I listened to the Vic Snyder - Andy Mayberry debate tonight. I thought Hutchinson was reaching pretty low in some of his non sequitur attacks on Beebe - but Mayberry is the new poster boy for slimy campaign tactics. This was a boring debate until the last few minutes. I could hardly believe my ears. Mayberry simply went insane. All gay- all the time - for the Republican candidates. Just as many of us predicted.
I'll paraphrase from the debate the best I can:
Folks, i believe in the bible.
In Snyder's wife's church - she preaches in favor of blessing homosexual unions.
Snyder's wife is, I assume, hIS spiritual leader.
Ok, my notes aren't that good. But the clear message was that because Rev. Singleton preaches a message of tolerance - Rep. Snyder is pro-homosexual and against the "bible." I was a bit stunned.
Snyder is so laid back but he was irritated. He showed great restraint and just said "You won't get far in Arkansas politics by attacking someones wife or spouse." What an understatement.
Mayberry realized the enormity of his mistake and immediately began saying Rev. Singleton has the right to preach what she wants. What a concession. Certainly no apology.
Then --- in the same sentence --- he accuses Rev. Singleton of "imposing values on the rest of us" --- and then he says this is done by "setting a tone"
Andy Mayberry - you, sir, are a fool, a bigot, and certainly not a gentleman.
He says, you can look up Rev. Singleton's speeches on the internet and see what she has said.
I'm a bit biased here. Rev. Singleton used to be my Sunday school teacher at my neighborhood church ( not Quapaw Quarter) She was one of the reasons I attended so loyally for so long and I thought a lot of her. Her message of tolerance and compassion apparently doesn't sit will with Mayberry. I was curious what he was talking about so I found her sermon on homosexuality. I've included the entire verbatim sermon below, I hope she doesn't mind too much.
Mayberry says he wants to take "Mayberry values" to Washington. Can you imagine on the Andy Grffith show if Andy took issue with the local representative because - no something had said -- but because what his wife was preaching in church? This to me is the problem with fundamentalist Republicans --- they sincerely think - much like fundamentalist Muslims --- "My church is better than your church." He really thinks so. I wonder if this was another brilliant idea cooked up by Clint Reed or maybe Mayberry was getting some pointers in how to sound insane from Jim Holt.
And since when did "setting a tone" become the same as "imposing values on the rest of us." And what does that even mean? Mayberry is a fool --- maybe he was just speaking in tongues and I didn't understand it.
He did something else that irked me. He accused Snyder of saying that children with genetic defects were less valuable as humans. where he got that one - only he knows. He was simply lying at this point. Snyder clearly stated that he is against 3rd trimester abortion except in the case of rape or danger to the woman's health, pretty much the law now, as well as case law. In the same paragraph Mayberry mentioned the loss of 2,900 people in the World Trade Center, and then how 4,000 babies are being killed per year. If there was a device that instantly measured a candidate's support-- I think about right there he lost thousands and thousands of swing voters. Snyder is right - a majority of Americans are for maintaining the status quo as to further restrictions on abortion. I say again, Mayberry is a fool.
I tried to listen to the Ross-Ross debate - but it was too painful.
Conflict in the Church: Is Homosexuality a Sin?
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Introduction: How We Respond to Difficult Questions
Today is the fourth sermon in our series “Difficult Questions Christians Face,” and our controversial issue this morning is one of the most divisive among Christians.
In preparation for this sermon, I looked at no less than eight books addressing both sides of the Church’s position about homosexuality. As we have in previous Sundays, we will use four basic tools to help us listen for God’s living word to us today. Name them with me: the primary one is Scripture, in addition to tradition, experience and reason. These are the tools we’ll use today. Let us pray.
An Example of the Conflict over Homosexuality
I believe it was the fall of 1988. I was a seminary student at Perkins at SMU in my second year. A young man from Australia who was a Phd. candidate studying with us for a year was the chapel service preacher for the day. His preached from Genesis 2:18-25. The text is the second creation account of humanity, the one that tells how God creates another human being, alike but different.
