A close family member of mine here in Tennessee, a young and well-educated man, is gay. He was raised day-in and day-out in the nurture and admonition of the Lord from the day he drew his first breath until he was a young man. For the first 18 years of his life, he was a member of a highly conservative Baptist church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He grew up attending Sunday school and church on Sunday mornings, Sunday evening worship services, and Wednesday evening Bible studies. He was a vital, dedicated, and willing member of his Baptist church.
I love this young man like my own son, but he may not know that. That is all my fault. When he was a small child about 3 years old, I was having some intense, untreated emotional problems—and very small, active children irritated the living daylights out of me. I pushed him from my presence, and sensitive person that he was even then, he recoiled in fear and remained distant. My heart is so sad and so sorry that I did that to him when he was so small, and I hope he can one day forgive me and we can be much closer.
It must have been difficult, scary, and disorienting for him to wake up one pubescent morning with a natural same sex attraction that zoomed in unexpectedly from left field—and even more so for a young person living in Tennessee. Tennessee is the Vatican of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism in the United States, and Nashville is its holy seat. As a result of this, LGBTQ people in Tennessee are hated with a perfect hatred—and I do firmly believe this widespread hatred is motivated by the fundie churches in Tennessee. I think my young relative fully realized all of this at some point and did not wish to cope with that kind of environment all of his life. After graduating from college with a very high GPA and a degree that is quite useful in big cities, he moved to New York City to practice his career and to escape from a closeted life and the inevitable persecution—and possibly even death—that might have occurred by coming out in Tennessee. Although he is probably not aware of it, I love him very much—more than he could ever know. I am glad he has found a long-term place to live where he can be open, feel free, be happy, and experience being loved by someone and loving someone—if that has indeed been his choice. This song is dedicated to him, his brother, and all the other LGBTQ people who have endured so much pain and so many unloving hearts in their search for freedom and equality away from fundie idiots who think being gay is a chosen lifestyle. Click on the white triangle, and turn it up loud.
The rest of this article deals with another LGBTQ subject. After you watch the video clip, please scroll down and read the rest of the article.
A couple of days ago, I read a really sad article about an openly gay Christian man who had been officially purged from membership in his fundie church. A representative of the church told him he was welcome to attend services if he so desired, but he could not be a member of the church again until he repented of his homosexuality. This got me to thinking about the whole subject of sin in church—any church. Curiously, when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I heard numerous adult members of various churches say the following:
We love all sinners—and we are glad to have sinners in our church on Sunday mornings. Church on Sunday is the right place for all us sinners to be.
That sounded very nice, egalitarian, kind, open, and inviting in the ears of a small child, and it stirred warm and happy feelings within me about Christianity and churches. I will be 64 years old in December, and neither that statement nor anything even near it has crossed my ears again over the last 55 years. What happened? Does anyone recall the exact year when American churches and church membership became the exclusive property of perfect people?
Here is some scripture relevant to the subject:
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 2:23)
If we [Christians] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 john 1:8)
I inserted the parenthetical word Christian into that last verse for a reason. In that verse John is writing specifically to Christians, and he is writing about Christians.
Yes, I am aware of another set of Bible verses that supports the expulsion of Christians from their churches because of their sins. Fundie churches order these verses under the rubric of church discipline, as in disciplining (i.e., punishing sinners), which can include expelling them from the church. Other sets of verses deal with restoring to the church a brother or sister who has sinned.
I have some questions though—some pretty doggone good ones. Where do you draw the line on excommunicating a person from church? How seriously do we Christians really take all these Bible verses? If we do take them seriously, do we apply them consistently and uniformly, or do we do it unfairly and unjustly according to our own personal prejudices and congregational whims? With those questions in mind, let us go back to the heartbroken gay man who was expelled from his church and simultaneously look at another man who was never expelled from his church.
Take a good, long look at the man in Figure 1. His name was Jerry Falwell. Prior to his death, Reverend Jerry Falwell was the head pastor of one of the largest Christian fundamentalist churches in the United States. He was also the founder of the former religious right organization called the Moral Majority, and Reverend Falwell established the fundie higher educational institution known as Liberty University. In two words, he was the American Super Fundie. Do you notice anything about this guy? That is right!!! He is a bloated tub of lard—a fact not missed by the image-merging cartoonist who created the character in Figure 2. A person gets this fat by overeating. It is a continuous, willful sin committed across a long span of time. The Bible calls it the sin of gluttony. At some point in the history of European Christianity, the sin of gluttony became classified as one of the famous “Seven Deadly Sins.” This means a sin so vile in the eyes of God that the sinner deserves instant death for doing it. And no, I am not aware of any specific, Biblical free passes for medication-induced gluttony.
