In the mid-nineties, as I was coming out, I learned out a “religious” organization that could “cure” gay people. I was so troubled by this group, I wrote a book that centered on such a group (That book, Regret: http://amzn.to/19n1R5G, came out in 2007). This group, supposedly acting in accord with Biblical teachings, worked to “turn gays straight.” Shockingly, people bought into this. Sadly, a lot of perfectly sane, healthy individuals had their lives ruined with this brainwashing.
On June 20th, Exodus International closed up shop. They went even further than shuttering its 260 ministries across the US; Alan chambers, the organization’s president, turned an about face on the idea that homosexuality could be cured. He even apologized for the “pain and trauma the organization inflicted on people” (http://lat.ms/12YKs4n).
I don’t know which parts of the Bible this group was inspired by, but if they were looking in the Old Testament, perhaps Leviticus or even parts of Genesis (misinterpreted, naturally). But perhaps in their Bible study they finally got to the Book of Jeremiah.
The Book of Jeremiah sees some new material finally, with the first mention of hell, for example. Then there God’s reckoning foretold (over and over and over). You just wish God would wipe these people out already or do something else. Most striking in this book, however, is the earth shifting idea that the old rules/laws get thrown out in favor of new ones, ones more in tune with the people.
For the new material it’s interesting to read, Hell surfaces. It’s a bit of a letdown, however; Maybe the concept hadn’t been fleshed out yet? I was hoping for some detailed description of the heat, etc. Here, it’s merely mentioned as a destination (17:13). More interesting than the mentioning of hell is the overhaul of how long a family has to pay for sins. Previously, sons and their sons got stuck with dad’s sins. But Jeremiah corrects this one. Now people paid for their own sins (31:30). Which seems fair.
But in the face of these ideas rests the CONSTANT repeating of God’s reckoning that will befall the Israelites (1:16; 4:6-7, 20; 5:31; 6:1, 12, 19, 21; 7:20, 32-34; 9:11, 25-26; 10:22). It comes up more often, but the number of times should make the point: okay, we get it, something’s coming. But after a while, if you heard the same thing this many times and saw no evidence, how much stock would you put in the warning? I get that that’s not the point, but still. Let me know RIGHT before it’s going to happen or don’t bother, especially if I can’t do anything to change it.
But perhaps more interesting than that is the mention of tossing out the old rules in general and replacing them with more relevant (or easier to abide by?) rules. So here are the ways the Israelites can be better people: deal with each other justly; don’t oppress aliens, orphans or widows; don’t shed innocent blood in the lord’s house (probably meaning no sacrifices); and don’t follow other gods (7:6). Seems like a reasonable list (and exactly like the rules around for some time at this point—with a few trimmed), so what’s the new set look like?
Well, it seems that the new covenant the lord is making with the Israelites includes writing the law in their minds and on their hearts (31:33). It appears God has rethought His previous set of life guidelines—too much trouble for these people to follow? Asking too much?—and has instead created a broader, all-inclusive guideline: use your reason and compassion to determine what is right (specifically, he “put [his] law in their minds and [wrote] it on their hearts”).
Why this passage is not invoked more often is beyond me. How can people look to older portions of the Bible—Leviticus, let’s say—as word of law and skip this. Clearly, this proposes fine tuning laws so they are more in touch with the people of the era. Instead of rigid laws, new ones that stem from common sense and compassion. This means that what worked back then is not what stands now.
I pray that more organizations like Exodus International see the light on their stance (and hatred) for homosexuality. Seems like the Angry god has turned a corner, and the compassionate god I’ve heard so much about has emerged. It’s about time. I was starting to think he’d never show up. Sort of like a relief pitcher coming in for the tired, worn-out starter.