From “The Power of a Single Word,” Lesson One by Rev. Brian McLaren:“A pivotal moment in my story came when I was asked to write a brief column in a respected Christian journal for pastors. The general topic I was assigned was sexuality, so I decided to relate a recent story from my pastoral experience. It involved an engaged couple who had met through their fathers … fathers who, after getting divorced from the engaged couple’s mothers, had come out as gay and become partners.
“The complexity of the couple’s situation led to the point of my article: Life is complex, and just having a position on homosexuality isn’t enough. Being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ gay doesn’t solve the kinds of practical questions that this couple was asking me: If I was to perform their wedding at our church, would their fathers be completely welcome? Would they be treated with respect and allowed to be ‘out’ as part of the marriage ceremony?
“In the article, I never articulated my own position on homosexuality. I simply stated that the issue had real-life complications, and I didn’t see how either side could argue with that. But that was enough for me to become the target of some amazingly hostile religious rhetoric.
“The editors of the magazine posted my article on their website under this less-than-accurate title: ‘McLaren on Homosexuality.’ Then they invited a predictably fiery pastor to write a counterpoint to my article on their blog. His tone was mocking and vicious, as were many of the comments that were posted in response. The editors, the pastor’s counterpoint, and the equally venomous commenters turned out to have given me a precious gift: They helped me feel what it’s like to be a gay person in the hands of angry Christians. The unfairness, the fury, the insults, the mean-spiritedness shocked me and faced me with one of the truly important choices of my life: Would I, from that point on, cower in fear and work harder to protect my reputation by not inciting such attacks, or would I become more courageous and refuse to be intimidated by the hostile rhetoric I had just experienced? How would I respond to my fears?
“Some of us are gay. Some aren’t. Some of us are gay-affirming. Some are not. But we all have this in common: We all are more or less afraid.
“And that’s OK. It’s OK to be afraid. But here’s what’s less OK: to be afraid but not to acknowledge it. Because unacknowledged fear is far more powerful and dangerous than acknowledged fear.”
From “A Matter of Interpretation,” Lesson Two by Jack Rogers, Ph.D.:“When we interpret what the Bible says about God, God’s works, and God’s will, we are being theologians. To be the best theologians we can be, we must be serious, thoughtful and open to learn. And we must be clear that we are using a method of interpreting the Bible that will get us to the heart of its message.
“The choice of that method is crucial, and history shows us why. Over the centuries, various methods have come into vogue, often leaving in their wake what we now consider gross misinterpretations of the Bible. Among the most painful periods for Christians to reflect on today is the lengthy era when so many mainstream churches sanctioned and defended the practice of slavery and the oppression of women. For 200 years, the majority of Christians accepted these morally repugnant acts as biblically based without entertaining even a thought there could be another view. Yet theirs was the same Bible that we read today.
“How could this be? How could those Christians think so differently than we do today? Why would intelligent and devout people not recognize any of the mitigating factors we can perceive in Scripture? More importantly, why did minds change? Before we can even address the issue of homosexuality, it is important to look back and understand not only how mistakes can be made in biblical interpretation, but also how they can be corrected.”
From “Text and Context,” Lesson Three by Rev. Victor Paul Furnish, Ph.D.:“The languages of the ancient world, in which the biblical traditions and writings developed, had no word for ‘homosexuality.’ This is a recent term, coined only in the second half of the 19th century after human sexuality became a subject for investigation by biologists, sociologists, and psychologists. The same is true of ‘heterosexuality.’ Both words are used in reference to sexual orientation, a concept that was unknown in the ancient world. The ancient Israelites and the earliest Christians, like ancient peoples in general, presumed quite simplistically that everyone is erotically attracted to the opposite sex. No doubt homoerotic activity (same-gender sexual relations) did exist, but depending on the culture, it was considered anything from an uncontrolled lust to simply an alternate form of sexual behavior, and not a separate characteristic.
“Of course, the Bible is not silent on the subject of sex as an essential fact of life. It speaks of the creation of ‘male and female,’ tells stories that have sexual aspects, and sometimes conveys rules or advice about sexual conduct. In recent discussions of homosexuality, however, the few, brief passages that address homoerotic conduct have gained a notoriety far beyond their prominence within the Bible itself. As we turn to these scattered references, we need to keep two important points in mind.
