I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I’ve decided to share it here as well.
Jesus once said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). It is clear that far too often we who claim to be his followers have failed most profoundly to be recognizably his followers at all. I’ve read recently about owners of various businesses refusing to do business with certain people because of their own beliefs. So there have been bakers, who self-identify as Christians, who have refused to bake cakes for a gay couple getting married, or caterers who refused to cater gay weddings or parties. I’m sure that’s precisely what Jesus would have done if he were a baker or a caterer: just like the time a gay man asked him to make him a chair and being the good Christian carpenter he was, he refused to make the chair and told the man how he was in fact going to be used as kindling in Hell.Oh. Wait. Maybe that’s not actually in the New Testament. Okay, let’s try this: the time that a Roman soldier belonging to the very government responsible for oppressing and mistreating his people, had the temerity to ask Jesus to heal one of his servants. You can bet that Jesus told that soldier just where he could go. Oh. Wait. That’s not what happened at all.
So maybe Jesus wouldn’t tell a gay couple to get out of his shop and go to hell sooner rather than later? Or how about the guy on the cross with Jesus, a thief, who dared ask Jesus to remember him when Jesus went to Paradise. Jesus just laughed and told him to get used to high temperatures. Am I right? Um…no, I guess not.
There are those who argue that God hates sinners. They have a collection of verses that they like to use, most notably: Psalm 5:5-6, 11:5; Lev. 20:23, 20:13, 26:30; Deut. 32:19; Mal. 1:3 and Rom. 9:13. The fundamental problem with the use being made of these verses is that every last one of them is being taken out of context, both their specific context in place, as well as the broader context of the biblical revelation.
The Grand Unified Theory (GUT) of Bible interpretation according to Jesus is twofold: love of God and love of people.
Matthew 22:34-40 reads:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (see the parallel account in Mark 12:28-34)
Paul, one of the authors of the New Testament, likewise wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
In his letter to the church in Galatia he repeated himself: Galatians 5:14:
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)
And finally James, who some believe was Jesus’ brother, wrote:
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. (James 2:8)
Any interpretation of the Bible, at least from a Christian perspective, which results in a conclusion contrary to this basic tenant of love is necessarily wrong. No ifs, no ands, no buts. Thus, to suggest that God hates, rather than loves sinners, creates an absurdity: a contradiction with the very theme of the Bible, as well as some very explicit verses, the most basic being
Consider, again, something Paul wrote to that church in Rome:
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5-8)
One should also consider the words of the Apostle John:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)
Thus, the interpretation that God hates sinners, or that he desires to see bad things happen to them, simply is an untenable interpretation of the verses used by the hate groups.
Some will try to tell me, I suppose, that we are only supposed to love our brother, and who is, our brother, anyhow, but only those who believe like us. I would suggest that those who would react like that are exactly like the expert who, in response to Jesus' suggestion that he should love his neighbor asked "who is my neighbor." Let's look at the story in Luke 10:25-37:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
The problem for us moderns is that Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan doesn't really resonate with us. What is a Samaritan, anyhow? To put it simply, Samaritans were considered to be apostates from Judaism. They were the result of marriages between Jews and pagan idolaters who had moved into the land of Israel during the period of the Babylonian captivity. Thus, according to the religious establishment of Jesus' time, they were worshiping falsely and were considered significant sinners by definition. Thus, many religious people considered Samaritans the most vile of people imaginable.
So let's update things. If Jesus were asked the same question today, his response would be to tell the story of how a Baptist preacher and a famous televangelist ignored the rape victim in the gutter, in contrast to the good gay, black transgendered person from San Francisco who helped her.
If Christians are going to hate the LGBT community, then they need to be consistent and hate the liars, the backbiters, the gossips, and the hypocrites, too. Maybe put up a few pickets around the neighborhood supermarket that caters to all those gluttons.
Maybe I just don't get it. Jesus died for sinners. All of us are sinners, and that's what we'll all be—every last one of us—till the day we die. Are certain sinners irredeemable? Whosoever will may come, but wait, if you're gay, you've got to clean up your act first? Since when has the church become an exclusive club? Are we supposed to have bouncers at the door making sure everyone has a tie and that they're "the right sort of people" before we let them in?
Maybe I just don't understand the gospel and the mission of the church. But I don't think so. I think it's the haters that just don't get it. In fact, the people that Jesus condemned were, without exception, the well-respected religious leaders of his day. He had nothing but compassion for everyone else.