“What’s Wrong With Me?” – Reflections on Pray Away, Part 2

Disclaimer: Pray Away is a documentary film on the harm caused by the ex-gay movement that promotes changing one’s sexual orientation through reparative (conversion) therapy. Please be aware that the film can be very difficult to watch, especially if you have been hurt by the movement. The Pray Away website offers “tips and resources to prioritize your mental health before, during, and after viewing the film.” If you think it may trigger trauma, you do not have to watch it. If you have already watched it and need support, please reach out to a safe person. For those who have not suffered at the hands of this movement, please watch it. We need you to listen to these stories. Pray Away released August 3 on Netflix.

Below the trailer for the film is the second in a series of reflections inspired by the film. You can read the first post here.

Official Trailer for Pray Away.

“What’s Wrong With Me?”

One point of resonance I experienced while watching the documentary film Pray Away was when Julie Rodgers reflects on how she understood her self-harm. She reads from her book, Outlove:

“The first time I burned myself, I was sitting on a curb outside of the church after a Living Hope meeting… As the cigarette burned low, without giving it much thought, I shoved the burning end of it into my shoulder and listened as the skin on my left arm sizzled… Shortly after that night, I sat alone in my room, lost in a whirlwind of fear, agony, and self-loathing. That’s when I remembered the cigarette burn and the wave of detachment that flowed through my body the moment the fire seared my skin… In the years that followed, when the anguish became unbearable, I would return to this routine: burning straight lines into my shoulders and tending to the wounds to self-soothe.”

In the midst of this experience, she says she was severely depressed and didn’t know why she was overwhelmed or sad. “I always felt like such a freak. Like, oh, ‘What’s wrong with me? I’m a total maniac – burning up and hurting my own body.'”

The ex-gay narrative that provided an interpretive lens for her life led her to believe she was the problem. As she details in her book, she came “to see how my story functioned to serve a particular agenda.” It was “rearranged and interpreted to serve [the ex-gay] narrative.” Her “testimony” was meticulously shaped by the leader of the ex-gay ministry she was involved in, and she had no other interpretive options for the experiences of her life. She blamed herself – What’s wrong with me?

It took being confronted by other survivors of the ex-gay movement to expose the ex-gay narrative as false. Hearing the stories of those who had escaped the ex-gay narrative and come to understand themselves and their experiences outside such an oppressive paradigm, was critical in Julie’s journey of shifting her own understanding of her story. “It was absolutely devastating, and I think for me, it was the first time that I identified more with the survivors sharing their story than I did with anybody from Exodus. These stories of deep, deep pain shook me down to my core. Feeling like they were in many ways sharing my story. I remember feeling like I was sitting on the wrong side of the circle.”

She and so many others, myself included, when confronted with the trauma experienced within the ex-gay movement, saw its toxicity. As Randy Thomas says in the film, “When the Lisa Ling show came out, I knew then that Exodus was death, and it was destruction. Because those survivors were looking at us right in the face. And we could no longer excuse it away. We could no longer deny it. And that Exodus could no longer promote the idea of change, because that was a lie.” The Lisa Ling episode referenced, God & Gays, aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2013 and is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video, but you can watch the trailer here.

As I’ve reflected on the guiding story that animated the ex-gay movement, I cannot help but see how that narrative was created, reinforced and given legitimacy by Evangelicalism’s telling of the “gospel.” Within Evangelicalism’s worldview, the question “Who are we?” or “Who am I?” sets the stage for the drama of salvation within which “the gospel” is “the answer” to the problem of humanity. I can remember unfolding the sections of the Romans Road tract as part of my evangelistic efforts to “lead people to Jesus,” so they could “get saved.” Step one of that road is a sort of opening chapter for the story that shaped my life from the moment it was taught to me as a teenager. Who are we? We are sinners.

I want to let you on the inside of how this story shaped my young understanding of myself, God and life. Over the last couple of years I have been going through my old journals and doing some narrative analysis for a future writing project. Below is a narration of a few early parts of my life in the voice I’ve reconstructed from those journals and memories.

