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What Does the Bible Say About Sodomy?

What Does the Bible Say About Sodomy?

Session 4 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: Have folks share about a time they were an outsider in a new area and felt out of place.

Ask: What are some things people did that made you feel excluded or left out? That made you feel welcome?

Explain: The next Scripture you will look at is often quoted about sexuality, but, as we will see, has much more to do with hospitality and being a good neighbor.

Pass out handout about types of same-sex contact in the Old Testament. Have folks read over the handout. Explain that, as we read the Sodom story and parts of the bible that follow, they should pay attention to the varying forms of same-sex contact that occur and whether they are expressive of same-sex marriage, same-sex rape, or what form they are, as that will be relevant to your discussion.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 19:1-26″ display=”Genesis 19:1-26″].

Ask: How do most people use this story in reference to homosexuality? Does it sound like this story actually says what people say it does?

Explain that probably most people who have heard this story have heard that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because it was so perverse because it was a gay city. That’s what I heard growing up – that God is punishing them for homosexuality.

Is that the truth?

Well, no. The bible tells us elsewhere why God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Ezekiel 16:48-49″ display=”Ezekiel 16:48-49″]. Ask: What sins does this verse say God destroyed Sodom for?

Explain that this verse and many others make it very clear that God does not destroy Sodom because it is full of homosexuals, but because of the fact that its people were greedy, arrogant, and don’t recognize God. This leads them to exploit others, especially the poor and strangers, without worrying about the consequences. The one element of this story that involves sexuality is a powerful example of how far their arrogance and un-neighborliness had gotten.

Ask: What sort of sexual conduct is described in the story in [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 19:1-26″ display=”Genesis 19:1-26″]? Is it the sort of sex two loving, committed people such as you’d find in a gay union would have?

Explain that this is a gang rape that is described, not two men or two women who are having sex as an expression of love, faithfulness, and commitment. This is not an expression of love at all – and a far cry from what two lovers, be they bisexual, gay, or straight, would be engaged in.

Ask: Why might the people of Sodom have engaged in gang rape? What lesson might this story have been intended to teach?

This story was recorded by the Israelites in Palestine. One of the common practices of the people God was having the Israelites to expel from Palestine was to humiliate enemies and strangers. One of the signs of a good, godly city in bible times, was its care for strangers and its ability to welcome others. For instance, in the Sodom story, God sent heavenly messengers along Lot’s path who seemed to be strangers in the town. Lot is counted as a godly person for being open to these strangers. Being godly then is being open to all people, especially those who are strangers to your community and don’t yet fit in or have enough to get by, being open them as being sent by God into your lives for some reason.

A sign of a barbaric society in bible times was that it humiliated strangers and prisoners. The ultimate method was torture. The ultimate torture was for a straight man, often several straight men, to rape a stranger, enemy, or prisoner, anally. In fact this still goes on today in prisons, where hardened criminals will torture other inmates through gang-rape. The idea was to dehumanize the person. It was a form of psychological warfare, a type of abuse that had nothing to do with love or attraction. In it, sexuality is used as a weapon. A penis becomes a weapon of abuse.

This is what is happening in Genesis here. Sodom is so corrupt and so barbaric that when it sees seemingly helpless and harmless strangers, its straight male leaders feel the need to treat these pilgrims as enemies, to humiliate them with the worst torture imaginable in that day, simply because they come from a different land than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Ask: Is it fair then to use this verse to condemn non-abusive same-sex intimacy that is an expression of love?

Ironically, the bible also condemns men gang-raping women. Almost the same account as Sodom and Gomorrah is given in [biblegateway passage=”Judges 19-21″ display=”Judges 19-21″]. There God, through the leaders of the tribes of Israel, proclaims judgment on a town in Israel for becoming corrupt, giving into the dehumanizing religious philosophy of the people around them, and exploiting others. It all comes to a head when a young lady is gang-raped simply for being in a different town than she was from – for being different, in other words. The city is condemned as cursed and the armies of Israel wipe it out. Yet you don’t hear anyone condemning straight married couples for having sex because men are condemned for gang-raping a woman in Judges. It would only be fair to condemn all heterosexual love due to Judges, if you use [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 19:1-26″ display=”Genesis 19:1-26″] to condemn all gay love. The truth is, neither passages deal with love, but with sexual abuse and inhospitality.

In conclusion, the Sodom story teaches us:

  • To acknowledge God
  • To not become greedy and power-hungry
  • To welcome strangers and those not like us
  • That our sex is a tool of love, not war. Sex should not be exploitative or abusive, but in love and commitment. Don’t gang-rape people or engage in sexual abuse.

This passage does not deal with loving, faithful, committed same-sex relationships, except in so far as it teaches us not to look down on people who are different.

Close in prayer.

Abomination in the Bible

Abomination in the Bible.

Session 5 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Begin by asking for one or two people to review, in a few sentences, what we have seen so far in our look at the bible’s treatment of homosexuality.

Explain: Today we are going to be looking at some of the most controversial texts that deal with sexuality in the bible – descriptions of particular forms of same-sex contact found in what is known as the “Holiness Code” of the Old Testament. In particular, we are going to look at [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″].

As we prepare to read these verses, remember the questions we’ve mentioned needing to ask when reading Old Testament texts: What does this verse really say and what does it not say? Is this a text whose command applies to all people in all time, or one which is not binding in the same way now, because it is fulfilled in Christ? What is the historical and cultural background of the text? How do these verses fit into the larger story of the books of the bible surrounding them? How do they fit into the story of the bible? Into the history of God’s work in the world? What does our reason and experience tell us? And most importantly, what light do Jesus’ life and teachings shed on these verses?

Have folks read these two verses:

[biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″]:

Don’t have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent.

[biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″]:

If a man has sex with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is abhorrent. They must be put to death; they are responsible for their own deaths.

Ask: First of all, keeping comments down to a few sentences, how have you heard this verse explained by religious people? What have they said it says about homosexual behavior or orientation?

(Allow comments)

Well, touching on the questions I told you to keep in mind, what are some things you notice that the verse does say and that it doesn’t say?

(Allow comments)

Well, here are a few facts about these verses that are often omitted by religious conservatives:

  1. This verse says nothing about women being sexual toward other women. This is interesting, isn’t it? If this verse was intended to be a universal indictment against homosexual activity, why are lesbians omitted from these verses? And why do religious conservatives fail to notice Leviticus doesn’t condemn lesbian intimacy? There is some debate about what particular sexual acts this verse condemns, but whatever it condemns, it does not condemn sex between two women.
  2. This verse calls for capital punishment for whatever act it describes. Whatever it is condemning, it is something that was viewed as very destructive either to God or the Jewish community who kept this law. Also, very few who quote this verse actually believe they should organize a gang to perform capital punishment, neither do they believe capital punishment should be performed for other acts that Leviticus calls for capital punishment about – children disobeying parents, men sleeping with their wives during their period. So this shows there is some real inconsistency with people who quote this verse as being in force today.
  3. Though this verse is said to call homosexuality a sin, this verse doesn’t even describe whatever same-sex act is described as a sin, but as a “detestable” or “abhorrent” act, or an “abomination” .

Ask: Can anyone think of what the difference might be between an “abominable act” and a sin?

(Allow thought)

Pass out copies of The Mosaic Code & the Hebrew word To’ebah and/or What the Bible Says About Homosexuality: Abomination. Explain that these resources are compilations from several resources that go through the meaning of the word translated “abomination”, “abhorrent” or “detestable”. Ask people to read parts of this page. Then ask: What significance do these resources’ content have in explaining what [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″] are saying?

Explain that this means that Leviticus does not say that a man to lie with man is wrong or a sin. Rather, it is a ritual violation, an uncleanness ; it is something dirty ritualistically, just as was eating shellfish, mixing fibers, and similar laws which Christians no longer consider binding on them.

Two things were to’ebah to the Jewish people: First, acts that went against the cultural norms in a way that one was considered ritually unclean or imperfect, and thus unable to go to the temple and worship God, were to’ebah. The idea is that you only take to God a perfect gift and, if you are somehow imperfect, you can’t go to worship until you’ve “cleaned up”. That’s why someone who had touched a woman during her period couldn’t go to the temple without getting stoned – in their culture, that was believed to make someone imperfect.

Another list of things called to’ebah were practices that were connected with religions around Israel that had gone wrong in their worship of God – practices like sacrificing children on the altar, practices like giving your children to be prostitutes in the temple as an act of worship. Stuff like that.

Some feel that this verse refers to male-to-male intimacy as merely unclean, like eating pork made someone unclean in Jewish religion. This would be then connected with the way Jewish people of the day understood sex. They viewed semen as having a life-giving property. Not understanding about eggs, they believed all semen needed to become a baby was a woman’s womb. So, men who masturbated were unclean, because semen that could have become a baby if put in a woman was wasted and fell on the ground. Likewise, men who had wet dreams were unclean and we are told in Leviticus that a man who had a wet dream had to go through a time of ritual purification before entering the temple. They had to bathe and wait a day before they could come to worship. This is also why women weren’t allowed in the temple during their period – that was the blood of pregnancy, which could some day produce a child, which was spilling out of them. This made them imperfect.

If this was the case, then this verse is condemning male-to-male intimacy because of this pre-scientific understanding of semen. It is a concession to a cultural notion we don’t share any more: Semen is getting wasted that could be used for making babies! How bad! Under this logic, since women don’t produce semen, it is okay for women to have sex with each other. After all, no baby-making fluid is wasted. Only during their periods are they unclean.

Ask: Any thoughts about this understanding of this verse? Do you think this is persuasive?

As we’ll see, these verses don’t condemn all male-to-male sexual intimacy. Likewise, they probably don’t merely condemn what they do condemn as ritual uncleanness or an imperfection that has to be “washed away” to go to worship. Instead, whatever they describe is connected with the horrible practices of the religions in Canaan that had really lost their way and were thus more serious. Evidence of this is that no one was stoned for mere acts of ritual uncleanness like eating pork or touching dead bodies or having a period or ejaculation. The sex acts described in [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″] had the death penalty. This shows how serious they were in bible times.

