Kill the Indian, Save the Man

As it happens, I didn’t manage to keep writing throughout the week at San Jose. For that, I am sorry. I do want to share one little bit I found interesting during one of the presentations at the conference. One of the items that the delegate body voted on was a resolution (pdf) in support of bill in the US Congress to “acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” Part of the presentation before this vote included some words from Steve Cheramie Risingsun, a Chitimacha Indian who leads Native Mennonite congregations in Louisiana and Alabama. You can read more about it at the Mennonite Weekly Review article.

The thing that I found particularly interesting about this was a comment made by Risingsun. He was talking about the various ways white colonizers mistreated Native Americans, tried to take away their culture, and were generally pretty nasty. He said that there was a phrase that was often used by these white folks: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”

I couldn’t help but notice how much this sounded like “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” We look back now at these attitudes towards Native Americans and we are appalled. But in its time, this would have been seen as particularly enlightened and charitable by the Good Christians who practiced it. It was in contradiction to a harsher practice of the day, which was just plain “Kill the Indian.”

These Good Christian folk knew that it wasn’t nice to kill people but they thought that “practicing Indians” were sinners (I’m sure it said so somewhere in the Bible.) If they could just “love the Indian out of the Indian,” then he/she could become a Good Christian like them. “Loving the Indian out of the Indian” tended to include things like kidnapping children and imprisoning them in boarding schools where their hair was cut and they were told that their identity, culture, and family were intrinsically sinful. They were abused in so many ways, all in the name of saving them from their evil Indian ways.

Unfortunately, the attitude lives on (though the behaviors don’t tend to be physically violent much anymore). It lives on in the Mennonite Church, and the Church of the Brethren and so many other denominations and faiths. Of course, Good Christians are enlightened enough to know that it’s not nice to be outwardly homophobic, to use gay slurs, to beat up lgbt folks (or “homosexuals” as they seem to prefer to call us) but “everybody knows that ‘practicing homosexuals’ are sinners.” What Good Christians need to do is find a nice middle ground between beating up “homosexuals” and “embracing homosexuality.”

The problematic attitude is that there is something intrinsically wrong with being lgbt or q. Some say queer people are born that way, or choose to be that way, but really, it doesn’t matter because the attitude remains that there is something less-than or wrong about being gay. In the same way, the attitude used to be that there was something less-than or wrong about being (and “practicing”) Native American.

We look back at our history and see our acts of racism, classism, sexism, genocide, slavery, and abuse as related to ignorance about peoples’ identity. We all know that people of color don’t choose to be people of color and can’t change that, so therefore, white folks shouldn’t treat them badly because of it. This brings up the rhetorical question, “If they did choose or could change the color of their skin, would it be better for people of color to be white?” Of course not, we all know better and see value in racial diversity.

We try to forget that while we were oppressing Native Americans, African Americans, women, and everyone else we’ve oppressed (and in most cases continue to oppress in one way or another) we’ve blamed the victim for their own oppression by saying it was their behavior which warranted whatever abuse we were committing against them. This is happening to lgbtq people now. Whenever a Good Christian tries to find that comfy middle ground between being a violent homophobe and celebrating diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity, it happens.

How will we all (or maybe a generation or two down the road) feel about that in the future? Will lgbtq folks be getting resolutions of apology in the next decades? Centuries maybe?

Comments (32)

  1. PeterK

    I definitely see where you are coming from with this argument, it has some validity. However, I think it’s a bit of stretch to compare lgbt people to the Native Americans. Now I’m not of Native American heritage but I think I might be offended by your comparison. Not only were Native Americans stripped of their culture they were outright massacred in many cases, their lands were taken away from them, etc., etc. They weren’t simply seen as outcasts they were just killed, basically their way of life was destroyed by the coming of the Europeans. I don’t think this is the same situation as lgbt people face today. I guess if you are simply comparing the ways that they tried to strip the Native Americans of their culture to how lgbt people are treated that makes more sense. But the Native American experience as a whole is far different from the modern day lgbt experience and if an apology were done I think it would have to be of a very different nature.

  2. TimN

    Katie, thanks for this post. I think the most poignant parallel between the Americanization of Native Americans and the straightening of LBTQ folks is the similarities between the Indian Boarding Schools and the Ex-Gay industry.

    Thankfully, the apologies are already coming from individuals who were part of the Exodus “ministry” and other gay conversion groups. Check out the Statement of Apology from Former Exodus Leaders. The individual personal statements from the leaders are particularly revealing. Here’s an excerpt from Darlen Bogle’s statement:

    My heart breaks as I hear the many stories of abuse and suicide from men and women who couldn’t change their orientation, regardless of what Exodus and other Christian ministries told them. One of our female attendees became so depressed over her inability to change that she jumped off a bridge rather than continue the struggle. I was told it wasn’t my fault, but my heart knew better.

  3. lukelm

    Oh good, another straight white man is offended by comparisons and parallels between different forms of oppression. Because gosh, after all, queers haven’t been massacred as a population in the western world for at least, like, 50 or 60 years.

    “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”… I’d never heard that before. It does have striking parallels to “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” doesn’t it? I’m going to kill/hate the thing in you that keeps you from being my idea of normal (and you’re obviously confused or possessed by evil when you claim that this part of you is inseparable from yourself) – but of course my real intention is merely to love/save your “real” self which of course is defined by me, not by you.

  4. michaeldanner

    Thanks for the post…I appreciate the perspective. At the same time, I think you overlook the primary cause for much of the oppression that has occured throughout history. GREED. The whole “they are different and sinful” bit seemed like a justification that allowed people to enslave, kill and steal without it compromising their “Christian” faith.

    The full extent of Jesus command to love (even enemies) makes such a rationalization ludicris, but greed corrupts.

    In terms of lgbt issues, I agree that homophobia, discrimination, violence, etc. is of the same order as that done to other oppressed groups. While the motivation may be different, it is equally vile and I believe it is inconsistent with the call of Jesus.

