Bigotry, the Bible, and why we’re quitting the kitchen

Why we're quitting the kitchen | midlife sentence

Dear Rev. Bill,

Five years ago, this summer, one of our boys made an off-hand comment about homeless people being “scary,” and I realized our privileged children needed an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the more vulnerable members of our community. We started serving dinner at your shelter on a monthly basis.

As volunteers, we have served families with young children, older couples, adolescents the same age as our own boys, and young men and women dressed in work coveralls or collared shirts. We’ve also served the folks we expected to see when we began, people who hold signs on street corners, and the gentleman in the stocking hat we pass each Sunday as he enjoys a cup of coffee in our church lobby.

We’re not demonstrably religious people, but we tend to find volunteer activities that conform to our values, which happen to align with the teachings of Christ. He’s the one, you’ll remember, who directed us to “love one another.” He also said something about “that which you’ve done to the least of these you’ve done to me.” 

There’s probably supposed to be an “onto” and a “thy” in there, but you get the point.

We’ve received far more than we’ve given in this effort. I’m almost embarrassed at my satisfaction in the hearty thank yous and well wishes and wide smiles we get as we pass trays across the counter.

With that in mind, I am sorry to say we’re done. I have recently become aware of your practice of clubbing certain members of this fragile community with your interpretation of our faith, and we won’t support that.

I have no problem with your program’s foundation in faith. I don’t take issue with the pre-meal prayer, the Christian music blaring from above the stove that makes it hard to hear the “God bless” or “hold the vegetables” from the other side of the plexiglass. I don’t mind my fellow volunteers telling me about their churches, or the program participants relaying their stories of finding Jesus.

I can also certainly understand basing an addiction recovery program on Christianity, whose ultimate representative after all, promoted grace and forgiveness and upheld as God’s primary directive the admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I can think of few better reasons to serve the community than that.

But cherry-picking tenets of the Bible to support bigotry and hate is reprehensible, and that’s exactly what you’re doing.

To come to the point, I have recently learned that you ask applicants to your recovery program to acknowledge the following statement: “Do you understand that our program holds to the biblical doctrine that only a heterosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle to God? Are you willing to adhere to this?”

Sigh. This again?

To quote the article, by KIVI’s Madeline White:

“That’s a good question for us to ask, because while they’re in the program, we’re going to expect them to adhere to that,” said Reverend Bill Roscoe, president and CEO of Boise Rescue Mission

Roscoe said he doesn’t know if they’ve ever denied someone for answering ‘no’ to that question, but he did say, “There would have to be further conversation at least. ‘What do you mean, no? You know? Do you intend to be flirting with (others) in the program and trying to set up dates?’ What does that mean, ‘no?'”

Roscoe also added that a person would not be denied entrance to the program for answering “no.”

That doesn’t matter, Reverend. We all know how this game is played. A person in the position of needing this kind of help isn’t going to challenge you on your biblical stance. They’re not going to answer “no” and then submit to your questions. They’ve been here before and will know this for what it is and quietly take their leave. I think you know that. You have to know that.

If requiring the acknowledgement of such a statement were a matter of keeping program participants safe and comfortable in a treatment setting, you might instead adopt a zero-tolerance policy for dating within the program, a ban on engaging in sexual behavior with other program participants, residents, or staff. Instead you dangle the carrot of treatment to a desperate person on the condition they deny who they are, forcing their choice between emotional/mental well-being and physical health.

That is a terrible choice to make, and to force it in the name of the Bible is a travesty.

I don’t know if you remember my contacting you last year at this time. We had been serving donated, day-old cupcakes decorated with rainbows. A member of your staff quipped “hey, we need to get rid of those, this is a Christian organization.” I remember another member of your staff, Mike (who likes to refer to my kids as his younger brothers) said “hey man, God created rainbows.”

I didn’t speak up then. I didn’t know what to say. And then I wondered, did my children notice my lack of courage?

If I’m going to be true to my faith, and true to the values with which we’ve raised them, I can’t fail to speak up at times like these.

I emailed you later, asking if this was the prevailing sentiment in your organization, if rainbows and what they represent in modern culture are somehow anathema to your way of thinking.

In your apology you said, “Our first mission is to love everyone God brings through our doors and insure that everyone can feel that love.”

Do you remember that sentiment? Do you think the best expression of God’s love is to let someone desperate and seeking help know, first and foremost, that you think she is somehow less than, even as you insist she’s worthy of love? To ask that she deny a part of who God made her, in order to seek help?

Yes, the Bible holds that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It also stipulates an unmarried woman must prove her virginity and a married woman be subordinate to her husband, it tells us to only marry within the same faith, prohibits the wearing cloth of a mixture of fabrics, or touching the skin of a dead pig, and tells us polygamy and the taking of a concubine are no big deal. Biblical tenets were long used to justify slavery.

As unsophisticated in these matters as I am, even I’m aware of the many such examples of biblical directives modern Christians elect not to follow.

I was at a retreat this weekend held on a Nazarene church camp property. The lodge was lovely and spacious, with picture windows framing the mountains. There were one or two crosses and a sign above the kitchen saying something about Christ and coffee. I didn’t find these particularly obtrusive, but then again, I’ve never felt clobbered by Christianity. But these symbols and signs made a few of my LGBTQ peers uncomfortable in that space and they said so.

They have reason for discomfort. Throughout history, Christians have used the Bible to justify the hate to which they cling–specifically the hate and fear they have for those who represent the other­­–so frequently and fervently it should be cliché by now. This couching of hate in lessons from the Bible is the construct of those I believe haven’t the right to call themselves “Christian.” At its core, it’s just plain lazy. It fails to recognize the context of text and time and culture. It ignores the nuance of translation. But more than that, it creates obstacles to those who might otherwise fully appreciate and welcome His unconditional love just as they’re meant to.

These faux Christians have been so effective in spreading their hate and fear, that those who felt even a twinge of otherness and could manage to hide it, have done so, conforming to impossible standards rather than confronting this hate and bigotry on their own.

This breaks my heart, that for so long the rest of us who could have stood by them were ignorant of their pain. We should be ashamed of this ignorance, but then acknowledge it and resolve to do better. They should no longer be alone.

Cherry picking biblical tenets to confirm your ideals about sexuality is not merely a matter of expressing a personal opinion. You are perpetuating a system that isolates and casts out some of the most vulnerable among us, including the peers of my sons. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 10 to 24-year olds, with LGBTQ youth seriously contemplating suicide at three times the rate of their heterosexual peers. I will not knowingly expose my family to a system such as yours that purports to help, but that ultimately promotes hate.

Stop using the Bible to promote hate, Reverend. God loves and welcomes us all equally. Period.

P.S. For anyone who is interested, there are those far more knowledgeable about the Bible and what it does and does not say about homosexuality than I. One is Mark Sandlin, another is Matthew Vines, whose words were a help to me as I was pulling my thoughts together on this subject.

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6 comments

  1. Thank you for taking a stand and speaking up. I didn’t understand how marginalized the LGBTQIA community could feel until I started spending time around them. Religious organizations are a big offender. ❤️

    1. Thanks for reading, Darci. I didn’t realize this either until confronted by it, but I won’t sit silently by now while I have any voice at all.

  2. Thank you,Beth, this subject needs to be addressed. It is so sad that so many professed Christians pass judgement : God made us in his image but He is the only judge.

    1. You know, I sincerely feel comforted by the thought that God doesn’t need me to judge. I’ve got too much else on my plate.

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