With Sunshine & Rainfall For All: An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights
by Dr. Ralph Blair
With Sunshine & Rainfall for All: An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights is an expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the 34th Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society in 1982. Dr. Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is the founder and president of Evangelicals Concerned and is a member of The Evangelical Theological Society, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues of The American Psychological Association.
Copyright 1983 by Ralph Blair. All rights reserved. HCCC, Inc.
Let’s Listen With Love.
If we evangelical Christians are going to have anything worth saying in response to proposed gay civil rights legislation, we would do well first to hear what is being said. Quite apart from our having nothing intelligent to say if we really haven’t heard what’s being said, we fail to render what Bonhoeffer reminded us was the “first service one owes to others:” that of “listening to them.” When the early church faced what seemed to be strange claims of Gentiles to full rights in the church, believers did what evangelicals today are not so willing to do with homosexuals: they engaged in dialogue and really tried to hear each other. And they began by emphasizing truths about which they were all in agreement (Acts 15).
We have to listen caringly to what homosexuals and other supporters of gay civil rights legislation are really saying. We have to listen carefully to the wording of proposed legislation. We have to listen caringly when some people tell us of their being attracted sexually, romantically, only to some people of their own sex. We have to listen caringly when they tell us of the ways they’ve been discriminated against in a predominantly homophobic society and thus need the protection of such law. Our failure even to hear them constitutes part of the discrimination they’re trying to tell us about.
We who would preach the gospel to all the world—including homosexuals—must, with Westminster Seminary’s Harvie Conn, recognize that “A gospel that does not address people as the sinned-against poses a lot of problems … for the sinned-against.” (1) Conn helps us see that “compassion becomes possible when we perceive people as the sinned-against,” and that “at the heart of compassion is the idea of ‘suffering with’ (Rom 8:17), involvement in the pain” of the sinned-against. (2) To listen this way may tax some of us beyond what we can yet afford, for as Angelina Grimké said last century, “I am sure that the poor and oppressed … can never be benefitted without mingling with them on terms of equality.” (3) Hers was as repulsive an idea to those who then sought to keep “niggers” in their place as it is now to those who want to keep “queers” in their place. Her empathy, though, reflects what Ray Anderson, writing in The Reformed Journal, has called God’s “structure of human existence … the one for the other, the one with the other, [which] is essential humanity [and] the basis for social justice.” (4)
Obviously, mere empty slogans about how much we “love the homos”—yet go ahead and lie about them and abuse them—are hardly what such evangelism or social justice are all about. One recalls those last two poignant lines from William Cowper’s anti-slavery poem, “Pity for Poor Africans:” we “shared in the plunder, but pitied the man.” Biblical love does no wrong to a neighbor, no matter what one may think of the neighbor’s lifestyle (Rom 13:10). Biblical love does not insist on having its own way, and certainly not at the expense of the neighbor (I Cor 13).
Although it’s already too late for many, we evangelicals today must be careful not to cause homosexuals to be “driven away from Christianity” by what D. L. Moody called “the abuse of Christians.” The evangelist cautioned that the Christian’s “evil spirit of extreme intolerance” of different people has “driven away” such people who, “railed at” by intolerant Christians, see what Moody called “the dark side of Christianity.” (5) Orange Scott, founder of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, a church established for abolitionist concerns, said that though “ashamed to confess it,” he too had been “ignorant of some important principles or features of civil rights” having been “wholly devoted to the one idea of saving souls.” (6) Scott declared to his generation that Christians “who neglect to lift up the warning voice and refuse to take sides with God’s suffering poor, are scarcely less guilty” than those who actively oppress the poor and powerless. (7) Writing in Christianity Today, Philip Yancey recounts Gandhi’s poor experience with Christians. He tells of Christians, intent on “evangelizing” the Indian leader, dragging him off to several revival meetings while completely overlooking their cruel discrimination against him and his fellow Indians because of the color of their skin. Yancey quotes E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary, as saying: “Racialism has many sins to bear, but perhaps its worst sin was the obscuring of Christ in an hour when one of the greatest souls born of a woman was making his decision.” (8) It is ironic that in the very same issue of Christianity Today, in the letters to the editor section, church historian Nancy A. Hardesty’s comments against evangelicals’ trivializing the issue of inclusive language are printed. Says Hardesty: “Inclusive language is a matter of evangelism. It is not cosmetic; souls are at stake. If … our idolatrous desire to make Jesus a ‘man’s man’ [denies] the gospel message to women, their blood will be on our hands. Inclusive language is not a modern fad; it is the deepest theological issue of our day, a matter of life and death, heaven and hell.” (9) Missouri Synod Lutheran psychologist Harold I. Haas spoke to the same sort of issue in reference to homosexuals when he writes that “since the evidence is abundant that homosexuals feel ostracized [from the church] there is risk that the Gospel will not be effectively preached and souls will be lost because the church based its ministry on human attitudes and emotions. And,” Haas reminds us, “impeding the work of the Holy Spirit through interference with the Gospel is the most serious offense the Scripture knows. The issue is as stark as that!” (10)
Now while we’re listening to what homosexuals are really saying, we must not fail to listen carefully to what the Bible is really saying. Ed McAteer of the Religious Roundtable, no friend of gay rights, says: “We’ll keep supporting what the Bible stands for.” (11) That’s fine, but what Bible? How much Bible? It’s pathetic how brief some of our Bibles seem to be. It is ironic that some fundamentalists who will split churches over their insistence on their own particular brand of inerrancy seem not to have paid much attention to whole portions of the inerrant scripture. Some of those who criticize what they erroneously call “gay theology,” are the very ones who themselves seem most stuck on a very limited set of Bible verses concerning what they think is homosexuality. But the whole Bible is what we should be hearing; in the phrasing of our Evangelical Theological Society Doctrinal Basis, “the Bible in its entirety.” As a black evangelical, John Perkins of Jackson, Mississippi has had experience with this sort of thing and in an interview in Christianity Today he said: “Just to believe that the Bible is inerrant is to become a Pharisee. Some white people who champion that doctrine tend to be the most racist.” He goes on to say: “The great defenders of inerrancy generally haven’t shown me that they have a good sense of justice.” (12) The Bible? Yes! And, since translation is interpretation—hermeneutics, rigorous hermeneutics.
