God and Gays

A little over 100 years ago, W.E.B. DuBois rightly predicted that “the problem of the 20th century [would be] the problem of the color line.”

The 20th century has come and gone, and while the “problem” of race relations has not been completely “solved,” we as a people have made some incredible strides toward equality since DuBois first published Souls of Black Folk in 1903. Sure, as a black man, I could be killed by the police at any given moment for no good reason, and that really isn’t cool. But even with that hanging over my head, I still feel like an empowered, full-fledged United States citizen. That’s a claim neither of my grandfathers could have made, even though they were both born here, too. I hesitate to say Jim Crow is dead, but he is on life support.

If racial issues dominated the 20th century, perhaps sexuality is the the battleground of the next great civil rights struggles.

Day before yesterday, I was leading the weekly Bible class at Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem. I started going there a few months ago, but that’s not the point. We were dealing with Leviticus, so I had to point out the oft-quoted chapter 18 verse 22: “Do not lie with a man as with a woman; that is detestable.” For many Christians, that’s the beginning and end of the discussion. There were several sincere, God-fearing students in my class who got quite passionate when I defended gay rights in spite of this text. Here’s a recap of some of what I told them.

-“Text-proofing” is the act of taking one verse or thought out of the Bible and applying it blindly as a binding rule to be followed in all circumstances. Everyone does this at some point. For example, Galatians 5:22 says that there is no law against such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. I like that idea.

The Bible also teaches in Numbers 5 that if a husband suspects his wife has been unfaithful (no proof is necessary), he can take her to the priest, and the priest can make her drink poison. If she is innocent, God will protect her and the poison will have no effect. If she’s guilty, the poison will do the irreparable damage that it does. In all of this, by the way, the man is held blameless. I teach that to people as an anecdote, but it’s not a part of my Christian marriage counseling, fortunately.

This doesn’t mean that the whole Bible is not the word of God–it just means that when we read it, we have to understand the cultural context it was written in, keeping in mind that no society is perfect. John Wesley argued that reason and personal experience are just as important as scriptural authority, and I tend to agree.

Also, Christians can’t ignore the fact that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. Maybe he did and no one wrote it down, but judging gay people goes against my understanding of his teachings. He said that we are all neighbors, and the call to compassion is greater than the call to follow human rules and laws. He also said that what goes in your mouth doesn’t make you unclean, but what comes out of your mouth is what gets you in trouble. He was talking about food and speech, but maybe the idea can extend to various form of sex, too. ;0

Besides, messages of acceptance and hope were preached to eunuchs in the Old and New Testaments (see Isaiah 56 and Acts 8). There are different ideas about what a eunuch was in biblical times, but if they were around today, they would certainly be a part of the LBGT community. More importantly, they would be eligible for salvation just as they are.

By now, one of the sweet old ladies in the class raised her hand and asked me if I thought homosexuality was a sin. I gave her a short answer–“no.” As an analogy, people have destroyed their lives with alcohol, but one sip of wine passing your lips at a party is not in itself a sin. Similarly, homosexuality is not inherently sinful, but anytime anyone throws morals, wisdom, and restraint out of the window, as many gay and straight people have done, it’s sinning and people eventually pay the price for their actions.

But back to Jesus, and his call to “judge not lest we be judged.” It’s okay to be turned off by the thought of two men kissing–it’s okay if you think it’s a sin. But Jesus begs the question in Matthew 7: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Spirituality is a personal thing, and if you’re really dedicated to getting yours right, you have very little time left over to worry about other people’s.

Finally, as a black church leader, neither the pastor nor the capitalist in me will allow me to start kicking sinners out of the church. If I did that, where would we be?


12 responses to “God and Gays

  1. Your defense of gay rights in spite of Leviticus 18:22 was quite good. Further points of defense, including why the Biblical condemnation of homosexual practice does not apply today, can be seen on http://www.GaysAndSlaves.com. Note especially the no-harm test.

