Shuck and Jive

Friday, July 25, 2008

Supporting Gay Ordination is Biblical

I have been following the blog of Mark Roberts. He has been posting about the Presbyterian Church. I have enjoyed reading him. He is a scholar. He is measured with his language and tone and seeks to fairly represent different sides of the lgbt ordination issue even as he is opposed to lgbt ordination. Kudos to him for his intelligence and grace.

In regards to those who favor gay ordination he writes:

It’s easy for me to understand why those who support gay ordination, as people who are committed to justice, believe that they’re acting in accord with God’s will. The Bible is filled with the call to justice, especially on behalf of those who are marginalized or oppressed. Thus, many Christians have seen advocacy for gay and lesbian people as a part of their faithfulness to God, even to the Scripture that calls us to do justice. The PCUSA, in their view, has marginalized and oppressed gay people by not ordaining them. Divine justice requires a change in ordination policy, and they will fight for this change.

From their point of view, those who deny ordination to gays and lesbians are perpetrators of injustice. Thus supporters of gay ordination can’t sit back and “get along” with the other side as long as it prevails. They must fight for justice until they win. So, when the PCUSA votes to deny ordination to gays and lesbians, they don’t stop fighting, but press on to seek what they believe to be divine justice.

In regards to those who oppose gay ordination he writes:
Even if you disagree with folks who oppose the ordination of active homosexuals, you must at least recognize that they aren’t necessarily crazy or bigoted or homophobic. The vast majority of Christians throughout history have believed that homosexual behavior is wrong. And the vast majority of Christians throughout the world today still believe this. Some of these people may have been motivated by ignorance or meanness. But many have come to their conclusion prayerfully and with genuine compassion for gay and lesbian people. I know many parents who deeply love their gay or lesbian adult children, and who continue to have positive relationships with them even though they believe that their children are making wrong choices with regard to their sexual expression. Many of these parents would love to be able to affirm their children’s choices completely, but their commitment to Scripture precludes this option.
I think that is a helpful start. Liberals and Conservatives both get their dander up when they are called apostate and bigoted, respectively. In each of the congregations I have served, I have ministered with folks who are conservative on this issue and who have come to their position with thoughtfulness, compassion, and a desire to do the right thing. I work alongside my colleagues in my presbytery and in my previous presbyteries who also come to their position with this same sincerity to seek the Divine will. We disagree. Sometimes it gets heated. Yet even so, now and then, we find ways to work on common projects.

That's one point I wish to make. We work together on all kinds of things. I don't think this has to be a make or break issue with our denomination. It could be. But I don't think it has to be. I think the vast majority of Presbyterians, including the ornery clergy, find a way to co-exist. Mark, if I am reading him correctly, thinks this issue will prevent us from being a unified denomination. He could be right. Time will tell.

I have no crystal ball, but from my reading of history of divisive issues, such as women's ordination, many who opposed it eventually came to accept living in a denomination that allowed it. There were break-offs of folks who couldn't accept it and formed their own denomination (ie. the PCA). I imagine that will happen in this case as well at some point.

I would guess that a small minority of people today in the PC(USA) oppose women's ordination for biblical or theological reasons. Even those who oppose women's ordination accept living in a denomination that fully supports it. Affirmation of women's ordination has even reached confessional status (The Brief Statement of Faith). Though I do remember that there was opposition on biblical and theological grounds to the line, "[the Holy Spirit] calls women and men to all ministries of the church."

Many who oppose gay ordination have quite eloquent arguments as to why women's ordination is different. However, it is true that it was for biblical and theological reasons that people opposed (and some still oppose today) women's ordination. Just ask a Southern Baptist for a refresher.

Many who had biblical and theological arguments against women's ordination changed their minds. Some of this had to with knowing women ministers who did a fine job. With these folks, in living with the new reality, their biblical and theological views changed. Again, no crystal ball, but I think that once the legal barriers to gay ordination are lifted in the PC(USA), and after a time of living with this new reality, biblical and theological views for many will change.

I think the majority of Presbyterians are at least open to the possibility of change. It is openness to the possibility of change that will make the difference. Some will not change. Some will go to another denomination. Some will not change their views but will accept living with this change. Some will continue to actively oppose it. But if (when?) acceptance of gay ordination reaches confessional status, opposition will be as difficult as opposition to women's ordination is now. That is a ways off, I am sure.

If the issue is biblical and theological, how is it that people could change their minds from being against gay ordination to accepting it, even advocating for it? To answer that, I will quote Mark again:

Christians who consider Scripture as their primary source for divine guidance usually conclude that homosexual behavior is always wrong. This isn’t a case of irresponsibly reading one’s own views willy-nilly into the text (even if it’s an incorrect reading of Scripture). Consider some basic evidence: Not one passage in the Bible speaks positively of homosexual behavior or gay relationships. Not one passage in the Bible provides a positive example of an active homosexual in leadership. Wherever Scripture speaks directly about homosexual behavior, it judges it to be wrong. Some gay advocates claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn sexual intimacy between loving, mature, committed persons of the same sex. But even if they’re correct, which I doubt, this leaves gay advocates who seek to base their position on Scripture with, at most, an argument from silence combined with many explicit counter-examples. That’s why most supporters of gay ordination do not base their position upon the Bible alone. It’s seems clear to me that those who see homosexual behavior as sinful are in line with the plain and consistent teaching of Scripture, even if, in the end, they’re wrong to regard all homosexual activity as sinful. (Of course those of us who hold this position don’t believe we are wrong.)
This is where I see things a bit differently. Mark writes:

That’s why most supporters of gay ordination do not base their position upon the Bible alone.