The “story surrounding the story” helps us understand what is being condemned, as does the original Hebrew words used in this text.

Ask: How do you think they fit into the story as a whole?

Well, first we have the context in the bible these verses fit into. They are in the book of Leviticus, a book where God outlines rules for how the Jewish people are to worship God, how their priests are to perform sacrifices, and the like.

And, these two commands are a part of a list of prohibitions connected with how Israel worships God. In the beginning and ending of chapters 18 and 20 a rationale for these command is given.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:1-5″ display=”Leviticus 18:1-5″]? [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:22-24″ display=”Leviticus 20:22-24″]:

God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, I am God, your God. Don’t live like the people of Egypt where you used to live, and don’t live like the people of Canaan where I’m bringing you. Don’t do what they do. Obey my laws and live by my decrees. I am your God. Keep my decrees and laws: The person who obeys them lives by them. I am God.

“Do what I tell you, all my decrees and laws; live by them so that the land where I’m bringing you won’t vomit you out. You simply must not live like the nations I’m driving out before you. They did all these things and I hated every minute of it.

“I’ve told you, remember, that you will possess their land that I’m giving to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am God, your God, who has distinguished you from the nations. So live like it: Distinguish between ritually clean and unclean animals and birds. Don’t pollute yourselves with any animal or bird or crawling thing which I have marked out as unclean for you. Live holy lives before me because I, God, am holy. I have distinguished you from the nations to be my very own.”

After these are read, ask: Why is it God condemns the acts God lists in [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″]?

Explain that God is trying to keep the Jewish people from engaging in religious practices that the peoples around them engage in. That may sound weird to us in our day, when we try to stay open-minded to the beliefs and practices of other religions, but if you understand what these religious practices and views were like, God’s words make more sense.

One of the messages God gives again and again throughout the Bible is that, you can’t worship God any old way or believe any old thing about God. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to worship God or all other religions but ours (whichever ours is) are wrong. That’s not the point.

In the Christian religion, for instance, there are branches of Christianity that in the name of God do horrible things. I have distant relatives who are part of white supremacist groups, that say that all people who are not white are inferior to white people. After all, God is white, Jesus is white, and so white people are more godlike than black people, Hispanics, Asians, or Jews. So they feel the right to beat up, harass, and persecute those not like them because of their understanding of God. So, when they see races mixing, they burn crosses, put on masks, and form lynch mobs, in the name of God.

Theirs is a type of religion, a way of being a Christian, but one that, seen through the eyes of Christ, has lost its way, one that is evil and led more by negative spiritual forces than by the loving God and Parent of Jesus Christ.

Something like that had gone on in much of the religions of the people around the Jewish people God was working with in Leviticus. The nations around them conceived of the Divine as several small-minded, petty tyrants much like the warlords and blood-thirsty tyrants of their own lands. These were selfish, sex-crazed, hungry, egotistical beings, who had to be entertained and appeased by any means necessary. In their mind, the Divine was like a much more selfish, thoughtless, powerful version of themselves, and as such, didn’t have respect for human life and choice.

So they built up practices to appease these gods. The gods were hungry all the time – for blood. Human blood was the prime rib of the gods, so the nations around Israel sacrificed animals, slaves, and their own children on altars, so that their blood would keep the gods from hurting them.

They believed that the gods sent rain when the gods were happy and horny. So, to make them this way, they took small children and slaves and enslaved them, teaching them to be prostitutes in the their temples. When it didn’t rain, people would gather at the temple and have all kinds of sex – men with their sisters and mothers, with children, even heterosexual men with men and little boys, as a way of getting the gods aroused so that they would send rain.

(For further information, you may wish to print out copies of Fertility Cults of Canaan, which gives detailed info on Canaanite fertility religion)

Many scholars agree acts God is condemning in [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″] are not acts of love between consenting adults, as we see in, say, same-gender marriages, for instance, but sexual acts connected with the temple prostitution and temple orgies of the nations around Israel. Included in these lists are also laws against sacrificing human beings and babies on altars.

This is further demonstrated, not just by this historical context, but the language used in these verses. Two different words are used for man in these verses – ish and and zakhar: “a man (ish) shall not lie with a male (zakhar) as with a woman”. Ish is the general word used for man in the sense of a male human being. Zakhar is a technical term meaning literally “holy one,” a man or male animal specifically dedicated to a deity for some sacred purpose. This technical term is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe male temple prostitutes of the type I’ve already described. (Taken from a series of articles on this passage at

What God is doing is condemning a set of religions that have gone wrong. God is trying to say to the Israelite people: You were in slavery and I didn’t rape you, I didn’t kill you, I didn’t prostitute you, I didn’t ask the Egyptians to sacrifice you. No, I set you free, I gave you land and room in which to grow, I taught you how to stand on your own two feet. So, don’t imitate these religions around you that enslave others, rape others, prostitute others, kill their children and neighbors. Let your religion be one that sets other free and grants life to others, one that loves your neighbor, one that frees your slaves every seven years, and so on. That is what God is saying.

Ask: Is having sex with small children and slaves who have been made into prostitutes as a part of worshiping idols the sort of sex most gay couples, lesbian couples, and bisexual people are engaged in, when they are intimate with each other? If not, is this a fair verse to throw at gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to condemn their relationships?

Finally, ask: Do you see any implications of this in understanding [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 18:22″ display=”Leviticus 18:22″] and [biblegateway passage=”Leviticus 20:13″ display=”Leviticus 20:13″]? Are there any positive lessons we can gain from it?

(Allow comments)

The purpose of these verses isn’t to limit same-sex intimacy between two committed and loving partners, but to limit practices that are exploitative and abusive, particularly temple prostitution, in which men and young boys were exploited sexually as a way of appeasing the Divine, in ways God never intended or approved.

Close in prayer.

Unnatural Lusts

Unnatural Lusts.

Session 6 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: Ask the group members whether they are right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous. Ask them if they have ever had a time they had to do with one hand what they normally do with their dominant hand. What was difficult about it? What was easy? In what ways would they say this was “against their own nature”?

Explain: We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at what the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality. There are still a couple more passages that we need to discuss in order to be able to understand the references that people often make when they say that God condemns homosexual behavior, or homosexuals in general. Today we’re going to focus on one passage specifically.

Have somebody read [biblegateway passage=”Romans 1:26-27″ display=”Romans 1:26-27″].

Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.

This is a passage that people often use to say that homosexuality is an “abomination” or a “detestable act”. They use those two very verses, standing alone, and say that they prove that God says homosexuality is a sin. What I’d like to do today is to take what we just read in context.

(Potential additional idea: You may want to share Homosexual behavior in animals  at this point and ask How does how often same-sex behavior occurs in nature affect the use of “natural use” in this text?)

I’d like to go around and have each of you read five verses, starting with [biblegateway passage=”Romans 1:1″ display=”Romans 1:1″], and we’re going to read the entire first chapter of Romans: [biblegateway passage=”Romans 1″ display=”Romans 1″].

Now that we’ve read through the first chapter, I’d like to point out a couple of reasons that this chapter is misused when people say it deals with homosexuality.

Ask: First of all, what exactly is homosexuality?

Allow discussion, then say: It is a sexual attraction of one individual to an individual of the same gender. With that context, I make my first point.

In several different translations of [biblegateway passage=”Romans 1:26-27″ display=”Romans 1:26-27″] the point is made that the individuals in question were given over to exchanging natural lusts for unnatural ones. The women were with the women and the men were with the men. Consider this for a second. Ask: Whose natural tendencies does it go against to be with the same sex – a homosexual or a heterosexual? Who does this make it likely Paul is describing as going against their own nature in these verses?

Explain that a great number of the biblical scholars suggest that the people in this passage who were having relations with people of the same sex were not homosexual – they were heterosexuals who were taking part in, essentially, an orgy dedicated to a fertility god. Most scholars concur that, during this event, women weren’t just having sex with women or men with men, but rather the individuals were pretty much just having sex with whatever was able to have sex with them.

This brings me to a second point.

Ask: What in this was God really upset about? Is even sex the main issue here?

I want to point out here something about the nature of God. We are reminded countless times in scripture that God looks, first and foremost, to the condition of our hearts. Therefore, it isn’t even so much actions that sadden God as it is where our hearts are when we sin. The condition of our hearts when we turn away from God is what saddens God the most.

In that context, it’s fitting that what is said to bother God in this passage has to do with action only insofar as it is a manifestation of what is going on inside the people’s hearts. In [biblegateway passage=”Romans 1:21″ display=”Romans 1:21″], it becomes clear to us that the problem with what is going on is that the people have taken their eyes off God. This is what disturbs God the most; this is what hurts God. What the people are doing is a manifestation of having taken their eyes off God and putting other things in God’s place. This isn’t to say that what the people are doing here isn’t wrong – it is – they are misusing the God-given gift of sexuality not out of any orientation, but out of selfish desires.

Ask: This verse describes having sex with people whom you are not naturally attracted to in orgies in which you worship idols. Is this the sort of sex most gay and bisexual couples have with those they love?

Explain that perhaps the most important point to make about this passage with regard to the question of homosexuality is that, again, this passage does not speak about the loving, committed, monogamous relationship that two people of homosexual orientations can have. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t even speak of homosexual orientation, but rather of heterosexuals who are acting in a way contrary to their nature. Furthermore, there is nothing loving or committed, or least of all monogamous about the things that are going on in this passage. It is, as I have said, an orgy. There is no regard for morals in this situation and, to put it in modern terms, each individual involved is treating one another like a piece of meat rather than a child of God.

So we’ve seen several things in this passage. We’ve seen, perhaps most importantly to the purpose of this bible study, that this passage actually speaks not at all of the homosexual orientation, but of people of heterosexual orientation acting in a way contrary to their nature. The issue in the situation, and the sin had to do with how the people were treating God and one another, and not at all with what gender people were attracted to naturally.

