful? What about the bigots? Don't they deserve Christ's love too? Of course. But the appeasement of the prejudiced at the expense of the abused is cruel and inhumane. We must make a bold statement on the inclusiveness of God's love, but with the caveat of Her preference to the poor and oppressed. Not because God loves some more than others, but rather because the undoing of an unjust system to set us all free, by definition, prefers those who have been denied dignity, power and a voice. Most people are going to get disturbed, but that is why we are pastors in addition to prophets. We must comfort and guide folks that have been lied to their whole lives in the process of overcoming the blindness of heterosexual privilege. But we must recognize that the price of not doing this work is paid by the oppressed. We cannot ask them to bear that burden any longer.

Lastly, to claim that people who like the color blue are welcome into a community that also welcomes people who like the color red as equals is permissible, because neither red nor blue are preferred in our society. To say that LGBTQi folks are welcome in a community as equals that also welcomes those who think that LGBTQi folks are an abomination is really to say that either LGBTQi are not welcome as equals, or that our definition of welcome is perverse or meaningless. The reason, of course, is obvious: LGBTQi folks are not considered equals in our society. When they are, then the statement would be as uncontroversial as the earlier example. Until then, we are not doing any justice work by pretending that it is now. That, again, is blindness.

The call of the Church is to preach truth to power, serve the marginalized, and emulate the Kingdom until it comes. None of this is meant to be comfortable. In fact, it is ensured to bring hardship and loneliness. But we can trudge that path because of where it leads, and because of who walked it before us.

Phony Theologies and Terminologies

Today, I was kicked out of a Christian ministry. I was asked about my views on homosexuality and the bible.

So I told them.

And they were not happy.

I have been part of this collective ministry for nearly half of a year; it is a valuable ministry in our community. The elements that bind this ministry together include a focus on five things (bible, prayer, God, Jesus, Spirit). Of the many different faith communities that come together to serve, we have all agreed that we would focus on the five main ideas and not get caught up in other areas where we may disagree. But apparently, it is not permissible to believe that some of the words in the bible (i.e. "God is Love" or "For God so Loved the world...") apply to all people because of other words in the bible. I have learned that, for this organization, it is more important to acknowledge the "Truth" of the bible as opposed to the meaning of the gospel.

To me, this whole sad experience has been representative of a broader "conversation" going on in our world.

Throughout our political campaign season (which is the best metaphor I can think of to describe "eternity"), we have heard about "phony theologies" that "aren't based on the bible." We have heard about the policies that each politician has voted on and how close that lines up with "biblical principles." And when we're not referring to the bible as one monolithic voice shouting policy prescriptions for our modern time, we succumb to the tired and easy terminologies of "liberal" and "conservative" Christians - as if all "liberal Christians" were those who took a more metaphorical approach to scripture and all "conservative Christians" took a more literalist approach to scripture (unless this terminology is suggesting that all "liberal Christians" are vegans and all "conservative Christians" have concealed permits).

The way that we've come to be referred to and/or the way that we have often chosen to identify ourselves is not "Christo-centric" but "biblio-centric."

So the questions that are asked are not the meaningful questions like:

How has God's Love transformed you?

Will you commit to Loving God and Loving neighbor with all of your heart, soul, and mind?

But instead we hear questions like, "What are your thoughts on homosexuality?" and "Do you think the bible is true?"

We are in need of new ways to speak about ourselves - new terms that get to the heart of the matter, as it were. So today, I am proposing that we drop all of these biblo-centric terms and adopt some constructive vocabulary that reveals what we in the Church are all about. It's time that we stop referring to ourselves in terms such as "liberal", "conservative", or even "bible-believing" and start identifying ourselves by how much and who we Love (or at least Strive to Love).

We could have "universal Christians" that Loved everyone.

We could have "universal Christians minus enemies" that were almost there.

And we could allow folks who weren't comfortable with the whole GLBT thing to identify themselves as "straight Christians."

Just think of how helpful this could be! Not only could it help avoid awkward conversations like the one I had today, but it would remind everyone (ourselves included) what our faith is all about.

Because, I don't recall Jesus picking up a canonized bible from the future and calling all of his disciples to pick up their cross and swear allegiance to it. I don't recall Jesus welcoming in everyone except "those people." I remember a Christ that said, "Love (even) your enemies", that proclaimed liberation to the enslaved, and brought Good News to the poor.

The first thing we often say about Christ is how much he Loved; perhaps that's how we should be known as well.

Perhaps.

But, then again, what do I know?

I was kicked out of a Christian ministry today.

I Like Sex, Birth Control, & Kids

By Tim Graves
The air conditioning was broken, the windows of our townhouse were open, fans were blowing, and I was stripped down to my blue running shorts. I lay on the floor nearly comatose from the humid midwestern heat, smiling as I looked at my baby son. He smiled, I smiled. I talked, he cooed. 
The oppressive heat that kept me from moving, didn't thwart the deep joy I felt as I stared into the eyes of my 2-month-old son. There is nothing - NOTHING - as wonderful as fatherhood.
Despite the joys of daddy-ing, a few weeks later I visited the Planned Parenthood office near our home. I made arrangements for, and several weeks afterward had, a vasectomy. I did this because I like sex. I did this because my wife and I chose not to have more children. Oh, yeah, I am and was Christian. Since that time we have both responded to Calls to the ministry.
To summarize,
  • Fatherhood and children are amazing.
  • I like having sex.
  • I practiced birth control so we could have sex and no more children.
  • I am an ordained minister, as is my wife.
Good people disagree with one another. Equally moral people arrive at different conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. Though we all seek to follow Jesus, Christians are not a monolithic group. Despite the impression given by some, there are many different understandings of what following Jesus means.My theology and understanding of the science of reproduction, lead me to conclude that contraception is consistent with the faith. In many cases, such as my own, I believe it to be the most moral decision. I understand and respect the Catholic theology that is unsupportive of many forms of contraception. There is a strong faith that undergirds the official position. I simply do not agree.Americans are free to hold personal beliefs about the morality of contraception based upon their religious (or nonreligious) worldview. As designed, American government must cast a wider range of what is morally acceptable than any particular belief system or religion.  This is the nature of a pluralistic, open society.

This is the nature of a people who built respect of differing views into their constitution. Freedom of expression and religious practice are an essential part of what it means to be American.

Many do not come to the same conclusions about birth control as I do. They are free to argue for their position. They are not free, however, to impose their religious teachings upon the whole. To do so has a name. That name is theocracy.

RECLAIMING QUEERS

Here is the fourth in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on October 7.  It was written by Doug Sloan.  Enjoy!

a resource document of support

RECLAIMING HOMOSEXUALS GAYS, LESBIANS, BISEXUALS, TRANSGENDEREDS and ALL PERSONS WITH ANY TYPE or ANY LEVEL OF QUEERNESS

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Bible verses are NRSV

As a self-proclaimed act of obedience to the laws found in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible / the written Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), there are those who supported the military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and Proposition 8 (PROP 8) in California and who continue to support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and restrictive state legislation such as the proposed marriage-definition amendment  to the Indiana Constitution. Such support generally includes actual or approved legal and cultural discrimination against and exclusion of those with a non-heterosexual orientation. The specific justification is that such support is an act of obedience to a specific unambiguous prohibition found in the Torah.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. ..........Leviticus 18:22

Yet, in spite of the professed obedience, usually there is neither mention of nor advocacy for the specific unambiguous penalty found in the Torah for men who have sex with each other.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:13

The following extended quote is excerpted from an article by Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky, authors of The Bible Now:

We are scholars, not politicians. Our job isn't to score points for a side, push an agenda or to re-size the Bible to fit our personal views.

So here's the text and a summary of the evidence:

"You shall not lay a male the layings of a woman; it is a to'ebah" (offensive thing) ..........Leviticus 18:22.

"And a man who will lay a male the layings of a woman: the two of them have done a to'ebah (offensive thing). They shall be put to death. Their blood is on them" ..........Leviticus 20:13.

We acknowledged that many people have recognized that these two texts pretty clearly do prohibit at least some kinds of male-male sex ... The law really means what pretty much everyone has taken it to mean for centuries. Whatever view one takes, one must address the law fairly in terms of what it says.

So we sought to contribute another perspective that we believe can be helpful on this subject. The text identifies male homosexual acts by the technical term to'ebah, translated in English here as "an offensive thing" or in older translations as "an abomination." This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of the contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts.

The question is: Is this term to'ebah an absolute, meaning that an act that is a to'ebah is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative -- meaning that something that is a to'ebah to one person may not be offensive to another, or something that is a to'ebah in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a to'ebah in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another -- in which case the law may change as people's perceptions change?

When one examines all the occurrences of this technical term in the Hebrew Bible, one finds that elsewhere the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that, if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they're cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians don't eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and don't find it offensive. See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (to'ebah) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.

...

Now, one might respond that the law here is different because it concerns an offensive thing to God -- and is therefore not subject to the relativity of human values. But that is actually not the case here. The Bible specifically identifies such laws about things that are divine offenses with the phrase "an offensive thing to the LORD" (to'ebat yhwh). That phrase is not used here in the law about male homosexual acts. It is not one of the laws that are identified as a to'ebah to God!