What does that mean exactly? What social, political, ethical, personal, intellectual, or spiritual decision is based upon the Bible alone? Mark knows that you don't pick an issue and then go to the Bible and look it up to find out what you should do. He knows the Bible is not a handbook through which we troubleshoot our problems.

What is the biblical position on immigration, the war in Iraq, free trade, divorce and remarriage, reproductive choice, whether or not my congregation should remodel our kitchen, evolutionary science, astronomy, whether or not I should spank my kids (perhaps not since they are in their 20s), whether I should give $20 or $50 to the food pantry, global warming, the upcoming Tennessee bottle bill, attending R rated movies, usury, and on and on and on?

Does it mean the Bible doesn't matter? No. Does it mean it is not authoritative for faith and practice? No. It means that we do our best with energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and a good bit of humility to enter into conversation with the biblical witness and the community to determine our course of action.

Once we have used the Bible to look up abstract information about human beings and make decisions about them, we have misused it. It doesn't provide specifics on life. It reveals to us a narrative of God's relationship with humanity and creation. It is the invitation to see our neighbor face to face. As such it is a call to both justice and righteousness. We need to figure out the specifics on our own.

I can't speak for others who are in favor of gay ordination, but for me, it is rooted in the biblical call for justice and for love of neighbor.

Many people have already come to the place where they accept and support gay ordination, not in spite of the Bible, but because their lives have been rooted in its narrative.

So the question: how is it that people could change their minds from being against gay ordination to accepting it, even advocating for it?

This acceptance of gay ordination and of same-gender relationships in general is part of a two-fold process:

  1. through knowing real people face to face, the church discovers that same-sex relationships are not sinful, and
  2. through seeing the Bible as a narrative of Divine love and justice, the church is able to see that affirming these relationships is supported by faithfulness to the biblical witness.


  1. Great post, John.

    But why do people like Mark Roberts always have to characterize those of us who work for full inclusion of GLBTs as driven strictly by a concern for "justice?"

    I found his characterization of those opposed to inclusion as motivated by "righteousness" to be business as usual: Only "we" can be righteous. "They" are being "political," and aren't really Christians at all. Feh.

    I see that the vitriol is as bad among the Presbyterians as it is among my tribe...sigh. My condolences.

    Doxy, who strives for righteousness as well as justice

  2. Thanks, Doxy.

    I am not sure about the justice/righteousness thing either. I thought they were the same. Same Greek word as I recall.

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  4. Rev. Shuck, you are forcing me to look at the issue on homosexuality and "coming out". I wish it weren't even an issue today, but it is. I'm glad that I am not in an important position where I have to make any official decisions on this issue. But, I will give it a shot...

    I kinda agree with the Mormons when they say that there are no homosexuals in their church and the Muslims, like Iran's president, when he says there are no homosexuals in his country. In a DN! interview, the author of "A Jihad for love" said that what Ahmadinejad meant by saying that there are no gays is that the issue is kept under closed doors in his country. I believe that is what Mormons wish to do in their church as well (see this article). Basically, Mormons believe that homosexuality is a sin. Actually they say that,"It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted."

    Mormons allow homosexuals to be regular members as long as they do not yield to their homosexual temptations.

    I suppose then that mormons and muslims view coming out as morally wrong, and they both hold a moral conviction that same-sex relations should be kept on a private and personal level.

    It is sad that we cannot keep to this standard in today's society. With all the laws that we need to protect are rights, issues that are usually kept private, come to the forefront.

    As of now, I believe that homosexuals, as well as unmarried heterosexuals living together, should be given the same rights and benefits as married couples, and I could care less what rights they are given in their churches. If anyone is not happy in their particular Christian organization, they can choose another one, maybe Mormonism will fit their worldview on homosexuals.

    I really have to quit"Shucking and Jiving"...Too much thinking, and not enough studying, makes Rachel very far behind in her school work.

  5. For the change in the Book of Order to take place, there has to be an majority vote of approval from the 173 regional Presbyteries.

    The first vote from a Presbytery is in.
    At the 111th stated meeting of Palo Duro Presbytery. The amendment altering the ordination standards failed by a 29 for, 47 against vote. The bulk of the Presbyteries across the country will be voting on this in February.

    Even though it was in Texas, the make-up of the voting body in this Presbytery is very mixed and the majority are moderates (with just a few far left and right). Because of this make-up of the voting body, this issue had a real shot.

    (this is a very quick version of a very long spiel)
    For me it is not about the question of homosexuality, its about leadership. As Christians in order to grow etc, we must run the race (to use that allegory). That includes freeing ourselves from the bondage of sin. Now it is clearly stated that homosexuality is a sexual sin. I question the leadership of anyone who twists a sin into a “blessing from God”. Strait or Gay, that person should not be ordained into leadership. On the flip side of that coin, ANYONE who is truly battling sin, there isn’t any question about their qualifications on this front, and they should be ordained.

  6. Josiah,

    Thanks for the update. Sad news from my perspective.

    Now it is clearly stated that homosexuality is a sexual sin.

    That is where you and I clearly disagree. I have made my arguments on this post and elsewhere. I realize you see it differently. From your point of view I can understand your conclusion.