Gay, Jesus.

An Epiphany Reflection.

Kim Burrell recently made a media splash for a pretty angry speech (I’m quite selective as to what I call a sermon) that made pretty incendiary claims about the moral integrity of the LGBTQ community. Her speech caught national attention when she was conspicuously dis-invited to perform on The Ellen Show. The “Burrell incident” is gasoline to an ever blazing fire of the Christian stance on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Here we go again.”

I am of the general opinion that we are currently in a very critical time where people are dying.

We are drowning in the blood of and the tears for the slain from the plague of violence in our land (Reports on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting flood my computer before I could even publish this piece).

People are dying from hatred.
And Poverty.
And sickness.
And sadness.
People are dying.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls wander into the church looking to hear something, anything, to believe in, to hope for, to live for.
Looking for something to get from one day to the next, one moment to the next because
life is so hard.
Times are so hard.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls are waiting with baited breath for the Church to open its mouth to say something, to offer something of clarity, or comfort, or consolation.
And when we open our mouth to speak, out sputters the same diatribe on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Why in this critical moment is the debate on homosexuality the reason the Christian church is making headlines?”
Why is this what’s at the top of everyone’s Facebook and twitter feed?

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! What the hell does it matter?”
In this time, in all that is going on in this country, in this world what does it matter what two grown consenting adults are doing in their bedrooms? Why would that be point of anyone’s sermonic moment right now?

But then I had an Epiphany.

This matters. Talking about sex matters.
Because people are dying.
We are dying from a lack of knowledge, a lack of insight, a lack of understanding about our bodies and our sexuality.
People are dying
From sickness as STD’s conquer communities like the plague.
From sadness as relationships crumble beneath the weight of adultery.
From a lack of safety as rape and child sexual abuse numbers continue to climb.
Talking about sex, it matters.

But the peculiar thing is that whenever we take on the task of discussing sexuality, we can only get as close as identifying homosexuality as a sin. And so often, that’s it.

Personally, I would want to trouble our hermeneutics or interpretation of the Bible’s discourse on sexual sin but if we are to take it at face value, there is a sexual sin to tag each and every one of us. The Bible says that:

Sex before marriage is a sin. Even if you’re married now, according to the Bible You are no more exempt from anyone else who is held accountable for sexual misconduct.

Adultery is a sin. Cheating on your mate, although common, is a damnable sin.

Divorce is a sin. According to our good Lord and savior, Divorce and remarriage is a form of adultery and sin in the eyes of God.

Our Lord says even looking upon another with lust is a sin.

And with his words, we are all guilty of sexual sin.

The interesting thing about the Bible is that it is all written in the same font. The few bits on homosexuality, contrary to popular opinion, are not bold, italicized, or underlined. It is all the same. And we are all guilty.
We all stand accused.
We pretend, when we walk into church, that we have magically become Ken and Barbie dolls, devoid of sex organs or Porn Hub accounts. But if we take the Bible’s discourse on sexuality seriously, even the holiest among stands before God as guilty as the woman caught in the act of adultery. I have always wondered if we know this to be true why do we only know how to identify the gay community as sinners?

But then I had an epiphany.

I realized that we do not know what to do with this sin. We do not know how to talk about, address, or face it. We need someone to carry the weight of it for us. We need someone to take our sin and shame from us.
We need someone to die again and again for us.
We need someone to be the scapegoat.
The lamb who is slain.
We need someone to be crucified for our sexual sins.

We have chosen the gay community to do that for us, to be that for us.

We have chosen them to carry our sins as their own. To suffer the shame and ridicule that we deserve.

And so we have chosen them to be our salvation.
And so we have chosen them to be Jesus for us.

And so on this day as we celebrate the Epiphany- the realization of that our Christ came among us.

I have had an epiphany.

I have had the realization that our Christ is yet among us.
Our savior is here.
Still suffering for us. Still crying for us. Still bleeding for us.
Still dying for us.
Our savior is here.

And our savior is Gay.

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Verses of Singleness: A Completely Unhelpful and Mildly Trite but Totally Thoughtful Reflection on Singleness.

Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for man to be alone.

In Genesis, we are introduced to a God who creates all things. In chapter two, this God creates the first human, a dude named Adam, from the dust. This God breathes the breath of life in Adam. And this God watches pleasantly as Adam begins a very fulfilling job as an environmental scientist and farmer. But the text says that God looked upon Adam in worry and concern because Adam was alone a lot. In an effort to find Adam a companion, God made a whole bunch of creatures but the text states that no suitable partner was found (Gen. 2:20). Adam couldn’t find a suitable mate. So God put Adam to sleep and created Eve from his rib. And Adam was immediately smitten with her.

And that was that.

His lonely days as a single person were over.

He goes on with a normal life. Just like any typical person, he makes some poor choices but recovers from them. He experiences the joy of having children, the grief of losing a loved one when he buries his son Abel. He leads a generally fulfilling life and his legacy includes the whole human race and, most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kudos for him.

He was single for all of what? 12 verses?

I am not sure how long that worked out in actual years but I suspect not long given how fast the plot picks up after he meets Eve.

And that’s exactly the problem with looking to the Bible for advice of navigating singleness. While this story of Adam and Eve is truly beautiful and we cherish it as a community of faith, it is definitely hard to relate to. And in general, the question of singleness in the Bible is a non-question. Generally speaking, mates, partners, companions are just there, finding each other is just the backstory. Adam meeting Eve is the prologue. The real story is inviting sin into the world by eating the forbidden fruit. Abraham meeting Sarah is the back story. The real story is how they produced an heir despite Sarah’s barreness Mary being betrothed to Joseph was the backstory. The real story was that God told her that despite her virginity, she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit (I really hope that was the best or most “divine” orgasm ever by the way).

The reality is that there aren’t a lot of single people walking around in the Bible. I mean there are. Some of the prophets were single. Ruth was single (look out for my reflection on how she navigated her singleness). Hell, Jesus was single. No, fuck Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and whatever nonsense the History Channel is saying these days. Jesus was single. There are tons of single people in the Bible but their singleness was not a major aspect of their lives, or at least the Biblical writers didn’t feel it significant enough to reflect upon.

