I have followed with interest the rise, among U.S. churches, of scapegoating. Men who love men, women who love women, women who emerge from the bodies of men, men who discover themselves to have been born women, and children who have been born with indeterminate sex or gender have all been lumped together as the great cause of anything unpleasant or disastrous happening in the world.
Joan of Arc was told by the Inquisition that she would not be executed if she would simply stop dressing as a man. She actually tried. On the morning of the third day, they discovered her, once again, dressed as a man. They remonstrated with her, representing to her, as any reasonable, feeling jailer might, the horrors of living flesh peeling away in the flames, and even of the shameful nakedness that comes, before the eyes of the crowd, as clothing burns away. She would die, in the eyes of the witnesses, an unclothed woman. “I cannot go back from wearing men’s clothing,” she told them. And the sentence was carried out exactly as they had described it to her.
Some are less brave. We go in terror our lives long for fear of being discovered to have hatched from the cuckoo’s egg. I learned early on that if my parents found me in my mother’s dress, wearing her bracelets, necklace, earrings, and lipstick, there would be trouble.
So I covered. Painfully and always awkwardly, but with massive will and attention—I played baseball, hunted, fished, sharpened knives, cleaned rifles, stripped outboard motors, cleaned game, punched boys, teased girls, played football, carried my books on one side instead of in front, and parted my hair on the left. It was a relief, later, that my Adam’s apple came in, my voice deepened, and my shoulders broadened. Now no one will ever know. I’m safe at last.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. I’ve given up the hiding. From age 53 to age 55, I have been transformed before the eyes of my family, fellow workers, and friends.
Our daughter, who is 19, has moved back in. I take advantage of this by asking her to accompany me to a rally in the state capital for moral support. She’s a natural-born rabble-rouser, and, unlike me, absolutely fearless. But I feel safer than I have in a long time. My driver’s license at last says under “sex”: Female.
LGBTQ people and allies descend upon the State Capitol Building to lobby for a bipartisan human rights bill that would end discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity and expression. A thousand of us march around to the front of the Capitol, where a few well-dressed senators and other politicians will address the crowd. Across the sidewalk stand about eight dour-looking men, holding placards with slogans on them, shouting that God hates fags.
I feel moved to shake hands with a very tall, quite handsome, well-dressed, bearded counter-demonstrator. “How do you do, sir?” He almost reaches for my hand, then peers at me suspiciously. I have been on hormone replacement therapy and electrolysis for two years, am wearing my best cranberry ribbed turtleneck, black elastic-waistband slacks, silver hoops. I’m sure I’ve got the voice right, too. But something tips him off. Is it the big shoulders? Hand size? Some aspect of posture?
“You, you . . . y-y-you’re a sodomite!” And he withdraws his hand. An abomination.
“Umm . . . I don’t think so, sir. I’ve been married to the same woman for 28 years.”
But he is gone already. He fades back into the tiny pack, glaring at the crowded steps above me, shouting with redoubled effort.
And we go and stand with my people, gay, straight, trans, queer, and intersex: grandmothers, infants, school children, mothers, kids in purple hair, old men in their 70s and into their 80s. A couple of white-haired women standing near us have been together for 40 years. One achingly beautiful child in a rainbow dress, with rainbow ribbons in her hair, poses with her moms, one white, one black, for an entire roll of pictures, her smile growing more and more radiant with each click.
I remember then the passage from the prophet for whom one of my sons is named: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8) And at that moment, I join hands with my queer sisters and brothers, and sing, weeping.
This nation’s government is now in the hands of what should have been, at most, a tiny movement of malcontents, easily shrugged off by thoughtful citizens, whether Christian or otherwise. But their ranks have swelled since the 1970s, while most of us were not paying attention. The core theorists of this movement are known as Reconstructionists, Dominionists, or Theonomists. The idea is to reconstruct Christianity as a vehicle for taking over government so that God may have dominion instead of man, by the reinstituting of God’s Old-Testament moral laws (theonomy). The Old Testament is, for them, the proper law of the land, obliterating the Constitution and the United States Code, or the laws of any other country whatever, for their mandate, which they believe will bring the end of history and the return of Christ, is to conquer the world.
All this turns upon the interpretation of a single Greek word: plerosai. It occurs in this passage: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill [plerosai]. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-19)
Christian scholars in general translate this as fulfill, and talk about the Christian Scriptures as the rule for Christians (hence New Testament) and replacing the outer Mosaic Law-by-rules with an inner Law of following the Spirit, by faith, hope, and charity. Paul, in the epistle to the Galatians, goes to much trouble to explain this. Tossing aside 2,000 years of Pauline exegesis, the Theonomist theologian R. J. Rushdoony, founder of the Chalcedon Institute, declares that plerosai means “establish” or “confirm”—even though this is not how it is used elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures.
For the Theonomist, the moral (but, oddly, not the ceremonial) law of Moses shall be applicable to all the land in perpetuity. If they get their way, I will be stoned to death as an abomination.
As we drive home, using fossil fuels of course, in the uncharacteristically hot winter sunshine, my daughter asks about the apparent belief system of the men who had shouted at us to “go back in the closet.” “What do Friends think about the Bible and gay people?”
What to say? “Judge not, lest you be judged” is a little pat.
I resort to a story of a story.
“Well, dear, people used to crowd around the country rabbi and ask him about this stuff. Some of them were hotshot lawyers whose job was to know all the proof texts, so the power structure sent them to hang out in the crowds and see if they could trip him up on his teachings and get him arrested for stirring up the people.
