Religious Freedom in Indiana – the new face of discrimination

Dear IndianaThe Governor of Indiana just signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (SB 101) that brings to mind the pre-civil rights movement segregated lunch counters. In the era of expanding civil rights for GLBT people, Indian’s altogether unnecessary “Restoration Act” turns back the clock on the right to discriminate.

This May six Presbyterian ministers, all former seminary classmates, will spend our annual five-day retreat in Indianapolis at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS), a religious leader in welcoming, inclusive, nondiscriminatory belief and practices. CTS understands Christian freedom as the freedom for which Christ has set them free: freedom to love.

Wherever we go we will do as Amelia Aldred proposes in her blog post. Click SB101: Let’s make it awkward to read her thoughtful piece and to comment.

Wayne, Bob, Harry, Don, Steve, and I are from Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota. We’ll be courteous, but we will exercise our religious freedom and responsibility by making it awkward to discriminate.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 28, 2015.

Think for yourself – Selective Fundamentalism

The biblical texts a church chooses by which to govern its life say more about the church than the texts it selects.

Critics of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s policy of full inclusion of GLBT members – and its newly adopted definition of marriage as between “two people” – quote biblical texts they claim declare homosexuality itself as sinful.

An anonymous comment by a Views from the Edge reader advised people to read the Bible and think for themselves. “I think anyone reading the comments from Mr. Stewart should read the Bible and think for themselves. For example read 1 Timonthy 8-11.”

We don’t usually reply to anonymous sources, but this one deserves consideration because it asks us to do both things: read the text and think for ourselves.

Here’s the text about which the writer invites us to think for ourselves:

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers,  fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” [I Timothy 8-11]. Color added by VFTE for emphasis

Texts such as I Timothy are used to identify same-sex relations as sin, albeit in a longer list that names liars and perjurers, among others. But “sodomites” are not consensual lovers; they are rapists so named from the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah from which we get the words ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomize’.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about sexuality. It’s about assault, violence and humiliation. The tragedy of Sodom and Gomorrah was not consensual sexual relations. It was gang rape by a group of men intruding into Lot’s house to have their way with Lot’s house guests. Such male behavior was not unfamiliar to the partriarchal world of Hebrew Scripture when victorious soldiers humiliated their vanquished enemies by treating them like females.

While conservative evangelical and fundamentalist biblical interpreters condemn consensual love between two members of the same gender, they ignore the much clearer biblical position on adultery and divorce.

On divorce:Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” [Luke 16:18); and “if [a wife] divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” [Mark 10:12].

On adultery: “You shall not commit adultery” [Exodus 20:14]; and “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel [Deuteronomy 22:22].

Many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and churches say they do not interpret Scripture. They obey it. But they don’t. They can’t. Because every reader has to think. One always has to decide which biblical texts take primacy over others. Presumably we would all agree – orthodox, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, liberal, and progressive – that Jesus’ command to the men who had encircled the woman “caught in adultery” to drop their stones takes primacy over a harsher approach to divorce and adultery.

But that’s a conclusion of interpretation, of selective primacy. For conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches to remain true to their objection to all biblical interpretation as undermining biblical authority, they should exclude all divorced persons from positions of leadership. That would exclude 50% of the American marital population.

We all think for ourselves. Conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are as selective as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and others they declare have forsaken biblical authority.

For the sake of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to [Timothy and us],” may the Spirit guide us and conform us all according to the rule of love.

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Honorably Retired, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2015.

 

 

 

Same-sex Marriage

 “What does Obama’s announcement {supporting same-sex marriage) mean to you? Will it make any difference in your life?” asked CNN’s blog this morning

Here’s how I responded:

“The President’s declaration has not changed my life, but it has moved it one step closer to leaving behind the trail of tears the church has inflicted on its own members. I am a pastor. My family and church are straight and gay. I have shared the tears and listened to the sobs and shouts. I have cried their tears and shaken my head and wanted to make a fist.

“Here in the state of MN a referendum to amend the State Constitution –  similar to the one that just passed in NC – will be on the ballot.  I cringe that the proponents of the amendment – the opponents of marriage equality – often do so “in the name of Christ,”  ignoring the fact that we have nothing to indicate any statement by Jesus on this issue, while at the same time they ignore the Beatitudes and other teachings of The Sermon on the Mount that clearly oppose the church’s endorsement of and participation in state-sponsored violence and war. It saddens me.

“My family makes no distinctions among us. Orientation is orientation.  Families, churches, and cultures change slowly, and sometimes tumultuously

“My professional life will change when both the church and the state celebrate the commitment of two people, regardless of their gender, to the estate of marriage. Until then… every heterosexual wedding celebration will also remind me of those who cannot celebrate the same.