But presently, the reality for so many of God’s people is the same problem Adam had, a suitable mate has not been found.

Don’t get me wrong, people find mates. People couple up. People get married. People have children. People mate.

But the decline in marriage suggests

But the rise in the divorce rate suggests

The shockingly high numbers of survivors of domestic/ intimate/ relationship violence and abuse suggests

That we have a “suitable mate” problem as a community of faith.

And Genesis 2 tells us that this is a problem that God is deeply concerned about. This is a problem that God feels very compelled to fix. I mean think about it. God didn’t say to Adam

“I see you’re single. Maybe you should use these 12 verses to work on yourself.”

Or

“Adam, have you ever tried online dating?”

Or

“Here’s a book on the 12 steps to navigating the single life and landing the bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh of your dreams.”

No, God had to get actively involved. God had to cut some things open. Rearrange some things. God had to re-create to make this first relationship happen.

And that’s the reality of it all.

Finding a suitable mate is one of the few things that we cannot create for ourselves, give to ourselves, or do for ourselves. God has to do it. And that may be 12 verses or 12 years but it is God’s job to provide a suitable mate.

This reality makes me think that perhaps being single is the first act of faith.

Single people must believe that this God that we worship is just as concerned about us as God was about Adam. This God is still crying out, “it is not good for humans to be alone.” Single people must allow this God to get actively involved. To cut some things open. To rearrange and recreate to make suitable relationships happen.

That means that the answer to singleness is that we have to do the uncomfortable,

The unimaginable,

The unthinkable…

We have to do nothing.

We have to actually to do the command that we are given again and again in the Bible:

We have to actually… you know… like… Wait on the Lord.

To Smash or To Pass?

I Corinthians 7:1-10

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For some reason the Christian tradition looks almost exclusively to Paul’s writing for the basis of Christian sexual ethics. A particularly favorite text in talking about appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity is I Corinthians 7. When we look at I Corinthians 7:1-10 we find Paul not overly excited about the institution of marriage. He states that he would prefer that no one get married but if there are married people that is ok. He offers advice about sexual engagement inside the sanctity of marriage, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” (Corinth 7:3). He advises the unmarried to remain unmarried but concedes that celibacy is a spiritual gift (Corinthians 7:7) and if one finds abstinence too hard then “they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (Corinthians 7:9).  It’s important to note that Paul isn’t excited about marriage because he believed that Christ was about to return at any moment. And he believed that Christians should be less concerned with settling down and getting married and more concerned with reigning in the kingdom of God.

With that being said, I am not exactly sure why his ideas about marriage and sex are the foundation for Christian ethics but so it is.  The Christian Tradition capitalizes on Paul’s words to clearly and explicitly state that sex should only happen within the confines of marriage. The Tradition states that any sexual encounter outside the Holy Covenant of marriage is a sin. We have used the word “fornication” to describe a sexual act outside of marriage and we believe that is it sexually immoral, sinful, and wrong.

Now, I could trouble this argument if I wanted to. I could begin by pointing out that by his own admission, celibacy is a spiritual gift that not all are gifted with (I Corinth 7:7). But I am not going to do that. Or I could point out that outside of Paul’s reflections on sex and sexual immorality, the Bible is full of sexual encounters that are beautiful, that are prescriptive even- that do not take place within the confines of marriage. But I am not going to do that.  I could show, if I had time to teach you all ancient Greek, that  the word “fornication” does not mean “sex outside of marriage” – that is a very lazy and uncritical definition of the word. But no, I’m not going to do that.  Or I could show how our present, Western, modern understanding of marriage today looks absolutely nothing like marriage as it is depicted in the Bible and so perhaps our sexual ethics should evolve just as our understanding of marriage has evolved. But no, no, I am not going to do any of those things. It is not my intention nor my end today to argue with the Tradition. So as the Pastor, as the guarantor of our tradition and the mantle holder of our faith, it is incumbent upon me to stand flat-footed and proclaim these words:

Sex outside of marriage is a sin.  

There. I said it. And if the Bishop comes by asking you how I feel about sex outside of marriage, I want you to be able to clearly state these words. Say it with me, “Sex outside of marriage is a sin.”

Now, I could speak for 20 minutes about how bad it is to engage in any sexual practice outside of marriage, use my words to cut and convict you- make you cry and run to the alter full of shame and remorse but I am not going to do that today either. I am not going to do that because I am not stating anything that you do not already know- everyone was taught from a young age that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But the reality is

The masses of men and women are having sex. Married. Single. Divorced. Widowed.

People are having sex. And the church has only two responses to that reality, the Church either says nothing at all or the church says “wait until you are married.” It is clear that this “wait until you are married” rhetoric is anachronistic and unhelpful for the masses of Christians for several reasons:

First, generally speaking, many if not most Americans have their first sexual encounter – they are faced with the opportunity to engage in sex or some sexual activity, before the legal marrying age. Teenagers, Sometimes even younger, are experiencing, exploring, and experimenting with their sexuality and because of that reality it is unusual- although not unheard of- but unusual for one to be a virgin at the point of marriage. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Second, generally speaking, marriage happens a lot later today than it ever has before. 60 years ago, the average American entered marital bliss around the age of 18. Now it is not uncommon for marriage to take place almost ten years later. Or 12. Or 15. or 30. Many people are choosing to get married later on in life and are cultivating sexual ethics outside the lens of marriage. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Third, marriage, today, has a pesky tendency to end. The divorce rate is rising higher than the marriage rate. And there are many Christians who have tried marriage, hated it, and find themselves unmarried trying to figure out what their sexual habits should be now that they are single again. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject. What’s more, there are those who have had long, happy, prosperous marriages but their spouses have died. There are many widows and widowers who are no longer in the “married” category but may not be ready to just “get married again” as Paul recommends in I Corinthians 7, but who nevertheless have sexual desires and sexual needs and are wondering what they should and should not do. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Congregations today are filled with people who are not married. They are not of marrying age yet and they are having sex. They are single, never married. And they are having sex. They are single, divorced. And they are having sex. They are single, widowed. And they are having sex. The masses of men and women are having sex.  And the church’s archaic, underdeveloped, unsympathetic conversation about healthy sexual ethics for all regardless of marital status or worse yet, the Church’s total silence on the issue has left the Christian community, especially the Black Christian community,  in crisis.

