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The Top 5 Questions Asked By Opponents of LGBT Inclusion in the Church

9/23

In my 30 years as an advocate for God’s love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, I’ve had countless conversations with those who think differently from me about God, Scripture and the place of LGBT faithful in the church.

Throughout these years, I’ve heard, read, and have been asked many of the same questions – and by a wide variety of people.  Today, I share with you the five questions I most commonly hear, as well as my answers to them.  I do this in the hopes that others share their responses as well and we continue to learn from each other.

Question 1: “How can you ignore the clear meaning of Scripture and all of Christian tradition that says same sex love is a sin?”

Christian history is a flowing stream of new insight. Our understanding and interpretation of Scripture has changed over time, and continues to change, as our understanding of the world God has made for us expands.

For instance, there are single Bible verses, such as “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything,” (Colossians 3:22), that have been used in our history to justify acts now considered repulsive – like slavery or forcing women to remain silent in church.  As we learn, we grow, and our understanding and interpretation of Scripture changes.

We should take solace that our knowledge of God is always being reformed through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  And the fountain from which new inspiration springs is the dialogue between our different interpretations of Scripture.  There have always been and always will be disagreement in the church about what the Bible means.  Some Christians read the Bible as saying same sex love is a sin.  Other Christians read the stories of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18-2 Samuel 1) and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) as affirmation of gay men and therefore a foundation for including LGBT people within God’s love.

I choose to participate in the full life of Christian history, sharing the inspiration the Holy Spirit gives to me.  And since Scripture teaches me that Jesus has drawn all people to Himself (John 12:32), I therefore see God’s embrace of LGBT people as the clear meaning of Scripture and the present culmination of the whole arc of Christian history.

Question 2:  “How can you be sure that you aren’t just making stuff up to justify something that is culturally trendy?”

That I actually perceive God correctly and am doing God’s will is a matter of faith.   This is true for every single one of us, regardless of our interpretation of Scripture.  Christians live by faith in Jesus’ love, not by certainty (we need only look at the state of the world to know we live by faith in God’s love).

This being said, we have good direction on how we know whether we are doing Jesus’ will (culturally trendy or not).  He said, “You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16).”  And Paul outlines the best fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self control (Galatians 5:22).”  Nurturing these virtues everywhere I can assures me that I am doing God’s will, and not making stuff up to be culturally trendy.

Experience has taught me that God’s inspiration can come from an infinite number of messengers, including both Scripture and culture.  So what I give myself to, as a Christian, is to begin every day committed to love God and my neighbor and to be as attuned to the Holy Spirit as I possibly can in order to know how to do that.

Question 3:  “Don’t all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people violate the Biblical requirement of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman?”

In the Bible story of creation, God declares everything good, until this moment: “Then the Lord said, ‘It is not good that man should live alone; I will make him a helper as his partner (Genesis 2:18).’” There is nothing in Scripture that requires who this companion will be. In fact, the whole of Scripture (including the apostle Paul) looks upon women as the subservient property of the husband (and most of the time with full acceptance of owning multiple wives).  Marriage in ancient Hebrew and Greek meant the man taking the woman as his property. This actually contrasts with our modern understanding of marriage, which is based on a commitment of love between equally mature and willing adults.

We have the testimony of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who tell us that God has bound them to a person of the same sex as their partner for life.  And we have seen the marvelous fruits of the lives of these believers who contribute to their families and communities with greater power and joy because of the loving partner who is at their side.

LGBT people in loving partnerships have all the qualities that we value in marriage.  These qualities are the essence of fidelity in marriage espoused by Scripture.  And let us not forget Jesus’ warning, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9).”  Again, with no stipulation as to whom God has joined.

Question 4:  “How can any Christian, in good conscience, engage in or condone sexual practices that are both unnatural and dangerous?”

I see the line between safety and danger running through the lives of all people, not between straight people on one side and LGBT people on the other.  All sexual activity includes inherent possibilities of danger.  The best protection against these dangers is to engage in sexual activity after there is intimacy on other important levels of life – to be assured of mutual love and consent between mature adults.  This holds for all couples.

For those who shun and make outcasts of LGBT people, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  A son or daughter will come out as LGBT in some communities and be met by an environment that is hostile.  They watch as their family and church ties get severed.  Their moral support structure – that which guides the making of good moral choices – disappears and they are left to navigate the world on their own.  Some who are lucky find a community that is open and affirming and can prosper, while others do not find moral support and wind up making a series of bad decisions.

Now imagine for a moment if more people in our communities and in the church were welcoming and affirming of LGBT people.  If instead of shunning and turning their backs on their child or neighbor, they could continue to encourage good, safe, moral choices that also allowed them to be who they were before God.  The outcome, and our world, would be wonderfully different: safe and overall better for it.

Question 5:  “How can you dismiss the way Jesus can heal people who suffer from an affliction like alcoholism or same sex attraction?”

No Christian would deny that Jesus healed those who suffered from affliction. What I dismiss is the assumption that same sex love is an affliction. I do this because I trust the witness, in word and deed, of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians and of those who know their love and gifts.

