Shall our clergy be permitted to participate
in vows of faithfulness
between persons of the same gender?
A New Bible Study
prepared for the Synod of the Trinity
Donald R. Repsher
Honorably Retired Member, Lehigh Presbytery
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called for all presbyteries and other concerned groups throughout the denomination to embark on a study relating to unity in the midst of diversity. The divisive debate over standards for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) requires the guidance of the Holy Spirit at work throughout the entire Church.
In the year 2000, the 212th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected by a vote of 453 to 71 an overture that would have declared an irreconcilable impasse to exist in the denomination in regard to its ministry with homosexual people. In effect, this decision said “We choose rather to see differences of opinion positively and believe that differences, in fact, have the potential to make our unity in Christ even stronger.
A major part of the dilemma the church faces is the fact that there are those who believe that persons who are homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered, do not choose this path any more than heterosexual persons choose to be attracted to persons of the opposite gender. There are also those who are convinced that while having other than heterosexual orientation may be a given, it can be altered in all cases; and, they add, all expressions of sexuality other than heterosexual are sin.
These two contrasting opinions lead to the question of how a spiritual ministry can best be provided. Year after year, much energy is spent in debate and little compromise has been found.
Another facet of this situation is that very few presbyteries and even fewer congregations have initiated the kind of study that General Assembly has requested. And coming for a vote by presbyteries in early 2001 is an amendment that would flatly prohibit all Presbyterian clergy from participating in any ceremony that emphasizes a committed companionship between persons of the same gender; this would also prohibit Presbyterian clergy from offering public prayers in their behalf during such a ceremony, regardless of how they might believe their conscience is leading them.
The Bible study which you are now holding in your hands is intended to help fulfill the General Assembly’s request for study. I have endeavored to provide a thoughtful study guide which encourages the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I have also endeavored to break new ground in the ongoing discussion. Hopefully, this new approach will be helpful and fruitful.
About the author: An alumnus of Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, and of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, I have served Presbyterian congregations in the Presbytery of Hudson River and the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse, both in New York State. During these pastorates, I have also served on the following Presbytery committees: Evangelism; Church and Society; Committee on Ministry; Judicial Commission; Committee on Women and the Church; and others. In 1954, I was nominated for membership in the nationwide Society of Biblical Literature, where I continued as a member until retirement in 1994. From 1973 to 1994 I was also a member of an international organization called the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. Before becoming a member of Lehigh Presbytery, I served as moderator of the Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery through the year of my retirement in 1994.
My views of the Bible are best expressed by our Presbyterian “Confession of 1967,” paragraphs 9.27 through 9.30 in our Book of Confessions, which is an official statement of our Church’s doctrine, and from which I now quote in full:
The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
The New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Old Testament is indispensable to understanding the New, and is not itself fully understood without the New.
The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current.
The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture.
God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.
This Bible study can only be understood in conjunction with the references to Scripture upon which it is based. Divided into seven parts, it can be studied a day at a time or a week at a time. It is not intended as a substitute for previous studies, but as complementary to what may have been already undertaken.
Each “Day” or unit should begin with prayer and close with prayer. Rather than providing prescribed prayers, I invite the reader to offer a prayer of his or her own, prayerfully seeking an open mind, an open heart, and guidance from the Spirit of a loving, compassionate God.
The Bible — to be treated with care
Read Hebrews 4:12-16
Read John 1:1-18
Read Colossians 1:15-20
Although the writer of the letter to the Hebrews appears to be describing the Scriptures (our Old Testament) as “sharper than any two-edged sword,” he adds that “Before him no creature is hidden” and then tells how we receive grace and mercy through Jesus. The Gospel according to John affirms that Jesus is the “Word of God” made flesh, and that the Scriptures (“the law of Moses”) are subordinate to Jesus, who reveals “grace and truth.”) Paul’s letter to the Colossians emphasizes that Jesus is “to have first place in everything.”
When the Protestant Reformation swept through Europe, one of the great doctrines that resisted layers of church traditions which had accumulated during the Middle Ages was “sole Scripture” – “only in the Scriptures.” The Scriptures to which they referred, of course, were both Old and New Testaments. They called themselves “evangelical” because of their emphasis on the “evangelists,” that is, those who wrote the four Gospels which told of Jesus, who revealed “grace and truth.” All the rest of the Scriptures had to be interpreted through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
They realized that without the “spirit of grace and truth” revealed in Jesus Christ, the Scriptures could be made to say anything that anyone wanted them to say. And this is exactly what has happened.
