Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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|A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation||
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
The Pulse of Love and Anger
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:Genesis 19:1-13
When did your heart break this week: last Sunday before worship when you heard the story coming from Orlando, Sunday afternoon when you heard more of what was true, but so hard to comprehend? My heart broke when I saw a picture of two beautiful young men, full of life. They were leaping in a spray of water with their arms raised in joy, and the caption said, “Massacred”. They were Juan and Drew and until last Sunday, their families were anticipating their wedding, not their joint funerals. And then at the interfaith vigil on Wednesday night, my heart broke again as the names of the dead were read and I heard, “Brenda McCool, the 49-year-old mother of 11 children who had survived both breast cancer and bone cancer. She was at Pulse dancing with her gay son and cousin, both of whom survived.” And again on Thursday, when I read the texts that young adults sent out from the club, saying “Mommy I love you” and “I’m going to die” and “Please send help fast.” How many times can one heart break? I don’t think I know the answer yet.
Our hearts break in response to hate and terror, our hearts break from love and anger. Phyllis Trible is a feminist scholar and theologian. She wrote a very important book in the 1980’s called Texts of Terror. In that book, she looked at 4 Bible stories which were terrorizing to women. The story I want to read now is not among her texts of terror, but it has become one for many gay and lesbian people. So, before I read it, I invite you to hear this story as if you have never heard it before. I cannot say that this is a safe space, because the Holy Spirit is present and the Spirit is not always safe, but this is a loving space. I invite you to hear this story with the trust and confidence that I will not use it to terrorize you.
This is the story, from Genesis 19:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
What happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an act of evil and violence against gay and lesbian people. It was so horrifying and obvious that even the folks who would like to ignore it for political reasons cannot sweep it under the rug. It was awful and blatant, but unfortunately, is it just the most recent event in a very, very long pattern of violence against lesbian and gay people. The reality is that Christian people have often carried out that violence – both literally and by providing the theological justification for other people’s violent acts. This story from Genesis has been corrupted to support that theology, which does violence to people made in God’s image and also does violence to the text itself.
In the previous chapter of Genesis, it says that God has heard the outcry against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, an outcry about how serious their sin is, serious enough that God has decided to destroy them. That sin is never identified in this story. But there are several other places in the Bible that refer back to Sodom. In Isaiah, the reference is used to talk about injustice. In Jeremiah, the context is adultery and lying and undefined wickedness. In Ezekiel, it is pride, excessive food and indifference to the poor. And when Jesus speaks of Sodom, it is after his own disciples have been mistreated and rejected, just like the angels on their visit to Sodom. The Bible itself never names the sin of Sodom as homosexuality, and yet that is the most common interpretation of it.
There were two men, who we understand to be angels, who came to the city of Sodom. Lot, Abraham’s nephew provided hospitality for them. They were going to spend the night in the open, in the city square, but Lot insisted that they become his house guests. Every man in the city surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the strangers come out. What they had in mind was not sex, but gang rape. That is the clearest possible reading of the text.
Rape is not an act of passion, but of violence and dominance. The men of Sodom are not gay. They are evil—violating the most basic rules of their time about hospitality towards outsiders, taking advantage of the vulnerability of strangers. Notice that when Lot tries to stop them, they say “Who does he think he is? He is a foreigner, an alien, an immigrant and now he is going to tell us what to do?” And so they turn their hatred and lust for power towards him.
We could deduce that the sin of Sodom is inhospitality. We could deduce that the sin of Sodom is xenophobia – the fear and hatred of outsiders, foreigners, those who are different. I would even argue that the sin of Sodom might be its propensity towards violence. I say that because when the men surround him, he offers them his daughters. His own daughters! And I wonder if Lot has lived in Sodom so long that he has become accustomed to their violence – so unfazed by it and dulled to its horrors that it seems a reasonable solution to offer his daughters.
The violence threatened against Lot and the angels confirms the outcries against Sodom that God had heard earlier and for this, the story says, Sodom is destroyed. For hundreds of years now, Christians and others have been using that story to justify the exclusion of those deemed to be outsiders, namely anyone who wasn’t heterosexual. Do you see the outrageous irony? A story that should have taught about God’s desire for welcome and care for the other, that very story has been cited to enact violence against those perceived as different or outsiders.
We are a Welcoming and Affirming church. This is truly a place of inclusion and welcome for all people, regardless of any label about sexual identity or race or gender or theological position or immigration status or any other category which might divide us. In this place, all are welcome and all really and truly means all.