Gov. Whitemarsh Seabrook of ante-bellum South Carolina admitted during other civil rights controversies (1833) that anybody who would allow slaves to read the whole Bible should be committed to a Lunatic Asylum. (14) At least he seems to have known about the whole Bible. That’s more than some who should have known better, seem to have managed. For example, Moses Stuart of Andover Seminary published a pro-slavery tract in which he said that “slavery may exist without any violation of the christian faith” and Wilbur Fisk, president of Wesleyan University, declared that Stuart’s doctrine “will stand, because it is Bible doctrine.” (15) Episcopal Bishop William Meade of Winchester, Virginia had the temerity to preach to slaves on The Golden Rule and to tell them that doing unto others as you’d want them to do unto you meant that, if the slaves were masters they’d surely want their slaves to be good, hard working slaves so then, shouldn’t they, as slaves, be good and hard working? (16) Lest this little recitation of history leave us evangelicals too comfortable, not really identifying with Episcopal bishops or Andover professors, we should not forget that our own evangelical heroes said similar things. Princeton’s great Charles Hodge, for example, contended that the abolitionists’ “fundamental principle is anti-scriptural and therefore irreligious.” According to Hodge, “They assume that slaveholding is sinful. This doctrine is the life of the sect.” And Hodge comforted himself and his anti-abolitionist sympathizers with these words: The abolitionist doctrine “has not gained ascendancy over those whose faith is governed by the word of God.” Hodge’s position was used to justify slavery in Cotton is King and Pro-Slavery Arguments. (17) I have here an old scrap of torn paper. Listen to what’s written on it: “For and in consideration of the eight hundred dollars to me in hand paid I have this day bargained, sold and delivered unto H. G. Bowling, a negro girl Mary Jane of yellow complexion aged sixteen the twenty-third of April last and warrant the same to be sound of body and mind and a slave for life and free of all incumbrances December 9, 1854. Edward Watson. Ellen Watson.” On the reverse side is written: “Bill of sale. Mary Jane.” Now if, in his ivory tower, Charles Hodge had it in him to justify this with the Bible, who are we to doubt that we, in our own ivory towers, have it in us to oppress homosexuals and justify it with the Bible? Alexander Campbell wrote in his Millennial Harbinger: “It would be, in our most calm and deliberate judgment, a sin against every dispensation of religion,—Patriarchal, Jewish and Christian,—to suppose that the relationship of master and slave was, in its very nature and being, a sin against God and man … There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not, then, we conclude, immoral. … The New Testament does not authorize any interference or legislation upon the relation of master and slave.” (19) How very similar are the arguments advanced today by the spiritual heirs of Hodge and Campbell. This time though, the target of discrimination is the homosexual person.
Back among the Episcopalians, let me quote Alexander Glennie, rector of All Saints parish in the South Carolina of 1844, regarding a Bible verse about doing service as unto the Lord and not unto men. He said that this verse taught how slaves should serve masters and he then exclaimed: “What a blessed book the Bible is!” (20) In our own day, David Noebel, author of an anti-gay book called The Homosexual Revolution and the former associate of Billy James Hargis, sounds much the same when, after discriminating against gays by contemptuously calling them “fruits” and speaking of “alleged discrimination against gays,” ignorantly ridicules sound biblical scholarship on Genesis 19, irrelevantly recommends Leviticus 18:22 as a text condemning today’s homosexuals, and arrogantly sums up: “Isn’t the Bible easy to understand!” (21)
Just as slaves finally got to hear the whole Bible instead of just isolated and mistreated passages about slaves obeying masters, some gay people are now beginning to find out that there is a whole lot other in the Bible than that with which some TV preachers have been battering them. And evangelicals are finding out that there is more to Christianity than that with which some TV preachers have been buttering-up themselves.
As we pay attention to what the whole of the Bible has to say, we must be honest enough to note with those who wrote in a recent issue of a Biola journal that “Theological conclusions are the product of human reasoning from the data of Scripture. To the degree that such reasoning is involved, they are subject to mistake. … The further from the data the more humility we must have in our positions.” (22) And as George Marsden of Calvin College has put it in his history of fundamentalism, “inevitably” our understanding of what is biblical and Christian will be “mingled or confused with some culturally formed assumptions, ideas, and values” and even the actions of The Holy Spirit which we have to ferret out “are always intertwined with culturally conditioned factors.” (23)
Many evangelicals and fundamentalists have not been helpful here. Bluntly, we’ve done damage. As Timothy P. Weber of Denver Seminary says, we’ve “oversold the perspicuity of the Bible and the role of the Spirit in interpretation to such an extent that many fundamentalists [are] unable to explain, let alone tolerate, other points of view.” (24) I’ve been running into such people everywhere. When I ask them to read what Bible scholars say about seemingly hard texts which are used to clobber gay people, I so often get the retort: “I don’t care what Bible scholars say. What does the Bible say?!” We should agree, too, with Wheaton’s Alan Johnson (our ETS president) that when we evangelicals think and talk about sin, for example, we must know that “in the first place, our understanding of sin comes from a mixture of biblical, societal, and ecclesiastical traditions which are often difficult to sort out.” (25) But how often we’re guilty of speaking and writing as if this were not the case! Johnson goes on to show that “our sociological position affects the way we see both reality and sin” and, of course, he’s right. He says that we frequently fail to understand sin as “a willful disregard or sacrifice of others for the welfare or satisfaction of self.” We’ve seen that with the “good Calvinists” of Old Salem Village and Johannesburg, with the “good Lutherans” at Dachau and Ravensbrueck, and the “good Baptists” who heralded themselves in the 1960s with a big billboard on US 80 between Vicksburg and the Louisiana state line: “Welcome to Mississippi. Proud Home of 450,000 White Southern Baptists!” (26) We evangelicals have been guilty of such sin, such willful disregard and sacrifice of homosexuals for our own perceived welfare and self-interest in our battles against homosexuals in the name of preserving our own presumed rights, our own ideas. And as Johnson illustrates, “Sodom’s greater sin was not sexual perversion but, like Babylon’s—the mother of harlots—it was pride and failure to love … the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:39; Rev 3, 7, 17). It’s tragic that the story of Sodom—a story condemning the deadly sin of inhospitality to the alien—has been used over the years as one of the most inhospitable weapons in the rape and bludgeoning of a misunderstood group of oppressed and sinned-against people.