People who are unmarried are desperate for some guide, some advice, some tools to navigate living a sexual life. They are so desperate for the water that the Church chooses not to provide that they will drink the sand. That’s how it is possible for a man like Steve Harvey to write best seller called “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” Steve Harvey, a 6 time divorcee and professional entertainer SHOULD NOT be the spokesman and expert on Black women’s sexuality. But the Church will not speak and the masses are desperate for anyone to stand and provides some ethics, some rules to live by. Your sexual ethics should not come from Love & Hip Hop, or Oprah, or Iyanla Vanzant, or the locker room, or the barber shop, or the beauty shop. Your sexual ethics should be grounded and shaped right here in your community of faith.

That means that we will have to do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the abominable… We are going to have to start offering practical sexual advice for the unwed at church. Because “just don’t have sex” isn’t helping anyone. So today I am going to offer practical sexual ethics for those who are not married. In order  guide this conversation, we are going to play a little game that I have named “Smash or Pass?”

I will offer five scenarios and you will have to determine whether it is appropriate to smash (engage in sexual intercourse) or Pass (Choose not to engage in sexual intercourse).

Let’s Play:

  1. You are 15 years old. And you have been talking to your little girlfriend for a couple of months now. Or your little boyfriend gets your nails done. He buys you whole meals from McDonald’s not just the dollar menu (I’m not just talking to teenagers, I know some of you older women think like this too… don’t lie) and you really like him. Or her.  Do you smash or pass?

PASS! 

Yes, pass. Christians must begin to make mature and thoughtful sexual decisions at a young age. You will be faced with sexual encounters, you will be faced with the decision on what to do with your body and with whom from now until forever. And instead of bouncing from sexual encounter to sexual encounter until you figure out what is going on, you should pass. Sex is a complicated thing, to do it in a healthy way you must be able to do some very difficult things, like talk openly about expectations, safety, hopes, fears- it takes a certain maturity that you simply do not have right now. And if you can say now “I am mature enough to know that I am not mature enough to do this” and begin to make clear sexual boundaries now, the easier it will be to create healthy sexual habits later on in life.” Anyone under 18, just pass. (I am not saying that at 18 you should have sex like rabbits, that is not the point)

Now mind you, I said ANYONE under 18. We have a problem in our community in that we give young boys a license for sexual freedom and yet we want to control the sexuality of young girls. Who do you think they are having sex with? We turn a blind eye or say it is ok for a young man to stick his ding-a-ling into everything and then wonder why 15 year old’s keep getting pregnant. It’s time to change the culture of the sexual environment. Teach the young girls AND the young boys about maturity, and control, and restraint. If both young men and young women can get in the habit of learning when to say yes and when to say no, things will be different in our community.

2.  You have recently met someone. You met her at a club and got her number and you two have been texting heavy. Or you met him because he’s your brother’s baby’s mamma’s cousin’s friend. You two have been texting heavy. And you decide to hang out so you agree to meet up to “watch Netflix and chill.” The movie sucks but the conversation is on point and honestly you know you didn’t come to watch a movie anyway. Things begin to steam up really fast.

You are ready. He is ready.

You are ready. She is ready.

But you reach in your pocket and realize you do not have a condom. You ask,

“Are you on birth control?”

she says, “yea and don’t worry I’m safe.”

or he asks you and you are on birth control, and he seems safe, and he’s so hot. In the heat of the moment do you pass or smash?

PASS!

You all are a mess! You said pass when all the children running around here were conceived in that particular scenario! This moment will happen again and again. The goal to fostering healthy and safe sexual practices is to be able to slow down the moment enough to consider what it is you are about to do. Slow down long enough to ask yourself “Should I smash or should I pass?” And begin to practice passing when you know it is not a good idea. Self control is not intuitive, it is a muscle that must be exercised. So many get into this situation or similar situations and they quite literally do not know to stop. Men and women alike, they cannot stop themselves, they cannot stop the moment, they cannot stop their partner. You must learn to practice restraint- for the sake of your soul (remember, this is sin we are talking about) but also for the sake of your health. Chlamydia is charging through Charlotte, NC like wildfire. The average rate of infection is higher here than the NC average, it’s higher here than the national average! And that is just chlamydia, we all know that if you do not learn self control you can mess around and get something that antibiotics won’t get rid of. So remember ask yourself “should I smash or should I pass” or in other words “What am I doing?”

3.  You have been in a relationship for several months now. And you think this one is the one. You are taking her home to meet your mother at thanksgiving and that is a very big deal. You have gotten to the point where you can’t imagine life without him and you have never felt that way before. You are both in it for the long haul. Do you smash or do you pass?

SMASH!

OK so here is the thing, sex outside of marriage is a sin, remember. But for whatever reason, in today’s society sexual compatibility is a major part of selecting a life partner. A man asks himself:

  1. Does she get along with my mother?
  2. Can she cook?
  3. Is she a lady in the street and a freak in the bed?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then we can’t get married.

A woman similarly asks herself:

  1. Does he have a job?
  2. Is he faithful and honest?
  3. Can he lay it down at night?

If the answer is no to any of these questions then I cannot marry him.

Sexual compatibility is a big part of how Americans choose their spouses. It has not always been that way but for whatever reason it is so now. Again, marriage, how we do it and how we choose it, has changed. In order to have healthy sexual habits you must be intentional. It should matter to you who you choose to take as a sexual partner. And sexual intimacy should be meaningful and purposeful. It should lead somewhere. To marriage. You know, so you get out of sin… remember? So in asking yourself “do I smash or pass?’ ask yourself “who am I having sex with?”

4. Your wife of ten years won her battle against cancer and went on to be with the Lord a few years ago. At first the grief was unbearable and while it still hurts every single day, its more of a quiet pain, rather than an earth quaking terror. It helps that you have met someone. She held you while you cried over another woman and laughed with you as you shared cherished memories. She has been there for you in a time when you have desperately needed someone. Do you smash or do you pass?