We’ve also seen that what went on in this passage was a manifestation of people having taken their eyes off God and, as a result, the things they did were done in the spirit of gluttony and selfish desire and not in the spirit of love.

There’s one last thing that we’ve seen, though, that I think we need to touch on briefly before we close.

Ask: What positive lessons can these verse give us about what we need in our romantic relationships?

Explain that we’ve talked about the fact that God cares most about the condition of our hearts – with what is going on inside of us, which is what causes our actions. If we are acting out of a true desire to please God, and to show love to one another while our actions might not always be perfect, we will please God. When we act our of our own selfishness, and put pleasures of this world above God in our lives, God is displeased. Each of us, in the way we live, are striving to please God. There was something in the passage in the behavior of the people that was very much not glorifying to God. The question we need to ask is not what gender are the people in our relationships but, in the loving relationships among the people in this room, are we seeking to glorify God? God sees the condition of all of our hearts. He knows greed from honest, true and committed love and he’s pleased with those of us in whom he sees a genuine love for our fellow man – or woman. This is true regardless of our sexuality.

Close in prayer.

Malakoi and Arsenokoitai: Welcome in Heaven?

Malakoi and Arsenokoitai: Welcome in Heaven?

Session 7 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: Share about a time you wanted to join a club or group but were not admitted because of something physical – such as your age, your gender, your ethnicity, your background.

Hook: At one point, there were signs throughout towns and hamlets all over the deep South emblazoned with the words “White Only”. These were signs warning African-American people in those towns that “those type of people” were not welcome in those restaurants, those hotels, and those restrooms. And if any black man or woman walked toward that door, they would find it slammed in their face.

Today we are going to be looking at a text that many have used as a “No Entrance” sign to gays & lesbians, arguing it says “Straights Only” and is a sign barring the entrance into heaven to keep gays, lesbians, and transgender people out. We are going to ask as we look at this text, is this in fact what God is saying, or is it what people’s own prejudice is reading into it? I want to suggest that, when understood in its proper context, these words aren’t a sign shutting out anyone, gay or straight, willing to give up exploitative and promiscuous lifestyles, and embrace God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″]. Ask: What have you heard people say this text means?

Explain that most Christians who use this verse to condemn homosexuals have a translation that reads “homosexuals” or “homosexual offenders”. They say: See, the Bible says those types don’t get into heaven! See!

There are three things I want to have us focus on about [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″]. First, we have what I call the “No Gays” sign’s dirty little secret, then we have why the sign was put there to begin with, and third, we have the good news about the door to heaven.

First, the sign’s dirty little secret.

The dirty little secret is that the supposed “No Gays” sign of [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″] wasn’t written in English in the 20th century. That may sound like nothing shocking – but it is. The reason it is a shock to many people is this: Most people get their idea that those verses condemn homosexuality not from what the bible originally said when it was written in Greek but from translations, and at times translations of translations.

The Greek words that are translated as “homosexual” or “homosexual offender” in some bible versions are malakoi and arsenokoites – and the dirty little secret is that nobody agrees on what those words mean.

To demonstrate this, I put together a sheet listing a number of ways this passage is translated. (Pass out Meanings of the Greek word “arsenokoitai”) If you could, would each of you read one of the translations of this passage and let’s all notice the differences in how malakoi and arsenokoites are translated in these different bible versions. As you all read this, bear in mind that the bold words in the passage are the translations of the two words I am talking about.

Allow the passages to be read and then ask: Does anyone notice anything about these different passages?

Point out that they don’t agree on what these two words mean.

First, the New Revised Standard version translates them as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites”, the latter a term referring to those who commit the sin of Sodom (which we found out a few weeks ago was rape). Then, the New International Version translates malakoi as “male prostitutes” and arsenokoites as “homosexual offenders”. The King James Version translates the words as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind. The oldest translation here, the Wycliffe, talks about two kinds of lechery, or promiscuous sex, not acts in any committed, loving relationship. I could go on, but you get the point – these verses show that there isn’t a real agreement about what this passage is saying in these two words.

Let‘s look for a second at all the different ways these words can be understood.

Pass out Meanings of the Greek word “arsenokoitai” and ask people to read through it, explaining it tells what these words mean.

Explain that this handout shows us that scholars who know Greek better than any preacher you know aren’t certain what malakoi and arsenokoites might mean. In fact, they aren’t even sure whether or not Paul is talking about sex itself. Malakoi can mean “softy”, someone with no moral backbone or fiber – that is what “effeminate” meant when the King James Version was written. And arsenokoites is some sort of euphemism. Literally the word means “male-bedder”, sort of like saying “man-izer”. But the fact is that most Christians would say that being a womanizer (or “woman-bedder”, if you will: a man who sleeps around with lots of women either without settling down or behind his wife’s back) isn’t taken to mean a man sleeping with a woman is always wrong – just that it is wrong to cheat on your spouse or to lead women on, into one-night stands, and affairs that go nowhere.

So, what is the dirty little secret about [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:9-11″]?

(Allow a response)

Exactly. The dirty little secret is that no one is sure what this “sign” is saying. The best scholars can’t agree on whether or not this is saying “No Gays Allowed” or “No Weak-Willed People Allowed” or “No Rapists Allowed”.

Imagine for a minute you were a juror determining whether to let a certain man stay in our kingdom, the United States, or whether to exile him to Iraq and a “dirty little secret” like this was let out in the courtroom. Let’s say he was on trial for killing the president – and then, in the middle of the court proceedings you found out that the witnesses couldn’t agree on whether it was the president who died or some other person – about whether or not the man had killed anybody or whether or not he had just accidentally knocked someone over in the street. Then some witnesses start saying that they aren’t sure if this man was ever at the scene of the crime and they thought it was maybe a woman instead who did whatever happened. If a “dirty secret” like this came out, would you convict the man to exile?

(Allow responses)

Well, that’s point about the dirty little secret about “Straight Only”. Do you think it is fair for Christians to say “God condemns gays” when the best Greek scholars can’t agree about whether or not this verse says anything about homosexuality? (Allow responses.)

Now since I do think this verse is saying something and something important about sex, I want to spend a minute looking at my next point, which is why God put this sign down anyway. In other words, I want us to look at the context for these verses, because I think they suggest what God is meaning in this “sign” about who is allowed through the gates into his Kingdom and who isn’t, even if it’s not totally clear.

To do that, I want to have us look at “the story behind the story” and read on to see why Paul condemns whatever he is talking about in this list of sins.

Have somebody read through [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:12-20″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:12-20″].

Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body. You wouldn’t take the Master’s body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

In a word, what is this section talking about?

(Allow responses)

Prostitution, or to put it into two words: frequenting prostitutes. In fact, the words translated “sexual immorality” or “fornication” are from the word porneia in Greek, the word used for a female prostitute that a male customer would frequent.

Basically Paul makes an argument: You know that what brings you pleasure and fulfills your hunger is a good thing in the right context. But meeting your sexual needs by visiting a prostitute gets it wrong. Don’t you know what God said about sex in the beginning? God said that sex was supposed to bind two people together, for life. When you ask God into your heart, you take God with you everywhere. Now, which do you think God wants: You to be dragging God out to cheap one-night stands with prostitutes or to walk alongside you while you live out your sexuality in a relationship of commitment for life? After all, even if you enjoy it, God made you for more and intended your sex-drive for better.

Here Paul talks specifically about straight men who fulfill their need for sexual intimacy by frequenting prostitutes. This was an accepted part of the culture of the city Paul’s church was in, Corinth. Do you remember the fertility religions we talked about, that had prostitutes who’d lead people in orgies in worship of false gods? Well, there were numerous enormous ones in this city. So, compared to them, a garden-variety prostitute was nothing.

Scholars don’t agree on whether these were garden-variety prostitutes or the temple prostitutes. But, in either case, the Christians in Corinth were new Christians and used to an “anything goes” attitude to sex – and Paul is letting them know that for a Christian, the gift of sex isn’t to be squandered on one-night stands and frequenting prostitutes.

I think, based on this context, that the best translation of Paul’s words would be “Do not be deceived: Neither female prostitutes nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor those who frequent them nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Whatever the case, the context for sex is described as being in a committed relationship of love and trust. As we spoke about before, in that context sex is the centerpiece of a relationship that God uses to shape us to become the most like God we can become. The trials and joys of committed relationships of love force us to face our flaws and strengths and become more Christlike – and a healthy marriage or union (or whatever your term!) is for those called to it the place they can grow to their fullest potential.

In the chapter following this, Paul lets people know that, for those unable to live without sex in a happy and fulfilling way, God wants them to find one partner they are committed to, with whom a healthy sex life will be a big part of their relationship.

So, why is it that I am suggesting that God gave us these words?

(Allow discussion)

Explain: To show us that prostitution and frequenting prostitutes, and, by extension, letting sex become one-night stands, is a perversion of the gift of sex – whether in gay, bisexual, or heterosexual relationships. To show us that sexuality is designed to be a centerpiece of a committed relationship of love, commitment, and trust.

Finally, I want to point out good news. You could take what I just said as being that I was saying God’s purpose in these words is to just to replace “Straight“ with “Those That Ain’t Prostitutes or Their Clients” on some big exclusion sign on the door to Heaven. That is the furthest from the truth.

Have someone re-read [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 6:11″ display=”1 Corinthians 6:11″].

What does this say?

(Allow discussion)

Explain that this verse shows us that, whatever arsenokoites and malakoi are, they aren’t shut out of heaven.

If I’m right, and these words mean that for gigolos and their clients, it doesn’t mean that heaven is shut off to them. Paul says to his church, As were some of you – you’ve been down that road so you better not judge anyone, but you were washed… You see Jesus died to open the door that any of us whose lives have gone down the wrong road can hear God’s voice saying “I love you, turn from this dead-end road full of pain and emptiness, and let me lead you home”. Those Corinthian Christians had heard Jesus’ voice in Paul’s friendship and teaching and had given up their work as thieves or gigolos or frequenters of prostitutes or corrupt politicians. They had accepted God’s love and let him wipe their slate clean. So God no longer saw their sins, but God saw them as God’s beloved children who’d lost their way and come home.