    That said, you do have to deal with the reality that, while we argue about particular texts and what them mean (concerning homosexuality) the overall trajectory of scripture on the topic is that it is sinful (like other types of sexual sin). The scriptures do say that we should love sinners because that is what we all are. At the same time, it is also quite clear that sin, when it runs its course, gives birth to death not life. I’m not sure how it benefits us to not give that proper attention.

    lukelm, not sure I am familiar with the massacre of homosexuals, can you ellaborate?

  5. j alan meyer

    PeterK — I don’t think you get it. She didn’t say that historically the Native Americans and LGBTQs have been treated identically. But she did draw out powerful commonalities between the two in how we (straight white male Mennonites, among others) view the identities of LGBTQs and Native Americans, and where we lay the blame when we oppress others:

    The problematic attitude is that there is something intrinsically wrong with being lgbt or q…. In the same way, the attitude used to be that there was something less-than or wrong about being (and “practicing”) Native American…. We’ve blamed the victim for their own oppression by saying it was their behavior which warranted whatever abuse we were committing against them.

    Additionally, as Luke pointed out, it’s sort of ridiculous for you to act offended by this — as if you have some deep part of your identity at stake in this discussion. Maybe you do, in the sense that it’s difficult for us Mennonites (especially those of us who try to convince ourselves that we’re liberal, open-minded, welcoming, loving, etc.) to see one recognized oppression (that of Native Americans) compared with another oppression we continually attempt to deny (that of LGBTQs). Perhaps you’re right that the situation of Native Americans today is different than the situation of LGBTQs, but simply bringing that up as if you’re offended and Katie was way out of line shows that you missed the point of the post.

    Michael — Good thoughts about greed. But in your attempt to do the Good Christian thing and “find that comfy middle ground between being a violent homophobe and celebrating diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity”, you’re bringing up points that have been heavily discussed in multiple posts already, specifically here and here. I would suggest that you read through those a bit, because I don’t have the energy to repeat a lot of it. Briefly, I’d say that the “reality” you seem to accept as a given — that the “overall trajectory of scripture” is clear about homosexuality being a sin — is not something we need to accept and give proper attention to. Instead, that belief is something we — as radical young Anabaptists and followers of Jesus — need to challenge by pointing to the ultimate (and more difficult) trajectory of Jesus’s ethic of love. Tell me, what exactly is it about homosexuality that “gives birth to death not life”?

    Enough rambling from me. Thanks for the provocative and moving post, Katie. Rock on.

  6. Katie (Post author)

    Thanks all for your thoughts. I think Luke, Tim, and J. Alan covered this pretty well but I want to reiterate a few points I was attempting to make. This may be a little redundant but I just want to make sure we’re abundantly clear here.

    I was not saying LGBT folk are like Native Americans (or women, or African Americans, or any other specific oppressed group) or even that the ways these separate groups have been and continue to be oppressed are the same. I was saying that there are some similar attitudes involved on the part of those who would either actively oppress or stand aside in order to take a neutral/moral stand while someone else is being oppressed. These attitudes can lead to different behaviors. Some of these behaviors are physically violent and some are emotionally or spiritually violent, but the roots of these attitudes are similar.

    Another point I was trying to make is that as we look back at how various groups have been treated, we try to make attitudes and behaviors of the past fit into our own current understandings of ourselves. We have a hard time connecting bad attitudes and behaviors of the past with our own current attitudes and behaviors because then we might realize that they are similarly bad.

    We want to attach greed, fear, ignorance, or some other negative trait to past oppression because then we can distance ourselves from it because we don’t think of those as traits that we do, in fact, hold. Even if those were actually a big part of slavery or genocide, no one would have admitted to that while they were actively carrying out the oppression because those were bad traits no one would want to claim.

    We have to think that our current attitudes and behaviors are good and noble. If we are treating someone else badly, it must be because they are sinners, evil, heathens, terrorists, communists, lazy, or whatever. That is, until we are proven wrong, then we get a little amnesia as we remember it later.

    We also tend to prop all of this up with whatever is the current mainstream reading of scripture. So, at any given time, the “overall trajectory of scripture” on any given topic is whatever those in power say it is. Two or three centuries ago, everybody knew that the “overall trajectory of scripture” said that slavery was A-OK and ‘practicing’ Native Americans were sinners. The Bible said so (at least then it did).

    We prefer to think of the Bible as unchanging because somehow that makes it more authoritative to prop up whatever we want to do. Those who have scripturally justified slavery, crusades, genocide, and now, homophobia have all found their justification in what we think of as the same Bible. But scripture is neither that simple nor self-evident. It changes as we change.

    In 50 years (maybe sooner, maybe later), few people will believe that the “overall trajectory of scripture” has anything of consequence to say about lgbt people. Even more interesting, few people will be able to see how past (our current) homophobic and heterosexist attitudes and behaviors have any relation to current (our future) attitudes about whoever is the scapegoat (sinner) du jour.

  7. DevanD


    I’m glad you finally got the chance to post on this.

    I’ll start by saying that you took this in a different direction then I had thought but ended up in essentially the same place.

    “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”, did not necessarily mean re-education as you have described, though it could apply there. Native Americans were seen by German/Irish/Russian pioneers as similar to “terrorists” waiting to sack your camp/home. Kill them, and you’ll save your family. It quite literally meant that if you put a bullet in a head of a Native American, you would be saving the “Man” – i.e., white man.

    The underpinnings of this, of course, is that the Indian is less than human and the white man is truly human; this is based on privileged assumptions. In that sense, when you and I first whispered to each other at San Jose about this, I thought that the similarity of this phrase to “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” was that it basically puts the sinner into the context of being subhuman until redeemed from Sin…There’s a discussion to be had there.