SMASH! 

The conversation about Christian sexuality  is so narrow that is often leaves out those who have been married before. Marriage ends sometimes. Death occurs. The spouse may die or the marriage itself may die, ending in divorce. But one thing that does not die is a person’s need for love, companionship, and intimacy.

5. Last one, you finally broke it off with that no account, low down, broke ass negro (I said it) and you have sworn off men and are focused on getting your life together. Only problem is that you are so. damn. lonely. There is a guy who you invited over just to have someone around. You don’t like this guy. He isn’t your type. You don’t find him attractive. You have nothing in common. But, again, you are so. damn.  lonely. He leans in and kisses you.  Do you smash or do you pass?

PASS!

People have sex for all sorts of reasons. Because they are lonely. Because they feel unwanted. Because they need to feel a sense of power or control. Because they want to feel desired. Because they are depressed. People have sex for all sorts of reasons. These are all really bad reasons to have sex. Sex is a beautiful thing, it is a gift from God and it should a profound expression of love. If your sex is an outpouring of tremendous unspeakable care, adoration, and passion for your partner, then by all means, smash away (It’s a sin though, just warning you) but if it is not, If you are just bored. Lonely. Sad. Depressed. Drunk. Pass, just pass.

Friends, beginning at youth and throughout the rest of your life you will find yourself in encounters where the occasion to have sex will arise. In order to have healthy, safe sexual practices you must take the time to ask yourself

What am I doing?

Who am I doing it with?

Why am I doing it?

In other words “Do I smash or do I pass?”

Learn to answer this question with honesty and integrity and you are well on your way to abandoning a life of sin.

As your pastor, as the great guarantor of the tradition and the mantle holder of our faith, I must state boldly that

sex outside of marriage is a sin.

Really, that is all I am allowed to say. You are a sinner in the hands of an angry God. And then I am supposed to remain silent.

I am supposed to remain silent as 15 year olds keep getting pregnant.

I am supposed to remain silent as HIV/AIDS continues to slaughter  our community.

I am supposed to remain silent while men keep trying to find confidence and power in women’s panties, only to wake up each morning still feeling out of control and powerless.

I am supposed to remain silent as women keep looking for the love they never received as a child in the arms of this man, and that man, and that man over there, only to wake up each morning with absolutely no understanding of true love.

I am supposed to be silent. But no. I am not going to do that today. Today I am coming down from my lofty, high, holy, hypocritical seat in order to look you eye to eye and meet you exactly where you are.

I am going rogue today.

But I am not the first to go rogue, I come from a long legacy of prophets who have gone rogue. One such prophet left his lofty, high, holy seat in heaven in order to walk the streets and teach, looking at his children directly in their eyes. Jesus met people right where they were. Without condemnation. Without degradation. Rather, he met the masses of men and women with sympathy, and compassion, and with a great understanding of the human condition.

And the human condition is thus:

The masses of men and women are having sex. Married. Single. Divorced. Widowed.

So take a moment and ask yourself, “do I smash or do I pass?”

Amen.

Dreams, Visions, And Visitations: My Night with Maya Angelou

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Last night, I had a dream. A dream about Maya Angelou. Anyone who knows me knows that Maya Angelou was a model of inspiration to me. I have been deeply influenced by her poetry, her prose, her life. One of the hardest moments of this year for me and for the world was when she passed away. I only met her once in my life and it was a life changing encounter, one that I count as a very precious memory. Well no, I am mistaken. I have only met her once in her life because last night she came to visit me.

In my dream, I was sitting in a room waiting for something. I was feeling very anxious, worried, and stressed -feelings, I confess, that have been my close companions lately. She walked into the room and she sat down next to me. I was so excited to see her.  I wanted to tell her about my writing that she had inspired. I wanted to tell her how I have memorized all of her poetry, all of her words. Interestingly, I never got the opportunity because she did all the talking. And she didn’t say anything extraordinarily profound either. She just chatted with me, showed me little trinkets and valuables that she always carried with her in her purse. She just spent time with me, talking of nothing and everything the way that old friends do.

When I woke up this morning, I knew that something divine had happened. The Christmas story is one that I have been reading, and telling, and preaching again and again this season. This story is marked by the dreams, visions, and visitations of angels to Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the Wise Men. I ask myself, why do we not hear of this anymore? Did God stop sending angels to visit us after the Bible was bound and disseminated to the masses? Certainly not. History is full of believers who share accounts of angels appearing to them, speaking to them, and visiting with them. Anthony the Great, the father of all Monks, reportedly had visitations from angels and demons with regularity. He said that sometimes the angels were hideous and scary (perhaps that’s why in Bible whenever someone saw an angel they were said to be terrified)  and the demons were attractive and alluring. He was asked how he could discern, then, from the angels and the demons. He replied, “You can only know the difference between an angel and a demon by how you feel after they have left you.” I woke up this morning feeling, for the first time in a very busy and hectic season, entirely at peace. I woke up this morning free from anxiety. I woke up this morning certain that I had been visited by an angel.

When I was a child, I once frightened my mother when I told her about my memories of my grandmother.

“You don’t have any memories of you grandmother,” she said, “Your grandmother died before you were born.”

“She has spent time with me. She came to me.” I replied, completely unmoved by her comment because I was still too young to understand the implications of death. I began to describe her in great detail and my mother was quite shaken by my account. I was certain that I had been visited by an angel.

It isn’t unusual for children to say such things, reality and fantasy are still fluid in their young minds. Or maybe children experience divine moments or what the Celtics call “thin places” because they are so receptive to the world around them, all of its mysteries and curiosities. Perhaps children experience divine moments because they are always paying such close attention. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said,

“Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 18:2).

Perhaps it is a call for us to be receptive to the many many many ways that God is trying to catch our attention, communicate, and comfort us. Or perhaps I am just a minister slipping into mysticism or better yet… insanity. But I stand in good company with Mary, Joseph, a couple of Shepherd boys watching their flock by night, and a whole host of other holy weirdos when I say, “an angel of the Lord has visited me.” And in 2015, I vow to be more receptive to the curiosities, the mysteries, the awesomeness of God. I’m going to pay close attention. I’m going to walk in thin places, getting near unto the Kingdom… just like a child.

