Gays in the Church Part 8: Inclusion or Exclusion

This will be the last post in this series and, in the end, I hope I was able to at least cast some doubt on the previously held assumptions that seem so prevalent in Christianity today. The arguments against homosexuality based on scripture are not as rock solid as many would like to believe and I hope I’ve at least shed some light in that regard. Ultimately, whether or not one believes homosexuality is inherently sinful is not the only aspect of this debate that is essential. The heart of this issue rests between exclusion and inclusion. Rick Warren is fat and overeats while many in this world starve. Yet millions of Christians look past this and hold Warren in very high regard. Mark Driscoll is an arrogant ego-maniac who uses foul language, yet thousands of Christians see past these faults in oder to embrace him as a prominent leader (and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m all of these things I accuse Warren and Driscoll of being so my intent here isn’t to cast stones. Fat, overeating, arrogant, potty-mouthed ego-maniacs UNITE!!). Even if one believes homosexuality is a sin, that should not keep them from accepting homosexuals into full participation into the Church. That is the beauty of the Church is that we accept who we are, who God has made us to be despite the sin we never quite rid ourselves of.

Ask yourselves if you would ever accept a former mass murderer as a lead pastor of your church. If your answer is no, then maybe your reliance on the Apostle Paul’s words in the New Testament is a bit hypocritical seeing that he saw it fit to systematically murder folks who didn’t have the same religious beliefs that he did. As we look back, even if we might find some faults, Paul’s writings are an amazing gift to the Christian tradition that should be cherished and relied upon. The lesson here is that if we categorically dismiss people because of what we perceive as evil-doing, then we may be robbing ourselves of extraordinarily rich contributions to our Christian communities.

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Gays in the Church Part 7: The Pastor’s Quandary

Recently, Tony Jones made a plea for all Christian leaders who are affirming of same-sex relationships to publicly state their support and “come out of the closet” so to speak. I certainly understand Tony’s desire for others to show their hand and in the case of non-pastors, I completely agree with him. But when it comes to pastors, I don’t think it’s necessary and, in the end, could ultimately be hurtful. I have friends who are pastors that find themselves on both sides of this issue and I really do appreciate the way they all take the issue very seriously and continue to wrestle with how this issue impacts their communities.

For pastors, I don’t believe a heavy hand is helpful at all. This is an issue that has and will work itself out on the basis of the various consensuses that each church community or denomination builds on its own. And when a pastor does decide to step out and decide to publicly state his or her affirmation, one hopes they do so after listening closely to the heartbeat of their church. Yes, people will leave but the beauty of the power of consensus is that there are other churches out there with a consensus for all kinds of perspectives.

Selfishly, I really do understand Tony’s call for folks to damn the consequences and publicly state what they believe on this issue. For me this impulse is rooted in the desire to nudge progress along a bit faster than it’s current pace. But the good news for those on the affirming side of this issue is that the needle has been and continues to move in our direction. Recently, a poll was released in by the Des Moines Register showed that while folks in Iowa are pretty much split down the middle on the issue, 95% of those polled believe that since same-sex marriage has been legalized in Iowa, it has not impacted their lives negatively. Even at the recent Value Voters Summit, opposition to gay marriage has fallen dramatically as a key issue to only 7% of folks citing it as their most pressing concern (down from last year’s 20% result).

There seems to be a trend where the disconnect between Biblically literalism and direct human experience with homosexuals is growing further and further apart, much in the same way it is with the views of women’s roles in the Church. I’ve covered that ad nauseum so I’ll spare y’all the repetition. In short, as we continue to debate this issue, I do believe the cracks in the conservative dam are very real and widening ever more. Yeah, it would be great to take a wrecking ball to the dam and help progress along but I think it better to spend that energy convincing conservatives and moderates that the new river resulting from this faulty dam will ultimately be a very good thing. It might actually be enjoyable! That’s where the pastor should be be focusing their energy: promoting a new, gradually formed river. Not wrecking an already faulty dam. Leave the wrecking ball to evil, hedonist, secular, rock musicians who don’t give a shit about book deals with Christian publishers and conference organizers.

