My grandmother, Eva Mae Thomas, was my first catechizer and theologian. At the age of 12, she put a pen and notepad in my hand and asked me to “write down all the Scriptures that the preacher says.” There were more than a few and it was my delight to record each one of them. She only had a fourth grade education but used my notes to continue her theological studies at home.
The intentionality of her decision to share the gospel of Jesus with me has done more to shape my life than all my years of education and experience. Our sharing in the worship experience together remains a pivotal moment in my life. I can still see her long dresses blowing in the wind as we got out of the car for Sunday service, church meetings, weeklong revivals and all night prayer meetings. She taught me a lot about God but not much about sex or human sexuality.
She told my mother that she could get pregnant from kissing. Imagine her surprise when persons conceived without it! My mother carried on this tradition of minimalist sex education. Her conversation was a directive and it was three words: “Don’t do it.” It was fear-based as she also emphasized the possibility of pregnancy and my life being ruined. No connection was made between sex and love.
In fact, I have not heard so much talk about sex and love until now. Sex remains one of three taboo subjects in many churches, the other two being race and religion. Still, a member of my Sunday school class brought up the much- debated meaning of homosexuality and what it means to live by our convictions after the media attention-grabbing decision of Kim Davis. Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, decided not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples based on her Christian conviction that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. She was arrested and has since been released from jail.
She has been judged as unable to hold up the standard of marriage given her history of divorce. There are those who think that she should resign if she can’t do her job. Others believe that she should not be forced to go against her religious convictions. I am not here to argue for or against any one’s position.
Our Scripture reading for Sunday school that morning was 2 Timothy 2.14-15: “Remind them of this and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling [fighting, NLT] over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has not need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth” (NRSV). The question posed was, “Do you need this reminder?” For the past few weeks, we have been examining our personal convictions through a series titled “This I Believe,” named after a CBS television program that aired in the early 1950s and later became a book.
I make it a point not to give an answer to the question. It is a young adult Sunday school class and I don’t want persons leaving the class saying, “The pastor said.” Instead, I challenge our members to read the Scriptures for themselves and to rightly explain them. They will have to give an account of their discipleship work to God and as much as possible, I want to empower them to do this. To be sure, I provide historical analysis and theological underpinnings so the conversation is structured and supported by Scripture, experience, research and tradition.
On this particular morning, I found is necessary to remind us of this truth. We should not make any social movement of our society the sole emphasis or purpose of the Bible. The Bible cannot be a part of the news cycle or political season. The gospel of Jesus the Christ is just that, the good news of Jesus the Christ and to that end, the salvation of humanity from sin. As his followers, our calling is to carry our cross not posters (Matt. 16.24).
His message is for all members of society, both free and oppressed, the marginalized and those who remain the center of American attention, heterosexual and homosexual alike. The Bible is also not a character in the human story, accepting walk-on roles at our invitation. Instead, we are part of God’s story. What do I mean by this?
No one has a monopoly on God’s love or the definition of it. God is love and is the definition of it (1 John 4.8). God’s love is not sexual, friendly or even familial. God’s love, agape, is unconditional and sacrificial. To the last descriptor, God’s love already won.
God’s love won on a cross, not in a Supreme Court case ruling. And this is where we are to be careful not to change the message to meet or enable the momentum of a movement. This is also why God’s love cannot be fought over. We, Americans, always try to claim ownership of people, places and things that were here before us. But, we cannot change the name or the nature of Love.
We like to say that God is on our side, that God is with the oppressed and the poor and the marginalized, but God is also with the oppressor, the rich and those in the center. God is with both the homosexual and heterosexual. Our victories do not determine God’s success.
None of us own Love or can prove Love. Only God can do that, so stop fighting and let me remind you of this Scripture, one often learned in Sunday school: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3.16, NKJV).
I’ll leave you to discern what that means.
* This article previously appears as a part of the “Perspectives” for Baptist News Global dated September 18, 2015.