Good Sex Part 2: Bound to the Bedposts

Leviticus 18:1-30

Today we will continue our discussion on Christian sexuality and intimacy. The premise of this sermon series is that there is such a thing as good, healthy, and holy sex. Sex is not innately bad nor sinful. While sex is not innately sinful, sexual sin does exist and it is quite dangerous and destructive to the mind, body, and spirit. In order to identify what good sex is, we must first identify what good sex is not. In order to have good sex, we must have a deeply developed understanding and a commitment to refrain from the behaviors that get in the way of good sex, the sexual behaviors that destroy one’s body or the bodies of others, or the sexual behaviors that God has called sin. Leviticus is the common place to begin a conversation on sexual sin.

Our pericope, Leviticus 18, at first glance seems pretty straight forward, primarily emphasizing healthy non-sexual boundaries between family members. But there is more happening here. Let’s take a closer look:

Vs. 7- Don’t have sex with your parents.

7s. 8- Don’t have sex with your step-parents.

Vs. 9- Don’t have sex with your siblings, your full siblings or your half-siblings.

Vs. 10- Don’t have sex with your siblings’ children, nieces or nephews.

Vs. 11- Don’t have sex with your stepsiblings. Have you ever seen the 1995 movie Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone? In the end, the protagonist fell in love with her stepbrother… yea, don’t do that.

Vs. 12, 13, 14 – Don’t have sex with your aunts or uncles.

Vs. 15,16- Don’t have sex with your in-laws, sister-in-law, father-in-law… As if anyone gets along with their in-laws long enough to even conceive of the idea!

Vs. 17a- Don’t have sex with a person and the person’s child. (“I’m leaving you for your daughter!” Or “I’ve been sleeping with your father!” And all the other episodes on Jerry Springer, don’t do that).

Vs. 17b- Don’t have sex with your grandchildren.

Vs. 18- Don’t have sex with two sisters concurrently or two brothers concurrently.

Vs. 19- Don’t have sex while on your period or have sex with someone who is on her period.

Vs. 20- Don’t have sex with a neighbor’s spouse. Think of it like this: Don’t have sex with your neighbor’s partner, your friend’s partner, and your partner’s friends. I call this the “don’t smash the homies” rule.

Vs. 21- Don’t sacrifice children to Molech. This one is interesting. It may seem out of place but it isn’t. Molech was a pagan God. It was common at this time for people to sacrifice a first born child to Molech in hopes of greater fertility in the future, both fertility in the body (more children) and fertility in the land (plentiful harvest). We will come back to this.

Vs. 22- The infamous Leveticus 18.22 or don’t engage in sex with one of the same sex.

Vs. 23- Don’t have sex with an animal.

It is understandable to wonder about the utility of stating many, if not most, of these rules. It is understandable to think that this chapter is not particularly helpful in our quest to determine how to have good sex. You may be thinking, “Of course I know not to have sex with my mother, that’s gross!” But given our conversation on sexual abuse of children and the disturbing prevalence of incest and sexual violence that takes place within families, we realize that these non-sexual boundaries between family members really cannot be overstated. Moreover, when we understand what is happening in this chapter we will find that the sexual ethics presented here are quite relevant and practical tools to guide us in cultivating healthy sexual practices.

In this chapter, God is creating a culture of sexual and spiritual holiness that is different from the culture that the Israelites were heading to (Canaan culture) and different from the culture that the Israelites were leaving (Egyptian culture). The book of Leviticus is set in the wilderness. God has just freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and is now leading them to the land that God promised to give to their ancestors, Sarah and Abraham. In the midst of this journey from Egypt to Canaan, God establishes a Holy Covenant with the Israelites. He vows to overwhelm them with God’s power, provision, and steadfast love and in response to God’s commitment to them, they would become a peculiar people- different from the rest of the world in their living and different from the rest of the world in their worship. The rules listed above were sexual and worship practices that the world, especially Egypt and Canaan, considered absolutely normal but God considered sin.

In God’s covenant, God vowed to have a special relationship with the Israelites, the Israelites would be the children of God (Duet 14:1). But this special relationship to the Divine did not permit them to have sex with one another. In Egypt, the Pharaoh also believed that he had a special relationship to the divine, he was considered the son of Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun. The royal family were descendants of the Sun God, considered divine themselves, and therefore only primarily produced with one another to keep their divine lineage. The Israelites were leaving a place where it was considered completely normal, therefore, to have sex with a sister or close relative. But God is saying in this chapter that what the world considers normal, God considers sin.

God’s covenant also required a peculiarity in worship. Not only did God require the Israelites to worship only the God of Israel but God was greatly interested in how the Israelites worshiped the God of Israel. They were headed to Canaan where the Canaanites venerated various deities like Molech, Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, etc. The Canaanites worshiped these deities by engaging in child sacrifice (Lev 18:21) and in mass sexual orgies. The orgies included everyone and everything, it was a big sexual mess. Verses 21-23 is addressing this sort of worship practice. God is telling the Israelites not only to refrain from worshipping the Canaanite deities but also refrain from worshipping the God of Israel in the same manner that the Canaanites worship the Canaanite deities. They are going to a place where it was considered normal to have these sexual orgies as a part of worship and ritual but what the world considered normal, God considered sin.

They were coming from a place and they were going to a place where certain sexual practices were considered normal but what the world considered normal, God called it sin.

This refrain rings true in the ancient world of the Israelites and it still rings true for Christians today.

What the world considers normal, God calls it sin. Today

It’s totally normal to begin having sex at 13, 14, or 15.

It’s totally normal to meet someone at a club, bar, party. Sleep with them and not remember their name the next morning.

It’s totally normal to have had so many sexual partners that you have lost count. Can’t remember names or faces.

But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.

It’s quite normal to have multiple partners at one time. In or out of marriage. Normal to sleep with your wife. And your girlfriend. And your side piece. And that girl you met at the mall yesterday. Oh, it’s normal to sleep with your hubby, your boo, that dude you met at a Casino on your girls weekend to Vegas, and the ex who texts you every 6 months with “hey stranger.”

