Friday, March 21, 2014

Gay People, the Bible and the Church:

How the Bible and the Communities who Interpret it Face Social Change Faithfully

 Fireside Class

For the past few years I've had the privilege of leading a weekly adult bible study class at my church, Altadena Baptist.

The Fireside class meets in the basement by a non-functioning fireplace Sunday mornings 9:45a to 10:45a.  We share prayer requests, pray and try to learn more about God each Sunday.

We've worked, together, to make room for the kinds of that don't always fit in Sunday school classes --the kinds of questions I call burning questions.  The ones that really matter.  The ones that don't go away with quick, glib answers.

We tend to pick a focus for the year and spend our weeks working through it carefully with lots of room for conversation and perspectives from the very different people who come to the class.  Last year we worked through the question: "What did Jesus do in the Cross and in the Resurrection?"  Before that it was, "Who is the Holy Spirit and how do we Hear from God?"  Before that: "Where did the Bible Come From and How to we Read It?"

This year (we finished the Cross and Resurrection late), the majority of the class has asked to talk about Gay people.  Specifically, as one class member put it, how it is that her gay family member can see herself as both a Christian and a gay person when it seems so contrary to the way she reads her bible.

About this Class

We announced the class in our bulletin and many people decided to join.  Many more who read our bulletin wrote, concerned about what we might be teaching and what resources we are using.

In part, I hope this post will make that more clear.  I also wanted to share my outline with the class as it evolves (I never get it ready in time to print it up before Sunday morning).

No Foregone Conclusions

A word or two about how I prepare for this class: 
First, this is not the sort of class where I'm going to tell you what to think.  I believe we learn best when we study with people who don't already share all of our opinions.  Further, I think God uses encounters between people who don't agree to open up fresh possibilities for both.  I have in mind Peter and Cornelius in the book of Acts.

I am not aiming for a particular answer or destination other than getting deeper into scripture, the Christian tradition, past and present, that is working to interpret it faithfully.  I like to present the breadth of what people striving to follow Jesus have come to understand and then hash out how that hits each of us in our own context.

Conversation Not Indoctrination

I want this class to get at our burning questions because those are often rooted in what we most value about our faith.  This means that I like to lay out a general outline for how we are going to look at the topic and modify it as we get into it and I get more familiar with what the class members needs and goals are.  That's a big reason I wanted to do this here, so that I can modify and update the outline as it evolves.  I'll do my best to tag updates as they happen, but we'll see how it goes.

Comments on the Post

I'm tentatively welcoming comments on this post but I'll prioritize my responses to class members.  If you do want to comment, please read section I. of the outline and keep it in mind when writing.  It's my blog so I reserve the right to decide if you are trolling or just not entering into the conversation with sufficient goodwill to justify our attention.  That said, some class members were excited about a space to ask questions outside of Sunday morning.

The Outline

I'll put the date and comments on each session below the content we covered that session in italics after the fact.  I'll highlight the most recent week's updates.

I. How we talk about this and how do we listen? In ways that are faithful to Jesus’s character?

A.  Agreement of humility and respect

  1.     Integrity: Do you know anyone personally who is Gay? Lets imagine they are in the room with us and talk the way we would talk if they were here.
  2.    We are all trying to follow Jesus: No one's commitment to the Faith or inclusion in the Church is in question.
  3.     The Golden Rule: Listen and interpret with the same charity that you would want to others to listen to you with.  When in doubt, assume the best, until you can clarify.
  4.     No ultimatums: "Either you believe this or you we can't talk." We are here to explore our differences and learn from one another.  This kind of talk stops that process.
  5.     Make room for minority perspectives.  Avoid ganging up.
  6.     What you say matters: "I feel" and "I think" doesn't mean people can't ask questions or ask you to explain or explore what you've said.
  7.     Our pasts matter: periodically we will devote time for people in the group to share their personal experiences that have shaped their perspective and questions on this issue. 
  8.     Own your statements, judgements and interpretations of others: "What I'm hearing you say is…" instead of "You're saying…" and "I feel insulted when you say…" instead of "you're insulting me when…" make room for us to clarify misunderstandings gracefully.

    Week 1: 3-16-14In our first session we layed out some ground rules for the conversation as this issue is so divisive.  We know we want to be careful in how we listen and talk.

B. What are our Goals? 

  1. Decide whether I would officiate at a church wedding if a friend asked me to.
  2. What do you want to answer for yourself?  For your friends and family?  What do you want to get out of this?

  1. Week 2: 3-23-14
    The class had a wide variety of goals and questions I attempted to combine and synthesize below.  Forgive me if I've not grasped the heart of your question.  Better yet: let me know.

    Class Goals: 
    1. How do we talk about faith with our gay neighbors?
    2. How does the conflict many gay people and many churches feel between one another effect gay peoples' ability to relate to God?
    3. How do we reconcile our perception of God's focus on judgement in the Old Testament (as in stories prescribing death by stoning for gathering sticks on the sabbath) with the New Testament's focus on grace and forgiveness?
    4. How does the Church obscure, hide or distort the gospel while trying to be faithful to it?
    5. How can we show God's righteousness and standards and still show the God's grace in a way that is welcoming?
    6. Since our feelings about our sexual identity are so strong, how can we be sure we are reading the bible faithfully and not in a selfish, self-serving, or self-justifying way?
    7. Are some sins worse than others?  To God? To us? If so, what are the criteria?
    8. Is being gay a sin?  Are sexual relationships between people of the same gender sinful?
    9. What does science have to teach us on this?  Does knowing more than the communities who authored scripture make us more or less responsible to use that knowledge?

