(Reblog) Book Review – A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics (second edition)

Saints Sergius and Bacchus, companions and martyrs. Click the link on the picture to learn more about their lives.


Reblogged from the Presbyterian Outlook:

A Time to Embrace by William Stacy Johnson

Reviewed by Melissa Kirkpatrick

Johnson lays out the historical context of same-sex relationships from what we know of the practices in Rome and in Greece at the time of Paul, when such relationships were hardly consensual, to the scholarly work of the Middle Ages, where there is much evidence that profoundly close same-sex relationships (which may or may not have been sexual) went unquestioned by the church. What is clear in this history is that there was never a single way of approaching or dealing with same-sex relationships across time or place or faith.

Click here to read the full article


New Day, New Song, New Hope

Photo taken by Bogdan in Neptun, Romania. Sunrise over the Black Sea.

In keeping with the musical prayers I’ve been posting in connection with the voting on Amendment One, here is one that I offer on this, the morning after. I believe it captures the defiant hope that has not yet been strangled out of us. If you want to pray, then pray with me and belt this song out at the top of your lungs from the bottom of your heart!

My Prayer on the Passage of Amendment One

This is a follow-up to my earlier post.  The results are in and the senseless act of institutional hatred called “Amendment One” has passed in my home state of North Carolina.  There is much that I could say.

The tone of these two posts is consciously different from recent ones, where I have tried to cultivate a sense of commonality with evangelicals and conservatives.  I still hope to do so, especially as my church (the Presbyterian Church) moves toward its consideration of same-sex marriage at this summer’s General Assembly.  I maintain that there is much that is worthy of respect in the theological convictions of evangelicals and the political ideals of conservatives.

However, Amendment One is not representative of that which I respect and admire in them.  This is an outright attack against liberty and equality.  And, for the moment anyway, it appears to be a successful one.  My conservative and evangelical brothers and sisters in North Carolina have bowed down before the demonic gods of fear and fanaticism.  They have betrayed the very best that is in their traditions.  I weep, not for myself but for them, as their idols will one day be their undoing.

And the real tragedy is that they look upon yesterday’s events as a victory for Jesus, who they have just re-crucified in hearts and minds of those who already feel nothing but alienation and rejection from the Christian church.  I weep for you, my brothers and sisters, because you have hindered the cause of the gospel that I know you love so much.   Just as you have done unto the least of these homosexual brothers and sisters of Christ, so you have done unto him.

But now, the deed is done, the votes are cast, and sun will rise today on a world that is a little less just than the one it rose over yesterday.  But the sun will rise.  And so will we.

We love you.  And we will resist you.  We bless you.  And we will break your cursed laws.  We will not bow our heads in silent resignation.  Those who are truly free do not wait for the government to legitimate their freedom.  True believers do not depend on institutional coercion to mandate the practice of their faith.  Just ask any Christian in the People’s Republic of China, where the underground church flourishes in spite of persecution.  I do not depend on the U.S. government to define the mystery of the Trinity for me, why then would I depend on them to define the covenant of marriage?  Rosa Park was free long before she sat down in her seat on that bus.  Even so, I declare to you in the name of every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered child of God that we too are free believers.  We will marry and be given in marriage.  We don’t need your permission.  Love speaks for itself.  As Jesus once said, “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

I am fortunate enough to live 500 miles away from this most recent oppression.  I live in a state that has already decided to recognize marriage equality (a recent development in which I am proud to have played a part).  This summer, my church will decide whether or not to join that choir of angels.  I have decided within myself that I will not wait for their decision.  Whatever happens at our General Assembly, I will continue to solemnize same-sex marriages in the name of Jesus and I will refuse to call them anything other than what they are: marriages.

Worst case scenario: someone will successfully challenge the legitimacy of my ministry in a church court because of what I’ve written here.  That’s okay.  I’ve been defrocked before.  There are other churches who will have me.  I say this in writing here and now because I want to be on record as one who stood up for what he thought was right before it was considered proper to do so.  I want my children to be able to look back and know the kind of man that their father was on this day.

I was touched and surprised tonight as I prepared to put my three year old daughter to bed just after reading the news about the amendment passing.  I found her playing under the desk in the office.  When I called her out to get ready for bed, she said, “Look what I found!”  She emerged holding a rainbow pride flag in her hand.  I take that as a sign of things to come.  It gives me hope.