If this is right, then it is an amazing irony. Calling male homosexual acts a to'ebah was precisely what made the biblical text seem so absolutely anti-homosexual and without the possibility of change. But it is precisely the fact of to'ebah that opens the possibility of the law's change. So, (1) whatever position one takes on this matter, left or right, conservative or liberal, one should acknowledge that the law really does forbid homosexual sex between males but not between females. And (2) one should recognize that the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive. This could involve arguments and evidence from specialists in biology, psychology and culture. They are beyond our range of expertise as Bible scholars. Our task here has been to make the biblical evidence known.

..........Are Biblical Laws About Homosexuality Eternal? ..........Richard Elliot Friedman, Shawna Dolansky ....................(authors of "The Bible Now") ..........Huffington Post ....................posted 8/1/2011 04:52 PM ET ....................retrieved 9/16/2011

Using this understanding of the text; people who are offended by homosexuality, as an act of obedience to the Leviticus texts, should demand their state legislature classify the act of men having sex with each other as a capital offense. Of course, to be fully compliant with the Torah, the prosecution of this crime would require at least two (2) witnesses of the illegal act.

If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. ..........Numbers 35:30

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. ..........Deuteronomy 17:6

A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. ..........Deuteronomy 19:15

The execution has to be by stoning because the penalty must be imposed by the community and the witnesses.

The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:7

To be perfectly obedient to the Torah, such legislation would prohibit only sex between men. In the Torah, there is no legal prohibition of sex between women - lesbians are allowed. This lack of attention to women having sex with each other is understandable because in that ancient time it was thought that only men initiated new life, only men carried the seed for new life. To the people of that ancient time, a woman only provided a womb which is a "nest" or "fertile ground" or "incubator" - a place where the seed of a man could grow. Women carried life and nurtured life, but they contributed nothing to its inception. The understanding was that the seed of a man, once "planted" in the woman, only grew (not developed) until the woman was "delivered of her burden." If a woman could not have a baby, it was never a problem with the man's seed. Always, it was because her "nest" was "barren" - unsuitable for the growth of new life. In an extension of the same self-serving logic, if a woman did not give birth to sons, it was her fault and never the fault of the man even though he was the only source of "seed", the only source of new life. Such a hegemonic understanding contributed to and sustained the self-serving patriarchal importance and power that any man could lord over any woman.

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One of the hallmarks of the seriousness and importance of this prohibition of sex between men is that the punishment is death - a public execution - a punishment that the Torah requires only in 19 other situations.

1. MURDER Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution. ..........Exodus 21:12-32

2. KIDNAPPING Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:16

If someone is caught kidnapping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7-8

MISTREATMENT OF A PARENT BY A CHILD -- 3. Physical abuse Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

-- 4. Verbal abuse Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:9

TROUBLESOME CHILDREN -- 5. Prostitution by a daughter of a priest When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

-- 6. Stubborn, rebellious, disobedient son If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

ASSAULT -- 7. Assault with a weapon or intent But anyone who strikes another with an iron object, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a stone in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence. Likewise, if someone pushes another from hatred, or hurls something at another, lying in wait, and death ensues, or in enmity strikes another with the hand, and death ensues, then the one who struck the blow shall be put to death; that person is a murderer; the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death, when they meet. But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. These things shall be a statute and ordinance for you throughout your generations wherever you live. ..........Numbers 35:16-29

-- 8. Assault of a pregnant woman When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ..........Exodus 21:22-24

MAGICIANS -- 9. Female sorcerer You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live. ..........Exodus 22:18

-- 10. Medium or wizard A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:27

11. DEATH BY OX GORING When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:28-32

12. ADULTERY If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. ..........Leviticus 20:10

If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. ..........Deuteronomy 22:22

If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her. ..........Deuteronomy 22:23-27

13. MARITAL FRAUD BY A WOMAN Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

14. INCEST The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. ... If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. ..........Leviticus 20:11-12, 14

15. BESTIALITY Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 22:19

If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. ..........Leviticus 20:15-16

16. WORK ON THE SABBATH The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” ..........Exodus 31:12-17

17. GIVING OFFSPRING TO MOLECH Say further to the people of Israel: Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death. I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death, I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech. ..........Leviticus 20:2-5

18. WORSHIPING OTHER GODS If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, and transgresses his covenant by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden—and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 17:2-9

19. DISOBEYING A PRIEST If a judicial decision is too difficult for you to make between one kind of bloodshed and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another—any such matters of dispute in your towns—then you shall immediately go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose, where you shall consult with the levitical priests and the judge who is in office in those days; they shall announce to you the decision in the case. Carry out exactly the decision that they announce to you from the place that the LORD will choose, diligently observing everything they instruct you. You must carry out fully the law that they interpret for you or the ruling that they announce to you; do not turn aside from the decision that they announce to you, either to the right or to the left. As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the LORD your God, or the judge, that person shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. ..........Deuteronomy 17:8-13

By the metric of the punishment required, the other capital crimes should be taken as seriously as the prohibition of men having sex with each other. Of the two executions recorded in the Torah (Leviticus 24:10-23, Numbers 15:32-36), the first was a man who "blasphemed the Name in a curse" and the second was for working on the Sabbath. To be consistently and continually obedient to the Torah, we must demand legislation that will prohibit work on the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) with the penalty being death by stoning. This applies to all people regardless of their religion or citizenship.

Sabbath is from sunset on Friday to Saturday nightfall when three stars are visible, approximately 40 minutes after sunset. Preparation for the Sabbath usually begins by 3 PM on Friday afternoon. On the Sabbath, there must be no driving, no shopping, no professional or amateur or personal sports, no using the Internet, no activity that causes the closing or the use of an electrical circuit, and no moving of any object outside the home.

The Torah does not prohibit "work" in the 20th century English sense of the word. The Torah prohibits "melachah" (Mem-Lamed-Alef-Kaf-Hei), which is usually translated as "work," but does not mean precisely the same thing as the English word.

Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The quintessential example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which G-d ceased from on the seventh day. Note that G-d's work did not require a great physical effort: he spoke, and it was done.

The word melachah is rarely used in scripture outside of the context of Shabbat and holiday restrictions. The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness. Exodus Ch. 31, 35-38. Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Ex. 31:13), thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary:

01. Sowing 02. Plowing 03. Reaping 04. Binding sheaves 05. Threshing 06. Winnowing 07. Selecting 08. Grinding 09. Sifting 10. Kneading 11. Baking 12. Shearing wool 13. Washing wool 14. Beating wool 15. Dyeing wool 16. Spinning 17. Weaving 18. Making two loops 19. Weaving two threads 20. Separating two threads 21. Tying 22. Untying 23. Sewing two stitches 24. Tearing 25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Flaying 28. Salting meat 29. Curing hide 30. Scraping hide 31. Cutting hide up 32. Writing two letters 33. Erasing two letters 34. Building 35. Tearing a building down 36. Extinguishing a fire 37. Kindling a fire 38. Hitting with a hammer 39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain. ..........Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2

All of these tasks are prohibited, as well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose. In addition, the rabbis have prohibited handling any implement that is intended to perform one of the above purposes (for example, a hammer, a pencil or a match) unless the tool is needed for a permitted purpose (using a hammer to crack nuts when nothing else is available) or needs to be moved to do something permitted (moving a pencil that is sitting on a prayer book), or in certain other limited circumstances. Objects that may not be handled on Shabbat are referred to as "muktzeh," which means, "that which is set aside," because you set it aside (and don't use it unnecessarily) on Shabbat.

The rabbis have also prohibited travel, buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat. The use of electricity is prohibited because it serves the same function as fire or some of the other prohibitions, or because it is technically considered to be "fire."

The issue of the use of an automobile on Shabbat, so often argued by non-observant Jews, is not really an issue at all for observant Jews. The automobile is powered by an internal combustion engine, which operates by burning gasoline and oil, a clear violation of the Torah prohibition against kindling a fire. In addition, the movement of the car would constitute transporting an object in the public domain, another violation of a Torah prohibition, and in all likelihood the car would be used to travel a distance greater than that permitted by rabbinical prohibitions. For all these reasons, and many more, the use of an automobile on Shabbat is clearly not permitted.

As with almost all of the commandments, all of these Shabbat restrictions can be violated if necessary to save a life. ..........Judaism 101 - Shabbat ..........also see: English!nfo - Shabbat

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. ..........Exodus 20:8-10

The LORD said to Moses: You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 31:12-17

You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day. ..........Exodus 35:3

It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute forever. ..........Leviticus 16:31

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. ..........Deuteronomy 5:14

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. ..........Numbers 15:32-36

The biblical concept of work melakha [work] applies to work involving the production, creation, or transformation of an object. ..........Rabbi Abraham Chill, The Mitzvot, p. 37 ..........as quoted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 599

In the defense of modern Sabbath practices, we are directed to the Gospels telling of Jesus "working" on the Sabbath.