Well, we as evangelicals, then, must listen with care to what gay people are really saying and we must listen carefully to what the Bible is really saying. We may be in for some surprises, just as our ancestors in the Faith have been surprised repeatedly, from Peter, who was surprised about God’s love for the Gentile “dogs,” on down through the many centuries of church history and an ever-widening circle of God’s inclusive grace.
What Do We Hear From The Gay Rights Advocates?
Basically, gay rights legislation is sought to reinforce the United States Constitutional guarantee of privacy for over 20 million tax-paying American citizens and their families. As Mayor Edward I. Koch said in his testimony on behalf of a New York City gay rights bill, “there is prejudice against gay people in… jobs, housing and places of public accommodation, just as there is prejudice in these areas against members of racial and ethnic minorities. Therefore, just as it is important to have laws which protect against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other criteria, so it is important to have a law which will protect against prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation. ” (27) Almost everywhere in America today, citizens who are homosexual “do not have legal rcourse when they encounter discrimination” against them in such necessary things as employment and housing. The protection which Mayor Koch believes is needed in a center of urban “liberalism” such as New York City cannot be doubted as necessary in less “liberal” regions of the country. To correct the problem, a record number of members of Congress supports “a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of affectional or sexual orientation.” (28) The bill is in the form of amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law we’ve already noted was not greeted with enthusiastic support by many fundamentalists and evangelicals just 20 years ago. (In reporting on the death of Frank Gaebelein, a former editor of Christianity Today (Feb 18, 1983), it is remembered that “He was the target of criticism when in 1965, as coeditor of Christianity Today, he was sent to Selma, Alabama, to cover the civil rights march to Montgomery. Gaebelein left the area reserved for journalists and joined the marchers.) Today, evangelicals are embarrassed by the negative positions taken by Christianity Today and other publications during those earlier years of the civil rights movement.
The proposed federal gay rights legislation inserts the words “affectional or sexual orientation” at points having to do with federally assisted opportunities; equal employment opportunities; intervention and procedure; housing sale, rental, financing and brokerage services; and prevention of intimidation. The bill defines “affectional or sexual orientation” to mean heterosexuality as well as homosexuality “by orientation or practice by and between consenting adults.” In terms of the bill’s “Rule of Interpretation,” it is specifically stated that such amendments shall not be construed “to permit or require” determination of discrimination “based on any statistical differences” between the percentage of homosexuals in the general population and the percentage in the situation “wherein such discrimination is alleged” or “the fashioning of any remedy requiring any sort of quota.” (29) That’s it. Period. That’s as far as the gay rights bill goes, contrary to what you may be hearing from those who oppose gay rights, calling them “special rights and privileges.” (30) For example, Jerry Falwell either is ignorant or he lies repeatedly when he says that “Every employer, station owner, pastor, and private-school administrator would be forced to employ a minority of homosexuals commensurate with the population in their area.” (31) His statement is not true. That is specifically forbidden in the bill itself. In a February, 1982 mailing from Falwell, he told his people that homosexuals seek to “completely legalize … bestiality” along with homosexuality. I have never seen any evidence of this. If Falwell knows of any evidence for this accusation he hasn’t presented it. But even if he has heard of such a goal by somebody, so what. It does not represent the gay rights movement and it is not contained in any gay rights bill. In order to support the employment and housing rights of our gay brothers and sisters, we don’t have to be distracted by any hare-brained idea of every self-styled liberationist—with all due apologies to the memory of William Cowper’s Bess, Puss, and Tiny, his three male hares. They may well have had their own harebrained ideas on bestiality.
We should take careful note of the fact that the proposed law does not in any way say that “gay is good” any more than the 1964 Civil Rights Act said that “black is beautiful.” One need not approve of mixed marriages between blacks and whites in order to see that, as patriotic Americans, it is wrong to fire people simply because they marry interracially. One need not approve of the drinking of alcohol in order to see that as a patriotic American, it is wrong to restrict a neighborhood to teetotalers only. One need not subscribe to the Hindu religion to recognize, with Philip Yancey (whom we’ve quoted above) that it was wrong for Christians to discriminate against Indians in South Africa. So far as proposed gay rights legislation is concerned, Mayor Koch says that it “in no way endorses a lifestyle,” and that is true. He points out that “there may be those who disapprove, or even abhor, forms of religion different from their own. However, defending freedom of religion in our country does not necessarily mean that you approve of someone else’s religion.” (32)
Nearly ten percent of gay people, according to one study, “actually lose their jobs simply because they are gay. … Literally millions of others live in constant fear of discovery and resulting discrimination … without legal recourse.” Although these statements come from organized advocates of gay rights laws, we must recognize that there is no overstatement here. The degree of hostility to gay people—especially in evangelical and right-wing circles – – is a measure of the problem homosexuals encounter in employment and housing, and that hostility is more than evident. Mennonite leader, David Augsburger, once helped other Mennonites to see the reality of discrimination against gay people by suggesting that they wear “gay liberation” buttons among strangers. He had few, if any, takers.
