Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exclusion of LGBTQ persons adds nothing of value to the ordination standards we already have

Ignore for the moment that the average American becomes sexually active at 16 and gets married at 28, and that simple ‘chastity in singleness’ does not begin to address this societal reality in believers’ lives.(1) Apart from the exclusion of LGBTQ persons from ordination, G-6.0106b does nothing whatsoever to further or deepen the Book of Order’s definition of ordained office or requirements for those seeking ordination.(2) It can be omitted without losing anything of value.(3)

1. Turning specifically to the 'fidelity and chastity' clause of G 6.0106b, we find a standard that at least 95% of Americans have entirely abandoned - that of total chastity outside of marriage.  This standard arose in a context where it was common for 14 year-olds to be married, and to be parents before they would be allowed to vote in the United States.  Education and rising standards of living have made it so that this way of life will likely never return.  What we currently demand is that the vast majority of ordained persons in the last few decades simply and quietly buy into the duplicity of our polity.  We do not ask; they do not tell about their actual sexual practices, because we  don't dare.  The most effective way for G 6.0106b to be repealed is for it to actually be enforced.  As it stands, our policies encourage heterosexual hypocrisy as well as exclusion of called LGBTQ persons.

2. Our ordination standards say that we should ordain no person who fails to repent of anything which Scripture and the Confessions call sin. That, right there, makes every single Presbyterian minister, Elder and Deacon utterly undeserving of ordination. There are so many things called sin, many of which are such sweeping categories that thorough repentance is utterly impossible. Are you ever stubborn? Do you ever doubt or exhibit any unbelief in anything scripture or the confessions say? Have you ever "done works which have no other warrant than the invention and opinion of man?" Meaning - do you ever do anything that is not positively commanded or at least permitted by analogy in scripture, such as watch a movie? Have you ever made, displayed or viewed any picture of God? Do you fail to hate sin with your whole heart? Do you ever ascribe any good at all to anything besides God? Do you make bold or curious searchings into God's secrets? G 6.01016b is not only an impossible standard, it is vague to the point of uselessness. Applying it consistently would require a degree of interpretation of scripture and the confessions which no group of people could possibly consent to as it would invariably include behaviors many people simply do not agree are sinful.

3. 10A does more than simply delete the section of the Book of Order in question - it replaces it with a statement that is far superior and which draws upon Presbyterian history for an answer that empowers Presbyteries and allows for freedom of conscience in the non-essential issue of the status of LGBTQ persons.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Priesthood is composed of all believers

(1)In the Reformed tradition, from the very beginning, it was understood that every believer is responsible as part of the priesthood - that priesthood was not a special ontological status conferred by the church, but was rather a general calling conferred by the grace of God on all baptised believers.(2) The fact is that every LGBTQ Christian is already called to ministry.(3)

1. This post follows upon the theme and logic of the previous one, and is once again simply recapitulating a basic Reformed theological understanding and applying it to LGBTQ ordination.

2. Again, we are all priests.  Every one of us, despite the failings we are aware of and those we don't even have the discernment and wisdom to see.

3. This discussion is not about ontology, it is about polity.  What are we to do with these individuals, called by God but denied certain functions in our polity?  Continue to ignore God's calling, or change?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In For A Sheep, In For A Herd

These are my sermon notes, what I write out and then use to create bullet-points to preach from. I get the overall movement down, the ideas, a few of the pithy phrases, and then I discard it and go from notes. These notes are more complete than usual, and I think the illustration is kind of cool, so here you go. This is what I'll be preaching in 30 minutes:

Luke 2:8-20
Luke 15:1-7

I want to give some illustration around the idea of shepherds - I recently read an article that changed my image, my viewpoint, and let me to understand something more deeply than I did before.  If you want me to point you in the direction of the article, I can after the service, but it was written by Professor Richard Beck on his blog Experimental Theology.

Go back to the text and our imagery - what is a shepherd like?  Relatively poor, might be watching someone else’s flock, considered scruffy and somewhat dangerous.  

What is a farmer like?

Herdsmen tend to be more violent than farmers.  You can see this in Westerns - cowboys are rowdy and carry six-guns.  Farmers primarily provide daughters for cowboys to marry.  They do so, settle down, and do what?  Go into farming.

The reason is simple - it’s really hard to steal a farm, or to steal food from a farm.  There’s too much of it.  It isn’t very mobile.  And for most of the year, a lot of it isn’t in edible form.  The farmer might have neighbors who will stick up for him, and so on.

Stealing a herd is really easy.  Cattle-rustlers, right?  From the same westerns.

Imagine life for these shepherds: the sheep are everything they have.  All of their wealth; their investment portfolio; their medicare and medicaid when they get old; their 401k retirement plan; their day to day paycheck - all of that.

To illustrate this, I did something I probably shouldn’t have.  I went to the bank a few days ago, and I withdrew all of the money we had there in cash.  Mostly small bills, actually, just to illustrate.  There’s what’s in our checking account, as well as all we’ve saved in order to pay taxes this year - my taxes don’t come out of my paycheck, for the most part, as a pastor, so at tax-time we’ll be paying a huge bill all at once for the whole year.

Anyway, in this box is everything we have.

And this is what it’s like to be a shepherd.  (Dump it out)

There it is, all we have, lying out there where anyone can take it, any time.  Imagine this being your life - all you have in the world wandering around, bleating.  You bet your behind you’d be watching your flocks by night.  And by day.  Would you dare sleep?  Say a stranger comes near your flock - would you be welcoming?  Hell no.  You’d be locked and loaded.

That’s what it’s like to be a shepherd - constant anxiety that in a moment of neglect, you can lose everything.  The difference between prosperous herdsman and starving beggar is one bad night.

And now we return to our cute pastoral story about the angels coming to sing carols with the shepherds.  Only it doesn’t look much like that anymore.  We already talked about how terrifying angels are - shepherds are little better.  Come up to a shepherd in the dark and startle him and see if you live to see the dawn.  Not likely.

And yet these shepherds, when they hear the news about the birth of the Messiah, leave their flocks and go into town looking, door to door one imagines, seeking Jesus.

We don’t know if their flocks are there when the shepherds return.  All it would take is one cynical shepherd to see everyone else was leaving their flocks, and he could take off with everyone else’s investment portfolio.  In a heartbeat.  Not to mention wolves, or other predators.  Or the fact that sheep are stupid, and they just wander off sometimes.

This is not just “Hey, let’s go see a cute baby guys”.  This is a group of tough, sleepless, violent men dropping everything, risking losing everything they own, to go see Jesus.

Then - the shepherds could have returned to find their flocks gone.  The question is - given that, did they make a mistake?  Should they have stayed in the field, guarded their income, and ignored the baby Jesus?

Should we do that?  Is it the prudent thing, the wise thing, the right thing?  To remain ever concerned about our income, our retirement, and to neglect the times when Christ calls us into the world to do something?  To live out our calling?

Would we be the shepherds who stayed behind?  Because when we hesitate to risk, that’s who we are.  We don’t make it into the story.  We miss Jesus entirely.


Let’s continue on the shepherd theme.  Not only is Jesus birth attended by shepherds, but Jesus is later, as an adult, referred to as the Good Shepherd.

Now, this is not because Jesus acts like a skillful shepherd.  If Jesus was caring for actual sheep, he would be broke in a heartbeat.

Jesus tells a parable about a good shepherd - but no one who heard this story would have agreed with him at first.  It is more like a parable of an idiot shepherd who is destined for poverty.

(Illustrate with fake money again - get a pile and walk and drop a bill somewhere)

This is Jesus’ so-called good shepherd.  He’s going along with his herd, a hundred sheep, or, let’s say, ten thousand dollars.  He drops a hundred dollar bill, and later realizes it.  (Throw money up in the air)  He goes off looking for this lost one hundred dollar bill, leaving nine thousand, nine hundred dollars lying out on the ground for anyone to take.  He risks 99 for the sake of 1 lost sheep.

This shepherd is a moron.  In economic terms, this shepherd is a failure.

This shepherd is Jesus.

The incarnation, the Christmas story, is among other things, the Good Shepherd loving us so much, valuing us so greatly, that he comes to find us where we are, seeks us out, and risks everything in the process.

So we do not go seeking a God who is indifferent, or who is removed from us, waiting for our approach.  We go seeking a God who has already sought us, so passionately and relentlessly, that he takes on flesh, and every weakness, and absolute vulnerability, in order to find us when we are lost.

That is a God like no other.