9 years old: We are moving to a new town and this weekend I get to sell anything I don’t want anymore in a garage sale. This is my chance to get rid of all my Barbie stuff. I don’t know why my parents keep giving me these toys. I don’t like them. I don’t play with them. Who wants to dress Barbie up in frilly outfits? Not me! Maybe I’ll earn enough money to buy a few more Micro Machines. Or Legos. Now those are my favorites. Of course, only when I’m tired from playing outside – climbing trees, riding my bike. We’re moving to the country. I hope that means we will get to go hiking and fishing and camping more often. Getting dirty and swimming in rivers – what could be better than that?!? Maybe Mom would let me get rid of some of those girly clothes I hate too. Every time we go clothes shopping, she tries to pick out something dumb with flowers on it. Yuck. I hate that stuff. And dresses? No thank you! I’m so uncomfortable in that stuff. Why is it such a big deal to her? So what if people call me a tomboy? I know she doesn’t like it. Maybe she doesn’t really like me.

13 years old: Katie* slept over last night. We laid outside and watched the stars and talked. I’ve been having these feelings. I really wanted to touch her, to hold her hand. I just wanted to be close. I felt kinda nervous even thinking about that. She’s my best friend. I always tell her everything, but I’m too scared to tell her this. She’d probably freak out, maybe hate me and stop being my friend. I mean, it’s weird. Why do I feel this way? Last week at school I kept looking over at her in Math class, and I got totally distracted because the thought of kissing her kept popping up in my mind. Picturing it made me feel butterflies in my stomach. But then I was afraid that someone might know what I was daydreaming about and I forced myself to stop looking at her. There’s something wrong with me. Why am I like this? If my parents find out, I’m dead. They’ll hate me too. I’m already a failure of a girl. Now this? I’m disgusting.

15 years old: We’ve been going to church for a few months now. When my mom found out about my feelings for Katie, she flipped out and now I’m forced to be here every Sunday. I even have to go to youth group every week. I mean, people are nice enough, but I know why I’m here. “Satan has a hold of you!” That’s what my mom said. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. The pastor keeps preaching about how sinful we are. How we don’t have hope without Jesus. I’ve always tried to be good. I get straight A’s. I follow the rules. I do my chores. But there’s this thing inside of me. They say it’s an abomination. It’s against God’s will. So, I guess that’s my sin. That’s proof that I’m separated from God, that I deserve hell. I’ve been trying to forget about Katie. About my feelings. I’m not allowed to see her anymore anyway. Maybe this will go away. Maybe if I can get rid of it, my parents won’t be so mad at me. Maybe I won’t be so messed up. I think I need to accept Christ. This is too terrible. I’m too sinful. I need God’s forgiveness. We’re singing now. The pastor is asking if anyone wants to come to the front to pray for Jesus to enter their life and save them from their sin. My heart is racing. I feel sick. I have to do this. There’s no other way that I’m going to be ok, that anyone will love me.

The “gospel” I encountered in that small Southern Baptist church gave me a story through which I learned to see everything. My young mind was anxiously asking – What is wrong with me? How do I fix it? The story began with: You are a sinner – unclean, broken, unworthy of love and belonging. The shame I carried as a teenager trying to make sense of my feelings and desire to love and be loved was reinforced by the Christian story I received. It told me that pretty much nothing about my body could be trusted – my feelings, desires and thoughts were part of my evil flesh. During adolescence, as I was trying to understand my changing body, I was taught that what it was revealing was the worst of the worst.

Even after responding to that altar call and begging God to forgive me, I was terrified that the corruption within me would disqualify me from God’s love. Throughout high school I tried with all my might to resist temptation, suppressing every thought and feeling for girls. I committed to being obedient. I excelled at bible study and memorizing scripture. I volunteered at church. I evangelized my friends at school. I started and led our campus’ first Christian club. I took the True Loves Waits purity pledge. I publicly declared my faith by praying early in the morning at See You At The Pole. I fasted during the 30 Hour Famine. I ended up going to a Christian college. Remember, I am an enneagram 1. I spent every ounce of energy I had trying to be perfect so that somehow God would not change his mind about loving me, that he would not revoke my salvation.