  8. j alan meyer

    Devan, it may have been used that way also, but I think you’re wrong for the most part. The motto “Kill the Indian, save the man” is most often attributed to Richard C. Pratt, an army captain responsible for negotiations between the US government and the Sioux tribes. He founded one of the first boarding schools for Native American youth in 1879 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and that school was then used as a model for many other such schools. He used this saying specifically to refer to the need for Indians to be re-educated, not massacred. Your observations are certainly interesting and could be applied here, but Katie was correct in her initial interpretation.

    Check out this or this for more info on that…

  9. Katie (Post author)

    Thanks J, I was just about to link to both of those sites. If anyone’s got the stomach for it, I recommend taking the time to read that essay of Pratt’s in the first link. Just a little window into the attitudes of Good Christians of the end of the 19th century. He actually suggested that slavery was the best thing that could have happened to Africans because it brought them to America where they could be “civilized” and learn English.

    I found the citation interesting for the first link you gave. It came from a book called Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880—1900.

    Ward Churchill wrote a book on the topic of boarding schools and Pratt’s little motto. It looks interesting. Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools

  10. ST

    Thanks for the post and comments all. There is a hope that for the next world conference in Paraguay there will be a gathering of indigenous people throughout the Western Hemisphere. There, a lot will be examined about what happened many decades ago and what continues to happen today. The goal is to strengthen the forming indigenous solidarity.

    How many years will we have to wait until other marginalized groups such as lgbtq are able to have a hemispherical reunion to work together on issues of solidarity and justice?

    When I bring up these and related issues at world conference youth and young adult meetings, I am still met by the belief that this is a “northern issue” only important in europe, canada and the usa. i am working to dispel this belief, and so if anyone has contacts in the global south, let me know. the whole theme of sexuality is still only talked about in specific ways from those with power in the hierarchy.

  11. michaeldanner

    j allan meyer,

    Sorry for being late to the party, I appreciate the links. Although I’m not sure your response was to me as much as your assumptions about me…but whatever. Here’s my problem; Because I believe the scriptures when they tell me Jesus taught me to love all people (even my emenies), I also believe that same scripture when it says homosexuality is a sin. So, instead of dismissing parts of scripture that I don’t understand or agree with, perhaps I’m trying to figure it out in a spirit of open dialog. Instead of dismissing me, teach me! If I can trust the scriptures that tell me to love everyone, why can’t I trust the scriptures that say homosexuality is a sin?

    To answer your question, I can’t think of anything about the homosexual lifestyle that, on it’s face, leads to death. All the lgbtq persons I know and have known are good people living healthy, well-balanced lives. My comment is born of the teaching of scripture (homosexuality is a sin, sin leads to death). I don’t claim to understand that or agree with it…but it does seem to say that.

    So, as a young Anabaptist and a follower of Jesus – challenge my ‘reality’. Convince me that as an Anabaptist follower of Jesus, I need to be where you are on this issue.


    Within your arguments are the seeds that also undermine it. If the scriptures are simply what people make them, then isn’t your perspective simply your perspective? What would happen to your own arguement if you treated it the way you treat the arguments of others? What you are ultimately advocating is your opinion, which you would like others to affirm. How are you different? Maybe Jesus didn’t say to love your enemies? Maybe Paul didn’t mean homosexuality was a sin?

    In order to make progess in the acceptance of lgbtq people and the celebration of diverse sexual orientations, you will have to oonvince people who settle into the “middle groud” (as j allen meyer put it). How do you move people from “acceptance” to “celebration” within the church if you undermine the authority of scripture – especially in an Anabaptist context?

    Sorry if I’m covering ground previously covered…

  12. eric

    Great stuff Katie (and others).

    Michael, seems to me denying your personal bias is no way to respect the authority of scripture. But then again – authority? What gives Paul more authority in the church than Katie? The fact that he’s been canonized? Funny how no women got canonized. No gay people got canonized. Bit of a self-selected group, that canon.

    Well well, maybe we’ll stick to Jesus – assuming the canon caught the overall trajectory of that chap we can tell that he was hardly concerned with sin, and much more interested in love.

    Funny also how a few small mentions (none by Jesus) create an overall trajectory. By the same right we should keep slavery in, women out (as male property, and dirty when menstruating), polygamy in, divorce out (via Jesus contradicting Moses), extra-marital sex is in (as long as the woman’s “bride price” isn’t in danger), prostitution in, leverite marriage in, sex with slaves is in, etc. The list goes on.

    The bible was written by people. More accurately, various things were written by various people and compiled into what we call “the bible” 300 years later. People like us wrote it. They disagreed with each other. The book is good, but it contradicts itself all over the place. Katie is entirely within that tradition. Anyone who would see it as “God’s Infallible Word” is outside that tradition.

    This has all been discussed, of course. And I’m simplifying to keep it short, but check out the assigned reading in the sidebar for some good stuff on the topic. Find the link rollover that says “winkerific”.

  13. Michael Danner


    Let me see if I understand. You believe that the Bible is not authoritative in the life of the follower of Jesus. You also believe that the words we write (Katie, you, me…maybe not me if I disagree with you)are co-equal with the Bible. The cannonization process was a male-dominated power play. None of the authors of scripture were homosexual (are you sure about that one?). None of the authors of scripture were women? (with the authorship of many books in question are you sure about that one?) The Bible is full of contradictions. You believe I didn’t read the sidebar, haven’t read Wink, and probablly don’t even know how biased I really am. I am impressed with your certainty…really…I am!

    Question: Why do you believe that your epistemological framework provides anything but a justification for any and all people to believe and do whatever they want (including those who would do violence to lgbtq persons)?

    If Katie’s words carry the same weight as scripture (forgive me, I can’t believe I’m saying this) then why don’t James Dobson’s?

    On a practical level, I don’t see how that helps people move from violence/rejection/oppression of lgbtq persons to acceptance and celebration of lgbtq persons. If nothing is true beyond our diverse opinions, then even appeals to basic human rights are subject to the same critique.