Sadly, I know many LGBT people who began their understanding of themselves where tradition and religion taught them: They believe for years that they are defective, sinful and need to be healed.  They beg Jesus for that healing for years.  And His answer to them is that they are whole and good as they are.  Period.  Their souls have been tried in the refiner’s fire and I trust their discernment of God’s will. The goodness of their lives since accepting God’s love shows they are right.

Yet, some in our society try to “heal” these children of God through reparative therapy (efforts to change LGBT people to being “straight”).  They hold up a very small select few as examples of “success” and don’t like to discuss the damage done to so many others.  The hurt that is inflicted by those programs is an egregious assault on the souls of the LGBT people who go through them. They need to be stopped.

Yes, Jesus can heal people of their afflictions – but if there is no affliction then there is no need of healing.

Finally, I must comment on the equation that some try to make between alcoholism and being born gay which disturbs me greatly.  My mother was an alcoholic.  She died well before her time from throat cancer related to drinking and smoking.  Alcoholism is a terrible, deadly progressive disease that affects one’s own body, mind and spirit.  As the disease consumes the alcoholic’s attention, it also eats away at the relationships with all who love them.  For those who live openly and honestly as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the damage to body, mind and soul comes from outside, not from within.  It comes from those that shun, cast away, and turn their backs on their family, friends or neighbors who have the courage to come out.  Trying to equate the two demonstrates a misunderstanding of both.

Thanks in advance to those who share their own answers to these, and to those who sincerely ask these questions and honestly comment on my answers.

Peace,

Reverend Janet Edwards

[You can also find this crossposted at the Huffington Post]


25 Responses
  • Jean Thomas on September 23, 2011

    Very thoughtful answers to the five questions
    jean

  • Janet Edwards on September 23, 2011

    Dear Jean,

    Thanks!

    I am eager to hear what you and others might say to these same questions or for those who have these questions to reflect upon my answers.

    Perhaps you could begin, Jean.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 24, 2011

    Janet,

    Thanks for a heartfelt, compassionate piece…

    There is one thing I would like to comment on: “Their souls have been tried in the refiner’s fire and I trust their discernment of God’s will.”

    Sometimes the refiner’s fire in addition to a negative environment is far too much to bear, and yet, I would say, from my own experience, that the human inability to love GLBT people does damage (where the refiner’s fire causes growth) and has no part in God’s plan.

    Thanks…

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 24, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    You are very welcome–I am really glad you picked up my passion through this!

    And your point about the harm done by “a negative environment” for LGBT people” or, in other words, “the human inability to love LGBT people” on the part of some is well taken. I don’t think I meant that as the “refiner’s fire.”

    What I think I meant is the internal, spiritual process LGBT Christians go through to move from the condemnation tradition has taught to the deep, personal knowledge of God’s love to which they cling regardless of the hurtful things others are shouting at them. Even for LGBT Christians who learned in Sunday School that Jesus loves all the children of the world, there is a spiritual struggle through the judgment to arrive at faith in God’s sustaining love.

    That journey is what I am calling “the refiner’s fire.” I think it is one reason there is such a high level of spirituality (Christian or otherwise) in the LGBT community. From my experience, it also explains why LGBT Christians have such a mature faith in Christ and solid discernment of the moving of the Holy Spirit.

    I am very interested in how this corresponds to your experience and I thank you now, Donna, for your response.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 24, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    Thanks…no, I wasn’t saying that the “refiner’s fire” is the same as a “negative environment” and do see the refiner’s fire as you describe here as a spiritual journey with God.

    As for my experience, I know what God’s answer was to me: you are as I have made you. It’s what I cling to despite church teachings, despite society’s “negative environment(s),” despite family prejudices.

    Thank you,

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 25, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Back at you with thanks for your clarification.

    And, Donna, I would love to have your answer to the question concerning your sense of God’s word to you, that you are as God made you. How do you know that this is more than justification of what is “culturally trendy?”

    I am hopeful that you will find your way to sharing your answer here.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 25, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    That’s easy…because it came at a time when it wasn’t culturally trendy to be gay: 1984, and it came as an answer to prayer, which was prayer begging God to fix me or heal me. And we’re not talking about simple “Jesus, please fix me,” prayers. We’re talking fundamentalist Christian, Spirit-filled prayer that lasted for hours each night for weeks, in my dorm room. Fervent on your knees prayer.

    My coming out was late – I was 19 years old – and it was both a relief and a burden. It was a burden because according to my religious beliefs, my salvation was in jeopardy. It was a relief because I had an answer to why I was different. The tendencies were there and various incidents throughout my high school years, but I was oblivious to what being gay really meant.

    God’s answer to my prayers, as impressed on my heart, was not a relief given my religious beliefs and my seeking to be healed. I was always taught that when God speaks to you, the way you verify it is by the Bible, because God doesn’t contradict Himself. Well, it’s obvious the problem that posed for me.

    My nature is to study, and that’s what I did: Biblically and about being gay. I don’t need to tell you that in 1984 there wasn’t a plethora of positive information available in either area.

    The result was a painful departure from my church and staying away from Christian community for 19 years, all the while knowing and relying on the answer God gave me and keeping my faith intact on an individual basis. Returning to Christian Community through MCC healed the church wound, and in 2003 for the first time I began hearing that I could be gay in Christ.