  2. This made me think about what I’m learning about now, the President and the Constitution and whether or not the Constitution needs to be amended because our Framers did not have this type of world in mind when they crafted it. There are debates that say that the Constitution is so old that no one pays attention to it anymore, that it needs to be updated to cover present day situations or the President will abuse his power and ignore the Constitution. Others agree that it is clear, and that one can choose to abide by it, or interpret things one way to do what they please. Your blog made me think of the Bible, Pastors, Priests, leaders of religious institutions that interpret the Bible one way that may not be agreed by the next person. It’s the same with with the Qur’an and how terrorists use this book as an excuse to launch a holy war and kill innocent lives. We have these old books, books we live by that dictate to many of us how to choose to live our lives. To some people it is a hobby, to others a way of life. At the end of the day, books do not matter, doing right does matter. If someone is going to cause harm to a group or groups of people and use a book to justify one’s actions of wrongdoing, this is an abuse of power. Whether we are talking about gay rights, Islamic jihad, or even issues in the Catholic church, at the end of the day, each person has to go to sleep at night and wonder if they are making the right decisions. One can be brainwashed to think so, but if a certain group of people is being persecuted due to race, religion, gender, or sexual preference, something is wrong, and I don’t turn to the Bible, the Constitution, or the Qur’an, I look at the person and ask them if they can live with themselves. Because when all is said and done, and we are far gone from this planet, however we think our spirits will live on or not, I do believe that there is a judgement day, and when I get to those gates, I want people to verify here on earth that I was a good person, hopetfully a great Mother(one day)and wife, a person who loved without being loved in return at times, and someone who gave their all, without expecting anything in return. No if, ands, Bibles, Constitutions, or Qur’ans about it. We all make mistakes, but it’s the person who decides not to continue them that makes all the difference in the world, and that’s not an easy thing to do.

  3. I think I’m with you, Melissa. The documents have some real value, but taking them 100% literally hundreds and thousands of years after they were written is asking for trouble in my opinion.

  4. I agree Seth that you cannot kick sinners out of the Church, because if you did you would have no congregation. Nor would the Pastor or preacher be able to enter the sanctuary. This subject of gays is a long standing one that will be argued until JESUS comes back for the Church. I cannot judge only GOD can, but my question would be because all of us have a judgement day coming. What do we want to hear the Lord say? Well done my good and faithful servant, or depart from me I never knew you.

  5. As I have been reading your blog over and over again, I’m wondering if I am understanding you correctly or if I am most definitely misunderstanding you. I can’t understand how you can say, “no”, homosexuality is not a sin, when the Bible clearly states it is. Where is it in your Bible that it says it is not? No, Jesus did not talk about homosexuality; nor did he talk about whoremongers, drunkards, idol worshipers or pretty much any other sin. BUT it is very well stated in I Corinthians 6: 9-20 that those of us who live immoral lives will not share in the Kingdom of God. Homosexuality is immoral. Not my words, but the Lord’s. In Galatians 5, you quoted verses 22 & 23, but if you read before those two scriptures, verses 16-21 all kind of wrongs are mentioned. Then if you read verse 24, “those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires(homosexuality) to his cross and crucified them there.” I know you have read these scriptures and others that are related to this subject. Although, these words did not directly come out of the mouth of my God, but it clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:16 that the Word was “given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” I’m sure you are not deleting or adding in words to the Holy Word, which has already been written. Maybe things have changed and you feel the Word may not apply to the particular change. BUT I know that God knew things, time and culture would change or else I believe He would have stated in His Word, wait until the homosexuals put up a fight and raise their voices, then accept their sin. BUT He has not said that nor do I feel He will. It has already been stated in the Bible exactly what He wants us to know and that settles it. The Bible is not like some historical or political document created by man, who most definitely could predict the future. Sure there maybe changes needed in those document to bring it up today’s times. BUT they all were created by man and not necessarily inspired by God. In Hebrew it is stated that my God is the same yesterday, today and forever. I totally believe that with all my heart and I believe His Word is the same. Of course, we are to love the homosexuals, just like we are supposed to love the prostitutes, whoremongers, drunkards, drug addicts and ourselves. But it’s the sin within them(us) we must hate. In the Old Testament, the Lord used Sodom and Gomorrah as prime example of how He hates sin(homosexuality, in this case). He constantly told people about homosexuality through His prophets and angels. To say that homosexuality is not a sin, is definitely defiant and calling God a lie. You mentioned that “sexuality is a civil rights struggle”. No! It’s a civil rights issue only when one is mistreated unfairly. Of course, it is wrong for anyone, not only homosexuals, to be beaten, stoned, hung or killed because of whom they are. That is judging and playing God. BUT it is not wrong calling homosexuality as what it is…sin. God wants us to love homosexuals and share the Truth to them and to all who are willingly disobeying Him and/or don’t know Him. That is not judging nor criticizing. That’s being ambassadors for Him. That is stepping out at what He wants us to do…witnessing in love and in the Spirit’, spreading the Good News. Finally, I don’t understand your last statement…”kicking sinners out of the church”. I am assuming that you know churches who kick “sinners out of the church” and that you are referring to the building? Of course, they are wrong if this happens. Sinners need the gospel preached to them. The church(edifice) , to me, is a place for healing, saving, restoring, reviving, praising, worshiping, singing, preaching and so on; a place where everyone needs to be and not just on Sunday. You are so right when you say that we “have very little time left over to worry about people’s lives”. To be honest, I don’t think anyone is worrying about other people’s lives. I think because we know we have very little time, we are hurrying and rushing to get many as well as all to be saved. I think that we are doing and being obedient about telling what the Lord says; and that is being dedicated in getting our lives and others’ together before it’s too late. Whereas, when it is all over, He will tell us, those who have done His will, those who have been obedient and those who have been faithful and humble, “Well, done, you good and faithful servant”. I’m looking forward to that great day, knowing that I have done all I could do to let everyone and anyone know my Lord and Savior, who redeemed us from sin(homosexuality and all others) a long time ago.