Scripture has been used to justify genocide (read Joshua 6:15-21).
Scripture has been used to justify vengeance (read Psalm 58:6-11).
Scripture has been used to justify slavery (read Exodus 21:20).
Read Micah 6:8.
It is easy, when expounding the doctrine of “sole Scripture,” to forget that all Scripture is perceived through the lens of our own eyesight, and is colored accordingly. This Bible study Is based on years of experience and research yet it is filtered through the views of its author. It is important to recognize and respect differences of opinion, arid you are invited to agree or disagree with the author as we proceed together.
Our priority must be on “walking humbly” with God, as Micah instructed us; and the arrogance of assuming that one’s own interpretation of Scripture is the only valid interpretation must be avoided, if we are to fulfill the instruction given by Micah. One does not handle any two-edged sword lightly or carelessly, nor without considerable caution. We will try to fulfill all these requirements as we proceed in this study.
Questions for reflection:
With what points discussed above do you agree? Why?
With what points discussed above do you disagree? Why?
Jesus the teacher — what principles did he use?
Read Mark 1:21-28
It becomes clear that the method used by Jesus for interpreting the Scriptures (our Old Testament) was very different from that of the scribes (interpreters of the religious laws). What was the difference?
The scribes were meticulous, to say the least. For example, when one of the Ten Commandments stated that there should be a Sabbath (a day for rest and renewal) once in every seven days, the scribes went to great lengths to stipulate precisely what restrictions that entailed. When Jesus disregarded those restrictions he was rebuked. His reply provides strong evidence that compassion and concern for the best interests of human beings were basic principles upon which Jesus based his teaching:
Read Mark 2:23-28
Read Matthew 12:9-14
Read Luke 14:1-6
Read John 9:13-34
It appears that Jesus believed that compassion takes priority when interpreting the laws of religion. Religious laws, religious traditions, are intended to make life easier and more beneficial for human beings than would be possible without them. When those laws and traditions become burdensome they lose both their significance and purpose.
Read Matthew 12:28-30
Read Matthew 23:1-4 and Matthew 23:23-24
Jesus had a keen appreciation for the purpose of religious laws as they were originally intended. He sorted through those that continued to have merit, and extended their original purpose.
But he did so not by adding meticulous details as the scribes did, but by interpreting the spirit that had made them important in the first place. The scribes certainly taught authoritatively; but the people were astonished at what Jesus taught about righteousness because he emphasized the spirit instead of the letter of the law.
Read Matthew 5:17-22
Read Matthew 7:1-5
You have doubtless heard the expression, Words can kill.” Jesus took that very seriously. Referring to the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” he extended it far beyond its original intention and included the hurtful spirit of anger and insults which can kill the spirit.
The expression “You fool,” before and during the lifetime of Jesus, had nothing to do with a person’s intelligence or lack thereof. Those who broke the commandments of God were traditionally called “fools.” But Jesus taught that God alone has the privilege to pass that kind of judgment. Those who called other people sinners and condemned them to eternal punishment were liable to condemnation themselves. Jesus knew that it is too easy for people to judge other people on the basis of their own feelings, while overlooking their own flaws.
Another of the Ten Commandments can be used to illustrate the compassionate concern which was one of the methods of interpretation which Jesus used: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor.” It could be argued that this commandment should be interpreted as a ban against false testimony in court as well as just plain lying about someone else. But it would not be incorrect to say that Jesus would extend his principle of compassionate concern for people much further than that, and include any misleading statements about anyone.
And it is precisely at this point that we need to recognize how deplorable and despicable it is to maintain stereotypes or allow misleading statements that fail to be fair. The teachings of Jesus are uncompromising: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Questions for reflection:
Do you think this is an accurate description of one of the ways in which Jesus interpreted religious laws and traditions? If not, why not? If so, why?
Think of some specific examples where stereotyping people is or has been misleading and ultimately, as Jesus would interpret it, could be bearing false witness against someone.
The Holy Spirit — teacher of truth
Read John 15:26 to 16:15
As we have seen, the major emphasis of Jesus was on the Spirit in contrast with obedience to laws that had lost touch with humanity and become needlessly burdensome instead of helpful. This emphasis is found throughout his ministry.