    What I see now when I study the Bible is that there IS verification for God’s answer, by God’s ever inclusive action throughout the history of the Bible, culminating in the irreversible bridge to salvation through Jesus Christ – a legacy given to all.

    Culturally trendy? Not for me, not when I came out in the early 1980s.

    I think this issue requires that kind of fervent prayer, that honest seeking for an answer from God, which is why I offer it as a solution to bringing the church together. Regardless of which side of the fence someone is on, the answer will come if earnestly sought. The question is, if it is the same answer I received, can we, can the church accept it?

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 27, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    What a gift you have given to us, sharing some of your story with us–Thank you!

    The question about being culturally trendy, which I have received often, suggests an underlying misunderstanding of what it is like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or how difficult it is to come to grips with being different from the expected norm. No one chooses to be gay in order to be trendy even today which is so different in some good ways from 1984 in many places. Not in all, of course.

    You do prompt a question for me, Donna. In your knowledge of God, could God give you the answer you received and another person receive a different answer, both being from the Triune God? Is that possible or not? Why?

    I look forward to your thoughtful response. And perhaps to a word from others.

    Peace, Janet

  • Frank on September 27, 2011

    Hello Janet,

    You’ve obviously had time to hone your arguments.

    I have a couple of questions for you that might not be among the most frequently asked, but you might want to consider for future additional refutation.

    1) Do you believe that those that don’t share your opinion think that God does not love GLBT people? Please don’t repeat the oft cited platitude of “love the sinner, hate the sin” expressed by some. I really just want to know if you believe it’s actually possible to come to a different conclusion than yours and not be a prejudiced person and show loving kindness as Jesus showed.

    2) Have you ever had an opportunity to discuss at length some of the objections you have to a more traditional reading of scripture with a mature, trained theologian that does not share your view? They are out there you know. In all of your answers to the 5 questions it seems you are basically doing theology, so this is why I ask. Unfortunately I find that many of the instances you cite regarding previous understandings of scripture that we now find unacceptable to be misleading. When you talk about the ancient Greeks and Hebrews viewing wives as property, but we are smarter now than they were then, I think it again either misses or misrepresents the whole picture. It is not the case, for example that only in recent history do we see marriage described as a partnership. From the beginning the church is referred to as Christ’s bride. When the church was referred to in this way does it mean that it was understood by those following Christ that the church was “owned” by Jesus, as though it were his property? If so why does Jesus say that he “loves” his bride? Should we take this to mean that he loves his property? Jesus opened this new paradigm to his followers. It is not the case that this is a relatively recent understanding. This is what I mean by subtle misrepresentation, or not telling the whole story in order to buttress our particular beliefs.

    Also, For example you state: “Some Christians read the Bible as saying same sex love is a sin.” as a way perhaps, to cast conservative Christians in a bad light, or to caricature their position. No one, I repeat, no one claims that same sex love is a sin. Using the phrase “same sex love” in the way some people understand it is redundant. If I distinguish the word “love” as eros, then the phrase would be properly understood as- same sex sex. If I use the word “love” as phileo, then same sex love is non-controversial. I can have same sex love, for my brother, or my friend. These are subtleties of language that can either bring light to bear or misrepresent peoples positions or what it is we are talking about.

    There are also certain potential risks when citing examples like slavery as support for why we are now much more enlightened. One danger would be the committing of the logical fallacy known as the law of undistributed middle. When 2 sets of issues or 2 paradigms have some things in common, we can’t therefore make the leap and say that they therefore have everything in common. Saying we were wrong then, therefore we are necessarily wrong now does not compute. It doesn’t follow logically. It would be like saying Islam has Jihadists that kill in the name of their religion, and God raised up Joshua and armies to kill as well, therefore Islam and Christianity are basically the same thing and there is no difference between the two. Are Christianity and Islam basically the same thing? Elephants have ears, I have ears, therefore I am an elephant. This is the kind of logic that I’m referring to and that is being proposed. Also, the slavery issue had a completely different meaning than the one people generally think of when they think of slavery today. People then often voluntarily entered into slavery as a means of paying off a debt. Being a slave then was much closer to an employer/employee relationship than it is to an American civil war type model of slavery. I’m sure you’re aware of this. But it’s a bad analogy posing as a good one that misleads in order to draw the conclusions one prefers.

    Janet, I think your biggest challenge in trying to keep opposing views within the PCUSA together and living in unity is not to make apologetic arguments for liberal/progressive religion or views. Rather your biggest challenge is to dispel the mistrust of the minority within your denomination. The mistrust is not without foundation. This goes back a very long way. I’m thinking as a Presbyterian you must have read Christianity and Liberalism by the theologian, J. Gresham Machen. His book dates back to Old Princeton of the early 20th century, and it reads almost prophetic or prescient when compared to what is happening presently. His departure was, I believe one of the first big break-offs from the larger denomination. Machen’s problem was not so much that he disagreed with his liberal counterparts (which he did, greatly), but rather that the liberals were not being open and honest in their disagreements. Suspicion subsequently made unity impossible, as things like integrity and truth were sacrificed at the liberal altar. There is a lot of talk back and forth about truth these days, but if you can’t recognize the difference between truth and deception there is no hope for reconciliation. I actually think the PCUSA probably should go completely liberal. If the liberal church didn’t exist where would liberal people go if they simply and honestly understood the biblical narrative differently? I can grant honest differences. What I can’t grant is deception. The PCUSA has for a long time basically operated as two separate churches. If you really want to try to maintain some last vestige of unity you have quite the task before you.