So, if you realize that, you can see that this text isn’t a sign of exclusion saying anyone is not welcome, but a giant welcome mat, saying: Whatever path you have been down, if you will take my hand, I your God will take you home. I will accept you as my child, my beloved, my friend. I can be your true mother and father, your true sister or brother, your true loving partner, and your closest companion, and I can lead you to life. All the ways you have hurt others – all the hurts done to you – can be healed and forgiven through my cross and my Spirit.

Close in prayer.

Gay Saints (And Bi-Positive Ones)

Gay Saints (And Bi-Positive Ones).

Session 8 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study. (For a more complete list of queer- and transgender-identified saints, see our Queer Saints and Martyrs page.)

Icebreaker: Who is someone that was a strong role model to you growing up? What are some things they role-modeled for you? How did that help you grow as a person?

Explain that in Christian tradition, Christians have always found role models in the saints, or heroes of faith, who modeled walking with God in various circumstances in history. Explain that not only does the bible not condemn same-sex romantic relationships, but it also provides models of individuals who have faithful, God-centered loving relationships with people of the same sex. Today we are going to be looking at a few of these models of faith in Scripture, as well as one from history, and examining what lessons these gay, bisexual, and bi-affectionate saints teach us.

Have folks go over the following saints, discussing their relationships and the examples they give:

1. Naomi and Ruth

Have folks read [biblegateway passage=”Ruth 1:16-17″ display=”Ruth 1:16-17″].

Ask: Can anyone recall the story of Naomi and Ruth? What lessons does it teach us?

Explain that there is no real evidence that Naomi and Ruth were lesbian lovers – in fact, Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law and the book of Ruth is a record of the romance of Ruth & Boaz, a heterosexual romance.

That said, this is an positive account in the bible of same-sex love. Ruth’s confession to Naomi here is a startling expression of love and commitment.

Consider what sort of faithfulness Ruth has to Naomi. When Naomi returns to her home country, though Ruth has no requirement to do so, she decides to go with Naomi, leaving all she has known to be by Naomi’s side. She chooses to take on Naomi’s religion, family, and culture. She chooses to leave all she knows simply to accompany Naomi in Naomi’s journey in life.

Ask: How is this like what is needed for a marriage or same-sex union to work? What does the fact that a same-sex relationship is shown in such positive terms in the Bible show us about how God looks at same-sex relationships?

2. David and Jonathan

Have folks read [biblegateway passage=”1 Samuel 18:1-4″ display=”1 Samuel 18:1-4″], [biblegateway passage=”1 Samuel 20:41″ display=”1 Samuel 20:41″], and [biblegateway passage=”2 Samuel 1:26″ display=”2 Samuel 1:26″].

Explain that here we see a same-sex relationship between Prince David and Prince Jonathan.

Ask: Does this relationship sound like one of love & commitment? Does it sound like just a friendship? What elements common to a romance do you see here? What elements does this relationship have in common with a marriage or same-sex union? What example for romantic partnerships or marriages does David & Jonathan’s relationship give us?

Explain that, though there remains some argument among scholars as to how sexual David & Jonathan’s relationship was, it clearly was one involving same-sex love and commitment, and even physical intimacy between two men. The bible describes them kissing and holding each other here, taking their clothes off as they do so. There is even some language that could be a double-entendre in Hebrew for sexual contact.

Many scholars feel that this is an example of David and Jonathan as homosexual or bisexual saints. They obviously preferred each other’s company, love, and intimacy to the type of intimacy that they experienced with women. They even go so far as to forge a covenant between each other – the same sort of language is used here as would be used for a marriage agreement in the bible, if it involved a man or a woman.

And all of this is done in these passages with descriptions that put this relationship between two men in a positive light.

Ask: What can we learn about God’s view of same-sex relationships based on how positively the bible portrays this intimate, physical, long-term love relationship between two men?

3. The Centurion and His Boyfriend

Have folks read [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 8:5-13″ display=”Matthew 8:5-13″].

Ask: What does this story describe?

Explain that there is an element to this story that people don’t always pick up on. In Greek, the word translated into English as “servant” is different than the usual word. Normally doulous or diakonia are used in biblical Greek for “servant”. Instead, the word pais is used.

This is important because in Greek pais was not used for your run-of-the-mill servant. Instead, it was mainly used to describe the romantic same-sex companion of a notable official, who was usually younger or of a different social class than the older romantic partner. The pais would both be a romantic companion and a personal assistant to the important official.

So, most likely this story is about a soldier and his romantic companion/personal assistant.

Ask: How does this story appear differently when read in this context?

Does Jesus talk positively about the centurion or negatively?

Does Jesus say anything negative about the centurion and his companion’s relationship?

If Jesus only speaks positively about the centurion and his companion, what lessons can that teach us about how God views same-sex relationships? Also, what lessons are there in these two men’s relationships that apply to other romantic relationships?

4. Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Explain that our final example of a gay or bi-positive saint comes not from the bible but from church history. I am sharing this one because of the fact that oftentimes I find anti-gay activists claiming that accepting gay relationships as equal to straight relationships is something crazy made up by modern liberals which would make early Christians turn over in their graves. They say that Christians have never accepted gay people as people who could be close to God or used by God while they were in same-sex relationships and we don’t have any right to try to change the rules of the game now.

Have someone read the story of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

Ask: What does this story teach us?

Explain that here we find that a gay couple were declared saints – people who were models of faith to be emulated – in the first few centuries of the Christian church. Their love was considered a model for people both gay and straight to emulate. No one in the early church saw their relationship as an obstacle for them to be able to be counted as good Christians, as children of God, or as people God could work miracles through.

It was later on, as Christianity became the official religion of the empire, that Christian leaders began to enact rules that excluded people such as women and gays from church leadership and Christian leaders began to make anti-gay rules commonplace. In fact, there are historical records of same-sex couples committing to share their lives with each other, to love each other, til death do us part, and receiving prayers of blessings at Christian churches during this period as well.

Close in prayer.

What Does the Bible Say About Transgenderism?

What Does the Bible Say About Transgenderism?

Session 9 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: In every culture, there are stereotypes of what it means to be a “real man” or a “real woman”. In the one you grew up in, what is the stereotype for “manliness”? For “womanliness”? Do you think many people live up to these stereotypes well? Why or why not?

Explain that right now you are going to quickly discuss one aspect of the GLBT community which is often overlooked – the transgender community – and what messages the Bible has for them.

Transgenderism 101

Ask: Can anyone define transgenderism? How is that similar to or different from transsexualism? Cross-dressing? Being gender-queer?

Explain that most of these terms are associated with a medical condition called “gender dysphoria”. Gender dysphoria occurs most often when an individual’s body grows in the form of one gender and one’s brain develops to fit a body of another gender. In other words, one’s brain and body are somewhat mismatched.

Usually folks with gender dysphoria don’t fulfill their culture’s expectations of how someone with the body they were born with should live and act. That is why most folks with gender dysphoria are called “transgender”. Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex at birth.

You can understand transgender people best if you imagine how you would feel living all the time in a body that didn’t fit your brain. All of us don’t have to look in the mirror to know what gender we are. If we aren’t transgender we just know we are male or female. We feel it emotionally and know it mentally. Our bodies feel right for our brains.

Imagine, though, if you woke up tomorrow and you had the body of another gender. If you are currently male, you’d wake up and go to the bathroom, stand up to go urinate and, surprise, you would be missing important equipment. Women, you’d wake up with an odd floppy thing between your legs.

Ask: How would you think you’d feel?

Explain that it would be uncomfortable. Transgender people feel like that all the time. To deal with this discomfort, transgender people do a number of things to “correct” the birth defect they have.

Some transgender people only are slightly uncomfortable and live in a body that is slightly wrong for them most of the time but need to “take a holiday” from living as if they are the gender the body says they are (but their mind doesn’t). These folks will dress up in the clothes of someone whose body is the opposite gender of theirs and live out that role. This will give them a break from the stress of trying to be someone they are not day in and day out, giving them enough peace of mind to return to life as normal. These folks have been commonly called “cross-dressers” or at times “transvestites”.

Other transgender people are constantly uncomfortable in their own bodies, so much so that they need to have surgery to correct their physical appearance so that their brain and bodies match up. These individuals have been commonly called “transsexual” and may undergo sexual re-assignment surgery.

Finally, other transgender people are uncomfortable in living in the gender role of the body they were born with but don’t feel the need to have out-and-out surgery. Instead, they choose to live as if they are the gender of their brain/mind, using clothing and cosmetics to do so – or simply to not bend to society’s rules about gender. These folks have been commonly called “transgender” or “gender-queer”.

In addition to transgender people, there are intersex people whose variation in sex characteristics may include chromosomes, gonads or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female.

The Bible and Transgender/Intersex People

Ask: Can you think of any biblical principles that might apply to the transgender experience?

Allow discussion and then explain that you are going to looking at some verses which apply to what transgender people experience.

Explain that there aren’t any scriptures that deal directly with the issue of transsexualism. But there are a few scriptures which deal with principles connected with the transgender experience. Also, how the bible deals with forms of transgenderism in biblical times can help us understand God’s perspective on transgender people.

Gender dysphoria, the primary cause of transgenderism, could be considered a birth defect (where a brain for one gender is in the body for another). The bible deals directly with the issue of birth defects.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”John 9:1-3″ display=”John 9:1-3″].

Ask: What birth defect is discussed here?

Many people connect being transgender with sin. According to Jesus, are birth defects the result of anyone’s sins? Are they signs the person with the birth defect is sinful?

Based on why Jesus says this man is born blind, what reason could we conclude that people are born with birth defects like gender dysphoria and intersex conditions?

