**UPDATED (10/22/12, 2:17pm)**
As you can imagine, all of this has caught me off-guard. But please know how much I continue to appreciate all of your kind words of affirmation and support. I continue to try to keep up with as many responses and requests as I can, and I greatly appreciate your patience. I promise to try to get to as many as I possibly can. Here are a couple of quick notes related to several recurring themes:
(1) If you have an interview request, please send it by email, as opposed to the phone.
(2) I’m not going to take the time to engage in a game of Bible proof-texting with those who disagree with me on this matter, but just so you know I take the Bible very seriously (if not always literally), interested readers are welcome to check out a sermon series I preached back in July titled “What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?”
(3) Here is a helpful resource from Soulforce: “What the Bible Says–And Doesn’t Say–About Homosexuality”
Here are a handful of thoughtful books worth reading:
Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches, ed. by Walter Wink
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, by Daniel Helminiak
The last few hours have been a bit of a whirlwind for me, to say the least. I’m really heartened by all of the emails, Facebook messages, and kind words that I’ve received over the last 24 hours. As I read each one, I don’t see them simply as messages that seek to affirm a particular talk I gave on a particular night in Springfield, MO (as grateful as I am for such affirmations), but rather, I view them as a reflection of the thousands — indeed, the millions — of people who, on a daily basis, are journeying together because we believe that our world can be a better place, a fairer place, a more beautiful place — for all people and not just for some — and we won’t stop calling for a more beautiful world to be born. I’m also grateful for all of the people who have come before us — many whose names history won’t recall — who have allowed us to be where we are now, on whose shoulders we stand. These folks may not be famous — more times than not they are friends or family members who have bravely told their story, often in the face of major consequences. They are the ones who have brought us to this place, and we carry their stories with us as we try to build a a more just world.
In time I hope to respond to each email I receive, but at this point I simply can’t keep up with all of them. But please know how grateful I am to each of you. Here are a couple of things that consistently come up in the emails, so I thought I’d share some quick responses here:
A lot of people ask, “How can a pastor who values the Bible take this kind of stance?” Truth be told, there are a bunch of pastors and people of faith across the country who are open and affirming — not in spite of their faith, but precisely because of it. And the number of open and affirming people of faith is rapidly increasing. Brian McLaren offers the following perspective, which deeply resonates with my experiences as a pastor:
I inherited a theology that told me [that] homosexuality is a sin, so although we should not condemn (i.e. stone them), we must tell people to “go and sin no more.” Believe me, for many years as a pastor I tried to faithfully uphold this position, and sadly, I now feel that I unintentionally damaged many people in doing so. Thankfully, I had a long succession of friends who were gay. And then I had a long succession of parishioners come out to me. They endured my pronouncements. They listened and responded patiently as I brought up the famous six or seven Bible passages again and again. They didn’t break ranks with me and in fact showed amazing grace and patience to me when I was showing something much less to them.
Over time, I could not square their stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) … we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish “what the Bible says” from “what this school of interpretation says the Bible says,” and that helped me in many ways.
So – many years before I learned I had members of my own close family who were gay – my view changed. As you can imagine, when this issue suddenly became a live issue in my own family, I was relieved that I was already in a place where I would not harm them as (I’m ashamed to say this) I had harmed some gay people (other people’s sons and daughters) earlier in my ministry. [read the rest of Brian’s post here]
Secondly, to the many of you who said, “I wish I lived in Springfield, because yours is a church I could actually attend!” Well, this kind of statement makes my day. We have tried to build a community of faith based on the intentional welcome of all people, especially those who have felt hurt and/or alienated by the church and/or Christianity. Every Sunday, we have a welcome statement that goes like this:
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here:
If you are young or old, you are welcome
If you have brown skin, black skin, white skin, yellow skin or any color of skin, you are welcome
If you are married or single, you are welcome
If you are gay or straight, you are welcome
If you cannot hear or see, you are welcome
If you are sick or well, you are welcome
If you are a man or a woman, you are welcome
If you are happy or sad, you are welcome
If you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, you are welcome
If you believe in God some of the time or none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome here
I also want you to know that there are several churches around the US with a similar ethos. We may not be big churches or fancy churches, but we are there. We may listen to Stephen Colbert more than the pope, but we are there. We may not have a Starbucks in our building (we may not even have a building!), but we are there. So I encourage you to check out some of the communities of faith in your area — perhaps those that are part of the United Church of Christ (which is not the same thing as the Church of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), The Disciples of Christ, or perhaps the Episcopalian Church. While none are perfect by any stretch of the imagination (some of the churches aren’t very big, and often there aren’t very many young people), these denominations ordain openly gay clergy and tend to work toward equality for all people. As the United Church of Christ likes to say, “Our faith is 2,000 years old. Our thinking is not.” If you live in a particular area and want a suggestion on churches to perhaps visit, please feel free to send me a message, I’d be glad to help as I can.
Finally, a quick disclaimer related to my speech: I recognize that the discrimination experienced by African-Americans in the history of the United States has its own nuances and characteristics, so it’s important to highlight the different ways that discrimination functions in our society. With the great Cornel West, I believe that any form of discrimination and oppression (whether based on race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation) is problematic, and we should constantly work toward building a better world. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who has experienced discrimination has experienced it in the same way (this is similar to bell hooks’ observation related to the film Crash, in which she mentioned that for all its strengths Crash didn’t adequately delve into the differences in race relations between a variety of different ethnic groups, and that the history of slavery in the US leads to experiences among African-Americans that are not necessarily the same as the experiences of, say, Muslims in America.) To be sure, all forms of discrimination are obviously problematic, and none are acceptable. But the experience of discrimination in the US is not a one-size-fits-all category, and the more we recognize the differences between various forms of discrimination the more we honor those who’ve experienced discrimination, and the better equipped we are to work toward building a better world that honors the integrity and dignity of all people.
My gratitude to each of you as we try to build a better world together, as we try to live into what Desmond Tutu once called the dreams of God for this world. Not for some people, but for all people.