Category Archives: Religion

Love Unconditionally

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Believers are to be the embodiment of God’s love here on Earth. God desires we extend love to every person, no matter their background. We are to love each others because God loves us. We must show unconditional love today and every day.

All too often people only love conditionally. Some people are stingy with their love and they only claim to love us if we follow their rules. The problem is that their rules are not always God’s rules. By putting demands on others before giving your love is not following God’s rules. God wants us to love unconditionally. If conditions are put on love, then it is not love. If someone tell you they can’t love you if you’re gay, then they will never love you and never have.

The Greatest Commandment is found in the New Testament to describe the first of two commandments cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

and in Mark 12:28-34:

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But after that no one dared question Him.

Most Christian denominations consider these two commandments to be the core of correct Christian lifestyle. However, many of those denominations put conditions on their love. Some churches don’t allow gay people to be members of their congregation and other preach hatred for those who do not conform to their narrow twisted beliefs. Matthew 23 addresses this issue when Jesus calls out the scribes and the Pharisees, which is summed up in verse 14 of that chapter:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

The Great Commandment that Jesus quoted is derived from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” It is also in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

I’ve always had a hard time understanding how people who call themselves Christians can put conditions on love and even claim that They are doing so because God commands them to put conditions on love, when the opposite is true. God forbids us from putting conditions on love. He commands for us to love unconditionally. There are no exceptions; there are no caveats. God commands us simply to “love one another.”


Spreading the Word

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

—2 Timothy 2:2

Jesus taught that false Christs, false prophets, and ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing would arise and mislead many. We see this today in evangelical Christians who teach hatred instead of love. The same was true while Paul was alive. Many false teachers had already infiltrated the church, with the explicit intent to destroy Christianity and Church-age doctrine. They wanted to create a version of Christianity that suited their wants and needs and not God’s. We still have people who manipulate believers to see that their teachings and their political views are the only valid ones, even when their teachings go against everything Christ taught.

Christianity is under siege from within. The relentless attacks on Christ-driven teachings, against which Paul and others taught so earnestly, continues to flourish to this day, but has fractured into a multiplicity false and unbiblical teachings. It was for this reason that Paul spent so much time writing his epistles and correcting the many false doctrines and corrupt teachings that were seen in the early church. Sadly , it’s often mistranslation of Paul’s epistles that are used to condemn the LGBTQ+ community.

The way to counter any false doctrine is to know the truth, which is recorded in the word of God. This is why Paul and the other apostles laboured to share the truth of the glorious gospel of Christ, to share the whole council of God, to teach sound doctrine, and encourage the daily study of Scripture – so that we may be perfect and mature in the faith, wanting nothing.

In his last known epistle, Paul writes to encourage Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and to serve Him faithfully. Paul not only wrote to strengthen and encourage young Timothy, but to spiritually hearten and motivate many others believers to hold fast to the truth of the gospel of grace, and to faithfully preach the unchangeable Word of God, in season and out of season.

Paul’s message never altered, but his love for the Lord and his passion to share the good news of the gospel of God gathered momentum and intensity throughout his ministry. He knew his life was shortly to end, when he wrote this letter to Timothy. Paul, who laboured more abundantly than anyone to bring us the gospel message, was left alone near the end of his life. Towards the end, everyone had deserted him.

Nevertheless, he wrote to Timothy: And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. We are blessed to be children of God because Paul, Timothy, many witness, faithful men and women, and others have shared the Good News.

Despite the many false Christs, false prophets, ravenous wolves, and relentless attacks by the enemy on the Christian Church, the pure gospel of grace has reached our ears – for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. We heard the Good News, because the gospel was passed on from Paul through many witness, faithful men and women, and others – and is recorded for our learning in the holy Scriptures.

Mentoring and discipling doesn’t mean we have to have our life together in order to take part in tsp reading the Message. It’s coming alongside someone and sharing a wee bit of our wisdom gained over the years. Quite possibly, just our presence alone of consistent connection builds up another and keeps our spirits high through the difficult times. Is there someone in your life that you are consistently pouring into and passing along these truths?


Call to Liberty

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

—Galatians 5:13

Today is the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Churches across America will likely sing “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The songbook from my church did not have the “patriotic songs” section found in the Baptists, Methodist, or Presbyterian hymnals of my youth, so we never sang these songs in my church. We only sang very traditional hymns, like “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace,” etc. Nothing adorned the knotty pine walls of the small church I grew up in. The only decoration in the church was a side table with a large Bible on a lower shelf and a vase of flowers on top. Two very plain simple cane bottomed deacon chairs sat behind the pulpit. It was the only church I knew with such simple décor. The Southern Baptist church where I was forced to attend vacation Bible school every summer was far more elaborate. Behind the pulpit stood the Christian flag and the American flag. The same was true of the Presbyterian church where I had piano recitals and the Pentecostal church my best friend attended. 