“A comedian once asked why GLBT folks shouldn’t be allowed to be as miserable as we (heterosexuals) are. Misery and joy do not reside within the lines we draw between “us” and “the other.” My gay son pays little attention. He’s not married, and, although his state permits it, he has chosen otherwise. But, in the event he decides that the blessings and miseries of marriage are for him, the choice should belong to him and his partner of 12 years. And, in the event he should so choose, the church should be there to celebrate and share the cake. When that day comes, my life will have changed.”

How would you respond the CNN question? Leave a comment to generate the discussion here.

And, if you’re looking for a welcoming church, stop by Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska Sunday morning at 9:30. Whatever your opinion, or any other source of division – no matter who you are – you’ll be welcome.

“I’m So Sorry”

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I’m a pastor. But there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian. Ever wonder that about yourself? Or have you left the church as a matter of dissent, embarrassment, or protest?

Take the last two weeks. President Obama shares his faith at a National Prayer Breakfast. He declares that we are “our brother’s keeper”. I feel proud. The comments on CNN run heavily against him. Ayn Rand’s “the virtue of selfishness” – not the story of Cain and Abel or the teaching of Jesus – has won the hearts of the people. Rick Santorum tells an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” I feel sad…and angry. I read the story about the church court case of the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian Presbyterian minister rebuked for officiating at same-gender marriages, one of them the wedding of Lisa Bove. Lisa was an ordained student elder at the church I served at The College of Wooster. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I feel proud of Janie and Lisa, their tenacity, their courage, their strong and gentle spirits, their deep faith. I feel sad that the church still doesn’t get it.

I’m embarrassed by how ridiculous the church debate is and how absurd this church family feud looks to the world. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, go to sleep, take a sedative maybe. But I’m also angry. I want to fight. I want to weigh in on the debate. Yet to do so will only continue the polarization, the disrespect for others, the tendency on all sides of a church argument to proclaim with Little Jack Horner, “What a good boy am I!” If I stick my thumb in the pie, I’ll just continue the ludicrous display of Christian arrogance. What to do? To keep silence feels like abdication of conscience. To speak adds my voice to the appearance of the church’s absurdity. But I’m give fan of the Theater of the Absurd and Albert Camus, as well as Jesus.

I decide to stick my thumb in the story. My comment is the first thumb in a hot pie:

“I know Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove as colleagues and love them both. Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor. Jane is that rare minister of the gospel who has managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. Lisa is the same. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, that’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-sex marriages, they will not marry anyone as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose lives bear witness to justice, love and peace, working from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolation that keeps them sane and strong.”

Three replies come quickly:

1) “You are a faithful and honest servant of God.  It has taken a long time, but every year there are more like you” (i.e., “What a good boy am I Good boy!”); and

2) “Pastors should know and preach the truth of God’s word. Please read: 1 Tim: 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9  When folks go against the truth of God’s word, then they are following deceit and you should know who the great deceiver is”  (“Bad boy! Bad boy!”)

3) “Let’s hope this church sees the light and retracts the rebuke.  And perhaps even apologizes­.”

Then this morning a classmate sends me this story about an apology: “Christian Group Shows Up to Chicago Gay Pride Holding Apologetic Signs“.

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I wish I’d been there to hold one of these signs.

I’ve experienced the forgiving hugs of gay and lesbian church members like the guy in the underwear. And when I write comment or a commentary like this one, I hear a little voice inside myself: “Good boy! Good boy!” Then, as soon as I feel the relief, I know I’ve fallen into the very self-righteousness I despise in others. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” and I’m back where I started: “God help us ALL!”

Read the story. Ponder it. Then stick your finger in the pie with a comment here on the blog.

“The Leper” sermon video

Given today’s story about Lesbian Presbyterian Pastor Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove, and comments made on Huffington Post’s story,that impugn the authenticity of gay and lesbian clergy and others who read the Bible differently, last Sunday’s Sermon “The Leper” is posted here for all who would like a more generous way of living the faith.

Huffington Post story on Lesbian Presbyterian Minister case

Photo of Rev. Jane Spahr (L) and Lisa Bove (R)

Today’s Huffington Post carries the story of two lesbian Presbyterian colleagues I know and love, Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove (“Jane Spahr, Lesbian Presbyterian Minister Case to be Reviewed“).

Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor (1977-1983). She was an elder and campus leader there. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

Jane and Lisa are those rare ministers of the gospel who, have managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, it’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s that they have not become bitter or plunged into the quick sand of self-righteous. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-gender marriages, they will not officiate at any marriage, as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose integrous lives bear witness to justice, love, and peace, drawing from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolatio­n that keeps them sane and strong.

I wish them well, and pray the Spirit’s guidance on the Permanent Judicial Commission reviewing the case.