Another characteristic of Jesus was his ability to bridge the gap between all classes of people and all kinds of opinions. Consider his choice of disciples, who were from a variety of different backgrounds and some of whom had seemingly irreconcilable opinions. (For example, Matthew the tax collector collaborated with the Roman Empire while Simon the Zealot vigorously opposed any kind of collaboration with the Romans. No laws could possibly bridge the gap between those differences! Only a miracle of spiritual commitment would be sufficient.)
Jesus knew that if his friends lived by anything less than the Spirit they would be driven apart. The wisdom of Jesus knew human nature well enough to know that only a spirituality that placed good relationships above strongly-held opinions would enable his friends to stay together and be united as one. And that was one of the greatest hopes that Jesus held for his followers.
Read John 17:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Read John 3:1-6
To a teacher of the law, Jesus said “You must be born again.” In other words: You must return to the fundamentals of religious traditions. You must start over again, and be reborn into a faith that places the Spirit above everything else. Without the spiritual bonding that rises above differences of opinion, without the spiritual bonding that does not attempt to control the opinions of other people. beliefs fall on barren soil. Truth, according to Jesus, was not so much having the “final answer” to opinions but being bonded together in a fellowship of compassion and love.
Read John 3:7-10
Jesus recognized that his teaching would be difficult to understand. In the passage from the third chapter of John, Nicodemus exclaims, “How can these things be?” Rules and laws. are tangible objects. They can be grasped, examined, studied, and imposed on people whether they like it or not.
But contrasted with that, living by the Spirit is far less tangible, uncertain, and open to subjective opinions that can be anything hut reliable. Jesus took the words right out or the mouth of Nicodemus when he said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
It is a legitimate concern. And yet, laws present problems of their own. Paul. from his background as a Pharisee, believed that the entire edifice collapses if part is disregarded. If one part of the law is set aside, then anything else can be set aside as well.
Read Galatians 5:2-6
One problem our Presbyterian Church is presently ignoring is that while one section of church law forbids the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian people, the same section adds: “Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the Confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament” (Book of Order, G-6.0106). Problems arise when we turn to the Larger Catechism, for example, in the Book of Confessions, and find the following sins: profane jests; all needless works, words, and thoughts (on the Sabbath) about our worldly employments and recreations; immodest apparel; lascivious stageplays. Shall we inquire to what extent a candidate may tell an off-color joke, play golf on the Sabbath, wear an immodest bathing suit, or watch an R-rated movie or ribald situation comedy? And how shall the boundaries between what is somewhat inappropriate and entirely inappropriate be defined?
Questions for reflection:
Do you agree with the analysis of Jesus’ teaching, that spirituality should attempt to establish firm relationships across boundaries that embrace widely different opinions? If you agree, do you think these differences are best bridged by insisting that only your opinions are legitimate, or by allowing different opinions to co-exist with yours’
It’s been said that the best way to deal with a problematic law is to enforce every aspect of it without exceptions. What is your opinion regarding this?
The Holy Spirit — discerning fundamental values
Read Galatians 5:19-21
Read Romans 1:18-32
The world which New Testament Christianity encountered was contrary to almost everything which Jesus had taught. Life was cheap. Gladiatorial contests in public arenas were bloody combats that frequently led to death Philosophers had emphasized moderation in all things; but banquets had become exercises in extravagant gluttony, and drunken orgies were not uncommon. Fathers took their sons into brothels to teach them about sex. Children were sexually abused and many people did not even consider it a perversion. Military experience gave no incentive for tenderness. Effeminate young men would do anything by way of providing sexual favors with other men if the price offered to them was sufficient.
Married women were often relegated to the role of child-bearers while their husbands engaged in liaisons with prostitute. And while their husbands were occupied elsewhere, wives organized sexual orgies among themselves, partying with women friends.
Although there were many decent folk who quietly lived their lives with honor and self-respect, the Apostle Paul’s tent-making work would have brought him into public places where he could not help but observe gross attitudes that plunged men and women alike into human degradation.
The myths of gods and goddesses provided the “role models” for human beings – and those “role models” were atrocious A study of the ancient myths reveals much about human attitudes. Gods and goddesses alike lusted for each other, for mortal human beings, and for animals as well. Faithlessness prevailed among the deities; they frequently abandoned their human worshippers at a whim. especially if the right amount of incense or sacrifices was not offered.
