This past week, 19-year old Daniel Pierce of Georgia posted a video to his Facebook page which quickly went viral, in which he discreetly filmed a “pray the gay away” intervention staged by his family. Though the video footage is blurry, the audio is horrifying – we hear Daniel’s parents kick him out of his home, and verbally and physically attack him. Sadly, Daniel’s story is not unique; it truthfully exposes the harm that LGBTQ youth regularly endure. Today, as many as 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, many of these kicked out of their homes due to rejection rooted in biblical literalism.
Three years ago I came out to my family, and anticipated a similar response as the one received by Daniel. My parents were fundamentalists in the Pentecostal Holiness church, where the Bible was esteemed as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. I wrote them a letter, because I knew it would be difficult to talk with them in person or over the phone. They responded by telling me that my orientation was abnormal, that I was an abomination, and that any children I had would not be embraced by the family. Although their reaction was predictable, it was very wounding. Three years later, my family remains in the same place of believing, as Daniel’s stepmother does, that my orientation is a choice and that “God does not create anybody that way.”
Though I grew up with this literalistic understanding of the Bible, my views were expanded during college, where I began to read scripture contextually. I eventually found my way to Grace United Methodist Church in Dallas, a diverse, missional, and affirming Reconciling congregation that supports me as I heal from these painful experiences and develop a new understanding of who Christ is. As I continue to study scripture and grow in my understanding, one theme keeps recurring: Jesus is not a Biblical literalist.
In Matthew 22, some Sadducees come to Jesus saying that there is no resurrection. They try to test him by presenting a hypothetical situation, saying: ‘Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’
Jesus responds by saying: ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’
At first glance, one could say this passage is about foreshadowing Jesus’ resurrection, or the debate around the viability of an afterlife, while missing the point that Jesus is making here about scriptural literalism. The first question one must ask about this passage is: Who were the Sadducees, and what did they believe?
Historically speaking, the Sadducees had some very interesting qualities –
• They were wealthy, tended to own land, and did not like change.
• They viewed the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as the only canonical writings, and were very resistant to any ideology outside of their literal readings of the law and scripture.
• They viewed the possibility of the afterlife as too progressive because their scriptures did not mention it literally. Instead of believing in an afterlife, the Sadducees believed that you would live on through your descendants. This was a point of tension between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The story about the woman and her seven husbands is derived from the law stated in Deuteronomy 25, in which a woman, much like property, was given to her husband’s next brother in line if he died. If she was married to all of them, then who would she be married to in the afterlife?
The Sadducees actually believed that one’s afterlife was carried in their legacy of children. If this woman, her husband, and his brothers did not bear children in life, how could they live on after death? Their beliefs were rooted in literal understandings of the Torah, and they thought literalism was the highest way to honor God.
They were testing Jesus to see if he also viewed scripture as the ultimate authority of God. Jesus responds by saying, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
BAM! Jesus does it again. He calls out the Sadducees for trying to use the scriptures to limit the power of God.
The Sadducees are still among us today. They are those who take a few scriptures out of context to oppress the LGBTQ community. And yet here Jesus is, saying we cannot limit God using literal readings of the bible.
Today’s Sadducees say, “I stand on the Word of God. Pack your things and leave this house.” Jesus responds, “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Today’s Sadducees say, “The way you love is sinful in the eyes of God. God will not bless your marriage.” Jesus responds, “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Today’s Sadducees say, “You are not fit to serve or be ordained as a minister.” Jesus responds, “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Today’s Sadducees say, “If you pray hard enough, God will change your orientation.” Jesus responds, “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Today’s Sadducees say, “You are not fit to be parents because a child needs a heterosexual home.” Jesus responds, “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Again and again, Jesus rebukes those who judge and oppress others with literal interpretations of the scriptures and law. Jesus offers us the hope of new life; not just after death, but new life here and now. Jesus gives us a vision for a world where all are affirmed and embraced, the kin-dom of God within us. Jesus calls us to be co-creators with God, to work for a world where Daniel Pierce and all LGBTQ youth have safe and loving homes, and where scripture is invoked to heal our wounds and move us to seek justice for all people.
If you or someone you know is an LGBTQ youth who needs help, visit the Trevor Project at www.thetrevorproject.org.
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