Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love is Not a Sin!

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 16, 2014
         When I was a little girl, my family lived  in SE Portland, near 39th and Steele.  There were lots of children on our block, but my particular favorite friend was a little boy about my age whose name was Milton. In those days, mothers didn’t worry too much about their children visiting other families on the block, so occasionally I was allowed to walk down the sidewalk past two or three other houses to visit Milton at his house.
         One day I came home mumbling something under my breath, a gleam of satisfaction in my eye. (I must have been about four years old at the time.) My mother’s sharp ear caught something unexpected and she asked me to speak up.
         “God damn it,” I said. “God damn it, God damn it, God damn it!”
         My mother, a good Baptist preacher’s wife, looked at her cherubic darling in horror. Blonde dutch boy haircut, blue eyes, innocent face: “God damn it, God damn it, God damn it!”
         “Sweetheart,” said my mother, “where did you learn that? Do you know what that means?”
         “Milton says it,” I answered. “And I like to say it. God damn it. God damn it. God damn it!”
         Gulping, my mother pushed on. “Honey, you are asking God to send someone to hell. Is that what you really want to do?”
         I apparently was unimpressed; my rebel ways were clearly already beginning to be established. It felt powerful to be able to tell God what to do, especially when God apparently wanted to tell me what to do a lot of the time.
         But my mother’s good heart and gentle ways eventually prevailed, and I learned to say “God bless it, God bless it, God bless it.” Not nearly as satisfyingly rebellious, but more socially acceptable, especially at Calvary Baptist Church.
            This was one of my earlier brushes with the idea that something could be wrong in God’s eyes.  I’m sure, as a toddler, that my parents’ explanations of God’s will went way over my head and that I obeyed them because I loved them and wanted to please them.
         But Sin in all its ugly desireability was a fairly familiar theme in the life of a Baptist child; the Ten Commandments were held up as a model of virtue and sinning became that thing we did even though we knew we were making God unhappy and possibly courting eternal punishment.  It was just too much temptation to resist sometimes.
         We Unitarian Universalists have a love/hate relationship with Sin.  We don’t like the word, we tend to have more of a relational ethic when it comes to wrongdoing, and yet we can be very moralistic when others are behaving in ways that we believe are wrong.
         We know right from wrong.  We just tend to avoid the word Sin.  It’s a word that seems out of date, puritanical, judgmental, considering how often people are accused of sinning when, in actuality, they have done something that is only against ancient laws of behavior which were intended for an ancient civilization entirely different from present day civilizations.
         That’s why it may seem so odd and even irrational to many of us that fundamentalist believers, whether Muslim, Jewish, or Christian—and likely others as well—consider certain behaviors to be deeply sinful and worthy of the kind of protest that we have come to regard as normal only when done by Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist church and its minions.
         Most of us are aware that the Bible has some pretty diverse views about right and wrong.  It seems okay for God to allow atrocities of human behavior and natural disaster but odd for God to frown on any number of things listed in the Bible such as planting two different crops in the same field or combining two types of fabric or eating shellfish---or, according to some folks, being in love with someone of the same gender.
         Another story:  growing up a Baptist preacher’s kid, back in the 50’s in small town
Oregon, I was pretty conversant with the Bible, if a bit confused by some
of its meanings.
         In my family, we were rewarded for every scripture verse
we learned and could recite at family meals---I think it was a penny apiece,
which in those days eventually mounted up.
Of course, there were the easy ones: “Jesus wept” was a favorite
and some of the begats were fun to say: so and so begat so and so,
including names like Enoch, Methuselah, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
course, we were just getting old enough to understand what “begat” really
implied, so it was always with a smothered giggle that we would repeat
those words.
         The book of Revelation was a challenge and we didn’t even try to figure it out, we just reveled, so to speak, in some of the imagery, which included
horses and a lot of the use of the word seven, which seemed cool at the

         I can remember one particular occasion on which my Sunday
School class---led by me, uncharacteristically for me, then-- asked our
teacher a leading question: “Mr. Mayberry, what is circumcision and why
was it so important to the Jews?”

         Now, I expect that Bob Mayberry had seen a lot and had heard a lot
of questions in his work as the postmaster in Athena, Oregon, but he was
stumped by this question from a bunch of 11 year old girls, some of whom
had little brothers and knew darn well what the word meant, if not its ritual meaning.

         He ended up referring us to yet another scripture passage about
Jewish rituals and advised us that in the Christian scriptures, circumcision
was a ritual act that was unnecessary to be Christian.  The implication, of
course, was that the Christians knew better about such things than the
Jews, so we didn’t need to worry our pretty little heads about it.

         Hmmmm. that wasn’t the first time I’d come up against Bible
 passages that contradicted each other. and it wasn’t the last, either, So
gradually I came to believe strongly in only those passages which seemed
to make rational sense, which affirmed my own experience and emphasized greater love for God and for others, not less.

         As I matured and learned more about human beings and myself, I
encountered the disconnect between law and justice. I learned that there
were laws that were not just. I learned that there were some laws people
ignored and others which they enforced, sometimes harshly.

