I’m a Christian who believes that members of the LGBTQ+ community should have the same rights, freedoms and security as the rest of us. Because Jesus said so.

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I have to start this post by admitting that the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community have never been a high priority of mine. I don’t have many gay friends, and the ones I’ve got seem to be living happy lives. Here in Ottawa, openly gay people go around being openly gay – and, as far as I can tell, no one gives them a second glance. People in Canada can marry anyone they want, as long as the person is neither related to them nor married already – and they can start a family, too. My home town in rural Newfoundland was pretty redneck, and I know a handful of people who hid their sexual orientation until leaving there for fear of being rejected by their family and bullied by their peers. But I’ve reached the point where I’ve been away from Robert’s Arm for as long as I lived there – the social mores of that town don’t cast as long a shadow over my thoughts as they used to.

Then came the terrible incident at Pulse in Orlando. 49 people dead, over fifty injured, after a gunman sprayed the crowd with two guns. He claimed allegiance to ISIL, the troublesome terrorists responsible for a number of awful deeds around the world. He did it because the club is known to be a queer favourite, and he hated gay people. For millions of people, myself included, this was unfathomable. He disagreed so strongly with LGBTQ+ lifestyles that he hated anyone involved. He hated them so much that he took their lives. Unimaginable. Optimistically, I thought this guy had to be rare – maybe even a one-off. Then I watched this video of people reading aloud some of the hate mail received by Pride Toronto. It’s filled with disturbing statements and nasty language. Apparently, Omar Mateen wasn’t alone in thinking that gay people are dirty animals who should make the world a better place by dying. Some people are blaming the massacre at Pulse on the people who were targeted, saying that they brought the violence on themselves by associating with the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, many of these people who claim to despise gay people also try to lay claim to something else: that they are Christians.

I am a Christian – that is to say, a Christ-follower. The knowledge that fellow Christians are so hateful toward a group of people simply based on who they love is painful. In the Christian community, we are living by faith in the grace of God. The whole premise of Christianity is the notion that we are members of a fallen race who needed the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our salvation and example and daily strength. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)  We celebrate this at Christmas and Easter – and every time we pray. Unless, apparently, we’re talking about gay people. Then, we take the Old Testament law that we are supposedly no longer subject to, and use it to beat down those who identify as something other than straight. The New Testament (the new code of living that the advent of Jesus Christ introduced) says very little about homosexuality. Depending on your translation or interpretation, it says nothing at all. The real umbrage against homosexuality in the Bible is actually in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is also home to a number of other rules and prejudices we no longer bother with. Perhaps we should bring them all back, for consistency’s sake. Know anyone who’s cheated on their spouse? Get out the rocks and start lobbing! Get rid of your blended clothing (which, these days, is – oh, everything we wear). When your slave gets all clingy and refuses to leave you, you have a choice – you can pierce his ear with a modern tool like the guns they use at Claire’s, or you can stick with tradition and use an awl. The menstrual tent on the outskirts of town needs better signage – none of us ladies want to pollute the community with our blood! The smoke from the sacrificial fire is breaking air pollution by-laws, and I’m running out of goats to burn.

Someone once asked Jesus the following question: out of all the laws in the Torah, which is the most important? (Matthew 22:36). Jesus quoted two laws from the Old Testament: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God. Love each other. Just love.

A few facts from around the world ….

Being gay will lead to the death penalty in Sudan, Mauritania and much of the Middle East. Gay people can spend anywhere from 14 years to life in prison in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, India and Guyana. In wide swaths of Africa, as well as pockets of the Middle East, Asia and South America, it’s a slightly kinder penalty. Just 14 years! In the rest of Africa (with a nod to South Africa which seems to grant full rights), Asia and Russia, Eastern Europe and parts of South America, they’ll put up with you being gay as long as you keep it on the down-low.

And in Orlando, one year ago today, being gay – or even just being friends with gay people – meant being executed in cold blood by a madman who hated people because they didn’t live exactly as he did. Many are remembering the horrifying events, and mourning the beautiful souls taken too soon. As Christians, we should be standing side-by-side with the grieving and the defenders of human rights. We should be welcoming and celebrating love wherever we find it. We should not downgrade the tragedy of human lives destroyed because of some Old Testament drivel from which we have been freed by our saviour.

