Will the real Christians please stand up?

I had a brief flirtation with the Methodist Church in the 1990s. We were shopping around for a Sunday school for our daughter, who needed some religious education. Terri had taught Sunday school for a Methodist Church in her single days and thought the religion was pretty benign. There was a church close by so off we went. It wasn’t a bad experience. This particular church had a female minister, which seemed cool to someone raised in the Catholic faith. The church was bright, the classrooms clean and well run and it had a very wholesome feel to it. Yet it was a bit too Christian for my tastes. That’s why my daughter eventually ended up at the religious education program at a Unitarian Universalist church.

I can’t claim to know much about their theology but I know enough now not to ever go back. Why? Because yesterday a Methodist Philadelphia minister was defrocked for violating a church law that requires ministers not be practicing homosexuals. The minister, Irene Elizabeth Stroud, was found guilty of being “a self avowed practicing homosexual.” Oh, the horror! Imagine what would happen if more Methodist ministers were homosexuals. Why, Methodists might get comfortable with the idea that homosexuality by itself has no more bearing on someone’s ability to minister than the color of their hair!

I have to wonder why is this an issue in the first place. Don’t Methodists read their Bibles? In the Bible that I read Jesus is a wholly nondiscriminatory human being. He hung out with prostitutes and lepers. In Jesus’ time the Jews treated Samaritans with contempt. Jews would even walk around areas of Palestine where they lived. Yet the clear message from the Parable of the Good Samaritan was that no one should be scorned simply for being different. We are all the same.

It is way past time to give homosexuals equal opportunities in all professions. But forces would much rather keep us stuck in the past. The major networks, for example, recently refused to air ads from the United Church of Christ. The ads emphasized that their denomination accepts gays and minorities while many other churches do not.

The ad features two bouncers standing outside a symbolic church selecting people to be permitted to pass the velvet rope to attend Sunday services. The bouncers reject two men and an African-American boy and girl, while letting a white heterosexual couple through.

What was the Church of Christ’s real sin here? It’s not that it welcomes homosexuals and minorities in its membership. The real sin was that it emphasized that other churches — lots of other churches — are quite comfortable with the practice. And it points out quite correctly that Jesus did not turn away people who came to listen to him. Not only do virtually all mainstream churches refuse to ordain homosexual ministers, but lots of mainstream churches also are openly hostile to gays in general. The Mormon Church’s wholly unenlightened interpretation and almost sneering attitude toward gays comes immediately to my mind. Want to see the Samaritans in contemporary Christendom? Talk to a Gay Mormon. They can tell you how the Samaritans felt.

No, we must not hear the truth about rampant, ignorant and prejudicial intolerance in mainstream Christian denominations. Instead we must project a false image of Jesus and real Christianity. We must ignore that much modern Christianity is about as Christ-like as Ghengis Khan. For example, is there any doubt what a 21st century Jesus would have said about the United States invading Iraq? Just in case you forgot, turn to Luke 6:29:

If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either.

But what are we getting from so called “mainstream” ministers about homosexuality? From Jerry Falwell we get vitriol like:

“These perverted homosexuals … absolutely hate everything that you and I and most decent, God-fearing citizens stand for. Make no mistake. These deviants seek no less than total control and influence in society, politics, our schools and in our exercise of free speech and religious freedom.”

From Pat Robertson:

What kind of craziness is it in our society which will put a cloak of secrecy around a group of people whose lifestyle is at best abominable. Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of those people is appalling. It is a pathology. It is a sickness, and instead of thinking of giving these people a preferred status and privacy, we should treat AIDS exactly the same way as any other communicable disease.

Were I a Christian I would be seeking out churches that not only have read the words of Jesus but also actually try to live by them. So congratulations to the Church of Christ for getting the real message of Jesus. They must have read Matthew 7:

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

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