Pastor releases book with ‘radical’ messages on inclusion

Pastor Glenna Shepherd says inclusion is a central theme of both the Old and New Testaments.

Rev. Glenna Shepherd, founding pastor of what is now Decatur United Church of Christ, returned to DeKalb County July 10 to weigh in on questions of religion and sexual preference being explored in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage.

Now a resident of Tennessee, Shepherd introduced her new book Out on a Limb: Sermons of Risk and Revolution, which she said highlights “radical messages of the prophets of Judeo-Christian scriptures.”

Speaking at Charis Books and More in East Atlanta, Shepherd talked about growing up in Christian communities in Tennessee and Mississippi in the 1960s. “I heard people talking about all people being created in God’s image and being loved equally by God. Then I saw those same people not treating certain people as though they were created in God’s image. I was really confused,” she recalled.

The most obvious example, Shepherd said, was Black people, but there were others, including women, who were “pushed into the margins.”

“I developed an acute sense of justice. I became a Christian feminist. I worked for a while in the Georgia Corrections System. Even among women in prison, I found a common heart as I learned of their hopes and dreams,” Shepherd said.

Originally chartered as Christ Covenant Metropolitan Community Church, the DeKalb County church Shepherd helped to found in Stone Mountain started with 12 people on Easter Sunday 1992. Four years later, it moved to Decatur. Under Shepherd’s leadership, membership grew to more than 300. “We wanted a church where absolutely everyone would feel welcome,” she said.

Shepherd contended that the Bible does not denounce committed same-sex relationships. “People who say the Bible condemns all homosexual relationships usually quote Leviticus, which says ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.’ Leviticus also says one shouldn’t use two different types of thread in the same cloth or sow different seeds in the same field. Those were rules for specific people at a specific time and were not meant to apply to all people at all times,” she said.

The sin for which Sodom was condemned, she said, was not homosexuality, but the threat of rape. New Testament references, Shepherd continued, often are a matter of translation. “If you go back to the original terms from which the Bible has been translated, you find that terms that appear to condemn all same-sex relationships in fact condemn prostitution or rape.”

Inclusion, she said, is a recurrent theme in both the Old and New Testaments. Churches that reject gays and lesbians are missing the biblical message that Christ’s love is for all, according to Shepherd. “God is a God of justice,” she said. “Many of his great prophets—Isaiah, Amos, Micah—talked about justice in radical ways, in ways the people of their times weren’t always pleased to receive. Churches should seek and care for those whom society rejects, because that’s what the Bible teaches.”

Shepherd added that Jesus sought those whom the society normally excluded—Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, women with questionable reputations. “Eunuchs at one time were not allowed in the temple because they were not considered real men, but the story of Philip teaching the Ethiopian eunuch who was trying to understand the scriptures underscores the concept that those who were once excluded are included through Christ.”

Justice, from a biblical perspective means more than committing no wrongs against others, Shepherd said, it means being an advocate for society’s disenfranchised. “There are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible that equate justice with feeding the poor,” she said.

Shepherd said that many who realized that she had preached messages of inclusion over the years urged her to select from among her sermons on that theme and publish them as a book. When she completed the task, she begin considering who might write the foreword. With some hesitation, she recalled, she asked her friend Congressman John Lewis. “I wasn’t sure this was a book he would want his name associated with,” she said, “but he said yes immediately.”

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