Category: gay marriage

“I’ll never be silent again”: a defrocked pastor finds the heart of God

Frank Schaeffer
Frank Schaeffer

Alan Bean

There is a terrific article in the Washington Post concerning the plight of Frank Schaefer, the erstwhile United Methodist pastor who was defrocked for presiding at the marriage of his gay son, Tim.

A youth leader at his church, Tim was around 13 when he went with his dad to one of the denomination’s annual regional meetings. The group was debating Methodist language around homosexuality, and the conversation was often contentious. Tim was struck by how few people supported gay equality.

It never occurred to Schaefer to bring the topic up with Tim on the way home. “I had the impression Tim was excited about the democratic process” of the meeting, he says. “I had no idea what he felt inside.”

Within a few years, in 2000, Schaefer got an anonymous call. Your 17-year-old son, the woman said, is gay and suicidal.

Schaefer and his wife didn’t hesitate. “We lost it in tears, hugging him. We told him we loved him so much and he did not choose this. We just affirmed him,” Schaefer says.

Of course they did!  What else were they supposed to do?  How complicated is this issue, really? (more…)

Jesus, the Bible and gay rights

By Alan Bean

I remember back in 1978 when Harold Lindsell published Battle for the Bible.   I was in my final year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  None of my professors thought much of Lindsell’s diatribe.  In fact, he was written off as a silly man with antiquated ideas.

Forty-five years later, Lindsell’s Simple Simon theology is the controlling ideology at my alma mater and throughout the evangelical world.  To argue otherwise is to surrender your orthodoxy card.

The change didn’t come gradually.  In fact, it all happened while I was working on my doctorate at Southern.  When I arrived in 1989, the school was much as it had been in 1978, moderate, cautious, and, within strict limits, tolerant of theological diversity.  There was no room for genuine liberals, of course (this is the Southern Baptist Convention we’re talking about); but God-said-it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it conservatives were also not welcome.

By the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from newly installed president Albert Mohler the school had changed beyond recognition.   (more…)

Homosexuality, Abortion, and Political Ideology

By Charles Kiker

July, 2013

Before the 2012 presidential election I was asked by a fellow minister, “How can a Christian vote for someone who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage?” I sought to answer his question, which was asked on Facebook, in private correspondence. With the current ado over the abortion issue in Texas and other red states, I think it is time to make my private answer public. I have edited my previous answer, but here is the gist of it.

An easy answer would have been to to say that some Christians take into consideration more than one or two issues in making their political choice(s). That would be true, but it would be too easy and it would be sidestepping the specificity of the question.

So I’m going to tackle it head on, from my own perspective. I will not claim it is the Christian perspective, but the perspective of one who who seeks to follow in the Way of Jesus.  (more…)

If it’s all about winning elections, it ain’t moral

Davis filibuster took place in an near empty Senate floor. The bill she was fighting would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers.By Alan Bean

Regardless of your political persuasion, these are the best of times and the worst of times.  The Supreme Court cuts the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and then nixes the oddly-styled Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.   Meanwhile, in Texas, Senator Wendy Davis and a gallery crammed with abortion-rights activists kept the Republican majority from passing a law that would have shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.

Liberals are celebrating in Texas, but Rick Perry has already announced that he call another special legislative session with the specific purpose of undoing what was done last night.

Although the majority decision in the DOMA case turned on arcane legal arguments, the Supreme Court is yielding to a massive shift in public opinion on the gay marriage issue.  Upholding DOMA is a nonstarter in today’s America, so the justices were forced to cobble together a legal justification for a pragmatic decision.

The same cannot be said for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.  Gay rights has recently gained in popularity in virtually every demographic group–including white evangelicals.   Opposition to the Voting Rights Act is limited to the conservative white voters who control political reality in much of the American South and a fairly large slice of the Midwest.  Support for the Voting Rights Act is rock solid among African American and Latino voters.