Homosexuals are forced to lie. They are forced to pretend to be heterosexual so as not to put their job or residence in jeopardy. By far, most of these gay people are not politically active in the gay rights movement. They’re too scared of being found out to be connected with it in any open way. They’re quiet souls in our classrooms, at our organ benches, in our pews, next door, and, of course, within our own families. They don’t “flaunt” their homosexuality. Their sexual orientation is something that is concluded by others—busy-bodies—who have no better explanation for these persons’ prolonged state of singleness, their too many single friends of the same sex, their secrecy, their being “private persons,” their not talking about much besides the weather, their not joining in with “fag” jokes, etc. Perhaps you’ve heard one of the milder forms of the inquisition: “When are you getting married?” So far from “flaunting,” most live rather in an imposed secrecy, which others demand be explained, and one way or another they might then be dragged kicking and screaming from their closets. They live in that alienation that Thomas Merton, on the day he died, called “the end result of a life lived according to conditions someone else determines,” the experience of “a prisoner locked into a system that allows no participation.” (33)
Having looked at the actual wording of gay rights legislation, we find that it is aimed at protecting people in our whole community, members with us of our co-humanity, from being deprived of employment and housing for which they, as we, have a very basic need and for which, aside from sexual identity, they qualify. Legally speaking, gay rights are matters of civil rights and justice for oppressed people—justice in the home and justice in the work place. Legally, gay rights are not “special rights and privileges” in a homophobic society any more than are black civil rights “special rights and privileges” in a white racist society. Having listened to what gay rights advocates are saying about social justice and housing and employment, let’s turn to what the Bible has to say about social justice, housing, and employment. We’ll see that theologically speaking, gay civil rights have to do with our “being with and for the other [as what Ray Anderson calls] the core of being human.” Gay rights can then be seen as “an expression of a freedom to be human … in such a way that the privilege and freedom and responsibility of recognizing one’s self in another is an affirmation of the divine gift of freedom.” (34) In this, it must be clear that we are not simply baptizing a secular argument for gay rights ala the ACLU or the National Gay Task Force. We are speaking from a distinctly Christian perspective. We are trying to apply, to a long neglected group of nonetheless sinned-against people, the Christian requirement of the love we owe to them.
What Does The Bible Say About Social Justice?
As we know, the continuing struggles between the “haves” and the “have nots” are what so much of the Bible is all about. At one level, there are arrayed on the one side, the rich and oppressing, the powerful (politically, socially, economically speaking). On the other side are the poor and oppressed, the powerless (politically, socially, economically speaking). On that level, God is on the side of the oppressed. In the larger context, of course, contrary to the one-sided preaching of the so-called “Liberation Theology,” it is not “them” as over against “us” but “us” and “them” as over against God. At the same time, God—especially in Jesus Christ—is for all of “them” and all of “us.”
In the Bible, oppressors are usually civil leaders, powerful military commanders, judges, priests, and religious leaders (cf. Ezekiel 18- 22 and Zephaniah 2-3). They are typically haughty, proud, greedy, fraudulent, hypocritical, and they boast of their morality while they look down their noses (or worse) at others. They do it all while denying that they are oppressing anyone (Amos 4:1) and while rationalizing that whatever they might be doing they are doing as God’s own crusaders.
In the Bible, oppressed people are poor, with no social standing, no recognized rights, they are utterly helpless within the dominant power structure. They are, for example, shepherds without civil rights who, nonetheless are chosen by God to be the audience for the angels on that first Christmas night. They are without parents as gay orphans kicked out of families and churches and jobs and houses. They are without spouse as widows unable to achieve intimacy within the dominant family, church and society structures. Condemned by the establishment to isolation and a split existence, they are aliens living among those who see them as weird, not to be trusted, “queer. ”
Ezekiel defines the righteous person as one who “does not oppress anyone ” and somebody who “gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.” (18:7)—just a few statements away from the comments on the sin of Sodom, i.e., inhospitality and greed (16:49). Jesus said that we are to set our minds on God’s kingdom and God’s justice (δικαισύνη) before everything else, and all the rest will come as well (Matt 6:33). We are to seek the just judgment of God, as right conduct before God, or as Today’s English Version has it, “what he requires.” Jesus said: “How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail. ” (NEB) This recalls Micah 5:8, which so many evangelicals seem to want to take out of the Bible but about which Walter A. Elwell, writing in Christianity Today, said: “being spiritual” is summed up in the Bible “in nine short words: ‘Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.'” Elwell adds: “All the rest is commentary.” (35) It’s ironic, then, that Jerry Falwell faults what he calls “the naive American who supports civil rights for practicing homosexuals” and who “opposes the Clean Up America campaign” against homosexuals and gay rights because Falwell says such a person is captive to “the prevailing ‘underdog’ mentality.” (36) But Elsa Tamez takes us back to the Bible when she writes: “In the majority of instances the reason God takes the side of Israel is primarily because it is living under the rule of another and more powerful nation, in wretched conditions as compared with those of its conqueror. Correspondingly, when we see oppression gaining the upper hand in Israel, when this nation itself becomes an oppressor, God abandons the oppressor class and rescues the lowly and the poor.” (37) All of this takes place, as we have suggested, in a penultimate sense, for in the end God neither abandons the oppressed nor the oppressor but, in infinite patience, is not willing that any should perish (II Pet 3:9).
