Almost, But Not Quite: Thoughts On E. Dewey Smith’s Comments About Homosexuality

E. Dewey Smith, pastor of House of Hope in Atlanta, GA, has made waves over his comments concerning the treatment of gay people in churches. You can watch the video below.

This isn’t the first time that Smith has stepped into the stormy waters of sexuality in the Black church. He’s also made comments earlier in the summer, where he voiced his beliefs concerning marriage and admonished preachers for their hypocrisy concerning other issues.  Last year, Smith retweeted openly gay Bishop Yvette Flunder, which raised eyebrows for many onlookers. Given the time span over which these events have taken place, it is safe to assume that Smith’s thoughts have been developing on this matter.

Smith should be commended for initiating this conversation in spaces where it normally does not take place. He also should be praised for wrestling with these issues in places that are historically antagonistic toward LGBT people. The discussion of full inclusion in Black Christian denominations often takes place in seminaries, divinity schools, and other liberal religious arenas. The people who need to hear the conversation most are usually not in attendance.  Many Black Christians, gay or otherwise, are unaware that more progressive lines of thinking even exist. His comments pose a risk to his career and network that should not be ignored. Much of LGBT oppression in Black churches is upheld by an Old Boys’ Network, where people who are too divergent in their theology are shut out of lucrative ministry opportunities. Smith broke away from that mindset.

However, there is a rush to appoint Smith as a full-fledged ally to the LGBT cause. This is where caution needs to be exercised. He has yet to say that being gay or otherwise queer in not a sin. Smith does not say that being LGBT is a gift from God, or that it is blessing, or that people in the community are living out who God created them to be. What he does is highlight the hypocrisy of how gay people are treated based on how much the church body at large consumes from them. If anything, Smith is saying that being gay is no worse than any other sin, so it is wrong to treat gay people worse than everyone else. The unfortunately reality is that even a statement such as this is groundbreaking in many Black churches, but they do not signal a desire for full inclusion. Smith’s comments fall in line with many mainline denominations and churches: acknowledging the sacredness of all humanity but labeling homosexuality a sin.

There may be more that Smith has to say about inclusion that he has not yet said publicly. That is to be expected with a topic like this. It takes time and energy to unravel old thoughts and theology. Change does not happen overnight. He may arrive at a place in his journey where he is openly affirming. But his comments up to the present do not present an affirming message. Smith has not arrived there yet. Public support of marriage equality, which is now the law of the land, does not automatically make one affirming. What about ordaining gay clergy? What about the full access of areas of leadership for LGBT people? Would he marry a same-sex couple? These ideas could be coming down the pike, but until they come from his mouth, optimism should be tempered with caution.

There is something to be said for Smith’s words giving people hope in those spaces. We can never know how many people were touched, ministered to, and inspired to carry on. It is highly probable that one less suicide note was written and one fewer parent threw their child out of the house as a result of his comments. Smith’s words are likely the first time someone has ever heard anything approaching an affirming message from a Black preacher. That positive impact should not be diminished, but it does not need to be in order to acknowledge the areas where Smith’s comments still fall short. He is on a journey. He has gone further than many preachers in his position would dare. He has yet to fully affirm LGBT people. It is best to acknowledge the flowers that have bloomed along the way instead of forcing fruit to bear before its time.

NOTE: E. Dewey Smith has clarified his statements. He does not consider himself an ally and still considers same-sex marriage and homosexuality sin. Read his and his church’s words here.

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Yes, It’s Been Changed: A Very Quick Primer on How We Get Our Bibles

So, this picture has been making the rounds on the interwebs.

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Erica Campbell of Mary Mary even shared it to her Facebook page, where the post received over 70,000 comments.

It is true? Have verses been taken out of the Bible?

The short answer is yes.

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But before you start pleading the blood and rebuking the devil, let’s have a brief conversation about where Bibles come from, kind of like the birds and the bees of biblical literature.

Before we start, just let me say that this is a very, VERY bare bones introduction to this topic. I’ve intentionally pared it down so it won’t be overwhelming. I’ll leave additional resources at the end for you to do more reading.

Bibles are translated from pieces of ancient manuscripts that are found from archeological digs or even by accident. In particular, there’s been many collected editions of the New Testament found all over. Editors compile what they can from the pieces of these manuscripts—which are often incomplete—and translate the Bibles that we read today. Nothing that these experts work on is an original document.

Did you hear that?

Repeat: WE HAVE NO ORIGINALS. Everything we have, even the oldest, “best” copies are just that: copies.

Some of these collections are older than others. The older something is, the closer its content is to whatever the original writer put in the document. But older still isn’t the same an original. So even in good (and good means older) copies, there is still stuff that is added, removed, and otherwise edited.

WAIT, ARE YOU SAYING THAT PEOPLE ADDED THINGS TO SCRIPTURE?

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Yes, but again, don’t get bent out of shape. Remember, people wrote everything by hand in ancient times. There was no copy machine so writers had to write every single document by hand.

