According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Is Homosexuality a Sin?

https://christiangays.com/articles/kathlynjames.shtml

by Rev. Dr. Kathlyn James
Lake Washington United Methodist Church
Kirkland, Washington, 1997



Last August, we had a special Sunday in church called "Burning Questions," in which I responded, on an impromptu basis, to written questions from the congregation. At that time, I also promised to preach a series of sermons later in the year that would specifically address the top three, or most-asked questions submitted on that day. I have to admit, I could not have predicted the 'top three' questions that would come my way! They were: (1) Is homosexuality a sin? (2) Is there a hell? And (3) How can we forgive? This morning we begin by looking at the first of these: Is homosexuality a sin?

In preparation for today, I gathered together all the materials I could find on this subject. I gathered official denominational studies on homosexuality and the church -- not only the United Methodist study guide, but also documents from the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ. I also made a stack of books with titles like Living In Sin? by an Episcopal bishop, and Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? by two evangelicals. I eventually had a stack of books and papers a foot deep on my desk. I spent the next several days reading, making notes, and preparing a line of argument for this morning's sermon.

But long about Tuesday of this week, I stopped and asked myself a question. What was my goal -- what is my goal, in addressing this topic from the pulpit this morning?

As your pastor, I know very well that homosexuality is a tender subject among us. It is an issue on which, as Christian people, we have diverse opinions and often very complex feelings. But I also know that this is a real question among us; it is not just a theoretical one. That's why you raised it. There are parents sitting here this morning who are wondering why their child is gay, does it mean they've done something wrong, and has anyone else ever struggled with this. There are gay and lesbian Christians who are active members of the church, but who live in the closet because they don't want to lose their jobs, their homes, or your friendship and respect.

There are teenagers here who have contemplated suicide because they suspect they might be gay. Each of us here has our own background, confusion, and experience with this issue. It is time we talked about it.

My goal, this morning is to open the conversation. And this is the thought that occurred to me on Tuesday: what is the best way to begin the conversation? It's not by presenting a logical line of argument. That's how you begin a debate, not a conversation! The best way to begin a conversation, in which you want others to feel free to speak their mind, and no perspective to be silenced, is simply speak from your heart, out of your own experiences.

So let me set aside my pile of books and papers, this morning, and share with you at least part of my own journey around this issue. In the months ahead, beginning with the "dialogue" time immediately following church today, I invite you to do the same.

I grew up in an atmosphere of traditional values. My family belonged to a Congregational church in which, week after week, I absorbed a basically mainline Christian theology that emphasized the love of God for all people. I was taught that the most important thing in life is to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In that environment, oddly enough, I don't remember one word ever being spoken about homosexuality. I don't even know when I first heard the term -- probably not before high school. When I did, it was not with any heavy overlay of negativity -- and in this, I have come to realize, my experience is very different from many people. I did not grow up being told homosexuality was shameful or sordid; I never had a bad experience such as being molested by a person of my own gender. Only as an adult do I realize what a tremendous impact such early experiences have in shaping people's attitudes toward homosexuality.

In fact, I had never met a homosexual person, as far as I knew, even into my twenties. This combination of influences meant that my attitude was pretty much "live-and-let-live." I didn't see how it hurt anyone, or how it threatened me, if two people of the same sex wanted to love each other and live together. What was the big deal?

It really wasn't until seminary, when I was thirty years old, that the issue acquired a human face for me. Her name was Sally. I was a commuting student at Vancouver School of Theology, with a job and a husband and three children in Seattle. I drove up to Vancouver on Mondays and came home on Wednesdays, so I needed a place to stay two nights a week. Sally had a studio apartment on campus that she was willing to share in return for prorated rent. Over the next three years, Sally and I became fast friends.

I had never met anyone like Sally. For one thing, she was much more disciplined in her spiritual life than I was. She got up at 5:00 every morning, which I thought of as an ungodly hour, and left the apartment for a walk or a bike ride, during which she would pray. She bought all her clothes at Goodwill and had only five changes of clothing and two pairs of shoes in the closet. She spent several days a week volunteering in a soup kitchen downtown. She kept a prayer journal. Basically, she put me to shame. But the most appealing thing about Sally was that she loved God. She laughed easily, loved life, loved people, was funny and fun. One night, as we were going to bed--each of us in a single bed lined against the wall, our heads in the corners and our feet toward each other --she asked if I wanted to pray. I had never prayed with another person before--at least, not like that, opening our inner lives before God, in each other's presence--and at first I was halting and shy. But over time we made a habit of praying together, and it was in the course of those years of praying, of being honest with ourselves as possible in the presence of God, that Sally came out to herself as gay.

