Tag Archives: Christian

Kentucky "Welcoming Church" Leaves Baptist Association

In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same – sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations – and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.

The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches.  In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist’s commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : “All Are Welcome – No Exceptions”.

 

The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC,  that asked the pertinent question “Who Stole Jesus?“. This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister – church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association

The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.

“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”

Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”

Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”

The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.

– Associated Baptist Press – Kentucky church leaves association.

In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the “Who Stole Jesus?” question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to “steal Jesus” away from them.

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61% of UK Christians back equal rights for gay couples – Survey

There is extensive evidence that the US is moving to embrace full equality for lesbian and gay couples, and that Catholics are more supportive than the population at large. American Evangelicals though, remain (mostly) hostile. There has not been nearly as much polling for the UK, but a new survey shows even more support than in the US – including from 61% of all Christians.

61% of Christians back equal rights for gay couples

Results of a poll released today say 61% of people in the UK who identify as Christian back fully equal rights for gay couples.

The 2011 Ipsos MORI study explored the “beliefs, knowledge and attitudes” of people who identified as Christian after the nationwide census last year.

74% of respondents said as Christians they thought religion should not have a special influence on public life.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Six in ten respondents, 61%, agreed that gays should have the same rights in all aspects of their lives as straight people.

Only 29% said they disapproved of sexual relationships between gays. Nearly half said they did not actively disapprove.

 – full report at  PinkNews.co.uk.

A word of caution here, is that the survey was sponsored by the explicitly secularist Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is using the results to demonstrate that the UK is a secular society, and not a “Christian country”. It does not appear to have released the full questionnaire or tables. The only results currently available are those selected for inclusion in the press release by the Foundation. In particular, the description “Christian” appears to be used for those who describe themselves as such – many of whom do not actively practice their religion.

There is no reason to disregard the main thrust of the finding though, which is in agreement with what previous research is available. British opinion is firmly on the side of LGBT inclusion – and that includes those who think of themselves Christian.

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A Conservative, Christian Case for Gay Adoption.

The core element in this argument is familiar: adoption by same sex couples should be permitted, “because the best interests of the child” means the best parents available – not some theoretical, ideal myth. Sometimes the best available just happen to be gay or lesbian. What is different about this is that the argument comes from a declared conservative Christian, who makes no secret of her belief that homosexuality is a sin. But, she makes clear, as we are all sinners, her personal belief about the parents is no reason to act against the welfare of their children, to withhold standard courtesies and neighbourliness from the parents.
This argument needs to get through to all those (including too many Catholic bishops) who can see the issue of gay adoption only as a set of rules, and not as specific situations with real people. Fortunately though, this is happening. In the near future, I suspect, this response will be so mainstream as to be unremarkable.

From Blogher :

As a conservative Christian mom, I get looks whenever presumed “offensive” topics come into play. For instance, the “2 Gay Dad” issue. I like two shows with two gay dads and I also have a few gay friends who eventually will want to adopt. There’s this assumption I will be outraged and come flying out with my Bible to protest. I assure you, I am not waiting in the shadows ready to pop out with my judgments. Quite the contrary.


I’m never going to believe that homosexuality is not a sin, that’s my religious belief based on the Bible. However, just because someone is sinning, does not mean they are not going to provide a good home for a child who needs one. I also believe even well intentioned lies are a sin, yet I lie with “good intention” all the time. Does that make me a bad parent? In my eyes, parental sexuality isn’t something that should even come into play (unless GAY or STRAIGHT the parent is sexually inappropriate with a child – statistically more straight parents are). After all, many young people don’t even want to fathom their parents have sex, period. While I personally see a marriage as a union between man and wife, I still broke God’s law and got divorced. Did that mean I should have relinquished my parental role to a couple that is married and better Christians? Nope.
While a few amused acquaintances may wonder whether I will lead an outcry against gay parenting, they are wasting their time. I can’t say it should be illegal for single parents, gay parents, etc to adopt because it’s not about the parent, it’s about the child. I think anyone who will raise their child in a good home to be a productive member of society should have the legal opportunity to adopt. This is the land of the FREE. And while I have the ideal that I would like all kids to be raised in Christian homes, because I am Christian, that doesn’t give me the right to stop people from taking children off the streets who don’t fit my religious-based ideal. Many probably don’t think I am ideal. Legally, good parents should be able to adopt if they can prove they will provide a safe and loving home. We need people willing to save abused, foster, unplanned and needy children from what could be a very hard and sad life!
If I want to be a good Christian and demonstrate how awesome my faith is, the answer is to be a kind friend to gay parents in my community. Their children are always invited to birthday parties and play dates. They are always welcome in my church. Parenting tips, cooking ideas, and general social gatherings are opportunities for me to be an ambassador for my Christian faith to gay parents. After all, if I am a genuine Christian, I should act like one. I won’t be endorsing “gay promotion” in my children’s education, but I will be endorsing kindness to everyone. Because in the end, I am still going to believe that gay sex is a sin, but I understand we are all sinners and Christ expects me to be a positive witness to EVERYONE.

