jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

On Acts 26 and Other Things

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So I came out as bisexual a week ago today. And what’s more, I added to my pronouncement that I’m confident that the Bible doesn’t condemn me for it.  No, not even if I marry a woman.  I won’t go into the hows and whys of that in this post, or what I’ve been up to lately (hint: I took some of my own New Year’s advice!), because this is going to be a long one as it is.

Anyway, most people have been either supportive or silent, so that’s been great. But if you’ve hung out in many churches, you know there’s had to be some blowback.  And that’s fine, I expected it.  I calculated it ahead of time, and figured it was the price of driving change.

Still, there were some things that hurt.  I went round and round with a dear friend who remained unconvinced and concerned, and then on Thursday some official church stuff happened that I won’t go into.  And that was all on top of a crappy work week.  But I don’t believe in accidents, and that evening, my “regularly scheduled” Bible reading began with Acts 26.

Have you read it?  Paul’s on trial basically, pretty much a trial of his own making, because he demanded an appeal to Caesar.  I don’t say that to fault him, I think he had good reasons for doing so.  Anyway, he’s defending himself and he says:

“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today…I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.”

And this kind of struck me dumb for a minute.  It’s not the first time I’ve read or heard the words, but this time I realized that I’ve always thought of Paul as kind of two people: the evil Saul who persecuted Christians, and the changed Paul, follower of Christ.  But that’s not true at all. The zealously religious Saul is the very same person as the zealously religious Paul–it’s just that after Damascus, he knew the truth.  Or perhaps I should say “more of” the truth, or even better “a more accurate” truth, because he was not wrong in his Judaism, though misguided in his Phariseeism, and unwilling to accept the Messiah when He came. Then he had his experience on the road to Damascus:

“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”

Paul, being the kind of guy he is, took to this new direction with all the dedication he’d applied to his old one:

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike.”

I can understand why people who knew Paul might have been concerned!  And they certainly were:

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

After reading this through, and then reading it through again, I knew that this was a picture of me, as well as of Paul, but of course on a smaller scale.  I was steadfast for many years in my belief that homosexuality was wrong, and once enlightened, I’m just as steadfast in my belief that it is not.  And some of the people around me are understandably in shock and concerned!  (I love how Festus thought Paul had read too much!  Reading too much is *so* not a thing.)

But more importantly, this is also a picture of the dear friend I mentioned above, and of those in authority within my church.  They just haven’t been down the road to Damascus yet.

And this is what I have to keep in mind as I struggle and wait and hope and pray that things change for me and people like me.  I have to have patience—and that is definitely not my strong suit—and grace with those around me, and faith that God’s truth will be realized…eventually.  Eventually is such a hard word!  But there it is, and I share this with you in the hope that it might encourage you, as well.

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