    I suggest reading two essays “On Bullshit” and “On Truth” by Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton. A community without some body of accepted truth that conforms with reality is not sustainable…not even one that shares your perspective and values.

    On the Jesus stuff…while he wasn’t a jerk, the claim that Jesus was “hardly concerned” with sin is unsustainable given the gospels. Even the most “liberal” understandings of atonement place the primary purpose of his death as dismantling the power of sin and death…even if just to put the violence and corruption of Empire on display for all to see. If what you say is true, why did Jesus call people to repentance (remember…the Kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news!)? Why didn’t he just come up to people, give them a hug, say “I Love you” and go on his way? Why did he tell the woman caught in adultry to go and “sin” no more? What’s with all the ‘woe to you pharisees’ stuff? Why turn the tables in the temple? What was the basis for his teaching in Matthew 25 – sheep and goats, helping the poor, etc.? Come on Eric, hardly concerned with sin?

    It is obvious that you think some things are wrong – like my perspective. I can only assume that you think your perspectives are consistent with what Jesus taught, since you appealed to Him as an authority on how we should behave. It is logical, then, that you would conclude that I am out of step with what Jesus taught. Maybe I am. Would he have me repent, or is he hardly concerned with this sin?

    Thank you for the spirited dialog…shalom

  14. lukelm

    Hi Michael,
    There has been a wide-ranging discussion on exactly the issues you bring up and the ideas Eric has put forth under the “Is it really a sin” thread started by the yarer formerly known as folknotions – if you’re interested you should look it up for a lot of what various people have to say about this.

    My two cents is that there does have to be some form of authority that comes from somewhere in order to have a community. (I’m not actually sure that the word “authority” matches my sense of what this really is – I like your phase “accepted truth” better.) To say that “scripture” is authority or accepted truth is not enough – if every word of scripture was authoritative then that would require following too many ridiculous beliefs to even be able to walk out the door the next day. The Bible has to match reality, human experience, tradition, our own innate sense of morality. Some things seem to be more essential than others. Slavery turned out to not fit in so good to our central sense of what the Bible is all about even though it could VERY CLEARLY said to be supported by the general trend of its mentions in the Bible, so the church eventually (after many many centuries) changed its mind about what the Bible said on that one. Same about the role of women in the church (still controversy in various pockets about this one) and other issues that Eric mentioned. Your sense of the “general trend” of scripture toward condemning LGBT people Michael is not as widely accepted or obvious as you might think, and is based on a few scattered verses that really don’t seem to have much to do with modern LGBT people. No, it’s not a matter of simply saying flatten all pursuits of truth to individual beliefs and opinion and throw scripture out.

    For example, what do you do with Leviticus 17:10, just one chapter away from the main Old Testament verse used to condemn LGBT people? If you’ve ever had a raw steak, you’re now cut off from God. How about Leviticus 15:21? Certainly you’ve touched some female relative’s bed or clothes or chair while she was on her period – but did you wash your clothes right away and bathe and remain ritually impure until evening? And what about 1 Corinthians 14:35? This is from the same author you trust to tell you about LGBT people – are you now going to trust him equally about women? What allows you to selectively read one over the other?

    I’m not arguing that the Bible is thrown out and it’s just a free-for-all for opinions. I’m just saying that if you’re going to go on claiming that scripture if your sources of authority in condemning LGBT people then you have to define your use of scripture with a lot more subtlety and nuance than simply saying “the Bible says so.”

    Personally, I think “authority of scripture” is an entirely bogus argument on LGBT issues. It’s just such an extremely thinly covered topic in the Bible, much less than other topics like slavery or the role of women for which most Christians can handle believing something different than what selected Bible verses seem to be saying on the topic.

  15. eric

    Fun hypothesis Michael, but you missed the point. I think Luke represents fairly well what I was saying (and why) about biblical authority and lgbt questions. The rest of the attacks are off topic and make even more assumptions than I may have made. You really think I’m a moral relativist?

    But even the Jesus you mention is dealing with concepts of “sin” on a completely different level from “the gay lifestyle.” Actual issues of oppression and death. The story of the woman almost sounds comparable when you quote the right line, except Jesus is more interested in stopping the men’s judgmental anger than changing the woman’s lifestyle. The people being condemned in the story are the men with the power to define what is “normal” and what is “sinful” and punish others over it. The line, “go and sin no more” to the woman is hardly a condemnation of anything in particular beyond what could be said to any one of us.

    And therein lies the point. Jesus doesn’t address who sleeps with who. Without a single mention you can hardly call it an “overall trajectory” that Jesus was concerned with. What you can call it (as Wink does) is a reflection of cultural mores – right up there with assumptions about slavery, women, polygamy and much much more.

    But this isn’t even a post about that. The point here is a comparison of language we use to excuse bigotry – and how silly it looks 50 years later. Katie is right on. “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was a beautifully kind Good Christian way of dehumanizing Indians in exactly the same way “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is now entirely offensive nice-guy bigotry posing as “love,” however much we want to pretend otherwise. This is not a personal morality issue, and if it was we wouldn’t be fighting over it – we all deal with those. This is an issue of human rights and oppression.

    We all know that the church will accept lgbtq in much the same way they accepted divorce (it happened when the children of church leaders were finally the ones in question) and repented on slavery. That has been the overall trajectory of the church despite strong efforts (and vague excuses) to the contrary. The question is how long we will drag our feet, and what silly offensive moralisms we’ll come up with to call “loving reproach” along the way, rather than taking a stand for the biblically most important “least of these.”

  16. Michael Danner


    I was seeking clarity from you. As I reflected back to you how I heard your comments (my 1st paragraph), where did I misunderstand and where did I hear you correctly?

    Actually, it seems to me like have a very well-defined sense of right and wrong. I do think you are as selective and biased in what you consider true and good and right as everyone else.

    I guess I disagree that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is “entirely offensive ‘nice-guy’ bigotry posing as ‘love’.” Are we not called to love sinners? I hope so, or I’m in a lot of trouble. That is clearly what Jesus did. But am I to love sin? By no means. To love sin is to love the very things we are trying to rid the world of – violence, discrimination, injustice, slavery, oppression, etc.