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. ..........Mark 2 :23-28; 3:1-5

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. ..........Matthew 12:1-13

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. ..........Luke 6:1-10

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. ..........Luke 13:10-17

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this. ..........Luke 14:1-6

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. ..........John 5:1-16

“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ..........John 7:19-24

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. ..........John 9:1-14

So, with the simplest of methods for gathering the simplest of nourishment and with a few acts of healing, we have justification for abandoning: one of the ten commandments, a substantial body of religious law, a defining cultural activity and for setting aside all the spiritual and secular reasoning for honoring and holding sacred a day of rest and reflection - and replace it with professional sports, athletic competitions for children, travel and recreation, cultural activities and being open for business 24/7. If it is so easy to ignore a major and substantial religious practice repeatedly uplifted, enshrined and required by the Torah and by all the scripture that follows, why is it so hard to let go of two verses that have substantially less biblical mention and support and no contemporary justification?

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To be obedient to the Torah, we must demand that death penalty sentencing laws be amended to allow for the execution of any child who is rebellious, violent with a parent or verbally abusive to a parent, or a church leader’s daughter who becomes a prostitute or any daughter who is not a virgin when she marries the first time.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ..........Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:15

Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. ..........Exodus 21:17

When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. ..........Leviticus 21:9

Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 22:13-19

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To be obedient to the Torah and in compliance with the rest of the Bible, the legalization of slavery must be reinstated. The Bible has neither a prohibition nor a condemnation of slavery. In the Bible, slavery is an unquestioned and normal part of life as reflected in the 279 mentions - from Genesis to Revelation - in the history, narrative, poetry, psalms, proverbs, prophecies, parables and letters of the Bible:

Genesis 9:25-27; 12:16; 15:3; 16:1-8; 17:9-13; 20:14-17; 21:10-13; 24:35; 25:12; 30:43; 32:5; 43:18; 44:9-10, 16-17, 33; 47:19-25; 49:15; 50:18 Exodus 2:23; 6:5-9; 9:20-21; 11:5; 12:44; 13:3, 14; 20:2, 10, 17; 21:5, 7, 20-21, 26-27, 32; 23:12 Leviticus 19:20; 25:6, 39, 42, 44, 46; 26:13 Deuteronomy 5:6, 14-15, 21; 6:12, 21; 7:8, 8:14, 12:12, 18; 13:5, 10, 13, 15, 17; 16:11-12, 14; 21:14; 23:15; 24:18, 22; 28:68 Joshua 9:23; 24:17 Judges 9:18 1 Samuel 2:27; 4:9; 8:16-17; 25:41 1 Kings 2:39-40; 9:21-22 2 Kings 4:1; 5:26 1 Chronicles 2:34-35 2 Chronicles 8:9; 28:10 Ezra 9:8-9 Nehemiah 5:5; 7:67; 9:17, 36; Esther 7:4 Job 3:19; 7:2; 31:13 Psalm 105:17 Proverbs 17:2; 19:10; 22:7; 29:21; 30:22 Ecclesiastes 2:7; 10:7 Isaiah 14:2; 24:2; 49:7 Jeremiah 2:14; 25:14; 27:7; 34:9-16 Lamentations 5:8 Ezekiel 34:27 Joel 2:29 Micah 6:4 Nahum 2:7; 3:4 Zechariah 2:9 Matthew 6:24; 8:9; 10:24-25; 13:27-28; 18:23-33; 20:27; 21:34-36; 22:3-10; 24:45-50; 25:14-30; 26:51 Mark 10:44; 12:2-4; 13:34; 14:47 Luke 7:2-10; 12:37-47; 14:17-23; 15:22-29; 16:13; 17:7-10: 19:13-22; 20:10-11; 22:50 John 4:51; 8:33-35; 18:10, 18, 26 Acts 2:18; 7:6; 10:7; 16:16-17 Romans 6:6, 16-22; 7:6, 14, 25; 8:15 1 Corinthians 7:21-23; 9:19, 27; 12:13 2 Corinthians 4:5, 11:20 Galatians 3:28; 4:1, 3, 7-9, 22-25, 30-31; 5:1, 13; 6:5-6, 8 Philippians 2:7 Colossians 3:11, 22; 4:1 1 Timothy 6:1 Titus 2:3, 9; 3:3 Philemon 1:16 Hebrews 2:15 1 Peter 2:18 2 Peter 2:19 Revelation 6:15; 13:16; 18:13; 19:18

The importance and acceptance of ancient slavery is demonstrated by the laws of the Torah that govern or prohibit certain types of slavery as well as how slaves are to be acquired and treated.

If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ..........Deuteronomy 24:7

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. ..........Exodus 21:20-21

When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. ... If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. ..........Exodus 21:26-27,32

These are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. ..........Exodus 21:1-7

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien’s family, after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, or their uncle or their uncle’s son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves. They shall compute with the purchaser the total from the year when they sold themselves to the alien until the jubilee year; the price of the sale shall be applied to the number of years: the time they were with the owner shall be rated as the time of a hired laborer. If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption. As a laborer hired by the year they shall be under the alien’s authority, who shall not, however, rule with harshness over them in your sight. And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year. For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 25:39-55

If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. ..........Deuteronomy 15:12-18

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her. ..........Deuteronomy 21:10-14

Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them. ..........Deuteronomy 23:15-16

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Yet, with this unambiguous scriptural support for a ban on work on Sunday and for the execution of troublesome children and for the death penalty as punishment for incest and adultery and non-virgin first-time brides and for the reinstatement of slavery, there are no national movements, no referendums, no court challenges, no legislation and not even one proponent on FOX news.

Why is the biblical concern for honoring the Sabbath and maintaining the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship so unimportant and inconsequential? Why is the biblical acceptance of slavery not embraced? Why are we so squeamish about executing children when the Torah has no such reluctance? Why are the two verses prohibiting sex between men so important that it justifies huge expenditures of money, time, effort, emotion, creative energy and political capital to maintain a last-ditch tangential enforcement of those two verses in a way that will inevitably be deemed unconstitutional? Whatever caused the deathly fear of sorcerers and wizards and mediums and Molech either does not exist or we have replaced the irrational fear with understanding and knowledge. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that slavery is wrong; it is that we have realized that slavery has always been wrong. It is not that we have realized only for ourselves that infanticide and the execution of children is wrong; it is that we have realized that such killings have always been wrong. As well-illustrated by these two immoral situations – slavery and the killing of children – our understanding of right and wrong and worship and faithfulness has matured and moved beyond the understanding held by our faith ancestors. As the scripture encourages us to do, we are moving from the tribal justice of Genesis 34 through the individual responsibility legalism of the written Torah to the Good News of love and grace, hospitality and generosity, compassion and service, and forgiveness and justice as taught by Jesus.

We are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel or any ancient nation; we are not members of an ancient culture or people – and it is impossible for us to be them – it is impossible for us to live like them, to think like them, to believe like them and to perceive like them. And it was impossible for them to be us, a people of their unseen and unforeseeable future – thus it was impossible for them to live like us, to think like us, to believe like us and to perceive like us. Since that ancient time, we have discovered and constantly live with: Chaos Theory – and Quantum Theory – and the Theory of Relativity with its E=mc2 and time as a pliable dimension – and the accelerating expansion of a universe of dark matter and dark energy and black holes and trillions of stars and trillions of light-years – and nano-technology – and nascent space travel – and solid state programmable devices – and electricity – and mass communication via print, wire and electro-magnetic radiation – and global travel by land, water and air. We calculate and catalogue and understand ourselves and the world and the universe using DNA-based and cellular-based medical science that includes detailed macro- and micro-knowledge of our anatomy and biological functions – and the physics of the Newtonian laws concerning motion and gravity – and calculus – and parallel-processing super-computers – and the Internet and the Web – and decimal and binary and hexadecimal and octal numbering systems that include a zero digit and use positional notation – – all of which are knowledge and methods that so pervasively inform our existence and are so intrinsically woven into the fabric of each individual paradigm – it imbues us with an inescapable world view and an inescapable sense of perception and an inescapable way of thinking. It is a world view and way of perceiving and way of thinking that was unknown and incomprehensible to our ancient ancestors – and the lack of such knowledge and technologies and methods and processes gave our ancient ancestors a world view and a way of perceiving and a way of thinking that, in too many important indiscernible ways, is unknowable and unverifiable. To a large extent, ancient people and contemporary people are mutually incomprehensible.

Wizards and sorcerers and witches and warlocks and mediums and magic and Molech and other gods do not exist - and so it is that many ancient feared intangibles do not exist. In December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted the APA position and all AMA professional policies include a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the well-researched and well-considered professional opinion of American psychiatrists and physicians, in and of itself, homosexuality is neither pathological nor abnormal. This means that, in and of itself, as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is both normal and healthy. Every AMA psychiatrist and physician has a professional and ethical obligation to conduct their practice in accordance with this policy. While a layperson may hold a differing personal opinion, that opinion does not qualify as either a valid or rational argument – that would require a mountain of contrary peer-reviewed published research. Minus such evidence, no argument can be made against the normalcy and healthiness of homosexuality as a sexual orientation.

In its June 26, 2003 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas made several important decisions.

1) Because it was a violation of the Due Process Clause, the Court overturned the Texas statue that made it a crime for two people “to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct”.