It was no problem for me that Sally was discovering this--and I have to add here, that like most people, Sally discovered her sexual orientation; it wasn't something she decided. Isn't that true for you, that your sexual orientation is something that just seems "given"? It wasn't as if Sally woke up one morning and thought, "All things being equal, I think I'd like to be a member of a despised minority." It was more a process of discovering and owning the truth about her make-up as a human being.

But I soon learned what a traumatic discovery that would be. Sally came out first to herself before God, then to her family, then to the seminary, then to the church. I accompanied her in that process. When the Presbyterian Church kicked her out of the ordination process, I was stricken; how could they say that Sally was not qualified to be a pastor? She was the best student in her class, and a better Christian than I ever expect to be. I knew that she had been gifted and called to the ministry. Then Sally was fired from her job as the Youth Director at the church, because someone sent the pastor a letter saying that she was gay. All I could think at the time was; this is absurd, this is evil. Sally is great with those kids; why would people assume she is not (sexually) safe to work with them? Why did they think a heterosexual man or woman would be safer?

Things came to a head for me, one morning; when I was standing in the kitchen, pouring a glass of orange juice, and listening to Sally cry her eyes out on the bed. She often did, in those days. Finally I went over to her, sat on the edge of the bed, and began to stroke her hair. I was filled with helpless rage at the world, and fierce tenderness for my friend. I heard myself saying, "Sally, I don't know what being gay is. But if it's part of who you are, and if God made you this way, I say I'm glad you are who you are, and I love who you are, and I wouldn't want you to be any different."

As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I realized something. I had taken a stand. I knew where I stood on this issue. Sally did not deserve to be despised and rejected; it was the church that was wrong. After seminary I was appointed to serve Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle, which had decided some years earlier to become a reconciling congregation -- that is, a congregation that publicly states it is "open and affirming" toward all people, regardless of sexual orientation. From that point on, my learning curve was steep! One of my first pastoral calls was to a young man who had just slit his wrists with a razor blade. He explained that he was a Christian and couldn't deny it, that he was also gay and couldn't deny that either, even though he had tried. He had been told he couldn't be both. His father had called him "human garbage" and that "He was not fit to live". All I could do, in response, was to get down on my knees and ask for forgiveness for the church, for communicating to this young man that he was beyond the reach of God's love.

In the five years that followed, I had many such experiences. I had young men with AIDS look up at me with hollow eyes and ask, "Do you think I am an abomination?" I sat with young men calling for their parents as they died, parents who never came. These experiences had a profound impact on me. I kept going back in my mind, again, and again, to my earliest Christian training; the message that God loves everyone, and that Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. He didn't say, "love your neighbor, unless he or she happens to be homosexual." He never said one word about homosexuality at all.

Jesus spent his whole life going to the poor, the marginalized, the persons who were called unclean by their society, and demonstrating that God's love included them. He treated them with compassion. His own harshest words were for the Pharisees who believed that they were righteous in God's eyes, that others were not, and that God's judgments and opinions were identical to their own.

Which brings me to the question of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. There is not time, this morning, to take up that question in depth -- we will have plenty of time for that later, in ongoing Bible studies and discussion. But let me say a few things here. The world "homosexual" does not appear anywhere in the Bible -- that word was not invented in any language, until the 1890s, when for the first time the awareness developed that there are people with a constitutional orientation toward their own sex.

In the whole Bible, there are only seven brief passages that deal with homosexual behavior. The first is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which I preached on last fall, which is actually irrelevant to the issue. The attempted gang rape in Sodom has nothing to say about whether or not genuine love expressed between consenting adults of the same gender is legitimate.

Neither does the passage in Deuteronomy 23, which refers to Canaanite fertility rites that have infiltrated Jewish worship. Passages in I Corinthians and I Timothy refer to male prostitution. Two often-quoted passages prohibiting male homosexual behavior are found in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus also stipulates that any man who touches a woman during her menstrual period is to be stoned to death, that adulterers are to be executed, that interracial marriage is sinful, that two types of cloth are not to be worn together, and certain foods must never be eaten.