Politics or patriotism rarely made an appearance in my church, but it did in many other churches across the country. In many churches, patriotism and religion have been interwoven into their theology. These churches believe in a Christian faithfulness where God desires America to do great, to be great, has ordained America to be at the top, and that America has been baptized by the Church. While this is not something I was taught or ever believed, it’s unrealistic for us not to realize that in the United States, Christianity and patriotism are seemingly inextricably woven together. As the world changes and equality and acceptance grows, the United States will no longer be able to claim (whether it was ever true or not) that America is a beacon of freedom, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” If we do not either follow the ethical tenets of most religions, including the teachings of Christ or throw off the chains of the uniquely American version of Christianity, then America will fall further and further behind the quest for human rights for all.

Even though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” religion has been intricately laced in with American history. In 1630, the first ships of the Great Puritan Migration sailed to the New World, led by John Winthrop. During the crossing, Winthrop preached a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” He told his followers that they had entered a covenant with God according to which he would cause them to prosper if they maintained their commitment to God. In doing so, their new colony would become a “City upon a Hill,” meaning that they would be a model to all the nations of Europe as to what a properly reformed Christian commonwealth should look like. Since then, politicians have used the “city upon a hill” analogy for political purposes to push for American exceptionalism.

“A Model of Christian Charity” serves as an important text in United States history, conveying the optimistic, confident, community-focused mindset in which the New England colonies were founded. Perry Miller, a historian considered one of the founders of American Studies, wrote that the sermon “stands at the beginning of [the] consciousness” of the American mind. Several figures in U.S. politics—beginning as early as John Adams—have referenced this text in public speeches when trying to convey themes of unity and idealism, most often citing the symbol of “a city upon a hill.” In his 1980 Election Eve speech, Ronald Reagan asserted his belief that “Americans…are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining city on a hill, as were those long-ago settlers.” More recently, public figures have utilized the sermon to argue how far the United States has strayed from its values. In his blistering critique of the then-presidential candidate and future twice impeached and disgraced former president, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney posited that “[Hair Führer’s] personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.” The disgraced former president tried his hardest to destroy the United States, ironically, with the help of American evangelicals.

However, most politicians do not pay attention to the rest of Winthrop’s sermon. They focus on the “city upon a hill,” but not on the rest of the message. Winthrop used logical reasoning combined with a sympathetic nature to make his point to the new Puritan settlers. To remove this work’s central arguments about love and relationships is to lose the sense of the whole completely. The Governor laid out his argument for charity and decent human behavior in the community. While exceptionalism was one of the sermon’s themes, Winthrop explained how God chose the few people on the boats to go to America to carry out their mission. He also mentioned how the rest of the world would watch them. This is the part that politicians have always latched onto, but they often ignore the other main points of the sermon. Winthrop believed that charity, giving to others who need help—not only the poor but also the community—would make the new lands the “city upon a hill” in his view of exceptionalism. Winthrop also believed that communalism reflected the Puritan ideals of “love, unity, and charity.” He mentioned that people have different things to offer each other, and this induced a need for each other, helping the community. He also said that different types of people were on the ship during the sermon but had the same goal of serving God. This was also represented by people being different parts of one body. Through his use of language connected to women’s work, such as “knit,” Winthrop suggests the importance of women in holding the community together. It’s amazing how much is forgotten by the politicians who use a small part of the sermon for their purposes.

Many patriotic evangelical Christians use the Bible to defend their ideas that God is pro-government (or, more specifically, He favors their preferred brand of government). They often use Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It’s a radical statement publicly declaring that Caesar and Rome weren’t God. Most Roman emperors advocated the belief that they were gods and should be worshiped. In this passage, Jesus is warning us to avoid such thinking.

Romans 13:1 is also often used by people to defend their political allegiances: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. But these texts have a significant caveat, where the authors presuppose that this “submitting” is coinciding—and never contradicting—the supreme call to love God and love others. This becomes obvious when looking at other passages that explicitly say so, such as Matthew 22: 36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Christians using Romans 13 as a defense to support various political viewpoints at the expense of loving others are also ignoring the words of Peter in Acts 5:29 when he tells the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” and the teachings of Jesus himself when he proclaimed in Matthew 6:24, “no one can serve two masters.” Separating patriotism and Christianity is difficult for many modern American Christians to comprehend because they often incorporate nationalism and patriotism into much of their religious expression and even their faith. Churches celebrating the Fourth of July by adorning their sanctuaries with American flags and incorporating America and American nationalism into songs of worship would have been alarming and even considered blasphemous for the very first followers of Jesus.