  • Donna on September 27, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    To answer your question, I don’t know. I don’t know of anyone who ever prayed for God to heal them of being straight, whole, white, male, rich…or that anyone of what is considered the norm or of privilege would pray to be GLBT, physically challenged, black (or any race other than white), female, or poor.

    One instance I can think of where someone might receive a different answer from God is when a person is transgendered. I can only surmise that transgendered people might experience deep prayer about why they were born into the bodies they were born into. I can’t say that I would presume to know how God answers a transgendered person, but it seems to me, from people’s stories I’ve heard, that God affirms who they are (female in a body, male in a female body) on a spiritual level, not the physical. It would be better for a transgendered person to answer this…

    My prayer and God’s answer had nothing to do with the physical, but the spiritual, the intangible.

    Otherwise I think the answer to your question is: God’s answer depends on the person and the prayer, and the relationship between God and that person.

    Donna

  • Donna on September 27, 2011

    Hi Frank!

    Donna

  • Frank on September 28, 2011

    Hi Donna,

    hope you are well.

  • Janet Edwards on September 28, 2011

    Dear Frank,

    Good to hear from you, Frank. You clearly have many thoughts on these matters as well. Thanks for sharing them with us. I hope others are inspired to respond as well.

    With regard to judging LGBT people as sinners(which is, I think, an accurate description of people who disagree with me) and loving them at the same time, I do think holding those two things together (judgment and love) is a paradox that is God’s alone to sustain. Human judging other humans as a group of people is not a loving act, in my experience and opinion. The LGBT people I know do not receive that judgment as loving.

    At the same time, it is possible to look down upon another person (another way to say judge, I think) and show lovingkindness to that person. I see conservative Christians working at this now in connection with LGBT people. I would take as a useful analogy the way some slave owners treated their slaves or whites treated blacks under segregation. It is very possible to be loving to a person one devalues. No analogy is perfect; they can be helpful.

    I do think the correspondence between the shift in Christian interpretation of the verses that were used to support chattel slavery in the USA (your reminder that slavery in the Bible was sometimes different from the American practice is a part of that shift) and the shift that we are witnessing in our interpretation of the verses that have been used to judge LGBT people, as well as the exploration of the great themes of Scripture that support inclusion, is helpful. It shows we can change in our understanding.

    You are right, I think, that the image of Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as the bride can indicate a mutual love and respect that goes beyond the prevalent understanding in Scripture of marriage as the man taking the wife as property. Similar images of God as the husband and the people of Israel as the bride in the prophets hint at the same thing and, for me, planted the seeds for our present concept of marriage as mutual love between mature, equal adults. This is why I use the phrase “for the most part.”

    The Scriptural foundation for mutual love in marriage that you highlight gives Scriptural support, in my view, for mutual covenantal love between two men or two women. After all, neither God nor the church actually have a sex. The loving covenant is the central essence of the relationship.

    I also agree with you that distrust is a dynamic at work in the PCUSA that threatens the unity of the church and presents a huge challenge to us all. When you speak of “the mistrust of the minority in the church” I do not know who you mean or whether you mean the mistrust the minority holds or the mistrust the majority has toward the minority. I do not know what leads you to say that the liberals in the 20′s were not open and honest. I do know that openness and honesty are crucial now.

    For me, both of these are spiritual disciplines that I choose to practice with all I meet in the church and the world, including those who disagree with me, like you. So I refrain, as best I can, from putting anyone in a bad light or caricaturing anyone. You or others may read what I write as doing that. I do not think of myself as more enlightened or smarter than others now or in the past and it grieves me when anyone hears me as implying that.

    We just understand differently now than people thousands of years ago or even now. Nothing in Scripture or tradition tells me that we must think the same. We must believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and seek to serve Him in community, inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is why unity is important.

    I am allowed to say what Scripture teaches me and what I am inspired to believe. And I cherish conversation with others about things that are important to me because they have to do with God and God’s will for us. I am grateful for your willingness to do that and thank you now for your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on September 28, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks again, Donna!

    Yet again, you have given us much food for thought.

    Let me ask you and those reading another question. Is it possible that God tells you that God made you good as you are, a lesbian, and also tells another person that lesbians are a distortion of the good human created by God. Can both those answers to prayer co-exist as truly from God?

    I hope the asking is okay with you because your answer is important to me and I hope we hear back from you.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 28, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    That’s not an easy question to answer, and I want to respond anywhere from “Yes, because it’s already happened,” to

    “No, that’s not the nature of God,” to “Why do you want to know,” to “I don’t know, you tell me…” to the most

    ungratifying answer of all: “God does what He does for His own reasons.”