Explain that according to Jesus, birth defects like congenital blindness are not necessary the result of anyone’s sin. To connect someone’s blindness, paralysis, or gender dysphoria with sin is to miss the point. These are natural conditions common to our imperfect world.

But, that said, receiving these birth defects is no accident. Jesus makes it clear there is a reason some people are born with a particular birth defect and not others: Because their having that birth defect allows God to do things in their life to touch others that they would not otherwise be able to do.

Ask: In what ways can God use someone with a birth defect to glorify God in ways God can’t use someone without one? In what ways can someone with gender dysphoria or intersexism be used by God that someone without them can’t?

The bible’s treatment of cross-dressing sheds very little light on cross-dressing among transgender individuals.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Deuteronomy 22:5″ display=”Deuteronomy 22:5″].

Ask: What does this verse say? In what ways might it apply to transgender people?

Explain that many people will quote this verse as a condemnation of transgender people, many of whom are cross-dressers, and some of whom even go so far as to undergo sex reassignment surgery, so that their bodies and brains can match.

Yet this  biblical verse does not really address the type of cross-dressing associated with transgender people. Likewise this verse does not condemn cross-dressing as a sin.

First, what type of cross-dressing is being condemned?

The earliest commentators on this passage connect it with women putting on the armor of a soldier and taking up the weapons of a soldier to go to war. They say the reference is to a woman abandoning the role of wife and mother to become a soldier, something that went against the very shape of ancient Israelite family.

Ask: Is this what most transgender people are doing when they cross-dress?

Most modern commentators, however, point out that in biblical times, a common idolatrous practice was that of temple prostitution. This was discussed when we discussed Leviticus’ condemnation of certain forms of same-sex activity.

Ask: What did we learn about temple prostitution?

Explain that in certain fertility cults, male prostitutes would dress as women as a part of the ritual sex designed to worship false gods. It was a means of enticing the gods to send rain.

Ask: Do most transgender people cross-dress in order to engage in prostitution as an act of worship to fertility gods?

Ask: If these two reasons are not why transgender people cross-dress, is it fair to apply this verse to condemn them?

Finally, remind them that the word “abomination” or “thing that God despises” is to’ebah, a word which does not mean sin but “ritual imperfection” or “pagan practice”. Remind them that we learned when discussing homosexuality that this word is not describing a sin but rather a practice which was either something that made people unable to sacrifice at the temple because it made them ritually imperfect or something that was a form of worship of idols. The ritual laws dealt with symbolism, not actual morality. Since Jesus was our sacrifice once and for all time, Christians no longer worry about ritual purity laws. Additionally, since transgender cross-dressing does not have to do with idolatrous worship, it is not condemned on either count.

The bible’s treatment of eunuchs may shed additional light on how God views transgender individuals.

Explain that although there are no direct references to modern transsexuals in the bible, there is a class of individuals who are truly transgender, in the sense of not fitting neatly into the categories of “male” and “female”, who do appear in the bible: Eunuchs. Looking at their treatment in scripture may help us to understand how God views transgender people.

Ask: Do any of you know what a eunuch was?

Explain that a eunuch was a man who had his sexual organs removed. Eunuchs did this for various reasons – for religious reasons, in order to move freely between male and female worlds without causing suspicion of sexual misconduct, because they were slaves who were forced to so that they did not pose a threat to their male owners. Whatever the case, eunuchs had a societal role that could be called transgender, in the sense that they were living a life where they could relate equally to males and females while not truly being counted as either.

Let’s look at the various ways eunuchs are treated in scripture.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Deuteronomy 23:1″ display=”Deuteronomy 23:1″].

Ask: What does this verse say about how eunuchs were treated in Old Testament times?

Explain that eunuchs were not allowed to come to the temple and offer sacrifices to God. In this way, they were excluded from full participation in ancient Israelite religion.

Ask: Why might that have been?

Explain that some might take this to mean they were viewed as immoral. That is not why. Many people were excluded from temple worship. Anyone who had touched a dead body, for instance, could not sacrifice at the temple for a certain length of time. Anyone with a physical disability couldn’t. The reason? The same reason someone could not offer an animal with a spot, blemish, or disability to God as a sacrifice at the temple – it was a visible reminder that God was perfect and we must only offer to God our very best.

This, however, is the only “negative” treatment of the eunuch’s transgender condition in scripture. Let us look at what else scripture has to say about eunuchs.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Isaiah 56:3-8″ display=”Isaiah 56:3-8″].

Ask: What do these verses say about the transgender eunuchs?

Explain that these verses recognize that God ultimately looks not on outward appearance – whether we are physically “perfect” or not – but whether we offer God the best we that we have. It promises that God will accept (transgender) eunuchs as God’s own people, if they will trust and serve God with all they have. It even says that there would be a time when they would be able to be fully accepted into the worship of God, something that the Old Testament did not allow.

Ask: In what ways do you think God would have us apply these words to other types of transgender people?

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:12″ display=”Matthew 19:12″].

Ask: What does Jesus recognize about transgender eunuchs here?

Explain that Jesus recognizes here that, far from being a sin, being a transgender person such as a eunuch can actually be a way of living out God’s kingdom or plan for this world. Jesus is even ahead of some people of our time by recognizing that some are born this way – whether through being intersex or because of an inborn discomfort with their own bodies.

Ask: In what ways can choosing to openly live a transgender life, whether through sex reassignment surgery or living outside normal gender conventions, be an expression of God’s Realm?

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Acts 8: 26-39″ display=”Acts 8: 26-39″].

Ask: What happens in this story? How does the Christian evangelist here treat the transgender Ethiopian person? In what way does this connect with Isaiah and Jesus’ words?

Explain that this story is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The Old Testament ceremony that brought someone to the place they could fully worship God was circumcision – a surgery on the foreskin – which transgender eunuchs could not have because of their damaged genitals, and which barred women. The Christian ceremony that initiates you fully into the worship of God is described here, however: Baptism.

Ask: Can people be limited from baptism due to their sexual organs?

Explain that no, baptism is open for everyone.

The fact that Phillip baptizes the transgender eunuch shows that God accepts the Ethiopian even though he does not fit into the neat categories of male or female. It shows that God accepts that person simply because of that eunuch’s faith. It shows, too, that transgender people are accepted by God regardless of what their physical bodies look like, regardless of whether they have surgery to change their sexual organs or not, regardless of whether they live in a mode that fits neatly into the categories of “male” and “female”.

In fact this transgender person is sent back to their own land as a missionary of God’s love revealed in Jesus, a forerunner of the work God is planning to do.

Ask: What lessons do you learn from the Ethiopian eunuch that apply to the transgender experience of yourself or those you know?

Transgender Saints

If time permits, have folks read over examples of “gender-queer saints” from church history. Point out that these individuals were set apart as models of faith for future generations in part because of their living outside their assigned gender role. Ask what lessons we can learn from their lives that apply to the transgender experience.

How God Views Our Genders

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”1 Samuel 16:7″ display=”1 Samuel 16:7″].

Ask: What does this verse say? What does it show us about how God views us? How does it apply to our sense of our own gender? Our expression of it?

Explain that this verse shows us why God is so quick to accept transgender people such as eunuchs. God knows that what makes us who we are is not our outward appearance (the very thing that society uses to assign us our gender roles) but our heart, who we are on the inside. That suggests that God’s view of what your gender is – of who you are – is based on who you are on the inside.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Galatians 3:26-28″ display=”Galatians 3:26-28″] and someone else read [biblegateway passage=”Romans 10:11-12″ display=”Romans 10:11-12″].

Ask: What do these verses tell us about how our gender or its expression connects with our relationship with God?

Explain that these verses show us that God accepts anyone who calls on Jesus in faith, trusting Him as Savior and Lord. It shows us this is regardless of any external thing – your class, your appearance, your gender, or your gender identity/expression. You don’t need to worry about what people tell you when they say God does not accept transgender people. God accepts all people, regardless of their being transgender, male, or female.

Close in prayer.

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.

Session 10 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: What is the greatest challenge you’ve seen yourself or a GLBT person you know face in your community because of their sexuality or gender expression? If you could do one thing to help change that, what do you think it would be?

Explain: Today we are going to be talking about different things we can do as Christians to combat the prejudice and bigotry GLBT people face in society for simply being who God made them to be.

Ask: What are some of the things that society does to oppress or discriminate against GLBT people? What are some things we as Christians can do to change things?

Explain that there are three main ways you as an individual can work for change in society’s treatment of GLBT people:

1. Celebrating Who You are as a Gift

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”Psalm 139:13-16″ display=”Psalm 139:13-16″].

Ask: How can we apply these words in connection with our sexual orientation or gender identity/expression?

Explain that the first thing you have to do to change your world is to change yourself. This begins by accepting yourself as God made you. The heart of prejudice or bigotry is trying to say to others that they aren’t good enough as God made them. Society teaches people who are different, including you and me, that we are not a blessing but a curse, due to being different. The bible says differently – it says that our differences are gifts of God. Each of us represents God’s image in a different way and each of us, by being exactly who we are – be that bisexual, gay, straight, disabled, trans, whatever – can reflect God’s glory and character in a way no one else can.

You can’t truly help others to accept themselves until you accept yourself as beautiful, beloved, and accepted by God. You need to come face-to-face with your sexuality, gender identity, and whatever else about you seems different from other people, and realize that it is a gift of God to the world. You need to embrace it, welcome it, and surrender it to God’s glory.

Ask: How is this difficult? How can this make a difference?

Have folks read and discuss the Six Soulforce Beliefs About Myself:

  1. I believe in God;
  2. I believe that the primary goal of life is to know God;
  3. I believe that I am most likely to find God while I am serving others;
  4. I believe that I will not discover the purpose of my life or the power in my life until I seek God by serving others;
  5. I believe that when I seek God in serving others, my own life will be renewed, empowered, and made more meaningful;
  6. I believe that in serving others, it is as much my moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.

Ask them which of these they find difficult or easy to espouse. Have them join in reciting them together.

Explain that the next two points come from [biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 5:12-6:2″ display=”2 Corinthians 5:12-6:2″].