We have enough clanging symbols and noisy gongs in this world. Anyone can be that. If we want to be salt and light, we have to rise above that – to be more than that. Real love, now, for everyone – with no strings or judgements attached. Because Jesus said so.

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Walk by faith, wherever your faith lies.

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I love Maclean’s magazine. I’ve been a subscriber for years. A flip through any issue yields a number of interesting, well-written pieces on a wide range of topics. Recently, an article appeared in Maclean’s called “Did Jesus really exist?” The article was centred around the work of Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar. I read it, wondering if there might be anything new on the subject. There wasn’t. Alot was said about the concepts of false memory, social memory, and the fact that tales grow in the telling. The children’s party game of telephone was mentioned to illustrate how a message can change each time it is repeated. Apparently, there are some dates that don’t line up, and there is some confusion over whether Jesus’ death warrant was signed by Pontius Pilate or King Herod. Some of the gospel accounts differ on a few details, or focus on different parts of Jesus’ life. The apostle Paul’s lack of interest in the life of Jesus is mentioned to support the idea that he never really existed. There is a possibility that some of the documents supporting Jesus’ existence were forged by zealous early Christians.

Basically, the same things people have been saying for years – and the same things people could say about many famous ancient figures. Ramses, Homer, Confucius, Plato, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Genghis Kahn, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare …. How do we really know any of them existed? If they did, how do we know they really did what we think they did? Oral memory is sketchy. Forgeries are possible. Not all historians agree on what happened and when. Shall we use this to drum them out of the annals of history, or will we keep telling stories about them? Does every detail matter? A human being is not simply a superbly designed machine. There is head – and there is heart. There is more to this life than what we can see.

We struggle to quantify and prove what is important, and we demand evidence of everything – but it’s never been so easy to forge everything. Photographic evidence isn’t even reliable anymore, thanks to technology that can seamlessly blend images and change any detail of any picture – and filters that convincingly mimic many different time periods. Statistics show that more and more of us see ourselves as secular and cynical. Yet, we live in an era in which we are increasingly walking by faith and praying for miracles – whether we know it or not. We’re a global village, and the next pandemic or terrorist attack is always just around the corner. Some very unstable people have access to weapons that could destroy us all if they ever decide to use them. Our planet is heating up and drying out. Many of us are plagued by anxiety, and feel like we’re not safe anywhere. Yet we make a daily decision to walk out the door into uncertainty. We keep making art and poetry and music and plans for the future – and babies.

Why? Because we are believers even when we don’t know what we believe in. Because we have decided to keep walking, however dark the path ahead. At the core of all of us, though it may not be acknowledged or even recognised, there is faith. Faith in science, faith in humanity, faith in ourselves, faith in love – and, for some of us, faith in Jesus. Did he exist? Does he, as Christian tradition teaches, still exist? I’m not going to try to prove anything or persuade anyone. I’m just going to give my opinion. Partly because this is a subject dear to my heart, and partly because I just love giving my two cents to everyone on everything all the time. I have chosen to believe he does exist. I feel his presence whenever I talk to him. I see his face in the faces of everyone I love. I see his hands in the kindness people show each other in times of trouble – in Mister Rogers’ oft-referenced helpers. I hear his voice urging me to push through my fear and keep going, to share what I have, to reach out to others who need a friend, to show love to people who have none for me. I use the stories of Jesus to guide me when my faith is low or I don’t know what to do. When I’m disappointed in myself, I remember that he knows me well and loves me anyway, and that his grace is freely given to me every day in the form of second, third, tenth chances – and I forgive myself because he does. Whatever does that for you, whatever gets you though the frightening, beautiful mess of being alive, hold onto it. You don’t need proof that it exists, and you don’t need experts to agree with you. People can speculate all they like on whether he’s real – he’s real to me, my faith in him compels me forward no matter what I have to walk through, and that’s enough for me. Happy Easter, whatever you believe!