“So this dude, who’s trained all his young life in laws of Moses, stands up and says, ‘Hey! Rabbi! What do I do to get to live forever?’
“‘What does your Book say about that?’ replies the rabbi from the boondocks.
“So the lawyer says: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“‘That’s right,’ says the rabbi. ‘If you do that you’ll live forever.’
“Everybody’s standing around, looking at these two, and thinking, uh-huh, the quick-thinking traveling preacher has got the big shots by the beard again.
“So the lawyer looks around, sees people grinning at him, and so he sticks out his lower lip and spreads his hands in a kind of apologetic shrug.
“‘Sure, but that’s just it. Who exactly is my neighbor?’
“The rabbi looks him over. The kid is bright, he’s moving up through the infrastructure, but he seems to mean well too. Might be worth saving.
“‘Tell you what. Sit down a minute, I’ve got a story for you.’ Everybody moves in close to hear the story.
“‘There’s this traveling salesman, kind of a Willy Loman type, puts up a load of shoes or whatever on his donkey to sell down at Jericho. On the way there, in the middle of nowhere, a bunch of local guys relieve him of his stock, his gear, his transportation, his clothes, and his last water bottle, and beat him senseless for good measure. Then they clear out, leaving him there for the vultures to find.
“‘After awhile, along comes a priest. He sees the guy lying there, not moving, covered with, by this time, dried, caked blood. He’s not a bad person, the priest; he’d go over and check the situation out, but he has responsibilities—spelled out in detail in Leviticus—to the people up in Jerusalem. If he handles this person, he’ll have to touch the blood—and/or the nakedness of another man—and that means he won’t be able to do his job, because he’ll have been polluted. So he crosses the road and passes by, maybe making a mental note to call 911 when he gets to town.
“‘Nothing happens for awhile, and the vultures are starting to pay attention. But then here comes this other guy. He’s a lawyer, of course, just like you [significant glance; crowd chuckles], and again, a good person with duties and responsibilities and mustn’t get polluted—can quote you chapter and verse verbatim on the things that God has required of him in serving the people properly. There are real penalties for goofing this up, so he, too, crosses the road and moves along, a little faster, maybe, thinking about making that same 911 call.
“‘So he’s been gone awhile, and the sun’s getting really hot now, and the first couple of vultures are hopping toward the body, and now a third guy shows up.
“‘Any idea who?’
“Here the lawyer shakes his head. People in the surrounding audience turn to one another, raise their eyebrows, make a few suggestions to one another, shake their heads as well, some of them shrugging.
“‘Well, as luck would have it, he’s from Samaria.’
“Here a collective groan rises up from all the rabbi’s hearers. They should have known; they can see where the story’s going now, and almost nobody’s happy with it. Samaritans, like lobsters, infants born out of wedlock, shrimp, nocturnal emissions, compound interest, lepers, fried rattlesnake, men with crushed testicles, bacon bits, camels, bloody victims, menstruating women, rock badgers, hares, sea urchins, octopi, homosexuals, and dead cows, are, of course abominations.
Meaning: God can’t abide ’em, and so neither can the Chosen People. You don’t marry a Samaritan, eat with a Samaritan, pray with a Samaritan, sleep with a Samaritan, give the time of day to a Samaritan, sit down to a cup of tea with a Samaritan, or even read a book by a Samaritan if you can possibly help it—because, although they are not Jewish, they insist on worshiping the Jewish God but haven’t got the rituals and such down right, and so can’t possibly get into heaven.
“So the rabbi continues: ‘The vultures hop away as the Samaritan dude walks over to check out the body. He discovers signs of life, rolls the salesman over, gives him a drink of water, pulls off his own cloak and wraps him in it—blood all over it by now—loads him on his Samaritan-sweat-bedewed donkey—maybe has to leave behind some of his own load, I forget—and slowly and carefully, falling farther and farther behind on his own schedule as he does so, because there’s a really broken-up man saddlebagged across his donkey’s back, and the road’s rough—takes him to the next little town down the way. Right about sunset he pulls up outside the local roadhouse, unloads the still half-conscious victim from the donkey and carries him in, and asks the manager for a bath, hot meal, and a bed for him.’
“‘Look here, man,’ says the Samaritan to the manager, ‘I’m really running behind now, so I gotta keep going.’ Here he hands him his credit card. ‘—Just run a tab on him while I’m gone, and when I make my return run, I’ll settle up with you. Cool?’
Cool. But don’t let’s shake on it, the manager might say with his eyes.
“‘Kay,’ says the rabbi, standing up and brushing off his robe a bit, looking around at the crowd, then returning his piercing gaze to the young lawyer. ‘Of these three, which one was a neighbor to the shoe salesman?’
“The lawyer looks up at him. He can’t even bring himself to use the word that names the abomination. ‘The . . . the . . . the one that was kind to him,’ he says, reluctantly.
“The rabbi gives him that unsettlingly kindly smile he’s famous for. ‘That’s right,’ he says, softly. ‘Do just like him, and you will live forever.'”
My daughter has been watching the roadside pass by. The sun’s going down, setting pink fire to the mountains on our left, and there are flocks of Canada geese gliding down to the rivers and lakes all around. I’m not sure, at first, that she’s been listening.
Still watching the geese, she reaches across from the passenger side and takes my hand.