It was on the foundation of Evangelicalism’s story that the ex-gay narrative seemed to offer hope. The following passage is highlighted in yellow in the Bible I voraciously read as a teenager: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NIV). Exodus International proclaimed, “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” The ex-gay promise fused with the gospel and “overcoming homosexuality” became synonymous with “being saved.” My parents gave me ex-gay books and newsletters to read as part of their attempt to help heal me. The ex-gay narrative offered an easy to understand explanation for why I was “same-sex attracted” and how I could change. My next blog post will focus on that narrative and how it held me hostage for 15 years.

Faced with the damage done by the ex-gay movement, it is important to see how its harm is one manifestation of a dangerous theology that defines humanity primarily as sinful and separated from God. The ex-gay enterprise is legitimated by Evangelicalism’s anthropology. The shame generated by such a self-concept sets us up to, as shame researcher Brene Brown says, “stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness.” Exodus claimed a way out from the shame of homosexuality. However, as explored in Pray Away, it deeply traumatized people, partly because it sent us further into shame. The narrative we tried to live from abused us, killed many, and continues to inflict harm through the ministries still claiming it as “good news.” Pray Away uncovers the toxicity of the ex-gay movement, and I think we also need to interrogate the larger narrative within which it gained traction.

In Pray Away, Julie, once trapped by the self-blaming answer to the question “What’s wrong with me?” recognizes what her teenage self did not: self-harm was “a result of the system and the culture around me that made me hate myself.” She writes in her book: “I’ve heard depression described as anger turned inward. Perhaps that’s what I was doing in my room all those years ago: I took the rage I felt about living in a body that couldn’t be submitted into the kind of body it was supposed to be – a straight body, a feminine body, a good Christian body – and I lit it on fire.”

* Name changed

“How Did I Believe That?” – Reflections on Pray Away, Part 1

The release of Pray Away, a documentary on the ex-gay movement that promotes changing one’s sexual orientation through reparative (conversion) therapy, has been on my calendar since its August 3 date was announced. So, Tuesday morning I woke up, turned on my television, opened Netflix and pressed play. Because of my previous involvement within the ex-gay world, I knew watching would be difficult. The Pray Away website offers “tips and resources to prioritize your mental health before, during, and after viewing the film.” To label this film (or this post) with a “trigger warning” seems obvious, and, doesn’t come close to matching the gravity of the experience of watching this film. Please, please, please care for yourself if you choose to watch this film. If you have already watched it and need support, please reach out to a safe person. Though this is an incredibly important film, if you think it may trigger trauma, you do not have to watch it. For those who have not suffered at the hands of this movement, please watch it. We need you to listen to these stories.

Below this sneak peak from the film is the first post in a series I will share over the next several weeks of reflections inspired by this film and from my own experiences as a survivor.

“My whole entire life was structured around not being gay.” Julie Rodgers in Pray Away.

“How Did I Believe That?”

Days after graduating from college, I boarded a plane from California to Orlando, FL. Alan Chambers, Executive Director of Exodus International, invited me to join the Exodus team and I accepted, believing that God was calling me to use my story to help others find “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” My job as Publications Manager was essentially to be the ex-gay storyteller. I worked to help others share their testimonies of “freedom” and crafted communications that promoted the message of “change.” I was 22 years old. I had been shaped by the ex-gay narrative since my parents found out about my same-sex attractions when I was 15. They turned to Exodus’ message to “save” me. It was like a dream come true to join this ministry as my first job out of college. I thought, This is what faithfulness to God looked like. This was a place I could belong. I could make a difference here. Though I left the staff 10 months later, the narrative shaped my life for another 10 years.

I joined the staff of Exodus International in May 2002 as Publications & Office Manager.

Yesterday I sat across the table from a pastor who asked me, “Did they really believe it?” From some perspectives, it may seem unbelievable that those leading the ex-gay movement really believed their own message. In the film, Yvette Cantu Schneider reflects on her time as a leader in the movement: “I spent a lot of time thinking – How did I believe that? And how was I involved in it for so long?” She answers her own question later in the film when she comments on the new wave of leadership and testimonies moving the current ex-gay movement forward. “It’s such indoctrination. All of the lingo that they use, and the pattern of the testimony and even the pattern of their lives.”

