Monday, June 25, 2007

Homosexuality Still Divides Christians (Contribution)

The promotional materials for the "Scared Faithless" concert show a stern man gripping a sign that declares, "GOD HATES FAGS."

The provocative image evokes Fred Phelps, a Kansas pastor whose incendiary protests draw the ire of Christians who support and oppose gay rights.

But agreement on how God regards homosexuality is less unanimous for some in the Christian church.

Opponents say homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture, citing a half-dozen verses that describe homosexual behavior as abhorrent and unnatural.

Supporters often bypass those Scriptures and appeal to a sense of fairness and tolerance, saying everyone is created equal in the sight of God.

That made a recent article in defense of homosexuality unusual, in that a pastor who supports gay rights addressed the very verses used by opponents.

"People expect progressive pastors like me to dance around the topic of the Bible and homosexuality because we have so little scriptural ground upon which to stand," the Rev. Stephen Jones says in the current issue of Flying House Magazine, a publication of the Seattle Men's Chorus and the Seattle Women's Chorus.

But this is "one of my favorite topics," he said, listing a variety of reasons: The Bible mentions homosexual behavior only a handful of times.

Jesus never says a word about it.

Old Testament admonitions need modern interpretations.

New Testament condemnations need context.

Jones is pastor of Seattle First Baptist Church, co-convener of the Religious Coalition for Equality and a standard bearer among local liberal clergy on the issue of gays and God.

The Rev. Joe Fuiten of Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell holds a similar position among conservative pastors as president of the Committee for Religious Freedom.

Fuiten said that Jesus' silence on the topic does not imply support because Scripture repeatedly and unambiguously regards homosexual behavior as shameful, both in ancient times and as the text applies today.

Jones "first accepts the moral authority of the Bible when it is silent but rejects the moral authority of the same Bible when it explicitly condemns homosexual acts," Fuiten said after reading Jones' article.

"You really can't have it both ways."

Among the key verses cited by Jones and Fuiten are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, which say that a man who lies with another man "as one lies with a woman" has committed a "detestable" act.

"The problem is we are unwilling to live today by a code of ethics that served ancient people well," since to do so would mean condemning those who do not follow other Old Testament prohibitions, such as rounding off the hair at the temples or trimming beards, or wearing clothing made of both wool and linen, Jones said.

(The hair restrictions were to forbid an appearance associated with pagans who worshiped idols. The fabric restriction was part of a broader prohibition on mixing unlike things, which could lead to impurity.)

Fuiten said that "no part of the Bible approves of (homosexual) behavior."

Jesus emphasized the validity of Old Testament law in the Sermon on the Mount when He said that He did not come to "destroy the law" but to fulfill it, meaning that scripture was to be correctly interpreted, Fuiten said.

Jones regards the Apostle Paul's references to sexual impurity in the first chapter of Romans as a condemnation of "pagan temple prostitution, not loving relationships between two consenting males or females."

But Fuiten said the behavior Paul described as degrading was men lusting after other men. That is "not the language of prostitution but of mutual relationship," he said.

Finally, Jones says that Jesus and Paul condemned judgmental attitudes in several sections of scripture.

"To say, 'I love the sinner but hate the sin' remains a judgment against the gay community," Jones said.

Fuiten said that Jesus' familiar admonition in Matthew 7:1 -- "Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged" -- can't be read alone.

In the verses that immediately follow, Jesus says that a person should remove the "log" in his own eye before looking at the "speck" in another's eye.

Judgment is allowed if done in the correct order, Fuiten said: "First take care of yourself. Then take care of your brother."


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