For a Queer Christmas – Send Gay / Lesbian Cards.

Advent begins this week, and with it the season for shopping.
For all Christians, this time of year can be difficult, with tension to negotiated, between Advent as a solemn season of preparation for the important Christian festival of Christmas, and the purely secular festive season leading up to the winter solstice, which marks the mid-point of winter’s darkness and gloom.
For Christian sexual minorities (including the many straight singles and childless couples) there is an additional difficulty – the relentless emphasis in both church and stores on children and family. Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love Blog has come up with an ingenious way to counter this. Send your friends gay or lesbian themed Nativity cards. Love, after all, makes a family.

(I like Kitt’s use of the term “Nativity” card – the word “Christmas” has been as much distorted and misused as the festival.)

Read her original post at Jesus in Love Blog, where she makes an important point: we must remember that in the traditional Nativity story, the biological details of the birth are extraordinary. Is the idea of a same sex couple procreating any more extraordinary than the Virgin birth?

To that, I would add the observation by the Catholic theologians Salzmann & Lawler, in “The Sexual Person”: procreation refers not only to the physical production of an infant, but also the the subsequent care and nurturing of the child.  Procreation by same-sex couples is not nearly as far-fetched as some people would have us believe.

Order your nativity cards from the ?Jesus in Love Card Shop?.

DC Bishop’s Christian Case for Gay Marriage.

In the ongoing brouhaha in DC over the forthcoming recognition of same gender marriages, with the rather odd position of the Catholic archdiocese that this will somehow force them to either become ineligible for the city’s contracts, or to compromise on their religious principles, it is great to see one bishop arguing from Christian principles and history that the archdiocese is, quite simply, dead wrong. The bishop in question is of the Episcopal  Diocese of Washington DC, John Bryson Chane (pictured below), who has a powerful commentary in the Washington Post.
Bishop John Chane of Washington
Here are some extracts, followed by my commentary:

A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage

Most media coverage of the D.C. Council’s steps toward civil marriage equality for same-sex couples has followed a worn-out script that gives the role of speaking for God to clergy who are opposed to equality. As the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, I would say respectfully to my fellow Christians that people who deny others the blessings they claim for themselves should not assume they speak for the Almighty.

(Hear, hear!)

And to journalists I would offer a short history of changing Christian understandings of the institution of marriage.

Christians have always argued about marriage. Jesus criticized the Mosaic law on divorce, saying “What God has joined together let no man separate.” But we don’t see clergy demanding that the city council make divorce illegal.

(The inconsistency, and differential treatment of gay and other noncomforming Catholics, is breathtaking)

Some conservative Christian leaders claim that their understanding of marriage is central to Christian teaching. How do they square that claim with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that marriage is an inferior state, one reserved for people who are not able to stay singly celibate and resist the temptation to fornication?
As historian Stephanie Coontz points out, the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215. The church embraced many of the assumptions of the patriarchal culture, in which women and marriageable children were assets to be controlled and exploited to the advantage of the man who headed their household.
To see just how far this understanding has changed, note alongside the statement that “the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215”, John Boswell’s observation (in Same – sex Inions in Pre-Modern Europe) that for many centuries during this same period, the only people for whom it was required to consecrate their marriage in church, were the priests.

The theology of marriage was heavily influenced by economic and legal considerations; it emphasized procreation, and spoke only secondarily of the “mutual consolation of the spouses.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the relationship of the spouses assumed new importance, as the church came to understand that marriage was a profoundly spiritual relationship in which partners experienced, through mutual affection and self-sacrifice, the unconditional love of God.

“In the 19th and 20th centuries”. That is the full extent of the time that our modern understanding of the institution of marriage has been dominant!  So-called “traditional” marriage is a modern invention.