For most of my life, I’ve been drawn to the way story functions in human experience and meaning making. For a while now, I have specifically been thinking about the way that the ex-gay narrative shaped reality for so many of us, keeping us holding on to it as a guiding vision for our lives long after it even seemed plausible anymore. Yes, we believed it. We devoted our lives to it. We learned to understand our lives and our identities within its boundaries. It became the script for absolutely everything.

One of the reasons this narrative was so powerful is because it was completely at home with the larger narrative so many of us already embraced: that of conservative Evangelicalism. Confessing “Jesus is Lord” meant obediently resisting the temptation of same-sex attractions, and “salvation” meant “freedom from homosexuality.” In a story where a holy God cannot look upon the dirty sinner, and in a culture where “homosexuality” evokes such disgust, of course we believed that the forgiveness we needed is forgiveness for such abhorrent feelings, and of course the salvation we needed is deliverance from such darkness. Yes, as Yvette said, the pattern of the testimony serves as a powerful tool of indoctrination. But it is not just the pattern of the ex-gay testimony. The ex-gay testimony is a product of the larger story that provides its worldview and stamps it with divine legitimacy. “Every society needs a narrative that justifies why it is how it is and does what it does. Such a narrative is the realm of religion, the rituals and stories that connect individuals into a sense of being ‘a people,'” writes Wes Howard-Brook in his book, Empire Baptized: How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected, 2nd-5th Centuries. “The first step in establishing… legitimacy was an increased association between the [authority figures] and divine authority.” There is immense power-influencing belief when spiritual leaders are teaching “God’s will” from “God’s word,” and are providing evidence through testimonies. I’ll unpack this more in this series of reflections.

In the film, Julie Rodgers mentions writing a book to “make sense of my experience.” Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story released June 22 and I highly recommend it. Julie beautifully examines the experiences of her life within the ex-gay world, inviting her readers along her journey of weaving together new meaning for her life. As she says in the film, “I suffered trauma, and it definitely resulted in extreme forms of self-hatred, but I survived. I’m really happy and I found somebody that I love so much. And we’re doing well, but not everybody is.” She survived. But not everybody does.

Randy Thomas, former Vice President of Exodus International, acknowledges in the film those whose lives have been stolen: “As a leader, I had been trained to acknowledge the loss, but to rationalize it away, to go into denial. And I hate that I did that. And for many people who don’t commit suicide, we’re killing ourselves internally by not embracing who God created us to be.” In the months I worked with Randy, I knew him as someone who was committed to helping others. His motivation for submitting his own life to and leading others along the ex-gay path was to help alleviate suffering and offer hope. Yet, when asked, as he describes, “What do you think about the blood on your hands?” he says, “Right now, all I know is that I am afraid to look at down my hands.”

Regardless of our intentions, every single one of us who provided leadership within the ex-gay movement contributed to the pain and suffering of those impacted by it. Though we were also trapped by its narrative, though we suffered our own pain and losses, though we were manipulated and used, our investment in it did so much damage. The ex-gay movement stole years from me. And it killed so many others. My complicity in the movement is part of what fuels my passion to work for LGBTQ inclusion in Christian spaces now. I am not doing penance, as if good work now will somehow pay for damage done. Nothing can make right what was done. As I said in my post a few weeks ago, as someone who wants to invest in justice and flourishing, this work is part of embracing and offering my full and truest self. This work brings me to life, and my hope is that it will also be life-giving to others.

Pray Away is available to watch on Netflix. In the next post of this series, I will share more about how the ex-gay narrative, as it was situated within the larger Evangelical narrative, functioned in my own life as I tried to make sense of my experiences and faith. In other words, I’ll explore how I came to believe this story and internalize it as my own.

Official Trailer for Pray Away.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Jesus is born into the midst of deep longing for liberation. God’s people root their identity in their deliverance from Egyptian slavery into the promised land. They are the people who cried out under oppression, whose God heard their cries and came to be-there* with and for them.