    Do some creeps use that saying the way you suggest? Yes. But the basic concept should lead to more acceptance not less. No matter what a person does, I am called to love them, even if they are my enemies…period. That is how I have always understood that saying.

    Relative to interpreting scripture, if you haven’t read “Homosexualit: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment” by Willard M. Swartley (a very talented Anabaptist scholar)it gets to the issues quite well.

    At the same time, I think Jesus was interested both in the men not stoning the woman AND the sin of adultry (which Jesus clearly indicates is a problem in the sermon on the mount. He even extends the definition of adultry to include lust). There is no textual basis to support your claim that “Jesus is more interested in stopping the men’s judgmental anger than changing the woman’s lifestyle.” In reality, Jesus did teach adultry was a sin. The woman was caught in adultry. So the intruction to “go and sin no more”, as a broad injuction, at least included her known sin. If her lifestyle didn’t change, she may find herself on the other end of stones when Jesus wasn’t around to disrupt the mimetic violence of the mob.

    To me, what is telling is the two responses of Jesus to the women. He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” and “Go and sin no more”. He freed her from the weight of condemnation and he invited her to a new way of life, free from sin. It isn’t either/or.

    I believe we can love, welcome and accept a person, no matter what sins they commit, like Jesus did. That does not preclude being honest about sin. The problem in the church, as I see it, is too many people pretend they are not sinners. In order to prop up that belief, they have to define sin in ways that don’t stick to them. So, they pick on homosexuality because it is easy and most people don’t struggle with it. I agree that the selective definition of sin is oppressive and does violence to lgbtq persons. I also agree that some people use the phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin” to actually hate the sinner. That is wrong.

    However, there are people who love God, follow Jesus, welcome, accept and love lgbtq persons who still believe the Bible teaches it is a sin. If Jesus does it with me, knowing full well my sin, why can’t we do that with one another?

    Thanks for your ongoing engagement with me…I appreciate your patience.


  17. Michael Danner


    Thank you, I appreciate your comments. Can I push you in a few areas?

    There is a difference between accepting the “authority” of scripture and believing that every word of the Bible is equally authoritative. I accept the Bible as an authority in my life (as Anabaptists have historically done). I do not believe that the Bible is inerrent and every word of scripture is equally applicable today. I do believe that, when properly interpreted, in community, the Bible gives us an accurate understanding of who God is and what it means to live out God’s values and priorities in the world.

    I believe that to properly understand and apply the scriptures, context is everything. Those things which are culturally conditioned are to be left behind. Those things that address a specific circumstance that does not relate to our time and place, are to be left behind as well. I suggest Richard Hayes book “The Moral Vision of the New Testment” on this one. If you haven’t read it, it is excellent.

    The big question is, what is the nature of the Biblical teaching about homosexuality? Is it like the civil and ceremonial laws of Leviticus? Is it like the culturally conditioned teaching of Paul concerning women speaking in worship at Corinth? Is it like Jesus teaching that we should not commit adultry? What is the nature of the teaching? Does it represent something that was culturally conditioned? Was the NT referring to something that does not accurately reflect lgbtq lifestyles today? What happens when the community of faith does not agree?

    Please be aware that just because some people selectively quote scriptures to justify their predjudice doesn’t mean that all people who take the scriptures seriously are doing that.

    To say that all persons who conclude the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin is a biggot who wants to oppress and do violence to lgbtq persons is not accurate, fair or helpful. You end up distancing yourself from people who are perfectly willing to stand up for the full inclusion of lgbtq persons in the church. Not on the basis that it is not sinful, but on the basis of the ethic of love, grace and our common experience of forgiveness from sin through Jesus.

    At the same time, I hope I haven’t said that lgbtq people are to be “condemned” because the “Bible says so”. If I did, my sincere apology, that is not what I believe.

    I don’t come at this from the perspective that I am not a sinner and lgbtq persons are. We are all in the same boat. I don’t believe lgbtq persons should be treated any differently than anyone else, both inside and outside the church.


  18. Skylark

    Hi Michael,
    I hope you don’t mind if I jump in with a few questions of my own for you. You seem sincere and well-meaning, so you should know I appreciate that. When you asked if the Bible’s teachings about same-sex relationships/sex/attractions is more like civil and ceremonial law, culturally-conditioned instructions, or something else, you didn’t answer your own question. I was really hoping you would, and you would provide reasons why you think so.

    And now, on a related topic but not talking only to you, Michael…

    I wore my rainbow-colored bracelet to church on Sunday. During the carry-in meal afterward, an older gentleman asked me what the bracelet meant to me, if I was trying to indicate I’m gay. I told him, no, sometimes straight people use gay symbols in a sign of solidarity. He asked what I meant, and I said I believe no one should be excluded. He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Yes, I definitely agree with you. It’s hard to minister to someone if they aren’t allowed in.” I have to wonder if he was also thinking about his recent divorce, and how not that long ago, some would have wanted to excommunicate him, too.

  19. Brian Hamilton

    Katie, thanks for the provocative and incisive commentary. The juxtaposition is in many cases apt and profoundly disturbing.

    Eric, your belligerent and misunderstood posture is getting a bit tiresome. Some of the points you made in your earlier comment were just indefensible, regardless of whether else you or others may have made more nuanced and reasonable arguments in the same vein elsewhere. Luke’s comments were careful and to-the-point, but they weren’t your points, and you can’t hide behind them. You said that Jesus was hardly concerned about sin, which is completely untrue. Jesus certainly cared about who slept with whom, which is why he told the adulteress to stop sinning and why, as Michael pointed out, divorce and adultery and lust are all important enough to make it into the sermon on the mount. Arguing for some complete rupture between Jesus and the Mosaic law on this is exegetically unsustainable. Anger and violence and pride and hypocrisy and greed and misplaced priorities are other sins that Jesus is persistently ‘concerned with.’