  6. Correction to my post: The Bible is not like some historical or political document created by man, who most definitely could NOT predict the future.

  7. African Violet,

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I believe we have to take the words of the Bible to heart, and we also have to take them in context. You have pointed out a lot of things that the Bible says, and you get no disagreement from me. The Bible also says not to eat pork, but for some reason, many Christians overlook that command. In the same book (Leviticus), it says after a woman finishes her cycle, you can’t touch her or even sit in a chair where she’s sat for 7 days. It also says that women should be quiet in church, and that if someone knocks your tooth out, you need to knock theirs out as well. I happen to disagree with all of those things. It doesn’t mean that the words aren’t good for instruction, but sometimes the instruction is spiritual guidance, and sometimes it’s a history lesson.

    Unless a person is aiming at following the Bible word for word, they would have to admit that it was written in a different time and some things are open to interpretation.

    God gave us the Word, and God also gave us a mind to process it and apply it to what we are facing today. You mentioned Galatians 5:16-21 in your comments, and I think that it backs up what I was saying in the post. If you look at the original Greek, the word that is sometimes interpreted as “homosexuality” literally refers to “fornication, uncleanness, and lustfulness.” Gay or straight, if you aren’t making an attempt at self-control and holiness, there will be a price to pay.

    Let’s say there are two men. They both work, pay tithes and taxes, obey the law, study the Bible, and they just happen to be in love with one another. If they make a loving, monogomous commitment to one another before God, and then they go home that night and make love, I just don’t think their actions are sinful.

    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you’re wrong. I appreciate you making your comments in a spirit of Christian love, and I hope you receive mine in the same light.

  8. Rev. Pickens, you have shed a lot of light in this particular blog; BUT since you seemed to be going on feelings, I do feel that you are wrong and according, to my Bible, you are. Your thinking that it’s not “sinful” using the example of the two men, is just that…your thinking. What do you think God thinks? Please know that I am sharing my comments “in a spirit of Christian love” and I receive yours as the same. I know and also believe that the Word was given to us for today. As I mentioned in my first post, the Lord knew what the 20th and 21st century were going to be like. His Word prepares it us for such a time as this. AND I still believe that, although, we may not do things as the Bible says we should do, such as, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth or not sit in a menstrual woman’s chair for seven days, how do we know that we are not obeying the Lord in that area? You also mentioned that “gay or straight”, if self-control and holiness is not attempted, there is a price to pay. Why? Because they have sinned; sin has been committed. That’s not being judgmental or critical, it’s spiritual and biblical fact. Something gays and straights both need to know. Sin is sin and God hates it. Paul, who talks about the last days (which is today) in some of his letters, clearly identifies who will enter the kingdom of God and if we do not send out a message to all generations regarding this, I’m sorry, Rev. Pickens, we will be held accountable. Believe what you want to believe; think what you want to think; even teach what you want to teach,but for me, I will believe the Word for this day and time, knowing that He is coming back and soon. Until you can show me in His Word that homosexuality is not sin, then I have to take and believe what I have read in His Word and that is homosexuality being what it is…sin.

