From the Pulpit: Conservative church grapples with homosexuality
November 8, 2014Conservative Christians are beginning to question their biblical based opposition to homosexuality in a journey mirroring the process their liberal and progressive cousins began about 30 years ago.
The level of conversation is not yet the rush of mighty wind blowing through the conservative church; it is more like a puff of breeze. But courageous persons and groups from varied conservative backgrounds are raising this heretofore unspeakable topic. Here are a few signs:
• Pope Francis called a synod on the family last month that proposed welcoming language regarding gay and lesbian persons and even gay marriage. Without changing church doctrine, the document’s first draft boldly suggested the church could receive and learn from gays and lesbians in a new, Christ-like way.
• Southern Baptists last month discussed softening their approach to gay and lesbian people even while remaining adamantly opposed to gay and lesbian sex and marriage. Although Baptists remain firmly committed to a narrow biblical interpretation of a few verses, at least one of their pastors was quoted as closing the conference with these words, “No one goes to hell for being homosexual.” Even more noteworthy, progressive Baptists are now supporting GLBT persons for full inclusion in the church.
• The Rev. Daniel Cortez, Southern Baptist pastor in a small SBC church in California, told his congregation that he could no longer oppose gay marriage. His congregation voted to keep him as pastor and the church agreed to stay together even though not all agree with their pastor.
• My own United Methodist Church, locked in a 40-year argument about whether “practicing” homosexuals are sinners, awkwardly strides the chasm in typical Methodist compromise by stating that homosexuals have sacred worth in God’s eyes, but that they can’t get married or ordained and are sinners if they have sex -- legalisms that mock the phrase “sacred worth.” But even conservative, evangelical, bible-affirming Methodists with national stature are beginning to contend for full inclusion of GLBT persons.
This honest, conservative searching is producing predictably swift and harsh blow back. Conservative Catholic bishops gutted Pope Francis’ draft document of its grace-filled language and the Southern Baptist Convention expelled the maverick California church with its newly open pastor.
Disobedient pastors are defrocked and laity are either expelled, labeled as heretics or relieved of church leadership. Only with difficulty has the church acknowledged tragically using the Bible to prop up non-biblical practices and beliefs such as slavery, a 6,000-year-old earth, the forbidding of remarriage of divorced persons, the rejection of women’s ordination, etc.
There always will be churches for those who prefer the old ways: the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, KJV Bible only, Tridentine Latin Mass or other cherished practices or beliefs based on archaic biblical interpretation. But this fresh wind of the Spirit beginning to blow in conservative churches eventually will lead to the rightful inclusion and full acceptance -- in most of the North American church -- of single, married and ordained GLBT Christians.
Individual by individual, Sunday School class by Sunday School class, pastor by pastor, church by church, whether in my lifetime or further down the road, the majority of the church will eventually be saddened and embarrassed to remember that we once condemned people as sinners simply because they were homosexual.
Creede Hinshaw, a retired United Methodist pastor of 36 years,