And so here we are, watching our flocks by night - guarding our interests even when we are at rest, ready to go to war, to fight, to defend what is ours.

And our calling is to set it all down and to go seeking Jesus while he can be found.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mother of God

A sermon for Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

As the bright lights and noise of this anything but silent night began to dwindle into the pre-dawn stillness which is not very still with a newborn lying near you Mary did the best sort of thing you can do in those hours besides sleep – she pondered. She treasured.

The footsteps of the Shepherds and their shouts of alleluia receded into the distance, the angels gave their singing a rest, and I’d wager anyone that Joseph was completely comatose from overload, snoring in a corner. I know because I’ve been there. But Mary sat awake next to her newborn son wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, pondering. Treasuring.

The tendency of artists, poets, songwriters, theologians and everyone else has been to interpret this attitude of Mary’s as nostalgia. Mary looks down at the child in the manger with the kind of gentle glowy love and amazement that suggests she has just been a part of something miraculous. In our imagination the post-labor glow is a suffix on the end of the annunciation: the resolution of the story which began when Gabriel came to tell a frightened young girl from Nazareth that her life was about to change forever.

But though it makes a nice holiday card to think of the scene this way we can only do so by forgetting who Mary is. This is no shrinking violet. This is the composer of the magnificat, who said that God would cast out the rich and powerful and feed the poor and hungry – and would do so through her. This is the woman who faced a general in the army of Heaven giving her orders that would have seemed impossible to any of us, and said, in essence, “I can do that.” Having traveled 80 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem while in the last stages of pregnancy, and just toughed out labor and childbirth without any painkillers or even any assistance but her inexperienced and most likely terrified fiancĂ©e… she was not now going to sit there and blush at her accomplishment like it caught her by surprise. This is not your meek and mild Disney heroine. This is Theotokos – the Mother of God.

Mary was not pondering what had just happened, so much as she was treasuring what she knew was coming ahead.

You see, though giving birth is a miraculous feat it pales beside what Mary did next. Without choirs of angels, or shepherds or wise men, or strange stars, or kings, or any of these things she would be a mother to God. When Gabriel had announced that she had been chosen it was not for just those 9 months to carry some extra weight around, feel her organs and bones shifting, her womb expanding and then suddenly to end one wild night in Bethlehem. Gabriel was saying in essence that God trusted her to be the person who would take him to her breast when he cried. God trusted her to keep him warm and safe when his eyes couldn’t even see the full spectrum of color, let alone the ends of the universe. When God couldn’t recognize a human face, let alone design one. When God couldn’t conceive of time, or self, or good, or evil… God would trust her to be the person who shelters and sustains and teaches all these things. God would trust her to be his mother.

As Mary looked into that manger, while the world slept, she pondered the job ahead of her. She would be the one to teach Jesus to walk, to play, to love, and to forgive. She would be the one to dust off scraped knees, and scold him for misbehaving. She would help him grow to know himself as a man, as the first man – the human being on which all other human beings are modeled. The word made flesh.

Not only for the role she played on that night in Bethlehem, but for the role she played over decades we have known her as Mary, the Mother of God.

Our first and most important ordination is in baptism

Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism, where we are adopted into Jesus Christ and given the ministry of every disciple.(1) Ordination to a specific ministry in the church, whether of an Elder, Deacon, or Minister of Word and Sacrament does not confer any ontological change, override, supersede, or even amend the prior ordination into the ministry of the baptised.(2) The distinction we make in the offices of the church is one of function and not of holiness.(3) By saying that a baptised, called, and gifted individual is ineligible for a particular ministry by virtue of supposed insufficient holiness we are denying their Baptism.(4) If one’s Baptism can be annulled by supposed sin, or is dependent on our effort and perfection, then we are all doomed.

1. Every baptized Christian is a minister - the only differences we need to work out are whether a particular person is called to ministry of Word and Sacrament, or as an Elder or Deacon, as a Chaplain, and so on. As adopted children, we have a lot of very difficult chores - fortunately, one of them is not deciding which of us is worthy of the call of Christ.  We are all called, and we are all unworthy.  Rather, we must discern what our specific work is to be, and how we are best to go about it.

2. The view that ordination is magical, that it confers an ontological change in a person, is not a Reformed or Presbyterian view.

3. In fact, Jesus is at pains to point out that those who focus on distinctions of holiness are to be the most severely judged.  For the most part, they serve as counter-examples of self-righteousness and spiritual blindness, and it is the humble and despised who Jesus consistently lifts up.

4. Not only that, we are denying the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying them - but that is not the point we are making here.  The point we are making here is that every Christian disciple is called to ministry, long before that Christian has any hope whatsoever of fulfilling that ministry.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jesus is silent on homosexuality

(1)Though Paul mentions it twice, Jesus does not talk about homosexuality at all in the Gospels that we have as canon.(2) An argument from absence isn’t necessarily very compelling, but it is worth mentioning that for over 30 years we have energetically argued over something that the authors of the Gospels did not feel was worth mentioning even once one way or another.(3) Paul, the first to write about Jesus whose manuscripts we have, encouraged people not to marry at all because he expected the imminent return of Jesus in his lifetime.(4) He did not speak of committed LGBTQ relationships any more than the Hebrew scriptures did.(5)

1. It is possible, when trying to shoe-horn homosexuality into Jesus' concerns is to mention his use of the word aselgeia in Mark 7:22, and that this word possibly may have referred to homosexuality - or any number of sexual sins.  The fact is that no translator, all of whom were quite willing to show an anti-homosexual bias in translating toevah as 'abomination' in the OT only where it apparently referred to same-sex acts, saw fit to translate any word of Jesus in the gospels as referring to homosexuality.  In mistaken etymological inventions like the term "sodomy", we see clearly that they were inclined to do so if the opportunity presented itself.  It is also the case that only Tom Hobson and one other Biblical itnerpreter he is aware of would even make this argument.  So of all the Biblical interpreters he might be aware of, only 2, one of which being himself, would argue that Jesus mentions homosexuality at all.

2. And in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Paul only makes mention of 'coitus' between two males, not mentioning 'coitus' between females at all.  Why is this?  This mistake on his part precludes support for complementarianism.  Perhaps it is similar to his concern with 'effeminate' men in both of these passages?  (Using a Greek word that can be taken to mean more broadly 'soft' - again, translator's bias, in this case, misogynistic bias).  Should we take the fullness of this list of 'sins' and begin booting men who wear pink shirts from the pews?  In short, no.

3. So silent is Jesus on the matter that no translation we are aware of uses the word homosexual, or a derivative thereof, anywhere in the four Gospels.  But, again, an argument from silence is not a powerful argument.  Jesus is also silent on solar energy and embryonic stem cell research - that doesn't mean the gospel implies nothing about these things.  In fact, the Gospel implies that justice and inclusion are part of God's plan for salvation, especially inclusion of groups that the religious establishment looks down upon and views as 'unclean'.

4. As we have mentioned before, for Paul, marriage was at best a grudging allowance for those who simply could not remain abstinent until Christ's return.  As for Christ, he clearly demonstrates that even "family" far exceeds the traditional roles, being not about blood, but about living out one's faith.

5. His focus, like that of many opponents of justice for LGBTQ persons, is on the particular sex acts themselves, almost exclusively a focus on sex acts shared between two males.  One could account for this myopia entirely with reference to the well-established connection between homophobia and misogyny.  The concern is that a man defiles, or demeans himself, in behaving like a woman and having sex with a man.  Women are not mentioned in this misogynistic construct because feminine honor is of far less concern.  It is possible that none of this is really about sex at all, but about sexism - homophobia's Siamese twin.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We are made a community of equals in Christ

Male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free.(1) Neither how we are born, nor who we are politically or socially organized, nor how we are economically related to each other, is to have any impact on our status as children of God in Christ.(2) All children of God should be welcomed in ministry. We extrapolate this powerful good news in many ways already - beyond ‘Jew and Gentile’ to other races and nations; beyond ‘slave or free’ to other economic systems and injustices.(3) The community of equals in Christ extends to LGBTQ persons as well.

1. This is a message so radical that not even Paul fully understood it, no more than we fully understand it now, with our continuing struggles with racism, misogyny, cultural hubris, empire, violence, wealth and poverty, and yes, heterosexism.  We are living into the reality of God's reign, but it is far from fully realized.