2) It overturned the Supreme Court decision made and the legal reasoning used in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case that had upheld state sodomy laws.

3) “The Bowers Court was, of course, making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral, but this Court's obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code.”

4) It is unconstitutional to ban or restrict the rights of homosexuals because they are homosexual. The Court affirmed “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

In the suit to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional (Perry v. Schwarzenegger transcripts) (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision), the defendants faced and did not meet their difficult legal challenge. The defense did not provide a rational basis for Proposition 8 and did not provide any evidence that Proposition 8 would harm opposite-sex marriages. “Instead the evidence shows beyond debate that allowing same-sex couples to marry has at least a neutral, if not a positive, effect on the institution of marriage and that same-sex couples’ marriages would benefit the state. Moreover the evidence shows that the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or same-sex couples will remain unaffected if the state ceases to enforce Proposition 8” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 125-126). “But proponents, amici and the court, despite ample opportunity and a full trial, have failed to identify any rational basis Proposition 8 could advance. Proponents, represented by able and energetic counsel, developed a full trial record in support of Proposition 8. The resulting evidence shows that Proposition 8 simply conflicts with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear of unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples” (Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, pp. 131-132).

Opponents of homosexuals freely exercising their constitutional rights sometimes choose to remove themselves from organizations that will not support or embrace their opposition. Opponents do so to avoid associating with homosexuals fully participating in the roles and opportunities of the organization. What the opponents do not realize is – it is too late, it is already unavoidable. It is not that homosexuals have appeared or arrived. Homosexuals have always been here and always participated. It is not that homosexuals are more visible on television and in movies and plays and musicals. It is that homosexuals are unavoidably visible in everyday life and many organizations allow or accommodate, if not encourage, their participation and contributions. Every doctor – every general physician, obstetrician, pediatrician, urologist, gynecologist, oncologist, ophthalmologist, every medical specialist you can think of – has a professional responsibility and obligation to accept homosexual patients and to extend professional courtesies and cooperation to homosexual physicians and medical technicians and to treat their homosexual orientation as healthy and normal. Businesses need people with productive and problem-solving skills as well as people who are creative and innovative. Businesses have found that it is an unacceptable, even counter-productive, expense in terms of monetary and talent cost and in terms of the potential contributions to a competitor to discriminate against potential valuable employees because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. Trying to avoid association with homosexuals or organizations who welcome homosexuals is a guaranteed losing strategy. It is choosing to be left behind.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. ..........Matthew 18:1-6

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. ..........Matthew 19:13-15

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ..........Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” ..........Luke 18:15-17

Jesus loves the little children All the children of the world Black and yellow, red and white They're all precious in His sight Jesus loves the little children of the world Music: George Frederick Root (1820-1895) Lyrics: Clare Herbert Woolston (1856-1927)

The song came to the forefront of popularity in 1970 as the opening lyrics for “Everything is Beautiful” composed and performed by Ray Stevens. The song was a #1 hit single in the United States, Canada and Australia. Either or both songs became staples of children’s music in many Sunday Schools. Guess what – our children got it. Our children accepted it and ran with it and extended it. Inter-racial couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Same-sex couples? No problem, no big deal, it is a normal part of life. Our children know and live the truth of “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” As our children gain their maturity and independence – at school, in college, on the job, in relationships – they will see for themselves that love has no boundaries. Love is not restrained by abilities or appearance or race or sex. Homosexuals are a normal healthy 1% - 2% of the population. That is 1% - 2% of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – and the children of our cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow church members. It will be a sad day for opponents of homosexual participation when they realize that their children have chosen inclusion over exclusion and that in this area of life, they – the opponents of homosexual participation – have been, as were the opponents of racial integration, left behind by their own children.

Opponents of homosexual participation, in attempting to segregate themselves from homosexuals and those who associate with homosexuals, ignore the diversity and creativity it takes to make professions and businesses succeed. The following incomplete list names and links to corporations that have diversity policies that explicitly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or support GLBT employee resource groups or have earned awards for supporting GLBT inclusion:

AFLAC Alcoa American Electric Power Anheuser-Busch AT&T Caterpillar Chrysler CISCO ConAgra Foods Disney DOW Duke Energy Dupont ESPN Ford Gannett General Electric General Mills General Motors Google Harley-Davidson Hersheys Hewlitt Packard Honeywell IBM John Deere JP Morgan Chase Lilly Mahle Marriott Microsoft MillerCoors NBA Oracle Progressive Prudential Sears Holdings (Sears / Kmart / Craftsman / Kenmore / Lands End) Shell Sprint State Farm SuperValu (Jewel-OSCO) 3M US Steel WellPoint

There has been a drive to ask presidential candidates to sign a pledge that they will oppose legal recognition of Sharia law. The problem with the pledge is that it is inadequate; it is neither strong enough nor wide enough. There is no room and no justification for the civil recognition of the law of any religion or to give the law of any religion any legislative or enforcement weight or influence or power regardless of whether that religion be Islam, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Why? There are two reasons? 1) Those ancient religious laws were not written by us, for us, to us or about us. Those ancient laws neither compel us not control us and do not and should not have any legal standing. Specifically, in regards to the Torah, we are not citizens of the ancient nation of Israel – a nation which is long gone and will never return to exist as it did in the Hebrew Bible. 2) It is neither the age nor the irrelevance that nulls the "clobber" verses, it is the hypocrisy by which they are proclaimed and honored. To lift up those two verses – above all others – is to commit idolatry and trivialize the Good News message and the entire Bible.

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to reply, "SO WHAT?!"

The time has come, when we are confronted with the clobber verses, to ask:

“If the law of Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 is the word of God, what about the other 600 laws?”

"Why are these two verses so much more important than all the other laws and all the other scripture?"

"Why are these two verses so authoritative and powerful that they can be used to exclude and control and limit other people in a way that is illegal, unconstitutional and has no medical basis?”

"The scripture about love and grace and compassion and service and hospitality and generosity and forgiveness of sins and debts and justice as restoration – why are these laws and verses of lesser or no importance?"

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"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." ..........Matthew 5:17-19

"But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped." ..........Luke 16:17

When Jesus proclaims that not a letter of the law will be dropped, he is not talking about the punitive legalism of the Torah, he is talking about the justice of the Torah – justice as compassion and restoration and forgiveness and love – and administered by judges who are fair and even-handed and independent – and due process is administered with integrity and truth – and available to all and applied to all without exception. (in the following verses, red emphasis has been added)

Then God spoke all these words: I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

V. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. You shall not commit adultery.

VIII. You shall not steal.

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Exodus 20:1-17

I. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

IV. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

V. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

VI. You shall not murder.

VII. Neither shall you commit adultery.

VIII. Neither shall you steal.

IX. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

X. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. ..........Deuteronomy 5:1-21

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ..........Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ..........Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ..........Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ..........Exodus 23:1-11

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ..........Exodus 34:6-7a

He shall do with the bull just as is done with the bull of sin offering; he shall do the same with this. The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. … All its fat he shall turn into smoke on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of well-being. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven. … He shall remove all its fat, as the fat is removed from the offering of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odor to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … And the second he shall offer for a burnt offering according to the regulation. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. … Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for whichever of these sins you have committed, and you shall be forgiven. Like the grain offering, the rest shall be for the priest. … And you shall make restitution for the holy thing in which you were remiss, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. The priest shall make atonement on your behalf with the ram of the guilt offering, and you shall be forgiven. … You shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, or the equivalent, as a guilt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the error that you committed unintentionally, and you shall be forgiven. … The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby. … And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him. … ..........Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7, 22

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ..........Leviticus 19:9-18

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin : I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. ..........Leviticus 19:33-36

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 23:22

You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. ..........Leviticus 24:22

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites — houses sold in a city belonging to them — shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ..........Leviticus 25:23-38

Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native. ..........Numbers 9:14

“ ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression’ ” ..........Numbers 14:18a

Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked” ..........Numbers 14:19-20

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. ..........Numbers 15:14-16

The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the Israelites, and they shall be forgiven; it was unintentional, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people was involved in the error. … And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them – you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. ..........Numbers 15:25-26, 28-29

This shall be a perpetual statute for the Israelites and for the alien residing among them. ..........Numbers 19:10b

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ..........Numbers 35:10-15

But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home. … Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. ..........Numbers 35:22-28, 32

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ..........Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ..........Deuteronomy 10:17-19

You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. ..........Deuteronomy 14:21a

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ..........Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ..........Deuteronomy 16:18-20

You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. ..........Deuteronomy 23:7

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ..........Deuteronomy 24:10-22

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments” ..........Deuteronomy 26:10-13

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” ..........Deuteronomy 27:18-19

These are the verses concerning and advocating and demanding and requiring inclusion, justice, forgiveness and compassion – just from the Torah. These are not the only verses – the entire Bible speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands and requirements.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” … Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died. ..........Genesis 2:16-17; 5:5

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ..........Genesis 4:8-15

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, .....nor the hope of the poor perish forever. ..........Psalm 9:18

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor.....let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, .....those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. Their mouths are filled .....with cursing and deceit and oppression; .....under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; .....in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; .....they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; .....they lurk that they may seize the poor; .....they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, .....and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, .....“God has forgotten, .....he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; .....you will strengthen their heart, .....you will incline your ear to do justice .....for the orphan and the oppressed, .....so that those from earth may strike terror no more. ..........Psalm 10:2-3, 7-11, 17-18