The challenge for Christians is to simultaneously honor the virtues of sacrifice, service, and freedom without idolizing American exceptionalism and Christian nationalism, celebrating bravery without romanticizing violence, and realizing that our salvation comes from the sacrifices of Jesus and not the wars of men. For those raised in churches that interwove Christianity with patriotism, it may not seem a big deal that our country’s flag stands alongside a pastor onstage but try to imagine the apostle Paul and the earliest churches pledging their allegiance to Caesar and the conquering legions who were slaughtering anybody who stood in their way. As citizens of the United States, we’re trying to follow Christ within a similar context as the earliest Christians—living within a powerful empire and susceptible to state-sponsored religion, where it’s socially, politically, and economically advantageous to adhere to certain political beliefs and leaders—even to the point of becoming a pseudo-theocracy.

Unfortunately, Christians have been historically gullible to nationalistic “Christianity.” They often treat our faith as a civic religion to establish a voting bloc and create enough influence to legislate laws, gain wealth, and consolidate power rather than sacrificially serve and love others. The American version of Christianity often perverts the life and mission of Jesus because instead of forgiving enemies, the state spends billions of dollars to kill them, instead of caring for the poor, we villainize them, instead of accepting the foreigner we ban them, and instead of helping the oppressed we further alienate them. While it’s clearly possible to be both an American and a Christian, we must realize that the goals of our country’s government and those of Christ are rarely the same and often directly contradict each other, especially under Republican administrations.

Many right-wing politicians and evangelicals Christians are terrified of the phrase “separation of church and state.” The problem with the comingling of church and state is that only one brand of religion gets instituted for all people in the country. In America, it is often the perverted version of American Christianity that tries to legislate our morals and bodies. Suppose American Christianity had latched onto the charity, communalism, and unity in Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” instead of American exceptionalism. In that case, the link between religion and politics might not be so bad, and that’s why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Founding Fathers knew that when it came to church and state if you gave an inch, religious leaders would take a mile. There had to be a clear separation of church and state.

Two hundred forty-five years ago today, fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress put their signature to the following words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

What Is Our Authentic Self?

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

— Exodus 20:16

I was trying to come up with an LGBTQ+ Pride topic for this week’s Sunday post. I decided to write about being our “authentic self.” Isn’t that a large part of coming out? We want to be true to ourselves and to stop lying to others about who we really are. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” is the ninth commandment (the designation varies between religions) of the Ten Commandments. According to the New Testament, Jesus explains that obedience to the prohibition against false testimony from the ten commandments is a requirement for eternal life. According to Jesus, false testimony comes from the sinful desires of the heart and makes people unclean.

However, when I googled “the bible and authentic self” most articles are about how Christians should resist being their authentic selves. One piece said, “To those who are of the world, ‘be yourself’ means speak your mind, don’t hold anything back, love yourself more than anyone else, and openly reject anyone you just don’t like. The advice to ‘be yourself’ can quickly turn into an excuse to be unfriendly and overly blunt.” The problem with this is that this statement is only valid if you are a terrible person. “Love yourself more than anyone else, and openly reject anyone you just don’t like.” While that sounds like a lot of Christians I know today who reject those who aren’t like themselves, it is certainly not in the spirit of the Bible. Another article Sue Bohlin, a speaker/writer and “webmistress” for Probe Ministries, lays out precisely why so many Christians fear authenticity, “In today’s culture, coming out and admitting you’re gay is applauded as ‘being authentic.’ Claiming you are a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa, is ‘being authentic.’ But refusing to accept such labels means you’re inauthentic.” The Bohlin goes on to say:

More and more Christians are throwing in the towel in their fight against unholy sexual and relational temptations, claiming to follow their “authentic self.” Even worse, a growing number of churches are doing something similar by embracing same-sex marriage. I have a question for them. If God really created them to be gay and blesses that identity today, what will happen a hundred years from today? Will there be homosexuality in heaven? There will be no sex in heaven because the only marriage will be between the Church and the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. If one’s identity is wrapped up in same-sex attractions, as it is by those claiming to be “gay Christians,” who will they be when all sexual and relational brokenness is a thing of the past, a mere memory of earthly life?

I suggest that a believer’s true and real and lasting “authentic self” is all wrapped up in not who we say we are, but who God says we are: His beloved child, redeemed and purified and made holy as He is holy. Chosen, accepted, and included a citizen of heaven and a member of God’s household. Belonging to Jesus because He bought us with His very lifeblood. Sealed with the Spirit, made brand new from the inside out.

