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Welcome to the Stoning: An Invitation into Otherness

Amanda Pilbrow - AlreadyEnough

Inside and outside of scripture, people's lived realities teach us about God, ourselves, and otherness. Holy encounters that invite wairuatanga transformation.

A Bold Move Too Far?

Five or so years ago, while I was a Baptist pastor, we embarked on a Re(a)lationship series. Included was a Sunday on ‘homosexuality.’ Now kudos, where kudos are due—even putting this into the series is a bold move too far for many. Besides the risk of riling up our congregations, pastors potentially put their livelihoods, reputations, and callings into jeopardy. But, equally, the danger is that in the research, listening, prayer and discerning process, we might discover information counter to what we thought we knew for sure. Information that requires us to humbly reassess alongside holy whispers—holy invitations into personal spiritual transformation. Indeed, a sturdy pair of brave underpants, hitched up to our ears and protecting our jugular, is required—it certainly takes faith.

It might surprise some to learn, as Jenell Williams Paris states, that homosexuality and heterosexuality were labels coined by the medical profession in the late 19th century to describe types of ‘people’ pursuing sexual pleasure—without concern for procreation. Ummm, well, might that include most of us? It includes me. The intention for these terms at this time, was to describe ‘deviant’ sexual activity. The negative connotations of heterosexuality broke free and became a word that identified opposite sex attraction regardless of lustful, unnatural, or deviant intent. However, the word homosexuality found its way into our Bibles around the 1960s—primarily for political and, might I boldly offer, fear-mongering and moral panic reasons. It became a word increasingly tagged with a deviant mindset even though it never existed before the 1920’s. Keep in mind the 1960s was the time birth control was marketed, and women's rights began to be voiced. It might also surprise us that other words have been used in various translations, but let's just say there is a high probability that the motivation behind the translation of the word ‘homosexual’ wasn't pure and the translation leaves much to be pondered. We find ourselves today with words that incorrectly reflect an understanding of the time or the context the text originated from. Let that percolate for a while.*

Assumptions and Regurgitation

Reading and researching in preparation for the H-Sunday, I became acutely aware of two things at the exact same time. First, I had assumed I knew what the Bible said about diverse sexuality—yes, I'm referring to those 'clobber' verses. And, because I'm being honest, I didn't really know where they were—never mind understanding their vital, surprising, and shocking context. Second, I didn't know how to stop regurgitating the old rhetoric I grew up in. But, and this is important, I had no idea there was another way to interpret scripture—not a new way, but an old way re-visioned—a faith-filled, life-giving, inclusive, and holy way. And not just for LGBTQIA+ people of faith but for us all. I had no idea, so I didn't know where to start.

Sitting around a table as a pastoral and leadership team, three weeks before the H-Sunday deadline, I had what I can only describe as a holy encounter. Have you had a holy encounter like this? One that begins to unravel your ‘certainty’ of belief, holds a mirror to your fear, shakes your assumed firm foundation, and refuses to leave you alone? This was that type of encounter. Undone by God at that moment, all I could ask was, "what if we've got this wrong too?" And so, the deeply uncomfortable, messy, seemingly unfaithful journey began. But that's my journey, and I'm not suggesting my journey be your journey. At the end of the day, with complete humility and in full faith, I might be wrong—but then you might be too—right?

As any exemplary researching and praying pastor knows, three weeks for such a vital topic (with everything else the role demands) is a tall order. So how does one even begin scraping the surface of unknowing, push into the discomfort of unlearning, face the fears, and expose the ignorance? Early in this process I discovered stones in my pockets wrapped in invitations to attend—or not—the stoning of otherness—of my neighbour.

This was the beginning and the end; a holy invitation, a wairuatanga transformation out of and into something renewed. And God refused to let me decline the invite. It took another twelve months to see the writing on the wall, but I suspect my colleagues saw it well before I did. Because once you see it you can't un-see it—that's the power of inner transformation.

Hindsight is fascinating, yes? Now, I see that deeply uncomfortable time as God's invitation. Still, at the time, it was heartbreak and a breakdown; deep grief not only for the community I lost—but for the shift away from an interpretive framework I had invested my life into.