I know of no Christians, no matter how fundamentalist, who believe that Christians are bound to obey all of the Levitical laws. Instead we are driven to ask deeper questions about how to rightly interpret Scripture, how to separate the Word of God from cultural norms and prejudices -- that is, how to separate the Message from the envelope in which it comes.

The final Biblical text that deals with homosexual behavior is found in Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he unequivocally condemns homosexual behavior. The background for his understanding was the common Roman practice of older males 'keeping' young boys for sexual exploitation, which he was right to condemn.

But even if this were not the case, even if Paul knew about and condemned all forms of homosexual behavior, even the most loving, what then? Paul also told women not to teach, not to cut their hair, not to speak in church. Do we follow his teaching? He told slaves to obey their masters not once, but five times -- are we prepared to say today, as Southern slave owners argued 150 years ago, that slavery is God's will?

The fact is, I am not a disciple of Paul. I am an admirer of Paul, but a disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul himself says that we should not follow him, but Christ alone. So I come back, again to the life and teaching of Jesus as the center of my faith. In that light all other biblical teaching must be critiqued. There are seven passages about homosexual behavior in the Bible, all of which are debatable as to their meaning for us today. There are thousands of references in the Bible that call us, as Jesus commands, to love our neighbor, to work for peace and reconciliation among all people, and to leave judgment to God.

When I was pastor at Wallingford, I put biblical and intellectual foundations under my "heart" experience of knowing Sally. In those years I also came to appreciate a community in which both gay and straight Christians could worship together, serve on the Trustees, sing in the choir -- simply be human together, trying to grow in the capacity to love God and neighbor without fear.

As a result, when you ask me, "Is homosexuality a sin?" My answer today is: "No." I may be wrong, and I ask God's forgiveness if I am. But I don't believe that sexual orientation has anything to do with morality, any more than being blond or tall or left-handed does. Homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can be involved in sexual sin, including promiscuity, infidelity, and abuse. And homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can love one another with faithfulness, tenderness, and integrity. The same standards of moral behavior should apply to Christians, straight and gay. That is what my life experience as a pastor has led me to believe.

When a homosexual couple comes to meet with me in my office, then, and asks, "Will we be accepted in this church?" I can answer, "I will accept you." But I can only speak for myself. What shall I say on behalf of our whole congregation?
 
I say, "Yes, you will be accepted here, as long as you aren't open about who you are and who you love?" Shall I say, "Yes, you will be accepted here, but you may not serve in any leadership positions." Shall I say, "Yes, you will be accepted here, but whatever you do, don't hold hands in church. Only heterosexual couples are allowed to do that." Shall I just say, "No." Or, perhaps, simply, "Yes."

The only way we will arrive at a consensus on how this question should be answered is by taking time, over the coming year, to examine ourselves, study the Bible, think, read, pray, listen, and share our diverse life experiences with each other, asking together what God is calling this congregation to do and be.

Let the conversation begin.

Amen.

This sermon is reprinted here with permission granted by Rev. James on July 29, 2011. She is now the Senior Pastor at the Edmonds United Methodist Church in Edmonds, Washington.

©1997 Rev. Dr. Kathlyn James. All rights reserved.
Used with Permission and Much Gratitude 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * 

Addendum
 
Below are four supplemental articles. The first, by the Gay Christian Network (GCN), which accepts both sexual preference and consensual sexual practice within a committed relationship (e.g., within a 'civil union' or 'marriage' as allowed by state law).
 
The second article accepts a person's sexual orientation but does not advocate its active sexual practice regardless of consensual commitment. This latter view is a moderation of the traditional Christian view but is unwilling to go beyond this admission for multiple personal or organizational reasons.

The third article pleads for reasonability and recognition of the innocence of children/teens/young adults caught in the malestorm of public opinion and prejudice.

And the fourth third article is another relational piece advocating care and love as God's servant in response to admission and honesty. It is reposted further below.

As you can tell, opinions run wide-and-deep across the world of Christianity, with its causalities lying all about smitten by the hot swords of sexual-gender discrimination and religious indictment. What's most at stake here is the view of what "sin" really is, and isn't, beyond the Western World's classical descriptions of them from Medieval times or earlier.