There is a MAJOR flaw to her argument. When she says, “A believer’s true and real and lasting “authentic self” is all wrapped up in not who we say we are, but who God says we are,” is her fatal flaw. Our authentic self is who God says we are. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image.” John 1:3 says, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” God made us. He made us in his image. Therefore, if we are gay, God is also gay. God is also straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, etc. He represents all things because he created everything; therefore, he is every part of every aspect of the spectrum of sexuality.

The most significant issue is that most Christians are closed-minded and narrowly focused on their beliefs. They pick and choose what Bible verses they want to follow and ignore those inconvenient for them. For example, they condemn LGBTQ+ people, but they do not condemn divorce of which Jesus does condemn in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, what is most curious is that if homosexuality was so wrong (an abomination), why did Jesus never mention it, not even once? Furthermore, LGBTQ+ issues are not discussed anywhere by any of the New Testament authors. Yes, there is a verse that is often misinterpreted in Leviticus to condemn homosexuality, but if Christians follow that one verse from Leviticus, then shouldn’t they also follow all of the other prohibitions from Leviticus?

Leviticus 18:22 prohibits male same-sex intercourse, and Leviticus 20:13 prescribes the death penalty for violators. But Christians have never lived under the Old Testament law. The Old Testament contains 613 commandments for God’s people to follow. Leviticus includes rules about offerings, clean and unclean foods, diseases, bodily discharges, sexual taboos, and priestly conduct. But the New Testament teaches that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the law, which is why its many rules and regulations have never applied to Christians. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” Hebrews 8:13 says, “In that he saith, A new covenant [New Testament/Jesus’s Teachings]*, he hath made the first old [Old Testament/Laws of Moses]*. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”

Even greater than cherry-picking verses from the Bible, many heterosexual Christians often still claim that sexuality is a choice. Because of their close-mindedness, they cannot understand that LGBTQ+ individuals are born this way. They were created by God in his image, in all the various degrees of sexuality. They are often so small-minded that they cannot imagine being born anyway other than cisgender heterosexuals. They do not want to open their minds to God’s true words because then they may have to look at themselves and see their own flaws. The only choice we have about our sexuality is whether or not we choose to be our authentic selves the way God created us.

As members of the LGBTQ+ community, so many of us for so long have been taught to be ashamed of who we are because we do not fit the predominant image and standard profile of acceptable persons. We have been taught to look at ourselves through lenses that cannot see our true beauty and essence as citizens in society, as people of God, and as children of the greater universe. When we look at ourselves, we must try as best we can to see everything there, but this is sometimes hard to do without a genuine desire to take a hard look and see what’s there, to view ourselves clearly, squarely, and freely. The beauty and goodness of what we see sometimes give way to the not so beautiful things that we see, say, and do. We must cast aside all fear in taking that honest look if we are to grow into a greater awareness of who we really are and what we can ultimately become as genuine persons of promise and value. 

*Added for clarification.


Legalized Religious Discrimination

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:28

On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that religion supersedes the law, at least regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices voted nine to zero to allow a Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The adoption agency sued after the city refused to refer cases to the agency due to its refusal to consider LGBTQ+ foster parents. The city argued that the agency’s willful violation of local nondiscrimination law meant the agency wasn’t qualified to get city business.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” the Court ruled. “Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was signed by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch didn’t sign the majority decision, and three concurring opinions were filed. In essence, the decision creates an exemption for existing protections for LGBTQ+ people. Combined with the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissiondecision of 2018, which sided with a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the conservative justices have made it clear that the rights of LGBTQ+ people are subject to exemptions.

The decision should hardly be a surprise. For one thing, the Court is packed with a particular kind of Catholic. Six of the justices are Catholic—Roberts, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor. The first five are conservative Catholics; only Sotomayor represents the views of the majority of Catholics, who tend to be Democrats. While we have some racial diversity on the Supreme Court, there is little religious diversity. Breyer and Kagan are Jewish. Gorsuch is the first member of a mainline Protestant denomination to sit on the Supreme Court since the retirement of John Paul Stevens in 2010; he was raised Catholic, but married an Anglican and now attends an Episcopal Church. After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a Protestant or simply a Protestant.

I cannot fathom how claiming to be a religious organization or claiming to be religious allows you to break/ignore laws against harming others. How many children have been in foster homes or orphanages over the years who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them? How many of those were under the tutelage of a religious organization? Let’s face it, the Catholic Church does not have a great track record with children. The child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church have plagued them for decades (they’ve plagued the church for centuries, but only in recent decades has the problem been made public). Just one of many examples of this is in my own backyard as former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have recounted horrific abuse at the hands of “religious” individuals.