Familiar story, right: except this man told his own unexpected story. It was this: he had been married to a wonderful woman and had a young child, but finally had to tell his wife that he knew he was gay. This was very scary, especially because he believed God had a calling for him in the Church. As the story unfolded, he shared that he was now in a committed relationship with a man he loved. Fortunately, his former wife was still a dear friend and he still parented his child. But the question remained: How could someone in the church live such a life?
His interpretation of the Genesis text was not a literal or fundamentalist interpretation, concluding that women were made for or from men. His conclusion brought to light another meaning: that God makes for us someone who is different from us, and yet who will complement us. As the text says, God makes “a fit helper as partner.” Because of this gracious gift, we need not be alone. That was the Good News for the day.
How did he read the scripture and come to this meaning? The young man’s interpretation took into account that ancient scripture is conditioned by the vicissitudes and contingencies of those particular times and places in which it was written. The way he read this passage from Genesis meant he couldn’t automatically take it that only one understanding of the passage—that women are made as the only suitable partners for men—was God’s will for all other times, places and people. The young man was also mindful that the ancient writers of Genesis did not know anything about people who might be innately or naturally oriented toward their own gender. Thus, the young man suggested the Holy Spirit might be speaking through this biblical text in our time to say something very old, yet very new. What the young man, a faithful Christian, wanted to communicate from his interpretation is that the overall essence of this passage is that God loves us so much God does not want human beings to be alone, thus God creates others who are different, but who will complement us.
That day I left the chapel touched by this man’s story and was given much to consider as a future pastor, but I was soon aware some of the other students were offended and concerned. To this day, these various responses characterize the conflict and concern about how the Church should respond to gay and lesbian persons.
Where United Methodists Officially Stand on Homosexuality
The United Methodist Church is not the only denomination debating aspects of this issue, particularly around the issue of ordaining homosexuals as pastors. In November, the Catholic Church issued a statement reading, in part, "The church, while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality….'' Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Baptists denominations all have official theological statements on the issue, but I limit myself today to our own denomination.
For United Methodists, in addition to our interpretation of scripture and our use of reason and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we turn to our church’s tradition, comprised of a number of sources, including The United Methodist Book of Discipline. This book represents those binding doctrines and rules of our church, as well as our organizational structure and social principles, which contain current statements about how our church deals with contemporary issues. As your pastor, I am bound by our doctrines and rules. That is not to say that I agree with every one of them. I do not. Indeed I do not believe that any of us find complete doctrinal agreement in any church. However, I believe our denomination has the best theology, and we continue—thank God—to listen to the Spirit and to be open that God might be doing something new, as God always does in every time and place.
Where do our church laws come from? Every four years, our General Conference clergy and laity delegates, selected by thousands of churches like this one, convene to dialogue, discuss and vote on any changes in church law. This process reminds us that the church is called to listen to what the Holy Spirit may speak to a new generation. By the way, that does not always mean we listen either! As it stands now, here is what our denomination currently says (You have this on the screen and in your handout):
1) No homosexual unions shall be performed in our churches. “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” (Par. 341.6).
2) Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals may not be ordained. “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church” (Par. 304.3).
3) No church funds shall be given to organizations that promote the acceptance of homosexuality. “The council shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission or council shall give United Methodist funds [apportionments] to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality (Par. 806.9)
The next two statements may be found in our Social Principles and reflect the theological position more specifically.
4) All persons, including homosexuals, are individuals of sacred worth.’ We are committed to ministry for and with all persons. “Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (Par. 161.G).
5) United Methodists are committed to supporting civil liberties and human rights for homosexuals. “Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons….Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians” (Par 162.H).
Embedded in the fourth statement is the reason for the church’s continuing debate over this issue. Listen as I read it again: Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all.
Here, then, is the crux of the issue: Is homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching? If so, what is that teaching and where does it come from? Is it from scripture, from tradition? If so, how do we interpret the revelation that is scripture, along with tradition, using the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives today and our intellectual powers to guide us? Since we know that Christian teaching has changed over the centuries—otherwise Rev. Betty and I would not be sitting up here--including the earliest church’s acceptance of uncircumcised Gentiles, as well as Jews, and much later the church’s reversal on slavery and race, then should this teaching on homosexuality change also? And, if we are to affirm that God’s grace is available to all, what should our ministry with homosexuals look like? Full acceptance or partial? Acceptance in the pew, but not the pulpit? Silent acceptance of partnerships or sanctioned unions blessed by the church?