    Also, you insinuated that the apostle Paul had no more spiritual authority than Katie and that the ‘tradition’ of the canon is a series of arguments to be engaged (or more usually disagreed with) rather than any sustained teaching.* I know you’re no moral relativist–and Michael does too–but you repeatedly come off as such when you dismiss the most important authorities in the Christian tradition and/or read the traditional authorities you say you trust in frighteningly selective ways (the early Anabaptists, for example, or Jesus himself).** I know you’re no moral relativist, but your moral norms are only vaguely and somewhat disingenuously rooted in either the Anabaptist tradition or the ‘trajectory’ of Jesus and his immediate followers–which is why so many folks so consistently level that charge at you. If you’re going to insist that everyone’s misunderstanding you, you’re going to have to speak with something besides a rather reckless iconoclasm with respect to basic Christian convictions and practices.

    * ‘Tradition’ was an interesting choice of words there, since no Jewish or Christian teacher before the mid-20th century had ever seen their canon as anything other than an authoritative word given by God, full of arguments as it may be.
    ** I’m aware that some of your selectivity is intentional; you disagree with the early Anabaptists and agree with them on others. But even where you claim to be in continuity, I’m saying, you’ve often read them in sketchy and careless ways. For example, I think this is true of your repeated insistences that Jesus doesn’t care about sin or discipline, when he speaks to both quite clearly and repeatedly in the gospels.

  20. michaeldanner


    To me, the teaching in Leviticus seems consistent with the concerns of the civil and ceremonial law. Based on this alone, I would treat the Leviticus passages about homosexuality the same way I do prohibitions against wearing two different types of fabric and stoning disobedient children (I would have been dead 20 years ago if that were still practiced).

    I wish Jesus would have said something about the topic, but he didn’t. Where Jesus is silent, he is silent. That doesn’t mean he approves or disapproves.

    Paul’s teaching is a bit different. He clearly believes homosexual acts are of the same nature as other sins such as lying and theft. I am open to the possibility that Paul is dealing with a specific type of behavior related to temple prostitution or another practice common in his day. I believe the Bible says homosexual behavior is a sin, what that exactly means is up to debate in my mind. Was he refering to people who were not, by nature, homosexual engaging in same-gender sex acts? That is possible.

    Because of the nature of the teaching on homosexuality in the scriptures (Jesus is silent, not much said on it, cultural conditions,etc.) I tend to believe that homosexuality and heterosexuality should observe the same boundaries. Promiscuity is not healthy. Sex within a loving, committed relationship, is best and safest. (Love, mutual respect, mutual commitment and consent of both partners being the basics)

    As far as sin goes, greed does more damage to our world, in my opinion.

    I hope I answered your question. Thanks for asking.


  21. Skylark

    Hey Michael,
    Thank you for responding. I re-read some of your previous posts and noted your frustration with those who were dismissing you rather than educating you. I don’t claim to be an excellent teacher, but I’ll offer what I can.

    I was struck mostly by these statements: “Because of the nature of the teaching on homosexuality in the scriptures (Jesus is silent, not much said on it, cultural conditions,etc.) I tend to believe that homosexuality and heterosexuality should observe the same boundaries. Promiscuity is not healthy. Sex within a loving, committed relationship, is best and safest. (Love, mutual respect, mutual commitment and consent of both partners being the basics).”

    I may have misread your intent, but I thought before you were saying you believe same-sex relationships to be sinful.

    Ah, here we go:
    “My comment is born of the teaching of scripture (homosexuality is a sin, sin leads to death). I don’t claim to understand that or agree with it…but it does seem to say that.”

    Is perhaps your perspective in a state of flux, and you’re not entirely sure how to reconcile all of what you believe to be true? No condemnation here–been there, done that. Here’s a question that may help clarify: If sin is destructive, and same-sex relationships are a sin, then what about the same-sex relationship is destructive? We know that lying destroys trust and hides the truth. Greed distracts people from loving others and God. But what is so horrific about two men or two women loving each other the way we often see one man and one woman doing? Given that no two people are exactly alike, and some people are attracted to people who have complementary differences from them, it really comes down to the individual relationship. Bi-racial relationships have certain common struggles, as will same-sex relationships. Just because one factor may be hard doesn’t mean the whole idea is wrong. And many of these issues may be culturally-imposed.

    “If I can trust the scriptures that tell me to love everyone, why can’t I trust the scriptures that say homosexuality is a sin?”

    I suppose we could use that logic on nearly any two ideas in the Bible. “If I can trust the Scriptures that tell me to love everyone, why can’t I trust the Scriptures to say how many people were in King David’s army?” Or the legitimacy of slavery, or the subjegation of women… Some understandings are culturally-driven, as you’ve acknowledged. I believe culture is the key to figuring out why Paul included “homosexuality” in the bad list. He didn’t have any cultural reference point for loving, stable same-sex relationships. Pedophilia and prostitutes were about the only same-sex partnerings in the Greco-Roman world, from what I’m told.

  22. Michael Danner


    Perhaps my position at this point is a bit too nuanced (or tortured). I do believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. However, I am open as to what exactly that means and how to apply that teaching today.

    In my discussion with Eric (your second quote) context is key. At that point, I was trying to get him to deal with what the scriptures do say. I don’t think it helps anyone to dismiss the parts of scripture that we don’t like. In that quote I freely admit that what Paul meant by his words is open to interpretation. However, Paul did write it and for 2,000 years the church has treated it as authoritative. I don’t think we can just toss it out now. We have to wrestle with it.

    Like I said earlier, I can’t think of any reason why two men or two women loving each other the way a man and a woman do is harmful in and of it self. It seems like same-gender relationship would share the same opportunities and potential hurts as heterosexual relationships.

    My third statement you quoted was also in the context of what I percieved as Eric’s selective handling of scripture. I don’t think it does anyone any good to simply pretend like those verses are not there.