Southern states may be insulted by the suggestion that their legislatures continue to discriminate against minority voters, but there can be little doubt that they do.  It is ironic, for instance, that Wendy Davis would have been unable to filibuster the Republicans’ abortion bill in the Texas Senate if proposed electoral maps that deleted thousands of minority voters from her district had not been declared unconstitutional.  Moments after the Supreme Court demolished the significant parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Republicans moved to revive a voter ID bill that was patently intended to eliminate as many minority voters as possible.  Election laws that create long lines in minority precincts but not in conservative white precincts can now move forward without opposition.

If reaction to the Voting Rights Act decision split along largely racial lines; the abortion debate breaks across the no-mans-land created by the culture war.  Personally, I am too conflicted on the abortion issue to support Texas Republicans or to hoot and holler for choice in the Senate gallery.  I am reluctantly pro-choice.  There are profound moral issues involved in the abortion debate.  When a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy it is almost always with a heavy heart.  This is appropriate.   Pro-life politics work really well precisely because many progressive people of faith are morally conflicted on the issue.  We understand and feel the arguments on both sides of the debate.

But conservatives cannot protect the unborn without creating major health problems for poor women who, denied access to safe abortions will turn to back alley butchers.  It should also be noted that conservative states like Texas refuse to adequately fund public education and have far more uninsured poor families than the balance of the country.  If Texas Republicans were genuinely concerned about the unborn they would give more thought to the post-birth plight of poor children.

Abortion has become a prized political issue because it allows politicians who oppose gay rights and voting rights to regain the high moral ground.  “We may be doing everything in our power to neutralize minority voters and discriminate against gay Americans,” the logic goes, “but at least we’re fighting to save the unborn.”

But it’s a lie.  They aren’t trying to save the unborn; they’re trying to win elections.  Banging the pro-life drum and minimizing the impact of minority voters are two equally effective strategies for maintaining political control.   If the abortion issue became a political detriment, most conservative politicians would abandon it in a heart beat.  I’m not saying the stalwarts on the front lines of the prolife fight aren’t sincere (they are) but the same cannot be said for their political supporters.

Alan Chambers stops trying to pray the gay away

Alan Chambers

By Alan Bean

Alan Chambers became an evangelical superstar by telling people what they wanted to hear.  White evangelicals can’t maintain the moral high ground in the great American debate over sexual orientation unless people make a conscious choice to be gay or straight.  If that’s true, folks in the LGBT community can go straight if they want to.  Homosexuality, in this view, is a chosen “lifestyle” that can be sloughed off at will.  Alan Chambers claimed to be a gay man who had been prayed straight.  If it happened to him, it could logically happen to anyone.  Exodus International, the ministry he founded, was dedicated to doing precisely that.

White evangelicals celebrated Chambers’ work because it saved them from a moral impasse.   Conservative Christians (and until recently liberal Christians as well) have taught that homosexual behavior is a sin and that it is God’s nature to hate sin.  Westboro Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” battle cry was a tad crude for most evangelicals, but deep down they agreed with the sentiment.  Their theology left them no choice.

But what if homosexuals don’t choose their orientation?  What if they come of age sexually desiring members of their own sex?  Wouldn’t that mean that sexual orientation, gay or straight, expresses the creative will of God? And if that’s the case, how can God condemn a condition for which he (and/or she) is ultimately responsible?

There are just two ways of resolving this conundrum.  Either God doesn’t consider homosexual behavior to be inherently sinful after all, or God makes everybody straight and some people, for some perverse reason, choose to defy the creative intentions of the Almighty.

Evangelicals opted for the second solution.

This didn’t create too many problems in a day when homosexuality was considered too shameful for public discussion.  Since western culture disapproved of homosexuality it only seemed natural that God would concur–we can’t be more moral than the Creator, after all.  Even though the Bible has remarkably little to say about sexual orientation (and, so far as we know, Jesus uttered nary a syllable on the subject) a few texts in Leviticus and the letters of Paul the Apostle have been used to prove that God is just as intolerant of homosexuality as we are–maybe more so.