    Here instead is my very long answer:

    Because we cannot know God’s thoughts, I believe with all my heart that it depends on the integrity of the believer and the intent of the prayer, and how truly yielding we are to God’s guidance, versus what we think is right or how we believe God should answer.

    Consider that I was a born-again fundamentalist young woman praying to God about what I knew to be a fearful, sinful reality. I was deeply troubled about it because everything I was ever taught said that being gay is wrong, bad, sinful. My prayer was for healing because if I was this horrible abomination before God, I wanted my relationship with God to be right and pure, and I wanted God’s help to change myself or a cure to come from Him.

    Now I can’t say why God’s answer to me was what it was. As I said, it was not a relief, and instead puzzled me.

    But, you would think that given all of the alleged evidence in the Bible against homosexuality, God’s answer should have been either “You’re an abomination to Me,” or something similar, evening a shunning, or perhaps even scriptural illumination, or a miraculous cure. It was not. God answered about Himself: I made you as you are. Having studied Job more deeply recently, I can see where it’s an answer consistent with the character of the Almighty. It’s also consistent with God’s voice in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus in the Gospels. Who are we to question what God has done?

    So, the intent of my prayer was to be pure before God – asking God to heal me or to fix me so that I could be pure – and it was answered by God with “I made you as you are… There is nothing broken that needs to be fixed. There is nothing in you in need of healing.” It wasn’t a license to go out and live a raucous, promiscuous life. God knew my heart. It was an affirmation that my relationship with God was pure regardless of my sexuality, because I cared deeply about my relationship with Him and my state of salvation.

    Can God give someone else a different answer? It’s not my place to judge what people say they receive from God, but I do believe it should be consistent with God’s movement toward humanity and His covenant: the Ten Commandments.

    God asks us to be vulnerable with Him and with each other, in love. If someone says they prayed in that sense of yielded vulnerability, and God told them being gay is an abomination, I would have to accept that as true.

    Can we accept two truths from God? In Christ, we can, if we can be vulnerable enough to God and to each other to agree that we all are focusing on spiritual unity in God and not on human differences.

    Donna

  • Donna on September 28, 2011

    Hi Frank,

    I kind of get what you’re saying about trust here. Until both sides can be vulnerable with each other, they will remain at impasse. Also, I think the slavery example is a good one, because whether or not the original state of slavery was comparable to chattel slavery in America, the Bible’s authority was used to justify it. It could very well be that the meaning behind anti-gay passages in the Bible are in direct reference to same sex sexual gratification (lust) in or out of wedlock rather than what we are discussing today: exclusive same sex love within committed partnership.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on September 29, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Wow! Again you have blessed us with your articulate and honest sharing of your Christian experience and the lessons you have drawn from it.

    Thanks, Donna. I cannot add another thing. You have brought me to holy ground.

    Perhaps others have questions or comments.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on September 29, 2011

    Janet,

    Would we call God a liar otherwise?

    You’ll have to tell me why this was so important to you…

    Donna

  • Frank on September 29, 2011

    Janet,

    Thank you for your responses. Except you didn’t answer my second question. Perhaps you just overlooked it.

    Thank you though, for being very clear in my first question. You in fact do not believe it is possible for someone that disagrees with you to still be loving towards an LGBT person in anything other than a patronizing way. To suggest that my love for another person is the equivalent of the love a slave owner might feel for his slave or even his dog perhaps is truly condescending. Do you really know the hearts of others so intimately? I would ask you to reflect and ask yourself, who now is truly doing the judging?

    I say it not to be hyperbolic, but it is a fearsome thing to be in conversation with someone who judges, not my actions, but my heart. Do you believe these kinds of comments will really dispel mistrust?
    When Jesus looks at me he knows I am a sinner. Does this mean he looks down on me? Is his love for me only a patronizing love, or is it a complete love? If Jesus is our ultimate model for loving others despite their sin then why can I not love anyone at all despite their sin if I believe it to be sin?
    Janet, weigh your words carefully. Again, I don’t mean to be dramatic but if I were still a member of the PCUSA and we were in conversation, perhaps at a presbytery meeting or something, I would feel as though you had not only unfairly judged me publicly, but you also just robbed me of the right to love another human being. Do these words seem familiar? As I said, it is a fearsome thing. Again, I ask you to reflect. Aren’t these the very things that liberals accuse conservatives of?

    Peace, Chris

  • Janet Edwards on October 5, 2011

    Dear Frank/Chris,

    Thank you for your further comments, Frank.

    I know there are Christians in the church who, if they were asked, would tell you that they see LGBT people as sinners, and yet they don’t act on this judgment. They don’t look down at, push away, or act hostile towards LGBT people. I imagine that these Christians welcome LGBT people into the full life of the church and world even if, in their hearts, they feel that being LGBT is a sin.

    Perhaps your heart is like this, and you are right that only God knows.

    In my view, acting on this judgment, or equating this judgment with God’s judgment, is a very different matter.
    Taking this back to what you have said: I understand that I make a judgment of those who disagree with me, and especially those who act on it because I’ve seen what this kind of judgment does to LGBT people. It is not LGBT peoples’ thoughts or opinions that are being judged, but who God made them to be.

