This article by Rev. Ryan Arnold can also be read in the 2015 issue of the Capital City Pride Des Moines Pride Guide on pages 30-31. PrideFest will be held from June 12-14th in the Historic East Village, Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.A.
On April 1, 2015, The Salt Lake Tribune published a cartoon by their staff artist, Pat Bagley, depicting a rather gaunt, perceptive, and saintly-Jesus, approving the artist’s commentary, which read: “Number of times Jesus spoke about the sin of homosexuality… 0.” As if in a parenthetic remark, Bagley adds, “He also referenced wedding cakes about as often.”
That’s really the trouble with modern Western Christianity, isn’t it? At best, we read justifications into the sacred text for our long held beliefs; at worst, we abuse scripture’s beautiful words of redemption and reconciliation, peace, and love for egocentric assimilation of others.
When it comes to the contemporary question of LBGTQ inclusion in the Church, I believe we have reached the point in theological evolution where biblical arguments for full inclusion are plentiful, accessible, and compelling. I often recommend Justin Lee’s masterful work Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Lee is merely one of the many LBGTQ Christian authors enjoying an ever-widening platform that benefits us all. In fact, that is my conviction – we’ve reached a tipping-point of sorts, and now full inclusion has become an exquisite witness to the transforming power of God’s love.
I do not mean to negate or cover over the past and present sins of exclusion. Lives and livelihoods still hang in the balance, and wholesale traditions of the universal Church remain stubbornly hostile to our LBGTQ neighbors, at times deteriorating into hate incubation.
Nevertheless, the prophetic imagination of activists, preachers, and artists have given birth to tangible realities of comprehensive embrace. Whereas previously, LBGTQ believers would be hard-pressed to find an open and affirming faction within the faith community, now entire congregations, large and small, proudly proclaim what was culturally taboo just a generation ago. As a person of faith, I am prayerfully observant: the love exampled in Jesus really is more powerful than fear. Thanks be to God!
Also, what I believe allies like I have come to celebrate is that there is more to following Christ than simply putting down our weapons of hate. When people encounter the divine, like in the story of the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, they are forever changed. Defensive postures begin to erode, past wounds find healing, and the truer, more essential self blossoms into the beautiful creature God created. Still, this is not a journey to be taken in isolation. As the story goes, Jesus frees the woman at the well from the trappings of societal sin. Then, with her reentry into communal life, a new voice emerges as she proclaims the good news of freedom to others.
Through my LBGTQ parishioners, friends, and clergy peers I am being transformed, or in the language of St. Paul, they are helping me work out of my salvation. As I continue to open my eyes and appreciate the entire diversity of God’s good creation, I have come to love God more wholly, be amazed at Divine Presence more often, and accept God’s love more deeply. Through the witness of those once condemned as other, I find Christ inviting me to assimilate into divine-likeness, and to stop my worthless attempts to assimilate others into my-likeness.
I don’t think Jesus has an opinion on whether a wedding includes a cake, but the Jesus I’ve come to know, this side of comprehensive embrace, is the Christ who insists on hospitality rather than judgment, affirmation rather than shame, and above all, joy-filled love.