Have someone read that passage. Ask the group to share what messages [biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 5″ display=”2 Corinthians 5″] gives about how to change GLBT people’s place in society.

2. Recognizing the Prejudice Within You

Point out verse 16: “Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.”

Explain that the starting place is recognizing your own prejudice against sexual minorities.

Discuss the various forms and expressions of prejudice and in what ways the influence our individual thinking and actions.

They are:

    1. Unaware Prejudice – Where you do not recognize the way you are treating others differently.
    2. Cultural Prejudice – Where the culture’s expectations of certain groups of people unfairly lumps people together and marginalizes certain individuals. At times this may lead to actions or systems that discriminate which people never investigate or change because “this is the way it has always been”.
    3. Stereotyping – This is assuming all people are a certain way, like all gay men are effeminate, or all trans people are gay.
    4. Internalized Prejudice – This is where someone looks down on themselves, believing false and derogatory messages of the culture about people in their sexual orientation, gender expression/identity, or other minority group.
    5. Institutionalized Prejudice – This is where prejudice has been empowered through rules and regulations or programs that discriminate against the group in question. For instance, the army’s rules against openly gay soldiers or state amendments opposing gay marriage.
    6. Denial – This is where you deny that prejudice is a problem for you or your community.

Ask: How does this text connect with how we deal with the effects of prejudice on our own treatment of and view of others?

Explain that this shows us that, in light of how Jesus accepts all people, regardless of sexuality, gender identity, or anything else, as God’s children, we should no longer look at people according to our previous prejudices. We have to confront the subtle ways we have let the prejudice of society against sexual minorities affect our own view of and treatment of individuals around us. We have to confess that to God and begin to change both how we look at and how we treat those who are sexual minorities.

Ask: In what ways have you let prejudice affect your view of and treatment of people of different sexual orientations and gender expressions? In what ways can you change this?

3. Recognizing the Prejudice Around You

Explain that not only must you become aware of your own prejudice but also how prejudice is at work in the society around you, in others.

Review the different types of prejudice. Ask: How do you see these types of prejudice at work around you in your sphere of influence?

Working To Change Minds & Patterns One Life at a Time

Have folks re-read [biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 5:18-21″ display=”2 Corinthians 5:18-21″].

Ask: What does this passage say? How does it connect with working for change?

Explain that here we are told not only that we are to confront our own prejudice and the way it stands between us and God by clouding our perceptions of God’s children, but also we are called to be “ambassadors for God”, bringing the message of God’s reconciliation.

The key part of this is how people can be reconciled to God, but that includes the need to be reconciled to each other.

Have someone read [biblegateway passage=”1 John 4:19-21″ display=”1 John 4:19-21″].

Explain that, in order to relate to God properly, one has to be open to and accepting of all God’s children.

That means that folks who are living with prejudice and discrimination against people, whether people of other ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, etc., are pushing God away as well when they do that. You can’t both accept God the Creator and treat God’s creations as if they are junk.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way – “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

That means that people who mistreat gays are losing out on something essential God has for them that they can only find in relationship to gay people. They can’t fully discover all God has for them in their relationship with God and in God’s plan until they accept their GLBT neighbors.

Likewise, it also means that folks who are being oppressed for being sexual minorities have something God has for them that they cannot fully realize without connecting with folks in the straight community, something that can’t be found by staying in the all-GLBT cliques that sometimes people get involved with.

This means that being fully reconciled with God means confronting the prejudices that keep us from fully accepting others who are different so that we can be open to them and, by being open to them, being more open to their Creator.

Ask: Why might it be difficult for GLBT people to reach out toward non-GLBT people to help them overcome their prejudice?

Have folks read and discuss the Seven Soulforce Beliefs About My Adversary:

  1. My adversary is also animated by common dignity, worth, love and Spirit; we are both members of the same human family; we are people in need of reconciliation.
  2. My adversary is not my enemy, but a victim of misinformation as I have been.
  3. My only task is to bring my adversary truth in love* (nonviolence) relentlessly.
  4. My adversary’s motives are as pure as mine and of no relevance to our discussion.
  5. My worst adversary has an amazing potential for positive change.
  6. My adversary may have an insight into truth that I do not have.
  7. My adversary and I will understand each other and come to a new position that will satisfy us both, if we conduct our search for truth guided by the principles of love.

Explain that realizing that those who oppress or put folks down are also God’s children whom God loves – and whom God wants to see reconciled with God and with those they oppress – is a part of what this verse is teaching. Being ambassadors of God’s love – and fully receiving all God wants to make possible in our lives – only comes when we are able to also reach out in love to our adversaries, helping them become freed from the prejudice that blinds them to God, others, and themselves.

Being ambassadors of God’s reconciliation, then, includes reaching out one life at a time to help other people who are blinded by prejudice to be freed to see themselves and others from God’s perspective.

Ask: What are some ways we can do this?

Discuss the ideas in the resource labeled “ally-building”.

Quote these words of Mahatma Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Close in prayer.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

By Deacon Bob Shaw

Let me ask you a question… wouldn’t you agree that within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities there has always been a fascination with the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? This Halloween many queer folks will dress up as their favorite character (and it’s not always Dorothy.) As a matter of fact, a phrase that our community uses to discreetly find out if another person belongs to our community comes indirectly from this movie. Have you ever been asked “are you a friend of Dorothy’s?”

For those of you hiding under a rock and don’t know about this incredible movie, let me tell you a little bit about it. This movie came out in 1939 and follows the adventures of Dorothy, a young Kansas farm girl as she is magically transported to the fantastic Land of Oz by a tornado. It is a timeless classic, which appeals to audiences of all ages and sexual orientations. Through its lovable characters and beautiful music, this classic contains within it a wonderful message. All of the main characters – the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and Dorothy all set out to find the almighty, the all powerful “Wizard of Oz,” who they believe can provide for their needs. Sounds like you and me when we reach out to God for our needs, doesn’t it? The Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, the Cowardly Lion wants some courage, and young Dorothy just wants to go home.

Dorothy’s wish is kind of ironic. You see, before the tornado hits that disrupts her life, Dorothy finds herself wishing she could get away from home. She doesn’t like her situation there. The song that blossoms from that experience is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Listen to the words….and sing along if you like. *smile*

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?

We all have dreamed about life on the other side of the “Rainbow.” Why, God, oh why can’t I get there? After all, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn’t it? Dorothy’s song came at a time in her life when she was unhappy, a time when the road that she and her little dog Toto were traveling, became a very bumpy and hard road to ride.

Noah knew what it was like to travel a bumpy road. His story begins with God’s deep sorrow over what humankind had become. We read in Genesis:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”

Sometimes I wonder how God feel’s about the world that we live in today. I can’t help but believe that God’s heart grieves over what God sees. I often find myself concerned over the things I see, hear, and read both in the news and in the world around me. I see children who are starving. I see the world contemplating war and worrying about whether other countries will use weapons of mass destruction or not. I see people that are forced to live on the street. I see people dying of AIDS and their families not loving them simply because they chose to love someone of the same sex. These are just a few of the things that cause my heart to grieve. If my heart, a human heart that is capable of sin grieves over these things, I have to believe that God looks down upon humanity and God’s heart cries out in pain!

During the days of Noah God became so upset with the wickedness of the world that God decided to literally destroy the world and everything in it. Yet in the midst of all the wickedness, in the midst of all the turmoil, in the midst of all the fear, in the midst of everything going on, God saw Noah. Genesis 6:8 says:

“But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”

God told Noah that there was going to be a flood so big that it would destroy everything on the earth. God also told Noah to build an ark and provided Noah with specific instructions on how the ark was to be built and what all was to be on it when the floods came. Can you imagine if God came to you and told you the world will be flooded in a month? If God gave you blueprints for this vast ship and instructions to fill that ship with one of each type of plant and animal that exists on this earth would you build that ship and gather all the items God requested? Would you have the faith to believe that what God told you is about to happen to the earth is true?

Noah had that faith. Noah built the ark and filled it as God told him to do. Noah and his family probably had to deal with a lot of ridicule from those around them as they prepared for this huge event. Imagine the reactions your neighbors and the community around you would have if you were building such a huge vessel and that you were preparing for the end of the world. They’d think you were crazy! There had to be times when Noah wanted to throw in the towel and just give up. Noah probably wondered why God would want to destroy the world and why God chose him and his family to start the human race over again.

Have you ever had God call you to do something? Whether it be so simple as to help others around you with food, money, shelter, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or to follow a higher calling to the ministry? Let me tell you a story. A few years back I was wandering along lost. I had a good job, shelter over my head, my faithful companion Max at my side. I didn’t know where my life was going and felt no sense of purpose. I had also been diagnosed as HIV+ a little over a year earlier, so I was still coming to terms with that. I was wading along in water that was way over my head and I felt I would eventually drown.

One day during this period in my life I had lunch with Pastor Paul. We were talking about how my life felt so stagnant. One of the questions Paul asked me was “what has brought me joy and happiness in the past?” The first thing that that jumped up in my mind was all the way back in high school. I would volunteer at the local hospital to entertain the children that were there. I’d dress up as a clown and do magic tricks for the kids. Seeing the joy on their faces was so rewarding! Here these kids were in pain and in a place they didn’t want to be and I was able to help them forget where they were, even it if was just for a little while.

Other examples I gave him centered around helping others. Pastor Paul then asked me if I had ever considered becoming a deacon. Now mind you, I hadn’t been going to church all that long and I grew up Methodist. We don’t have deacons! So I didn’t really know what being a deacon was all about. Paul told me a little bit about what a deacon does and asked me to pray about it and to specifically ask God to show me my calling.