Since then, a five-year deep dive into interpretive frameworks and lived experiences have taken place with a humble awareness there is still much to discover. This deep dive began with a Master of Applied Theology through Carey Baptist College. Here, by standing on the shoulders of well-considered theologians, biblical scholars, and LGB-Christians lived realities, the Holy Spirit continued to invite me into a revisioned understanding of imago Dei—our God-given diverse, wondrous, and fearfully made humanity. I left with distinction alongside my thesis: “Navigating Faith, Sexuality, and Wholeness in Aotearoa New Zealand: Seven LGB-Christian Narratives.” The invitation to dive deep didn’t stop there—and so I continue to discover acts of justice, love of mercy, and the movement of humility we are called into as a people of faith. Am I ‘certain’ with where I am now?—Hell no! God forbid. But I'm doing the faith-filled mahi regardless.

The Mother of all Fear

Why am I offering this story now? Am I just inviting you to my own stoning? Perhaps. Or is it an invitation out of and into something else? Could the recent news articles highlighting state-funded Christian schools (and church) policies around gender and sexuality be a holy invitation?

What if we are wrong—again?

Fear, I suggest, is the conduit or the superglue between ignorance and hate. What shape might this fear take?

Fear of not upholding a tradition? Fear that God and the Bible need defending? Fear that we couldn't possibly be wrong—again? Fear of feeling unfaithful? Of reading outside our confirmation bias? Fear of cancelling our own ticket into God's kingdom? Fear of people we don't yet understand? Fear of a god we have shaped in our image? Fear we might need to revisit our interpretation of scripture—again—and we don't know how? Fear that maybe our ‘certainty’ is actually our sin. Fear that God is so much more than we can imagine or control? Fear that God loves all the people we’ve claimed God doesn’t love—in all that they are? Fear that the reflection in the mirror might not be the righteousness we have assumed and proclaimed? Fear we might have to trust others to God? Fear that the people we have hurt are indeed blessed; theirs is the kingdom of God? Fear that if we give a little, a mile will be taken? Fear that our children will ‘turn’ gay if we don't take a firm stand? Fear that being gay will exclude us from an authentic faith?

Fear thrives in ignorance. Just as shame thrives in silence. But ignorance, motivated by fear mixed with certainty, grows into unabated arrogance (and pride). So, yes, it had to be said—it might as well be me—welcome to my stoning.

So knowing we are hurting others, should we continue to choose our 'certain' theology anyway? When we do not try to question ourselves, read, research, listen, or pray, do we double down and pick up more stones? Do we fall into the sin of certainty? Do we refuse to ask, “what if we have got this wrong too?” Disguised as love (wrapped religion), ignorance, fear, certainty, arrogance, and pride are not spaces of faith. Nor trust, stillness, wisdom, discernment, or transformation.

Does Our Fear Have a Name?

Take a moment and be still—invite the holy whisper—a position of humility. What fear is in our pocket? Can we feel the shape of it? Does it have a name? Do we sense it in our bodies?

Is it standing in the way of acting justly (moving towards another), loving mercy (offered freely beyond understanding), and walking (moving forward) in humility (acknowledging we might be wrong and trusting God anyway)?

Name it—it’s ok—God is greater than any stone in our pocket.

When such fears are allowed to shout the loudest within the church walls, the whispers of the Spirit—holy invitations—often come from the least expected—the least wanted. Are the stones in our pockets an invitation to a stoning because of our ignorance? Or are the stones an invitation to break down ignorance itself? What invitation is lurking in your pocket? Can we learn yet again with humility? Can we ask ourselves, “What if we are wrong—again?” What if there is another way to interpret scripture that is life-giving, faith-filled, and holy? And do we even care?

Empty Pockets

I can't answer all those questions for you. However, I can humbly offer acts of justice and continued love of mercy by inviting us into It's all I have to offer. It is my five-plus years worth of costly perfume in an alabaster jar. How you perceive it, what you do with it, and how you treat it is between you and God. I pray that I find piles of unwanted stones, empty pockets, and ignorance again discarded.

*Due to the original intent of the homosexual label, and the ensuing derogatory use, it is no longer used in scholarly circles. However, this sensibility hasn't trickled down—it continues to linger, escaping through whispered lips, offered through phobic jokes, ignorant spokespeople, or brazen preachers. The respectful address is LGBTQIA+, Rainbow, or Queer to which it is advised we respectfully ask to which is a person’s preference. And fair enough.

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1 Comment

Thank you Amanda for this website.

Thank you for you thought-provoking insights.

Much food for growth and grace.


PS I am writing from the room that belongs to a young relative.

He is gay.

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