    That said, do you feel that I expressed my judgment at all until you asked for it? For me, it is irrelevant in my receiving you as a child of God who has a gift to give me from God. It is from that stance toward you that I engage with you and I hope you and others who disagree with me see that. 

I also hear from you that you felt condescended to when I honestly answered your question, Frank. And this places starkly before us the dynamic in the church that keeps us stuck, I think.

    I was honest in my answer to you and you felt hurt by what felt to you like condescension. Is your feeling my responsibility when the feeling was prompted by what you and I agree is needed in the church — honesty? For us to have honesty, we need to also own our feelings as our own. In other words, can you feel condescended to and continue the conversation about the heart of the matter: The nature of God´s love for LGBT people and really for all of us?

    Owning our own feelings is what LGBT Christians have come to. Otherwise we would all have gone elsewhere long ago (and, of course, many have gone from church altogether or to other more welcoming congregations). We would have turned away from those who equate their judgment of us with God´s judgment. We have accepted that our feelings are our feelings and continued the conversation. Is it possible for you to do the same thing? Do you agree that this is necessary if we are to have the honest conversation we must have in the church?

    As to your second question: I have listened long and hard to others in the church, many pastors, who hold the same convictions you do, Frank. If you consider them theologians than my answer to your question about whether I have engaged with theologians who differ from me is Yes. I also live in the same community as Dr. Robert Gagnon and have read his book as well as others who write from his point of view. I test my convictions by these conversations and this reading.

    I look forward to your reflections on all of this.

    Peace, Janet

  • Frank on October 18, 2011

    Janet,

    sorry for the Frank/Chris confusion.
    Chris is my middle name, but it’s the one I go by the most because my dad’s name was Frank and it was always just easier with close friends and family.
    If I ever contribute online somewhere I go formal and use Frank. So the secret’s out (big secret). It may seem odd but I think these kinds of interactions call for some discretion when participating online, and it’s not because I’m hiding anything. There are just too many horror stories out there, I feel, to be cavalierly identifying oneself fully. Getting caught up in the discussion I think I just reverted to what I would use informally. I consciously try to leave a very light internet footprint. I don’t blog or facebook and such. But I’m sure I’m kidding myself. My whole life is probably out there somewhere on the web, which is an appalling thought, but for what it’s worth, none of us really know each other on this blog or any other, and I really don’t know if anyone’s name here is real or not. It’s ideas we’re discussing, and those are real. I’ll stay with Frank, if you don’t mind, and I’ll try to follow up on your response at some point.

  • Janet Edwards on October 19, 2011

    Dear Frank,

    No apology needed–your clarification is helpful, of course.

    One reason I like cyberspace is that it is similar to a confessional where only what we say is really what is known.

    I am grateful for the ideas you bring here Frank because I know they are firmly held by you and by many. It is important for me to ponder upon them and discover where I stand.

    I await your further word.

    Peace, Janet

  • Frank on October 28, 2011

    Janet,

    You had mentioned that you thought that I was feeling hurt and condescended to.
    That’s not quite right. I do think that your comments were in fact condescending in the way they were stated. But I did not take on a feeling of hurt, because as you said, we are responsible for our own feelings, and at this point I’m not granting you that kind of power over me (not that you’d want it). I’m in agreement with you in that regard. Your comments were surprising though, in that the candor of your judgment, or perhaps your inability to see that a person could believe that someone is sinning and still love them seemed perplexing to me, especially coming from someone who is ostensibly of the clergy, and the Christian clergy at that. You are someone who should know that Jesus loved the sinner, and that includes both you and I. How can you teach less than that?

    I also probably misspoke when I’d said that you had robbed me of the right to love another person. You really aren’t able to do that. I should have said, your words were an (unsuccessful) effort to rob me of that right.

    And yes, I did ask for your opinion, and you were honest in giving it, which I thanked you for. In the same way, I do not neccesarily have an unbridled impulse to share my thoughts on homosexuality, unless a person in my church say, had asked for them. If I were asked I would have to be truthful and state that this was not what God intended for people. Perhaps we should go back to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after all.

    Janet, I realize that you, like others I’ve encountered in PCUSA circles, are for all intents unpersuadable. Your mind cannot be changed through any reasoning and you are completely dogmatic on this topic. If that is your conviction I can understand. It’s easy to change our opinions, but when we change our convictions we actually change ourselves. I feel that I’m honestly wrestling with this issue. That I can be moved through persuasion. I don’t sense that from you. You are obviously beyond that point. You seem to be at the point of seeking arguments from others for the sake of refuting them, which strikes me as rather disingenuous. So where do we go from here?

    I would suggest you take up a new thread or topic. That topic should be something like: “Why Unity?” or “How Do We Dispel Mistrust?,” or better yet, “How Do We Regain Trust In The PC(USA)?” Your goal seems unclear to me. Is it to change minds or is it to promote unity?

    Janet, I think you misread the “dynamic in the church that keeps us stuck.”
    I’ll close with this quote from J. Gresham Mechan, whom I’d mentioned before. Mechan was addressing certain particular issues of his day, but they weren’t really all that dissimilar and the ethical questions he raised were precisely the same ones I’ve personally seen played out in our day.

    This was written in 1923.

    “…A separation between the two parties in the Church is the crying need of the hour.

