Faith UCC does this thing called shared ministry, where the pastor gets the week off every month and one of the members is responsible for organizing worship. I tend to get assigned to things during June for Pride Month. Which was today.
I thought I would share today’s sermon, which is a bit of basic Biblical defense when it comes to reconciling my identity as a Christian gay man who’s married and who’s active in the church. I could’ve gone longer and there is likely a part 2 (or 3) in me:
It’s Pride Weekend. Most of you know that Faith UCC has been an Open & Affirming Church for 26 years. If I’m not mistaken, we became the first UCC church in Iowa to go through that discernment process. I was not a member of the church back then. It would be another five years before I became involved with the church. I know that we subsequently ended up calling our first openly gay clergyperson to be our pastor about two years later. I know that commitment ceremonies were held at our church as a result of this vote. We later called our first partnered lesbian pastor to the church. And we’ve continued to nurture involvement by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people within our church pretty much anywhere and everywhere that they felt called to serve without hassle.The sermon was well received, and it would’ve been nice to explore some other areas where I re-frame scripture. But I felt good overall with today’s service.
I think that’s important for us to hear. I belong to various online communities, including an organization called Q Christian Fellowship (formerly called Gay Christian Network). It is not uncommon for people to share stories there about being ostracized in their church communities for coming out as LGBTQ people. And I’m not talking about people coping with stories of past traumas. I’m talking about now. Literally last week. Pastors and church members who’ve come out or gotten outed and who’ve now lost their careers – over even their ability to serve coffee during the fellowship hour, or sing in the choir.
And it’s not just gay people like me. Just yesterday at Pride, Mark and I were approached by a young woman with a goal of ordination who recently found herself rejected by some very dear friends for being an ally to the LGBTQ community. She officiated at a same-sex wedding. Her friends warned her that they would cast her out and she told them that she had studied scripture on her own and felt justified with her decision to do the wedding. And now her friends have completely shunned her.
My point is that it’s easy here. It’s easy to come to Faith UCC as a gay person. You don’t have to spend much time reconciling your faith and sexuality to others. You don’t have to explain to anyone how you can be both an LGBTQ person and a person of faith. You have the right to date as a gay man, or to marry as a lesbian, or commit yourself to a life of singledom if you choose. You don’t have to hide, or worry that the wrong person will find out. You don’t have to worry about your pastor or the Council calling you in and putting you on church-probation for making the same life choices as anyone else – except that the other intimate person in your life is of your own gender as opposed to the other.
Because it’s easy, I think that it’s equally easy to avoid talking about why it’s okay scripturally for me to be married to Mark. The truth is that I don’t spend a lot of time anymore dissecting scripture as a Christian who’s been out as a gay man since right around the time that this church came out as open and affirming.
But the questions continue, usually from LGBTQ teens who’ve grown up in anti-gay churches and who are terrified about becoming those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Or adults who struggle with reconciliation. Or even those who don’t feel comfortable having their understanding of traditional scripture challenged. I encounter these questions, and challenges, a lot. Usually, I ignore the questions. But I do think that it’s necessary to engage the questions from time to time.
So I want to spend some time today briefly breaking down each of the scriptures that are typically used against people like me in an attempt to provide a bit of counter-balance to the prevalent beliefs.
Genesis 19: Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed: We all know the story. God sent two angels to Sodom to investigate stories of evil coming out of Sodom and her sister city. They were greeted by Lot and his wife and their daughters. After they were taken into their home, all of Sodom’s men surrounded Lot’s home and issued their demands: “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot immediately offered his daughters in place of the visiting angels, but the men of Sodom were terribly insistent and attacked the visitors. The angels acted and Sodom was destroyed, minus Lot and his two daughters.
We’re told that America is a modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah, collectively doomed because sodomy laws are technically unconstitutional now. Collectively doomed because same-sex couples can now obtain marriage licenses, or even get married in certain churches. Collectively doomed because gay couples can adopt children, or because trans women can urinate at Target, or receive some legal protections from harm. And as we learned from the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, the righteous were swept away just as easily by God’s wrath as the innocent.
But here’s the deal. Sodom was doomed before those two angels ever entered the city gates. People conveniently ignore Genesis 18:16-33, where Abraham spends a lot of time bargaining with God to save the Sodomites. It didn’t help that men of Sodom attacked the visitors and tried violating them and humiliating them through gang-rape. But attempted gang-rape isn’t the sin of Sodom. It’s a symptom of a much larger problem.