Life expectancy was short and frequently violent, and although, as already noted, there were many who hungered to find some kind of worthwhile meaning in life, all too often self-restraint was a throw-away commodity. The passages you have just read from Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans enable us to share Paul’s feelings as well as his uncompromising critique of the evils and faithlessness that permeated both human life and popular beliefs about the deities
Read Romans 7; 7-;5 and Jeremiah 31:31-33
As Paul viewed it, the purposes of laws should have been to provide a good life; instead, more often than not, they “imply encouraged lawlessness as people rebelled against the restrictions which had been imposed. The secret to a good life therefore lies with the Holy Spirit which provides the spiritual renewal which is so necessary in our life.
Read Galatians :5:22-25
Read 1 John 3:11-17
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
Perhaps the fear of religious anarchy was the greatest concern of those who preferred the tangibility of laws over the intangibility of a spirit that moved like the wind, with a person never knowing with certainty where it was going. Too many life decisions could become subjective and almost any “vii could be rationalized. Self-deceit, they realized, could provide an excuse for almost any kind of behavior.
Paul provided an antidote to this genuine concern by carefully defining the characteristics produced by the Spirit of God. It is the purpose of the Spirit to enable God’s people to discern fundamental values that come from the heart. Other great teachers provided similar definitive guidance.
Here, then, are fundamental values which are neither abstract nor intangible. They identify true religion, and without these values no doctrines, no theology, can be true to the Spirit of God.
Questions for reflection:
It is now time to begin asking some very personal questions about sexual orientation. If you are part of a discussion group your right to privacy needs to be respected and these questions should only be used for personal reflection.
Assuming that your own sexual orientation is and, since puberty. always has been entirely heterosexual, was there a time in your life when you consciously chose this orientation, or did it just happen mostly of its own accord?
In your opinion, are the “fundamental” values described in this day’s study equally important regardless of someone’s sexual orientation?
Read Hebrews 1:1-4
The need to return to Biblical values cannot be questioned, but it may be worthwhile to recognize that if a total stranger were to begin reading the Bible from Genesis, it could be difficult for that person to find role models who would satisfy contemporary needs. The author of the letter, to the Hebrews directs our attention to the fact that Jesus has come after a long history when people when people were part of the customs and attitudes of the times in which they lived.
Procreation was of paramount importance throughout Old Testament times, and sexual conduct reflected that need:
- When Abraham’s wife bore no children, Abraham went to bed with his servant girl (Genesis 16:1-6).
- The twelve tribes of Israel placed their origins in Jacob’s twelve sons, and neither the Old or New Testament criticizes the process by which Jacob fathered all these children, plus several daughters as well. Besides his two wives (the sisters Leah and Rachel), Jacob bore children through the servant girls of his wives, whose names were Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 29:15 to 30:13). Procreation, not sexual fidelity, took priority. Bilhah also had sex with one of Jacob’s sons, Reuben (Genesis 35:22).
- Another of Jacob’s sons, Judah, had a daughter-in-law names Tamar; when his oldest son died, Judah told his next born son to take Tamar as a wife; then he also died. Judah also had been widowed, and when Tamar dressed herself like a temple prostitute for the local Canaanite fertility cult, Judah paid for her services and had intercourse with her (Genesis 38:1-18).
- King Solomon’s many wives were no more than political hostages; but he was not criticized for having many wives but for allowing them to bring the worship of their foreign gods into the palace (1 Kings 11:1-10).
- It had been easy for a man to divorce his wife; he could simply write her a letter of divorce and send her on her way. But Jesus put his stamp of disapproval on such a callous practice, with a statement that forbids all divorce regardless of the circumstances. The following passage describes the strong feelings of Jesus that a man and a women, once sexually united in marriage, should never separate. The disciples questioned the strictness of this teaching, but Jesus was unrelenting.
- Elsewhere, however, Jesus does permit a man to divorce his wife if he discovers her in a sexual liaison with another man, but after she is divorced, no one is permitted to marry her again. Then he adds: “Not everyone can accept this teaching.” And we are left with the impression that the spirit of compassion might even over-rule this commandment.
Read Matthew 19:3-12
Many churches, including our Presbyterian Church, no longer adhere to a strict ban against divorce. But to this writer it seems somewhat incongruous that some who have been divorced and re-married, while wanting religious traditions to be lenient, and wanting their new marriage blessed by the Church, are nevertheless unrelenting in their opposition to providing gay and lesbian people any support if they want to make solemn vows of faithfulness to each other and request the prayers of a Presbyterian clergy — especially when Jesus was silent about homosexuality.