“First, each of the so-called ‘homosexuality’ passages has to be read in the light of all of its contexts. Each passage has a particular literary, situational, cultural, and religious setting. When we ignore those settings we risk trivializing the Bible by turning it into a mere collection of verses.
“Second, there is no passage where homoerotic conduct constitutes the main topic or receives extended discussion. We find only incidental references and passing allusions, and in some cases we have to look hard even for those.”
From “The Sweep of History,” Lesson Four by Nancy Kruh:“Almost 2,000 years have past since the Apostle Paul spread the gospel and wrote his epistles, and in that time, Christian beliefs and practices have evolved in ways that no doubt would be mind-boggling to him. Many of his admonitions have come and gone. Women no longer have to remain silent in church. Divorce is accepted for reasons besides adultery. His warnings not to marry now strike us as downright peculiar. Yet over two millennia, Paul’s belief in the sinful nature of homoeroticism has endured.
“We know well the words he wrote in that distant past; we also know well how the issue is affecting the present. But most of us have only the vaguest idea of what transpired in between. How have we gotten from then to now? How has this meager amount of scripture come to play such a provocative role in Christian culture? No doubt history is on the side of Paul. But what exactly is that history? …
“For this study, our focus naturally is on the beginnings of Christianity and the forces that shaped the Christian response to homoerotic behavior down through the ages. Dr. Furnish has started the narrative. Examining what ensued can help us understand more fully how the development of Christianity guided perceptions of sexuality, as well as how those perpetuated the aversion to homoerotic activity.”
From “A Faithful Journey,” Lesson Five by Roberta Showalter Kreider:“As a little girl growing up during the Depression, I was taught in my Mennonite church that God loves me, and my mother often sang of grace. But there was also another song we children sang in Sunday school: ‘He sees what you do, He hears what you say, my God is writing all the time, time, time.’ Yes, the message of love reached me, but the message of judgment came through even louder. The way I learned to read my Bible left no room for other interpretations, and I felt a terrible need to bring other people to God’s word, too, so that we could all enjoy heaven together. There were times when my church disappointed me and didn’t have all the answers to satisfy my soul, but nothing mattered to me so much as pleasing God. Always, God’s law came before God’s love.
“But my brother Ray’s death from AIDS left me unsettled in a way I’d never felt before. I searched and prayed for answers. How could he have had such a strong homosexual desire that he would risk his family, his career, and even his life to fulfill it? I began to read what books I could find, to question people, and to try to determine what had happened to the sibling I thought I grew up with. A word, new to me in this context, drew my attention – gay! In my pain and loss, I couldn’t see anything gay about homosexuality. Everything I read enforced the judgment that homosexuality is a perversion, as well as a learned and chosen experience. So, even though I still loved my brother, I became more and more vocal against homosexuality. Since I couldn’t help my brother, I asked God to send me other homosexuals so I could help them change. But God didn’t send even one.
“As the years went by, the issue was causing increasing tensions among Christians, and I feared it was inevitable that homosexuals would someday want to become members of my own church body. Then what would I do? To be true to God, would I have to go to another church?”
From “The Final Word,” Lesson Six by Marcus Borg, Ph.D.:“Conflict among Christians about [homosexuality] raises the larger question of authority in the Christian life, especially moral authority. How are Christians supposed to discern what is right and wrong?
“Christians have answered that question differently. For Catholics, authority is grounded in the teaching of the church, which integrates Scripture, tradition and papal interpretation. Some Protestants have said that the Bible is the only authority for Christian life. For Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone – was a revolutionary principle that challenged the authority of the late medieval church. Yet the Reformers also appealed to reason. Recall Luther’s stirring refusal to disavow his teachings: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and evident reason, I will not recant.” Some Protestants expand authority beyond Scripture and reason to include tradition and experience.
“But for all Christians, the sources of moral discernment include the Bible and Jesus. For Christians, both are ‘the Word of God.’ The Bible is ‘the Word of God’ in a book, Jesus ‘the Word of God’ in a person. They are ‘normative’ for Christians – that is, foundational and most important. Thus in this concluding essay, I focus on the Bible and Jesus as sources of moral authority for Christians.”
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