Every.

Single.

One.

So imagine the number of typos, misspellings, and other errors that crept in when these documents were put to paper? We can’t even spell #pedalstool correctly. The majority of these additions are errors on the part of the copier.

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

There are some places in scripture where extra information is added to clarify topics for the readers. The Gospels are a good example of this. Luke’s readers weren’t well versed in Jewish ideas, some things need to be fleshed out to make sense. Also, each gospel was written to address specific issues. That’s why Jesus visits the temple three times in John but once in the other accounts, and why numerous other accounts are similar in the gospel but have different implications.

There’s also the issue of use getting better at translating these ancient languages. Remember, the original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew (with a splash of Aramaic), and the New Testament was written entirely in Koine Greek. It’s not a one-to-one ration when it comes to translating. So, we have to make the best guess they can. Any translator that is actually good at their job will tell that you that once you translate something, you’ve already interpreted it. Which means you’ve already changed the meaning somehow.

There are other places where a chunk of scripture is the direct result of a community adding commentary that reflects the beliefs of that community. For example, Mark 16. This popular chapter actually ends at verse 8, which means the rest of the text is a much later addition.

An example that is closer to home is 1 John 5:7. Grab your grandmother’s King James Bible and you see that it reads “ For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Check recent versions and you won’t find it. The verse didn’t appear in any manuscript until the 1500s. More than likely, that verse is a line from a hymn that reflected the theology of the time, but is a far cry from what the community of 1 John would believe. So, they took it out.

Here’s the part that’s missed by most folks. If you have a bible with study notes, you’ll see that the translator has already told you what scriptures are in doubt. Some even have them in brackets. People tend to not read these notes. Also, companies that publish Bibles leave these debatable verses in because people are familiar with them, and they want copies to sell. Money impacts theological choices and stances more than we talk about…and that needs a blog post all to itself.

So, to recap: Yes verses have been taken out and added into the Bible. Way more than you’ve realized.

What is Forgiveness Part 1: The Basics

“God forgave us of our sins, so we need to forgive each other, so that God will forgive us.”

Many people have heard that line before. However, it often isn’t that simple, is it?

This post is the first of several, where will share what I’ve learned about forgiveness. While I’m not sure that forgiveness is a skill that you master, I do think that possessing a solid understanding of what forgiveness is—and isn’t—will help us when we are encountered with the arduous task of dealing with a wrong committed against us.

First, some ground rules. I’ll mention some scripture in these posts, because the Bible is foundational for a lot of my readers. However, I’m not wedded to the Bible or having to check off every orthodox belief about forgiveness. I do believe that forgiveness is healthy. But forgiveness can never be forced by fear. That’s coercion.

From hurtforhopewellness.com

From hurtforhopewellness.com

What exactly is forgiveness? My definition is this: to release someone from the penalty of a debt or grievance. Let’s use money as an example. Say someone owes you $100. They haven’t paid it in a while, and you’ve been waiting patiently. You’re furious with them. After a long while, you decide to let it go. You don’t ask for the money back anymore, and you don’t pursue any action that would lead to their harm for not paying the money. You drop the requirement for the money to be returned.

That is what I’ve come to view forgiveness as. I know that I have truly forgiven when I reach the point where I don’t look for some sort of recompense for what was done to me. I’m not expecting the person to change. I’m not looking for ways to make the person pay for what they’ve done. My expectation for some sort of recompense is gone.

This example also demonstrates some important things that are often missed when discussing forgiveness. Forgiveness does not pretend that no wrong was committed. Looking back to the example, notice how there was no pretending that the person didn’t owe the money. There was no magic spell that rewrote history and made the issue disappear. Early in my life, I was exposed to this sort of forgiveness, which is really a forgery. All that did was cause me to push the pain that I’ve experienced down, and never heal in my own way and time. I’ve learned that forgiveness is grounded in reality. The person in the example still owed the money, just like the person or people that hurt you actually did something to hurt you. Acknowledging that is a vital part in forgiving.

Also, notice how there is no mention of reconciliation. This may be hard for some to accept, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.The loaner of the money never, ever has to loan money to the person again. They don’t even have to be friends. Forgiveness is, quite simply, dropping the requirement of payment. That’s it. Forgiveness does not require a restoration of the relationship that existed prior to the wrong being committed. Often, people in church and elsewhere lump forgiveness and reconciliation together. You have to “hurry up and forgive” so thing can go on as usual.

Forgiveness is not ignoring the fact that you are in pain and/or not acknowledging that someone in your community harmed you. 

So moving forward, here are some other thoughts about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation are all separate things. Don’t lump them together.
  • Forgiveness is far more about you and your peace than the offending party.
  • Forgiveness is a process. It takes time; you don’t have to rush it.
  • Forgiveness can be a part of justice, but not necessarily.
  • God does not hate you, even if you can’t forgive someone right away.

We’ll get into more depth with later posts. Do you have any questions or thoughts about forgiveness? Talk in the comments…