Jesus was angry. Children who wanted to see him were being turned away. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,”he warned his disciples and then shocked them by adding, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
This is not the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as described in the poetry of Charles Wesley. This was Jesus, mad as hell, threatening capital punishment for anyone who caused children to stumble. Interesting word, stumble. Scholars suggest that “causes to stumble” can be understood as “become an obstacle to belief.” In other words Jesus warned his disciples: “When you undermine or weaken or destroy the faith of my children you deserve to die.”
Unfortunately, with few exceptions, current leaders of the 2.5 billion Christians worldwide have forgotten the story (even though it’s repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke). They are the 21st century counterparts of those 1st century disciples yet they don’t seem shocked or personally alarmed by Jesus’ warning. Why is that? Don’t they understand that 2,000 years after Jesus spoke those words that they too are standing in the way of the children who want to see Jesus?
In this case, I’m referring to the young gays and bisexuals (13 to 24) who have just learned that in the past decade their diagnosed HIV infection rate has risen by 132% while all other demographics have seen a 33% decline. Warning! Before we get back to Jesus, millstones and his 21st century disciples let’s guess what those same Christian clergy think when they see that gay and bisexual youth and young adults are the only U.S. population where HIV is on the rise. They’ll say what they said in the 1980s and 90s when the plague was first discovered. “It’s a gay plague,” they said. “We have no reason to feel blame. It’s their unsafe sexual practices that caused the rise.”
It is a mistake to blame “unsafe sexual practices” for the grim statistic but we can’t ignore those sexual practices either. Once again we need to rally our community to confront the problems of “condom fatigue,” (the decreased and irregular use of condoms); of “prevention fatigue” (the growing apathy towards safer sex campaigns); of the increasing acceptability of alcohol, methamphetamine, nitrates and other party drugs that lead to risky sexual behavior; of not being tested for the HIV virus on a regular basis; and of not being treated immediately when the virus is detected.
However, it isn’t enough to help end the unsafe sexual practices. There is another even more important factor to consider, unsafe religious practices. With very few exceptions, clergy and lay leaders representing 2.5 billion Christians worldwide are still defending their tired old beliefs that homosexuality is a sickness and a sin, beliefs based on biblical misuse and scientific ignorance. Those beliefs cause God’s LGBTQ children to stumble. They weaken, undermine and destroy faith and not just faith in God but faith in themselves as well.
The Christian-religion-based misinformation campaign can have equally devastating effects on young gay and bisexual men with no interest in Jesus or in the Christian churches. Religion-based anti-homosexual beliefs poison the well of information about homosexuality and homosexuals from which the entire nation drinks. Here’s the connection between these dangerous Christian beliefs and the rise of diagnosed HIV cases among gay and bisexual youth and young adults.
The Aids Healthcare Foundation (treating 300,000 HIV/AIDS patients in 33 countries) warns us that behind the “unsafe sexual practices” that lead to the rise of HIV infections is the “high level of stigma youth face in their communities.” The key word here is “stigma.” The young men who practice “unsafe sex” are victims of “unsafe religious practices” that stigmatize them for being gay and further stigmatizes the disease that threatens them.
That stigma keeps them from understanding that their sexual orientation or gender identity is a gift from God to be accepted and celebrated and lived with integrity. That stigma keeps them from healthy gay relationships and leads them to sexual practices that are secretive and often destructive. That stigma keeps them from being tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. That stigma keeps them from seeking care and speaking honestly with their sexual partners even when they know they are positive. That stigma leads directly and indirectly to the rise of HIV infection rates and that stigma is without doubt a direct result of the anti-homosexual teachings of Christian leaders in the U.S. and abroad.
Have they forgotten what made Jesus mad as hell? Maybe some entrepreneurial lesbian will find a way to manufacture and market miniature millstones we could place on the desks of clergy to help them remember the consequences for undermining or weakening or destroying the faith of God’s children. They need to be reminded of their direct and indirect responsibility for the alarming rise of HIV infections in God’s gay and bisexual children, especially among African-American and Hispanic teenagers and young adults. Above all they need to be reminded forcefully that they must end the debate that has gone on for five decades and instead of making it just a slogan like the United Methodist Church, they need to actually open their minds, hearts and doors to God’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Questioning children. And if they don’t? Let’s hear Jesus’ words again:
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”