"Filled with Justice"
National Coming Out Day; Scripture: Micah 3:4-11, 4:6-7; Mark 11:15-18
"And he said to them, 'Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.'" All four of the canonical Gospels contain this powerful story of Jesus' rage at a religion that perverts what should be sacred and open to all people into an exclusive, economically driven business.Though the Synoptics put the story at the end of Jesus' ministry while the Gospel of John puts it at the beginning, all agree upon the passionate anger and indeed violence that Jesus unleashes against this misuse of religion, this co-optation of the sacred in the name of something very different.
Similarly, Micah, too, in the reading we heard this morning, is both furious and appalled at the mockery of religion inherent in a practice that relies on the buildings and forms of religious piety to please God while at the same moment it denies the very foundation of God's demands for human society, which are justice and equity.
In listening to these readings, it is very important for us to recognize that both Micah and Jesus were not denouncing the actions or driving out the religious practitioners of other religious traditions. Micah was not criticizing the priests of Assur, nor was Jesus cleansing the temple of Isis. Their rage was directed at their own religious leaders, their own religious practices.
For us today, these lessons from scripture do not justify our disdain for other religions or their teachings. Not at all. Instead, they focus our gaze upon our own religious communities, its leaders, its piety, its practice. Are our churches places of prayer for all people? Do our communities extend the hospitality of home to everyone? Is the church in America today a beacon of justice and equity, honesty and compassion, freedom and love? Or are we too relying upon the clothing of religion without caring about its embodiment? Do we stand under Micah's condemnations or are we in need of Jesus' violent cleansing? How do our actions proclaim our faith?
As Micah so well pointed out, it is not so much what we say that God hears. God hears what we do. Is God pleased with what the Christian churches of America are doing? What would it mean if every believer and every religious community were filled, like Micah, "with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and with might"?
Well, one thing it would certainly mean: today's service would be unnecessary.
Today we recognize Gay and Lesbian "Coming Out Day." Not yet a national holiday, perhaps, but a terribly important day for many of us, nevertheless. Yet the very idea of having one special "Coming Out Day" implies that most days for lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men are "Staying In Days"—days, months, even years of hiding who we are, who we love, how we live, from everybody—out of fear of losing our jobs, our children, our families, our homes, our very lives in this so-called "free" society. In 1995, in this United States of America, lesbians and gay men are hated, disdained, slandered, and worse from the halls of Congress to the pulpits of most Christian churches. Not because we are a detriment to society—in fact, much to the contrary, without gay men and lesbians, this country and indeed the world as a whole would have precious little poetry, scanty art, few novels, paltry philosophy, meager history, and practically no religion. No, we are disdained because who we love is different from most of you. We don't love differently, we just love a different someone than you do.
And for that and that alone we are denied many of the basic human rights most of you take for granted: marriage with all its legal and economic privileges, adoption, family health care, military service, ordination, public recognition of our families, etc. We can be fired from our jobs, thrown out of our homes, hounded from our churches, with no recourse whatsoever, for no other reason than whom we love. In such a situation, hiding makes good sense, even when it eats away at our self-respect and isolates us from the world.
Yes, this society is a very scary place for gay men and lesbians. But we are hardly the only group for whom that is true. Racial and ethnic minorities, women of all races, ethnicities, and statuses, poor people, all experience this society as hostile, violent, and often dangerous. Homosexuality is certainly not the only human attribute that automatically condemns one to live as a second class citizen.
Like gay men and lesbians, racial and ethnic minorities do not generally receive equal protection under the law, women are commonly victimized, and the poor are frequently treated as guilty of the punishment of poverty. We all alike stand in jeopardy in the midst of an increasingly violent American society.
However, if we look at the particular context of the Christian church, a striking difference appears between the treatment of gay men and lesbians and the treatment of other marginalized constituencies. While it is certainly not doing all it can to eradicate the plague of racism or the oppression of ethnic minorities, the Christian church, even in its most fundamentalist forms, at least acknowledges the sin of racism and works to tear down the barriers between ethnic groups. Although individual accomplishments may be uneven or minimal, at least the institutional rhetoric of the church moves in the direction of a more just, compassionate society for all. Only, of course, not quite all.
Lesbians and gay men of all races and ethnicities are plainly excluded from this institutional rhetoric of justice. But evidently for many Christians, the exclusion of gay people from justice is not nearly sufficient for the apparently terrible evil of loving someone different. Thus, it is Christians and Christian groups who are actually leading the campaign of hatred against lesbians and gay men that is sweeping this country. Anti-gay rhetoric can be loudly heard from the Christian Coalition to the Pope, from the Southern Baptists to the Presbyterians, from the United Methodists to the Lutherans. Christian churches are not just permitting injustice to occur, they are in fact inciting it. "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?'" But you, you have made it the den of gay-bashers.
And please don't sit there complacently and say to yourself, "That doesn't happen in my church," or "That doesn't happen in my denomination." Every time a self-confessed Christian or Christian group proclaims that "homosexuality is an abomination without equal" and you and your church and your denomination say nothing, you are as much the problem as those others. In some ways even more so, for betrayal by friends is much harder to bear than the slander of ones enemies. When the church becomes a place where it is more comfortable to champion hatred than to speak out for justice, the moral capital of Christianity has seriously decayed. "The seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God."
I believe that this is a time of crisis for Christianity. Many creative, committed, and spiritually gifted people have been and are now leaving churches in disgust. Let's be honest: Most gay men and lesbians have either left religion altogether or have moved to their own gay churches in order to survive and flourish. And for very good reason. Those of us remaining in mainline Christian groups are a lonely and rapidly diminishing remnant. This is indicative of the general decline in mainline Protestantism, which I believe, has arisen, not from its failure to be more fundamentalistic, but instead from its failure to be more prophetic. Who can be committed to a religion that mouths love and practices hatred? That proclaims compassion and practices rejection? That teaches inclusivity and practices exclusion?
And let's be clear about this, the Bible is not to blame for this state of affairs. If the Bible's meager eleven verses of possible reference to homoeroticism were really the source of the vicious polemic against lesbians and gay men, then the church should also be out there stoning adulterers, condoning slavery, and refusing to tolerate, much less ordain, divorced people, for all of these other views are much clearer and much more widely attested in scripture than anything about homoeroticism. No, the source of hatred for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered persons is not biblical authority; it is, instead, those twin pillars of violence: ignorance and fear—the ignorance of difference and the profound fear of sexuality.
In this time of moral crisis, if you care about Christianity, if you care about justice, you must care about this issue. You don't have to like me; you don't have to like any of my lesbian sisters or gay brothers; you don't have to feel any sympathy for those "poor, maligned gay folks"—in fact, we don't really want your sympathy, we don't need it—we are survivors, who have for millennia lived and loved in spite of inquisitions, holocaust, plagues, hatred, and discrimination.
As Micah says, God has made of us "who were cast off a strong nation." It's the church you must have sympathy for; it's Christianity you must attend to; it's God's will for justice you must obey, or else "it shall be night to you without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God."
"But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and with might."
Make this "Coming Out Day" a day for all of us to "come out" for justice.
Benediction: May the God of Justice be your guide, the Christ of Compassion, your
companion, and the Spirit of Truth, your constant teacher. Come out now for Justice and
Peace in our world. Amen.