How Acts 10 Informs My Faith
As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus’ example, embracing all the faithful within the church. Yet many good Christians struggle to reconcile this central teaching with their understanding of certain passages from Scripture that seem to preclude any place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender believers.
To live out my heartfelt desire to be in dialogue with these Christians, I want to offer and explain the sources in the Bible that provide the foundation for my understanding of Christian belief and service — a belief that Jesus Christ does welcome all the faithful, including those whom God made gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Today I take up a passage at the very heart of my faithfulness, Acts 10.
Cornelius, a Roman military officer, has a vision of an angel who tells him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter. As Cornelius’ messengers approach, Peter has a vision of unclean animals and a voice tells him to kill and eat. When Peter contends that he has never eaten anything unclean, the voice says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15).
Cornelius’ servants arrive and, although keeping company with Gentiles was unlawful for a Jew, Peter returns with them to Caesarea because God has shown him that he should not call any one impure. When Peter speaks of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection to those assembled in Cornelius’ house, the Holy Spirit falls upon all of them, confirming Peter’s insight “that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter baptizes them and remains with this Roman household several days.
What do I take from this passage? To me, the message is that it is not my place to call anyone or anything unclean.
Others may point to the Holiness Code in Leviticus. But, as I have noted before, Scripture must be taken as a whole, lest the true meaning be lost. And in the context of Jesus’ teaching and example, two things are true now. First, it is not for us to judge others. Judgment belongs to God and God alone.
Second, like Peter, and like Paul elsewhere as he welcomed Gentiles into the church in Corinth, we are instructed to transcend the Old Testament categories and welcome all baptized faithful. What God has made clean, we must not call profane.
In Paul’s letters, we see that the division between clean and unclean is over. These categories, of concern in the book of Hebrews as well, existed because of the Fall of humankind. But now, after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, these categories are no longer operative or useful. Through Christ, God has made all clean. All, period. Then and now.