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Clean God, Dirty Gays

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Jesus was a dirty God.

This is what I've been learning from Johnnie Moore, VP at Liberty University. I graduated from Liberty. I also know Johnnie personally, and like him. I went to India with him a few years back and volunteered at a couple orphanages with him. He is a really good guy with a really big heart.

But his latest book, "Dirty God," which came out last month, has me rolling my eyes.

There's dirt under God's fingernails, he'll say, or something about the possibility of Jesus having diarrhea.

And when he says these things, throngs of young Christians everywhere act as if they were suddenly blindsided with the most life-changing secret ever: Whoa! You mean, maybe the 3-in-1 really did go No. 2?!

Don't get me wrong, Johnnie's goal of making an otherworldly God accessible to contemporary audiences is well-meaning; but it's also a bit misguided.

Would Johnnie Moore, the guy who believes God entered into a relationship with dirty humans, be willing to enter into a discussion about gay Christians? Or would that be too dirty?

I know Johnnie would sit down and talk with me personally, and I know he wouldn't judge me. That's not what I'm getting at. Rather, I'm wondering if he would, as the Vice President of a school known (fairly or not) for its homophobia, be willing to take his Dirty God to the Dirty Gays.

Would Johnnie be alright with his dirty God loving those dirty gays?

And -- even more scandalously -- would Johnnie be alright if his God didn't think the gays were that dirty?

It's not my intention to begin a theological discussion of the morality of homosexuality. I think arguments about "natural law" and "God's intentions" are misguided at best, propaganda at worst. (I mean, at some point in history slavery was natural; so was a geocentric view of the universe.) I avoid those discussions because, well, it's hard for me to take seriously religious people who boycott gay marriage and then go get divorces and eat fast food. If I shouldn't have gay sex because my body is the temple of God, then it follows that you shouldn't go to Friendly's after church. (As a side note, this is why the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was an embarrassment to the church. It really exposed how deeply Gnostic some of our political tendencies really are.)

I'm sure Johnnie would welcome the opportunity to have a public discussion about homosexuality. But I am almost sure what he would say: God loves gay people, but every instance of homosexual activity is sinful. I don't think he would say being gay is something that makes someone go to hell; but I don't think the financial backers of his school would be happy if he said otherwise.

I think the phrase "Jesus was a dirty God" is misleading in two senses. First, Jesus wasn't really a dirty anything: He was a ceremonially clean Jew. Second, it sidetracks us from the real scandal of Jesus, which isn't simply that he used the restroom or experienced an erection. What is scandalous about Jesus is his company.

"Friend of sinners" is what first century religious people called him. If he was dirty it was because his company defiled him. Prostitutes, crooks, deviants, those on the fringes of society, those for whom the religious institution had nothing but judgment -- these were Jesus' friends.

I, a gay man, am Jesus' friend.

Calling Jesus a dirty God (once the theology is fleshed out, pun intended) is probably a step in the right direction for a church that is accused of being out of touch, archaic and aloof. But what is necessary isn't simply a hip updating of old school vocabulary, but a constant reevaluation of the theological system in which that vocabulary is framed.

The church has always held that Jesus was fully human. There's nothing shocking about Johnnie Moore saying that (even with his bit about dysentery). But what if Johnnie wrote about a God who goes out of his way to befriend gay people, who are today's version of first-century tax collectors? What if he told a sermon about a rich pastor being beaten up in Harlem, and being slowly nursed back to health by a loving gay man? What if Johnnie, following the example of Jesus, retold the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of God's hatred for inhospitality?

What if Johnnie Moore talked about a dirty God who pursues those on the fringes of society, who seeks out the marginalized and the alienated and commands his followers to love the strangers among them?

I'm not sure whether Johnnie thinks these issues are worth discussing. I'm not even sure Liberty would give him the -- what's the word? -- liberty to discuss them in a fair way. But I know these discussions need to be had. Because there are many of us who feel that Johnnie's Dirty God isn't dirty enough for us.