“I have seen how My people in Egypt are being mistreated. I have heard their groaning when the slave drivers torment and harass them; for I know well their suffering. I have come to rescue them from the oppression of the Egyptians, to lead them from that land where they are slaves and to give them a good land – a wide, open space flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:7-8, The Voice)

By the first century, God’s people had endured wave after wave of foreign powers ruling over them. Though they had taken the promised land and established a king meant to maintain God’s rule, everything unraveled. The first wave crashed in 586 BC, when the Davidic monarchy was dethroned with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The people were taken into Babylonian captivity and exile became the new reality. The second wave hit: the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Though permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, God’s people were still under foreign rule. The third wave rolled in with Alexander the Great conquering the region. The next wave of subjugation brings us to the Roman Empire into which Jesus is born.

Imagine hundreds of years of wrestling with your identity as God’s liberated people in the midst of constant captivity. Imagine gathering for worship and singing yet again:

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV)

“My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes fail with watching for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’ How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?” (Psalm 119:81-82, 84, NRSV)

Your constant prayer in these dark times is – God, hear again; come down again; liberate again!

O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear!

In the thick of mourning and longing, of hoping and praying, God’s people are bombarded with the dominant reality of the Empire. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) was celebrated as Lord and Savior, a Son of God, who brought good news for the whole world by establishing peace. Caesar’s gospel marked the beginning of a new era. His birthday was said to be “the beginning of the good tidings for the world” and  “a way to honour Augustus” was to “reckon time from the date of his nativity” (see Priene Inscription article). Thus, his birthday was decreed the beginning of the New Year in many provinces. It is into this Empire, this reality of Roman power, that Jesus was born. The birth announcement in Luke proclaims a different Savior about to bring a different kingdom. This language is a direct challenge to Caesar and his gospel. This language is resistance language. Another reality is breaking in. Do you hear it?

Do not be afraid, because your story of exile and oppression has turned a page, and this chapter is titled, Promised One. The good news you have been desperate to hear, that salvation, liberation, rescue, deliverance has come, is breaking into this drama right now. (my paraphrase of Luke 2:10-11)

Bringing us back to Reframing the Gospel

Several weeks ago I shared about the workshop I presented, “Reframing the Gospel: How LGBTQ Inclusion is Central to Jesus’ Kingdom Vision.” In the post, “Moving the Conversation Forward,” I wrote:

If this discussion [about LGBTQ inclusion] is going to move forward, affirming biblical interpretations have to convincingly address this important concern [of biblical authority]. This is what Brownson is getting at when he insists on a “cross-cultural biblical vision.” While reading Romans Disarmed, a light came on for me that illuminated a possibility for reframing the conversation: “the good news of the kingdom” proclaimed and embodied by Jesus that Paul, in Romans 1, sets up as a radical counter to the Roman Empire’s gospel of Pax Romana, is the root from which the tree of LGBTQ inclusion is nourished and allowed to bear the good fruit of life in Christ.

In the next post, “Fruit and Roots,” I engaged Matthew Vines’ “test the fruit hermeneutic” and the traditionalist concern that becoming affirming would require rejecting the Bible as authoritative. Vines calls us to engage scripture with openness to new insights for the sake of LGBTQ people suffering great harm due to non-affirming interpretations.

As a first step toward demonstrating how LGBTQ inclusion is central to the gospel, I reflected on the story of Jesus’ birth and “good news” in the post, “What’s This All About?” Good news, or gospel, is connected to salvation – liberation from something; deliverance into something else. This brings us to today’s exploration of the context in which Jesus was born, one of longing for freedom from oppression and the restoration of God’s kingdom. The good news proclaimed at Jesus’ birth is that this freedom and restoration was breaking into the world where Caesar’s gospel of Roman peace dominated the landscape.

