Response to the Boys from South Carolina

In 2009, I wrote this email to the The Open Door Baptist Church in Easley, South Carolina. To see why, check out the church website at, no kidding, http://www.warningsofwrath.com. They have a gallery of photos from the 2009 Durham Pride March.  Besides my obvious fury at these people who use scripture to justify their cruelty and hubris, I also feel great admiration and gratitude for those of you who engage in difficult dialogs about religion, morality, and spirit with calm, compassion, and respect. So whether they deserved it or not, I composed this letter to their clergy and congregation. I decided to store it on my blog.

I saw the picture of your street ministry at the Pride Parade in Durham, North Carolina. Wow, lots of venom from you folks. I can tell that you feel like Jesus among the money lenders in the Temple.

However, I think you’re wrong; and I would argue that throughout my sacred texts and yours, God begs you to offer more compassion and to focus more clearly on what truly eats away at the world’s well-being:

From Isaiah Chapter 58

1. Speak up! Don’t hold back! Lift up your voice like a shofar, and
show my people their sins.
2. They keep looking for Me, every day. They want to understand Me.
They act like they always do my mitzvot and never break my
commandments. And then they ask Me to judge them fairly and to stay
near to them.
3. Why have we fasted, they say, why don’t you pay attention to us?
Why have we made ourselves miserable if You aren’t going to notice?
But see: while you fast, you still spend the day at your jobs,
making money.
4. And see: the way you fast leads to bickering and anger and
cruelty. If you fast like this, I will not listen to you.
5. Is this the fast that I have asked for? A day for you to make
yourself miserable and to look pitiful? Will you call this a fast
day for me?
6. Can’t you see that this is fast I have asked for, instead: to
help people who are truly in need?
7. To share your bread with the hungry, and to house the poor? To
provide clothes for people who need them and to be loving to your
famiily? To end slavery and to take responsibility and speak with
respect. To offer help before the needy must ask for it.
8. Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and you shall
be strong and righteous. And then Adonai will be with you.
13. If you forget your business and your arguments on the Sabbath,
my holy day; and if you call the Sabbath a delight and honorable,
14. Then you will be near Me; and I will make you great and
honor you according to the heritage of Jacob, your ancestor. The
mouth of the Eternal has said this.

We read this passage every year on the morning of Yom Kippur when we humbly petition God for forgiveness. This is  just one faithful translation, but I don’t think you’ll find any interpretation that calls on you to do anything like what you are doing in your street ministry. Perhaps you don’t accept the authority of Isaiah’s prophecy, but I can’t imagine you wouldn’t, as it is the source of much that Christianity rests upon.

And, by the way, there are other interpretations of what Sodom and Gomorrah did to inspire God’s wrath. It was their cruelty, intolerance, and injustice, according to our texts, that drew God’s ire. When the men of Sodom demand that Lot send out the men who were visiting so that ‘they may know them,’ the crowd’s intent is to rape them. Rape is not the same thing as what you condemn on your signs.

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