It’s normal to have sex for money.

It’s normal to have sex for drugs.

It’s normal to have sex to get your rent or utilities paid.

But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.

It’s totally normal to tell a woman that you really like her, even love her. To tell her you want to be with her. To tell her how beautiful she is. To sleep with her. And then never call her again.

It’s normal to watch porn all day. And all night.

It’s normal to be confused about the reverence owed to a female pastor in a pulpit because the only time you see a woman on an elevated platform is when she is on stage at a strip club.

But what the world considers normal. God considers it sin.

And this too, my friends, is about worship. Our sexuality is wrapped up with and through our spiritual selves. You tell me what is going on in your sex life and I can tell you what is going on with your soul. Your heart, you mind, and soul are inextricably bound to what you are doing sexually. And God really cares about it. Even if you don’t. God cares.

God cares about what you are doing with your body.

God cares about what you are doing to your body.

God cares about what you are doing with other people’s bodies.

God cares about what you are doing to other people’s bodies.

It is clear from Leviticus 18 that in order to have good sex one must refrain from sexual sin. Using Leviticus 18 as a point of reference and considering the vast conversation on sex in the Bible, we find that there are three fundamental sexual behaviors that we must refrain from in order to have good sex.

  1. Sex in violence is a sin. Sex that is wrapped around aggression, oppression, the desire to conquer or control another’s body is a sin. We find this clearly illustrated in the Book of Judges, chapter 19. In this text, we find a Levite who is seeking to reconcile with his concubine who has run away to her father’s house. He goes to her father’s house to try to encourage her to come home with him. A group of men from the neighborhood then come pounding at the door demanding that they father hand over the Levite so that the group can rape him. The Levite instead pushes his concubine outside and the text says that the group, “raped and abused her all night long” (Judges 19:25). This sounds unspeakable but the truth is that gang rape happens all the time. It happens in parties and night clubs. In college dorm rooms and frat houses. It happens in prisons and detention centers. It happens to women and children in war-torn countries who cannot get away from the soldiers fast enough. It happens all the time. And it’s a sin.

One-on-one coercive sexual violence is also a sin. I am talking to men and women here. Women, too, pressure and force men into sexual acts. Have a look at Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. There we find Joseph living with his slave master Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife takes a-liking to Joseph and tries to seduce, compel, and finally coerce him to have sex with her. Sex that wrapped around an attempt to control someone else’s body is violent and sexual violence is a sin.

Sexual behavior that violates your own body is a sin as well. Sometimes people rape themselves. Sometimes a person will consent to a sexual behavior that s/he really doesn’t want to perform. If s/he would just stop and listen s/he could hear the inner voice that is crying “please, I don’t want to do this.” Committing a sexual act against your own will is self-inflicted violence. And it is a sin.

2. Prostitution is a sin. It is sinful to trade sex for money. It is sinful to barter sex for goods and resources like clothes, shoes, a new cell phone, tickets to a Beyoncé concert, dinner and a rent-free place to stay at your baby’s momma’s house. Your sex should not be for sale. Your sex is not a Visa or a MasterCard.

Not only is it sinful to trade your sex for material gain, it is sinful to trade your sex for immaterial gain as well. To hand over sex in order to feel loved or desirable for a little while. To trade sex to feel powerful and in control for a while. To give sex in order to feel less lonely or isolated for an evening. Sex for the sole purpose of intangible goods – “I just don’t want to be alone tonight.” Or “I need to feel like The Man” is a sin.

It is sinful to use sex as a way to change situations and circumstances that you may find yourself in. This is illustrated in Genesis 38 with Tamar and Judah. This is a complicated story but suffice it to say that Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. According to custom, Judah was supposed to give Tamar to his youngest son after the first two sons died. But Judah never did it. So she hid her identity, had sex with Judah, got pregnant, all as a response to the fact that Judah did not give her to his third son. She wielded her sexuality in an attempt to control her situation. When you use your sex as way to manipulate your circumstances, control your environment or control the actions of other people, it’s called prostitution. And it’s a sin.

3. Finally, lust is a sin. Constantly chasing after your many, and ever changing, sexual impulses is a sin. We see this exemplified in the life of David, in II Samuel 11. David sent his army out to war and in a very un-kingly fashion, he stayed back to hang out in the palace while his soldiers fought for his kingdom. One day he looked out and saw Bathsheba, the wife of one of his chief soldiers, bathing in the sun. David took one look at her and he just had to have her. It didn’t matter that he was married. It didn’t matter that she was married. It didn’t matter that she was married to one of his chief soldiers who was in real-time fighting for David’s life. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that he saw Bathsheba. And he had to have what he saw. So he took what he saw. The consequences of this act of lust were devastating to everyone involved, it led to the break-up of marriage and the ending of lives. And that is what lust does. It destroys relationships. It destroys lives. It’s a sin that keeps on sinning.

We are sexual beings and we have sexual desires but it’s exhausting and destructive to be constantly subject to all of your sexual impulses. If you don’t get in control of lust you will find yourself constantly chasing your tail, running nonstop after the things that you think that you want. But the reality is that you do not know what you want.

Listen closely, I said you don’t know what you want. I’m not saying that you don’t know how you like it. I’m sure you know how you like it. You like it stripped down. And beat up. You like it licked. Stroked. Flipped. And reversed. You know how you like it but you don’t know what you want.

Because if you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t wake up next to a man one morning and next to a woman the next.

If you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t change your sex partners like you change your underwear.

If you knew what you wanted, you would not be bound to the bedposts of your bedrooms by your impulses, desires, addictions, and angst.

That constant temptation to chase and chase and chase after our perceived wants is the result of the human condition. It is the incurvatus- it’s a brokenness in the spirit, a sickness in the soul.

But the good news is that there is a God who knows what we want. And more importantly, there is a God who knows what we need. What we need is freedom. What we need is liberation from the sins of violence, prostitution and lust that keep us bound up to our bedposts. What we need is healing for our tattered, bruised and bleeding souls.

