One of this week’s lectionary readings in Community of Christ (and presumably elsewhere) is in 1 Peter 3. As I was reading the NRSVUE rendering of this passage this morning, verses 13-17 stood out to me:
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect. Maintain a good conscience so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
The idea of “it’s important to do good, even if others make you suffer for it” is one that I am deeply familiar with. I frequently heard this idea preached in Latter-day Saint contexts growing up, and passages like these were often used to assure us that if we were criticized for what we believed or what we did, we could take that as assurance that what we were doing was God’s will. My understanding of “God’s will” has changed tremendously in recent years, and the second thing that I thought while reading this passage was a question: What sort of things did I justify earlier in my life logic that I would now be ashamed of?
Yesterday, Louisville Public Media (and other sources, but I heard it first from LPM) reported that Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft made some horrifically transphobic comments during a virtual town hall. Based on his comment to the article, Craft’s communications director has been working to do some spin, but there’s no covering up how bad Craft’s comments were (and even the spun version of it is still pretty bad.
I mentioned above that the second thing I thought of while reading the passage in 1 Peter is a question of what I’d justified in the past in the name of “doing God’s will despite pushback and persecution.” I have no doubt that Craft and other Republicans would invoke this kind of rhetoric in justifying transphobic actions—just like I might have at a different point in my life. However, the first thing I thought of while reading the passage was the need for Christians to stand up against this transphobia—and the weaponizing of Christianity to justify that transphobia. I firmly believe that standing up for LGBTQ folks is “good conduct in Christ” and it’s clear from the news—and my research—that there are “those who abuse” LGBTQ folks and those who try to defend them.
This post is more than bemoaning transphobia and encouraging progressive Christianity, though. It’s an illustration that there is no clear, single interpretation of scripture. It’s an illustration that there is no monolithic, straightforward interpretation of who God or Jesus is. A Christian must not simply choose to worship Jesus but also choose which Jesus to worship. So long as Jesus is not present to tell Christians what to believe or how to act, it is up to Christians to interpret who Jesus is and what he taught. Christians cannot hide behind passages like 1 Peter 3:13-17 to justify transphobia or other sins—they need to account for their interpretations of Christ that lead them to those justifications.
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