Trusting God can mean ignoring God’s followers

Andrew Warner

Last month the Wisconsin Gazette reported on two incidents of abuse and violence by Christians against LGBT people.

In Pennsylvania, a man claimed the Old Testament inspired him to stone an elderly gay man to death. From Iowa came news that a pastor engaged in sex with teenage boys to “cure” them of homosexuality.

The cases of these men are extreme, but they point to a dilemma many LGBT people face in practicing faith: too often religion becomes a bludgeon used against us, a justification for oppression.

Doubt in my faith comes not from the problem of reconciling evolution with creation nor from the mystery of the resurrection. Other Christians make me doubt. They challenge my faith to think that LGBT rights would progress if fewer people went to church, synagogue or mosque.

Can we trust God when so many of God’s followers use God’s name to abuse others?

I wonder about that question heading into holy days for Jews and Christians. Jews observe Passover, an eight-day festival celebrating God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At the same time, Christians remember the last days of Jesus, his death and miraculous resurrection. I turn to these sacred stories whenever God’s followers cause me to doubt.

The Passover story began when God heard “the cries of my people.” God became aware of the degradation and oppression the Israelites faced every day in Egypt. A struggle for freedom ensued, which came to a head on the first night of Passover. God punished the Egyptians, allowing the slaves to escape to freedom.

On Passover, Jews imagine that they are in that first generation escaping slavery. This leads to hope: as God once liberated, God will liberate again. God heard our cries, God will hear us again. God hears when someone suffers, when a teen is attacked with pipes and bats, when a transgender person is bullied and threatened.

Just as Passover witnesses to God’s commitment to liberation, so does Holy Week. On the Friday of Holy Week, Christians remember the death of Jesus on the cross, a painful and public way that criminals were killed. Often this involves reading the last words of Jesus from the cross, words like, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These are powerful words in themselves, but even more so because Jesus quoted from a Psalm, an ancient Israelite prayer written from the perspective of one unfairly persecuted. Jesus connected his own suffering with countless victims who went before him and all who came after. For those who see Jesus as the manifestation of God, Jesus’ cry becomes God giving voice to voiceless people in every age.

I hear in the cry of Jesus on the cross the pain of men like Murray Seidman, the elderly gay man stoned to death in Pennsylvania.

The sacred stories Jews and Christians celebrate this week remind me why God is trustworthy. God hears our cries. God gives voice to our pain.

God will liberate, even if that means saving us from some of God’s followers.