Of course asking God about your calling is easy, listening to what God has to say and following it is another story! All throughout the deacon training I was constantly asking “Why God? Why Me?” I attended church in my youth. But during my teen years through the early twenties I was not active in church. Once I went into the Army I realized I was gay. When I went to Desert Storm I feared for my life and turned to my inner faith to make it through. John 3:16 was particularly comforting for me. After all, in my heart I knew I was one of the whosoevers mentioned in this verse. Once I moved to Atlanta and got out of the military I had checked out some local churches, but I felt that although they were somewhat welcoming, they thought my being gay was a sin. I knew that wasn’t so, how could it be a sin to love another person? So I just stayed out of church and clung desperately to the fact that I was one of the whosoevers deep down in my heart.

I had little church knowledge and knew virtually nothing about the bible. So I kept asking why God would call me? There were other people much more qualified, in my mind anyway, to be a deacon. Why did God want me to do that? I continued with the deacon training, questioning my calling the whole time. During one period that I was extremely low I almost pulled out of the program. I just couldn’t believe I was worthy of doing God’s will in this way. But then God nudged me to let me know I was doing the right thing, I was following the right road. You see, I needed to get a haircut one day and I knew this person at a Supercuts that gave a good crewcut (this was before I did it on my own). I went there and was told it would be a 30-minute wait to see this person.

Little did I know God planned it that way. You see, there was a HUGE Christian store right next door in the strip mall. So I wandered next door to check it out. In the back of the store there was a music section with listening stations and a lot of different Christian music. I saw that one of the CD’s that you could listen to had this drop dead gorgeous man on the cover. I had seen his picture and this album before in catalogs I had received in the mail, so I picked up the headsets and hit the play button. His music had a rather catchy rhythm to it. I stood there and listened to about 30 seconds of each of the first few songs and liked what I heard. Then I got to track five. Again I listened, but this time I listened to the whole song and I cried as I listened to the words. That song is “For the Sake of the Call” by Steven Curtis Chapman. All along I had doubted God’s call to me and my worthiness to serve God. God got me to listen to this song to let me know everything was going to be all right, I was following God’s plan, and this was God’s way to let me know not to worry about it.

The point of my story is to let you know to follow where God leads you. Don’t doubt it or ask why God wants you do it. There is a much bigger picture that only God can see. Know in your heart that you are doing God’s will and it is good. You saw in Genesis that Noah didn’t doubt God, he built the ark. He didn’t understand everything that was happening, but he had faith that God knew the big picture. The Bible says of Noah that “he did all that God commanded him.”

Chapter 7 of Genesis begins by the LORD saying to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.” Once Noah had the ark finished and all packed up, the rains came for forty days and forty nights. The floods came and every living thing upon the earth was destroyed. The only things that survived were in that ark, as God told Noah.

Once the rains stopped, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive branch in its mouth. This signified that the waters were receding and that land was near. And what happened next? God established a covenant with Noah that a flood would never again destroy the world. The sign of this covenant is a sign that you and I can still see in the sky today after it rains – a rainbow.

“When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16-17 NRSV)

What could all of this mean to us a few thousands years afterwards? We all will experience stormy waters in our lives at one time or another. But Noah showed us that if we are faithful to God, if we do all that God has commanded us to do, if we simply place our lives in God’s hands and put all our trust in God, then God will lead us gently to a safe place.

Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, it is God’s reminder to all humankind that God is in charge of everything. And that God loves us. And brothers and sisters in Christ, if God is in charge of everything, no matter how rough the storm becomes, no matter how high the waters rise, no matter how lonely you or I may feel, no matter how hopeless the immediate future may seem, God will always cause our ark to come to rest in a safe place.

Our God is a mighty God!
Our God is an awesome God!
Our God is a forgiving God!
Our God is a loving God!

And our God is right here RIGHT NOW waiting for us to place our lives in God’s hands.

God Bless.

Because AIDS Isn’t Over Yet

By Deacon Bob Shaw

Come! Let us walk in the light of God!

In this way the prophet Isaiah encouraged the Jewish nation thousands of years ago to find the light of God’s love and to claim it and to walk in it.

Today we mark two occasions that require us, too, to walk in the light of God.

First, we commemorate World AIDS Day -– where we remember those who have died during this modern-day holocaust before it was their time. I call it a holocaust because we have lost some of the best, most talented, most intellectual, and most loving people that the world would ever know… to the AIDS holocaust.

Yet the one thing to remember is that ALL communities have suffered from this holocaust. Imagine the possibilities if the people who died were still alive. Let’s not forget the voices, dances, songs, talents, skills and love that have been consumed from our community due to this devastation. Today we remember the love they shared, the friendships they formed and the marks they left on society. Today we lift up those who continue to live with HIV or AIDS, as they continue the battle of their lives. Today we honor the friends, families and volunteers who work so hard to assist us through this trying time. Today we praise God for the scientists and researchers who work so many hours to win this fight. God’s love and compassion shines a light into the gloom and the darkness, the shame and the stigma, which many have tried to associate with this disease.

Let’s not forget the work ahead of us. We are in the midst of a long journey. I want to particularly recognize those brothers and sisters (including transgender people) out there who are living with HIV or AIDS and are doing so publicly. Their courage, grace and stamina fuels some of us to do what we sometimes get worn down from doing – the work to save our community. Thank you for all that you do and the lessons you continue to teach the many of us.

Second, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the season in our church year which prepares us to receive God’s ultimate light — the Christ child on Christmas morning, the One who grew up to say, “I am the light of the world.”

“Advent” is the four-week period leading up to Christmas. It is similar to “Lent,” the six-week period prior to Easter. Both seasons are seasons of hope, seasons of waiting, seasons of preparing ourselves inwardly and outwardly to experience God in a new way.

During Advent we prepare for God’s getting closer to humanity which occurred through Jesus, who became Christ for our world. In looking toward the birth of Jesus, we look toward a time when all that Jesus represents can be reborn in our world — elements of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy. These are what the four candles in the Advent wreath represent.

The scriptures of Old Testament, particularly the Book of Isaiah, are often used during Advent because the earliest Christians believed that in Jesus they had met the Hebrew Messiah — God’s Anointed One, who would bring righteousness to the earth and create a fresh start for everyone. Many of the Old Testament scriptures are seen as prophecies that some Christians believe by faith were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Our Old Testament reading today from Isaiah is one of those scriptures that has been associated with Jesus for generations.

By faith, Christians have believed the start of the Christian Church was being prophesized when Isaiah talked about the mountain of God’s house being established as the highest of the mountains, with all people streaming to it. Christians have prayed that God’s grace and God’s light would lead them to be a house for ALL people. They have believed that Jesus, who welcomed all people to himself, was the beacon of that light of God — a lighthouse, if you will, which attracts those who wander or lose their way. One of the most famous quotes of Jesus is when he clears the temple and says, “Don’t you know that my house shall be a house of prayer for ALL people?”

What a shame that the mainline churches have not put its actions where its words are. What a shame that, even though these words are read in thousands of churches around the world today, many of these churches are STILL NOT houses for ALL people. What a shame that many types of people are not welcome in those houses of God. What a shame that they try to prevent God’s light from shining on people with AIDS, people who are gay or lesbian, differently-abled people, poor people, transgender people, and, frequently, women who wish to be a part of the church rather than keeping silent. Funny how it’s more like a private club than the all-inclusive place that God speaks about.

As we ponder these words today, I hope that we will meditate on whether WE, Gentle Spirit Christian Church, are really being Christ’s lighthouse. Are we a house of God for ALL people, or just those who look or act or believe a certain way? Can we really “walk our talk?”

I hope that we will use today as a day of introspection, not just to think about AIDS and our reaction to it, but as a day to renew our vision as a place where all people might find the light of God’s love. I urge us all to think what kind of place we want to be. And I hope that our thinking will result in our wanting to use this advent season — this season of preparation — as a time to prepare this house of God to be a house for all people.

The early Christians believed that in the figure of Jesus Christ they had met the One who could make Isaiah’s vision come true. There was something so dynamic and loving and compassionate about this Jesus that they were convinced that in him they had met God. They called him Messiah, God’s Anointed One, because they believed that by modeling his example they could make all of these things come true.

If we really regard the example of Jesus as instructive of how God wants us to behave and to live our lives, then we HAVE met the Christ. Remember, if you’ve done something to the least, you’ve done it to me” We can meet the Christ in our daily actions with the world around us. Christmas is not just a time for shopping and giving gifts and eating festive meals. Christmas is about welcoming the Christ Spirit into our lives.

If, when Advent and Christmas are over, our lives are no different — if they do not reflect in a tangible way the coming of Christ, the love, hope, peace, joy, and compassion that Christ emulated for us — then Christmas has not really happened at all. We have just gone through the motions. We have been just like the hypocrites that Jesus criticized and condemned over and over again during his earthly life.

Today I want to tell you about one of the incredible losses that we, as a community, have lost to AIDS. His name was Brandon Ross Abernathy. I met him during one of the lowest points in my life after I was diagnosed as being HIV-positive. The first few months for me was very rough. The only person I told was the guy I was dating. My roommate at the time, who was a good friend, didn’t find out until years later. It was a very tough time for me. For at least six months I did nothing out of fear. This was pre-internet days at the time. Those of us who were computer geeks communicated through bulletin boards. I was a member of an Atlanta based gay bulletin board called Graffiti and I put a message in an area for discussing HIV. It was my way to anonymously reach for help. My screen name would not be placed with the message so I felt safe in not revealing my dirty little secret. Many, many people added their comments to my posting.

All of them were encouraging, and full of love and hope. More than one recommended me to go Operation Survive! It was a program that AIDS Survival Project hosted for those people that are newly diagnosed with HIV, or are affected in any other way (whether they have a partner with it or are in the health care field, etc.) I got my courage up and signed up for this weekend long program.