Figure 1. Reverend Jerry Falwell
Figure 2. Jerry the Hut
Let us look at the major Bible verses dealing with the sin of gluttony:
And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard’ (Deuteronomy 21:20)
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father (Proverbs 28:7).
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19) and (Luke 7:34).
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons‘ (Titus 1:12).
Your older sister was Samaria, who lived with her daughters in the north. Your younger sister was Sodom, who lived with her daughters in the south, but you have not merely sinned as they did. You quickly surpassed them in corruption. As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, Sodom and her daughters were never as wicked as you and your daughters. Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out as you have seen… (Ezekial 16: 46-50) [New Living Bible Translation]*
Now we bring this matter to a head. Given the seriousness of gluttony—a willful, open, continuously committed sin fully evidenced to all people by hanging body flab—one of the seven deadly sins—a sin implicated in the destruction of Sodom just like homosexuality (according to the fundies), why did Thomas Road Baptist Church never excommunicate Reverend Lard Butt. Why did this large, famous church never excommunicate all the other fat fundies sitting in its pews? Why is it that so many other Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches all over the nation do not kick out all of their fat people? They would kick out a known, practicing homosexual church member so fast his head would spin. Why not all the fat people too? Why not kick out all the other sinners in all the fundie congregations? The disciple John made it crystal clear in scripture (1 John 1:8) that all Christians are still sinners in this earthly realm. If just one little sin angers God so badly that He will send a person to Hell forever, then why not kick the person with that same sin out of his fundie church forever? What is fair to one is fair to all. Right?
The fact of the matter is that all Christians–even after they have been saved—are still sinners—just like homosexual church members (out in the open or still in the closet). Our Bibles tell us so, and we cannot run from that basic fact. If we kick one sinner out of our church, then we become unjust if we do not kick out all sinners. However, if we did, every church in the United States would be empty on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.
Here is the real problem. Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals cherry pick the scriptures when they apply the Biblical law they love so much. They cherry pick out the Biblical sins they want to emphasize or punish—and they pretend other sins are not worthy of their attention. As Reverend Keith Ward in the Anglican Communion says (paraphrased):
The Christian fundamentalists accuse other Christians of cherry picking the Bible [so-called Cafeteria Christians] when, in fact, the Christian fundamentalists are the best ones at actually doing it.
I believe Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are quite prejudicial, arbitrary, fickle, bigoted, and unjust in their application of the scriptures to daily life—and all of this has a first root in their secular culture rather than in the Bible per se. If they find homosexuality to be “just so icky” in their personal hearts or secular cultural hearts, they are going to run to the Bible to search for words that will allow them to condemn, persecute, and harshly punish gay people.. If their personal or secular cultural hearts are inclined to go relatively easy on fat people (or other categories of sinners), they are going to stay out of the Bible, ignore anything it says about that sin, be merciful, and just let the fat people slide. In the end, it all comes down to fundie secular culture and personal preferences first—run to the Bible for help when they think something ought to be condemned—ignore what the Bible says on other sin subjects if they personally think they are not matters of big concern. This leads inevitably to an unbalanced and unjust application of scripture, and the more important subjects of love, kindness, and mercy rarely enter the picture. If you will read through the New Testament, you will find that God is big on justice, fairness, love, and mercy—the fundies—not so much. The grief-stricken man who was kicked out of his church for being a practicing homosexual found that out the hard way with many tears.
The Bible says it is an abomination to eat a meal with gentiles. When are we going to hear a fundie fire and brimstone sermon on that sin? Most Americans are gentiles, and we openly eat our meals with gentiles because most of our family members and friends are gentiles. Maybe we should kick all the people who eat with gentiles out of our American churches. What would happen then?
*Note: Other Bible translations say “abundance of food” or some roughly equivalent meaning rather than “gluttony.” Whichever the true case may be, Sodom obviously had an enormous amount of stored food that was used in an inequitable, abusive, and sinful way that made God angry enough to nuke the city.
** I personally confess to the sin of gluttony. For the past 28 years, I have taken a medication that screams “eat!!!!!” I am just as much of a lard butt as the late Jerry Falwell, and not all of it can be blamed on my medication. Eating too much has always been a problem for me, one that involves using food as a drug to ward off boredom, clinical depression, and intense bouts of anxiety. I lost 56 pounds last year, felt great, and fixed several health problems in the process. Most of that weight is now back on me, and the health problems are back. As the old saying goes: “It is easier to lose it than it is to keep it off.” I am still struggling and committed to trying once again to lose it and keep it off. Kind and merciful people that they are, my fellow United Methodists have not kicked me out of my church because I am a fatso. However, it saddens me to think that if I were a gay pastor in the United Methodist Church (UMC), there are some members of the UMC who would gladly kick me out of the church and burn me at the stake while still leaving all the fat people alone.
If any of you fine readers would like to pray for me to be more able to lose my extra weight and keep it off, please feel free to do so. It is much appreciated.