Did Jesus Really Never Say Anything About Homosexuality?

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/

In the realm of biblical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, I’ve always found one — “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” — to be particularly weak.

After all, Jesus also never said anything about rape, molestation, bestiality, torture, cyber-bullying, insurance fraud or elaborate pagan rituals involving self-mutilation and child sacrifice. That does not, by default, earn any of those things the Lord’s unconditional seal of approval.

What’s more, I’m not sure if the argument’s underlying premise is even true. Because, in the Gospels, Christ may indeed have failed to specifically broach the topic currently preoccupying the American Evangelical church, but he did address the subject, in a manner of speaking, in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.

In those two brief, but pivotal, passages of scripture, Jesus captures the essence of the Christian ethic, mission, calling and faith in an incredibly simple and beautiful way. And he did so, interestingly, not as a standalone teaching, but in answer to a question from his critics.

It starts when a group of Pharisees, taking the tag from the Sadducees — who had been silenced in the previous back-and-forth — descend on Jesus, with the goal of ripping open a can of good, old-fashioned pwnage, first-century style.

The Birth of Jesus Is Not a Sweet Story

Photo via udra11 /

Photo via udra11 /

I had just started as pastor of a large church when a key leader took me aside and said I was free to preach about anything I wanted, except homosexuality.

He didn’t want to hear any sermons addressing the issue then dominating many conversations among Christians. Keep the topic in the closet.

Sixteen years before, in a town once governed by the Klan, a leader told me not to preach about race. Too many people remembered signs saying, “Negroes must be out of town by sundown.”

Many clergy have been told, in terms ranging from kindly counsel to peremptory demand, to “keep politics out of the pulpit.”

Many a mainline pastor will attest: The one topic that Jesus addressed more than any other — wealth and power — was declared off-limits in congregations that hoped to attract wealthy constituents and their budget-saving pledges.

Many churches gave up their ethical voice in exchange for money, the very trade Jesus warned us against. The issue wasn’t partisan campaigning or endorsing specific candidates — a clear violation — but any mention at all of race, sexuality, warfare or economic injustice.

As a reader recently wrote me: “I hear enough about blacks on TV.”

So it is that Christmas becomes a sweet story and a centerpiece for family love. 

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

ORTHODOXY AND orthopraxy—strange theological words from Sojourners’ past.  But I was recently thinking back to the theology with which Sojourners began—43 years ago—and how it is still so central and fundamental to me today.

I remember the word that we so often used back in our formative days: “and.” As young Christians, we said our fledgling little movement was committed to evangelism and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, spirituality and politics, personal and public transformation, contemplation and activism, real salvation and real social change, orthodoxy and orthopraxy—which means starting with a biblical and Christ-centered personal faith and then living and practicing that faith in the world—in ways that changed both our own lives and public life. “And” was our big word in a church that was so divided and polarized. Another way we expressed it was calling for a “third way” beyond conservative and liberal, evangelical and mainline.

I want to refer back to some of the earliest expressions of our critique of both the conservative and liberal theologies of the time. Please forgive some of the passionate and movement language from the later 1960s and early ’70s (and the generic “male” language), but this was written when I was 23, in 1971! Yet the heart of the editorial commitment expressed so long ago remains true of Sojourners today:

We contend that the new vision that is necessary is to be found in radical Christian faith that is grounded in commitment to Jesus Christ. ... The offense of established religion is the proclamation and practice of a caricature of Christianity so enculturated, domesticated, and lifeless that our generation easily and naturally rejects it as ethically insensitive, hypocritical, and irrelevant to the needs of our times.

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 Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/

Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/

After the monsoon, after work, I catch   
you with your face in the hot laundry,
the syntax of spring held together by sap,
hanging wild and worried and crazy
in the lowest branch. In the ripe country,
salmon fold over the linens of the bay,
and I weep with you from the shore, embodied.
For still you feel the fell of dark, not day.

Weekly Wrap 11.7.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. GoldieBlox Releases Action Figure for Girls
“Fashion dolls teach girls to value beauty over brains. One is sold every 3 seconds.” That’s how the ad releasing a new action figure for girls opens. Looks like Barbie and Bratz dolls have some competition.

2. On the 25th Anniversary, Stunning Before and After Photos of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. These photographs capture how life has changed in the past quarter century.

3. Gerrymandering Rigged the 2014 Election
“There are a lot of structural issues that influence congressional elections, from voter ID requirements to early voting access. But what does it matter if you’ve been packed into a district in which your vote can’t change the composition of Congress?”

4. Victoria’s Secret Got the Memo, Changed ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign
This isn’t the first time Victoria’s Secret got a marketing campaign tagline a little twisted (ahem, remember ‘Bright Young Things?’) But this time, they seem to have gotten the message — from the nearly 30,000 people who signed an online petition or tweeted #iamperfect to the lingerie brand.

How Would Jesus Vote?

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE CRUCIAL midterm elections less than a fortnight past, many Americans are wondering what “fortnight” means, because it sounds really cool on Downton Abbey. Well, it means two weeks, and that’s hardly enough time to develop the regret appropriate to the choices you made at the polls.

But why wait for that inevitable sinking feeling about your latest destructive act against democracy? Let’s get a jump start on your anxiety by reading through a recent poll asking Americans how Jesus would weigh in on issues of the day.

Let the disappointment begin.

As a devout Christian—you can put down your American flag, we know who you are—you regularly ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” And who better to advise you than Jesus himself, or the best representation of God’s son that modern technology can provide: the telephone survey.

