Last week a gentleman visited St. Mark's, and he was very upset with the Episcopal Church due to our welcoming stance towards GLBT persons. If you do not know the acronym, GLBT stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. He wanted to know how we could accept GLBT persons when the Bible, in his mind, so clearly condemns homosexuality. I tried to explain to him how it depends on how you read the Bible. If we are to believe every single word of the Bible is true, than I suppose we would have to condemn homosexuality on a few insignificant passages of scripture. And if that is the route we are going to take, then we must not eat shrimp, we must not wear clothing that mixes fabrics, and women must be instructed to cover their heads and not speak. Such a rigid reading of the Bible places more emphasis on the written word than the living word of Jesus, who by the way had nothing to say about committed same-sex relationships as far as we know. We do know that he loved embracing the outsiders - the gospels make this very clear.
As I tried to have a coherent conversation with the gentleman, he became angrier and angrier with me. Whenever I explained my position, which is the position of the Episcopal Church, he became more and more disgusted. Finally when I referred to gay people as gay people, rather than using the term "homosexual" as he preferred, he attacked me for my political correctness. What became increasingly clear to me was that we were operating from two entirely different paradigms when it comes to the faith. His God was all about judgment, and life was to be a life lived in fear. Everything was a warning to repent; the Christian life was about fearing God's wrath. It seemed so foreign to me, and I quickly realized why so many people have given up on institutional religion. If I had grown up in a church with such judgment, I would have gladly rid myself of the church. This was not the Christianity which adores Jesus' love which has been the center of my entire life. It made me recall how childhood friends of mine from the Midwest are fond to say, "I cannot stand the Bible, but I really love Jesus."
This past week an openly gay man, Michael Sam, was drafted into the NFL (National Football League) for the first time. He will play for the St. Louis Rams. It made me happy, not just because I was born in St. Louis, but also because great strides have been made. I also thought about how the man who came to St. Mark's with his anger must now be really livid. I also wonder what type of hate mail Michael Sam might receive all in the name of the Christian God.
Christianity desperately needs the Episcopal Church, as well as other welcoming churches such as the Lutherans. Our faith needs churches like St. Mark's where God's children can be welcomed and loved. Do not ever be ashamed that St. Mark's is open and affirming, and do not let anyone intimidate you into believing that our welcoming efforts at St. Mark's are incompatible with Christianity. The reality is that if you want to be incompatible with Jesus Christ, spew hatred. If you wish to enter into the way, the truth and the life of our Lord, adore love.
Father Paul Lillie+