2. Male and female are in-born, genetic categories of sex, as well as socially-constructed categories of gender.  Jew and Gentile are ritual-purity categories as well as cultural, linguistic and religious categories.  Slave and free are socially constructed, economic categories.  The point here is that none of these categories define us anymore, when we are made a new creation in Christ - neither in-born genetic differences, nor socially-constructed, nor ritual-purity, nor cultural, nor linguistic, nor theological, nor economic, etc. It would be foolish to assume, for example, that only literal Jews and Gentiles are to be included in the dissolution of cultural distinctions which separate us.  How much more so for biological and social distinctions?  The church has always assumed that these are categorical statements of equality and fellowship.

3. And yes, beyond 'male and female' to other in-born sexual identities and proclivities.  We have come a long way since Paul, but in many ways, we share his struggle, his excitement, and his blindness.  Let a few pieces of scale fall away, and let us ordain our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why God Breaks God's Rules

Drifting around in a variety of forms in the sea of ideas in our culture is this persistent kernel that there is a big difference between the contents and meaning of the Old Testament, and the contents and meaning of the New Testament. This idea may be expressed in the word Testament itself which suggests there were multiple different contracts God engaged in with human beings which contradict or overlap with one another. This idea may also be imported into the very identity of God as if we have a God of wrath and judgment on the one hand, and a God of love and peace on the other.

At a surface level I simply concede the point that there are indeed differences between parts of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament. I believe the differences are usually exaggerated in conversation. The roots of all of Jesus' and Paul's preaching can be found all over the place in the Old Testament. Ideas of peace, and forgiveness, and love of neighbor are prevalent in the Torah and the Prophets. Furthermore, many of the real differences are, in my opinion, cosmetic - more a function of the gap in time between the writing of the documents, shifts in the culture, and the audience for whom the authors were writing than a deep theological divide. There are as many or more differences within the Old Testament itself, or within the New Testament as there are between the two testaments, but it is no skin off my nose to concede that one could easily find apparent conflicts between the Old Testament and the New if you wanted to.

This leads to a big problem though, because it puts us in the silly position of asking questions like "Why does God break God's own rules?" In the Torah God is depicted dictating the laws of the covenant to Moses who writes them down and delivers them to the people of Israel. In the New Testament, God is depicted as Jesus the Christ who comes in person and precedes to dismantle a number of the laws of the Old Testament. Paul and Peter follow suit in proclaiming God's covenant open to Gentiles, even those who follow none of the kosher food laws and who are not circumcised. There are a variety of possible (bad) solutions to this contradiction:

#1 - God changed God's mind. This is the solution of Open Theists and others who argue that God evolves over time and can change her opinion on things. There is Biblical support for the idea that God can change her mind- God does it several times in Genesis alone. To my mind this idea is lacking because it raises our understanding of God above God. It suggests that we understood God correctly then, and understand God correctly now and if the situation has changed the factor which is mutable must be God. As though it weren't more likely that it was we humans of limited perception that had misunderstood rather than that God had been unclear or inconsistent.

#2 - God's Laws Had An Expiration Date. This is very similar to solution #1, it is the idea of dominionists who believe that the history of God's providence is divided into eras and certain rules apply only in their respective era. I can agree with the idea that laws and ideas are contextual - ie: they matter to a certain time and culture in ways they may not to other cultures in other times, but I don't think this way of reading scripture really flies. Firstly, it chops the Bible up in ways that scripture doesn't seem to support. Jesus seemed to believe that his mission was the continuation and fulfillment of God's previous covenants with Israel, not a replacement for them. God's promises to Abraham and David didn't contain expiration dates. This ultimately makes God into an Indian Giver who promises things, but then takes them back after some hidden annulment clause triggers.

#3 - Only Some OT Rules Were From God. This solution basically says God is perfectly consistent, but only some parts of the OT were truly divinely inspired. Others were mistakes. Those mistakes got corrected in the NT and now we have it right. While I am agreed that the Bible isn't a "flat" text, meaning not every verse is equally important, I think this idea is ultimately unhelpful. How can we be sure we know exactly which rules were from God and which ones were not? The entire Torah is supposedly dictated by God directly to Moses. If they got that wrong, why should we believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and the others got it so right? We can't start going at our Bible with scissors, that undermines the entire idea of inspiration.

All of these solutions are bad in my opinion because they are using the Bible incorrectly. The assumption behind each one of these approaches is that inspiration is in the text, as though it were a mineral to be mined out of the words on the page. All we have to do is use the right tools and we'll get the answer out of there. The truth (God) is contained in the black ink. That is why the solutions above either entail changing our ideas about God (#1) since the text itself seems contradictory we resolve the contradiction by making God flexible to our interpretation; or they involve adding something into the text (#2) like an entire mythological structure to history which makes sense of the contradictions; or they cut out the parts of the text we don't like (#3) until we can force it to make sense.

A better understanding of inspiration is that it is what occurs when the Holy Spirit intervenes between the believer and the text to reveal something true about God. The text is a dead letter. It is nothing but the human record of various people who had experiences of God through the Holy Spirit and tried to write them down. We return to them because of the witness of millions that they receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by faithfully engaging with them as scripture. Believers are what get inspired, not books. So here would be my solution to the apparent contradiction of God breaking God's own rules:

#4 - She Doesn't. The rules in Scripture are not God's rules and they never were. They are rules people of faith have written based on their best understanding of God's will. They are rules that people have sometimes followed and sometimes found that they led to a deeper relationship with God. But they are not "the Truth". Only God, revealed in Jesus is "the Truth" - and she is forever transcendent, forever undomesticated, forever surpassing our comprehension. All of our rules, and words, and images, and beliefs, and theologies, are sand mandalas that should be swept away every so often to remind us how fragile and impermanent our ideas about God are. To borrow a parable from Buddhism, we are standing on the shore of a vast lake and we want to get to the other side. Christianity is a raft that will take us to the other side of the lake. We should get into the raft and trust it to carry us across the lake, but when we get to the other side we're going to leave the raft behind, because the raft was never the goal. The raft was a vehicle to get us to the goal - the other side of the lake.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We call unclean what God calls clean

“What I have called clean, let no one call unclean.”(1) In this story, God is encouraging Peter to break the Law of Moses regarding purity - God is explicitly encouraging Peter to commit the ‘abominations’ we mentioned above.(2) Peter’s vision is about the continuing expansion and inclusion of God’s call, begun in the OT with the many calls to hospitality and love of neighbor as well as aliens in the land.(3) Even if we pretended that the OT condemned consensual, adult same-sex love (which it does not mention, much less condemn), that love would be right there on the table-cloth...with the shellfish.(4) This is not Peter’s innovation, nor his revisionism, nor his denial of God’s authority, any more than it is for those who support LGBTQ rights and inclusion now. It is merely the continuation of God’s ever-expanding call, breaking down barriers wherever the Spirit is found.(5)

1. To be clear, this is a statement of the problem we currently face in the church.  Peter heard these words in a dream from God when God commanded him to commit an "abomination" by eating unclean animals.  As for God calling LGBTQ persons clean, we can't imagine clearer evidence than God calling and equipping them for various ministries, including ministry of Word and Sacrament, both with outward evidence and with an inward sense of conviction and call, not to mention the agreement of the communities they serve.  Whether you choose to trust them when they and their communities say they are called, or you look to the fruits of their calling, it is clear that our current polity defies the movement of the Holy Spirit.

2. Apparently injunctions in the OT regarding ritual purity are not intended to stand for all time - they are temporary measures.  We can speculate on why God broke God's own rules, but it should by now be more than evident that simply because we locate a verse in scripture which implies an impurity, we cannot simply accept it unthinkingly any more than Peter could.

3. The trajectory of salvation history is that of greater and wider inclusion, especially inclusion of groups Israel or the Church treats with contempt.

4. This is in reference to the fact that in the OT, sex with same-gender ritual prostitutes and eating shellfish are both described using the exact same Hebrew word.  The Bible never mentions loving, monogamous same-sex relationships at all, but even the extreme of same-sex ritual prostitution is described with the term used to describe eating shrimp cocktail.