C. Defining our terms

    1.  What do we mean by Gay?  LGBTQ(IA)?
Week 3: 3-30-14

    2.  What is gender? Sex?
Week 4: 4-6-14

 Week 5: 4-13-14
    Gender Continued: the challenge posted to gender as binary by intersex people born with ambiguity in their biological sex which leads to ambiguity in their psychological, social and cultural gender identity and often their sexual identity.  This can come from errors in genetics, missing or extra chromosomes, or simply a body in which the receptors for androgens, the hormones that trigger male sex charateristics to form in utero and throughout life, simply don't function.  Between 1/1000 and 1/2000 babies is born with some ambiguity in their sex and gender.  An retired neonatal nurse in our class confirmed that she saw these issues regularly, perhaps even more often and that parents often want to push the child into one sex or another based on what they can see in the external genitalia, but that this isn't always a reliable way of even discerning genetic sex.

We talked further about the current neuroscience research that shows different neurological formation in utero along gender lines.  Male and female brains are observably different in their internal structure.  This complicates gender formation further because the hormones present in the mother's uterus in the second trimester play in shaping the baby's brain's development across a spectrum that corresponds to more stereotypically female, male a spectrum in between.

Though culture and language often push us into seeing gender as an either / or or a binary option, there have always been people with us who don't fit easily into either.  Some identify as intersex, others as gender queer, still others as transgender.

These are among the people we want to pay attention to because our culture has not and because they are speaking about their experience in ways they've not been able to prior.

    3.  What is marriage?
    4. Issues to investigate: Gender, Sex, marriage, homosexuality
    5. Other Issues? We'll take these Issues and the definitions we flesh out forward.

II. What does the Bible say about these issues?

III. What does the Christian Tradition in the PAST say about these issues?

IV. What does the Global Church TODAY say about these issues?

V. Implications

A.  marriage
B.  ministry leadership
C. Christian unity
D.  Adoption
E.  Separation of Church and state
F. Theology of Sexuality


  1. Good outline, good questions.

    John S.

  2. In the terms you expressed, yes that is a Fuller emphasis. We are encouraged to seek God in the midst of controversial things others deem "etched in stone." However, when it comes to "truly" implementing some groundbreaking ideas, Fuller still has an "old guard." However, a lot of those are losing their grip as they age, retire, and are replaced with more "politically correct/progressive" theological thinkers. For example, I have had a number of professors that seem to either stand on the fence (or have crossed over) regarding same sex marriages.

    My attitude is this, sure we should question, wrestle, even push issues, but we should not stray from Scripture, the biblical canon, tried and true traditions or stop being in dialogue with individuals who hold alternative/conservative views than our own.

    In the end, change for change sake is not enough. Sure, women, Latinos, African American and others have long been oppressed by those purporting to be "Bible believing Christians", but one should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Instead, we ought to try and pour out the murky waters of conventional practice through the necessary filters of Holy Spirit led Scriptural understanding for the present context, centuries of tested biblical traditions and norms, and the perspectives of other faith traditions who may have something to speak into our context. In short, any new perspectives we strive for should be rooted in the Biblical understanding of the issue in dialogue with the past, present and future of God's people.

    Words that were shared by another...

  3. Carla,
    Thanks for the challenging comments. Whose are they?

  4. How is it that grace and mercy escape the most learned and sophisticated of us all including me. The issues we about to tackle in SS we tackled in one evening. Probably not realistic but true dialogue created an understanding of there being a new covenant and not everyone is under or understand the new covenant. Well what we walked away with is that the Foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ and that the Holy Spirit will convict all not people.

  5. Scripture that refers to the importance of believers honoring governmental authority in general: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

  6. Oops sorry this quote from web site discussing Marriage...

  7. After reading the "ceremony" between David and Jonathan I can tell they truly loved each other . In the Old Testament there pastor George said there was no marriage sacrament ceremony just going into the tent ect . I was reading Smithsonian magazine regarding Henry the Xlll and how he left the church to start his own the Church of England. Back then it was hard to get a divorce for women. Anyway I was thinking the marriage "even if not upheld " ceremony was done for security purposes of each parties wealth and heirs to the wealth not necessarily for covenant before God. The men back in those days were not men of honor women were treated so bad . So my questions when did the actual marriage ceremony begin ( or is wedding part of w e d to marry ) Jesus did go to a wedding .....

  8. GLOBAL INFOSOFT is giving a great chance for Students, job Seekers, house Wives, Retired Persons. At home you can earn a large amount of money by spending some moment. Ad posting jobs. The work is very simple. FOR DETAILS PLEASE VISIT
    WAY 2 BLOG


I'm requiring you to sign in with some kind of ID. Please sign in to comment so we can know to whom we are speaking.