“the Bible is not a tool of oppression. It is a book of life”
Today’s guest post comes from my friend Emily Timbol, a passionate Christian, advocate, and author whose new book is currently eating up all of my free time. Please feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a fiery comment for her below.
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Lately, on social media and popular Christian blogs, I’ve seen something that’s confused me. Christian men and women who have written extensively about their belief that homosexuality is wrong, and gays should not have civil rights, have condemned the passing of harsh international anti-gay laws in Uganda and Russia. These Christians didn’t just distance themselves from the laws, they claimed to be “saddened” over them.
“As much as I abhor homosexuality,” one man said, “I think it’s wrong to make it illegal.”
That logic makes no sense to me. Neither does the logic of the many American Evangelicals who argue against the rights of LGBT people to marry (or buy cake) yet oppose laws that take the inevitable next leap; criminalizing this “destructive” behavior they oppose. If you want the government to step in to legally protect your religious rights and define your sacraments, why wouldn’t you want the people who would violate these laws punished? If you see homosexuality as something destructive, dangerous and “against nature,” something so awful it could destroy society, why wouldn’t you try to stop it by law?
That’s what Vladimir Putin is trying to do after all. And the President of Uganda.
The strict, anti-gay international laws being passed in countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, highlight the hypocritical thinking among many in the American Evangelical church. At the same time Americans are proposing and defending laws that make it legal to refuse service to gay people in the name of “religious freedom,” they’re denouncing foreign countries who treat gays as criminals. They’re drawing an invisible line in the sand between discrimination and criminalization, and claiming that their side is right, and Biblical. But this line does not exist.
No one can point to a verse in the Bible instructing Christ’s followers to legally refuse service to our “enemies” or sinners. That verse doesn’t exist. But the people supporting these laws aren’t trying to point to that at all, instead, they circle the seven or eight verses that mention and condemn homosexuality. What they fail to do though, is argue how those seven or eight verses make it OK to exclude gays, and not the rest of us, who are confirmed as sinners by the rest of the the Bible.
“It’s not about that,” a friend of mine said. “It’s about not wanting to celebrate sin. If I put two grooms on a cake, I’m taking part in a celebration of something the Bible says is sinful. That’s not loving either.”
This argument is equally illogical to me. Putting two grooms on a cake doesn’t make you a wedding officiant. Providing someone with a good or service is about you doing your job, not you blessing their choices. And if what we really care about as Christians is “love” then refusing to serve someone in need is the last thing we should be doing. It doesn’t matter if this refusal comes out of a fear of accidentally leading others to sin. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus went around breathalyzing everyone at the Cana wedding in Galilee before He turned the water into wine. On the contrary, it says that Jesus only performed His miracle after all the “cheap wine” had been consumed. Does that mean Jesus sinned, by “celebrating” drunkenness? Nope. Because Jesus knew that what people did with the wine was up to them. He was still able to love the people at the wedding, without policing their choices.
That’s why it’s insincere when American Evangelicals claim that these laws come out of a place of “love.” You can’t love a person if you think it’s OK to discriminate against them. And you can’t continue to treat LGBT people as “other” but be disgusted or surprised when people across the globe do to the “other” what seems logical. It’s not surprising when the “other” is harassed, beaten, threatened and killed, because that is what always happens to marginalized peoples.
Evangelicals cannot continue to consistently, loudly, and passionately denounce homosexuality, then be “saddened” when homosexuals are thrown in jail, killed, and abused. When the thing you think defines your “sincerely held religious beliefs” is that gay is dangerous, gay is disgusting, and gays do not deserve any rights, you really shouldn’t be surprised when gay = dead.
To Christians with sincerely held religious beliefs, the kind that come from Jesus’s instructions, this threat to LGBT lives should be hugely alarming. There should be rallies across the world. Conferences and emergency congregation meetings to figure out how to stop the laws. Actions organized that say loudly and without apology, “all life matters!” The same kind of actions happening right now to stop legal abortion–that thing that almost all Evangelicals agree is wrong, because it ends life. Life, which is precious, and in God’s hands, not man’s.
But many American Evangelicals do not have consistency when it comes to the laws they want to pass to protect life. There are not rallies and organizations forming in (white Evangelical) churches to stop Stand Your Ground laws. Despite the fact that these laws have been a motivating factor in the death of multiple young, black, unarmed teenagers. What about their lives? Or what about the lives of the men sitting in prison, awaiting execution for crimes they did not commit? It happens more than you think. And even if only one innocent man is executed for every 1,000 guilty, does that innocent man’s life not matter?
These are only a few examples, though they get to the root of where the American Evangelical hypocrisy lies. It lies in the conflation of two things; our rights as believers, and civil law. Those two things do not go hand in hand. Jesus did not die for our rights to bear arms, or our rights to own a business where we can refuse to serve those with whom we disagree. No – Jesus died for our sins, so that we could go out and tell others about Him, and show them His love. But it’s pretty hard to love someone like Jesus would if we lock the door and prevent them from entering. Which is literally what some Christians want, and are defending. Yet it is impossible to try and use Jesus words to justify passing laws that “protect” Christians. Jesus was not concerned with the law. Nor was He concerned with making our lives easier. He was concerned with our hearts.
What makes me so angry is that to many outsiders, “sincerely held religious beliefs” that discriminate against others have come to define Christianity. This is a travesty, because when read the way it should be, the Bible is not a tool of oppression. It is a book of life. Our “sincerely held religious beliefs,” if truly sincere, should never cause us to mistreat anyone we disagree with. Quite oppositely, if we’re truly following Jesus, when a gay person asks us to make a wedding cake, we shouldn’t just make it, but offer to cater as well.
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Emily Timbol is a blogger and author who writes faith, life and humor related essays. Her work can be found on the Huffington Post, The Burnside Writers Collective, Red Letter Christians, Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics, and RELEVANT magazine online. Her first book, Two Words: Why Hearing “I’m Gay” Changed My Straight, Christian Life is available now on Kindle, and paperback. You can find links to all her published works on her blog and on her Twitter, @EmilyTimbol.