    So this where I am. If you ask me point blank does the Bible teach “homosexuality” is a sin, I will say “yes”. If you ask me if I believe that the Greek word translated “homosexual offenders” in the NIV (effeminate in the KJV) refers to all same-gender relationships, I will say, “I don’t know.” In light of that, I choose the ethic of love, which is crystal clear in the life and teaching of Jesus. I like how you put it, “I don’t think anyone should be excluded.”

    Maybe I want to have my cake and eat it too. As a follower of Jesus, I try to love God and love my neighbors as best I can. I think God is just and loving and can sort it out way better than me.


  23. DevanD

    Michael Danner,

    I responding to a much earlier comment by you (#11).

    You say:
    “So, as a young Anabaptist and a follower of Jesus – challenge my ‘reality’. Convince me that as an Anabaptist follower of Jesus, I need to be where you are on this issue.”

    I’ll venture 2 questions to you, which should be seriously considered, especially in light of the links on privilege above:

    Why should Katie have to convince you of where she is at on this issue?

    Katie argues non-oppression; you argue that homosexuality is a sin. Maybe you do want your cake and to eat it too but, in the end, calling anything sin has serious implications even if you choose “love” in spite of sin.

    So then I ask you this: Since your argument carries with it centuries of oppression and pain for lgbtq folks, why shouldn’t you have to convince Katie of why that oppression is ok because it deems some “sinners”?

  24. Pingback: Paul’s Authority? » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  25. Michael Danner


    The invitation for Katie to convince me comes from that reality that as followers of Jesus, we are a part of the same community. Also, as she works towards the full inclusion of lgbtq persons in the life of the church, there are some people she will never convince. However, there are others who are in the middle and can be swayed by well reasoned arguements. So, my comment wasn’t a challenge to Katie to prove she is right. It is simply an invitation and an expression of openess to be convinced.

    I agree that calling anything a “sin” has serious implications. However, that is not unique to lgbtq people. Homosexuality is not the only sin mentioned in the Bible. Jesus mentions many – including lust, dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed, and anger (which he equates with murder) just to name a few. The reason people say “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is because if you didn’t love the sinner, there wouldn’t be anyone to love and nobody would love you. We are all sinners that commit sin, that is not unique to lgbtq persons it is common to living, breathing human beings.

    The reason I shouldn’t have to convince Katie that oppresssion is OK is that I never said that is was, as a matter of record I said exactly the opposite (my first post). Personally, I wouldn’t blame the oppression that lgbtq have experienced solely on the fact that the Bible says it is a sin. I would explain the oppression of homosexuals, women, slavery, etc. in the same way. It was done by people who claimed to be “Christians”, didn’t follow Jesus, and misused the scriptures to “sanctify” their own prejudice. That is not the Bible’s fault, nor is it mine. You can’t ask me to defend what I don’t believe and also find indefensible.

    I disagree with your basic premiss that the oppression of lgbtq persons stems from the Bible saying it is a sin. I also believe you can call sin what it is and still love people, if you couldn’t how do you explain Jesus?


  26. Katie (Post author)

    I was going to let this go before because I didn’t feel like getting into it again, but I will try one more time to clarify or explain or something. To tell the truth, Michael, it doesn’t feel like you are really engaging the real meat of my post but rather getting a little pedantic as you try to pick apart what was actually a secondary part of what I was trying to say.

    Stripped down to it’s barest essentials, my original point was something like this. I think that “kill the Indian, save the man” and “love the sinner, hate the sin” (especially when “the sin” is referring to lgbt people) come from the same ill-conceived attitudes which at the time they are popular are seen as noble and charitable because they are an alternative to something nastier. While it is obviously nicer to be loved than hated and not killed rather than killed, it still sucks to have someone (or the majority of your denomination and faith) tell you your life, love and identity makes you a sinner when that really doesn’t stand up to your own experience and self-understanding.

    You said about our mistreatment of Native peoples that it was probably more about greed than about the sine of “being an Indian.” I would agree. I would also say that the mistreatment of the queer community by the church isn’t really about sin, but something else. I couldn’t really say what that is, but in both cases, the idea of sin has been used as an excuse to mistreat a specific group of people in regards to their identity. Also, in both cases, the victims of the mistreatment are blamed for their own mistreatment because of their behavior.

    It seems to be very important for you that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Despite some questions I have about your definition of sin and what that means to you, I’ll give you that. Yep, I’m queer and I can say there are parts of the Bible that seem to (under certain interpretation) suggest homosexuality, homosexual behavior, or whatever is bad, sinful, unclean, and/or an abomination. I’m not going to pretend those bits aren’t there. I just think those bits are wrong or at least insignificant as they relate to my life. Yes, I believe there are parts of the Bible that are not useful or right as we look at it to guide our lives. Your challenge to explain how this works if we all do it since we have different opinions is probably fair. Like you and others who take the Bible seriously, I try not to just throw things out willy nilly but I’m also not willing to keep things willy nilly if they can’t stand up some scrutiny. The standards I use are some mixture of values, context, and experience. Of course, that gets a little messy as we all have to use our own judgment and standards but we’ll just have to deal with the fact that this is complicated.

    How did I get to where I am on these bits of the Bible? I start with my values and core beliefs about God, life, sin, and other stuff and then see if said bit fits in with our values and experience. We all tend to form those from church, family, friends and living our lives. For instance, my understanding of sin is that which creates or causes harm and/or brokenness between us and God, us and others, or within ourselves. Saying that something is a sin just because there are words in the Bible that say something is a sin doesn’t really hold water for me. When we look at any statement from the Bible about sin, I think we have to ask ourselves, what about this sin makes it a sin? Many of the sins we think of make sense, some do not. Murder and violence cause harm and brokenness…sin. Greed, adultery, lying, and idolatry…check. Eating shrimp and pork, wearing poly/cotton mixes, and sowing two kinds of seed in the same field…um, can’t see that. Violence or exclusion of others based on their identity (or any basis)…check. Love and sex within a committed relationship..can’t see that one either. It just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Maybe I could see it if you or someone showed me exactly how homosexuality causes harm and brokenness or leads to death (alas, Nate never got back to us on that one). I can see how homophobia and heterosexism cause harm and brokenness but not homosexuality. I understand sexuality as a gift from God and therefore consentual sex between people in a loving, mutual, healthy, committed relationship seems to fit the bill of being morally good and a gift from God, be they same or other gendered.