The tension between religious freedom and civil rights stretches far back in American history. In battles over slavery and racial segregation, proponents of discrimination and opponents of progress have often cited religion and scripture to justify maintaining inequality. Until the civil rights era, refusals to serve African Americans were often cloaked under the guise of religious freedom. As social norms changed, the religious justifications for this bigotry became legally untenable. Religious freedom has been weaponized so frequently in civil liberties debates because of the cultural and constitutional weight it carries. Such appeals have the potential to reshape cultural and religious worlds: to make a group’s political convictions and cultural practices appear more “religious,” or more central to their religion than they otherwise might have been. For this reason, the scope and meaning of religious freedom have been constantly contested throughout American, which is why religious freedom must always be balanced against other American ideals, lest we allow it to trample on other deeply held values.

In the 1982 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom did not give Bob Jones the right to claim tax-exempt status while practicing racial discrimination. So why are these organizations allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans and retain their tax-exempt status? The constitutional right to religious freedom protects the sanctity of personal belief; however, that freedom ends when the exercise of one’s faith harms the rights or well-being of another. Religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections are complementary values rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law. Taxpayer dollars should never pay for programs that exclude or discriminate against participants.

Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Churches have ignored this passage throughout history, much like they ignore many verses of the Bible that are inconvenient for them. When will LGBTQ+ Americans be given the same rights as all other Americans? Religion should be a tool to lift people, not knock them down. It should never be used as a weapon of hate, fear, or discrimination. 

I am all for the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Speech, press, and assembly all have limits, so why does religion also not have limits. When the government starts allowing religious organizations to dictate how our laws are implemented or what laws should be enacted, then this is an “establishment of religion.” If religious organizations are going to provide a charitable service, they should not be allowed to discriminate against anyone. Religious organizations can no longer discriminate based on race, so why should they be able to discriminate based on sexuality? 

In the decisions of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has done the opposite of what they claim they are doing. They have forced others to bow to the religious dictates of another person’s beliefs. They have essentially established a religion by claiming that religions are exempt from following the law. They infringe on Americans’ rights to practice a belief that is in disagreement with a more powerful entity (By that, I mean large, wealthy religious organizations, not God). The Bible tells us that we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one, why is CSS allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people? They are not following their own religious beliefs, but they are following the prejudices of man.

Shame on the Supreme Court for forcing the City of Philadelphia to follow the beliefs of CSS when they are contrary to what God commands CSS to do. Besides, why should Philadelphia be forced to send adoption cases through CSS when they have a track record like St. Joseph’s in Burlington, Vermont, or any number of Catholic organizations. And this goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It is part of all organized religions. Why should we protect a church’s religious freedoms when they disrespect and disregard the religious liberties of others? We should be protecting individuals’ right to practice religion not organizations. And no one, not even under the guise of religious freedom, should a person or organization be able to hide behind religious freedoms and the First Amendment to discriminate legally. 


Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

—John 14:1

Few words in the Bible are better known or more often quoted than these, but for all their timelessness, they were addressed to a very specific situation, the death of Jesus on the cross, and with that, the resurrection of Jesus is implied.

The “Last Supper” is described in John 13:1–17:26. John 14:1 is part of the sermon Jesus gave to his disciple at his last meal with them. Jesus had filled his disciples with foreboding though his demeanor and language during this sermon. He was going to leave them, and that itself was devastating to the disciples. But the disciples would also have to cope with the manner of his departure. They would see him betrayed by one of their own, arrested, and condemned to a death that would not only take him away from them, but would discredit his name and message burying all their hopes with him.

John 14:1 is Jesus’s way of helping his disciples cope with what is to come. It is the trouble in their minds that troubles him, and he addresses it not only with soothing words, but with powerful arguments — arguments they must remember when they see him hanging on the cross, and which we, too, must remember when God leads us where we cannot cope and cannot understand.

The disciples are told they have to trust God even when they cannot see His reasons; and we can be sure that the arguments Jesus presented to the disciples were the very arguments he presented to himself. He, too, “the man, Christ Jesus,” had to trust God, laying down his life (to all human appearance an unfinished life), risking all on the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” I think that at times we all present arguments to others to convince ourselves of what we are saying.

Jesus told the grieving Martha in John 11:25–26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Surely, if that were true of those who believed in him, it must first of all be true of himself? Death could not hold the life of the world as He says in John 14:19, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

With the message Jesus gives his disciples, we can also take this to heart. The photograph above is from BosGuy’s Thursday “Vintage Gay” post. It is doubtful we will ever know why one of the men wrote on the heart-shaped photograph, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” but I think we can all probably guess. My suspicion is that they were being separated, similar to how Jesus was going to be separated from his disciples after the Last Supper. What is left unspoken is the rest of that verse: trust also in me. Whoever wrote the note seems to be saying, “We will get through this. We may be separated but trust me that we will survive this separation.” We don’t know what the two men were going through, but we can know that Jesus has told us, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.


