But Wait, There’s More Rev Dr Durrell Watkins June 15th, 2014 It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in the news, at least the news that attracts my attention. On May 26th, Franklin Graham, son of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, announced that Lesbian and Gay people will burn in hell. He seemed to be sincere. […]
But Wait, There’s More
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
June 15th, 2014
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in the news, at least the news that attracts my attention.
On May 26th, Franklin Graham, son of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, announced that Lesbian and Gay people will burn in hell. He seemed to be sincere. He seemed to believe, or perhaps hope, that people sharing love, expressing attraction, seeking connection in ways that are honest for them could somehow be condemned to a never ending post-mortem torture chamber.
Surely Franklin Graham’s ridiculous portrayal of a petty, mean-spirited, bigoted deity completely ignorant of human sexuality has done nothing to attract thoughtful, caring people to the world of religion. Luckily, there is a different kind of church!
But wait, there’s more.
On May 28th the American Family Association, a far-right, evangelical, anti-gay group that confuses heteronormativity for family values told its members to not accept the Harvey Milk stamp if it should be offered to them at the post office, which is childish but not necessarily evil; but then the AFA went a step further to ask their members to not even accept mail that comes to them with the stamp on it. I hope every envelope they refuse to accept has money it.
But wait, there’s more.
On June 2nd the Southern Baptist Convention produced a lengthy condemnation of gender non-conforming, insisting that gender is binary, fixed, and given by God. Basically, the Southern Baptists told transgender people to accept the gender identity assigned to them at birth and that their personal reality was not important. If you are transgender, gender non-conforming, gender queer, or questioning, I want you to know today that you are welcome, valued, and celebrated here at Sunshine Cathedral, where we affirm with the Apostle Paul that in the community of Christ there is neither male nor female because we are all one.
But wait, there’s more.
This week there was news of the Texas governor telling a group in San Francisco that same-gender love and attraction were similar to alcoholism, and as alcoholics can abstain from drinking, gays can learn to abstain from seeking and enjoying meaningful relationships. His assumption seems to be that same-gender love and attraction are somehow disordered even though Dr Alfred Kinsey refuted that notion in the 40s, Dr Evelyn Hooker refuted it in the 50s, and Am Psychiatric Asso has said since 1973 that same-gender love and attraction are not disordered and every major Western mental health organization has since agreed. Still, Governor Perry wants lesbian and gay persons to live lives of shame and loneliness rather than accept who they are and celebrate their place in human diversity. Govern Perry is wrong.
But wait, there’s more.
Also this week, we learned that Oklahoma State House of Representatives candidate Scott Esk said that gays should be executed by stoning and that such murderous actions would be somehow sanctioned by God. Mr Esk hopefully doesn’t believe that; hopefully he is just trying to grab headlines, but his remarks are misguided, reprehensible, and irresponsible.
Now, let me tell you why this bears highlighting today. This isn’t a gay pride sermon, though I hope all people, gay and lesbian, heterosexual and bisexual, those who fit into societal gender norms and those who are gender non-conforming will all learn to celebrate who they are and their place in the divine diversity of life.
But today I am concerned with more than a community embracing a sense of pride. I am concerned that messages from preachers and politicians, from denominations and parachurch organizations will cause harm to people, especially young people who are struggling to accept themselves, who live in terror that their families will reject them, who already know what it is like to be bullied just being perceived as different.
These leaders of movements presenting themselves as authorities, as spokespersons for a deity that appears to be little more than the personification of hatred and prejudice, are tacitly giving permission to the least stable members of society to commit emotional and physical violence against LBGT people and even their allies; they are encouraging families to choose unenlightened doctrines over their own children, and they are telling very vulnerable people that they are loathsome to the point of being rejected by the very source of life. If anyone could convince me that’s what God was I would publicly reject that God and beg you to do the same; but wait, I have long ago abandoned that concept of God and I do beg you to do the same!
But wait, there’s more.
I do believe in divine Love, in the web of existence, in the field of unlimited possibilities, in beauty and hope and grace and I am happy to use the word “god” to refer to that which cannot be named, that loving, all-inclusive presence in which we all live and move and have our being. But the homophobic, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic god used to put people through hell on earth in the name of saving them from an afterlife hell which I for one reject outright as a plausibility, that false god, that idol of human hatred lost my allegiance decades ago and was replaced by unconditional, all-inclusive Love, divine Love, the ground of my being, and yours.
We can’t make those who have chosen to cling to misinformation and use it as deadly weapons against LBGT people and their loved ones have a change of heart, but we who have heard the good news that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, that we part of the creation that is very good, that God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them (and that most certainly includes same-gender love), that divine Love would never reject anyone for any reason (least of all for living honest lives of integrity and love), we who have been rescued and healed from the fiery darts of ignorance and self-loathing have a responsibility to share our positive experience with everyone one who has yet to hear and affirm that just as they are they are persons of sacred value!
By pulpit and email, by YouTube and streaming video, by Twitter and Facebook, by classes and concerts, by daily devotionals in a monthly magazine, by books and brochures, by every means available to us we must and we do and we will reach people all over the world to lift them up from the despair imposed on them by those who would use God’s name in vain to keep them from loving themselves and living their lives openly and with joy. We’re here to feel good, of course, but we are also here to reach out so that other hurting people can feel good too.
Today’s gospel lesson isn’t about the doctrine of the trinity which wouldn’t be hammered out for another two and half centuries; today’s gospel is about mission, about empowerment, about healing, about getting an alternative vision out into a hurting world.
First, Matthew imagines Jesus telling his disciples to go into all the world…that’s what we want to do. Not to make converts but more disciples, people who learn and serve and devote themselves to being agents of positive change in the world.
People are hurting, often from the misuse of religion, and we are the ones to reach out and share an alternative message of hope and healing.
Secondly, the message says to baptize these new disciples, not necessarily splashing them with water, but washing away their fears and despair. People who have been taught to hate themselves and fear their truth need to have that mess washed away.
And finally, this work is to be done in the name of what is holy to us: Love, Truth, and Liberation, or any other words that bring hope, joy, and purpose to us, that point to unconditional, all-inclusive, divine Love.
One of the biblical names for divine Love, for the ground of being, for the ultimate Reality we call God is “I Am.” It refers to the quality of being. Bishop John Spong says that “God is the Ground of Being who is worshiped when we have the courage to be.”
Spong also says of God as being, that to call God the I Am is to hear God saying to us, “Shout your I am out loud to the world.”
Coming out of the closet of shame, of fear, of false guilt, and into the light of honesty and integrity and self-acceptance, then, is an act of worship, and helping others know there is a safe place for them to explore their spirituality as the people they know themselves to be is a faithful answer to the Great Commission. For those who still can’t live out loud as the person they know themselves to be, we who can will do so in your name, and will continue to do so until all people can shout their I Am out loud to the world.
And in answer to this great commission, I say to every person in this room, to every person watching on the Internet, to people who hear us in Uganda, in Nigeria, in Malaysia, in Russia, in Jamaica, in Oklahoma, in Texas, in Tallahassee…
Whoever you are and wherever you are, no matter what you’ve been told, even if your family has rejected you, even if bullies have made you miserable, even if politicians have dedicated their careers to marginalizing you, even if churches worshiped their own hatreds and fears and called them God, even if you have felt isolated and alone until now, I stand here as a prophet, not a future teller but a truth teller, to say that just as you are you have sacred value, you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, same gender love and attraction are neither a sin nor a sickness, and divine Love embraces you just as you are.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I am made in the divine image.
I am lovable and loved, just as I am.
God’s love will never let me go.
Thank you, God.