Amy Grant and Franklin Graham are at odds amidst a culture war at the heart of an evolution pointing to an enlightened Christian faith. The debate continues, but a DEI Evangelical church body that includes the LGBTQ community in its current state of affairs is unlikely. Yet, Matthew 21:13 metaphorically stands up to stir the awakening soul. “My temple should be a house of prayer, but you’ve made it a den of thieves!”
Jesus, of course first uttered those famous words while “ethically cleansing” the Gentile Court of Herod’s Temple in the first century. He was rightfully angered because moneychangers and merchants packed the court exchanging foreign currencies for temple worshipers to purchase animals for sacrifice.
The gentile court was built as a forum to debate and dialogue about God, the Law and all things spiritual. Yet, it was conscripted to drive revenue for the Temple coffers, rendering civil debate impossible by the cacophony of sights, smells, sounds and the cha-ching of sales. Always follow the money and power.
21st Century Den of Thieves
Today, the temple represents the inalienable connection between you and God. Any religion, institution, or individual attempting to rob you of that connection is a thief. Our antagonist today is Franklin Graham who is attempting to rob the LGBTQ community of a place at the table with Jesus. But a day of reckoning appears to be upon “propheteers” on a homophobic mission. It’s clear that a movement is building from a few disparate voices, even within big “E” Evangelicalism. The hope is to temper their beleaguered and unjustly preached weaponized word with empathy, love and inclusivity.
That brings us to our protagonist and recently crowned Kennedy Center Honors recipient, Amy Grant, a CCM icon, who is beloved by the LGBTQ community, too, a major fete unto itself. Amy recently shared in the Washington Post,
“Honestly, from a faith perspective, I do always say, ‘Jesus, you just narrowed it down to two things: love God and love each other. I mean, hey — that’s pretty simple.”
Similarly, in my debut book from Wipf & Stock, The Fullness of Love, I wrote that Jesus distilled all religion to about 7 words: Love God, love people, and love yourself. That is the cure for all humanity.
What’s the Fuss About the Big Gay Wedding?
Amy announced that she intends to host a lesbian wedding at her home. Insert nuclear explosion here. She told the newspaper that she and her husband, country music star Vince Gill, are excited to host the family’s “first bride and bride” nuptials of her niece. Let’s just say, that news did not go down well amongst the brethren. The interwebs blew up and Rev. Graham chimed in on Facebook saying,
“Yes, we are to love God and love each other. But if we love God, we will seek to obey His Word. Jesus told us, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). God defines what is sin, not us; and His Word is clear that homosexuality is sin. We have all sinned, and in order to have a relationship with God and spend eternity with Him in Heaven, we must turn from our sin and put our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to die for our sins.
The Bible says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” (Acts 3:19). For me, loving others also means caring about their souls and where they will spend eternity. It means loving people enough to tell them the truth from the Word of God. The authority of God’s Word is something we can never compromise on.”
Graham’s response is problematic on multiple levels. Let’s dig in.
The Wrong Side of History…Again…and Again
First, the Bible is not “clear” on most topics. Any complex metanarrative glued together by disparate subjective modern translations over thousands of years of writings is a non-starter among progressive thought leaders and most scholars. Next, traditionally there are “seven deadly sins,” not a single hyper-focused sex-obsessed agenda. Yet, the religious right salivates like Pavlov’s dog at the alarm bells of LGBTQ, abortion, and interracial marriage rights.
Bluntly, the religious right peddles the fear-based gospel in the store front, while in the back room worships at the altar of power. If either go off the rails, they lose it. Curiously, the six remaining deadly sins are largely swept under the altar. Their indulgence is woven into the fabric of the very white version of the American dream. Lastly, the word, “repent” or metanoia in the biblical Greek literally means to “go beyond the mind.” It is not necessarily used how we describe a moral about face.