    Many indeed are seeking to avoid the separation. Why, they say, may not brethren dwell together in unity? The Church, we are told, has room for both liberals and for conservatives. The conservatives may be allowed to remain if they will keep trifling matters in the background and attend chiefly to “the weightier matters of the law.” And among the things designated as “trifling” is found the Cross of Christ, as a vicarious atonement for sin. p161

    p162
    …But for another reason also the effort to sink doctrinal differences and unite the Church on a program of Christian service is unsatisfactory. It is unsatisfactory because, in it’s usual contemporary form, it is dishonest. Whatever may be thought of Christian doctrine, it can hardly be denied that honesty is one of the “weightier matters of the law.” Yet honesty is being relinquished in wholesale fashion by the liberal party in many ecclesiastical bodies today.
    To recognize that fact one does not need to take sides at all with regard to the doctrinal or historical questions. Suppose it be true that devotion to a creed is a sign of narrowness or intolerance, suppose the Church ought to be founded upon devotion to the ideal of Jesus or upon the desire to put His spirit into operation in the world, and not at all upon a confession of faith with regard to His redeeming work. Even if all this were true, even if a creedal Church were an undesirable thing, it would still remain true that as a matter of fact many (indeed in spirit really all) evangelical churches are creedal churches, and if a man does not accept their creed he has no right to a place in their teaching ministry. the creedal character of the churches is differently expressed in the different evangelical bodies, but the example of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America may perhaps serve to illustrate what is meant. It is required of all officers in the Presbyterian Church, including the ministers, that at their ordination they make answer “plainly” to a series of questions which begins with the two following:
    “Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?”
    “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”
    If these “constitutional questions” do not fix clearly the creedal basis of the Presbyterian Church, it is difficult to see how any human language could possibly do so, Yet immediately after making such a solemn declaration, immediately after declaring that the Westminster Confession contains the system of doctrine taught in infallible Scripture, many ministers of the Presbyterian Church will proceed to decry that same Confession and that doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture to which they have just solemnly subscribed!
    We are not now speaking of the membership of the Church, but of the ministry, and we are not speaking of the person who is troubled by grave doubts and wonders whether with his doubts he can honestly continue his membership in the Church, For great hosts of such troubled souls the Church offers bountifully its fellowship and its aid; it would be a crime to cast them out. There are many men of little faith in our troubled times. It is not of them that we speak. God grant that they may obtain comfort and help through the ministrations of the Church!
    But we are speaking of men very different from these men of little faith–from these men who are troubled by doubts and are seeking earnestly for the truth. The men whom we mean are seeking not membership in the Church, but a place in the ministry, and they desire not to learn but to teach. They are not men who say, “I believe, help mine unbelief,” but men who are proud in the possession of the knowledge of this world, and seek a place in the ministry that is directly contrary to the Confession of Faith to which they subscribe. For that course of action various excuses are made–the growth of custom by which the constitutional questions are supposed to have become a dead letter, various mental reservations, various “interpretations” of the declaration (which of course means a complete reversal of the meaning). But no such excuse can change the essential fact. Whether it be desirable or not, the ordination declarations is part of the constitution of the Church. If a man can stand on that platform he may be an officer in the Presbyterian Church. And the case is no doubt essentially similar in other evangelical Churches. Whether we like it or not, these Churches are founded upon a creed; they are organized for the propagation of a message. If a man desire to combat that message instead of propagating it, he has no right, no matter how false the message may be, to gain a vantage ground for combating it by making a declaration of his faith which–be it plainly spoken–is not true.
    Honesty, despite all that can be said and done, is not a trifle, but one of the weightier matters of the law.”

    As I said Mechan was addressing particular issues in his day, chiefly the desire on the part of the liberals to minimize doctrinal clarity and move toward secular ideals. Sound familiar?

    The PC(USA) has a very long history of disarray and discord for precisely these kinds of examples of dishonesty and breaches of trust. As I’d mentioned I had seen blatant examples of it in my former church. I didn’t know much about polity or theology at that time, but I knew dishonesty and lack of integrity when I saw it. And if I was able to witness it in my one little suburban church, I can imagine that it happens throughout the denomination. With these kinds of goings on should anyone be surprised that people flee the PC(USA) in droves? We can kid ourselves by telling ourselves that it’s because people are uneducated or homophobic, but there are much bigger issues at stake.

    By the way, starting up a thread entitled “How Do We Regain Trust in the PC(USA)” would require an admission that the more liberal members of the Church had sinned greatly against those that are gone.

    Peace.

  • Janet Edwards on October 30, 2011

    Dear Frank,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. As ever, you are thought provoking and challenging in knowing how best to respond. I have a few words in response.

    First, I certainly agree that Jesus loves the sinner. What is then important to me is that we are not Jesus. We are human beings just like LGBT people who are to be judged by God with Jesus at their side not by us. We, as human beings, are to forgive, as Jesus teaches us.

    We know that all of us have sinned including LGBT people. The difference between you and me, as I see it, is that I accept the testimony of LGBT people that our relationships are not sinful while you find that they are. What is, then, to be done?