Gay Christian Pride

I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

-2 Corinthians 7:4

For those of us who were raised in a strict Christian environment, we had to learn not to hate ourselves and to accept who we are and our sexuality. Some Christians are opposed to the concept of LGBTQ+ pride. They feel LGBTQ+ people should be ashamed of who we are, and any public celebration of LGBTQ+ sexuality is wrong. Those who reject us are those who are straying from the teachings of Jesus. I still believe in the teachings of Christ and believe that God created me just the way I am. I learned to accept myself and be proud of who I am. I am proud to be both gay and Christian.

Christians who know church history can identify with persecution. During the early years of the Christian church, Christians were put in prison and killed for their faith. The civil authorities in the Roman Empire were persecuting people for being Christian. Both Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community share a history of discrimination and persecution. Unfortunately, discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ+ people continue today, largely led by people claiming to be Christian. Some Christians do not understand how much they have in common with the LGBTQ+ community. Instead of working closely together to ensure their mutual human rights are respected, many Christians actively work to keep LGBTQ+ people from having the same rights other members of society enjoy.

The LGBTQ+ community celebrates Pride Month each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall Riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that LGBTQ+ individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

LGBTQ+ pride promotes the self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of LGBTQ+ people. Pride, as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBTQ+ rights movements. Ranging from solemn to carnivalesque, pride events are typically held during the month of June. Some pride events include LGBT pride parades and marches, rallies, commemorations, community days, dance parties, and festivals. Pride may be considered one of the seven deadly sins, but there is nothing wrong with LGBTQ+ people having self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility. In fact, God expects us to have pride, a pride that is justifiable and reasonable, because it is based on what God has done for humanity.

God chose humanity before the world was created. Ephesians 1:4, we are told, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” God did not wait to see how things would go before choosing humanity. According to Ephesians we were chosen before the world was around, before we had a chance to do anything that would make God favor us. We did not have to act loving, do impressive humanitarian work, wear designer clothes, or make love to the right person to earn God’s love. God’s love for us is not a new, fickle love. His love for all of us, no matter our sexuality, is as old as time. God loved us, just the way we are. We can take pride in the fact that God sought us out and chose us before the world was created. In 2 Corinthians 7:4, we are told that God as “great pride” in us.

Isaiah Chapter 44 says God formed us in the womb. It does not say, “God created heterosexual people in the womb,” but it says that God, “formed you from the womb and will help you.” (Isaiah 44:2) We are not an accident in God’s eyes. We are not defective like some Christians would have us believe. God formed us in the womb and made us who we are. Galatians 1:15 states the Paul was chosen before he was born, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.”. Just like Paul, we were chosen to be an LGBTQ+ Christian (if that’s how you identify) before we were born. We can have pride, because God chose us and picked us to be on children.

Genesis tells humans, again, no matter their sexuality, were created in God’s image. Anything made in the image of God is valuable. We can have pride because we are a valuable masterpiece. God did not make a mistake when he created us with the varying sexualities that exist in this world. Romans 5:8-9 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” In Greek, the word justify carries the meaning to vindicate, approve, and honor. LGBTQ+ Christians are vindicated, approved, and honored by God, no matter our sexuality, because of Christ’s death on the cross. And nobody, gay or straight, has the right or the authority to put down or condemn people God has vindicated, approved, and honored.

LGBTQ+ Christians have the same reasons to have pride as straight Christians. Gay and straight Christians are equally called before the world was created, are equally formed in the womb by God and are equally redeemed by God. LGBTQ+ Christians can and should have pride in who they are by creation, by birth, and in Christ. To advocate that LGBTQ+ Christians should not have pride is to advocate that LGBTQ+ people feel and express no gratitude to God. When LGBTQ+ Christians are denied LGBTQ+ pride, they are asked to deny their Creator’s role in their creation and birth. It denies Christ’s role in our salvation.

Some LGBTQ+ people find pride to be one time of the year when they do not feel alone, isolated, cut-off, rejected, hated, and despised. Pride helps LGBTQ+ people feel they are not a tiny, powerless minority group. Through pride, many LGBTQ+ people find a sense of belonging, a sense of being worthwhile. Society has long taught LGBTQ+ people to hate themselves. By celebrating pride, the LGBTQ+ community can start the long process of overcoming self-hate. Standing side-by-side with God, LGBTQ+ Christians are accepted, loved, connected, and made powerful by God.

LGBTQ+ Christians can find meaning in pride. God wants LGBTQ+ people to stop hating and fearing themselves, because those who live secret lives of pain are not able to fully celebrate their identity in Christ. Through LGBTQ+ pride, God calls LGBTQ+ Christians to live as though the world waits for them, waits for them to passionately praise God, to love as faithfully as God loves and to celebrate life, as they walk hand-in-hand with Christ into eternity.