The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: “We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.”
Our evolving understanding of what marriage is leads, of necessity, to a re-examination of who it is for. Most Christian denominations no longer teach that all sex acts must be open to the possibility of procreation, and therefore contraception is permitted. Nor do they hold that infertility precludes marriage. The church has deepened its understanding of the way in which faithful couples experience and embody the love of the creator for creation. In so doing, it has put itself in a position to consider whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Theologically, therefore, Christian support for same-sex marriage is not a dramatic break with tradition, but a recognition that the church’s understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over 2,000 years.
I have been addressing the sound theological foundation for a new religious understanding of marriage, because it disturbs me greatly to see opposition to marriage for same-sex couples portrayed as the only genuinely religious or Christian position. I am somewhat awed by the breadth of religious belief and life experience reflected among more than 200 clergy colleagues who are publicly supporting marriage equality in D.C. But it’s important to emphasize that the actions taken by the D.C. Council do not address the religious meaning of marriage at all. The proposed legislation would not force any congregation to change its religious teachings or bless any couple. Our current laws do not force any denomination to offer religious blessing to second marriages, yet those marriages, like interfaith marriages, are equal in the sight of the law even though some churches do not consider them religiously valid.
Existing laws require religious organizations that receive public funding to extend the same benefits to gay employees as to straight ones. In many instances, that includes health care for spouses. This has led some religious leaders, who believe same-sex marriage to be sinful, to threaten to get out of the social service business. I respect these individuals’ right to their convictions, but I do not follow their logic. The Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that remarriage without an annulment is sinful, yet it has not campaigned against extending health benefits to such couples. Additionally, several Catholic dioceses in states that permit same-sex marriage have found a way to accommodate themselves to such laws.
D.C.’s proposed marriage equality law explicitly protects the religious liberty of those who believe that God’s love can be reflected in the loving commitment between two people of the same sex and of those who do not find God there. This is as it should be in a society so deeply rooted in the principles of religious freedom and equality under the law.

And Amen to that.

I love what professor Christine Gudorf, a lay theologian and an internationally known scholar teaching at The International University in Miami, calls a “bracing walk in history” to make sense of the contradictions and nonsense often encountered in modern discussion of religion, especially Catholic religion. Far too much of what passes for “comment” simply amounts to tired repetition of  old mantras about blind obedience to the “authoritative” teaching of Holy Mother Church, with the associated assumptions that this has been fixed and unchanging over 200 years.   Any tour through history, even just a cursory stroll, shows how obviously false that assumption is.  Teaching has constantly changed, has seldom been uniform, has often been wrong, and will surely continue to change, just as it is in fact constantly changing imperceptibly under our nose right now. These changes have affected not only our understanding of marriage and sexuality, but also of the nature of authority itself, on teh importance, power and role of the papacy, on priestly celibacy, on the role of the laity, on lay access to Scripture and theology, and to the well – known examples of usury, slavery, the subjugation of women, and to the findings of science.  as I noted when I first wrote encountered and wrote about Professor Gudof’s useful phrase, this change through history has affected even the subject of abortion, on which the church position today appears so clear and solid. Just as teaching has evolved steadily over the centuries, we should expect that it will continue to evolve over the years to come.

One of the ways in which this process of change comes about, is through ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit, by reflection on the reality we see around us, by reading the signs of the times, and by taking account of the findings of modern science and new scholarship. We should note therefore the strong research evidence that much of the less savoury aspects of the popular stereotype of the so-called “gay life-style” are a result of social stigma and the impossibility of socially recognised unions. Modern evidence from Netherlands, where full marriage has been available for some years, is that same sex partnerships have become more stable and more faithful since then. Boswell also notes that in the classical world where gay marriage was legal and gay partnerships commonplace, that many people believed that such partnerships were more faithful and deeper in affection than conventional, opposite gender marriages. The conclusion is obvious. In addition to the theological points raised by Bishop Chane, there is a simple, practical one. To reduce the unsavoury “gay lifestyle”, work for gay marriage.

