“I believe Jesus would. I don’t have any verse in scripture. … I believe Jesus would approve gay marriage, but that’s just my own personal belief. I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else…” —Jimmy Carter, from his interview with Huffington Post Live
I grew up in Texas as a churchgoing Baptist. I memorized Bible verses as part of my “sword drills,” went to church camp, took part in the clown ministry and even helped in the nursery.
Then I was kicked out at age seventeen for asking too many questions. My youth minister actually threw a Bible at my head and, in a less than nuanced way, invited me to move on, lest I contaminate the minds and hearts of my friends with my doubt.
Some of my questions had to do with their biblical interpretation, which was literal — and their assertion that the texts we were memorizing were the perfect, infallible Word of God, straight from the mind of the Divine to the paper on which it was written.
I had questions.
A lot of questions, actually: I wanted to know whether the English versions also were infallible, and if so, which one(s). I wanted to know why it seemed to me like there were inconsistencies, if not contradictions, in the texts. I wanted to know why we weren’t simply inborn with the wisdom we needed, rather than having to learn it. I wanted to know why it was considered OK that the books were sold for a profit, especially while there were people in the world who never had a Bible.
But maybe most important, I wanted to know why God would apparently put us in a reality in which so many of us would end up being unworthy of His (yes, of course God was a He) love and grace. After all, how could it be grace if it had strings attached? Isn’t that just favoritism?
And so I left.
And I believed I was the evil person they were afraid I was. I believed I was beyond the reach of God’s love, especially if I couldn’t simply accept everything the way I had been taught — which I knew I never could.
So for a decade or more, I knew what it felt like to be the “other,” to be on the outside of the circle of acceptance. And I think that experience was just the primer I needed to prepare me to work in a homeless facility for people with HIV/AIDS. The staff worked on-site within the residential facility, so residents would come in and out of our offices all day. We dined together, celebrated birthdays together. In a word, we became a family.
Yes, some of the residents made bad choices. Really bad choices. And believe me, they paid dearly for those choices. But not one of them — ever, in the time I was there — was beyond the reach of the love, compassion, and service of the people who worked there or the other fellow residents. So again, I asked the question, this time to myself: how could God — who supposedly was the source of all love, grace and compassion — be more withholding of these things than I was?
It occurred to me that the God of my childhood was more a byproduct of the culture in which I was raised than a real expression of the words stated in Scripture about an all-loving, radically inclusive God. So I gave this Jesus guy another look.
At every turn, I found a Jesus who reached across the lines, who went out of his way to welcome the “other,” and who stood up, even in harm’s way, to challenge systems that marginalized, oppressed, and withheld favor to change, to open up, and to reflect more beautifully the open-ended love that is fully realized within God’s kingdom.
And with that, I decided this was something to which I could commit myself. Maybe for the rest of my life, and maybe not. But at least for today.
And that was fifteen years go. God willing, one day at a time, I’ll keep doing my imperfect best to help, in my own small way, to cultivate a love that is greater than the sum total of our differences, and is far stronger than the efforts of our shortcomings to break us and ourselves apart. That’s a gospel I can embrace. That's a gospel to which life seems worth committing.