    Like Devan said, saying something is sin has serious implications. Even if you are committed to love the sinner, saying something is a sin suggests that it is bad, wrong, and/or less-than the alternative. I think we’re on the same page for the most part as far as love = good and being mean = bad but it doesn’t seem like you’re really getting how very offensive it feels to those of us in the queer community to hear people say that the one part of our identity, being, and selfhood that by definition differentiates us from the non-queer community is bad, wrong and less-than. You can’t even really explain why, except that there are a handful of verses in the Bible that seem to suggest that. I think history has shown us where that leads (coming back to the original point of the post). I don’t have a problem with you loving sinners, it is the assumption and suggestion that queer=bad and therefore, I should be/act straight or at least wish I was because that is better. I think your own personal knowledge and experience with lgbtq people has show you otherwise and yet you still hold on to it for some reason.

    If you still disagree, I guess that’s your deal. I’ll just have to trust that that is where you are and you’ve arrived there through serious thought and struggle just as I hope you can trust where I am and that is how I got to where I am. It is always easier to have that trust within the context of shared values and a mutually accountable community, so I’d be curious to hear how you decide how religion and the Bible will guide your life and how you discern what is useful/good and what is not. I’d also be curious to hear more about your thoughts on sin, what it is, how we know and what that means to us. ST tried to start a discussion about sin a while ago but it never really took off. She must have not related it to lgbt stuff, that always gets the discussion going.

    Will this change people’s minds towards welcome and inclusion? Who knows, but I must say, two years of seeing the church, in action, up close and personal through my work with BMC hasn’t really reinforced my trust or hope that the majority of straight folk in the church community are really that willing to do that work of serious thought and struggle about sexuality in general or lgbt issues specifically. I can only hope I’m proven wrong. Maybe you have a suggestion on how to create the change we need in the church?

  27. Tim


    I have a question that’s related to the last paragraph of your last comment, and really to this whole post too. I’m wondering about theology that has been written for us oppressors, we who live with privilege, whether because of race, wealth, sex, sexual orientation, or any other reason. Liberation theology is about the liberation of oppressed people, especially the poor in Central/South America. Are you–or anyone else–aware of authors who focus on liberation of oppressors?

    Thanks for any suggestions. peace, tim

  28. Katie (Post author)

    Tim, I think that’s a wonderful question. I’ll have to do a bit of work to pull together a list but the first person who comes to mind for me is Robert Jensen. I wouldn’t say he is necessarily a liberation theologian but he definitely focuses on oppression from the side of those with privilege. The one book I’ve read of his is Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism And White Privilege. From a quick look at his website it looks like he covers some other issues as well. I found his book to be a great primer for anti-racism for those of us with white privilege.

    On second thought, maybe you should do the work. (: If I think of any others, I’ll let you know and I’m sure there are other folks who would have some suggestions. I think there was some discussion of this earlier when we had some discussion of feminism but it’s late and I’m not going to look it up now.

    The basic premise as I understand it (aka some garbled thoughts before I go to bed so I can get up early in the morning) goes something like this:

    • The oppressor needs liberation as much as, and probably even more than, the oppressed. The humanity of those with and without privilege is tied together.
    • The oppressor degrades his/her own self by the act of oppression whether it is active or passive.
    • One of the many wonderful Frederick Douglas quotes I’ve come across describes it very well: “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

    Maybe I’ll come up with something more coherent in the next day or two, maybe not. Anyone want to take a stab at it? In the meantime, read this speech by Douglass I just came across thanks to that phenomenal technology of Google.

    If you don’t feel like reading that or just want something else to read relating it back to lgbt issues, read this: some thoughts by Warren Blumenfeld about how homophobia harms straight people (coincidentally enough, he uses that Douglass quote too).

    And if you are still looking for something else to read: go back to Jensen’s website and peruse his articles. The one on rejoining the church and getting kicked out again is pretty good (not really related to your question, but good).

  29. Tim

    Thanks Katie, for your response, and my apologies for not communicating with enough clarity. I should have emphasized the theological dimension of the question more than I did. (Btw, the resources you pulled together are great, and I agree that Jensen has done some great job at exposing and challenging white privilege.) Theologically, what’s out there to help us speak with our fellow oppressors (not to mention, do our own internal work)?

  30. Katie (Post author)

    Tim, I asked my boss to make a few recommendations and here is a list she offered off the top of her head. Walter Wink, Walter Brueggemann, Sharon Welch (Feminist Ethic of Risk), Joerg Rieger, Susan Thistlethwaite, Carter Heyward and William Sloan Coffin.

    I haven’t read a lot from any of these so I can’t give my own recommendations from this list. I’ll see if I can come up with more later.

  31. j alan meyer


    This isn’t a very helpful answer to your question, but you may be interested anyway. As I understand it, Dean Johnson — currently a professor at Goshen College teaching in both the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies and the Bible/Religion departments — is working on a PhD through Iliff School of Theology in Denver. His dissertation topic is something like a Liberation Theology for White people, and he’s teaching a course on the subject this fall: Theologies of Whiteness. Tink Tinker — a Native American theologian — is his adviser at Iliff, and told me earlier this summer that he’s really excited about Dean’s work on this topic. So it’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited to think that he may be working on something like what you’re looking for.

  32. Tim

    Thanks for the suggestions. Its especially helpful to hear about Dean Johnson’s dissertation.

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