“Because the poor are despoiled, .....because the needy groan, .....I will now rise up,” says the Lord; .....“I will place them in the safety for which they long.” ..........Psalm 12:5

You would confound the plans of the poor, .....but the Lord is their refuge ..........Psalm 14:6

But the meek shall inherit the land, .....and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows .....to bring down the poor and needy, .....to kill those who walk uprightly; ..........Psalm 37:11, 14

Happy are those who consider the poor; .....the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. ..........Psalm 41:1

Father of orphans and protector of widows .....is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; .....he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, .....but the rebellious live in a parched land. ..........Psalm 68:5-6

May he judge your people with righteousness, .....and your poor with justice. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, .....give deliverance to the needy, .....and crush the oppressor. For he delivers the needy when they call, .....the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, .....and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; .....and precious is their blood in his sight. ..........Psalm 72:2, 4, 12-14

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; .....maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; .....deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” ..........Psalm 82:3-4

O Lord, .....how long shall the wicked, .....how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; .....all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, .....and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, .....they murder the orphan ..........Psalm 94:3-6

Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and all that is within me, .....bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, .....and do not forget all his benefits – The Lord works vindication and justice .....for all who are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, .....slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins, .....nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, .....so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; ..........Psalm 103:1-2, 6, 8, 10-11

They have distributed freely, .....they have given to the poor; .....their righteousness endures forever; .....their horn is exalted in honor. ..........Psalm 112:9

He raises the poor from the dust, .....and lifts the needy from the ash heap, .....to make them sit with princes, .....with the princes of his people. ..........Psalm 113:7-8

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, .....and executes justice for the poor. ..........Psalm 140:12

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, .....in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; .....on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, .....whose hope is in the Lord their God, .....who made heaven and earth, the sea .....and all that is in them; .....who keeps faith forever; .....who executes justice for the oppressed; .....who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; .....the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; .....the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers; .....he upholds the orphan and the widow, .....but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever, .....your God, O Zion, .....for all generations. Praise the Lord! ..........Psalm 146

The field of the poor may yield much food, .....but it is swept away through injustice. ..........Proverbs 13:23

Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, .....but happy are those who are kind to the poor. A truthful witness saves lives, .....but one who utters lies is a betrayer. Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, .....but those who are kind to the needy honor him. ..........Proverbs 14:21, 25, 31

The Lord tears down the house of the proud, .....but maintains the widow’s boundaries. Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, .....but gracious words are pure. Those who are greedy for unjust gain .....make trouble for their households, .....but those who hate bribes will live. The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, .....but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil. ..........Proverbs 15:25-28

Better is a little with righteousness .....than large income with injustice. Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; .....all the weights in the bag are his work. ..........Proverbs 16:8, 11

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; .....those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished. One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, .....but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend. The wicked accept a concealed bribe .....to pervert the ways of justice. To impose a fine on the innocent is not right, .....or to flog the noble for their integrity. ..........Proverbs 17:5, 9, 23, 26

A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and a liar will not escape. A false witness will not go unpunished, .....and the liar will perish. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, .....and will be repaid in full. What is desirable in a person is loyalty, .....and it is better to be poor than a liar. A worthless witness mocks at justice, .....and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity. ..........Proverbs 19:5, 9, 17, 22

To do righteousness and justice .....is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, .....you will cry out and not be heard. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, .....but dismay to evildoers. Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness .....will find life and honor. All day long the wicked covet, .....but the righteous give and do not hold back. A false witness will perish, .....but a good listener will testify successfully. ..........Proverbs 21:3, 13, 15, 21, 26, 28

The rich and the poor have this in common: .....the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, .....and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, .....for they share their bread with the poor. Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, .....and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, .....or crush the afflicted at the gate; .....for the Lord pleads their cause .....and despoils of life those who despoil them. ..........Proverbs 22:2, 8-9, 16, 22-23

A ruler who oppresses the poor .....is a beating rain that leaves no food. Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, .....but those who keep the law struggle against them. The evil do not understand justice, .....but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. Better to be poor and walk in integrity .....than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich. One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest .....gathers it for another who is kind to the poor. The rich is wise in self-esteem, .....but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose. When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, .....but when the wicked prevail, people go into hiding Like a roaring lion or a charging bear .....is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor; .....but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life. Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, .....but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. ..........Proverbs 28:3-6, 11-12, 15-16, 27

The poor and the oppressor have this in common: .....the Lord gives light to the eyes of both. If a king judges the poor with equity, .....his throne will be established forever. ..........Proverbs 29:13-14

There are those whose teeth are swords, .....whose teeth are knives, .....to devour the poor from off the earth, .....the needy from among mortals. ..........Proverbs 30:14

Speak out for those who cannot speak, .....for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, .....defend the rights of the poor and needy. ..........Proverbs 31:8-9

Wash yourselves; .....make yourselves clean; .....remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; .....cease to do evil, .....learn to do good; .....seek justice, .....rescue the oppressed, .....defend the orphan, .....plead for the widow. ..........Isaiah 1:16-17

Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, .....and the widow’s cause does not come before them. ..........Isaiah 1:23

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, .....who write oppressive statutes, .....to turn aside the needy from justice .....and to rob the poor of my people of their right, .....that widows may be your spoil, .....and that you may make the orphans your prey! ..........Isaiah 10:1-2

For you have been a refuge to the poor, .....a refuge to the needy in their distress, .....a shelter from the rainstorm .....and a shade from the heat. ..........Isaiah 25:4a

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, .....and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant shall be no more, .....and the scoffer shall cease to be; .....all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, .....who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, .....and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. ..........Isaiah 29:19-21

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; .....therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; .....blessed are all those who wait for him. ..........Isaiah 30:18

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, .....my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; .....he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, .....or make it heard in the street; .....a bruised reed he will not break, .....and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; .....he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed .....until he has established justice in the earth; .....and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, .....who created the heavens .....and stretched them out, .....who spread out the earth and what comes from it, .....who gives breath to the people upon it .....and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, .....a light to the nations, .....to open the eyes that are blind, .....to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, .....from the prison those who sit in darkness. ..........Isaiah 42:1-7

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, .....and do what is right, .....for soon my salvation will come, .....and my deliverance be revealed. ..........Isaiah 56:1

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, .....to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me .....and delight to know my ways, .....as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness .....and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgements, .....they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, .....and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel .....and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today .....will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, .....and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: .....to loose the bonds of injustice, .....to undo the thongs of the yoke, .....to let the oppressed go free, .....and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, .....and bring the homeless poor into your house; .....when you see the naked, to cover them, .....and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, .....and your healing shall spring up quickly; .....your vindicator shall go before you, .....the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; .....you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, .....the pointing of the finger, .....the speaking of evil, .....if you offer your food to the hungry .....and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, .....then your light shall rise in the darkness .....and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, .....and satisfy your needs in parched places, .....and make your bones strong; .....and you shall be like a watered garden, .....like a spring of water, .....whose waters never fail. ..........Isaiah 58:1-12

For I the Lord love justice, .....I hate robbery and wrongdoing ..........Isaiah 61:8

But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; .....they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, .....who gives the rain in its season, .....the autumn rain and the spring rain, .....and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, .....and your sins have deprived you of good. For scoundrels are found among my people; .....they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; .....they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, .....their houses are full of treachery; .....therefore they have become great and rich, .....they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; .....they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, .....to make it prosper, .....and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, .....and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this? ..........Jeremiah 5.23-29

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, .....if you truly act justly one with another, .....if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....or shed innocent blood in this place, .....and if you do not .....go after other gods to your own hurt, .....then I will dwell with you in this place, .....in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors .....forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, .....make offerings to Baal, .....and go after other gods that you have not known, .....and then come and stand before me in this house, .....which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” – .....only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, .....become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 7:5-11

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people .....not been restored? ..........Jeremiah 8:21-22

Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, .....do not let the mighty boast in their might, .....do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, .....that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, .....and righteousness in the earth, .....for in these things I delight, says the Lord. ..........Jeremiah 9:23-24

To the house of the king of Judah say: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord: Execute justice in the morning, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed, .....or else my wrath will go forth like fire, .....and burn, with no one to quench it, .....because of your evil doings.

Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, .....and speak there this word, and say: Hear the word of the Lord, .....O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David – .....you, and your servants, .....and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, .....and deliver from the hand of the oppressor .....anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence .....to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, .....nor shed innocent blood in this place. ..........Jeremiah 21:8; 22:1-3

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, .....and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, .....and does not give them their wages; ..........Jeremiah 22:13

Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink .....and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; .....then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord. But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, .....for shedding innocent blood, .....and for practicing oppression and violence. ..........Jeremiah 22:15-17

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, .....when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, .....and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, .....and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 23:5

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; .....and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ..........Jeremiah 33:15

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: .....she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, .....and prosperous ease, .....but did not aid the poor and needy. ..........Ezekiel 16:49

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right – … .....does not oppress anyone, .....but restores to the debtor his pledge, .....commits no robbery, .....gives his bread to the hungry .....and covers the naked with a garment, .....does not take advance or accrued interest, .....withholds his hand from iniquity, .....executes true justice between contending parties, .....follows my statutes, .....and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully — .....such a one is righteous; .....he shall surely live, says the Lord God. ..........Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9

The princes of Israel in you, .....everyone according to his power, .....have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; .....the alien residing within you suffers extortion; .....the orphan and the widow are wronged in you. … In you, they take bribes to shed blood; .....you take both advance interest and accrued interest, .....and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; .....and you have forgotten me, says the Lord God. … The people of the land .....have practiced extortion and committed robbery; .....they have oppressed the poor and needy, .....and have extorted from the alien without redress. ..........Ezekiel 22:6, 12, 29

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, .....and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, .....and I will bring back the strayed, .....and I will bind up the injured, .....and I will strengthen the weak, .....but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. ..........Ezekiel 34:15-16

Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, .....and bring righteousness to the ground! … Therefore because you trample on the poor .....and take from them levies of grain, .....you have built houses of hewn stone, .....but you shall not live in them; .....you have planted pleasant vineyards, .....but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, .....and how great are your sins – .....you who afflict the righteous, .....who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. … Seek good and not evil, that you may live; .....and so the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, .....and establish justice in the gate; .....it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, .....will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. … I hate, I despise your festivals, .....and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me .....your burnt offerings and grain offerings, .....I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals .....I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; .....I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, .....and righteousness like an everflowing stream. ..........Amos 5:7, 11-12, 14-15, 21-24

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, .....and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; .....and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, .....and practice deceit with false balances, .....buying the poor for silver .....and the needy for a pair of sandals, .....and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” ..........Amos 8:4-6

With what shall I come before the Lord, .....and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, .....with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, .....with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, .....the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; .....and what does the Lord require of you .....but to do justice, .....and to love kindness, .....and to walk humbly with your God? ..........Micah 6:6-8

The faithful have disappeared from the land, .....and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, .....and they hunt each other with nets. Their hands are skilled to do evil; .....the official and the judge ask for a bribe, .....and the powerful dictate what they desire; .....thus they pervert justice. The best of them is like a brier, .....the most upright of them a thorn hedge. ..........Micah 7:2-4

So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – .....therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ..........Habakkuk 1:4

The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, .....show kindness and mercy to one another; .....do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; .....and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. ..........Zechariah 7:8-10

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness .....against the sorcerers, .....against the adulterers, .....against those who swear falsely, .....against those .....who oppress the hired workers in their wages, .....the widow and the orphan, .....against those who thrust aside the alien, .....and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. ..........Malachi 3:5

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; .....and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, .....for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, .....for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, .....for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, .....for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, .....for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, .....for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those .....who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, .....for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you .....when people revile you .....and persecute you .....and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. ..........Matthew 5:1-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Matthew 11:2-6

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” ..........Matthew 19:12

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” ..........Matthew 19:16-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ..........Matthew 23:23-28

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. ..........Mark 10:17-22

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” ..........Luke 4:16-21

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, .....for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, .....for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, .....for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, .....and when they exclude you, revile you, .....and defame you on account of the Son of Man. ..........Luke 6:20-22

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” ..........Luke 7:18-23

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. ..........Luke 11:33-42

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” ..........Luke 14:12-14

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. ..........Luke 18:1-8a

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. ..........Luke 18:18-23

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” ..........Luke 19:1-10

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. … If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? ..........James 2:1-9, 15-16

It is important to remember that the purpose of the law is not itself. The law is not the final response or the final answer or the final act or the final word of justice and compassion. The law is not the last stop in the development of our morals or our relationship with God. The law is only a single step in our faith journey – a journey that extends beyond and away from the law.

The first purpose of the law was to serve as a call to ancient Israel to leave behind the tribal justice practices of that ancient time.

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.” Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.

And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.” The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”

Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his family. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These people are friendly with us; let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.” And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” ..........Genesis 34

The law of the Torah is a radical response to and a revocation of tribal justice and calls Israel away from those practices and points to a different way of living and to a future of justice and compassion. The law is less about how and when to be punitive and more about how to live with each other, at least as mutually respectful citizens and preferably as members of a compassionate God-loving community. Through the entire law, there is a consistent and repeated admonition that the law is to be used to provide fair and even-handed justice through the inclusion of aliens and strangers and widows and orphans, through due process imbued with integrity and truth as administered by fair even-handed independent judges, through forgiveness of sins and debts, and through compassion for those without property or food or self-sufficiency. This is the law that Jesus wanted upheld. This is the law that Jesus did not want to go away. Providing universal justice and compassion is true faithfulness to the law. Used in this way, the law can still inform, inspire and guide us.

What if prisons were places of refuge and restoration and life instead of places of vengeance and retribution and death?

What if shelters for the homeless, food banks, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity and mission trips to disaster areas were sacred inward and outward journeys, the means by which we become the hands and arms and legs and sweat and exertion of the body and presence of Christ, an outward manifestation of an inner truth and light, the bringing and building and living the Kingdom of God here and now instead of an actionless worthless meaningless hope for a future occurrence and existence, instead of being a burden or being an obligatory but pious sacrifice of our time and resources?

Clearly, there is more to the written law of the Torah than two verses about men having sex with each other. There is more to Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 than their literal prohibition. The immediate context is that they are a very small part of a collection of over 600 laws that governed an ancient nation that existed 2000 years ago and those laws do not and should not govern us. The next larger context is: how do we live in relationship with each other as a natural extension of our loving relationship with God? The largest context is: what is the nature of God?

We criminalize murder and assault and kidnapping because we have determined for ourselves in our time that it is wrong – and not because it says so in the Bible. We choose to criminalize adult prostitution as a health and abuse issue – and not as a religious or moral issue. We have determined that infanticide and the execution of children and the use of children for sex is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that slavery is immoral – an immorality that is universal and timeless. We have determined that witches and warlocks and sorcerers and wizards and magicians and magic do not exist and never did. We have determined that as a sexual orientation, homosexuality is healthy and normal. We have determined that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to a private intimate relationship. It would be a good and faithful small step to determine that any two consenting people, regardless of race or sex, have the right to establish a legal monogamous family relationship. There is no rational or medical or legal or biblical reason to discriminate against non-heterosexual people or to deny them any of their constitutional rights. Recognition and affirmation of those constitutional rights would be true obedience to the law of the Torah – true obedience to the spirit and direction and purpose and message of the law – true obedience to all the covenants with God – and true obedience to the intent and will and passion of God.

For a PDF of this article: RECLAIMING QUEERS Size = 217 KB

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE ..........RECLAIMING EXODUS ..........RECLAIMING EDEN ..........RECLAIMING THE ISSUES

God's Justice, Not Ours - 1 of 2

My father, Hollis, instilled in me the value of duty and responsibilty.  He came by this honestly.  His father, Henry, instilled that into him.  Add to that a 27 year career as an officer in the Marine Corps and you'll easily make the connection.  If the truth be told, I honor that part in him and also in myself where I find it.  So much so that my wife and I had planned to name our next child, Henry Hollis Dunn, to honor them both.  We ended up with three more children, all girls.  I love my father and grandfather, but not that much! My guess is that most of us living in North America don't need a father or a grandfather like mine to have had instilled in them a sense of duty and responsibility, a work ethic that places value on hard work and showing up on time.  We get enough of it simply by living in America.  If the truth be told again, we honor this about ourselves as a people.  In some important sense it is what makes our country great.  There's nothing wrong with that.  The problem is it makes it awfully difficult to hear the teachings of Jesus without getting really confused or extremely agitated (read, really hacked off!).

For instance, Jesus tells a parable at the beginning of which he says, "This is what the kingdom of heaven is like."  Here's how it goes:

Early in the morning a landowner (who seems to represent God in this parable) hires people to work in his vineyard for the standard daily wage.  He hires additional people at 9AM, noon, 3PM, and again at 5PM, telling each of these groups that he will give them “whatever is right.”  Whatever is just.  (See how Jesus is setting us up?).  When the workday ends, he first pays the folks who labored only a single hour the standard daily wage, the same amount he pledged to those who worked sunup to sundown.  When the members of that full-day crew get to the front of the line, they receive the same amount, exactly what they were promised.  “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like,” says Jesus.

As you can imagine the full day workers are understandably resentful.  We hardworking Americans, who've been responsible and duty-bound, who've kept our noses clean, understand why they'd be more than a little hacked, don't we?

The actions off the landowner are absurd.  They make no sense to us.  This is no way to run a business.  ___________ has noted that Jesus' parables often include absurd behavior.  In Jesus' parables very often the absurd behavior actually delivers the message.  In this case it characterizes what God considers righteous or just.  Fortunately we can all rest in a measure of peace knowing that God's justice isn't about getting what we deserve.

God's propensity to care and give violate our instincts about fairness.  This kind of justice looks rash and irresponsible.  What about the people who work hard and keep their noses clean, people who exceed the expectations?