This line of argument never jibed with the facts, but so long as open public discussion of human sexuality was considered verboten the facts didn’t matter.  But objective study of human sexuality has gradually demolished the theory that sexual orientation is chosen.  True, some people appear to be sexually ambidextrous (Alan Chambers may fit into this category–see the article below); but none of us can alter the fundamental shape of our sexual desires.

In recent decades, biblical scholars have examined the biblical teaching on sexuality more objectively.  As a result, there is no longer any scholarly consensus on what the Good Book does and doesn’t say on the subject.  But one assertion can be made with confidence:  the God who burns with hatred for the LGBT community cannot be reconciled with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You can believe in one God or the other; but you can’t believe in both.

Just this week, Alan Chambers, the founder and President of Exodus International, admitted to the world that 99.9% of the human population can’t change their sexual orientation and that thirty years of trying to do the undoable have created immense human pain.

Where does this leave evangelical Christians?

It leaves us with the grace of God; which is exactly where we need to be.  God doesn’t hate people for who they are.  In fact, God doesn’t “hate” vices like anger, sadism, exploitation, cruelty, faithlessness, and lying.  God doesn’t hate!  It ain’t in his nature.  God loves sinners just as much as saints; in fact, it could be argued that God has a particular affection for broken people (see, for instance, Jesus’ parable of “the ninety-and-nine” in Luke 15:4)).

This doesn’t make God a radical relativist.  Most of the old vices and virtues that Christians have embraced from the beginning remain in full effect.  But God loves us all, forgives us all, and welcomes us all to the kingdom banquet regardless of all the things we cannot change about ourselves (gender, race, religion or sexual orientation).  In fact, God loves us in spite of all the not-okay things we could change, if we weren’t so messed up.  God is love. God is grace.

We can be glad that Alan Chambers finally admitted the obvious and had the guts to close down a “ministry” that, however well-intentioned, has damaged countless lives.

Now we’ll see how American evangelicals respond to the news.

‘Gay cure’ ministry Exodus International to close

Exodus International will close after 37 years. Its leader, who last year renounced the idea that homosexuality could be ‘cured,’ apologizes for the ‘shame’ and ‘trauma’ the group had inflicted.

By Anh Do, Kate Mather and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles TimesJune 20, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

Exodus International started in Anaheim 37 years ago as a small ministry to help those struggling to reconcile their homosexuality with the Bible’s teachings. It grew into the leading practitioner of the controversial “gay cure” movement, with 260 ministries around North America.

While Exodus claimed to have purged thousands of people of sexual urges that tormented them, its leaders recently began expressing doubts about the mission. Last year, its president, Alan Chambers, renounced the idea that homosexuality could be “cured.”

This week, the organization abruptly announced it was closing down. Chambers offered a dramatic, public mea culpa, refuting decades of Exodus’ teaching and apologizing for the “shame” and “trauma” the group had inflicted.

Exodus International: In the June 21 Section A, an article about the closing of Exodus International, a ministry in the “gay cure” movement, mistakenly attributed a quote, “In more and more communities, churches are grappling with homosexuality in more open terms. These are the cultural realities around us.” The words should have been attributed to Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, not Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives at gay rights group GLAAD. Also, the headline indicated that Exodus International was based in Anaheim; the group was founded in Anaheim but later moved to Florida.

The demise of the gay cure movement underscores the growing acceptance of homosexuality in society, even in the evangelical Christian community. Polls show increasing support for gay marriage, and leading conservatives, including Dick Cheney and Rob Portman, have expressed support for gay rights. A May Gallup poll showed that 59% of American adults said gay and lesbian relationships are morally acceptable, up 19 percentage points since 2001.

“Evangelicals are not immune to this,” said Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth College. “They get swept along with the cultural currents as well.”

Chambers’ statement won praise from gay-rights groups, who long criticized his views. But some were quick to point out that Exodus had been losing influence among evangelicals in recent years as gay conversion became increasingly out of the mainstream.

“I think there’s a tendency to see Exodus folding as a parable of Christian capitulation and ethic,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “That is not what’s happening. Instead what you have is an organization that has some confusion about its mission and purpose…. What is not happening here, is an evangelical revision of a biblical sexual ethic.”