  9. We have to first acknowledge that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, written by men but inspired by God. Now I am sure that the pastor believes this. In reference to homosexuality, it is not a matter of your right, it is simply a sin. Humans place standards as to what is a greater or lesser sin but to God it is just sin. We have to understand that God changes not whether it was written in the old or the new testament. The whole Bible is the word of God and the whole Bible is true. Take a look at Ecclesiastes chapter one 1-11. There is nothing new under the sun. God is not surprised as to how things are turning out or how beliefs will be changed, but He is the same and His Word still holds true.

    Personally I don’t judge people who are gay, but I do make comments based on my observation of behavior. God also said that we are all sinners. We as believers are following God’s law. The message of acceptance and hope is still preached today and we are always to come to Christ as we are. There is no other way. Only the Holy Spirit can change lives. Homosexuality most certainly is a sin. God hates the sin but loves the sinner and that goes for all of us and all sin.

    It is clearly obvious to me that there are some unresolved issues and hidden motives for this particular blog. We all know who we are inside because God has made us that way. When we try to mask that in any way, then the struggle comes from within and becomes an outward problem.

    We have to remember that the enemy is very good at what he does. He is a deceiver and very cunning. Remember the very elite will be deceived. Don’t believe the lie just because you were told one. However, we do have a choice like in everything else. God gave us a mind and a will so therefore it is your choice and yours alone. Please do not use what God gave you to try and convince others of a lie you have accepted. As a pastor you are accountable and will be held accountable by God for leading others down the wrong path. I will continue to be in prayer for you and your congregation.

    To whom much is given, much is required.


  10. There are several different scriptures in the Bible that indicate what God wants from us in terms of sexuality. The Lord laid down the 10 commandments, he taught us the beatitudes and the Lord also indicated to us in the Bible how we are to act morally and ethically. That is that we all must strive to become Christ like. 1st there is nothing about homosexuality that is Christ-like. No offense to you, pastor, but I think you have it 1 % right. There are many scriptures in the Bible that are analogies (parables) because that is the way Jesus taught. Do I think that we should go out and harm anyone because they are gay? Absolutely not! Our God is a God of Love, not hate. On the same note; God does NOT want us to be Gay – it is a fleshly of the world act. Do I think it is possible for someone who is homosexual to change their ways? Absolutely – Through Christ “all things” are possible. I know that Christ-Like love transcends all problems. Unfortunately, I do not have the corresponding scriptures that would support my view at the moment. But it’s there…it’s in the Word.

  11. Kathy,

    Thank you for your prayers. I will continue to teach the word as it’s been revealed to me. I am aware of the accountability I have as a pastor, which is why I do my best to preach a message of unconditional love, even if I have to preach it alone.

    My wife warned me that because of this fight for equal rights, people might assume I’m gay. Kind of like how white people during the Jim Crow era were derided as “Nigger Lovers.” Many white Christians believed that black people were inferior (they used the curse of Ham in the Genesis to back them up). They made blacks sit in the balcony if they let them in the church house at all. A few brave whites who dared to pray with and teach blacks were told they were operating outside of the will of God. I’m glad those abolitionists listened to God and not their fellow Christians. I’m very willing to take advice from and debate with people, but I am called to lead believers in the 21st century, and that’s what I’m here for.

    Also, I’d be interested in hearing what the “unresolved issues and hidden motives” are behind my blog. Since they are so clear and obvious to you, please tell me what they are.

    Pastor Seth

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