In attacking what he calls “the naive Christian who asks for love and compassion for the homosexual” (38), Falwell seems to show no capacity to appreciate the following lines from that “queer” poet, keeper and companion of the aforementioned Bess, Puss, and Tiny, and author of “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood” (William Cowper):
‘Tis woven in the world’s great plan,
And fixed by heaven’s decree,
That all the true delights of man
Should spring from Sympathy. (39)
Sympathy—an affinity between persons in which whatever affects one affects the other. Sympathy—that Golden Rule compassion and commiseration in the sufferings of God’s other children, even the “least of these,” as we may poorly see them. Sympathy instead of harangue and harassment. Even in the secular arena, sympathy is seen to be practical. Its symbiotic character underlies Mayor Koch’s saying that gay rights legislation “benefits all segments of our society. It is in the interest of all people to have a society based on justice.” (40) This reminds us of Pastor Niemeller’s famous remarks about how when the Nazis came for the Jews and the non-Jew failed to speak up, and when they came for the Catholics and the non-Catholic failed to speak up, and so on, when they came for the one who had failed to speak up in behalf of the others who were oppressed before him, there was nobody left to speak up for him when the Nazis knocked on his door.
The righteousness that Jesus speaks of (in Matt 5: 6) is, as Herman Ridderbos instructs us, not righteousness in the Pauline sense of imputed forensic righteousness but the justice that God promises to the oppressed and the outcast and for all “fairness for the afflicted of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:1-5) (41) When Jesus stated “You have heard … but I say to you,” he went behind the act to the intention. (Matt 5) Here he inaugurated The New Righteousness which is clearly not The New Right. In his antitheses, insulting another person is murder,—and there is some evidence that such insult may be a specifically homophobic expression of contempt, as Schulthess noted over sixty years ago. (42) Conniving lust is adultery, even when genital acts are not practiced. Punishment in retaliation is called into question in the name of God’s own compassion and we are commanded to love the enemies actively and to pray for their best welfare. We are thus to be “perfect” or kind and merciful and mature with all (Luke 6: 36), even to the ungrateful. We are not to condemn anyone. Remember how Jesus’ reinterpretation of what were the “traditional values” of his day did not go over with the religious leaders of his day any better than they do today.
We see also that God, as the Book of Acts tells us, desires justice even among the heathen. At Cornelius’ house, Peter discovered that, as he said, “I now see how true it is that God has no favourites, but that in every nation the man who is godfearing and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (NEB, Acts 10:35) As Johannes Munck puts it, this justice and righteousness “must be here considered to be the quality which Cornelius has shown in his prayers and giving of alms,” (43) though as F. F. Bruce notes, it also “refers to righteousness in the widest sense.” (44)
This justice is seen again in I John 3:10-17 to be tied to love as an act of will. The writer states: “Anyone who does not do what is right and just is not a child of God; neither is anyone who does not love his brother. For the message you have heard from the beginning is this: that we should love one another … [which may mean we’ll have to] lay down our lives” for others, and if not that, maybe even lay down our pet prejudices and our selfish schemes, for others. In this connection, Anderson says that social justice is “co-humanity, essential humanity, divinely ordained of God, given as the gift of freedom to be with and for the other, experienced as the enabling power of human community.” (45) For Christians, this is no abstract or secular principle of justice, for as Anderson asserts, “We will kill each other out of the abstract principle of justice” (46)—and people have been doing just that for centuries. The “clue to social justice is not the justice of God but,” in Anderson’s words, “his humanity.” It is in the Incarnation, “in the humanity of God through Jesus Christ [that] we know the solidarity of God with us. The vicarious humanity of Christ binds the victim and the oppressor to God.” (47) Asbury Seminary’s Harold Kuhn puts it this way: “The Incarnation and Golgotha thus bear the ultimate testimony to human worth upon which human rights rest.” (48) If God stoops to identify with us, to be “mindful” of us, as the writer to the Hebrews notes God’s concern (2:6), just who do we evangelicals think we are when we utterly refuse to identify with homosexuals? We preach at them. But no, we are supposed to identify with them. We can’t identify with them until we’ve heard them, until we sense something of what it’s like to be homosexual in a heterosexual world, until at least we are ready to rush out and do whatever we can to try to secure their civil rights, to protect them from us!
What Does The Bible Say About Justice And Housing?
“If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.” Human rights here take precedence over property rights, contrary to what so much conservative preaching has tried to maintain. “Let him live among you, wherever he likes, and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him.” (Deut 23:15f) The very next verse—about temple prostitutes—is one used today to oppress homosexuals. How is it that evangelicals miss this clear appeal for housing rights as they rush on by to get to what they see as a weapon to use against gay people? Ezekiel spoke out against the self-serving landowners and landlords of his day who practiced extortion, robbed, and mistreated the poor, the needy, the different and alien and denied justice to them all. (22:29) The oppressor left the oppressed “destitute; he has seized the houses he did not build.” (Job 20:19, NIV) Some fundamentalists today try to barge in and take houses and apartments away from gay people for no other reason than that they are seen to be homosexual. “Don’t let them move into the neighborhood!”
Where and when has that been heard before? Look at Isaiah 58:4-10 on true fasting in contrast to that which “ends in quarreling and strife and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Rather “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen,” says the Lord: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—to bring the homeless poor into your house—… to do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, … to spend yourselves on behalf of the … oppressed!” And without insisting that the oppressed “clean up their own act first.” Remember that it was while we all were still sinners that Christ died for us!