Differing Views in United Methodism: Revisionists and Traditionalists
In a book titled, “Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality” denominational leaders Maxie Dunnam and Newton Malony in 2002 wrote, “We assume the motivations of those who see these matters [on homosexuality] from a different perspective are genuine, loving, and Christian. We trust that they perceive us in the same light” (page 14).
I approach the presentation of these differing views this morning with the hope that Christians on both sides of this issue can do likewise.
First, let us refer to these two sides as revisionists and traditionalists (These terms come from a number of contemporary resources outlining the debate about homosexuality). Revisionists are those who want to change our church law to offer ordination to homosexuals, and traditionalists want to keep the legal language the same. Let’s begin with what each side has in common.
Both revisionists and traditionalists agree that first and foremost, sex is a good gift from God. From the perspective of the church, it is connected to covenant and commitment. Second, when we consider sexual practices we must consider them as Christians in light of our human situation and the redemption of Christ. In other words, we determine our sexual ethics in light of our relationship with Christ not whatever the culture accepts, be it stated by Dr. Phil, or modeled by Brad and Angelina. Third, both sides believe in and respect the significance of scripture in the debate. Fourth, we care about the future of the church and about homosexual persons.
So where do revisionists differ from traditionalists? (See more about these positions in “Confronting the Controversies,” “Staying the Course” or “The Loyal Opposition.”)
1) Revisionists believe homosexuality is not a choice or lifestyle. Homosexual orientation is innately part of one’s being and identity. Many revisionists have heard the stories of homosexual persons who describe knowing at a very young age that they were attracted to the same sex. Recently, on public radio, I heard excerpts from a new book in which homosexuals describe the first moment they realized they were gay. One was particularly humorous: an elementary-age girl got her mother to take her to see The Sound of Music numerous times. She wasn’t interested in becoming a nun or in Baron Von Trapp; she was in love with Julie Andrews. Time and again, I’ve heard similar stories. My mother, in describing my early affinity for men, tells of my own infatuation at age three with Ricardo Montalban and some of my decidedly flattering comments about his effect on me!
I am not a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, but it is clear the behavioral scientists as well as the geneticists continue to learn how we humans are wired, including our sexuality. Revisionists acknowledge there may be a chemical component and experiences that also shape our sexual orientation. Given new discoveries, revisionists want to keep these factors in mind, factors unknown to the ancient writers of scripture and the shapers of our tradition. It does not mean that revisionists do not also recognize that some people do have homosexual experiences in adolescence or inappropriate sexual contact from heterosexuals or homosexuals that may affect their behavior. Such experiences do not constitute the kind of orientation under discussion.
2) Revisionists differ from traditionalists in their belief that the essence of the Gospel is about liberation and grace, and that a large part of Jesus’ ministry was about welcoming all people. There is nothing in the New Testament that tells us what Jesus said about homosexuality, although his comments on marriage and divorce seem clear. What revisionists take note of is that Jesus had an intentional ministry to those considered in his religious time and social location to be unclean: lepers, women, heterosexual adulterers, Samaritans, the poor, the possessed, tax collectors and others labeled either sinful or unclean.
3) Revisionists have seen evidence of God’s calling in the lives of men and women who are homosexual and question why they should not be allowed to be ordained as pastors. When I was in seminary, I had several good friends who clearly had gifts for ordained ministry: intellectual curiosity, humor, leadership, organizational skills, and a passion for sharing the love of Christ. Some years after seminary and ordination, these colleagues acknowledged their homosexual orientation. They did not want to lie anymore to themselves or to the Church, yet the very Church that said they had gifts to become pastors now said they did not. Must qualification for ministry be reduced to one aspect of a person’s being, particularly if that appears to be an undeniable part of their God-given identity?
4) Revisionists typically interpret scripture in light of one’s experience and contemporary scholarship, thus scripture has authority after interpretation. Like the young man I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, many revisionists believe one must consider scripture in light of the times and customs in which it was written, including the reality that we have some information today that the writers did not have. Leviticus may say that some cattle should not be bred together, some seeds not sown together and some fabrics not worn together, but are those laws still essential to Christian identity? Revisionists recognize that the Church does not follow every legal statute in scripture. Acceptance of slavery and racial discrimination as well as sexism is no longer tolerated by citing specific scriptures that exclude other races or women. In addition, many revisionists also believe it is important to consider recent research, some of which may be contrary to ancient scripture.
