ON Scripture: The Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson on 1 Sam. 16: Pariahs No More!

Pariahs No More!: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

By Alvin Jackson

Watch the Video: My Journey as a Lesbian Pastor

Pariah is a noun -- a person without status, a rejected member of society, an outcast.

Pariah is also the name of a movie I recently saw about a 17-year-old African-American young woman named Alike from Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood. An A student in high school and a gifted writer, she is struggling with her sexual identity, coming out as a lesbian without knowing quite how to do it or how to break the news to her family.

It is a long difficult struggle for this young woman viewed as "other" who feels broken by her family, but she finally comes to an acceptance of who she is as she writes in a poem: "I am not running, I am choosing. I am not broken. I am free!"

I don't know if it was a long difficult struggle or not for David moving from lowly shepherd boy to being chosen and anointed king of Israel, but his story may very well have been titled Pariah as well.

In this much loved story from the scriptures, the prophet Samuel goes to the home of Jesse to find the next king of Israel. Jesse brought each of his first seven sons before Samuel to see which son would be anointed as king. When the eldest son Eliab, who was attractive, tall and fair, passed before Samuel, the prophet thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But God's response has echoed down through the ages: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (v. 7).

Jesse then paraded two more sons in front of Samuel, but each time God said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse brought four more sons forward, but none of them were chosen either. There was one more son, but he was the youngest and of such little account that Jesse had left him out in the field tending the sheep. But when this little one was brought forth, the Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one."

This narrative drama, beautiful in its use of suspense and reversal of expectations, reminds us of the pitfalls and dangers in dismissing and discounting the value and worth of any person. As the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann says: "This is not merely a story of a boy who becomes king, an underdog who wins; it is a story about God and the way God sees us and chooses unconventional ways and unexpected people to get things done in the world."

If only we could see others as God sees us, maybe we would create a world of pariahs no more!

Think for just a moment about how change happens. More often than not, it happens something like this: we have a worldview that interprets the world and things that are in it, but then along comes an experience for which that worldview is insufficient and inadequate to explain and incorporate the experience.

And when that happens, we enter into a kind of chaos.  Coming out on the other side, we either have to deny the reality of the experience or we emerge with a revised and transformed worldview that takes the new experience into account. 

This was the struggle of Alike's parents as they tried to deny the reality of who their daughter really was by suggesting she change her friends and her way of dressing and find some boys to date. But no matter how much she wanted to change or tried, she couldn't meet her parents' expectations.  The result was chaos and confusion for all concerned. And though we can only surmise, perhaps this too happened with David's family as they tried to come to terms with the lowly shepherd boy, the pariah who was really a precious prince among them.

This type of struggle is happening all over the world and in the church regarding the issue of homosexuality. Many of us, myself included, had a worldview out of our understanding of biology, theology, culture and tradition that caused us to look upon homosexuality as an affliction, a sin, a punishment, something not to be desired. 

But then we had an experience that challenged that worldview. Maybe we got to know a gay or lesbian person and we saw their struggle. We saw their humanity, and that experience disturbed and dismantled our worldview. And we found ourselves in a state of chaos.

Watch the Video: My Journey as a Lesbian Pastor

We can deny the reality of the experience or we can come out on the other side with a revised and transformed worldview that takes the new experience into account. 

President Obama claimed this happened to him a few weeks ago when he announced his views evolved, and he had a change of heart about same sex marriages being legalized.  That same week the state of North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in that state.  Thirty other states have adopted similar constitutional ban. And just a week before, delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered in Tampa, Florida and refused to amend its book of discipline that states "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Suppose for a moment we could see one another, not as mere mortals see, but as God looks upon the heart? What would our difference look like?  Could we see them not as deficits or deficiencies, but looking upon the heart, see the divinity in our difference?

Many folks are in a state of chaos around this issue of homosexuality and they are struggling with the question of how boundless; how bountiful; how abundant; how ample God's love is. I believe many folks are trying to be faithful. They are not intending to be mean and measly and meager in their love, but they are genuinely struggling with the question of how boundless; how bountiful; how abundant God's love is?

When we can see not as mortals see looking on the outward appearance, but looking on the heart I believe we see a God of abundant, bountiful, boundless, extravagant love and we see a world of pariahs no more!


Alvin O'Neal Jackson, born in Laurel, Miss. and raised in Indianola, Miss., is the first born of the late Mr. Clyde Cullen Jackson and Mrs. Queen Esther Jackson. He attended Chapman College in Orange, Calif. and graduated with honors from Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind. with a bachelor's degree in sociology. He received his Masters of Divinity degree, also with honors, from the Duke University, School of Divinity, Durham, N.C. in 1973. In 1991 he completed the course work and was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Jackson has also received honorary degrees from Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn.; Lynchburg College, Lynchburg, Va.; Bethany College, Bethany, W.V.; Jarvis Christian College, Hawkins, Texas; and the Southern California School of Religion, Los, Angeles, Calif. He has served as pastor of Loudon Avenue Christian Church, Roanoke, Va., associate pastor, Second Christian Church, Indianapolis, Ind. For almost 20 years, Dr. Jackson was Senior Pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, a congregation that experienced phenomenal growth under his leadership. For seven years, he served as Senior Pastor of National City Christian Church and President of the National City Christian Church Foundation of Washington, DC. In September 2006 he became Senior Pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church of New York City. Dr. Jackson is married to the former Tina Brown of Roanoke, Va., and they have one son, Cullen O'Neal Jackson of Memphis.


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