Isn’t this what the Good Samaritan did? And for one who was a Jew, not one of his brother Samaritans, not one with whom he agreed theologically or politically, not one with whom he shared his own specific lifestyle. (Note that Jesus made the hero of this story a member of the outcast group, not a member of his own Jewish “in-group.”) As a matter of fact, the Good Samaritan knew nothing about the individual he stumbled upon on the road. He knew nothing about this individual Jew whom he stopped and interrupted his own schedule to help, to give the needed shelter and to make the necessary arrangements to meet whatever other practical needs this Jew had. He did so out of his own resources and on his own time. He spent himself on behalf of the stranger with whom, so far as he might have been able to see, he shared nothing in common except humanity. The Samaritan did know one specific about this stranger. He knew that he was not one of “us,” but rather one of “them.” No matter! This Jew had basic needs and the Samaritan was in a position to help his neighbor. He was, of course, also in a position to add to the oppression the Jew had suffered already. But he chose to help and not to oppress—even this man who was something of an enemy, as current prejudice had it. The Good Samaritan insisted on no political or theological qualifications (“neither his mountain nor the Jew’s mountain”) other than the Jew’s real need for aid, shelter, and the other necessities of life. D. L. Moody once said that in the parable of the Good Samaritan “we get the whole Gospel.” He said that when some people come upon a person in need they “think they have done their duty when they blame” and others encountering need “always begin to philosophize.” But, said Moody, here comes the Good Samaritan who “helps, gives oil, lifts the poor fellow on his beast. He is not afraid to touch him. He don’t [sic] stop to ask whether he is Jew or Gentile.” According to Moody, too many would-be Samaritans of his day “won’t have anything to do with the poor fellows by the wayside if they cannot dispose of them ever afterwards to suit themselves.” (49)
What Does The Bible Say About Justice And Work?
Paul saw work as the way to eat (II Thess 3:10). As with housing, employment is a basic necessity of life. So we should not rob people of their jobs, we should not use threats that unless someone sees eye to eye with us in theology or Bible interpretation, we will rip away his livelihood. Justice in the work place means no threats, it means fairness and honesty (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; James 5:4). Period.
In Deuteronomy 24:14f we read: “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” The employee is to be paid simply because he has earned his wage and is counting on being paid. How is it that we cannot translate this into the present scene and understand that we are not to rob gay people of their life’s preparation, education, career, livelihood just because we don’t approve of what we may project their off-the-job behavior is all about? May we take away from them their right to earn their own daily bread? We read in the Bible that a millstone is not to be taken away from a miller as a security by moneylenders, for to do so would be to be taking a person’s livelihood away. (Deut 24:6) There is no reference here to exceptions for certain millers with certain lifestyles or reputations. There is here the right of privacy and even secret, too, for we are told not to go into the borrower’s house for the pledge but to stay out of his bedroom, his closet. The borrower, it is said, will bring the security out to the lender.
The Providence Of God And Gay Civil Rights.
In everyday life we observe all around us that raindrops fall and sun shines on everybody, on the “just” as well as on the “unjust,” on “us” as well as on “them.” And we learn from reading the Bible that it is God who is directly responsible for this egalitarian arrangement. It is God who sends his own rainfall and his own sunshine on both the “just” and the “unjust,” on “them” and on “us.” (Matt 5:45) It is God who sets the pattern for allowing the wheat and the tares to grow up and flourish together under the same sunshine and rain of the present world (Matt 13:30). “The actions of God’s loving concern are not calculated according to worth or merit, ” as David Hill notes in his commentary, “but are generously given to all.” (50) As Leon Morris puts it, “God does not confine his bounty to those who love him.” (51) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are actively to seek the welfare of all, without reference to their lifestyles—even and especially when they are enemies, and he says that in doing so we are doing that by which we may behave as proper children of God (Matt 5:44). The everyday behavior of God’s model—sending rain and sunshine – – is what we, the children, should imitate. William Barclay says that “there is no other passage of the New Testament which contains such a concentrated expression of the Christian ethic of personal relations. To the ordinary person,” Barclay reminds us, “this passage describes essential Christianity in action, and even the person who never darkens the door of the church knows that Jesus said this, and very often condemns the professing Christian for falling so far short of its demands.” (52) And why shouldn’t the “ordinary person” take note of this passage? It is about the “ordinary person” and his or her treatment at the hands of Jesus ‘ followers. What so many of these people experience is something for which we must pray for forgiveness, repent from continuing, and “go and do likewise” after the manner of the Good Samaritan. Contrary to what some fundamentalists seem to want to believe, the rain still falls on the San Francisco hills and the sun still shines in Greenwich Village. Judging from the fundamentalist opposition to housing and employment rights for gay people, it’s a good thing that the rain and sunshine don’t have to be filtered through some fundamentalist committee before reaching gay people. It’s too bad, though, that clothing, shelter, food, and employment as the means to earn these necessities of life do seem to have to be filtered through an increasingly hostile fundamentalist opposition to gay rights—an opposition that tries to boast “higher” standards than even God requires for the everyday necessities of life among the “just” and “unjust” on this planet.