Now we turn to the traditionalists’ views.
1) Traditionalists often cite a distinction between the person and the behavior. They see a difference in the morality of homosexual practice rather than a fixed orientation. This view is based on their view and experience that some people who have practiced homosexuality have been aided by counselors and now are married heterosexuals. In other words, traditionalists take note of the possibility of conversion. Yes, one may be predisposed to homosexuality, but the traditionalist believes God wills something different for human sexuality, namely commitment within heterosexual covenant.
2) Traditionalists believe that homosexuality is incompatible with historic Christian teaching. Another way of stating this incompatibility is the belief that scripture is explicit in both the Old and New Testaments in rejecting homosexual intimacy as part of God’s plan. Still others connect this to Jesus’ words on marriage between men and women and his reference to the words in Genesis, asserting heterosexual marriage to be a matter of divine revelation, not merely a matter of differing scriptural interpretations. (We’ll look at the texts in a few minutes.)
3) Traditionalists find it difficult to accept some kind of marriage for homosexual persons because of the rising voices of bi-sexual persons. In other words, traditionalists do not see how a marriage covenant can be maintained within such a sexual continuum.
4) Traditionalists understand God to prohibit certain behaviors to protect us. It is the nature of humans to sin—to be separate from God and one another. Traditionalists believe that sexual sins, both heterosexual and homosexual, are prohibited in scripture to protect humans from hurting ourselves and others.
Interpreting Old Testament Passages
Now, let us turn to the scriptures. Much of the debate on this issue is fought through citing scripture. Perhaps some of you remember a few years ago an episode of The West Wing when President Jeb Bartlett became obsessed with a former congressional opponent he had beaten, who is now running for the school board. The man who apparently spouted religion in a narrow way, was now finally about to win the seat. In this scene, Bartlett comes into a talk-radio reception on election night. He soon finds himself fired up over scripture (DVD, “The Midterms” episode, 33:18 – 36:17). We see what happens when chapter and verse is quoted!
Hopefully, you read the sermon notes in your bulletin earlier this week through the internet. If you did, you know that the stories often referenced about homosexuality from Genesis 19:1-29 and Judges 19 are, in my opinion, not stories about homosexuality. They are both violent stories about what happens when hospitality is not extended to the stranger in a patriarchal society. Neither of these stories has anything to do with consensual homosexual intimacy or commitment. They are about violating or dominating the male guest’s honor.
The other two passages in the Old Testament refer to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: “a man shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Why is this?
In ancient Israel there are two kinds of evil: 1) sin and 2) uncleanness. “Sin” is an intentional rebellion against God. Yet “uncleanness” comes from contact with some physical object—animals, foods, corpses, pagan rites, sexual process, etc. In other words, it’s contagious. Thus ancient Israel understood cleanness to be about wholeness, perfection, and completeness, so that this requirement of completeness means that classes cannot be mixed: cattle are not to be bred to a different kind; fields are not sown using different seeds, etc. Thus homosexual behavior is understood similarly as mixing what should not be mixed; it is uncleanness, not sin. (For more on this scholarship, see “Homosexuality and the Bible.”
Interpreting New Testament Passages
Now to the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul provides a list of those who are living lives in opposition to God’s plans including male prostitutes and sodomites. There is debate about what these two Greek words actually mean. Some believe the words constitute a reference to any homosexual behavior, and some believe the text is only citing a specific vice called “pederasty,” a practice of male adult domination over a submissive minor male for sexual purposes. In Romans 1, Paul addresses our fallen human nature, including examples of same-sex relations by both genders. For Paul, this behavior is a result of sin because it is chosen behavior. The problem for readers today is that we also take into account that homosexuality may be “natural” for some and thus not chosen, sinful behavior. Neither passage recognizes a possible committed homosexual relationship as reality because that was not understood to be normative for some.