This parable is like another of Jesus' parables:  The parable of the prodigal son.  A son squanders his inheritance and comes crawling back after reaching to bottom of the barrel of life.  When he does, the father doesn't say, ""Well, let's take this slow.  Let's keep an eye on you for a year and see how you do."  No.  The father runs meet him while he is far off, gives him a royal robe, places a ring on his finger and throws a extravagant party.  Lurking in the shadowy background is the older brother, resentful and agitated (read, really hacked off).

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a landowner, who is extravagant in his gracious love.  Who cares less about the rules that allow certain people in while keeping others out.  Who cares less about moral perfection than he does about swamping us with generosity, grace and love, than he does about paying us what is just.

It strikes me that we Americans love grace and mercy.  We love grace and mercy as long as it is directed to the right people and not the wrong people.  We love grace and mercy as long as it's not so lavish as to be embarrasing or involve us in too much risk or demand anything of us in order to love our neighbor.

A few weekends ago, some members of our church were protesting the efforts of another church that was starting a new program of reparative therapy for people who are gay and lesbian.  They gathered in a line across the street to stand with gay and lesbian Christians who believe that reparative therapies of this kind are a form of spiritual violence.  They were holding signs that read, "God = Love" and "Love Your Neighbor".  A car drove by and saw the signs, honked, cheered and gave a thumbs up, smiling and waving approval.  Not three seconds later came the driver's realization that my friends were standing with other gay and lesbian Christians.  The thumbs up immediate became a middle finger.

We Americans love God's grace and love as long as it is showered on the right people--not the wrong people.

My response to an anti-emergent manifesto

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down or quantified. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” If it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along a passage which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) notes that, “After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement.”

Aside from the fact that he seems to use “emerging church” and “emergent Christian” synonymously, he does have a good sense of what I’m about, if no one else. Following are some excerpts from his list, of signs you might be an emergent:

  • if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
  • if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
  • if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
  • if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
  • if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
  • if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
  • if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
  • if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
  • if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
  • if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us…

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff.

I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me. Here are what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity, followed by my responses.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus is supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty “least of these” to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle us just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Holding Hands and Finding Home

I love traveling, but it makes me nervous. I approach new places with great anticipation . . . and dread. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this ambivalence, but I still don’t have it quite figured out. On the one hand, I like novelty. I like to discover new places, and to make new friends. On the other hand, I’m a self-conscious introvert—which means that going into new places always plagues me with the inexplicable fear that my fly is open and that the people I meet will destabilize my hard-won equilibrium. So, when I can manage whatever it is I must manage to enter these new situations, I want things to go smoothly—no tripping, no spilling coffee all over myself, and no getting stuck next to the guy at the chip dip bowl who believes I’m fascinated to find out about his latest bunion removal (which first turned up at the Star Trek convention in Des Moines a couple of years ago, just as he was starting to bid on a highly sought after 1976 Star Trek Wax Pack Display Box Proof Sheet). I’ve just returned from a mission trip to a children’s home in San Luis Potosí, México. This year we brought youth from our church, including my two kids. What all of our youth continually remarked on was the amazingly welcoming reception we received. We found it impossible to go from one part of the home to another without having two or three little Mexican children holding our hands, imploring us to come look at a different bug or piece of rock, or offering to bring us water. They made us feel at home, like they really wanted us there. In fact, as we prepared to leave, our youth (only half-jokingly . . . I think) told us they would just as soon stay in Mexico. They felt like they’d found a new family, perhaps a new home.

All of this is on my mind, since at General Assembly in Nashville, many Disciples—in particular, readers of [D]mergent—wondered at length why, as a denomination, we remained silent on the issue of welcoming our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQI. Not technically silent (there were scattered mentions of the issue from the platform—and certainly from the floor), but practically silent (there was clearly no effort to speak normatively as a community about any kind of moral responsibility we might have to show hospitality to LGBTQI folks). In fact, I put up an unscientific poll on the [D]mergent website, asking “Should Disciples Vote to Become Open and Affirming in 2013?” At present, the poll indicates that 79% of respondents—admittedly, a somewhat self-selected audience, but significant nevertheless—believe that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) ought to speak prophetically to the world at the General Assembly in 2013 about the fact that we embrace all people equally, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

At first glance, the comments by those who disagreed that we ought to pass a resolution proclaiming ourselves to be Open and Affirming seemed to have more to do with ecclesiology than with theology. That is to say, of the people who commented expressing disagreement with a denominational stance on becoming Open and Affirming, more were dismayed about what—given our congregationally based polity—such a stance might mean. Would taking such a stand be an act of bureaucratic and theological imperialism—“ramming one theology down the throat” of the church? I think this is an important question—not only ecclesiologically, but also theologically. Disciples are undeniably constitutionally squeamish about forcing any position on others. What this question fails to take into account, however, is that staking out a position refusing to impose viewpoints on others is itself an imposed viewpoint. Saying that the most important thing to consider in moral debate is whether one is inflicting one’s understanding on everyone else is to have already stacked the deck in one’s own favor by establishing ground rules that place one in a position of power, able to foreclose any discussion that might result in a decision with which one might disagree.

If I were to say in 1860, for instance, “The church cannot condemn slavery because slavery is a controversial moral issue, and to arrive at a moral position that speaks against slavery would impose an alien viewpoint upon that part of the church that finds slavery to be sanctioned by God, scripture, and tradition,” I would be abiding by the ground rule, “Impose nothing on another.” But would I be more correct to worry about coming to a decision over which there is disagreement, or should I be more concerned with whether the decision is theologically warranted? The fact that some will invariably hold an opposing position with great sincerity does not release me from the responsibility of following my own theologically formed conscience.

Someone will stop me here, I suspect, to ask, “But isn’t it arrogant of you to believe that you’ve come to the correct decision about the inclusion of LGBTQI people, and that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong?” Perhaps. Humility ought to be chief among the virtues found in the techne of theology. It is altogether too easy to assume one has answered for all times and all places theological questions that have been in dispute for years. No one should be too quick to rush in with the definitive answer. But those of us arguing for the embrace of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters aren’t arguing “for all times and all places”; we’re arguing that, given what we know about this time and this place, the justice spoken of as constitutive of the reign of God calls out for the embrace and celebration of those God has created LGBTQI. A call to humility in the pursuit of truth is often a tactical weapon directed at those with whom I disagree, when it ought first to be something back to which I call myself.

Moreover, false humility—humility that fails to be honest about genuinely hard won theological convictions—is its own kind of moral failing. False humility that leads to inaction in the face of injustice has been at the heart of some of the great moral failures Christianity has witnessed (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, Apartheid). Standing on the sidelines while children of God are being dehumanized because of the way they were created, for fear that wading into the fray will disappoint or anger other people, ceases to be humility and becomes morally and theologically indefensible. Theological humility is not a call to inaction, but a call to the pursuit of God’s justice, tempered by God’s grace.

Would such a denominational stance risk denominational disunity? Again, perhaps. But if our Stone/Campbell roots teach us anything it is that Christian unity can only be sustained in the presence of the truth. Absent the truth, what we experience is not Christian unity, but a strategic non-aggression treaty. Whatever “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” means, it ought to mean something more interesting than “Disciples: We’re nice! We’ve agreed not to talk about things that make us uncomfortable!”

All of which brings me back to my own discomfort in new situations. If the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is serious about bringing healing and wholeness to a fragmented world, about offering welcome and hospitality to the marginalized and forgotten, then we’re going to have to go out of our way to show it. We can’t afford to be tolerant anymore. People don’t want to be tolerated; they want to be loved and affirmed. We’re going to have to be a church that seeks out those standing on the outside, who’re no longer, many of them, even looking in—because they’ve been told for so long that the church doesn’t have a place for people like “them,” until they change and become people like “us.” We who hold the keys to the church are going to have to throw open the doors and windows and shout that all God’s children are welcome here. Better yet, we’re going to have to go out of the church and indicate our willingness to forfeit our power, to hold hands, and to offer water, to convince people that wherever we are together, we’re all family. And maybe together we can find a place that feels like home . . . to everyone.

Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities.  He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions.  He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville.  He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.  Penwell was once shot with a potato gun while fleeing the scene of a Cold War espionage sting at a premium vodka distillery in a rural Estonian outpost. (He doesn't like to talk about it . . . so don't ask.)

The Choice is Ours

I am not a nationalist. I am, first, foremost, and finally, a Christian. However, I did happen to be born in the United States of America, and this culture has formed and shaped how I have received and understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Admitting that, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the current plight of the United States of America.

A nation is only as strong as the weakest in its midst (please note that I did NOT say citizens). When a nation's priorities are determined by a small group of the wealthiest and most secure persons who determine so many of the values by which most Americans live their lives, then the weakest and most vulnerable in its midst are left to fend for themselves. They become desperate and act on survival instincts. Those instincts often lead them to do things that threaten the most powerful, prosperous, and prominent in the society. Those privileged persons then act to strengthen their control and secure their position within the society. That only further alienates the weakest and most vulnerable, thus crumbling the foundation on which the society is built. The society then begins to crumble, as the number of vulnerable persons grows and segments into competing factions. The most privileged in the society withdraw to protect themselves and their interests (to places like Dubai), leaving those who are poor to fend for themselves, fighting each other for every scrap and crumb available. This, my friends, is what is happening to the United States. It's happening because the most privileged among us has used religious and moral language to scare the most vulnerable among us into thinking that the collapse that is happening is a result of the rejection of morals. These vulnerable persons are then scared into voting to support the most privileged who promise a return to traditional values and the supposed stability of previous generations, all the while these persons who are vulnerable are actually voting to support the very policies and priorities that led to the collapse in the first place.