    If LGBT people’s actions are sinful Jesus teaches us to forgive them 70 times 7. If they are not sinful, as they claim, then ours is the sin for unjustly judging them. These are our options as human beings, as I see it. It is for this reason that a human’s claim to love the sinner while judging the sin is suspect for me. In our human loving, judging is not an option.

    Second, I get that you find me to be unpersuadable and completely dogmatic, as you say, “seeking arguments for the sake of refuting them.” It seems to me, Frank, that these are concerns only if the discussion is solely understood to be an argument with persuasion as its purpose.

    For more than twenty years my friend, Doug, and I had lunch together almost every month. We talked about church matters and always about the present concern about LGBT ordination. We always disagreed. Yes, I expect both of us wanted the other to be persuaded by our words. It never happened and yet I think both of us rose from the table with a sense of communion with another Christian and deeper affection. Persuasion was not the primary purpose then and is not mine now, as far as I know myself.

    Third, I am presently reading about the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of a century ago in which Machen was a leader. All agree that he was a separatist for whom purity was central. And the consequence of that approach was painfully clear as the seminary and Presbyterian group he founded splintered in his lifetime.

    I completely agree that trust has to be rebuilt in the PCUSA for it to survive. I am pretty certain that this trust can not be based upon subscription to one single understanding of Scripture and tradition. The heart of the matter, I think, is trust in God, that God has a future ready for us with all of us in one church.

    Out trust in one another arises from our trust in God–that God has put us together as God put my friend Doug and me together–and then we discover the Christ in the other person and almost delight in our disagreements. Does that make any sense to you?

    Peace, Janet

  • Frank on October 31, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    One last response to your latest reply and then I’ll let this one go and move on and you may have the final word.

    Your comment: “What is then important to me is that we are not Jesus. We are human beings just like LGBT people who are to be judged by God with Jesus at their side not by us. We, as human beings, are to forgive, as Jesus teaches us.”
    is interesting. It’s interesting because it reminds me of the many conversations I’d had in the past where people take the parts of the bible, or Jesus. that they like and reject the parts they don’t like so that they can have it both ways. People find their magic highlighter, proceed to keep all of the peace, love, and happiness parts, and then they pull out their magic Sharpie and cross out everything that they feel has to do with judgment or the wrath of God. I think it’s in the book of Romans where it says: “Behold, the goodness and severity of God.” I think in order to better understand God, one has to understand Him in his fullness and having both a good and severe aspect. When all we hear from the pulpit is about God’s love (which is very important) and never the wrath and judgment of God we create imbalances and caricatures which don’t reflect the whole picture contained in the biblical narrative.

    Could it be, Janet, that you are confusing judgment with spiritual discernment? Judgment, (at least the kind you always seem to be giving examples of) it seems has to do with condemning people to hell. I could never do that. Machen strongly opposed such a thing. He refused to say: This person is a true Christian, this one is not.” None of us has a handle on the eternal destiny of others, nor should we presume to believe we do.

    But discernment has to do with keying into the Holy Spirit and Holy Writ for the sake of the church and one’s personal holiness. The latter another concept long forgotten in the mainlines.

    I’m glad you are reading about the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the early 20th century. This is an area of interest of mine. I would suggest that rather than read “about” Machen, you should take in his own words and read them for yourself to be fair. First, you should know that Machen was no fundamentalist. He specifically could not agree with the fundamentalists because of their tendencies to reject scholarship. You also say that “he was a separatist for whom purity was central” as though it were a bad thing. If separation were always bad, then the United States would never exist (I don’t know,perhaps you do believe that our country existing is overall a bad thing?).

    Secondly, if purity equates to honesty then call me a purist. There is nothing more basic nor more critically essential than the notion that what a person says, they in fact really mean. Otherwise we either talk past each other with no common landing point, or we create opportunities for mischief and to mislead. Obfuscation and subterfuge are for the devil, not the people of God.

    Thirdly, you spoke of the goal of purity and it’s consequence of having a splintering effect. If splintering were the sign of dysfunctional organizations, the PC(USA) sets the gold standard. The Presbyterian Church of America, The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, New Wineskins, on and on. These organizations and more grew away from and out of the PC(USA). It may sound like I’m picking on the PC(USA), and I don’t want it to seem so. I know that your Church like mine and all others is filled with imperfect people. But spiritual discernment requires that we set our personal agendas aside and to hear and do what at times may seem counter-intuitive. The recent decision to amend the constitution of the PC(USA) was mostly a strongly emotional appeal. A case of special pleading. And in most cases, a strong emotional appeal is all most people need. But the intensely emotional and personal nature of the arguments are what cause me to wrestle with the issue, as well as the fact that I’ve known and been close to many gay people all my life. If people feel so strongly about it I owe it to myself to consider it deeply and pray earnestly for insight. A refusal to grant full inclusion into the ministry is emotionally counter-intuitive. It is not easy to take that position. But emotion cannot rule. If the arguments are unpersuasive and if they seem to contradict scripture and if I don’t get a clear response from God’s Holy Spirit to the contrary, then I have to go with my conviction and my best understanding. Just like your friend Doug. Would you call him bigoted or homophobic? Or perhaps unloving? Do you believe he is?

    Peace, Frank


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