Well, when it comes to civil rights, we evangelical Christians—as we have seen—don’t have a very good record. We have so often oppressed in the name of God and in the name of morality, only later to discover our previous lack of compassion—but sometimes not living long enough to plead, “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.” (The Puritan judges of Old Salem Village were “fortunate” in this respect.) But look at what we’ve done over long stretches of time, to Jews, Catholics, blacks, Arabs, Indians, gypsies, and others. And we’re still oppressing all of these. Tom Skinner told his Gordon College audience in February (1983) that he can name “at least one dozen Bible schools and Christian colleges in this nation that still teach … that God cursed all black people and relegated them to conditions of servitude.” (53) Certainly we are still oppressing gay people—and we do it so proudly. I can name not only a dozen Bible schools and Christian colleges that still oppress gay people, I can name every Bible School and every Christian college as an oppressor of gay people. And we seem to be so oblivious to the fact that as we evangelicals oppress the “least of these” we show contempt for their Maker (Prov 14:31) and we abuse the Savior (Matt 25: 40ff), for whatever we do or do not do for one of the least of these homosexuals we do or do not do for the One who knows what it is to be despised, rejected, to be a Man of Sorrows and personally acquainted with grief and suffering. And from that One, too, we turned our faces and counted him to be of no account. (Isaiah 53)
In closing, I’d like us to remember D. L. Moody and Henry Drummond. You may not recall that Drummond was the Scottish explorer and professor of natural science “for whom Moody had a love, as he himself expressed it, like that which David felt for Jonathan.” (54) Yet the two men were “so different both in nature and in training.” Drummond was an evolutionist and a defender of the higher criticism of scripture. (55) So as you might guess, Moody was attacked by conservatives for his co-labors in evangelism with his dear friend Henry. But these picky conservatives couldn’t turn off Moody’s affection for him. According to Moody, Drummond was “the most Christlike man I ever knew,” a Christian “who lived continually in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians.” (56) Moody frequently asked Drummond to give his famous little talk on I Corinthians 13 and Drummond did so on several occasions at Northfield, Moody’s homestead, where the evangelist built his schools and summer conference ministry. Moody said he wished that Drummond’s talk were read there every year and said that it would be a good idea to have it read once a month in every church until it was known by heart.” (57) It was first published at Moody’s urgent request in 1887 and has been known ever since as the little book entitled, The Greatest Thing in the World. (58) I’ll read from the final paragraph of this classic:
“It is the Son of Man before whom the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of Humanity that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped; or there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other Witness need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not deceived. The words which all of us shall one Day hear sound not of theology but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. ”
Well, are we ready to implement the 13th chapter of I Corinthians when it comes to the civil rights of gay people? Do we have what it takes to imitate Matthew 5:45 in our dealings with the civil rights of even those whom we see as enemies? Will we be Good Samaritans to gay people, avoiding what D. L. Moody called the great injustice of insisting on “dispos[ing] of them ever afterwards to suit [our]selves” instead of seeking their welfare as they see it? Do we have it in us to practice the Golden Rule, fighting just as hard for the housing and employment rights of the others whom we see as “different,” even “wrong,” as we would or do for those we see as “our own,” as “right?” Would we readily change places with the objects of our doing “unto the least of these” and therein be content with the treatment?
Put another way—and just as biblically—the question is bluntly this: Do we love Jesus? Jesus said that if we really loved him we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). And what are Jesus’ commandments? He said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12f) Jesus said that such love would be a self-sacrificing love, a love that surely lays aside the getting of our own way, our own prejudices, as quickly as it sacrifices our life. Jesus went further in his love commandment. He said that if we love only our friends we’re no better than pagans and tax-collectors (Matt 5:46f). He said that if we are to be mature in our lovingkindness we are to imitate God whose “goodness knows no bounds” (Matt 5:48 NEB) among the “good guys” as well as among the “bad guys.” We are to love our enemies, Jesus said. As Jesus saw it, it is not possible to behave as children of God unless we love enemies (Matt 5:45). He said that God says that what we do to “the least” of men and women, we do to God (Matt 25:40). No wonder Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have and that “like unto this” we are to love all our neighbors in the same way that we seek our own welfare. According to Jesus, “Everything in the Law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:36-40 NEB)
Do we evangelicals have it in us to do that? Do we have what it takes to love Jesus by loving our gay neighbors? We are seemingly so uncomfortable with so much attention to love. Many evangelicals erroneously think that love is a liberal plot. A few weeks before this booklet went to press, I sat in the Sunday evening service at The Moody Church in Chicago. The pastor, Erwin W. Lutzer, was preaching on “Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” (I felt a little like Daniel.) Lutzer digressed during his sermon to denounce “liberals” who preach a lot about love. He said that they overlook something more ultimate than love: law. He said that God is as helplessly bound to law over love as was Darius the king who, because he was confined by the intractable laws of the Medes and Persians, could not allow his goodwill for Daniel to prevent him from throwing Daniel into the den of hungry lions. (59)
But what about that essay of Henry Drummond’s that we cited above? What about The Greatest Thing in the World that D. L. Moody himself said should be read monthly in every church, including, we would presume, in what is now called The Moody Church? Has The Moody Church forgotten what Moody himself preached?
It was noted in Drummond’s little book that Paul said emphatically that love, and love by itself, was greater, more ultimate than anything. It was, according to the Apostle, greater even than faith and hope. Love is the fulfilling of the law, as Paul saw it, and Drummond remembered that. Drummond recalled that Peter said that “above all things, have fervent love” and he repeated: “above all things.” Drummond recalled that John “goes farther” to say that “God is love.” Drummond concluded by asking, “Who is Christ?” and answered: “He who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick.” Drummond continued: “And where is Christ?” He responded: “Where?—whoso shall receive a little child in My name receiveth Me.” Drummond’s final question is this: “And who are Christ’s?” He answers: “Everyone that loveth is born of God.” (60) This is what Moody said should be preached monthly in all churches.
