“. . . but perfect love casts out fear . . .” (1 John 4:18)

the good samaritan

Antonio Zanchi, The Good Samaritan, 1680

I assume I understand some important concepts of the Bible―at least in a general sense―even if I don’t believe them. I grew up as the son of a Baptist minister and attended Baptist Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and even a “nominally” Baptist University. For a semester I attended a Methodist seminary. They asked me to withdraw because I’m gay (that was 1968, and I don’t know why I was in seminary anyway).

About 30 or 40 years ago, I began seriously thinking about what I hear when others, Christians, speak of Bible basis for their faith/belief. Some theological constructs have such a tenuous relationship to anything I know about the Bible that it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand. The Rapture. Dispensationalism. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. A prohibition on abortion.

I don’t have any trouble with literal beliefs in ideas from the Bible that are obviously meant as mythology. If someone has to believe God created the universe in six days in order to navigate their life on this earth, that’s fine.

All of those nit-picky little “beliefs” are immaterial to me. My relationship with the Bible is only a little more personal than my relationship to Beowulf, Siegfried, and Odysseus. If anyone wants to believe in “The Clear-Eyed Athena,” that’s fine with me, just don’t expect me to join in any sacrifices in an old stone building in Athens.

The ideas I wonder about even in my apparent apostasy are less based in “factual” details that someone might or might not believe, than in what seem to me to be the “big ideas” in the Bible. Some of those “big ideas” I do believe in.

For example, the concept “love” in the Bible. Here are some Bible verses about “love” I remember. I had to look up exact citations, but I remembered all of these verbatim (not exactly―I found the NRSV translation to replace the King James language I memorized as a Baptist kid).

• Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
• So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)
• There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
• By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22)
• If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
• He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

From the news:

[On FOX News Cruz] listened as Crowder outlined “four winning issues for Republicans. . . . Islam, now, is a winning issue: calling it out for what it is.” Cruz nodded vigorously and responded, “Yep.”
___That’s what’s really going on. Cruz isn’t agonizing over the mechanics of vetting refugees. He’s exploiting anti-Muslim anger and sucking up to the Christian right. And he’s doing it while wearing his own disguise: principled leader. (Saletan, William. “Ted Cruz’s Sophisticated Bigotry: This is how you bash Muslims while pretending to be principled.” Slate. Nov. 24, 2015.)

And again:

[Cruz appeared] On Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.”
(Davidson, Amy. “Ted Cruz’s Religious Test for Syrian Refugees.” The New Yorker. November 16, 2015).


Cruz is ramping up his South Carolina efforts. . . . On Monday, he visited one of his two campaign headquarters in the state . . . He quoted Scripture and prayed with a woman on the phone as Vonnie Gleason, a volunteer in her 50s, looked on with tears in her eyes.
___“His words are so much from the heart,” Gleason said. “He was praying with her like she was his best friend.”
___That ability to connect with Christians gives Cruz “a real good chance, because of all the conservative Christians here,” said Linda McCarthy of Greenville. (Glueck, Katie. Politico. 12/09/15.)

I do not mean to accuse Ted Cruz of anything. I don’t know the man. I’ve never heard him say, “I hate Muslims” or “I hate gays.” However, these positions he has taken are clearly not congruent with

  • There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
  • By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).

Ted Cruz is rising in the polls for the Republican nomination for President, seemingly poised to give Donald Trump, who has said blatantly hateful things about women, Hispanics, and Muslims, a run for his money. I do not mean to denounce Cruz or Trump (although it probably seems that I am). I’m pretty sure I could have found such items for every candidate.

I merely want to ask a question.

In order to feel secure in a society presumably based on Christian and/or liberal democratic principles, must we forego treating non-Christians and/or those who are not already steeped in liberal democratic principles with the “love” that seems to be at the core of the Christian tradition?


Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), The Good Samaritan

For the Love of Jesus: Forgive a musicologist’s rant

Rich Young Man

(Please note: a funny thing sometimes happens when you write. I intended for this to be sarcastic and negative. A friend read it and thought I am somehow thanking the church and its homoerotic music. So now I’m not sure. Is that bad writing or ambiguity on a remarkable scale? Dunno. I trace the “rainbow” through the rain . . .)

Pope Benedict will live at the Vatican—perhaps never leave there. The sovereign state will offer him refuge from prosecution by any country for participation in child sex abuse cover-ups. The old guy has some right not to end up in jail somewhere for his part in the hideous scandals of the church. But really now, as an American I firmly belief no one is above the law.

When I was four or five years old (we lived in Worland, Wyoming), my dad went off to Boston for the annual meeting of the American Baptist Convention. To entertain us while he was away, we had a large and complicated picture jigsaw puzzle to work on. Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (painting by Heinrich Hoffmann). I’ll be the first to admit I missed the point. But look at the hand-on-the-hip pose of the pretty young man. What a gay blade! He’s haunted my imagination since about 1949. And that hat! To die for.

On Valentine’s Day I blogged about learning hymn tunes when I was a kid. One of my favorites my dad never used in the service. He did not like it. He told me so when I suggested we should sing it. I liked it partly because it was so easy to play (key of A-flat with close voice leading so kid’s hands could reach all the notes). He objected to the tune (perfectly banal) as much as the words.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.” I’m not saying the hymns we sang in church had anything to do with my being a gay boy. But they certainly gave me words to go with what I was feeling, as those paintings gave me images.

Another favorite hymn tune was “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” It may, in fact have been the first hymn tune I ever played. F-major. Tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, tonic. A first-week harmony exercise in a first-year theory class. But the words! “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” With the Rich Young Ruler, no doubt. And I won’t even mention coming to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and he tells me I am his own.

You think I’m making this up, don’t you?  “O love that wilt not let me go” has been in some pretty important Protestant hymnals**.

I began thinking about all of this because of a picture a friend posted on Facebook. (She did not post it because she loved it!) I’m not sure if it’s a joke. My friend says it’s being passed around by pastors. What that could mean, I don’t know. All I know is it fits right in with love that wilt not let me go. We didn’t revere the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Baptist church, but we did sing about the lover of my soul.65524_10151308245551662_1031495858_n

My Come Hither Eyes?

I just want to raise the question of how mixed a message this is from people who say God and Jesus hate gays. We gay boys were pretty confused. At least I was. Nothing profound or new here. Just saying. I hope Mr. Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict are listening.

**The Baptist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991 (292).
Christian Worship, a Hymnal. Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1941 (388).
The Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978 (324).
Service Book and Hymnal. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1958 (402).

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.