Chambers discussed his change of heart in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday as well as in a lengthy statement and speech to a religious convention in Irvine.

“We need to change the way we do things,” he said.

Chambers said that gays had been wrongly made to feel rejected by God, and that Christians should accept them even if they believe homosexuality — like pride and gluttony — is a sin.

“I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change,” Chambers wrote in a statement on his website. “I am sorry that I … failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.”

Chambers, who is married to a woman and has two adopted children, told The Times he is still attracted to men and comfortably lives with that tension, but that others may be unable to do so. He said that 99% of people who went through gay-conversion therapy did not lose their same-sex desires.

Chambers’ apology was welcomed by gay rights activists, who called it a “big surprise.”

“I think it is demonstrative of the major shift that we as a society have gone through in terms of our understanding of who gay and lesbian people are and how they live,” said Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives at gay rights group GLAAD.

“At one time, it was pretty mainstream to have those thoughts and feelings about gay and lesbian people. Over time, Exodus and people who have promoted change programs have been more and more marginal or fringe.

“In more and more communities, churches are grappling with homosexuality in more open terms. These are the cultural realities around us.”

Chambers first made his apology Wednesday night at Exodus’ annual conference in Irvine and in advance of a show that aired Thursday night with journalist Lisa Ling in which he is confronted by “ex-gay survivors.”

“It was excruciating,” he said. “They told their true stories in a way that I will never forget. They told stories of abuse and pain, missed opportunities, awful words that were spoken to them. Stories of abuse and pain from the church and even from Exodus.”

Linda and Rob Robertson came from Redmond, Wash., to speak at the conference. Strict evangelicals with four children, they shared their own torment with the Bible’s teachings and their son, Ryan, who came out to them when he was 12.

She said she and her husband forced him to choose between God and being a gay man, and for the next six years he tried everything possible. He went to reparative therapy with Exodus, but nothing worked.

At 18, with no answers, he became addicted to drugs, his mother said.

“We didn’t intentionally, but we taught Ryan to hate himself,” Linda Robertson said.

Although they later tried to form a more accepting relationship, he ultimately died of a drug overdose in 2009.

Since then, the Robertsons have become advocates for gay and lesbian young adults who feel shut out by the church.

“We have to stop warring,” Rob Robertson said. “We’ve got to stop fighting.”

Times staff writers Joseph Serna and Paul Pringle contributed to this report.

Berastain: Domestic Violence in LGBT Communities

This post by Friends of Justice intern Pierre Berastain originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

By Pierre Berastain

Every time a celebrity suffers from or commits intimate partner abuse, the media responds by writing op-eds, hosting panels of experts, and making the public aware of resources available to them. As someone who works in the field of domestic violence, I am glad these conversations take place, and I wish they would occur with more frequency. After all, the Center for Disease Control indicates that 1 of 4 women and 1 in 7 men over the age of 18 experiences severe physical violence in their lifetime. These conversations clearly need to happen.

The public, too, reads more and becomes more informed every time a celebrity tragedy takes place. What we see and hear, though, usually consists of advice to determine whether the man is abusing the woman, and once abuse is determined, conversations turn to how women can escape abusive relationships. But what happens in same-sex or LGBT relationships? In this short piece, I would like to cover how partner abuse manifests itself in the LGBT community, which experiences domestic violence at equal rates–and sometimes higher–than those of the rest of the population (25-33% of the LGBT population experiences domestic violence in its lifetime). True, any person–gay or straight–can be controlling of finances, hit another individual, or constantly make derogatory comments. However, intimate partner abuse in the LGBT population also manifests itself differently, thus presenting specific challenges our community faces when recognizing partner abuse and when trying to access services.

Here, then, are some things to consider: (more…)

Peter’s Vision and the Gay Rights Debate

By Alan Bean

Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog features some of the best discussions of the Bible and the gay rights debate I have encountered.  In addition to the piece pasted below, this should interest you.

