“Mom, did you know that my friend used to be a boy? But now she’s a girl,” my son informed me casually one morning over breakfast. “Can boys be girls?”
Not enough coffee. The truth was I didn’t know how to answer that question. So I did what any good parent would do—I changed the subject. But it bothered me. I knew that eventually I was going to have to talk to my son about homosexuality and I didn’t know what I was going to say. What box should I give him to check—the good or the bad box? I turned to 2 Samuel 12 with hopes of a neat and tidy answer.
Before we dive into that, let me give some background for those who may not be totally familiar with the story—this is the chapter after David slept with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. When he tried to cover his tracks by getting her husband Uriah to come home and sleep with her, Uriah was such a good soldier that he absolutely refused to have sex with his wife while all his men were still at war. So David sent Uriah to the front lines where the fighting was the worst and Uriah was killed. In chapter 12, Nathan has just arrived to see David.
“And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him’.” (2 Samuel 12:1-3)
One word that jumped out at me in this particular passage was “bought”. The lamb was something that the poor man purchased out of his own, obviously limited funds. It “grew up with him and with his children” (12:3). It was important to him—the way that some people view pets as children…it was “like a daughter to him” (12:3). The issue of sexuality is an intensely personal thing. People have struggled with it for possibly their entire lives. When Christians speak out against homosexuals, they tend to forget that the people they are speaking out against have stories—some that are extremely painful and full of rejection. NPR recently posted a story about a church that serves homeless transgender young people who have been kicked out of their homes. One of those young people commented, “I didn’t know it was possible to be friends with Christians.” This is a problem. If we’re so busy pointing fingers that we forget to love our neighbor, then we are missing the entire point of the Gospel.
“Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.’ Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’” (12: 4-6)
The rich man got my attention here. An outsider comes to the rich man and instead of taking a lamb from his own flock, he takes the poor man’s and kills it for the traveler. Contemporary Christians are uncomfortable talking about sex. It is much easier for us to look at someone else’s sexuality and “stretch them out on the fire” in order to distract from our own discomfort or shame. Note David’s “outrage” against the rich man and his self-righteous promise of justice…when the entire time in the story, he is the rich man. WE are the rich man. One of my favorite movies from the early 2000s is Saved—a film about misfits in a Christian school. One of the greatest scenes is when Hillary Faye—the Christian Queen Bee Mean Girl, played brilliantly by Mandy Moore—throws her Bible at her former friend Mary (Jena Malone) and shrieks, “I am FILLED with Christ’s love!” Mary turns around, picks up the Bible, and says, “This is not a weapon, you idiot.” The Bible is not a weapon to be used against others. It is to be used against ourselves.
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uri’ah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uri’ah the Hittite to be your wife.”” (12:7-10)
It’s not fun to be caught. Nathan tells David, what the heck—you have everything but you had to go and sleep with Uri’ah’s wife. So too with contemporary Christians—we have EVERYTHING but we have nothing better to do than to shame our neighbors. All of us struggle with sexuality but not all of us are honest with ourselves. On this point, you have to hand it to the gay community. They are willing to be honest. They can have the hard conversations. Christians, on the other hand, sometimes avoid tough or uncomfortable conversations by criticizing the behaviors of others—almost always—people outside their group or different from themselves. This allows Christians to avoid self-reflection and embarrassment about their own struggles with sexuality. Unfortunately, it also betrays the Gospel and creates serious problems.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’” (12:11-12)
I hate to use Josh Duggar as an example because I have genuine sympathy for the man…having spent some time growing up under the teachings he was raised with (fortunately for me, my parents were smart enough to know crazy when they saw it and got out). However, he is a very good example of what happens when you judge others publicly and hide your own problems. While he was busy speaking out against homosexuality, he was secretly cheating on his wife, hiding secrets of molestation, and struggling with pornography. Maybe it made him feel better to think that he was going up against people who were so much worse than he was. And yet his shame was proclaimed publicly—“before all Israel, and before the sun.” It was a disaster. If he had been taught how to understand the Bible and apply it to himself, he would have realized he had no business criticizing homosexuals at all. He should have been applying it to himself. This applies to all of us—I’m just using Josh Duggar as an example. The rest of us aren’t any better than he is because we all have our own struggles. Our job is to simply love our neighbor. When we read the Bible, the Bible is speaking to us—the reader. Apply it to yourself, and move on. Don’t apply it to everyone else. Our job is to love our neighbor. Gay or straight. Don’t take their lamb and throw it on your fire because it’s not yours, it belongs to the Lord.
“David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uri’ah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, ‘Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.’ But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ They said, ‘He is dead.’ Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’” (12:13-23)
Are you still with me? That was a long one. I puzzled over this one for days. I kept searching for some kind of indication that David’s fasting was repentance. But he wasn’t really sorry. He was sorry he got caught. And his prayers and fasting were all an attempt to get something he wanted and to get out of his predicament. Sort of like when you catch your kids doing something wrong and you take away their toy or video games and there is much wailing and wild promises to “NEVER EVER do it again, Mom, I swear to GOD”. Don’t we do the same thing as adults? How many times have we been caught doing something wrong and found ourselves groveling in hopes of escaping consequences? Maybe that’s why it’s tough to believe politicians when they get caught and make apologies for doing something wrong. You’re not sorry—you’re sorry you got caught. And the things that we do wrong have big consequences that can affect our children. The baby in this story was innocent yet wound up dying because of the actions of his father. We are not perfect people. We are not better than anyone else. Love God and love your neighbor. Do not use the Bible as a weapon that puts you in a false position of power.
“Then David comforted his wife, Bathshe’ba, and went in to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him, and sent a message by Nathan the prophet; so he called his name Jedidi’ah, because of the Lord.
“Now Jo’ab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites, and took the royal city. And Jo’ab sent messengers to David, and said, ‘I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. Now, then, gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it; lest I take the city, and it be called by my name.’ So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah, and fought against it and took it. And he took the crown of their king from his head; the weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone; and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought forth the people who were in it, and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes, and made them toil at the brickkilns and thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.” (12:24-31)
This part stumped me too. It seemed like even though David did everything wrong, he still won. But my initial reaction was wrong. David didn’t win. God won. David did everything wrong but God still made something good out of his mess. The victory did not belong to David, it belonged to God. So even when we are wrong and we screw up, God can still make something good out of it. Of course, it would help if we just did what we were supposed to do to begin with.
So what will I tell my son if he asks me if gay people are good or bad? As Fr. Marc quoted in a recent sermon, “there are no good people or bad people—there are just people.” I will tell him that whether or not they are good or bad is irrelevant. It’s not our job to determine that. It’s our job to love our neighbor—regardless of ideology or sexuality. The fact that I don’t have to choose is far more freeing than checking off boxes.