What did Ezekiel 16 tell us about the sin of Sodom? “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” I do worry that we are indeed in a modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah, but not because of gay marriage or because of homosexual ordination. Income inequality; the whittling away of America’s safety net; the privatization of our prisons and roads and schools; the way that we treat those who enter our country – both legally and illegally… To me, those are all signs of the modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah.
Leviticus 18:22: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman. It is an abomination.” Or alternatively Leviticus 20:13. Abomination is a horrible word and it sounds awful. It essentially means that something is ritually unclean. There are other abominations out there in the Bible: wearing cloth made of mixed fiber, eating pork, or having sex with a menstruating woman. There’s a parody website out there called GodHatesShrimp.Com: “Pinch the tail; suck the head, burn in hell.” I find that page a lot of fun. Bluntly put, both Jesus and Paul rejected all of those moral codes. Christ’s sacrifice redeemed us. We’re no longer under those purity codes. That’s not to say that there can’t be evil that comes from how we express relationships – sexual or otherwise, same-sex or otherwise. But I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about my salvation because of Leviticus.
Romans 1:26-27: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons due penalty for their error.” Which sounds like a horrible condemnation of same-sex relationships. Except that people never point out Romans 1:18-24, where he’s talking about people rejecting God and turning to “images resembling human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” And how their hearts became impure and their bodies were used to exchange a truth about God for a lie and how they worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Paul is writing to the people of Rome in this book. He’s talking about pagan religious cults who worshipped idols instead of God. It was not uncommon for these cults to involve sex among priestesses and other temple prostitutes.
In other words, Paul wasn’t talking about God giving up gay people to unnatural urgings. He was using pagan sex cults in that culture and the fall-out from such practices as an example to build a case in Romans chapter 2 against judgmental Jews. Which I won’t get into today, but Romans 1:26-27 clearly wasn’t speaking out against same-sex relationships. It just wasn’t.
I promised Mark that I wouldn’t run too long. (Can I get an amen, Mark?) I want to throw out a handful of ideas that explore the idea of reconciling one’s Christian faith and homosexual sexual orientation, as well as same-sex marriage within a Christian mindset.
First, how do I reconcile Christian faith with a same-sex sexual orientation? I actually look at this pretty simply. One doesn’t become a Christian because she or he became sexually active with someone of the opposite gender. One doesn’t not become a Christian because s/he became sexually active with someone of the same gender. One becomes a Christian when s/he accepts Christ’s love and forgiveness: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Do I believe that LGBTQ Christians have free reign to engage in any form of sexual hedonism imaginable? No. Do I believe in marriage equality for LGBTQ Christians? Yes. Do I believe that this is contradicted by the Bible? No. But ultimately, all of those questions are extraneous to the issue of my faith in Christ and in God. I’m a Christian because I have offered my life to Christ and sought his redemption.
And then for same-sex marriage, I would point out: 1 Corinthians 7:8-9: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Straight people meet their need for emotional and physical intimacy by marrying each other. But this doesn’t work for gay people, under traditional Christian belief. We are either placed in the position of becoming unevenly yoked to heterosexual spouses where neither partner is ultimately satisfied or we’re placed in a situation where we must live a life of celibacy, whether or not we are suited for it or interested in it.
This is an instance where my admittedly non-literal reading of the scripture has lead me to understand that gay couples, like straight couples, should be encouraged to marry if it is determined that they aren’t suited for celibacy. Some people of all sexual orientations are suited for celibacy. I know both gay and straight people who have voluntarily accepted a life of celibacy because they felt that God called that for them. But it is not healthy to universally enforce a celibate lifestyle of people who are not called to that lifestyle, whether they are gay or straight. Celibacy works best as a gift, not a tax.
Hopefully, this provides some insight into how I respond to the scriptures that are tossed out routinely at me as a gay Christian; as well as some basic thoughts on how I think about scripture in a way that isn’t traditionally used to support LGBTQ Christian, or families.
Incidentally, one of the things that I love best about organizing worship is getting to pick out the hymns for the week. I usually pick out a song that reminds me of my time in the Methodist Church. This week, I chose “God Will Take Care of You.” It’s one of my favorites.
But I also found this great hymn book at our church – and I use “hymn book” in the loosest way possible – in the form of The Genesis Songbook: Songs for Getting It All Together. It’s from 1973 and it so wonderfully captures the 70s. I went with hymn #69, “If I Had a Hammer.” It was difficult for us to sing with the piano. Two many aging hippies with memories of Peter, Paul & Mary. So we ended up singing it without music and had so much fun!