A Kind Word

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.

—Proverbs 12:25

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” This should be the way to a peaceful and tranquil heart, but the fact is, we can sometimes lose sight of what’s essential, and our feelings will betray some of our fears. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” Often when we lay in bed at night, anxiety creeps up on us. It is when we are most tired that we are most susceptible to worry. This happens when worry and doubt take up a place somewhere in our minds, and these feelings won’t stop nagging us about the possible negative outcome that rolls around in our minds.

Try as we might to forget it, sometimes we cannot control it. Our inner demons of self-doubt work on this level. Doubt whispers in our ears to keep us focused on the possibility of disaster that awaits if things go as bad as they could. This is the “anxiety in the heart.” It colors every other thought and action until we can get rid of it by solving the problem or trusting God with the outcome. Sometimes, we cannot control the outcome. As much as we want to control everything, some things are just out of our control. That’s when we must trust that God will get us through.

Think about being in the closet. Much of the time we are in the closet, the anxiety is tied to feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and even shame because of who we are. All of us in the LGBTQ+ community have a period when we are trying to understand our sexuality. It is during this time when a “kind word” is the thing that can cheer up our hearts. “I accept you” or “It’ll be ok” is an excellent place for someone to start. The kindest words to cheer up an anxious person can be found in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

When I was trying to come to terms with my sexuality, I prayed a lot. I meditated, and I asked God for a sign. I did not get one immediately. Even when I came out, I still had doubts about my sexuality and my relationship with God. However, I studied the Bible, and I studied the passages that so many Christians claim are about homosexuality. I examined the words that modern translations of the Bible translate to homosexuality. I found that what we understand today about sexuality was foreign to the writers of the Bible.

The Word of God became my source of peace. The passages used to condemn LGBTQ+ sexualities gave me the most comfort because I fervently believe that God led me to study those passages. It was His sign to me that He loved me and that true love can never be wrong. I learned that prayer is the best way to deal with a problem. If you are anxious, consider this a kind word to you. If you know someone who is anxious, who is struggling to come out, be a source of encouragement to them, and you will be doing good in the name of Jesus.


Behave Like a Christian: Overcome Evil with Good

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

—Romans 12:9-21

This is the fourth and final part of my continuing series about the message contained within Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” Last week, we looked at how we must love even in adversity and how we should remain humble and show humility. This week we will look at the final verses of this passage (Romans 12:17-21; the underlined verses above). This final section tells us how we must not sink to evil’s level by being a vigilante for God and taking revenge upon those who caused us harm. Instead, we must overcome evil by doing good to those who harm us.

In Romans 12:17, Paul wrote that Christians must not repay evil for evil. He expands on that idea to clarify what he is saying. Those who follow Christ are commanded never to seek vengeance themselves, to never “get even.” Whether the hurt comes from fellow believers or unbelievers, revenge is simply not an option for us. Paul gives us a reason for this command. After instructing us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we might expect something similar. Instead, Paul writes that we should refuse to take revenge because God is the ultimate judge in the universe. 

Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine.” The whole verse says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.” A desire for justice for ourselves and those we care about is not entirely wrong. Paul simply wants us to trust God’s timing and power to deliver justice as He sees fit. 

In Hinduism and Buddhism, this is called karma, which is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. Karma means action, work, or deed. The term also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect, often descriptively called the principle of karma, wherein intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect): good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and bad rebirths. Some might question my example of Hinduism and Buddhism to explain something in Christianity, but I believe in spirituality as well as Christianity. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, wrote in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”

Even in Christianity, there is a rebirth. Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” In Romans 14:10, Paul tells us, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” On the Day of Judgement, we will all be judged on how we treated others in this life. In Matthew 25:31-36, Jesus says:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

For those who have mistreated their fellow man, Jesus tells them their fate in Matthew 25: 41-46:

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If we live with good intent and good deeds, then on the Day of Judgement, we will be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21) However, if we live a life of evil intent and evil deeds, God will tell us, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23) 

It’s not always easy to behave like a Christian at all times. Matthew 7:13-14 tells us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I believe though it is our intent that is most important. Some may claim their intent is with good intentions, but if they do not show God’s love in their intent, they are using God’s name under false pretenses. We must feel it in our hearts, minds, and souls and let our intent shine to others. Matthew 5:14 tells us, we “are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:16 tells us to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”


Behave Like a Christian: Be Humble

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
 If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
 For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

—Romans 12:9-21

This is the third part of my continuing series about the message contained within Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” Last week, we looked at brotherly love and unconditional love. This week we will look at how we must love even in adversity and how we should remain humble and show humility.