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh inspired the connection for “Reframing the Gospel.” In the first chapter of this important book, they write:

In the face of an imperial gospel that proclaims that all salvation lies in Rome, and that identifies the emperor as both lord and savior, while bringing crosses, crippling taxes, agricultural exploitation, economic destruction, war, and violence wherever it goes, Paul brings a gospel of deep, transformative, creation-restoring salvation that turns the empire on its head. You have to realize that proclaiming Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, as Lord flies in the face of imperial ideology. This is seditious language because if Jesus is Lord, the Caesar is not. Moreover, this gospel reverses the order of the empire by coming to the Jew first and then to the gentile… And now if there is any gospel left to be proclaimed from the heart of the empire, it is that a struggling group of Jesus followers have bent the knee to the Messiah, have named him as their Lord, have embraced a faith alternative to fidelity to the empire, and have an obedience in their lives that subverts imperial obedience. (17)

In Paul’s letter to the Roman churches, opening with what seems to be one of the largest barriers to becoming affirming (Romans 1:18-32), he unpacks “the good news of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1) for the believers in the heart of the empire. Exploring this text in light of its imperial context leads us to reframe the gospel and see a trajectory pointing toward LGBTQ inclusion in our context. This is where we’re heading in the next post.

 

* Everett Fox translates God’s name in Exodus 3 (often translated “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”) to signify God’s presence – “God said to Moshe: EHYEH ASHER EHYEH / I will be-there howsoever I will be-there. And he said: Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel: EHYEH / I-WILL-BE-THERE sends me to you” (Ex. 3:14).

What’s This All About?

Every time Christmas nears, the scene of Linus reciting from Luke 2 comes to mind. Charlie Brown is frustrated with a meaning of Christmas wrapped up in flashy decorations, showy pagents and greedy consumerism. He knows there is something else, something more, something special, but he can’t quite put it all together. Linus takes center stage and answers Charlie Brown’s question – Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? – with a story.

An angel appears and speaks (Luke 2:8-14):

“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (NRSV).

When we read this, we may not immediately jump for joy. We miss so much that is packed into this announcement because of the distance between our moment in time and the ancient world of those shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem. Reading other translations and paraphrases might help:

“Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority!” (The Voice)

“Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.” (The Passion Translation)

“Don’t be afraid, because I am here announcing to you Good News that will bring great joy to all the people. This very day, in the town of David, there was born for you a Deliverer who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Complete Jewish Bible)

Somehow the announcement of Jesus’ birth is good news that changes everything. The good news I first heard as a teenager can be summarized like this: Jesus saves. Believing “Jesus is Savior” was supposed to change my life. It was supposed to change everything. Looking back over the years, however, I resonate a bit with Charlie Brown. All the window dressings of the Christian life left me feeling like there must be something else, something more, because though the Christians I knew said we were participating in something special, I couldn’t quite see how it fit together. Many times throughout my journey, I’ve been exasperated and cried out, “Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what this is all about?” It just seemed we were all actors in a play that might have been produced well, but that was telling the wrong story.

Throughout my 20s and 30s I’ve been exploring the question: What is this story that is supposed to be such good news?

Lights please.


Do not be afraid, because your story of exile and oppression has turned a page, and this chapter is titled, Promised One. The good news you have been desperate to hear, that salvation, liberation, rescue, deliverance has come, is breaking into this drama right now.


We need to ask some questions in order to understand this story. When this announcement was heard, what was the plot of the chapter in which the hearers lived? What was happening? What were they waiting and longing for? In other words, from what did they need to be rescued? Also, for what would they be liberated? Salvation from what and for what? Jesus’ birth announcement in Luke is one of four beginnings to the story. Let’s turn to the other three gospels to see how those writers set the stage for this good news.

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’’” (Mark 1:1-3).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

Matthew, Mark and Luke use the language of “good news.” John is doing something a bit different, but we’ll get to that in the another blog post. For now, notice the language connected to good news: the kingdom of God is announced (that’s good news) and is demonstrated through healing; Isaiah’s vision of God delivering the people from exile (also good news) is connected; this story includes everyone.

We are in the first week of Advent (began Sunday, December 1), a season that begins the church year. This season is one of expectant longing that leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. In the next post, we’ll dig into the good news story more and, hopefully, get a clearer picture of what this is all about and how it is core to the work I presented at the TRP Conference in my workshop, “Reframing the Gospel: How LGBTQ Inclusion is Central to Jesus’ Kingdom Vision.” In the meantime, think about how you might answer some of the questions I posed regarding the announcement of good news.