Where does the gospel begin? That old story of darkness made light, the broken made whole? When does it start?
This is a gospel I have heard: In the beginning, God breathed himself into the dirt, forming Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden to be a glorious, living metaphor of God and the Church … and then, too, eventually, maybe on the eighth day, or the ninth, he made Steve, cast out of Eden from the day he was created, to be a pitiful symbol of the sinful world, whose only options are to live in lonely devotion or carnal rebellion. He made his beloved children, and then he made the unworthy ones, a ghastly afterbirth.
That is not a gospel I can believe in.
But it’s the one we’re hearing this week, isn’t it? It’s the one we’ve been hearing a long, long time. It’s one I used to relish myself, though my conscience slowly pushed and tugged at me, making me look into the individual faces of these people, where I found not the foreign expressions of otherness, but the familiarity of sisters and brothers, of dear sinners and saints like any others. And so this twisted story grieves me; more and more, it grieves me.
I know your reasons for believing it, if you do. I know the verses, all six or seven of them. I know your hermeneutics and your logic. I know the systematic theology. I know the fear, too, the history lesson you teach, that so many great civilizations have been destroyed when the people embraced homosexuality. I know if you lose Godly Biblical Marriage as you interpret it, the system crumbles, and then the empire crumbles. This is not just sound doctrine to you, it is national defense. You are protecting both the Church from corruption and the United States, maybe the whole world, from God’s impending wrath.
That is not an Armageddon I can believe in.
This god who makes some of his children gay then punishes them, along with a whole nation for not keeping their orientation illegal, for not denying or suppressing their existence, for not refusing to bake that stupid cake?
That is not a god I can believe in.
That’s not something I want to write publicly, because I know many people who cherish this theological system and find God there. And those people aren’t wholly evil monsters, though some of them can be hateful (and aren’t we all, in our ways? don’t we all tell single stories about those who disagree with us? don’t we all get myopic and vitriolic? don’t we all act apathetically and unjustly?). But I cannot excuse a system that is built partially on oppression, that allows for bigotry, that denies what God has called good. I cannot embrace an institution, a church that considers itself some new, untarnished Eden, assigns itself to be an angel at the gates, cutting off anyone it deems too dirty for fellowship or redemption.
Sisters, brothers, you who have been cast out or trampled on– this is not fair, and this is not right. But we see you, and are angry and heartbroken with you. God sees you, too, and he grieves much more than I.
Here is where the gospel begins, where it must begin: In the beginning, God formed us all in his image, all cherished, all so fiercely beloved in our diversity and splendor that when we fell, he became God with us, he walked and wept with us, and he welcomes us — every one of us — into his kingdom. And here, he delights in you, daughter. He delights in you, son.
That is a story I can believe.
“The Garden of Eden” by Thomas Cole.