Christian Sexual Ethics for Today: Two Christian Principles for Everyone
The Church has erected certain guides, even barriers, involving human sexuality. These are stated in the section I gave you on Human Sexuality (also in the Social Principles). As you can see, these guides are not limited to comments on homosexuality. To the contrary, the guidelines are more comprehensively about all human sexuality. I think they express two principles that ought to operate when Christians reflect on what is best in the sexual area of life. Brothers and sisters, these principles are for all of us.
#1 Sexuality is good, but a limited good. Sexual fulfillment cannot be an end in itself, separated from other concerns it becomes idolatrous and even demonic.
#2 All of life must be lived in the context of the wider community, so that the best decisions will take into account their place in the pattern of relations and express mutual responsibility toward a sustaining community. (See John Cobb’s essay, “The Right to Love” in his book “Matters of Life and Death.”)
What these principles mean for the Christian is that sexuality must be expressed in healthy, sacred and committed relationships and as part of identity in community, especially in the Church.
So what is my position as your pastor in a denomination that continues every four years to debate homosexuality? Remember the story we read from Luke about the woman who had been suffering with bleeding for twelve years? This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus. Why? Here is this woman who has several strikes against her cleanness and wholeness. She’s a woman. That’s right—she has no rights to speak of. She’s ritually unclean because of her continued bleeding. She’s alone because she can’t get access to the priest because she’s unclean. And she’s broke from going to doctors--and there’s no health insurance. So we’re talking about Ms. Invisible. And what does she do? She sneaks up behind Jesus just to be near his sacred presence. I imagine that has something to do with the way he welcomes everyone. And then the woman dares to touch him. Jesus feels something—and it’s not just the crowd around him pressing in on him. Luke says power goes out of Jesus. Then, the unclean powerless woman presents herself to Jesus and tells him her story of rejection.
I got a few stories of rejection from some of you this week. "The next 10 years I grew further away from God as I began to come to terms with my sexuality. All I ever heard was that homosexuals were perverts, deviants, evil and malicious people. Another wrote about how he was labeled. Literally, I could not walk down the hall between classes without someone yelling faggot, homo, or queer. I was terrified when the bell rang, when I was at the mall, the movies or any public place".
The unclean woman told her story of hurt and pain, and Jesus, we’re told, gave her his power. She didn’t have to live alone labeled unclean anymore. When I look out at you, Church, I see heterosexuals and homosexuals—we all know that every church has both--but mostly, mostly I see disciples of Jesus who are always following him around trying to get hold of his robe for anybody who has been told they are unclean, for anybody who needs a savior. This loving story leads me to where I stand in this debate right now.
My Position Interpreted through Luke 8:42b - 48
First, each and every Christian must use the gift of sexuality in light of their Christian witness. Gay folks, straight folks: when we engage in casual or hurtful expressions of sexuality we dehumanize and degrade ourselves and others. That is a result of sin. Second, I believe the Church, and that includes all of us, must continue to better understand all sexuality, but especially homosexuality lived in light of committed, loving relationships we know to be possible, not stereotypes of promiscuous gay sex. Third, I believe that the church must find some way to offer blessings to committed gay and lesbian couples not only because we support protective civil rights, but especially as a sacred sign of a couple’s promises, God’s love for them, and the Christian support for that relationship by the Church which Jesus opened to everyone. Fourth, I believe that homosexual Christians with gifts and talents for ordained ministry are already being called by God, and we must listen. Fifth, I love the United Methodist Church. It is the place where I have learned to love Jesus. I have also learned much from people who are both revisionists and traditionalists, and I hope our Methodism does not split over this issue, but I will continue to pray, act and vote for change, and this church will be open to anyone who has been labeled unclean--heterosexual or homosexual—and wants to become a follower of Jesus, and seeks to live reconciled to God and neighbor.
I’m so glad that unclean woman had the guts to tug on Jesus’ robe. Year ago, I heard a sermon by a young man that tugged on Jesus’ robe and my heart and has ever since. I’m so glad Jesus turned around and acknowledged that woman’s hurt and pain. To my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, today I acknowledge the pain that many of you have had in various Christian churches. I am so sorry, but I am thankful for your Christian witness, your dogged courage and your love for Christ and the rest of us in this congregation. I’m so glad Jesus told that woman she had his power. And so do we. Don’t forget that. So do we.
Thanks be to God.