Exposing an Ancient Hatred

For black people, the clear benefit of Obama is that he is quietly exposing an ancient hatred that has simmered in this country for decades. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of us grew tired of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, mostly because they presented easy foils for Limbaugh-land. Moreover, again rightly or wrongly, they were used to define all of us.

It’s intensely grating to live say, in Atlanta, and have some dude in Harlem crowned as your unelected leader. It’s even more grating if said dude’s agenda seems, in large measure, come down to standing in front of cameras and tweaking his opponents. It’s no mistake that O’Reilly and Sharpton would break bread together at Sylvia’s–they feed each other.

But Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance.He tells kids to study–and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness–and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date–and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them. Dig the audio of his response to Kanye West–the way he says, “He’s a jackass.” He sounds like one of my brothers. And that’s the point, because that’s what he is. Barack Obama refuses to be their nigger. And it’s driving them crazy.

It’s about time.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Gays in the Church Part 6: Divorce and Remarriage

As I noted in part one of this series, much of the genuine concern from conservatives on this issue is driven by the fear that the truth found in the Bible is being demoted in favor of the winds of cultural change. The perception of conservatives is that if they lose ground on this issue, then how can the Bible continue to act as a foundation or a standard for how we view the world and and how live our lives in a God-pleasing way. It’s easy to understand the anxiety and worry of conservatives given the stakes the issue raises. While I do believe it is imperative for those who are open and affirming on the issue to really understand the conservative anxiety, we must ask ourselves why this anxiety appears to be so pronounced with this issue and not others.

This issue, after all, is an issue of sexual impurity. If we are to take at face value what the Bible teaches about sexual immorality, homosexual activity is only one of the many facets to sexual sin. Sodomy (both heterosexual and homosexual varieties), intercourse during menstruation are a few examples but the one I want to get into in this post is divorce and remarriage.

If the conservative side of the argument relies on taking the six verses about homosexuality at face value, then they must also take what Jesus himself teaches about divorce and remarriage:

Matthew 5:31,32

“It has been said, `Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

There are other verses but the one above pretty much sums it up. The question this raises in my mind is that if conservatives are ultimately fearful that affirming same-sex relationships will somehow undermine biblical instruction and send us careening down a slippery slope of relativity and promiscuity, then why do they not have the same concern when it concerns heterosexual adultery. If you are a member of the church and concerned about this issue, ask yourself if you’ve been losing sleep at night because there is a couple in your church that has been remarried after a divorce not resulting from an adulterous affair? If the issue of remarried divorcees doesn’t cause you fear or concern, then why not? One would have to deduce that your fears of sexual immorality are not consistent with biblical instruction and must be influenced by something outside of what conservatives would call God’s ideal clearly laid out in the Bible.

What I hope conservatives can recognize is that is they themselves have already let the cat out of the bag. The can of worms is already ajar. The troubling thing for me is that the implications of the issue of homosexuality have already been reverberating around the Christian tradition long before the gay issue has caused its stir. The failure for conservatives to universally and resoundingly sound the alarm for what the Bible calls heterosexual impurity has left their current fear over homosexual sexual impurity in a rather hallow and withered state. They are launching their supposed biblical argument from a very shaky, rickety foundation that they’ve neglected long ago.

Gays in the Church Part 5: Paul’s Understanding of “Nature”

Romans 1:21-32 (NIV)

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

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It’s essential to ask what the reason is for Paul’s condemnation of this clearly homosexual behavior. The reference is an analogy to the way in which Romans, having had the opportunity to follow the one true God, persist in polytheism. Paul uses the example of heterosexuals, who have the capacity to be engaged in authentic heterosexual conduct, who yet decide to spurt the “natural use” of their bodies in order to “burn in their lust” for members of the same gender. This is the end of the reference; once the analogy has been drawn, the main point can be engaged. But it’s still clear that Paul regards the perversion of heterosexuality to be a crime against the nature of the people involved.

But we should note that this is not a crime against “nature” as such; it’s a crime against the nature of individual heterosexuals. What Paul is describing here is heterosexuals engaging, against their own nature, in homosexual behavior. Just as the Romans after the revelation of Christ, these people can clearly do otherwise; they are resisting their own destiny.