5.  We're sure that Peter got called a 'revisionist' at the time, that he was accused of heresy and of 'going against the Bible', and so on.  These accusations hearken back to Jesus - scribes and liturgical lawyers never like it when someone goes off the reservation following a wild and undomesticated God, a God who might do wild and previously-unthinkable things like ordain women or bless interracial marriages or re-marriages.  For better or worse, we seek to follow a barrier-breaking God, which is most clearly demonstrated in the boundary-breaking life of Jesus Christ, but can be seen throughout the whole of scripture.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

LGBTQ persons have clearly demonstrated spritual gifts for ministry

There are among us at this very moment LGBTQ individuals with an interior sense of call who many have testified are gifted with spiritual charisms for ordained ministry.(1) That there have been in the past, are currently, and will be in the future, powerful preachers, teachers, leaders, and caregivers who happen to be LGBTQ persons is amply witnessed.(2) Since ordained ministry in the Reformed tradition is strictly a division of function, and not of holiness, there can be no justification for denying their gifts for service.(3) With Peter we ask “surely no one can stand in the way of the Holy Spirit?”(4)

1. If this was not clearly the case, there would be no issue to debate.  If LGBTQ persons were not gifted for service by the Holy Spirit, we could all easily walk away from this discussion.  The problem arises when we acknowledge the fact that they are clearly the recipients of gifts for ministry, demonstrate these gifts alongside their sisters and brothers, and are yet denied ordination.

2. Again, this can easily be observed at any seminary which admits LGTBQ persons, and if one looks and thinks carefully, has already been demonstrated publicly many times by those who find a way to serve despite our mistaken polity. We genuinely hope no one believes it is reasonable to argue to the contrary.

3. See the previous arguments - holiness is a gift from God.  Ordination to ministry of Word and Sacrament is a particular calling in the context of a priesthood of all believers, all of whom are called to ministry of some kind.  This means that the best test for a particular call is: how well equipped is the person in question?

4. We believe this to be true.  In the long run, we cannot stand in the way of the Holy Spirit, which is breaking into our mistaken polity even now.  Though we can drag our feet and bray and squirm, the power of God will not be denied.  God has called, is calling, and will continue to call our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.  Period.  All we can do is temporarily stand in the way.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brief Interlude: Another Conversation

The Stated Clerk of Muskingum Valley Presbytery has set up a blog for posting and discussion on the many votes before the PC(USA) in the near future, including not only 10A but also the Belhar Confession and the New Form of Government.  Given our focus on 10A, we may not get a chance to talk much about these things here, so if you're interested in these conversations, head over to the Stated Clerk's new blog.

He's also set up a pretty thorough study guide on the various issues and amendments the PC(USA) is voting on, including a certain ordination resource by yours truly, and Tom Hobson's response to said resource (which we have subsequently dealt with in depth.)  The study guide is interesting for seeing a few different views on the various issues.

We now return to your regularly-scheduled arguments in favor of LGBTQ inclusion.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service

(1)The Holy Spirit is the source of all holiness.(2) Just as we are not saved by our own effort, we do not grow in grace by our own sweat either.(3) There are no actions of repentance, charity, or mercy that any individual could perform which would make them worthy of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.(4) Our worthiness lies not in our personal righteousness but in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by the gifts of the Spirit.(5)

1. We are not sanctified by buying into heterosexism any more than we are sanctified by buying into regular ol' sexism.  Similarly, LGTBQ persons are no less gifted for service by the Holy Spirit than heterosexual persons.

2. Just like with justification, there is no holiness-meter, much as some pretend that they have one in their possession.  The fact is that homosexuality itself is not a sin - like any consensual sexuality, it can be expressed sinfully or not, just like heterosexuality.

3. That would of course not count as 'grace' at all, it would count as achievement.  This is something that in a Reformed context we take to be a given.

4. Again, to be clear, where worthiness for the call to Ministry of Word and Sacrament is concerned, LGBTQ sisters and brothers are indistinguishable from their heterosexual counterparts; in inward conviction, in outward verification of call, in demonstrated gifts for ministry, and in capacity for right or sinful behavior, indistinguishable - except insofar as our polity forces us to make an unjustified distinction.

5. That being said, it is abundantly clear that LGBTQ persons have been gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry in similar ways to their heterosexual counterparts.  The only difference is in whether they are allowed by our mistaken polity to exercise those gifts for the edification of the church.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Justification is by faith

Justification comes by grace through faith and not through any human effort.(1) Establishing a suspect standard of holiness for service in the Church contradicts our confessions where we proclaim that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,(2) but equally that all have been set free from bondage to sin and death in Christ.(3) We are freed for service - a service which we unjustly and selectively deny to some who Christ has claimed.(4)

1. Unlike suspect theories like complementarianism, which have almost no support in scripture, much less in reason, justification by faith is essential to Reformed theology.

2. That having been said, let it not be taken to imply that we believe that LGBTQ persons are somehow intrinsically sinful because of their good and inborn sexual identity.  We do not believe this is the case - only that LGBTQ persons are just as capable of sin as any other persons, and are no more able to justify themselves by their good works than any other persons.

3. That is to say, our brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be LGTBQ are indistinguishable from our brothers and sisters who are heterosexual where justification is concerned.

4. This claim of Christ upon us is something we can never demonstrate decisively nor prove.  The evidence of this claim is in our inward conviction and in our outward behavior.  Again, this is exactly the same for heterosexuals and for LGBTQ persons.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Half-time Reflections

Perhaps you've noticed this blog has taken on a little bit of a theme lately? I wouldn't blame our readers, new or old, from thinking that this was a single-topic blog, when in fact, we hope it will be much more than even a blog. We're in a process of building something we think is quite exciting, which is difficult to explain, but you're free to try and glean what it will be from reading our identity statement.

But for the time being this space is what it is, and it is largely dominated by this conversation about ordination standards in the Presbyterian Church (USA). That is because two of the proprietors here, Doug Hagler, and myself, are ministers in the PC(USA) and have been passionate about this issue for a long time, and now we find ourselves in the midst of a vote on Amendment 10-A and actually in a position to do our small part for greater justice. What you would probably never realize based on our recent activity is that this issue is far from the top of our list of things we are truly passionate about. Circumstances, an observed need, and our own pedantry are responsible for the current flurry of activity on this subject, but it isn't without a tinge of irony that we look at how much time we're dedicating to the subject and sigh.

That doesn't mean we regret having engaged on this course. Far from it. Speaking for myself personally, it has been a fantastic learning experience. The research required to acquit ourselves respectably on this subject has taught me a great deal, sharpened my thinking, and been an exercise in sustained attention to rival most other work I've attempted. More significantly, it has been interesting observing its spread through the very tiny pond of our denomination, and even rippling out into neighboring denominational ponds.

We are at the half-way point in terms of the structure of the original document. We've completed our expanded responses to the arguments against LGBTQ ordination, and are moving into our expansion of the arguments in favor. It is easier from here on out, though. The heavy lifting was mostly in the first half.

So far, I have been pleasantly surprised at the lack of personal attacks directed our way. I don't know if that is because most people just don't care about our tiny corner of the blogosphere, or if we have written the document in such a way as to discourage them, but I'll take it. I have no illusions of our incredible importance, or superior argumentative prowess. I believe we have done as good of a job as we're capable of doing, but whether that is good enough to have any impact is beyond my knowledge.

Due to requests from others we will be releasing a pdf of the entire expanded document with citations for those who are really bored. We will also be producing a non-denominational version of the document which we hope will be useful to fellow mainline denominations having similar conversations. Some churches have discussed using it as a curriculum for adult education, which we are surprised about, but happy to support. We may offer some help in that direction, eventually.

My hopes for this project are the same as they were at the start - that it be useful in any small measure for the accomplishment of inclusive ordination standards. I hope it will be read at presbytery meetings, in committees, in churches, and anywhere else that it may provoke fruitful conversation toward that end. And then I hope we can produce articles on the stuff that we are really passionate about that will generate half as much interest as our posts on this subject have.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ordaining LGBTQ people makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world

To what degree are we willing to compromise our conscience and our polity for the sake of ‘getting along’?(1) Many churches in other countries do not ordain women either - it is a fact that our ordination of women makes it more difficult to work with ultra-conservative denominations and some international churches. Shall we cease to ordain women then?(2)  There are places in Africa that are currently debating whether to jail and execute LGBTQ persons. Must we deny our reason and conscience to support jailing and executing sexual minorities as well?(3)  We are better off as a witness of justice, equality and conscience for the whole world to see. This is what the church has always been at its best, choosing the love of God for all persons over the injustices of the world, loving the unclean as Jesus did.(4)

1. The ecumenical movement has so many hurdles to overcome we find it incomprehensible that this argument gets brought up selectively with respect to inclusive ordination. Is communion for anyone? Or only the baptised? Or only the confirmed, and confessed and approved by the appropriate ecclesiastical authority? Is baptism for infants or adults? What is the role of bishops, and how shall we treat the authority of the Pope? Which books belong in the canon? Can ministers/priests marry? So many theological issues are far more fundamental than this that the idea a gay minister would be the one gap we cannot bridge is disappointing. It reveals that the priorities of some are so far out of whack with those of God that they cannot even see what is a central theological issue, and what is adiaphora. The gospel of heterosexism rules the day.

