Equality and Forgiveness
There are three passages in the liturgical readings for the week. Two of the passages are from the Hebrew Scriptures. The common theme in all of the passages is forgiveness. We will start and end with selections from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Amos 9:7 (King James Version) Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?
In Chapter 9, Amos talks about judgment coming on Israel. The prophet sees inescapable judgment coming upon Israel. Commentator Matthew Henry, reflecting on this chapter says, “Wherever sinners flee from God's justice, it will overtake them.”1 The fact that God's justice will find the guilty was something the children of Israel got. They might have struggled with was Amos saying judgment was coming on Israel, upon the very people God both chose and lead out of slavery. God's justice was going to overtake Israel for breach of their covenant with God.
In this passage, we can hear God's voice speaking for equality of nations, for equality of peoples. We get the sense that the prophet felt God also had a hand in leading the Philistines and the Syrians – two of Israel's enemies. Just as there are times when judgment falls on Israel's enemies, there are times when judgment falls on Israel.
What would Amos say, if he were speaking to sexual minority people of faith? Amos would probably talk about God's hand in the spiritual communities of our homophobic brothers and sisters in Christ. He would also talk about a universal need for forgiveness.
We know God is working in the gay community. Many gay and bisexual people feel called by God to come out as queer and as people of faith. People are resurrected from the tombs of the closet by the thousands. And they find new life. We know God shows love to people in Baptist, Mormon, Catholic, and Pentecostal congregations, or those denominations would not have so many members.
Homophobic Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, and Pentecostals need God's forgiveness for sins they have committed against God's queer tribe. Knowing we have the moral high-ground as Christians who get the fact that God's love includes all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people does not mean there are not times when we need forgiveness.
The Christian Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In the Gospel selection, we see a continuation of the theme of forgiveness.
Matthew 5:43-45 (King James Version) Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
When we understand the fairness and the equity with which God treats humanity, we are better able to see an important principle required for forgiveness – equality. Forgiving an equal can be much easier than forgiving a superior, or a subordinate. In the Messiah, we are able to see all people as our equals and that makes forgiveness easier.
Godly love flows through us when we are able to treat those who are our enemies with respect. That includes praying for them, and reaching out to them with acts of charity. While we may feel called by God to publicly protest against acts of oppression from homophobic Christian leaders, we know we are called by God to also pray for them, to also reach out in love. Demonstrations against homophobic religious groups are less likely to build bridges of understanding than acts of loving kindness. Offering free bottles of cold water to people leaving homophobic churches might do more to change attitudes than picketing the churches.
Leviticus 16:11 (King James Version) And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself: Skipping down to verse 15. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
From a book of Moses, we notice several critical things in terms of forgiveness within the context of a spiritual community. Aaron was to offer a personal sin offering before he offered a sacrifice for the people.
The high priest brought a bull for his sins and the sins of his family. The people's sins were atoned for by the blood of goats. What struck me is the size of a bull compared to the size of a goat. Bulls are just a wee bit bigger than goats. Perhaps, there was a reason for that!
Spiritual leaders are not immune to making mistakes. When pastors, congregations, and denominations make mistakes, those mistakes can be very public and very damaging. A larger sacrifice may remind us that the sins and mistakes of pastors, spiritual leaders, churches, and denominations have more impact than the sins of those who are not in leadership.
In a congregation that ministers mainly to sexual minorities, there is little need to explain this point. Many of us carry the scars of spiritual abuse. We may have attended the funerals of those who were told God considers them to be an abomination and has rejected them. We know how the sins of spiritual leaders can have devastating consequences.
The passage from Leviticus reminds us that we need to be humble. Progressive Christians are leaders in showing the depth of God's love. As leaders, we need to understand our own need for forgiveness, to remind ourselves of that regularly. Because only when we realize our own need, can we extend forgiveness to others.
1Matthew Henry. “Matthew Henry's Commentary.” Christ Notes. http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?b=30&c=9&com=mhc