Too, the religious boundary layers of "God judging sin" when removed from today's gospel preaching is left at a loss just what to fill it in with if it doesn't have "people sins" to rail on. A small suggestion might be to remove that boundary layer completely and to fill in the center with the "Love of God through Jesus." Meaning that "gospel-proclaimers" lead-out first with "God's divine love for the sinner" over the classical theme of "God's divine wrath and judgment to the sinner." No, we are not saying that changing the lead-lines of the gospel changes the biblical truths of "sin and wrath," only that it changes our focus of Christ's truer intent of the delivery of "good news" to bring all men to the saving knowledge of God's redeeming love through His atoning work. Remembering too that a large part of that good news is the valuing of the human being placed within communities of loving individuals.

As such, we have presented how to do this very thing through the many past articles here at Relevancy22 dealing with a multitude of "sensitive" Christian areas through a number of voices and organizations. It is one thing to grow in one's faith, but it is another to thicken the walls of one's excluding ideologies and un-gospel-like folklores steeped in unbiblical (and extra-biblical) teachings purporting truth when in fact they are purporting one's own religious (selective) preferences within the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those barriers are un-Godlike. They are harmful. They are wrong.

Hence, the issues of gender-sexuality is ultimately about facing one's own gospel and determining just what it is - as a biblical "faith" or an "exclusionary boundary line" pushing social platforms of excluding segregation and bigotry. Put in the lights of sociological mores and cultural preferences it becomes readily understandable why these "hot-button" issues have so deeply conflicted Christianity's "old boy church clubs" by redefining those who are considered "in", and those who are considered "out" of God's love. However, the church of God is to work at bringing all the "out's" into itself - not by bullying, coercion, or through its personalized club rules (think denominational creeds and dogmas)... but by presenting the indistinguishing love of God which sees the legalism in man's religious heart much more readily than we do ourself. The Gospel of Christ is at war with ourselves, even as we are at war with God's redeeming love in all its impact and fullness of meaning to value each individual. That is, the follower of Jesus is to accept the one who is different from ourselves. To actively repair our relationships with one another so that a unified fellowship might be discovered, recreated, and fulfilled. The issue isn't "sin" but one of "love." Sin is the excuse NOT to love. Love is the reason we see the other filled with value, potentiality, wholeness, and fellowship.

So then, let us do some more soul-searching when determining just what we really are arguing to God about.... is it the sin of others? Or is it the sin of ourselves in not loving others different from ourselves? I would suggest that we attend first to the "log in our own eyes" and be properly chastened by the lines Jesus was writing on the sand to His detractors. Jesus was about a boundary-less church graciously seeking to serve those for whom He died. Not a fellowship which stamps-about an ancient Judea (like the Apostle Paul (Saul) once did) with the intent of throwing Christians into jail for Jewish heresy and blasphemy. Like Paul, we each need our own "Road to Damascus" and perhaps this is the time to allow God to begin blinding us by His love of redeeming light streaming to all who stand around us that we have "accused" as to the laws of man. May it even be so. Let us then love.

R.E. Slater
June 10, 2013
 
 
View 1: Accepting both Orientation and Relational Practice -
 
http://www.gaychristian.net/justins_view.php


 
View 2: Accepting Orientation but not its active Practice -

Gay Boy Scouts–So What?
 
 
 
View 3: Accepting Orientation and Involvement - 
 
Love Opens the Door:
A Plea to American Churches Regarding Gay Scouts
 
Says Rachael, "I'm beginning to wonder if what makes the Gospel offensive is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in. Samaritans. Gentiles. Women. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. The poor. The merciful. Peacemakers. Drunks. Addicts. The sick. The uneducated. The persecuted. Slaves. Prisoners. The naked. The hungry. The marginalized. The troublemakers. The oppressed. The misfits. The powerless. Children. A self-important cynic like me. An ethnic and sexual minority who, though the Bible forbade him from even entering a temple on account of his sexuality, turned to Philip and said, 'Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?'... Love need not agree or understand or have it all figured out. But love always opens the door."



* * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Daniel Dobson, son of prominent West Michigan minister,
talks about being a gay Christian
 
by Charles Honey, The Grand Rapids Press
May 29, 2013
 
A firefight on the road to Baghdad helped give Daniel Dobson the courage to come out as a gay man.
 
Dobson, then 18, had been in Iraq only a few weeks when his U.S. Army gun truck came under heavy fire from al Qaeda. He froze up momentarily with fear. But he reached deep in his gut to withstand the assault, helped by a note card he’d put on the windshield. It quoted the book of Hebrews:
 
“The Lord has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”
 
The verse had been given to him by his father, the Rev. Ed Dobson, who had turned to it often in his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
 
While that 2004 attack was terrifying, it helped prepare Daniel for an even scarier moment almost two years ago. He stood outside his parents’ door and repeated Hebrews 13:5-6 to himself. Then he told them, “Mom, dad, I’m gay. And I still love Jesus. And nothing else changes.”
 