(Read the full commentary at the Wild Reed, , where I first saw it reported,  or at the  Washington Post. )

See also:

Recommended Books:

Bray, Alan: The Friend

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Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Church debate on full inclusion for lesbian, gay and trans Christians has become commonplace in the US mainline Protestant denominations, and in some European churches. A few denominations already ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors in commited, monogamous relationships, or are engaged in regular debates on moving towards that goal. Others already provide for either full church weddings for same-sex couples (where local laws allow it), or accept church blessings.  Among these denominations, it is becoming ever clearer that full inclusion, for both marriage and ordination regulations, will soon become widely accepted, if not (yet) universal.

It is less well-known, but is slowly becoming evident, that a similar process has also begun in other more surprising denominations.

Toby Huckaby’s address on gay inclusion to a Catholic college is just one sign of the increasing debate in the Catholic Church, as is the number of bishops who have followed Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna in quietly asking for a rethink, or at least a more compassionate approach – and are not being repudiated.  A recent panel discussion in Utah is another indicator that churchmen and women are questioning the old assumption across a wide front. A report on this broadly based rethink at CNN has drawn my attention to yet more evidence that this new open-mindedness is also having an impact elsewhere, in some evangelical circles:

In Denver, an evangelical Christian pastor has split with his former church and started his own evangelical church that fully welcomes gays as worshipers and leaders.

The Rev. Mark Tidd says he does not see a discrepancy between the Bible and accepting members of the homosexual community.

“There’s times when we change how we approach scripture because we observe how God is making God’s self known in creation,” he said.  “We don’t consider it a sin to be gay and we don’t consider it a sin if you are gay and seek a relationship which is the only natural one you can have which would be someone of the same gender.”

Video: Colorado candidates debate same-sex marriage issue

Lisa Crane and her husband Ryan left their more traditional evangelical church for Tidd’s church, and have no plans to go back.

“Do we ever worry like, ‘Oh God am I wrong about this?’ and ‘Am I going to get to heaven and God is going to be like – No, you weren’t supposed to let the gays serve communion!'” Lisa said.

“You know, I don’t think so. That doesn’t jibe with the Jesus that we learned about from the Bible”

-Read the full report

My answer to the “WWJD” question is simple: there is no need to consider what Jesus “would” have done. Just look at what in fact he did do.  His ministry was deeply characterised by His conspicuous outreach to the oppressed and marginalized of all kinds, whom he accepted on fully equal terms with all other disciples. He also quite deliberately agreed to cure the Centurion’s “servant”, and even to enter the Centurion’s home, even though there would have been at the very least a popular assumption that in keeping with common Roman military custom, the Centurion would have had a sexual relationship with this servant.

 

"And Grace Will Lead Me Home": A Conservative, Evangelical, Theological Case for Gay Marriage

There are, thankfully, many sources available today which can counter and debunk the infamous clobber texts which have for so long been used abused in the course of bigotry and exclusion. There are also an increasing number of progressive theologians who have thoughtfully addressed considered matters from an LGBT or queer perspective, and developed a growing body of gay and lesbian, or queer, theology. What we do not often see is sympathetic theology from a conservative evangelical straight ally.
I was delighted therefore. to come across a recent paper by Dr Mark, Achtemeier, who describes himself as can “out, self-affirming, practicing conservative evangelical”, in which he tells of the process of theological enquiry which led him to reverse his longstanding opposition to LGBT inclusion, and instead to argue in favour of same –sex marriage and ordination. Addressing the Covenant Network of Presbyterians on November 5 2009, Dr Achtermeier begins cautiously:
I have every confidence in the ability of my colleagues to address this discussion with genuine wisdom and deep insight. For myself I confess the topic makes me nervous. The reason is this: if you had told me just eight or nine years ago that on this date I would be standing before this group, speaking out in favor of marriage and ordination for lesbian and gay Christians, I would have declared you out of your mind.
But here I am, and here you are. And all I can say is that because of this experience I have learned never to make confident predictions about any situation in which God is involved.