Read Luke 7:36-47
Questions for reflection
In the last lesson the question was raised as to whether at least some heterosexual persons have never made a conscious choice about their sexual orientation. It became part of their life and they could never be otherwise.
But if we are willing to grant that at least some heterosexually-oriented persons would not be able to make the transition into homosexuality even if they wanted to, in your opinion would it be appropriate to believe those homosexual persons who say they are just as unable to become heterosexual?
Is there ever a time when it is inappropriate to obey the following teaching of Jesus?
Read Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-38
The celebration of faithfulness
Read Psalm 100:1-5
Read Genesis 1:26-28
One of the themes that runs through the entire Bible from beginning to end is the faithfulness of God not like the deities of the Greeks and Romans, which at a whim would forsake their own people. And faithfulness is surely one of the qualities of God’s image in which men and women were created to be.
Another characteristic of God, which we have already noted, is kindness and compassion; and this also is one of the qualities of God’s image which men and women are created to sustain.
Christian marriage depends upon faithfulness. But too often in our sex-focused culture our focus is upon sex and little else. And yet faithfulness embraces a multitude of values beyond simply six. Faithfulness means providing spiritual support; faithfulness means providing emotional support; faithfulness means being thoughtful and caring; faithfulness means giving time and attention to the other. We need to do more than follow the letter of the law. We need to return to the wisdom of Jesus: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (symbols of the rule of law). One of the temptations of the clergy profession as well as almost all other professions and occupations is to feel the pressures of work so much that the pleasures of companionship with one’s spouse is put on a back burner. Bringing balance into life is seldom easy, but no one has ever said that a successful marriage is easily accomplished.
Like the person attempting to take the speck out of another’s eye, we have been spending so much time and energy on the subject of homosexuality that we might do well to ask ourselves if we have done everything possible to enrich and support our heterosexual marriages.
Many of the same ethics, taught by Jesus and elsewhere in the Scriptures, apply to all persons regardless of their sexual orientation. Corrupting the morals of a minor is equally wrong, whether committed heterosexually or homosexually. Rape is equally wrong, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Thoughtlessness, unkindness, exploitation, abuse (verbal or physical) harassment, violence, unwillingness to forgive: all are equally wrong, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
Read 2 Samuel 1:1-26
The story of the friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. They had every reason to be suspicious of each other: Jonathan was the son of King Saul, and David was the rival for the kingship. The Bible does not inquire whether their friendship included sexual contact or not; it simply provides David’s enigmatic lament: “I am distressed for you, my brother (friend) Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (New Revised Standard Version).
Homosexual love in military life was encouraged throughout that area of the world in those times; it was thought that by pairing two male lovers the army would be strengthened because the men would fight doubly hard not only to defend themselves but their partners. But bisexuality, not homosexuality, was more typical.
At any rate, faithfulness is the main interest, not only in the story of David and Jonathan but throughout the entire Bible. It is something to be celebrated.
Questions for reflection
In my experience as a pastor, especially in the years preceding my retirement in 1994, almost every marriage license I received bore the same address for both bride and groom, indicating that they were already living together. I never inquired into their sex lives, but instead celebrated with them their willingness to be committed to a partnership that went beyond the frailty of a less-committed “relationship.” Was I wrong, and in my counseling with them should I have put my major emphasis on matters of sexuality instead?
Recognizing that some heterosexual marriages have more expressions of human sexuality than others while perhaps some have none at all, and relationships between persons of the same gender may well follow a similar pattern, how far in your opinion should the Church become involved with interrogating heterosexual people about their sex lives?
Also recognizing that there are different points of view, in your opinion is it better to have a committed partnership than non-committed relationships, whether the people are heterosexual or not?
Back to the Holy Spirit
Read Genesis 38:6-10
Read Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 11:10-21; Leviticus 11:41-42; and
The prevailing concern throughout most of Old Testament times was procreation. Although we now believe that one man should be married to one woman, having children to replenish and increase the population which was perennially in peril for being too small was of vital importance. Because of the frequency of war, men were fewer than women, and since people believed that it was a God-given gift for women to bear children, one man having multiple wives (with the children protected by the commitment of their father to a marriage) was quite acceptable.
Sexually, if a man had wasted his semen instead of using it for impregnating a woman, it was considered abominable. Masturbation and wet dreams were considered threats to procreative potential – and so were sexual acts because of the “wasted” semen.