2. Break-away denominations recently formed by people leaving the PC(USA) are reverting back to refusing to ordain women, or at best, making it into a 'local option'.  So it is up to each Presbytery to decide whether women are equal to men, or less.  This is true in the EPC and the OPC.

3. The most publicized example of laws aiming to jail and even execute homosexuals is the one now coming into action in Uganda. The law not only opens the option of capital punishment for something called "aggravated homosexuality" and those who test HIV-positive, it makes it illegal not to report anyone you suspect of being homosexual. The situation in Uganda did not arise in a vacuum. Here is a list of countries where homosexuality is criminalized in some degree, including in our own country where they are still denied open military service and marital rights in most states. Furthermore, the connection between evangelicals in the United States and the oppressive laws in Uganda and elsewhere is well established and shameful. We should not assume the law will trend toward greater justice as shown by the recent UN vote to remove sexual orientation from a resolution that protects people from arbitrary executions.

4. Again and again we have to be reminded that Jesus' table-fellowship practices, his healing miracles, his working on the Sabbath, and other behaviors were not mere symbolic actions of compassion. Rather, he was saying that the unclean, the socially-undesirable, the dispossessed, the hated, the outcasts, and sinners are precisely those who make up the kingdom of God. To stand with sexual minorities in a climate of hate is to stand with Jesus. We take an exclusive stance at great peril to our salvation.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Paul condemned homosexuality

The passage from Romans 1 popularly cited as the most damning New Testament condemnation of Homosexuality is a warning against the dangers of self-righteousness, not a polemic against Homosexuality.(1) If anything it ought to be read as a strong caution against the belief that we can keep the church pure by keeping the wrong kind of people out.(2) We are all in exactly the same position before the grace of Jesus Christ and no rule, least of all one as arbitrary as G-6.0106b, can ensure the faithfulness of the body.
Furthermore, we do not support every claim we can cherry-pick from the epistles. Paul also condemns women speaking in assembly or uncovering their hair.(3)   As a church, our polity should not, and does not, depend on proof-texts lifted out of context. Rather, Paul and the early church consistently defied social boundaries as they welcomed, as equals, many excluded and supposedly ‘unclean’ persons.(4)


1. This is even a stance that conservative commentators take.  Paul is not talking about homosexuality, nor is he doing any work in constructive sexual ethics.  He is setting up his readers for the reversal, wherein he warns against hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  Judge not lest ye be judged.

2. For reasons of efficiency, we only dealt with one example, but we now have the space to deal with all of them, at least briefly.  This is done knowing that one can easily find conservative scholars who will disagree and other scholars who will agree, but for different reasons.  The core point is that simply making the above claim is nowhere near enough.  Intelligent, well-intentioned, scholarly people can and do disagree.

Romans 1: 26-27: here, Paul is making the argument we dealt with above, that homosexuality is 'unnatural', but only as part of a long litany of sins, as discussed above, and only as a setup for the turn toward the true point - speaking against hypocrisy.  It is not even clear what [antimisthia] is referring to.  If we have science as our guide, it is referring to...nothing.

1 Corinthians: 6:9: here we have another sin-litany, another list Paul is using as a rhetorical device rather than as a cornerstone of any constructive theology.  He is laying out why unrepentant sinners will not see the Kingdom of God.  Fortunately, homosexuality is not necessarily a sin, any more than heterosexuality is necessarily a sin.  Either can be practiced sinfully.  What prompted Paul here seems to be the problem of Christians taking each other before magistrates, in public, rather than judging or reconciling among themselves.  Paul is lumping in litigation with other acts he feels are more obviously sinful to make a point.

1 Timothy 1:9-10: yet another sin-litany, this time the English translations giving us a taste of the variety of possible translations for the word [pornos].  Once again, we have lesbians unmentioned.  That aside, here the argument is, seemingly, that those who teach doctrine should aim for inspiring love, good conscience, and faith - how different from the seeming fruit of our own doctrinal arguments.  Ultimately, following this 'clobber passage', Paul makes an argument for his own call that LGTBQ persons make for their calling in turn.  Paul has no more evidence of his call than anyone has.  We take him at his word that he has been chosen, justified, and is being sanctified, gifted for service.  We can look at his writings and his actions and decide.  That is exactly what amendment 10A asks Presbyteries and Sessions to do, but without one specific issue lifted above all others and made into a litmus test.

3. While some individuals and congregations have left the PC(USA) for the EPC or the OPC, denominations which do not guarantee the equality of women in their polity, the PC(USA) remains committed to the equality of women as disciples of Christ - something that was part of the early church from the very beginning.  Yes, one can cherry-pick passages from Paul which seem to denounce women in authority.  One can also realize that these brief passages are not part of the core of Paul's argument at any point, and that in other places Paul contradicts these biased verses when he comes to a core aspect of the Gospel - that there is no Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are made new in Christ.

4. "This man eats with sinners!"  Jesus, in his life and ministry, took many opportunities to dismantle the prevailing biases about clean and unclean, insiders and outsiders.  It seems foolish to imagine that he would not be doing the same now - in fact he is, through his Spirit, breaking the short-sighted boundaries we continually construct around ourselves.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Responding to Rev. Tom Hobson, PhD

Here are our responses to Rev. Hobson's various arguments.  Rev. Hobson was kind enough to correspond briefly with us by way of email, and gave his permission to post his document.  We informed him that we would be posting our responses on this blog, and we will let him know when this post goes live.

Below are Rev. Hobson's arguments in block quotes, while our replies follow in italics. In a number of cases, we have already addressed some of these arguments in our expanded treatment of each of our refutations of anti-inclusion arguments and our pro-inclusion arguments.  In those cases, we will reference the post in question.

In the event that Rev. Hobson wishes to reply to us, after posting these replies and counter-arguments to our blog, we will give Rev. Hobson the last word.  This is not to say that we doubt we could continue to go back and forth for a very long time, only to set a limit ahead of time so that we remain pithy and thorough the first time, insofar as we can.

“Homosexuality is an abomination.” [My advice to conservatives: skip this argument. It is not central to our case.] Non-kosher food is an “abomination” (Deut 14:3), not to God, but in the sense that it is to be utterly despised by Jews. Jesus sets aside the kosher food laws for Christians (Mark 7:19), but there is nothing else in the Hebrew Bible described as an “abomination” that is not reaffirmed as sin in the New Testament other than cross-dressing (Deut 22:5). Male and female prostitution are specifically an abomination “to YHWH” (Deut 23:19), as are any form of idolatry, witchcraft, adultery, homosexual behavior, bestiality, and incest. Non-kosher food is the only ritual-cleanliness category for which this term is used.
It is claimed here that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 does not describe a “committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender” because this was “not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle Eastern thought.” No such distinction was necessary. In both Leviticus and 1 Corinthians, we see that love, consent, and commitment are irrelevant. Both active and passive partner are held equally guilty, no matter what their motives or the quality of their relationship.
We believe this is a case of missing the forest for the trees. The use of [toevah] through the Old Testament demonstrates that it is culturally relative. This is why something can be [toevah] for Egypt that is fine for Israel. This does not change whether the object is described as taboo for Israel or taboo for the God of Israel as some things were certainly taboo to Ba'al and Marduk and their respective peoples. It is about maintaining cultural identity. The issue with idolatry, witchraft, and temple prostitution is that these are practices of cultures surrounding Israel. Israel is enjoined from doing them to protect their uniqueness. It is precisely this logic which Jesus assails in going far beyond merely setting aside kosher food laws, to violating the sabbath, not washing, associating with foreigners, the unclean, sinners, and tax collectors. Jesus programatically assaults the ritual-purity system at the roots.

It is false that incest (as we now understand it) is an abomination before God in the OT - what we would define as incest was perfectly acceptable to the culture that produced the Hebrew Bible.  There are also more abominations than are mentioned here, including cutting one's hair a particular way, or mixing threads in fabrics.  One gets the impression that the concern here is for maintaining distinct philosophical categories - that mixing of categories is what is detestable, and that this is an issue of natural philosophy where it is not also an issue of idolatry.  To be clear, ordained LGBTQ persons should not engage in idolatry of any kind.