         When I began to realize that I had a number of friends and students
who were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, I encountered yet
another disconnect-----the practice of deeming certain ancient laws from
Bible texts as sacrosanct yet ignoring others which were less convenient.

         I speak, of course, about the purity laws which the radical right uses as its
weaponry in the persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
persons. and I have since then made a study of this topic.

         What does the Bible really say about sexuality? what are the
texts, from Hebrew and Christian scriptures, which are used by some
conservative groups to justify discrimination and even outright persecution
of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons?

         Here’s a brief description of several passages.  Genesis, the first book in the
Hebrew scriptures, tells the creation story of Adam and Eve, (not Steve) their
residence in and eventual expulsion from the garden of Eden, and
subsequent life beyond the garden.
        In a later chapter we find the story of the
 cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.    When the Hebrew god sent two angels to
warn Abraham’s nephew Lot about impending doom for the city of
Sodom. some of the men of Sodom came to Lot’s house to attack and,
according to some translations, to rape the angels who were assumed to be male. Lot fended them off by
offering the men of Sodom his virgin daughters instead to use sexually, an
offer which was rejected.

         The angels then protected Lot’s household from the mob by striking
the men of Sodom blind, while Lot and his family escaped the city. This is
also the story in which Lot’s wife looked back at the burning city and was
turned into a pillar of salt for her disobedience.
         The book of Leviticus contains the holiness code of the early
Hebrews, a standard of purity of behavior which is meant to distinguish the
Hebrews from the Canaanites, whose land they have been given by the
God of Israel, with permission to take the land by force and capture and enslave the Canaanites.  The holiness, or purity code of the ancient Hebrews is the major source of these so-called proofs that God rejects same sex relationships.
         The punishment for violating many clauses of the holiness code is death.
 For example, children who curse their parents are to be put to
death.  The sentence for adultery for both parties is death. The punishment
for incest or bestiality is death. and the punishment for males lying with 
males as with females is death.

         And in the Christian scriptures, in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul is quoted as saying that “behaving sexually with another man as with a woman” is a sin, as he scolds one of his fledgling Christian churches for their many sins.
         There are other passages in the holiness code which are overlooked entirely by those who would enforce certain laws and not others:  it is wrong to plant two different crops in the same field.  It is wrong to wear clothing made of two different types of fabric.  It is wrong to eat shellfish or any animal with a cloven hoof.  Cud-chewing animals are favored---unless they have cloven hooves. 
         Aside from the cherry-picking of Bible passages to justify one’s own fears and prejudices, the problem with all these Biblical laws, in my humble opinion, is that they are all the product of an ancient religious code which applied specifically to a tiny, struggling nation of people who were trying to stay alive and to retain the purity of their ethnic roots.  They needed offspring—polite and obedient ones only, apparently-- and plenty of them, to offset the losses of life normal in those dangerous, Stone Age times.
         There are numerous reasons why these restrictions need to be re-thought for the 21st century.  The Bible also allows slavery and sexual violence, forcible overthrow of weaker civilizations, and an insistence on certain religious beliefs.  We have come a long way from those times.  We have different understandings of why people fall in love with members of their own sex, why sometimes people are born into bodies that don’t match up with their gender identity.  We are revolted by sexual violence and war. 
         And so it is time to take a hard look at sin and what it really is. 
         When California first briefly allowed same-sex marriage a few years ago and when that permission was summarily yanked out from under the many couples who took advantage of the opportunity, I was actively writing a blog entitled “Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show”, a personal journal about current events which bothered or amused me.  I wrote this post at that time.  It was 2008. 
         I've been reading the news reports and watching the TV segments about the same sex couples getting married in California, some who have been together for 50 years. The joy on their faces, as well as the joy on the faces of their loved ones, is so stunning that I wonder how anyone could in good conscience deny people this joy. Clearly those who speak so viciously (and vicariously, even voyeuristically?) about same-sex love and marriage have hard hearts, which they claim are a gift from God.

         ”To say no to joy for another person, particularly joy that has been proven in the long hard years of a relationship, is incomprehensible to me. To me it suggests a joylessness on the part of those who say that no and even try to enforce it by laws that regulate against joy for others. I'm talking real joy, not sexual pleasure, but the joy that comes from being together as a partnership, facing life's challenges, raising children, being a family. That's real joy. It's wrong to deny anyone that hardwon joy, especially after they have proved themselves over the long haul.

         “It came to me suddenly in the midst of one of the many diatribes that erupted after California's justice-seeking justices declined to reconsider: LOVE IS NOT A SIN. And using the language of traditional religion, language that comes from humans saying they speak for God, here is what else I think is not sin. And I, as much as anyone, can say I speak for God:

Love is not a sin.
Commitment is not a sin.
Taking responsibility is not a sin.
Trust is not a sin.
Being honest about oneself is not a sin.
Sexual intimacy between committed, consenting adults is not a sin.

Here's what's a sin:

Injustice is a sin.
Betrayal is a sin.
Resentment is a sin.
Rape is a sin.
Faithlessness is a sin.
Unkindness is a sin.
Cruelty is a sin.”

         Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

         Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that human joy and love are two of the greatest blessings of life.  May we seek to bring joy and love to all around us and not begrudge the joy others find in honest and committed relationships.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

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