How Hugging Changes Everything


A Christian struggling with the place of GLBT people in the church asked me, “So how is hugging someone going to alter my understanding of the Bible?” The crucial and complicated question came in response to a piece I’d written encouraging Christians and GLBT people to start talking to — rather than about — one another.

I would answer this crucial question with another question: Why do we hug? What does hugging someone really mean?

We hug when we care about someone. We hug someone when they are hurting to show that we feel their pain. In other words, a hug shows care, compassion and that we are comfortable enough with someone to establish a close connection.

And all of those emotions are the foundation upon which a Christian may come to see the gay couple sitting in church with her on Sunday morning as people who are just as worthy of Christ’s love as she is, and just as much a part of God’s plan. Their weekly hug in the passing of the peace transforms their understanding of one another, and what it means to be in communion together in the world.

But what does all of this have to do with one’s understanding of Scripture? Here are two examples.

Jack Rogers, a professor emeritus of church history and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), describes his journey in the first chapter of his book, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. When he was first asked by a friend and colleague to participate in a task force on the issue of ordaining GLBT people to church office, Jack reports, he said no. He was “opposed to the ordination of gay and lesbian people” and “[did not want] to be involved in studying the issue.” Eventually, to support his friend, he agreed — and thus began a journey in which he “came to know many gay and lesbian people and have had my Christian life enriched by their profound witness to the gospel.” Jack honestly acknowledges that this transformation did not take place overnight, and at times it was uncomfortable. But, as he describes in his book, building those relationships is where the journey began.

In the preface to the second edition, Jack goes on to describe the impact of meeting many GLBT people during a book tour across the country. “Hearing people’s stories,” he writes, “I have come to appreciate on a much deeper level the enormous pain that has been caused by the church’s exclusionary policies.” Jack Rogers is a scholar of the church and his book clearly explains the Biblical reasons for fully embracing GLBT people in the church. And as he reports it, it was the connections he built with the GLBT faithful he met that helped him on that journey.

Brent Childers identifies himself as an evangelical Christian and confesses that he used to condemn GLBT people based upon his reading of Scripture. Then, as he described in Newsweek last fall, he sat with a mother whose son was killed by a person who called him “faggot.” He took in her pain and the ways in which the church contributed to it. And it is that moment, Brent writes, that still compels him to act according to “Christ’s voice [and] the core principles of my faith: love, compassion, and respect.”

Hugging means we come close to others, as Jack and Brent each did in their own way. We care about people and for them. Since God is love, all love touches and transforms our comprehension of God. And if of God, then of Scripture, God’s inspiration. That’s how hugging alters our understanding of Scripture and everything, really.


Reverend Janet

3 Responses
  • Sonnie Swenston-Forbes on March 26, 2010

    Hapsomai. This is the word in the bible that is translated as “touch” in the healing stories of Jesus. It gives a connotation of a finger flicking out and tapping on
    the person being healed. But this is wrong: haptosmai means “embrace” or “hug.” Jesus hugged people to heal them! And who did he heal, who did he embrace? Marginal people. Outsiders. Powerless people. “Unattractive” people.

    So if Jesus healed people in a big old bear hug, shouldn’t that be our way of living too?

  • Janet Edwards on March 26, 2010

    Dear Sonnie,

    Deepest thanks for this wonderful, quick word study. It opens up for us the full richness of Jesus’ healing presence which is hidden by the translation of words from Greek to English!

    I will no longer imagine Jesus as rather distant and removed. instead, I will see Him from now on as a hugger, along the lines of Michael Adee who, more than anyone else I know, taught me how to hug.

    And I so appreciate your reminder, Sonnie, that reaching out to heal others is a way of life, not just a single act, and a central way to be a Christian.

    Please feel this big bear hug from me! Peace be with you, Janet

  • Donna on April 26, 2010

    I agree – this gives Jesus a different dimension, than the more common image of “the laying on of hands.” I’d never heard this before – thank you!

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