The New Samaritans
Recently, at a Bible Study I facilitate, we got to talking about the Samaritans. The Gospels of Luke and John record Jesus ministering among the Samaritans. There is no such mention in the Gospels of Mark or Matthew.
In first century Judea--at the time of Jesus--the Samaritans and the Jews, though closely related, were staunch enemies. Samaria was the region located just north of Jerusalem (and south of Galilee). It corresponded to what had once been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians (who hailed from modern-day Iraq). The Jewish tribes living in the region were scattered and assimilated throughout the Assyrian empire (this is where we get the term "the lost tribes of Israel"). The Assyrian empire was eventually supplanted by the Babylonian empire and, in about 600 BC, the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah (including Jerusalem) and took the Jews en masse into captivity in Babylon.
A generation later the Jews were released from captivity and, though many chose to stay in Babylon, a remnant returned to rebuild Jerusalem. These returning Jews found the land to the north of Jerusalem to be populated by a people who claimed to be Israelites but, in the returnees eyes, were not. The returning Jews viewed these Samaritans as aliens and interlopers. They were considered racially mixed and religiously apostate and, therefore, impure and unclean. Over the course of hundreds of years this enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans increased and became cultural and entrenched. By the time of Jesus, Jews travelling between Jerusalem and Galilee would not take the direct route through Samaria but instead would go around, considerably lengthening their journey.
For their part, the Samaritans claimed that *they* were the true "Keepers of the Torah" and that they had preserved the true worship of God on Mount Gerizim (rather than Jerusalem's Temple Mount). The Jews forbade Samaritans (along with Gentiles) from entering the inner courts of the Jerusalem Temple. Around the time that Jesus would have been a child, a group of Samaritan men snuck into the Jerusalem Temple during the Passover celebration and desecrated it by scattering bones around--an outrage that fueled Jewish hatred for many, many years.
This deep-seated hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans possibly explains why the Gospels of both Matthew and Mark omitted any mention of Jesus's travels and ministry within Samaria. Jesus's teachings about and ministry among the Samaritans was radical and revolutionary, not to mention offensive to Jewish sensibilities. In particular, the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) would have been extremely challenging to many Jews. Take a moment to read the parable of the good Samaritan and see if you can get a sense of how this story would have outraged many of the Jews who first heard Jesus tell it.
Today, the Samaritan people are largely gone. But a question worth asking is this: "Who do we treat today like the Jews treated the Samaritans?" The answer is obvious: Homosexuals.
There once was a man named Lonnie Frisbee (Lonnie's story is eloquently told in an Emmy-nominated documentary film entitled "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher"). Lonnie was a key figure in the Jesus Movement of the 1970's. He was a flamboyant and fearless young man who was powerfully used by God as a preacher and evangelist among the young people in California. Both Time and Life magazines featured pictures of Lonnie baptizing throngs of teenage converts in the Pacific ocean. Chuck Smith, the pastor of a small struggling church called Calvary Chapel, invited Lonnie to begin preaching at evening services. Before long Calvary Chapel was overflowing with young people who had come to Jesus as a result of Lonnie's ministry. The growth was exponential and there are now over 1,000 Calvary Chapel churches worldwide. Eventually, Lonnie and Chuck Smith parted ways, in large part due to Smith's discomfort with Lonnie's use of charismatic gifts such as healing and speaking in tongues.
Lonnie next connected with John Wimber, who had begun a Calvary Chapel church in Yorba Linda, California that would later become the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Wimber invited Lonnie to speak at a service and as Frisbee ministered, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred which was so powerful that it is still considered to be a seminal event in the launching of the Vineyard movement. Frisbee and Wimber traveled the world together ministering and planting churches. There are now over 1,500 Vineyard churches worldwide.
Besides being a powerfully anointed minister, Lonnie Frisbee was gay. According to one of his friends, Lonnie's homosexuality was "a bit of an open secret in the church community", but Wimber was apparently unaware and fired Frisbee when he found out. Although Frisbee tried to keep it secret, throughout the years that he was ministering, he was also actively engaging in a gay lifestyle. Lonnie Frisbee's name has been removed from the official histories of both the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard. The ironic thing is that God knew Lonnie Frisbee was gay and didn't seem to have a problem working powerfully through him. But when church leaders discovered Lonnie was gay, they prohibited him from ministering.
If you have read books by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or Billy Graham, then you may have read the writing of a gay man. No, Jerry, Pat and Billy weren't gay (that we know of), but Mel White--the ghost writer whom they and many other Evangelical Christian leaders employed to write in their name--is. Mel's struggles with being a gay Christian man are told in his book "Stranger at the Gate." When he decided to quit hiding his sexual orientation, he was shunned by the Christian leaders who previously had entrusted him to present their thoughts to the world.
These are just two examples of how people who are homosexual had substantial ministries that positively effected thousands, if not millions, of lives. Right now, in Evangelical churches and ministries, there are gay Christians and gay Christian leaders who have not come out of the closet for fear of the scandal, attack and banishment they will incur.
But what if the handful of scriptures we have used to exclude homosexual people from the Kingdom of God have been misappropriated and misapplied? What if God isn't buying into our entrenched enmity against gays? What if God's desire is to minister to and through *all* of His people, straight and gay?
What if Jesus were walking around in the flesh today, teaching and ministering, but instead of having a friendly dialog with the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:4-42), it was the lesbian at the laundromat in Seattle? What if, instead of the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus told the parable of the righteous gay man?
Would you be outraged? Are you outraged now?