The good news, brothers and sisters, is that there is a bandage for the tatters. There is an ointment for the bruises. There is a salve for our bleeding. There is a balm. There is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls. There is a balm in Gilead and his name is Jesus.

Jesus who looked at the woman accused of adultery (John 8:4-11).

A woman whose name we do not know.

A woman whose story we do not know.

We don’t know if she was a prisoner to violence. We don’t know if she was just trying to feed her children. We don’t know if she was high on the opiate of lust. All we know is that she stood before her Lord and savior, caught in the act.

Like her, we stand today in the presence of our Lord, caught in the act. None of us free from the temptations of violence, prostitution, and lust.

Jesus looks at her in her eyes. And then he looks into the eyes of her accusers and said, “You who is without sin, you cast the first stone” (John 8:7). You who have never been tempted by the thrill of violence. You who have never been tugged by the promised reward of prostitution. You who have never been seduced by the tantalizing voice of lust. You cast the first stone.

And the Bible says that one by one,

From oldest to the youngest. They laid down their stones.

“Have none of your accusers condemned you?” Jesus asked.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11)

We stand today in the overflow of the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ.

Who has not condemned us but delivered us.

Who has not condemned us but liberated us.

Who has not condemned us but freed us.

Good sex occurs when we put down the sin of sexual violence, prostitution, and lust.

Brothers and sisters Go. And sin no more.

Good Sex Part 1: Let Him Lay His Hands on You

Text: Matthew 19:13 and 14

In order to talk about healthy sexuality we must first address the elephant in the room- the truth that we as a community have been keeping a secret for far too long- and that is for many in this sanctuary, your first sexual encounter was violent, was coerced, was before you were old enough to consent, was before you knew what was happening. Before we can talk about good sex, we must first talk about sexual abuse of children.

Sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor (sometimes between a minor and a minor), forcing, coercing, or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act:

It could be touching, or fondling.

Forcing a child to strip.

or raping a child.

According to the national statistics on rape, 70% of all reported sexual assault occur to children under the age of 17 and in almost half of all reported rape cases, the victim was also a child under the age of 17.[1] These are only the cases that were reported. It is widely known that many instances of sexual abuse go unreported. It is widely known, although rarely discussed, that the incidence of sexual abuse is extraordinarily high particularly in the black community. And this form of sexual violence that people endure has lasting implications on one’s ability to cultivate healthy spiritual or healthy sexual practices. This is an issue in which we must bring to light and bring to Jesus, the light of the world.

In our text this morning, we find Jesus in the thick of his ministry, travelling around preaching and teaching throughout Judea. By now, he has developed a name for himself as a great preacher, miracle worker, and healer. People are coming from all over the place to receive healing from him. We find here in our short pericope that a group of parents or guardians have brought little children so that Jesus could lay his hands on them and pray for them.  We read that the disciples rebuke the parents and try to keep them from Jesus. Jesus responds by rebuking the disciples and stating, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mat. 19:14).

Let the children come to me. And do not hinder them.

Sexual abuse hinders the relationship between a child and Jesus. You will hear me say over and over again throughout the next several weeks this fundamental truth: our sexual selves are inextricably bound with our spiritual selves. Therefore, sexual violence is not only traumatic to the mind and the body, but also to the spirit. This sort of trauma can get in the way of truly knowing God. Of knowing God’s goodness. Of knowing God’s grace.  And most especially, of knowing God’s love. The people brought the children to Jesus so that Jesus could lay his hands on them- even the imagery of Jesus laying his hands on you can be a stumbling block, can be disturbing, or even violent imagery, if you have been touched inappropriately. Sexual abuse damages a child’s body which is a crime. Sexual abuse keeps a person from their Lord, which is a sin.

Let the Children come to me. And do not hinder them, Jesus said.

We, as a community, need to begin to face this as a reality in our community and address this sin. This is really happening in our families and in our neighborhoods and it needs to stop. We must take seriously the statistics and be vigilant about changing our community so that our children’s first sexual encounter is no longer one of violence, confusion, and deep pain.

The first thing we must do is protect them. Know the statistics and take them seriously. The statistics are that 90% of children who are molested, know their abuser.[2] While it is sometimes an unknown, scary, predator that lurks around the child’s school, it is more often the case that the abuser is a family member, a neighbor, or a close friend of the family. We have to take that seriously. That means that children need to be supervised and protected, even from family. That may mean that a child needs to be supervised by two adults at all times. That may mean that you can’t send your child to grandma’s house for the weekend or the summer if there are a lot of adults living in her house. We need to protect children from live-in predators as well. We have to take seriously that the reality of the situation is that single mothers with live-in partners have the highest risk of having a son or daughter sexually abused.[3]  We have to take this fact seriously. And putting aside for a moment the question of what are you doing shacking up in the first place?- just putting that aside, if you chose to do that, know that your child is at risk. Put some measures of safety between your lover and your child. Between your lover’s family and your child. Between your lover’s friends and your child.  Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them. In other words, protect them.

Second, we have to believe them. It is a tragic phenomenon that incidence of sexual abuse often goes unreported, not because the child did not inform an adult, but because the adult refused  to believe the child or refused to respond to the crisis. I have heard so many horror stories where the child came forward and the parent just would not believe. I know a woman who was molested by her grandmother and she told her mother but her mother simply would not believe her. Her mother continued to drop her off at her grandmother’s house for days and weeks at a time.  She would not believe. She would not respond. This had lasting implications on the woman’s mental psyche, her spirituality, and her sexuality.  I know another who was molested by her stepfather for many years.  When she tried to tell her mother, her mother would simply leave the room. Her mother still lives with her stepfather to this day. This had lasting implications on the woman’s mental psyche, her spirituality, and her sexuality. It is our responsibility to believe and to respond to our children. Respond by talking to children about sex regularly and early on. If the first time you are talking about sex is after a crisis has occurred, you have already responded way too late. It is incumbent upon us to create a culture in our homes and families where open and honest conversation is the norm, where children are not afraid to speak the truth for fear of discipline or rejection, where secrets are not encouraged. This sort of secret festers in communities, it festers in families, and it festers in the hearts and souls of the victims. It causes the collapse of self-esteem, a confusion about wanted and unwanted touch, destructive coping mechanisms like substance abuse, it causes depression, and even causes suicide. Let the children come to me. And do not hinder them. In other words, respond to and believe them.