Is this what is being preached at Moody Church today? It did not fail to impress previous Moody Church pastors such as Harry A. Ironside who, as a 12 year old had heard Moody preach and went on to become pastor of Moody Church from 1930 to 1948. In his Lectures on Colossians, Ironside commented: “Doctrinal correctness will never atone for lack of brotherly love. It is far more to God who is Himself love, in His very nature, that His people walk in love one toward another, than that they contend valiently for set forms of truth, however scriptural.” Warren Wiersbe, who pastored Moody Church from 1971 to 1978, is no stranger to the Bible’s emphasis on love and so he included the Ironside quotation in a collection of seven statements by the great expositor in his anthology, Giant Steps. (61) And, of course, Moody himself knew his Bible and so he, too, knew that Jesus had said that it was by love that people would be able to recognize his true disciples (John 13:35). People who are hurting are especially looking for manifestations of such love. Do gay people today see love in the evangelical response to the civil rights struggles of gay people? Moody was echoing his Lord when he said that “The test of religion is not religiousness, but love.” (62) Moody said that “God hates the great things in which love is not the motive power; but He delights in the little things that are prompted by a feeling of love.” (63) In his revival meetings at the Hippodrome in New York City, Moody said: “If a man in the church ain’t [sic] sound in his faith, we draw our ecclesiastical sword and cut his head right off; but he may not be sound in love, yet we do nothing in his case. The great want in our churches is the want of love in them.” (64) Gay people know what Moody had in mind from their own painful experience with the churches’ frantic opposition to them and their rights to housing and employment. Sadly, they do not know the love of Christians for them.
When will we evangelicals begin to live the love of our Saviour and repeat his concern for the meeting of the daily needs of our gay neighbors? When will we cease our self-righteous rationalizing and pompous theologizing nonsense that love for gay neighbors must not be translated into something so simple and basic as letting them have their jobs and their housing and the other necessities of their “daily bread” just as we demand these things for ourselves and howl about our arrogant “Christian rights” with pretentious dogmatism at any threat of our own possible deprivation?
- Harvie M. Conn, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) p. 46.
- Ibid., p. 47.
- Quoted by Donald Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper & Row, 1976) p. 32.
- Ray Anderson in The Reformed Journal, November 1982, p. 14.
- William R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody by His Son (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900) p. 431.
- Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, p. 74f.
- Ibid., p. 78.
- Christianity Today, April 8, 1983, p. 16.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Harold I. Haas, “Homosexuality,” Currents in Theology and Mission, April 1978.
- U.S. News and World Report, June 21, 1982, p. 43.
- Christianity Today, January 1, 1982.
- Christianity Today, February 18, 1983, p. 28.
- Quoted in William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1965) p. 335.
- Quoted in Parker Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Concord, N. H.: Clague, Wegman, Schlicht, 1883) pp. 416f.
- Ibid., p. 433.
- Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, pp. 129f.
- Document in the author’s private collection.
- Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles, pp. 441f.
- Ibid., 436.
- Summit Ministry Journal, November 1982, p. 3.
- Gerry Breshears and Robert E. Larzelere, “Biblical Authority and Christian Psychology,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter, 1982.
- George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture , (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) p. 230.
- Timothy P. Weber, “The Two- Edged Sword: The Fundamentalist Use of the Bible, ” in Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll (eds.), The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) p. 116.
- United Evangelical Action, Spring, 1980.
- Report of a client of the author’s, a native of Jackson, Mississippi.
- Testimony of Mayor Edward I. Koch before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee, February 22, 1983, p. 1.
- Congressional Record, January 28, 1981, pp. H219f.
- Ibid., p. H220.
- Letter of Jerry Falwell, February 15, 1982 and a letter to Christianity Today, November 12, 1982, p. 8 from Cal Thomas of the Moral Majority.
- Jerry Falwell, Listen America! (Garden City: Doubleday, 1980) p. 185.
- Koch, Testimony, pp. 4f.
- Quoted by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in The Reformed Journal, July 1982) p. 27.
- Anderson, The Reformed Journal, p. 14.
- Walter A. Elwell, “Current Religious Thought,” Christianity Today, November 26 , 1982 , p. 70.
- Jerry Falwell, How You Can Help Clean Up America (Lynchburg , Virginia: Clean Up America, n.d.) p. 88.
- Elsa Tamez, Bible of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1982) p. 17.
- Falwell, How You Can Help Clean Up America, p. 88.
- William Cowper , “On Reading the Prayer for Indifference” in The Works of Cowper and Thompson (Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1841) p. 142.
- Koch, Testimony, p . 3.
- Herman Ridderbos , The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962) p. 190.
- Schulthess, Zeitschrift für die nt. liche Wissenschaft und die Kunde des Urchristentums , 21, 1922, pp. 242f.
- Johannes Munck, The Acts of the Apostles, The Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967) p. 94.
- F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979) p. 225.
- Anderson, The Reformed Journal , p. 14.
- Ibid., p. 15.
- Christianity Today, July 16, 1982, p. 57.
- Henry Davenport Northrop, Dwight L. Moody: His Life and Labors (Washington, D.C.: J. R. Jones , 1899) pp. 475f.
- David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans 1972) p. 130.
- Leon Morris, Testaments of Love (Grand Rapids : Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981) p. 194.
- William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume I (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975) pp. 172f.
- Tom Skinner, “The History We Were Never Told,” The Gordon , March 1983, p. 7.
- William R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody by His Son, p. 510.
- Warren Wiersbe (ed .), Giant Steps (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981) p. 243.
- William R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody by His Son, p. 309.
- Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World (New York: Little Leather Library, n.d.)
- Sermon preached by Erwin W. Lutzer during the evening service of Moody Church in Chicago , April 24, 1983.
- Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, p. 87.
- Warren Wiersbe, Giant Steps, p. 327.
- Sermon notes in the Moodyana collection of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Quoted by Stanley and Patricia Gundry, The Wit and Wisdom of D. L. Moody (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974) p. 24.
- D. L. Moody, Grace, Prayer, and Work (London: Morgan and Scott, n.d.) p. 264.
- D. L. Moody, Glad Tidings (New York: E. B. Treat, 1876) p. 55.