You know, that thing that happens when you’ve just sat down to eat dinner after already getting up twice, once for the cracked pepper you forgot and again to replace the bent fork that you always seem to end up with. Then you finally start to say grace AND THE DARN PHONE RINGS!! (Jesus calls us to follow him. The survey guy calls us at dinner time.)

This particular survey was conducted by YouGov, one of those preposterous internet names that are slowly eroding the English language and corrupting the speech of our young people. Kids these days can’t seem to use regular words when communicating, much less registering emotion. Instead of expressing the tried and true “criminitly!” when frustrated, they default to “omg,” which I won’t translate. This is a religious magazine, after all, and using lower case letters when you take the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t let you off the hook. Another of their favorites is “wtf,” but that one’s okay since it means “why the frown.” Right? But I digress.

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To the Millennia and Beyond!

I CONFESS THAT I DO NOT often use the Revised Common Lectionary. As a Bible professor, I prefer to read texts in their larger literary and historical contexts. When a brief reading from one time period is lifted out of its context and juxtaposed with another written many centuries later, it can feel like an invisible hand is forcing me to compare apples and oranges—or even apples and mushrooms.

Nevertheless, I have been enriched by this year’s readings for Advent and Christmas. My “larger historical context” has become the sweep of a thousand years of Israelite history, from King David to the birth of the “son of David.”

For Christians, the coming of Jesus was a singularity. Though we focus on his birth in this season, that lower-class event was barely noticed at the time, and it is not mentioned by two of our gospel writers. It is his entire life, ministry, death, and resurrection that echoes throughout the ages and ushers in our hope of salvation. Our prophets and psalmists from the Hebrew Bible could not foresee details of the Christ-event from their perspectives centuries earlier. Yet their intuitions and hints and poetic expressions of joy over God’s in-breaking from their times are now borrowed to give voice to our exultation over Jesus’ coming today.

In a culture measured by quarterly profits and immediate gratification by credit card, we need a longer view to better understand what God is doing throughout human history. These Advent readings call us beyond the present to the millennia of the past and the hope of the future stretching to eternity.

Reta Halteman Finger, co-author of Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, taught Bible at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and writes a Bible study blog at

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Still Looking for a Costume?

Image courtesy Joe Kay

Image courtesy Joe Kay

I was browsing an elaborate Halloween store and came across an aisle of religious-oriented costumes. There were the usual ones: nun, rabbi, priest. And one I’d never seen before.

Yes, you can go Trick-or-Treating as Jesus this year. There is a Jesus costume.

What do you think about that?

I’m guessing some people will feel offended; I understand and respect where they’re coming from. Others would see it as harmless and find some humor in it. (Hey, see the guy in the Jesus costume? He gave treats to the whole neighborhood using only two Swedish Fish.)

I had a feeling there was material for a blog in all of this somewhere, so I took a photo, filed the idea in the back of my brain, and moved on to inspect the rubber rats and flying bats that are more my style.

Eventually, a thought worked its way into the front of my brain:

Why shouldn’t someone wear a Jesus costume?

The Christ of Compton

JESUS RETURNED this past August. Or at least a new depiction of him appeared on late-night cable television, in the comedy Black Jesus, created by Aaron McGruder (of The Boondocks). There was no rapture, and no subsequent tribulation, beyond what passes for normal these days. Instead Jesus appeared, as he did in Palestine, in a manner both obscure and mysterious. And, again, his incarnation became a scandal among some of the powerful and pious.

In Black Jesus, on the Adult Swim network, the second person of the Trinity turns up one day on the streets of Compton, a very poor and heavily African-American community in southern Los Angeles County. Played by a tall and beefy Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Jesus walks the streets in his first century robe and sandals, but with his hair in a Tina Turner perm. Aside from the eccentric get-up, this Jesus fits right into his surroundings. He has no cash, and no place to lay his head. But that goes for plenty of Comptonites. He enjoys malt liquor and marijuana, just as much as he did good wine back in the day at Cana. He’s still preaching and practicing unconditional love, forgiveness, nonviolence, and service to all, but his street talk averages about 1.5 bleeps per sentence.

There’s plenty that’s problematic about Slink Johnson’s character. For one thing, I can’t imagine the Jesus I know using the disrespectful canine term for women so freely or being quite so nonjudgmental about the marijuana trade. But neither does this depiction approach “blasphemy,” which is what the American Family Association called it. The Catholic League, which often leads the charge against perceived offenses to the faith, got it about right when it said, “The Jesus character in this show is a mixed bag: He is irreverent and can be downright crude, but he also has many redeeming qualities.”

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Barbie as the Virgin Mary? Ken as Jesus? Italian Catholics Are Not Amused

“Barbie” and “Ken” figurines on display in Berlin. Photo courtesy of 360b via Shutterstock/RNS.

Barbie has had a number of careers in her 55 years — flight attendant, veterinarian, astronaut, even president. Her latest role, however, is raising eyebrows.

Italy’s Catholic bishops are furious about controversial artistic depictions of the popular Barbie and Ken dolls as the Virgin Mary and a crucified Jesus Christ and other saints.

Two Argentinian artists, Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini, produced 33 dolls of various religious figures for a show named “Barbie, The Plastic Religion,” which opens in Buenos Aires on Oct. 11.

SIR, an Italian website backed by the Italian bishops conference, denounced the controversial toys in an editorial, which asks: ” What is the difference between provocation and bad taste?”