So why would I read this story here? I started with this story, because I am troubled by the way it has been used and wanted to speak clearly against that use. I also started with it because I keep thinking about Lot. I keep thinking that he was willing to hand over his daughters to that evil. Why? Because he was afraid? Because he wanted to protect himself? Because he thought that the bullies were going to get what they wanted and it was easier just to go along with them? Because he was so accustomed to the violence around him that he could no longer see when he was participating in it?
And there it is – the word of conviction for me. What is the violence around me to which I have become numb? How do I contribute to the violent speech and action that happens every day?
“The average daily rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is nearly twice the body bag count from the Pulse nightclub. If you define a “mass shooting” as involving four or more casualties in a single event, we now average more than one per day in the U.S.”
That is the level of violence we now consider normal. We may shake our heads, lower the flags, and light candles, but we are no longer surprised or outraged.
Gun violence is perhaps the most obvious kind of violence. Maybe it just reflects the logical end point of all the other violence in our culture.
The violence directed at LGBTQ people for example. The name-calling, taunts and social isolation that happens in child-hood. The physical persecution and in many places still, the legal discrimination. The violence done to people’s souls when they are indoctrinated with the idea that even God rejects them.
The less visible violence that happens in churches. Consider the experience of Pat Long, a long-time deacon at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. Pullen has been Welcoming and Affirming since the early 1990’s, but Pat was a member there for years before that. She was in a committed relationship with another woman who was also a member of that church, but no one knew. When the other woman died, Pat’s grief was intensified by loneliness. She said, “No one knew that we were more than friends. No one knew the size of the hole in my life where she had been. This is what living with secrets does to people.”
Maybe that breaks your heart. Maybe it makes you angry. The pulse of love and anger – both can be faithful responses.
One American Baptist minister was angry this week. On Tuesday he wrote:
“Over the last 48 hours I’ve come to know that I am fully and finally done accommodating religious hatred towards queer lives — whether from foaming mouthed extremists from any religious tradition, or polite, “respectable” religious denominations with which I most closely identify. I’m done. It’s over.
How utterly pathetic that it took 49 lives slaughtered for me to pack up my “thank you for your point of view on why queer lives are not fully human” table and close shop.
For too long I have tolerated “Setting a big tent” and “Allowing many points of view” and “Dialogue” when talking about LGBT people as if our lives are up for debate and as if the jury is still out on our humanity, our dignity, or our being made beautifully in God’s image. . . . There is no more debate on queer lives. I will love and be loved and my love is not a question mark in your canon. I will not debate at your annual gathering. There is either death, or life. I will choose life. I will give life. Everlasting.”
The man who wrote those words is the Rev. Paul Raushenbush. You might recognize that name. His great-grandfather was also a Baptist minister, the Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch who pastored a church of German immigrants in Hell’s Kitchen in the mid 1800’s. Paul comes from a family that has loved and served the church for generations, as he himself has done. He is right to be angry. My heart broke again when I read these words because he is one of us. He is a son of the church, of our church. And the church has not protected him, not honored him, but has left him wounded.
He is angry and yet, he is faithful. Last Sunday afternoon, on the day of the massacre, he wrote these words:
How hard it is to follow the mandate of love today, how corrosive and tempting the call of fear and hate and revenge. But on this day, as hard as it is, I will cling to the mandate to love because I have no other choice. I will trust, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that love has a redemptive power. I will love because Jesus tells me to love my enemies
It will not bring the pulse back to the lives of those who have died. But I will love so that I might resuscitate the pulse of our country. I will love as an act of defiance as a queer man, that we will not be silenced. I will love in honor of all those throughout history who have loved and felt silenced and alone. I will love my Muslim neighbors who feel vulnerable, I will love those who would do my friends and neighbors harm. I will love until my own pulse stops, with the prayer that my love might be more powerful than death.
Paul’s words about the mandate of love remind me that a year ago this week, there was another massacre. Nine people were gunned down at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during Wednesday night Bible study. That congregation felt all that we are feeling and much more intensely, but just 4 days later, on Sunday, people filled the church and proclaimed their commitment to compassion and forgiveness. And the next Wednesday night, they did what they’d always done on Wednesday night. They held a Bible study and welcomed anyone who was interested. This time, about 150 people of different races, faiths and backgrounds committed themselves to the Spirit of radical welcome, in the same room where nine people had died.
Expansive welcome, radical inclusion, even of those who are so different from us, and even of those who hate us. No, it is not safe. It got Jesus killed. But it is what we do. It is who we are – the Body of Christ, . . . the heart of Christ, . . . with a heartbeat . . . and a pulse.
Please God, let this be so.
 Mahan Siler, Exile or Embrace? Congregations Discerning Their Response to Lesbian and Gay Christians, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2005). p. 74