The idea of an active and passive partner is interesting: it is a very common misunderstanding of sexuality in general, and is very likely connected to the idea, which we will return to in future posts, that a male dishonors himself by being the 'passive' or receiving sexual partner.  In brief, if your sexual partner is passive, that may be a sign of disinterest, but it is not a necessary aspect of the act itself.  Women are not 'passive' sexual recipients, nor are those on either end of a same-sex encounter (as long as things are going well that is).

The idea that love, consent and commitment are irrelevant needs to be put out of the conversation as soon as possible.  This is ethically, morally, legally and theologically an unacceptable position to take with regard to any sexual act, no matter what one's biblical interpretation may say.  A theological or ethical system where love, consent, commitment, intent and context don't matter at all is incoherent at best.

“Homosexuality is the ‘sin of Sodom’.” How can you deny the obvious?? One can say that intended rape is the real issue, but clearly implied is the sense that Sodom is depraved because they demand sex with their own gender. Homosexuality is never named specifically in other Biblical references to Sodom because the audience already knows the story (although see 2 Pet 2:7, which connects Sodom with the sexual sin of aselgeia). Ezekiel mentions inhospitality, but it also says Sodom did “abominable” deeds, an obvious categorical reference to the abominations named in Leviticus (Ezek 16:50).
These references are 'obvious' only to a reader who has a pre-existing anti-homosexual bias, which I can only imagine most readers in the ancient world had.  In fact, the claim that this sin is 'obvious' makes Biblical silence on the issue a more powerful argument in favor of the sin of Sodom being inhospitality, not less. The term [aselgeia] is not translated as having to do with homosexual behavior in any major translation that we are aware of, ever. Given the demonstrated anti-homosexual bias of many translators in their selective use of 'abomination' for [toevah], and the linguistic fallacy of 'sodomite' for [qadesh], we think it is probable that if they were convinced [aselgeia] referred to homosexual behavior they would have translated it that way.

“Homosexuality is like pedophilia or bestiality.” True, we cannot lump homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia together, but why is the person who is attracted to children to be viewed as dirt, while everyone else is loved by God? The real issue is not whether those who practice same-sex intercourse are loved by God, but the fact that all three practices in question here both grieve God and harm the person who does them.
First of all, no one is to be viewed as dirt, including pedophiles.  Pedophiles are loved by God.  The problem is that acting on one's pedophilia is necessarily rape under all circumstances - unlike consensual sexual acts.  It is a violation no matter what, because it is forcing sex on a child who is not physically nor psychologically prepared for sex.  Unlike consensual sexual acts, it is necessarily harmful in the extreme, and to compare pedophilia to homosexuality is without ethical or logical grounds.

We agree with Rev. Hobson, however, that the crux of the issue is harm - most importantly harm to the victims of pedophilia and bestiality. Homosexual practices do not necessarily harm anyone any more than heterosexual practices do, because there are no exclusively homosexual practices which we could consider in the first place.  To claim otherwise is to make a (very common) fallacy.

“Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory.” The Bible does NOT teach the goodness of behaviors that it tolerates in its characters. That is a deliberate falsehood. The Bible’s central teaching is stated three times, in the Torah, by Jesus, and by Paul: “The two [man and woman] shall become one flesh.” God intends sex only for a lifelong one-flesh relationship between a man and a woman. Any other practice is a departure from God’s intention, including fornication, concubinage, polygamy, and divorce.
What 50% of Americans practice is serial monogamy, not polyamory. With regard to Christian leadership, we regard divorce as sin redeemable by repentance and fidelity to one’s subsequent spouse. In the current debate, we are being asked to affirm homosexuality, not as sin redeemable by repentance, but as a good gift of God and a human right.
The last sentence is the only one which we can accept without argument.  Rev. Hobson is preferencing a tiny minority of the Bible's teaching on sexuality and relationships, but to claim that this tiny minority abrogates all other passages which describe even God-ordained arrangements which differ is a bit baffling.  One could just as easily argue that, particularly in the NT, the vaunted lifelong one-flesh relationship is merely a grudging allowance for those who cannot practice celibacy.  If the Bible's central teaching is as Rev. Hobson says, why does Paul consistently disagree?  Granted, we have talked about another way to view marriage, for LGBTQ folks as well as heterosexuals: as a school of virtue in the virtue-ethics sense.

“Homosexuality is unnatural.” When we say “unnatural,” we mean that God did not design us to do this. In his book What We Can’t Not Know, Budziszewski argues from God’s design: Our lungs were designed to take in air, not food. The same is true for the issue of practicing sexuality in total defiance to God’s design.
Same-sex relations are a part of nature. But so is sex between different species. So are cancer, schizophrenia, and AIDS. So are black widows and praying mantises who kill and eat their mates, and mackerel who kill purely for sport. “Go and do thou likewise”? And again, why is the natural sexual attraction to children not a part of God’s good creation? If we get rid of our arbitrary notion of consent, and/or if we can ever prove (as some in the APA have tried to do) that sex with children can sometimes be healthy, our objection to it becomes pure hatefulness.
(Added link is ours :) The argument comparing sexuality to respiratory function is a false analogy.  Lungs cannot take in food without putting our life in danger.  Many (most) sexual acts can be engaged in without doing the same, and it is a simple thing to say that sex acts which threaten one's life should not be attempted.  Once again, there are no homosexual sex acts which heterosexuals do not engage in in far greater numbers (if not greater proportions in some cases).  This means that whatever the category of "unnatural" acts we are so unspecifically discussing is cannot possibly be defined as purely same-sex acts.

False analogies follow between same-sex relations and sex between different species, cancer, schiziophrenia, AIDS, black widows, praying mantises and so on.  "Go and do likewise?"  Obviously not, fallacy aside.  (How would one "do" cancer anyway?)

Once again, the third false analogy returns: comparing consensual same-sex acts to pedophilic sex acts.  We have dismantled that argument more than once, and don't need to do so again.

We have no idea who in the APA have tried to demonstrate that adults violating children can sometimes be healthy - all we can find are some refences to a single symposium where a few participants made a limited case, and were rightly rejected.  Pedophilia remains on the APA's list of mental disorders.  Simply because a few APA members made a poor argument, do we have to accept further poor arguments equating consensual sex to non-consensual sex?  Ironically, this is precisely what Rev. Hobson is doing when he argues that pedophilia and homosexuality are similar.  And who is it who thinks that consent is 'arbitrary'?  Unclear overall, but consent in issues of sexuality is not arbitrary.

“Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy.” Homosexuality is no more or less dangerous and/or unhealthy than heterosexual immorality when practiced to the same degree. Both should be avoided.
This seems to contradict a claim Rev. Hobson made above, where he said that bestiality, pedophilia and homosexuality are all intrinsically harmful, comparing them once again by way of false analogy. We also wish Rev. Hobson would define what he means by heterosexual immorality. Since we know he believes homosexual behaviors are all immoral, we are left to assume that he means "all heterosexual behavior that overlaps with homosexual behavior". Is he saying in essence that the only safe or moral sexual act is vaginal intercourse in the bounds of marriage? Given that vaginal intercourse can transmit disease as readily as most other sex acts we don't believe his position is either palatable or coherent.

“Homosexuality is a choice.” We concur that same-sex desire is not a choice. As in the case of substance addiction, the choice is how we respond. We expect a pedophile to make the right choices in response to their attraction to children, even though they did not choose to have these desires. Those with same-sex attraction who choose not to get involved sexually with their own gender tend to have more success breaking free from their desires than those who do become sexually involved.

The agreement here is a good start. Unfortunately Rev. Hobson follows with an implied false analogy, comparing inborn sexual orientation to substance addiction.  The two are not really comparable.    For an LGBTQ person, the right response to their sexual orientation is identical to the right response to heterosexual attraction - except insofar as anti-LGBTQ bias makes their life needlessly painful, leads to ostracism from their community, and denies them rights afforded to other couples.  But in both cases, the exact same ethics apply.

We're also curious about the 'tend to have more success', since success rates in altering sexual orientation are abysmal across the board, such that therapies aimed at accomplishing this are not endorsed by any major US scientific organization.  The General Assembly of the PC(USA) agreed a decade ago, in fact, about the uselessness and ethical problems of conversion/reparative therapy (here is the 1999 GA decision's text in full).