After a stunned silence, he recalls, his father said, “We still love you. And nothing else changes.”
 
The relief of hearing that was “absolutely huge,” says Dobson, now 28. “It almost felt like I was able to breathe again.”
 
It had taken him 13 years to divulge his sexual orientation to his parents. Today, Dobson feels ready to tell the rest of us.
 
He will speak on a panel Thursday, May 30, at Wealthy Theatre about his experience of being a gay Christian. It will be the first time Dobson has spoken publicly about his homosexuality.
 
It’s another scary step, he admits, especially for the younger son of Ed Dobson. The retired pastor of Calvary Church is one of West Michigan’s most prominent ministers and a former top aide to the late Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority. Who knows how people will react?
 
Whatever the reaction, speaking out is the right thing to do, says Daniel, a recent film studies graduate of Cornerstone University.
 
“It’s morally right for me to do it,” Daniel Dobson tells me at a Grand Rapids cafe. “I feel I have something good to contribute to the conversation. Something positive.”
 
He wants people to know it is possible to be gay and a faithful Christian. The Bible passages often cited to condemn homosexuality don’t apply to two men or two women loving each other or gay marriage, Dobson argues.
 
“A lot of gays and lesbians are hurting because they don’t know it’s OK,” he adds.
 
Others also will offer alternative biblical perspectives in the Wealthy Theatre program. Panelists include Stephanie Sandberg, who directed the Actors Theatre production “Seven Passages: The Stories of Gay Christians”; Ruth Bell Olsson, president of the Grand Rapids Red Project for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and Jim Lucas, longtime chaplain of the Gays in Faith Together support group.
 
The event was organized by Matthew Clark, a psychologist at Human Resource Associates. Clark, who is gay and Christian, says he regularly sees clients who struggle to reconcile their faith with what they have been told about what the Bible says.
 
“They’ve heard it’s a sin to be gay and that they’re going to burn in hell for it,” Clark says.
 
Daniel Dobson: 'A lot of gays and lesbians are hurting because they don't know it's OK.'
 
Clark offers them different views of biblical texts he says are widely misinterpreted. For many, it is a healing revelation.
 
“They get a huge burden taken off them,” Clark says. “They’re no longer feeling suicidal and depressed.”
 
Clark’s program follows the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow gay members and the coming out of pro athletes Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers. As in those cases, Daniel Dobson’s coming out will engender both praise and dismay.
 
But for Dobson, it’s a matter of personal integrity and biblical imperative.
 
He says he knew he was gay at age 13 but never acted on it. That seemed the wisest choice growing up in a conservative, evangelical world.
 
“I was thinking if I even talk about this I’m going to be ostracized, lose all my friends,” he says. “For a long time, I prayed I wouldn’t be gay.”
 
He kept his orientation to himself after enlisting in the Army, where he served two tours in Iraq. He loved the military -- he is still a specialist in the Army Reserve -- and did not want to jeopardize his ability to serve under the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy then in force.
 
However, a near-engagement with a girl convinced him he could not live a lie. He questioned why God would make him gay and then damn him for it. But as he looked closer at the Bible, he found nothing condemning same-sex relationships between adults in the modern sense.
 
He finally resolved to tell his parents, Ed and Lorna, calling on the courage of combat and the assurance of God’s love.
 
“It came down to a matter of personal integrity for me, that I had to be honest with myself and with the world,” Dobson says.
 
He has learned much about integrity from seeing his father endure criticism for unpopular stands, and from hearing his mother quote biblical imperatives to do right. He also wrestled through Scripture with his brother, Kent, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church.
 
All this leads him to believe it’s time to speak out, both to help needlessly suffering people and to counter hateful Christian attitudes toward gays.
 
“Because of what Christians say about gays and lesbians, they don’t get to share Jesus at all. They hurt the kingdom and they hurt Jesus. What they’re saying cannot possibly be led by the (Holy) Spirit.”
 
I’ve long admired the courage of Ed Dobson. Daniel’s decision shows the same character. I hope even those who disagree with his theology will respect his integrity.


Charley Honey is a religion columnist for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press.