If the Christian tradition teaches us anything about government and the organization of societies, it is that a society based on the principles of injustice and exploitation cannot long endure, for God has placed within the human heart an unquenchable thirst for justice. This nation, committed as it is at this point to justice for the few, the powerful, the privileged, and the prosperous, cannot endure the test of time. Its very foundations are crumbling as a result of policies that benefit the top tiers of society while leaving those most vulnerable and in need at the mercy of corporate consciences. We've all seen how generous and forgiving those consciences have proven themselves to be over the last few years.

Does this nation have to crumble and fall? No. We have a choice to rebuild this nation on the principles of justice, mercy, and compassion, the only principles that have proven to be a solid foundation for any society. We have an incredible opportunity now to dismantle the systems which have supported the very decay we have all lamented and to build something new, something just, something beautiful, something that will endure: a beloved community that more clearly reflects the heart of all that is holy in this world. We have an opportunity to build a society where all are free, where all are valued, where all have enough to eat, a place to live, and a vocation based in gifts and abilities. Such a community has the ability to stand as a model for the world, a shining testament to the power of justice to transform human community. Such a society has the ability to lead the world in recognizing the fragility of all life on this planet and to value the interdependence woven into our very struggle for survival.

Friends, we have an opportunity to create such a society. It's easily within our grasp. The only question is do we have the strength and courage to do so.

By Wes Jamison

The Rev. Wes Jamison is a minister-at-large (meaning he doesn’t have a call to a specific congregation at this point) for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.  He holds a B.A. in Religion and Journalism from Milligan College and an M.Div. from Emmanuel School of Religion.  Jamison most recently served as National Field Organizer for the Institute for Welcoming Resources, a joint project of the welcoming church programs and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  He currently chairs the Open and Affirming Ministries Program for GLAD (Gay, Lesbian, and Affirming Disciples) Alliance and serves as editor of Crossbeams, the regular newsletter of GLAD.  Jamison lives on a farm near Blacksburg, Virginia.  He has been in the Search and Call process for over five years now and continues to seek a call as a parish minister.

TCU experiences offer insight on future of church

Aside from General Assembly itself (which I am regrettably missing and desperately following via Twitter), Texas Christian University is one of main faces of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in modern society. That is, other than Colonel Sanders. (Sadly not kidding—there’s some trivia for you!) After all, we’re the biggest Disciples school! That, and we won the Rose Bowl. Throughout highschool, TCU was the beacon of  all things DOC for me. I knew at least 20 people who had gone there, and I imagined it to be one happy, close-knit community. It was largely due to this that I chose the school.

Once I got to school, I realized both how much and how little being “Disciples of Christ” really means.

On one hand, every time I met another DOC student, we were both particularly excited due to the rarity of meeting other Disciples. “Disciples” serves almost as a nationality or ethnicity, it is so deeply engrained in our faith identity. Whenever I meet those students, it is similar to the phenomenon of running into Americans outside the states. “No way! Small world!”

However, on the other hand, finding another “Disciple” doesn’t mean much in regards to beliefs.

Growing up at St. Andrew Christian Church, the home of the Rev. Holly McKissick (whom I hope everyone heard at General Assembly), I was under the grandiose impression that all Disciples congregations were like mine—explicitly open to all people regardless of age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, etc. I thought all youth groups went to anti-war rallies together and spent Wednesday nights in the summer watching documentaries about immigration.

But as I grew older and started attending a regional church camp, and then especially when I got to TCU, this idea was quickly corrected. Not everyone has a faith tradition like mine. Not many do, really.

Whenever I talk about my congregation and all of its openly gay couples who adopt children, some of my fellow Disciples get visibly uncomfortable. It’s clear—that’s not at all what their churches would accept. Moreover, when a pastor in the TCU area recently came out, people were considerably upset.

It’s reasons like these why many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claim we should not make an official statement proclaiming the equality and acceptance of GLBTQ members of our denomination. We’re already divided enough, they say. It’s changing too fast, especially for Texas, they add.

But TCU itself has offered far too strong of a counterargument for me to agree with those opponents. The reason? Gay students with no faith home.

Almost all of my gay friends were spiritual or went to church when they were growing up, but quit shortly after coming out. Why? Why not. They don’t want to be part of an institution that doesn’t accept them. They don’t want to be part of an institution that makes meandering statements, beating around the bush about an “open table.” What does that really mean?

They want the church to reach out to them and say: “YOU are accepted. YOU are loved. God made you this way.”

And while Disciples of Christ, of course, does claim to seek “wholeness in a fragmented world,” what good is that when I am trying to explain what our denomination believes to my skeptical, hurt LBGTQ friends? “Uh, it’s this denomination, and we’re pretty progressive and it’s gay-friendly…Well, not officially, exactly…”

It’s when you mention this little loophole—“not officially”—that your LGBTQ friend stops listening. She’s heard it all before. He wants specific validation, someone who is willing to accept him for who he is. Although someone would claim it’s petty or unnecessary, they need it printed in black on the bulletin. Otherwise, it’s just an empty statement—to good to be true.

LGBTQ or not, most young people who have become disenchanted with the Church say it’s due to the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Why doesn’t the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) realize this and capitalize upon it? Why don’t we see this as a time to finally find something to believe in?

If the church can find the strength to officiate our stance on an “open table” for all—including during our hiring of clergy—perhaps we can reach out to those who want so badly to be accepted and actually mean it when we say—“Welcome.”

By Emily Atteberry

RECLAIMING THE ISSUES

The question of including Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer (GLBTQ) people in all of aspects of life, inside and outside the church, is here to stay until it is answered in the affirmative. The voices clamoring for GLBTQ inclusion are increasing in number and volume. For the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the GLBTQ issue will be an unavoidable buzz, question, issue, discussion and agenda at every General Assembly until it is answered in the affirmative. It will happen. It can be delayed. It cannot be stopped. The only pertinent question is: How will this affirmation occur? GLBTQ affirmation is not a victory. Victory directly implies winners and losers, us and them, divisiveness, even schism. GLBTQ affirmation as victory is unacceptable - worse than counter-productive, it would be a catastrophic failure procedurally, theologically and communally. Much is made of churches being revitalized by being "missional." Yet this effort rings hollow without an accompanying effort to invigorate a denominational sense of community. Advocates for GLBTQ inclusion must be willing to leave the comfort and affirmation of the nursery of their own congregation and learn to walk and grow and develop relationships with other and differing congregations. Advocates for GLBTQ exclusion must be willing to leave the comfort and affirmation of the nursery of their own congregation and learn to walk and grow and develop relationships with other and differing congregations. To the extent that advocates do not engage in building community, they do a grave disservice to their point of view and harm all of us by denying us their presence and participation. To the extent that non-advocates do not engage in building community, they deny themselves the fullness and breadth of the table at which they gather. It is not a matter of building bridges. It is a matter of eliminating "there" and "them" and realizing that all congregations are "here" and "us." In the resulting relationships, a way forward will be found - not through win-and-lose, not through persuasion, not through giving up or acquiescence. A way forward will be found when relationship, being children of God - being the body of Christ, is more important than dogma and agenda.

Advocates for GLBTQ inclusion act, sometimes arrogantly, as though only warm fuzzy appeals are necessary to gain acceptance and affirmation. It is not. Advocates for GLBTQ inclusion need to constantly bring their complete and toughest "A" game. While the scientific community no longer considers GLBTQ to be pathological or dysfunctional, where is the research validating GLBTQ as normal? It does exist - find it. Do your homework, gather the research reports, compile them into a single document and have copies available. It is OK to be nice, it is not OK to not be thorough.

Advocates for GLBTQ inclusion must always address their stance on long-term monogamous relationships. Very simply, at this time, the stronger the affirmation of marriage and long-term monogamous relationships, the advocacy for GLBTQ inclusion will be more effective and have a better reception.

Theologically, scriptural details are a red herring. There are two pertinent questions: 1) Do we worship a God of war and hate and exclusion OR are we in a relationship with a God of undeniable love and unconditional grace? 2)To what extent are we controlled and obligated by the Bible - especially the Torah and the Pauline letters and passages that were not written by Paul? These are the big theological questions that need to be publicly answered and frequently repeated by theologians, clergy and the denominational leadership. To not answer these questions plainly and out-loud is an irresponsible abdication of pastoral leadership and clerical responsibility. The answers to these two questions are crucial to determining the parameters and motivating the progress of the GLBTQ conversation.

The question of GLBTQ inclusion will not go away until we leave our comfortable pews and approach each other with open arms, open hearts, open ears and open minds. The question of GLBTQ inclusion will never be answered until we search more for reconciliation than resolution.

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. For 2011-2012, Doug is an At-Large member of the Indiana Disciples of Christ Regional Board. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 9 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.