This point about God’s own involvement is crucial. A further key point, one which we as gay men, lesbian and trans people of faith would do well to a ponder carefully, was that the transition began when he started to speak with gay and lesbian Christians themselves, and came to see how false were the stereotypes and assumptions that he had previously taken for granted. God, he says, “had other plans” than his earlier equanimity, and led him to serious conversation and friendship with some gay Christians. Getting to know them, talking to them, showed how deeply his earlier assumptions had come out of reading only the authors he already agreed with, and was based on the popular stereotypes of gay people. Talking to these people, he says, was a surprising and unsettling experience, because he discovered that entirely against his preconceptions, he found that these people shared a deep Christian faith similar to his own, who were willing to engage with him in frank and conversation in spite of their knowledge of his own deep opposition. He then found how his earlier “comfortable settled convictions started to crack”.
These false assumptions were:
  • Homosexuality is a destructive addiction – which means that talk of “justice” , “rights”, or “compassion” are meaningless.
  • Homosexuals are self-indulgent, putting their own self-gratification above all else
Instead, he found what is well known to us, and to any one who has looked at the research evidence. A same sex orientation is deep-seated in our make-up, not amenable to “change”, and that the people he was talking with were “devoted Christian believers, filled with grace and a loving concern for the downtrodden…and deeply engaged in spiritual discipline”: typical Christians, in fact, just like him. He was also surprised to find that they resembled him in another important respect – their lifelong commitments to partners.
One of the religious arguments against “homosexuals” is that such “acts” are said to lead us away from God. Talking to real people showed Achtemeier how by focussing instead on the relationships, he discovered that these were leading people not away from God, but to Him – in exactly the same way that he believed his own marriage drew him closer to God.
However, he also faces the fact, uncomfortable for evangelicals with a strict respect for Scripture, that he is, or may be, putting experience ahead of scripture. Struggling with this, he remembered a story from Augustine, who quotes from I John 2:6, that we should “walk in the way of the Lord” – and then refers to the celebrated passage in which the Lord walked on water. Quite clearly, it is not possible to accept every text precisely literally. He then concludes that what he is doing, in reflecting on his experience, is not putting above Scripture, but using it to interpret Scripture.
Looking again at Scripture, he found a powerful Scriptural basis to argue in favour of marriage equality. In Genesis 2, God says “It is not God for man to be alone. I will give him a companion to help him.”
This leads him to an extended discussion of the standard Calvinist theology against celibacy. (This is based on the idea from Paul that although celibacy is an ideal for those who are able to practice it, most people are unable to. To protect weaker men (which means most of us) from the sins that this inability will lead to, Paul encourages marriage). He recognises from his own life that living singly, before marriage, He realises that many of the stereotypes he has acquired of gay people are based on single people, deprived of the opportunity of marriage.
This is an excellent, thought-provoking article, which deserves to be read in full (do so here), especially by other conservative evangelicals. However, they are unlikely to be reading “Queering the Church”, so I will restrict my comment to its significance for queer Christians – and especially my cp-religionists in the Catholic Church.
First, note the importance of conversation. Dr Achtermerier’s conversion would not have begun without the dialogue with gay Christians who were willing to engage with him in full frank and friendly conversation, even though they knew (to start with) that he was strongly opposed, on firm religious grounds, to everything they stood for. Yet they persevered, and in this case, won a valuable ally. (I am quite sure that not every conversation results in a conversion. There will be many disappointments. The perseverance in the face of other setbacks is what makes the achievement of Dr Achtermeier’s friends especially notable.)
To get these conversations going, the “welcoming and affirming” programme now found in several denominations (such as the Presbyterian Moe Light churches) are invaluable.
In the Catholic church, opportunities for such interaction with Catholic decision makers are limited – Catholic bishops are not renowned for their skills a the “listening church” they proclaim themselves to be. However, there are opportunities to talk one to one with ordinary Catholics in conventional congregations, and with local parish priests. Mark Jordan “The Silence of Sodom” warns against the futility of trying to argue rationally with the institutional Church, and he is right. But it is certainly possible to talk rationally with ordinary Catholics, and often with the local priest as well,
This is why dedicated, explicitly queer congregations such as London’s Soho Masses are not enough. There have enormous value, as moral and emotional support for those who are just beginning to face the facts of their situation in the institutional Church, as support and spiritual sustenance for those of us who have moved on to advance the struggle by other means, and for their symbolic value. But they do nothing to change the perceptions of ordinary Catholics, in ordinary congregations. For that, we also need people to participate in local parishes, to become visible, and to engage in frank conversations with their new co-parishioners.
Secondly, note that we are not alone in this. Early in his address, Fr Achetemeier refers to God’s role in moving his ideas along “God had other ideas”). As Catholics, we tend to be less aware of this than the Protestants, but it is an important point. Fr John McNeill has repeatedly reminded us that the Holy Spirit has a way of turning te most unpromising circumstance to her advantage, and my be doing now, with the abundant evidence of clerical failings all around us. He is right.
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