What is the Bible?  Is it a book of rules?  Pick it up.  Select a passage at random.  Does it sound like a book of rules?

So if the Bible isn’t a rule book, what is it.  Sociologist/theologian Christian Smith puts it this way: “The Bible is not about offering tips for living a good life.  It is about Jesus Christ who is our only good and our only life.”

When I find the time, I will write a post about the growing number of evangelical scholars who are breaking ranks with the Christianity-lite world of popular evangelicalism.  In the meantime, I commend Fred Clark to your attention.

‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean’

By Fred Clark

In comments a few days back, I see there was a question regarding whether I believe “that homosexuality is objectively immoral.”

It’s my fault if I haven’t been as clear as I need to be on that point: No. I do not believe that homosexuality is objectively immoral.

But that’s not strong enough. It’s more than that: I believe that denying LGBT people full legal equality is objectively immoral. I believe that excluding LGBT people from full inclusion, full participation and full equality in the church is objectively immoral — and objectively unbiblical.

Such civil discrimination and religious exclusion violates core principles of biblical Christianity — principles as pervasive and essential as the Golden Rule.

More specifically, I would point to Acts 10:1 – Acts 11:18 as a compelling argument that followers of Christ must not “call anyone profane or unclean.” This story teaches us that appealing to biblical law in order to declare another person or group of people as “profane or unclean” is not legitimate, even if we think we can make a strong case for interpreting the law in this way. The biblical laws regarding circumcision were not ambiguous or optional, yet such clear commandments regarding Other People’s Genitals were not to be allowed to exclude the uncircumcised from being baptized.

Let me be clear on that point: God commanded Peter to disregard those laws, commanded him not to allow those laws to exclude others. Peter wasn’t told that he now had the option of welcoming those who had been excluded. Peter wasn’t told he might maybe kind of sort of “tolerate” these people as second-class members of the community, “as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed” the gift of the Holy Spirit.

No, Peter was told that he must welcome them, fully and openly as equals. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Anything short of full acceptance would itself constitute disobeying a command from God.

I’ve been preaching this sermon from Peter’s vision in the book of Acts for many years now (for a few examples, see: “The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon,” “Slavery, seafood, sexuality and the Southern Bible” and “Selfish Gentiles and ‘Shellfish Objections’“). I think it’s important. I think it’s very important, because right now, throughout most of the American church, across almost all denominations, we Christians are calling profane those whom God has made clean.

And I believe that is objectively immoral.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Peter asks. LGBT Christians have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. To withhold the water for baptizing them, to call them profane or unclean, is wrong — it is disobedient, unloving, hurtful, harmful, unbiblical. It’s a sin.

It’s particularly astonishing that the very same American Christians now excluding LGBT Christians from full inclusion and full participation in the church are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. We Gentile Christians would, ourselves, be excluded if it were not for that lesson Peter learned in Acts 10:1-11:18. Freely you have received, freely give. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

I’m very pleased to see an increasing use of this passage as the case for full equality — in the church and under the law — gains momentum. (“Who am I to Think That I Could Stand in God’s Way?” Mal Green asks in arguing for marriage equality in New Zealand.) I expect that this will produce some backlash — likely an attempt to reinterpret Peter’s vision to mean something other than what Peter himself said it meant (as both Al Mohler and Timothy Dalrymple have done recently).

There will always be a Jonah Faction in Christianity — a group that shakes its fists at God for “abounding in steadfast love” toward even the Ninevites whom that faction despises. They seem driven by the fear that if God’s love and mercy are extended even to include the Ninevites, then there will be less of them left over for us. From the perspective of the Jonah Faction, salvation is a zero-sum game.

Peter’s vision is a rebuke to Team Jonah, so that faction will eventually have to come up with a way of explaining away its expansive, explosive message. They will try to say, somehow, that this passage from Acts is only about Cornelius, or only about dietary law. They’ll dissect this passage with a lawyerly eye, studying the finger while refusing to look where it is pointing.

I’m sure they’ll find a lot to say about the finger, but it will all be beside the point.