Could this condemnation apply to people who are by their own nature homosexual? Unfortunately, Paul never explicitly addresses this point, since he seems to assume that every individual’s nature is heterosexual. But if we accept that some people are involuntarily homosexual, then the entire point become much more complicated. Indeed, to follow the logic completely, it is reversed. For by Paul’s argument, the key issue is that individuals act according to their own nature as it is revealed to them (as Christ was revealed to the Romans). By this logic, the person who is by his own nature homosexual would be acting against his nature by engaging in heterosexual acts. His destiny is homosexuality, just as the destiny of the Romans after Christ was monotheism.

Those who invoke Paul, then, have to make a further point to add to his. They have to assert that all people are by their own nature drawn to people of the opposite sex, and make a conscious and willful choice to rebel against it. Without invoking a general natural law, which was unknown to Paul, they have to say that each of us has his own heterosexual calling, and that our abandonment of it is deliberate and perverse.

This, of course, is the crux of the debate for prohibitionists have with others. They are confronted with a mass of data suggesting that the vast majority of people engaging in homosexual acts regard these acts as an extension of their deepest emotional and sexual desires, desires which they do not believe they have chosen and which they cannot believe are always and everywhere wrong. The psychiatric profession has concurred in this analysis. Historians record that in virtually all societies, there are records not only of homosexual acts but of distinct homosexual identities and communities and subcultures. Even the prohibitionists themselves have found it impossible to avoid the term “homosexual,” conceding by their very language that some people, by their own nature, appear predominantly or exclusively attracted to members of their own sex. If this is true, then Paul’s broad argument that people should not subvert their own nature actually becomes an argument against the prohibitionists and not in favor of them.

— Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal

Gays in the Church Part 4: Scripture and Culture

The issue of gays in the church seems to have two major components to it. One component is the very practical side of how we deal with homosexuals and their participation in the church. The second component is how we deal with scripture and how we allow it to inform the way we view the world and live our lives. For Christians, it’s all to easy to forget the very personal, practical aspect of this issue while arguing over various interpretations of scripture and so on. So while wrestling with how scripture informs our thinking on this or any matter, it would be wise to always acknowledge the very personal ramifications for our fellow human beings.

At the heart of this issue is the always mysterious relationship between the culture we find ourselves in and the scripture we look to for guidance. One of the issues that this is easily seen from our culture today is the issue of women’s role in church. If we are to take Paul at his word, women must be kept from any kind of prominent leadership role in the Church. Despite Paul’s clear instruction, whole denominations are taking a different view in light of the culture we find ourselves in today. Women are being allowed to be clergy members, elders, and pastors over entire congregations. Whether or not this is appropriate is beside the point. The point I’d like to make is that those who are coming to this conclusion aren’t doing so solely based on their interpretation of scripture. Churches or denominations didn’t begin scouring the scriptures to find some objective theological basis for women leadership. Rather it was a response to the culture and the culture’s evolving view of women that prompted a search for a theological basis to justify women in leadership.

It is precisely because the women in our lives, the women who we experience on a day to day basis that we have side stepped Paul’s instruction to keep them from leading men. It has nothing to do with paper-thin, soggy hermeneutics like William Webb’s “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.” It is so simply because what Paul taught does not ring true today. The flaw with William Webb is his assumption that some instructions are “trans-cultural.” But the reality is that no idea, philosophy, or instruction transcends cultural influence.

I think only when we do away with this assumption can we begin to have an authentic debate on the issue of women and homosexuals. Once we come to the conclusion that Paul’s instructions do not all possess timeless truths, we can then open the can of worms.

Woman in Wheel Chair Gets Shouted Down at Health Care Townhall

Can there be any room for a centrist at a health care reform town hall meeting

I am not really sure what to say. All I can do is hope that those who are so bitterly opposing health care reform have momentarily completely lost their shit. They yell down a woman in a in a wheel chair who is fearful of losing her home as a result of her medical expenses while they have nothing to say to CEO’s of health insurance companies like this guy who make over ten million dollars per year.

It’s telling that folks are more afraid of longer wait times than they are that everyone receives health care. It’s like we are in the 2nd grade.