Many of us have been ostracized or suffered discrimination because we are LGBTQ+, especially by people who claim to be Christian. For many of us, family members have been mean, cruel, nasty, or just plain unpleasant to us because of our sexuality. For those of us who are LGBTQ+ and Christian, other Christians and even some in our own community, especially non-religious LGBTQ+, have ridiculed us because we believe in God and/or believe that homosexuality is not a sin. With the increase in religious bullies in America, we are facing increased persecution and challenging times. Even as things seem to be slowly getting better as courts and laws affirm our equality, there comes a backlash caused by ignorance, fear, hatred, and greed by those who believe that they are losing something when we are recognized as equal. It is the same with all civil rights movements for equality. The only way to deal with this backlash is to counter it with an all-loving and accepting Christianity, living by Christ’s example, and responding to persecution in a way that pleases God.

Romans 12:14-16 (the underlined verses above) is not about us. If we believe in Jesus, these verses are for us, but they are not about us. They are about others and how we should think about and act toward those who persecute us. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what isthat good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Paul begins the above passage by telling us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” While some biblical scholars claim that “those who persecute you” refers to people who don’t believe in Jesus, in my mind, it also refers to those who believe but do not follow the teachings of Jesus because they use perversions of Christ’s teachings to persecute and oppress those who do not believe in their narrow and hate-filled interpretation of the Bible. These Christian bullies lack the ability to love unconditionally which is central to Paul’s teaching to the Romans about how to behave like a Christian.

How should we respond to people who use their hypocrisy and hate to persecute those who do not follow their narrow interpretations of the teachings of Jesus? For some, they leave religion behind, and for others, it is to respond with love and acceptance, which is what Paul is telling us to do when he says, “Bless and do not curse.” Back when I lived in Mississippi, the people of Westboro Baptist Church, with their hateful signs and harassing nature, came to my university’s campus to stage a protest. I always felt that instead of antagonizing them and ridiculing them for their beliefs (which is pure hate and has no resemblance to Christianity), I thought it would have been better to hold a public prayer for them and ask God to show them the error of their ways. With people like that, you cannot show them the same hate and anger, but you must show them compassion and the love of God.

Years ago, I was in Memphis on Beale Street with a friend of mine. A street preacher was harassing people and trying to “call them to God.” He began yelling at us and trying to get our attention as we passed. She asked if they had heard of the Church of Christ. (She was raised Southern Baptist, but she knew I was well versed in the Church of Christ.) He then began to tell us what was wrong with the beliefs of the Church of Christ. I disputed everything he said and eventually asked to see his Bible, and I proceeded to prove my points verse by verse. The man kept arguing. Finally, I told him, “What you need to do is go forth and repent for your sins and be baptized for the remission of your sins.” I wanted him to preach love instead of condemnation. This was not one of my humblest moments, and I admit that I had been drinking quite a bit when this happened. However, I still had a clear mind with just a bit more courage. We continued to our destination, the Hard Rock Café, had a drink there in honor of a friend and then left for the next bar. When we left the Hard Rock Café, there was no sign that the street preacher had ever been there. He had packed up and left. I know that I was more rigid in my faith and more zealous when this happened than I am now. Hubris led me to debate him in the middle of a busy street (it is a pedestrian area). It is not one of my finer moments, but I believe that if we remain calm and do not stoop to our persecutors’ level, we can show God’s love and compassion more effectively, and I did remain calm that night. We must have a gracious disposition that will lead us to ask God to do good to those who refuse to do good toward us. 

Paul continues in Romans 12:15 to tell us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” How are we supposed to respond to others when they find themselves in either of these categories? We are called to go there with them. Romans 12:5 tell us, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” We should feel what others feel. For instance, consider our physical bodies. When our ears hear a beautiful and meaningful piece of music, our minds perceive its goodness, our hearts may fill up, our eyes may tear up, our throats may choke up, and often our legs stand up, and our hands come together in applause. One part of the physical body is affected by what is happening to the other parts. In much the same way, one member of the body of Christ cries with another member over a tragedy. And one member rejoices with another member, even when we don’t always feel like celebrating. We must show empathy for all around us.Next, Paul calls us to move away from hierarchy to humility. Romans 12:16 says, “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” How are believers called to think toward one another? We are called not to be “proud” or “set your mind on high things.” Many people are prone to think they are better than others, but Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Those who have accepted Jesus have nothing to prove. We have no ladder to climb. We can lay hierarchy and vanity aside. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Paul tells us to “not be wise in your own opinion.” Our beliefs are no better than anyone else, just as we are no better than anyone else. God is among all of us, but I believe He takes many forms. In all of them, He is love. Every religion believes in the ethic of reciprocity, which is commonly called the Golden Rule. Luke 6:31 tells us to, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise,” which is what Romans 12:14-16 says at its heart.