It was there that I met Brandon Abernathy. Early on in the weekend they broke down the 50 some odd people that were attending the workshop into sub-groups. There was one stipulation. You couldn’t know anyone else in the group. As it turns out I ended up in the group that Brandon led. This group would end up meeting several times during the weekend. It was a place for each person inside the group to share how HIV had affected their lives and how the weekend was affecting them. In order to break the ice some Brandon told us his story. He was bisexual. Kicked out of his house at 15 years old and living on the streets. There he got heavily involved in drugs and prostitution. Later, when his life started coming together he met an incredible woman who he married. It was during this marriage that he found out he was HIV-positive. She couldn’t handle it and left him. The year was 1985. Back then very little was known about HIV. Doctors just watched their patients die and had no way of treating them. Within two years Brandon was diagnosed with full blown AIDS. It was sometime around then that he met his life partner, Cleve, who survives him today.

Over the years Brandon had several brushes with death (three to be exact; the fourth time death finally got him). Each time new drugs and a great deal of faith got him through. At the end of his life Brandon said “I can’t explain why I’m here medically. I do have a positive attitude and I’m also searching for a higher spiritual health.”

Brandon’s story was incredible. Here was someone that despite the odds being against him, had made it so far. I went through Operation Survive! almost six years ago. Brandon changed my life with his story. He showed me that despite having a disease that will ultimately kill you, you can live your life full of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy. It literally changed my life.

I started volunteering at AIDS Survival Project. There I got to work with Brandon during Operation Survive! (which changed its name to Thrive!). Brandon lived his life as Jesus wants us, as a people, to live ours. Love your neighbor. Love your God. These are the two greatest commandments. Brandon, both through his friends and his activism, showed his love for everyone around him. Brandon’s strong desire to find his spiritual higher being and his encouragement of others to do the same followed Jesus’ command also.

Are we ready to do the same? It sounds so easy, but it’s not always that way. In the end the rewards are great though! One way to find to live this life is through the prayer of Jabez. Those of us who went on the church retreat this year found out how. We take the time each day to say this prayer (or the Lord’s prayer or ACTS) and focus on the words and let them deeply infiltrate our being. We then go throughout the day living these words. The rewards that each of us has been receiving is incredible.

There is so much hypocrisy in the world today; even in our community.

I know many gay folks who refuse to acknowledge that AIDS exists, and certainly not in THEIR world! AIDS only happens to sluts, or drug users… not to “nice,” normal gay people like them! So when that turns out to be untrue it’s a big shock to their worlds. It certainly was to mine.

Both the gay and straight community end up being hypocritical when they write the obituary that says that Deacon Bob died of a “long illness” or “cancer.” How many people have gone to their graves without allowing the word AIDS to be uttered in their presence?!

One of the saddest things about the AIDS crisis is that many have used it as a means of further victimizing and ghettoizing and demonizing gay people. We hear ads for charitable organizations that say they are raising money for babies with AIDS — the “innocent victims” of this disease. Let’s think this through to a logical conclusion. They are implicitly stating that those who are not babies who have this disease are non-innocent, willing, active victims who brought on their trouble. Who in their right mind wants a disease with so much stigma attached to it? Let alone ANY disease that would kill them?

Or what about when folks say, “AIDS is not a gay disease”? Well, no, it isn’t. But let’s carry that thought to its logical conclusion. If it were a gay disease, then what? Would that segment of the world population be somehow expendable? What if we said that we shouldn’t treat or research sickle-cell anemia because it’s a black disease or ovarian cancer because it’s a woman’s disease? Why is one group more expendable or redeemable than another?

I say these things because as I look toward the day of the year when we tangibly say Christ is born. I wish that people will begin to see that we are ALL in this together.

No person, church or organization is better than another. God does not hear one person’s or one church’s prayer more than another’s.

God says “The day is coming when my mountain will be greater than all the other mountains. Every one will stream to it because it will be a place of prayer for ALL people.”

No more human made separations. No more fighting. No more war.

That is what will happen when we finally allow Christ to be born.

My sisters and brothers, this Advent season, meditate in your hearts and souls as to how YOU can help Christ to be born this year. How can YOU empower and embody the gifts of Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy that surround the coming of Christ, the coming of Compassion?

Part of it means getting our priorities in order.

How can we bicker or name-call or ignore one another when people out there are DYING without knowing of the love, peace, joy, hope, and compassion which our loving God shows on this earth every day that Christ is born in our gestures and our words and our activities?

As we commemorate World AIDS Day and the First Sunday of Advent, let us try to figure out how we in our individual lives can help Christ to be born so that others really know that this birth has happened, that this Christ really lives.

As we prepare outwardly for Christmas, let us also prepare inwardly the homes of our hearts — because that is where Christmas will really take place. THAT is where Christ will really be born.


Sowing the Seeds of Love

By Deacon Bob Shaw

There was a business consultant who decided to landscape his grounds. He hired a woman with a doctorate in horticulture who was extremely knowledgeable. Because the business consultant was very busy and traveled a lot, he kept emphasizing to her the need to create his garden in a way that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He insisted on automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices.

Finally she stopped and said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, then there is no garden!”

There are no labor-saving devices for growing a garden of spiritual virtue. Becoming a person of spiritual fruitfulness requires time, attention and care. How many of us are like that business consultant? We’re very busy during the week and get caught up in work and social activities and don’t spend the time we need to work on our spiritual growth? Then we come into church on Sunday for a re-charge, feeding off the energy of those around us. How many times during the week are you running really low on your spiritual food by Wednesday or Thursday and do nothing about it?

One thing that is needed in all of these situations is God. Whether God is providing the rain from Heaven to water the earth making it bud and flourish. Whether God is placing people together to form relationships that lead to life-long commitments. Whether God is giving us the words to speak to our fellow people that allow the Holy Spirit to plant seeds in the lives of those we encounter. Whatever the seed we’re talking about, God has full control of it.

And just what are those Seeds? They are the Word of God.

In the Gospel lesson, we hear the parable of the sower and the different soils that the seeds have been scattered upon. Within our lives, we encounter each of these soils daily. Ideally, the only soil that should be in our lives is the good soil that produces abundantly what was sown. Life isn’t that easy. It is only when we take the soil that is given us, cultivate it, fertilize it, and properly nourish it that the soil produces a good harvest. That doesn’t always happen in our lives because we allow ot her things to come in and control our lives.

Take the soil next to the road and the birds that came along and ate the seeds. We sometimes associate with people that don’t live their lives according to God’s Will. Perhaps these are people that take God’s Word away from our heart. Perhaps these people are involved in bad things and they get you to join or follow them. You know what they’re doing is wrong, but you associate with them anyway. Whatever it is, these people cause you to doubt what God has planted in your life. How many times are we these people? Running around doing things that snatch away seeds from others?

As for the seeds that fell on rocky soil and grew up and withered away. It seems more and more we rely on ourselves to get the job done right instead of trusting God to provide for us. Do we help our fellow neighbor with whatever their need is? Or do we run around bragging to others about the help we provided? Do we take these things that we need to get done and lift them to God in prayer? God’s Word does not sink in deeply for these people and when the time of testing their faith comes, they fall short.

Finally, the thorny soil. This would represent our daily worries. People we care about, our finances, the weather, health, travel, you name it and we worry about it…. we’re human after all! It doesn’t matter how much we worry about these things because we’re not going to be able to change the outcome. Remember Y2K? God must be laughing at us about that one. We worried a lot, spent gobs and gobs of money, and worried some more on top of it all. And in the end it all was for naught. January 1, 2000 came and went with barely a whimper. God provided in our time of need. When we worry so much and place our trust in things other than God, we allow the things of this world to choke the seeds within us instead of allowing our faith to grow.

“Still other seeds fall on good soil where they produced an abundant crop.” What a comfort to know that in the midst of everything around us there still in good soil within us. That good soil continues to be nourished when we hear God’s Word, when we pray and when we turn our worries and cares over to God.

Jesus admonishes us to take our time and sow everywhere. But why do that? Why waste our time and energy sowing in places where you don’t know whether or not it will bear fruit? Why not just sow the soil that you know will get you the best harvest? Jesus throughout the gospel encourages his followers, telling them that much of their work will be wasted effort and promising them that God will bring forth results far exceeding their expectations. You’ve seen how our ministry has grown over the last few years. And Whosoever, who would’ve dreamed it would become as big as it has? Put your faith in God. Sow those seeds everywhere! You’ll be surprised where those seeds start popping up and taking root.

This is why Christ came to this earth. He knew that there was no way we could ever make the soil within us good enough to produce any crop, so Christ lived the perfect life that we couldn’t. He took upon Himself all of the sin that is around us daily. On the Cross, He shed His blood in order to purify the soil within us to make it good. Not only for that time, but also for all times to come. Christ rose from the dead in order to continue to cultivate, to plow, and fertilize our lives in the manner that is best for us.

So what can you do to “sow those seeds?” One thing is to Pray in the morning folks! When you first get up….you’ve heard Pastor Paul talk about it before and I am again now because I’ve seen the results. I no longer feel spiritually drained by mid-week. Try to say your prayer when you first get up while your mind is still very open and the world hasn’t come crashing in yet. For some, like me, it might not be the very first thing out of your head. Some are thinking of using the bathroom, taking a shower, getting that first cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette or walking the dog. The earlier in the day you say this prayer, the better. Don’t let life catch up with you and take your focus off of God.

Face it; everyday you face hundreds of choices. Every morning when we wake up, our whole day is a myriad of challenges, and we become the sum total of the choices that we make. Sometimes it’s hard to make the right choices, and if you don’t, you suffer the consequences. So every morning when you get up say, “God, help me to make the right choices today.” I feel the difference saying that prayer makes.

Another way to “sow your seeds” is to follow Christ’s example of love. Matthew writes in Chapter 22 “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” And “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Jesus stresses that these are the two greatest commandments of them all. Go out and be kind to your neighbor, your co-worker, your friends and strangers you come into contact with. Treat others the way you want them to treat you.

Take the time in your everyday life to do your sowing. Whether it’s saying a prayer in the morning, praying during the day for those around you and for your fellow churchgoers, committing a random act of kindness to a stranger or just biting your tongue and not lashing out at someone who has committed a wrong against you.

Whatever the situation is, go and sow the seeds of love everywhere. God will take those seeds and multiply them in such a way that your life will be richly blessed.