We can spend all of our time discussing preventative measures to eliminate the presence of sexual abuse in our community but for many people here- men, women, and children- a conversation on prevention is too little and too late.

All of us have been impacted by sexual abuse.

Here, present with us now, are men and women who have been sexually violated as a child.

Here, present with us now, are men and women who have violated a child or minor sexually.

Here, present with us now, are children who have been inappropriately touched.

Here, present with us now, are family members and friends who have witnessed as sexual trauma has stripped our loved ones of their life and their light.

Brothers and sisters, in order to have good sex, healthy sex as God intended- you must first receive God’s healing for the ways in which your body has been violated, you must first receive healing for the way in which you have used your body to violate another’s body. We stand today as a community- of parents, victims, violators, and friends- we stand desperately needing Jesus to lay his hands on us. We stand desperately needing his healing. Therefore, I invite you to allow Jesus to put his hands on you today. I invite you to allow him to place his hands on this area of your life fore only he can fix your broken places and bring light to your dark spaces. Good sex can only arise when you allow Jesus to be the one to touch you. To heal you. To make you whole. Let him lay his hands on you.

So what we will do now is enter a time of healing. There are candles on the altar and I invite you, as you feel led, to light a candle to represent a child that you are bringing to Jesus.

Perhaps that candle represents you, when you were touched before you knew what sex was, before you knew what was happening.

Perhaps that candle represents a son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister.

Perhaps that candle represents a friend who was violated as a child and you have watched as the trauma has taken root in the person’s life, you have watched as his or her life has gone spiraling out of control as a result.

Jesus said, let the children come to me. And do not hinder them. For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Please, bring the children to Jesus.

____________________________________________________________

There were nearly 50 candles on the altar, all were lit. The time of healing ended with a period of testimony. The following are a few testimonies that were rendered:

“Pastor, I thank you for being brave enough to discuss this topic. This is really happening in our communities. I had a brother who, when he was younger, he went to our neighbor’s house to play one day. And that day he changed. He became a different person. He began getting in trouble, going in and out of jail. He eventually committed suicide. My mother believes that something happened to him. She believes that someone touched him. But she didn’t know, we didn’t know how to talk about it. So I encourage everyone to be brave, to talk about this, to speak out. It just may save a life.”

“I have nephews and nieces that have been molested. There are so many that there are not enough candles to light one for each. I knew something was wrong, that something was happening but everything was kept a secret. I pray that God would heal them and heal my family.”

“When I was a little girl, I was molested by a friend of the family. He would touch me and I didn’t know what was going on but I knew it was wrong. I became sexually active at a young age, I think because of that. I was a very young mother. I have never told anyone before today that this happened to me as a child. It was 50 years ago and I didn’t realize until today how much it still impacts my life. But I believe that I have been healed today.”

Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Amen.

[1] RAINN Rape Abuse Incest National Network. https://www.rainn.org/statistics

[2] RAINN Rape Abuse Incest National Network. https://www.rainn.org/statistics

Homelessness in Charlotte. A Wake Up Call

My name is Tiffany Thomas. I am the pastor of South Tryon Community Church, a United Methodist church that sits on the corner of South Tryon and Remount road. In this community, I have watched in horror as homeless persons lay down to sleep on benches, stoops and sidewalks up and down Tryon street. I have looked into the desperate eyes of so many who have told me that same story, “The shelters are full, there is no place to go.” I have heard reports of people dying in the night, out in the elements- tragic tales whispered and lamented among this community where most are constantly endanger of losing their own places of rest and finding themselves in the same predicament.

“Am I next? Will it be me? Or my child? Will death find us in the street, where heat eludes us,” so many have asked.

Last night, I went to the police department to find out what happened to a homeless man who is a member of my community, and dear friend of mine. He is a gentle soul, a Christian, he leaves an encouraging note on my car almost everyday, a scripture or a quote- every note is signed “God loves you and so do I.” When my groundskeeper reported to me that my friend died on a bench in Uptown, Charlotte, I frantically sought help from the police station to find out what had become of him. The police officer could offer little help, “Yes,” he said, “a homeless person has recently died.Yes, it was in uptown, Charlotte.Yes, he died in the night, on a bench. That is all I can say.”

“Why hasn’t it made the news”, I asked, tears of grief streaming down my face for the man who I may or may not know.

“Deaths of this sort rarely make the news,” he replied.

Deaths of this sort. Deaths of the homeless sort. Deaths of the impoverished sort. Deaths of the voiceless sort. They die in secret in the middle of public squares. Their bodies hurriedly removed from Trade, from Tryon before the important sort, the wealthy sort, the high political clout sort are inconvenienced traveling from their warm homes to their warm corporate offices.

I left the police station stricken with grief.
I left the police station mad as hell.

The city of Charlotte is ill equipped to deal with the needs of our rising homeless population. It is time that we recognize and face what my constituents know all to well: The shelters are too small. Too many people are forced to brave the cold or to purposely get arrested as the jail house is the only emergency shelter in the entire city where one won’t be turned away.

I am making a call to all communities of faith. It is time that we take seriously the needs of those with no place to sleep. It is time that we open our doors and exercise the gift of hospitality, an exercise that our God commands of us. At South Tryon Community Church we will be opening our doors and providing cots for people to stay over night when the weather drops below 20 degrees. I invite, I urge all communities of faith to likewise make the effort to provide emergency shelter to one, five, twenty-five homeless persons on the upcoming frigid winter nights.

For the Torah says ” You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and to the poor in your Land” (Dueteronomy 15:11)

For Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me… when you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me’ (Mat 25:35-36,40)

For Mohammad, peace be upon him, says, “And worship God alone… and do good unto the needy, and the neighbor from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer.” (An-Nisa’ 4:36)

At South Tryon this is what we will do. Will you?

Rev. Tiffany Thomas
South Tryon Community Church
Pastor
revtiffanythomas@gmail.com