“Sexual orientation can be changed with ‘reparative therapy’.” The claims that reparative therapy is a cruel hoax are sweeping and unsubstantiated. Reputable reparative therapy has been shown to have a 70% success rate in reducing unwanted same-sex desire, a rate comparable to substance addiction treatment. Both kinds of treatment have a similar rate of recidivism, but no one claims that treatment for addiction is useless or harmful.
We very much want a citation for the 70% success rate.  In all of our research, we never found anything like that.   On the contrary, we found that no US scientific organization endorses reparative/conversion therapy, and as mentioned above, neither does the PC(USA).  For more on the many problems and fundamental weaknesses of reparative/conversion therapy, see our expanded argument here.  (And again we have the false analogy with substance abuse, an entirely different issue, except possibly in a case of genuine sex addiction, against which heterosexuality is no protection.)

“Homosexuality damages society and/or traditional marriage.” Here I defer to page 13 of Alan Wisdom’s article “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” ( He argues that divorce and adultery around us tends to erode the marriages of all married couples. The same would be true for cohabiting couples, and for the acceptance of gay marriage as simply one more lifestyle option.
Again, I reject the claim that the Bible approves of eight different kinds of marriage. The marrying of female captives after a one-month waiting period is the Bible’s unique humane alternative to what everyone else in the Near East: rape and sale into slavery. Marrying a slave promoted her to family status; what’s wrong with that? Jesus rejects polygamy, and Leviticus 18 makes it extremely difficult, since it forbids marriage to any in-law. The only reason we do not favor levirate marriage is because we no longer have the same level of concern for preserving offspring for a man who has died. And the supposed forced marriage of a rape victim is actually marriage of a girl who has been seduced, which the girl’s father can prevent if the male is a jerk. (Here is a case of gratuitously seeking to distort the Bible by exaggeration to make it sound unworthy of belief.)
Suffice to say - Alan Wisdom makes an argument in his article, but it is neither strong nor compelling, and is founded on his presuppositions rather than on facts about the social impact of committed same-sex relationships.  One example: his claim that two parent households are better for children is correct - in fact, same-sex households are measurably, if slightly, better for children.  Furthermore, even if we accept at face value the argument that divorce and adultery have a deleterious effect on marriages around them it does not follow at all that the acceptance of gay marriage would have the same effect. In fact, it would seem to have the opposite effect, since it would reduce the number of unwed couples in society and increase family stability. A point which has been exhaustively demonstrated.  It would also provide more homes for foster children and for children to be adopted into, which would further benefit society, not to mention those children.

As for "gratuitous distortion" - we think that this is gratuitous ad hominem, seeking to imply that our intent is dishonest and geared toward making the Bible sound unworthy of belief.  It is not.  We take the Bible as seriously as Rev. Hobson does, though we do not have PhDs in exegesis; we simply disagree with him.

Rev. Hobson describes more of the context in which the many kinds of Biblical marriage arose, but does not refute their existence.  We are arguing over the details of the context of various kinds of marriage in the Bible, not on whether there is more than the one which Rev. Hobson lifts up (anachronistically, we think) as normative in all cases.  The point is that "Biblical marriage" means more than one thing, and Rev. Hobson seems to agree, while disagreeing on the details. We do think that if anyone cannot see what the problem with forced marriage of slaves is, or the forced marriage of a girl who has been "seduced" (what we now often call date rape, statutory rape or a number of other less flattering terms), then we certainly don't want them influencing our sexual ethics. Simply because in the original context an arrangement was better than prevailing cultural options does not make it adequately ethical.

“Paul condemns homosexuality.” Hagler and Clark’s reading of Romans 1 bears no resemblance to the text or context. Clearly, in Romans 1, homosexuality of both kinds is presented as a warning light for the depths of human depravity, not a gift of God if only it were practiced properly. It is not “cherry-picking” to take Paul’s sin list in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 as timeless and universal, both because it reaffirms many Old Testament commands that carried a death penalty (indicating their seriousness), and because it warns that those who continue such practices “shall not inherit the reign of God.”
Our reading of Romans 1 is not novel and is, in fact, widely accepted even by conservative interpreters. Our point is simple and correct - Paul is not writing a treatise on the evils of homosexuality. Paul is not even writing about sexual ethics. Paul is describing a variety of behaviors he regards as sinful, including gossiping, boasting, and disobedience to parents, but also some form of same-sex behavior, possibly ritual, saying that these are the behaviors of an outside group, but he then turns the force of his rebuke on his readers saying that they are even worse because they are self-righteous. The entire passage is a condemnation of pharisaic self-righteousness, the moral of which is judge not lest you be judged. To read Romans 1 as a text about sexual ethics is to completely misread it.

As for Paul's sin list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 it is absolutely cherry-picking to take a list given in a specific time for specific people, without context, and assume it is timeless and universal. Paul is fond of lists as a rhetorical device. He lists fruits of the Spirit in many different places and they are not identical lists. We should not assume he is being exhaustive or prescriptive in his lists. We should assume he is doing what preachers do and being illustrative.

Let us turn to the death penalty issue for a moment.  Every person who claims to uphold a "Biblical" (albeit highly selective) definition of sexual ethics derived from Leviticus should also support the death penalty for people they believe Leviticus describes, should they not?

“Ordaining LGBTQ people makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world.” The Two-Thirds World is a reminder to us that our rejection of Biblical sexual ethics is a heresy of Western white revisionists.
Is ordaining women also a heresy of western white revisionists?  How about not having a death penalty for homosexual acts?  Or a death penalty for dishonoring one's parents for that matter?  Or a death penalty for adultery?  Is giving women equal property rights western white revisionism? Is marrying out of love with an ideal of equality between spouses also revisionism? How about treating mental illness with counseling and medication instead of exorcism?  If we have to bring out the broad "western white revisionists" brush, we should paint everything with it, shouldn't we?  Is it 'revisionism' every time we improve upon the past, ethically or politically?

“Justification is by faith.” Here is where the writers, in the words of Jude, “twist the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4). “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist” (1 John 2:4; see also 1 John 3:6). The issue is not pure sinlessness (1 John 1:10 says we make God a liar if we claim we are sinless), but the unrepentant persistence in sin. 35 years ago, I never thought I would find myself quoting James’ “Faith without works is dead” and insisting on repentance, but that’s because I never dreamed there would be such open rebellion against the will of Christ within the church.
Open rebellion?  Twisting into licentiousness? Throughout his reply Rev. Hobson has engaged in ad hominem attacks on our motive and uncharitable assertions about our intelligence. We are willing to chalk it up to writing passionately for his beliefs and an impersonal medium.  For the record, though this is at times a very frustrating interaction over a clumsy medium, we assume that Rev. Hobson is intelligent, well-intentioned...and wrong on a number of points.

Grace is always too profligate and mercy is always lawlessness to some. We believe Rev. Hobson has the order of things all backwards, but it is beyond the scope of our argument to get into a full-fledged debate about justification, repentance, faith and works here. Suffice to say grace conquers all - even the hearts of those still hindering the full inclusion of those whom Christ has chosen and called. 

“We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service.” Not without repentance! Sexual immorality “should not even be named among you” as an acceptable Christian form of behavior (Eph 5:3). The issue is not what we have done in our past, but whether it has stayed in our past, or remains part of our present lifestyle.
The Holy Spirit blows where it wills. It is at work in the lives of even those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Various individuals were called righteous by Jesus without having ever accepted him as Lord and savior, decided on a life of discipleship to him, or announced their guilt and asked for forgiveness. Consider the rich young ruler who is called righteous by Jesus before he is even presented the opportunity to repent - and then refuses to do so. Does it negate what Jesus said about him before, that he was a righteous (sanctified) man? We don't want to read too much into very little room, but it seems to us by the theme of his replies to these first three positive arguments that Rev. Hobson has made it not about God's work for us, but about our own proper acceptance of that work.

The whole point is moot, furthermore, since as we have continually argued, homosexuality is not a sin.

“LGBTQ persons have clearly demonstrated spiritual gifts for ministry.” So have many heterosexual offenders, whom we rightly exclude from ministry if they cannot desist from their behavior. Powerful preachers and teachers who are living in defiance of God’s revealed will are a threat to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.
Nothing is a threat to the church of Jesus Christ which is already guaranteed the victory. We rightly exclude from ministry only those who are not fit because they lack the gifts, or those who are a danger to others. It seems Rev. Hobson is once again making a veiled reference to analogies of pedophilia which we have already thoroughly debunked. The continual inability or refusal to separate between mutually loving, consensual monogamous relationships between adults and situations where abuse of power, or inability to consent are a part of the arrangement is as troubling as it is, unfortunately, common.

