What do you say to a 17-year-old male convinced that he has been called to be a Baptist preacher heading to Baylor in the fall?
Mrs. M., a Southern Baptist by birth but an Episcopalian in her heart, asked the young man how he knew God called him to preach. “Are you not just trying to please your parents by doing what you know will most please them?” she asked audaciously when she came through the reception line to greet all those who had ‘come forward on the third night of the Revival. He did not have time to answer her before the next person extended a hand, and he was not sure whether he had an answer that he or she could live with.
A “spinster” librarian rumored to be ‘one of those’ bought him as a graduation gift from high school several volumes of The Interpreter’s Bible. She too was a Southern Baptist by birth and knew she’d better expose him to opinions more challenging than he was likely to get at their local Baptist congregation.
“So you’re going off to college,” an older man stated rather than asked, to start a conversation during the lunch break at the thread mill where he was earning spending money for his freshman year. “Yes,” he replied, not sure where this conversation would head nor sure that he wanted a mill worker to instruct him about college. The 17-year-old was wrong.
“An educated man,” the mill worker insisted, “is someone who can speak clearly to anyone, even to an uneducated person, without trying to talk over anyone’s head. An educated man calls attention to what he says, not to how fancy he can sound in saying it.”
What would the 17-year-old say to you if given this text from Romans to preach on, especially if the queer thoughts he had prayed to disappear were persistently sticking around, with no involuntary heterosexual fantasies for competition?
What does it mean to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”? I asked when as that 17-year-old I prepared my first sermon after the congregation that had issued me a Baptist preacher’s license. [See the license.].
‘God does not want you to die a sacrificial death, but wants you alive as a sacrifice, and it is your bodies that God wants,’ I remember saying from the imposing pulpit, center ‘stage,’ with no altar to distract from the Word.
Fortunately I did not have to share my inner dialogue. ‘Does this mean I’ll never be able to have sex if I cannot become a heterosexual? Is this the living sacrifice I am committing to? It this the sacrifice that is holy and acceptable unto God? Is this reasonable service?’
I had little opportunity to have sex with anyone except in a few adolescent mutual inspections. Those had left me ridden with guilt. Mother discovered a couple of photographs that a straight boy would not have stashed away, and pressured, I confessed my fantasies to her.
“Don’t tell Dad,“ I pleaded.
She assured me she would not, and got me to assure her that I would pray to God to make those fantasies go away. Twenty-five years later she told me she had told Dad soon after I told her. Without mentioning her conversation, Dad took me on a long ride on dirt roads out in the county and told me that he would commit suicide if any member of his family were to turn out queer.
I thought I was scared. They must have been scared out of their wits! Thank goodness they were Baptists. If they had been Episcopalians they would have had a huge bill to pay to psychiatrists, but as Baptists they strongly objected to letting secular people answer religious questions.
When I preached my first sermon, I did not know what it would mean in my own life to present my body as a living sacrifice. But that’s what I did.
The next part was easier to understand. Don’t be a conformist. I have not been. Don’t let the world set your agenda. For the most part the world has not. Be transformed. I have been, again and again. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God. I have indeed experienced plentiful redemption in Saint’s command that we think for ourselves.
Young man, as I reflect on your sermon 54 years later, you are still very much a part of my wholeness as a gay Christian. I honor you and have kept faith with what you bade all to do in your first sermon, though in ways neither of us could have understood then. God has been faithful too, also in ways that neither of us could have foreseen. The spiritual world did not fall apart as I embraced the wholeness of my mind and body. That wholeness makes profound sense in discerning the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” It was impossible to demonize the Jews for those who knew Joseph. He stood for them all.
Psychological studies have repeatedly shown that one factor has been present in most of the people who have changed from disapproving of lesbians and gays to supporting them: someone they know well has been out to them.
Several re-asserters insist that lesbians and gays want to wear them out by more and more “dialogue,” until they come round to our point of view. We insist that they “know Joseph,” not just talk about ‘those people.’
The Bible is filled with stories of people who sneak. Last month we watched Jacob, a smooth man, put on wool that to his blind father’s touch made him seem to be his hairy brother Esau, and thus got for him the blessing the father planned to reserve only for his first born. Laban sneaked his older daughter into Jacob’s marriage bed so that the older daughter would marry first, and thus tricked another seven years of labor out of Jacob to get the sister he really wanted.
Today, Moses’ mother hides the baby among the reeds along a bank where Pharaoh’s daughter takes her bath.
It appears that lgbt persons also sneak into most families, and like Moses, many of us grow strong, especially when we discover who we are and discover that many in the family think we don’t belong.
Despised tribes survive by being better organized than those who despise them. Massah and Missus thought the darkies were just being happy slaves when they sang “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home,” but often that was slave code to tell the runaway in the next field whether it was safer to wait or to skedaddle.
Yet for every one who grows stronger in oppression, there seem to be several more who are debilitated by it, such as
As a presumptive heterosexual when young, I was embarrassed by the psalms. They continually refer to enemies scheming and plotting to get us. They seem to invite an unhealthy paranoia about our neighbors.
Whatever happened in Egypt, its shadow is forever etched in Jewish memorials to it, indeed even in the ‘Pass Over’ meal, the Eucharist itself. The psalms proclaim, ‘We got away! God did not allow us to be destroyed, regardless of how close they came to doing so.’
It is fascinating to watch Jesus concerned about his reputation. What do other people say about me?
While he was Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold rarely read press commentary about himself, whether praise or blame. He asked his staff to screen out all but what they knew he really needed to see. “I do not want to spend my time reacting. I do not want others to set my agenda,” he explained to me.
I intentionally read David Virtue only about once every six month. I use a search engine to find his references to me on Virtuosity. For those occasions, God made single malt Irish Whiskey. Thank you David.
Peter’s exchange with Jesus suggests that much is at stake in what we assert about who Jesus is. On the basis of his ‘foolproof‘ answer, Jesus grants Peter high status, and gives him the keys to the kingdom.
Do the reasserters have us here? Is this where progressives lose?
It seems too easy to come up with the ‘right answer.’ I cannot believe that faith is measured by right answers.
This does not sound like the Jesus revealed almost everywhere else in the Gospels. This sounds more like the work of a later editor, looking back and wanting to put into Jesus’ mouth some of the answers the church itself has refined about Jesus’ identity. The creeds came almost 400 years after Jesus’ death. Jesus did not turn to the thief on the next cross and ask, “Who do you say that I am?”
Most followers of Jesus in his lifetime would have had a hard time understanding the creeds, much less committing to them. They understood a person and committed to him.
“I am the Messiah, but don’t tell.” I understand that one fully, and fully commit to it.
-- Louie, Quean Lutibelle
Louie, I admire your peaceful dialogue with your 17-year-old self. I think that the mid-1960s opinionated young lady with the wire-rimmed glasses would have quite a lot to say to me of a critical nature.
This reminds me so much of my own adolescent religious ruminations...and I am sure young men and women today ask themselves exactly the same kinds of questions. Many of the young adolescents I see come out now with their school friends and are welcomed and accepted. They find it easier, though, to stay closeted with their families.
Louie, why did you wait until now to preach these magnificent sermons? Nevermind. I know already.
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