The major emphasis of the book of Leviticus is with perfection: God deserves the very best that can possibly be provided. Physically handicapped men were not allowed to serve as priests, because only physically perfect men were good enough. Perfect health should be always maintained, if at all possible. Incest which could result in less-than-perfect babies was detestable.
While there are other references to male homosexual conduct in the Old Testament, none of them have anything to do with a partnership that is committed and caring. The reference in Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman,” must be seen within its context: concern that every emission of semen should have at least some potential for procreation.
Read Romans 1:18-32
In fairness to the Bible, this. passage must also be kept within its context. Paul is not speaking anywhere of committed partnerships of care; running throughout is a judgment against conduct resembling that of pagan gods and goddesses who were no store than the creatures of human imagination: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator. Whenever the word “homosexual” or “homosexuality” is used in an English translation of the Bible, it is used to denote two Greek words which define homosexual prostitution and homosexual exploitation.
The Scriptures, and even Jesus himself, are silent regarding a committed same-gender partnership. And, if we feel it would be an invasion of privacy to inquire into the sexual practices of heterosexually married people, in this writer’s opinion it should also be considered an invasion of privacy to inquire into the sexual practices of same-gendered people who are providing companionship for themselves within a committed partnership.
Read Luke 6:31
Left with so much silence from the Bible and from Jesus regarding committed partnerships with persons of the same gender, we can nevertheless draw at least some tentative conclusions from values to which the Scriptures and Jesus unmistakably call attention. It is clear that Jesus did not want to lay unnecessarily heavy burdens upon people. And his values included the celebration of faithfulness and the life of the Spirit. These next passages from Scripture tell how the New Testament church dealt with seemingly irreconcilable opinions:
Read Acts 11:1-18 and Acts 15:1-tO
For further reflection
Crucial decisions that would affect the entire future course of Christianity were made on the basis of an inquiry about how persons were reflecting the presence of the Holy Spirit. Is the emphasis in the Church today still where it was in New Testament times, or is the Church placing most of its emphasis on constitutional laws?
Scripture celebrates the faithfulness of David and Jona-than without inquiring into possible sexual involvements, even though sexual involvements in military life were not only acceptable but encouraged in the world of those times. Should the Church follow this Scriptural example and cele-brate faithfulness instead of inquiring into the private and intimate lives of people of the same gender who wish to live together in a commitment of faithfulness?
Return to Day 4 and read again the values upheld by the Holy Spirit – or just read Galatians 5:19-23 once again. Get to know people who are not heterosexual but who nevertheless claim to be following the way of Jesus Christ. Look in their faces. Look into their eyes. Look to see if they have the same Spirit as heterosexual Christians claim to have. Look for love; joy; peace; patience; kindness and self-control even as they face persecution from society at large and rejection by the Church. Try to do what Jesus Christ would do: walk in their shoes live in their often-precarious positions out there in the world.
Scripture says that God created human beings “male and female.” But there are ambiguities. There are babies who are born with ambiguous male or female genitalia. It’s not always as unambiguous as Scripture at first makes it appear. And sexual orientation is more subtle, far more subtle, than that.
If there are heterosexual people who could never make the transition into homosexuality even if they wanted to, is it unreasonable to agree that there are homosexual people who could never make the transition into heterosexuality?
Could the words of Paul to the Church Council at Jerusalem have a haunting relevance to those of us who are married heterosexuals and are convinced that everybody should be like us: “Why are you placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”
Acknowledgement needs to be made that differences of opinion doubtless may remain. Those differences of opinion should be respected. None of us owns a monopoly on the heart of God. None of us is infallible. And that is precisely the point. This is the reason for the following questions for reflection:
In your opinion, is it right to impose one particular interpretation of scripture upon those who, through careful study, arrive at a different viewpoint?
What precedent does this imposition of only one acceptable interpretation establish for you. when you are in the minority?
In Acts 5:38-39 the wise Jewish teacher Gamaliel offered this advice to those who were opposed to allowing Christianity to have a voice in their religious tradition:
“If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin. it will fail; but if it is of God, you will riot be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
The Church has tried church laws, and people are still outside pleading for their talents to be fully used and their desire for faithfulness to be blessed; is it not time to allow them in and evaluate what the Spirit may or may not accomplish through them?
You are free to agree or disagree with anything or everything in this Bible study.
Are you willing to give others this same freedom?