“We call unclean what God calls clean.” Nowhere do the writers ever demonstrate that God calls same-sex intercourse clean.
God calls monogamous consensual same-sex relationships clean the same way God has always done it: in the hearts of believers and through the testimony of many individuals of faith proving that their way of life brings the fruits of the spirit. Reason, science, experience, and the inward conviction of the Holy Spirit all testify that homosexuality is not a sin.  Scripture itself prepares us, in many instances, to understand that what was previously seen as even an 'abomination' may at a later time be called 'clean'.

“We are made a community of equals in Christ.” Equality is not the issue.
Equality is never the issue for those in a position of privilege. It is always the issue for people on the margins - the ones Jesus says will come first into the Kingdom.  Equality in Christ, as revealed in scripture and in the slow march of justice in Christian history, is at the heart of this entire discussion, as well as at the heart of the gospel.

“Jesus is silent on homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible are loving monogamous LGBTQ relationships dealt with at all.” False on both counts. Jesus says more about homosexuality than he does about the environment, health care, and numerous other issues. Aside from affirming the central teaching of the Torah on sexuality (quoted above), Jesus also names the sin of aselgeia on his sin list in Mark 7:22. Aselgeia is a term used by Jews for shocking violations of the sex laws of the Torah beyond adultery and fornication, and is likely to have been his term for homosexual behavior. The burden of proof is on those who claim that the Bible’s prohibitions of homosexual behavior do not deal with loving mutual LGBTQ behavior. The term Paul uses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy is a generic masculine noun, “he who has koitos with a male.” There is no indication that the act is not loving and mutual.
See our response to Rev. Hobson's translation of [aselgeia] above.  We are not Biblical exegetes, but his is clearly one translation of many which are justified.

As for Jesus repetition of the "central" teaching of the Torah on sexuality, it is highly ironic that it occurs in the context of a screed against divorce and not in reference to homosexuality, though this is the purpose to which Rev. Hobson wants to put it.  It is also interesting that for the "central" teaching on sexuality, the Song of Solomon is never mentioned, even though it says more than the rest of the Bible combined about sexuality.

In 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Paul only makes mention of 'coitus' between two males, not mentioning 'coitus' between females at all.  Why is this?  This mistake on his part precludes support for complementarianism.  Perhaps it is similar to his concern with 'effeminate' men in both of these passages?  (Using a Greek word that can be taken to mean more broadly 'soft' - again, translator's bias - in this case, misogynistic bias).  Should we take the fullness of this list of 'sins' and begin booting men who wear pink shirts from the pews?  In short, no.

We accept the "burden of proof", and we carry it willingly as far as we are called to carry it.  It is a privilege to be part of the struggle for justice, equality and inclusion for our sisters and brothers who are called by God to serve; a privilege to be a tiny part of the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit.  Hence this document, and all the argument supporting it, and all of the argument of the many others who are making the same case all over the Church.

“Our first and most important ordination is baptism,” “The priesthood is composed of all believers,” “Exclusion LGBTQ of persons adds nothing of value to the ordination standards we already have. What a watering-down of ordination into meaninglessness! It ignores Paul’s teachings in 1 Timothy and Titus about the necessity of leaders sending the right message by their manner of life to those they lead and to outsiders. One gets the impression that as long as one has a baptismal certificate, one’s manner of life, calling, and gifts are irrelevant. The writers state that “chastity in singleness” does not begin to address the social reality of the average American who starts having sex at 16 and does not marry until 28. Apparently the crowd and the Gallup Poll determine God’s truth, and if 60% of pastors seduce their parishioners, then God had better get rid of our outdated standards. Seriously, we know we will never stamp out domestic violence and substance abuse among our people, but we rightly allow zero tolerance for them, no matter how prevalent they may become.
Watering-down ordination into meaninglessness is lifting up fidelity-chastity as the primary standard for ordained ministry. Our approach asks the church to take seriously the vows of Baptism and the Reformed commitment to a priesthood of all believers.

We do not ignore Paul's teachings.  We do not even reference Baptism certificates, and nowhere do we even imply to the slightest degree that manner of life, calling and gifts are irrelevant. (In fact, we make the opposite argument only a few paragraphs previous - that gifts are deeply important.)  Rev. Hobson contributes nothing on the issue of sexual ethics in a context which is entirely different from the Biblical context...and he ends with more false analogies, comparing homosexual love to domestic violence and, for the fourth or so time, substance abuse.

Gallup polls do not determine God's truth, but neither does simply ignoring massive changes in context, as if being celibate for an average of 12 years (from late adolescence to average age of marriage), nearly into one's fourth decade of life, was identical to being celibate until marriage in Biblical times...often by age 14, as was the case in the Bronze Age.  Ignoring context does not make it irrelevant.  

“LGBTQ persons already serve in other denominations and organizations, proving dire predictions false every day.” This claim ignores what’s going on in the Anglican communion and the ELCA at the moment. Give it time. Unlike the UCC, we are a connectional church, therefore we have yet to see what will happen when we overturn our standards. And if the Bible is merely a book full of fairy tales, then yes, a church with LGBTQ leaders will not be much different from a church without them.

We do not ignore what is going on in the Anglican communion and the ELCA.  Of course there will be conflict when injustice is overturned.  We're sure ordaining women was no picnic either, but it was the right thing to do, and we did it despite the historical practice of the Church, the biases of Paul, and so on.  What we are referring to is the fact that, in the pulpit, serving as Elders and Deacons, evidence will continually mount that LGBTQ persons are called by God, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and entirely as capable of ministry as any other believers.  

“No church that does not choose an LGBTQ minister, Elder, or Deacon will ever have to ordain one.” Nonsense! An empty, false promise if there ever was one. The movement for LGBTQ ordination is based on it being a fundamental issue of justice. Justice cannot allow injustice to coexist with it in the same house. The permission to ordain women, within 20 years became the requirement to ordain or else. Already the GA has voted to require local churches to pay for pension and medical benefits for gay partners, whether it violates local conscience or not. We know it will not stop there.
Due to the history of women's ordination in our denomination it is understandable why Rev. Hobson would react this way. There are substantial differences between that situation and this one. LGBTQ ordination has not been, and has no prospect of being raised to confessional status anytime soon, nor having the GAPJC declare it an essential of the Reformed tradition. The language of amendment 10-A doesn't even explicitly permit LGBTQ ordination, but merely restores the historic responsibility of the Presbytery to function as the examining and ordaining body.

Perhaps, one might argue, that language in the BoO for the committee on representation might force the issue when it comes to Elders and Deacons in a local congregation, but this is unrealistic. How many open and affirming LGBTQ individuals do you think are members of congregations that oppose their full inclusion? How many of those do you suppose might desire to seek ordination and have any chance of being elected by the congregation? Or of passing an examination for ordination by the session of that church? Inclusive ordination standards will have no effect on the life of churches that don't participate voluntarily. Even with ordination of women, there are plenty of churches that have never had a female pastor and no one is going to force them to change their minds soon.

“The church is currently lending tacit support to mocking, bullying, torment, and exclusion suffered by LGBTQ persons.” The people who practice bullying do not care what we in the church think about homosexuality or the use of violence, and they do not bother to bully or torment those who fornicate, abuse alcohol or drugs, or commit domestic violence, all of which we also oppose. And I will not be surprised if someday, those who support LGBTQ ordination will support the mocking, bullying, torment, and exclusion of those who hold the historic viewpoint on sexuality.
It is understandable why Rev. Hobson would want to disassociate from the bullying and torment going on in our culture, but it is unfortunately the truth that the people who practice bullying are very often one and the same as "we in the church." Religiously motivated hate speech and violence against LGBTQ persons is well documented. Recent surveys suggest that persons in the U.S. between 16-26 identify the church with "anti-gay ideology" more than any other subject. Conservative Christians have unfortunately made homosexual-exclusion a primary identifying issue. They do not oppose fornication, abuse of alcohol or drugs, or domestic violence to the same degree, and none of those issues involve an identifiable minority group to target for bullying. This argument by Rev. Hobson is a string of bad analogies.

Finally, we do not support the bullying or torment of anyone for any reason, but we do hope one day that the idea of arguing for the exclusion of LGBTQ persons will be as unthinkable as arguing from faith for the continuation of slavery, or the exclusion of women.  Sadly, this change will likely take a similarly long time.