But let’s indulge for a minute and go all OT as an example. One of the “OG Big Ten” speaks to having no other little “g” gods before the big “G” God. I contend that Graham and the new den of thieves idolize a particular niche understanding of the Bible. You can hold the Bible up in a hall of mirrors and conjure up a hundred different religions based on what you want to read into any chapter and verse.
Missing the Mark
The pursuit of unknowing, unfiltering and untethering from dogma and misrepresented doctrine leads to an enlightened and experiential path. True freedom and faith is found in the acceptance of the unknowable mysteries of God. And I believe that it is time for us to know deeper, not more. Knowledge is not wisdom, it’s more like a false positive. Wisdom is living inside the essence of truth, while experiencing God in contemplation and daily life. That is where the depth lies.
For example, the word “sin” or hamartia, an archery term, literally means to miss the mark. One can surely conclude that the Bible implies that all sex outside of a committed relationship is sin. By definition then, I believe sin is called sin to help us avoid needless suffering. The severing of a relationship in divorce or a break-up parallels in a living metaphor, the tragic pain of separation from God. More reason why no one should be denied a place at the table with Jesus.
Additionally, the current Evangelical metanarrative is merely a few hundred years old at best. A myriad of alternative orthodoxies exist that have repealed and replaced, made irrelevant, or compete with the systematic dispensational theology Graham represents. A theology based on Calvinistic theories that are prevalent in the West, and further corrupted by politics and religious nationalism. Yikes.
Morality with a Twist
Twisted morality and Bible contortions are nothing new to the Graham family. The late Billy Graham was originally a proponent of, wait for it, a woman’s right to choose. In fact, all leading voices of evangelicalism in 1973 believed Roe v. Wade was good for America. Let that sink in.
Just seven years later, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s religious right movement, delivered the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan in part by the mob’s pumped up convenient cause du jour of abortion, which evolved to become today’s powerful Evangelical voting bloc. Ironically, Reagan enacted the most liberal abortion laws in the nation a few years earlier as California governor. Reagan replaced an actual real-life born-again Christian, President Jimmy Carter. Why? The truth: it wasn’t really about abortion, but racism and power. These statements are rigorously cited in my book. You can dig deeper here.
More Exegetical Excretions
Falwell, a national figure at the time, notoriously lesbian shamed Ellen DeGeneres for coming out with an ad hominem slam calling her, “Ellen DeGenerate,” like a schoolyard bully. This rightfully did not land well on the LGBTQ community, causing needless mental, emotional, and probable physical harm to millions of people, not to mention Ellen – all living and breathing eternal souls with value to God.
Falwell, a flawed human like each one of us, sadly died of a massive heart event presumably because of the deadly sin that “shall not be named” in America: gluttony. If all sin is created equal, then by his own theology, wouldn’t that now place Falwell in a rather hot climate? Of course, I don’t believe Falwell or anyone else burns in a literal Hell, I’m just using evangelical pretzel logic to draw out the poison. And full disclosure, it’s not my intention to fat-shame him or anyone else. We all struggle with our ideal self, to put forth our best and with a bit of work and luck, hope to understand what makes us tick. We are all one, navigating this beautiful messy life on planet Earth. That’s the whole point.
Lead Us On
How do we and our allies outvoice the rambling rage machine of the homophobic right? We live out love in action to those seeking to understand God. We live out love in action with empathy and reason to those who misrepresent and/or misunderstand and/or misinterpret the Bible to promote a fear-forward religion.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a little homework assignment. Have a listen to Amy Grant’s iconic song, “Lead Me On.” And by “have a listen,” I mean fully immerse yourself in the deep end of the pool with it. I might suggest the live version from Grant’s 2006 release, “Time Again,” which features soaring and spirited backing vocals by Kim Keyes arranged to drop you to your knees and cry out to God (and it works every time). There is real spiritual depth here, and a clarion call for social justice – God’s social justice. To that end, whether mindfully, reluctantly, serendipitously, or fearlessly, Amy continues to lead us on.