There is a song that I’ve played over and over again in my car as I’ve driven from errand to errand and meeting to meeting today.  It sings like a hymn and rises like a prayer.  I invite you to pray it with me now, as we begin a new day:

My Tribute to Amendment One

It’s kind of a pointless gesture to comment on this now.  My true comments are comprised of the moral and intellectual framework that I’ve been laying down in my preaching, writing, talking, marching, and loving for the past several years.  Posts like this are merely symbolic gestures offered by those of us who wish to go on record in moments of truth as people who took a stand for truth, according to our best understanding.

I think Amendment One is a pointless piece of garbage that I refuse to dignify with the term “legislation.”  I am not currently a registered voter in North Carolina, but I’ve spent the majority of my life so far in that state.  Therefore, it matters to me, personally, what happens today, since many people who I love will be affected.

North Carolina, if you pass this amendment today, it will become an albatross around your neck.  It will be an embarrassment and a mark of shame to future generations for whom the question of same-sex marriage will be a non-issue (and that generation is coming much sooner than you think).  You are neither preventing the secularization of North American culture nor laying the foundation for a biblical regime by doing this.  Read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and then tell me if theocracy is even a goal you want to achieve.  To loosely paraphrase William Stringfellow, human beings are most effective at bringing hell to earth when they believe they are bringing heaven.

I’ll close with the lyrics of a song by Evangelical Christian songwriter Derek Webb.  Here are the lyrics and the video.  Listen and read.  I hope it gets stuck in your head while you head to the polls.

You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak

‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Denying all the dying of the remedy

Tell me brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me sister, what matters more to you?

If I can see what’s in your heart
By what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight
Is all it’s about
It looks like being hated
For all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind
While the pendulum swings

‘Cause we can talk and debate
Till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition
That He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit
Just like we don’t give a shit about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today

Tell me brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me sister, what matters more to you?

Farting My Way Toward Hope

I was having a conversation with someone after worship last night.  This friend is a longtime worker for peace and justice in this country.  We were celebrating the passage of marriage equality in New York state and simultaneously mourning our governor’s immediate turnaround to lift the ban on hydrofracking.

I’m enough of a Calvinist that I believe there will always be something wrong with this world.  We’ll never get it totally right.  There will always be one more reason to march on the capitol, call your senator, write an editorial, or practice civil disobedience.  That’s what “total depravity” means to me.

On the other hand, I also believe that victory is inevitable for the cause of goodness and right.

Why do I believe this?

  • Not because I “have faith in people”.  I don’t.  Trying to make a left-hand turn without a stoplight onto Black River Boulevard during rush hour will destroy that for anyone.
  • Not because I trust the spineless Democrats or the heartless Republicans.  I don’t.
  • Not because I “believe in America”.  I don’t.  It’s a country like any other.  There are some wonderful things about it and some horrible things.  If you want to know what happens when people uncritically “believe in their country”, just look at the Third Reich.

I believe the final victory of goodness and right is inevitable because I believe in God.  With my Christian coreligionists (among others), I accept the biblical tenet that “God is love” (that’s 1 John 4:16, in case anybody wants to look it up).  This means that love is the “Ground of all Being”, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich.  Love sits at the center of the universe.  Love is the source of the Big Bang and all subsequent nebulae, quasars, galaxies, and planets.  The “invisible hand” of the cosmic economy is love (apologies to Adam Smith).

If this is true, then all that is not love is destined to dissipate into nothingness.  This goes for all ego-centricity, injustice, exploitation, prejudice, and death-dealing.  The Jewish prophet Isaiah sang his Dylanesque folk song: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh (lit. “The One Who Is”) as the waters cover the sea.”

I shared this idea with my friend, who continues to struggle with this faith.  She lamented the fact that, for the moment, evil seems so present and powerful.  How do we know it won’t win or last forever?  In a flash of T.M.I. insight, I thought of a helpful (if gross) analogy:

Have you ever been in a closed room when somebody ripped a really really smelly fart?  It’s over-powering.  You can’t even think straight.  You feel like you’re going to die.  But what happens when you crack a window or step outside?  The smell goes away.  In the context of the larger scheme of things, the fart has less substance and less reality than the world around it.  So it is with the evil we see in this world.  If love exists at the center of the universe, then all that is not love is destined to disperse into nothingness once somebody opens a window.

We can even get biblical with this.  Here’s a line from Psalm 68.  When I read this, I interpret “enemies” and “wicked” to mean “evil itself” rather than individual human beings.  As it says in the New Testament, the struggle of faith is not against “enemies of blood and flesh” but against “spiritual forces of evil”.  Disclaimer aside, read on:

“O God, arise, and let your enemies be scattered; let those who hate you flee before you.  Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; as wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.  But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful.”

How You Say It

Greetings all!

This has been an amazing few months in my life.  In May, the Presbyterian Church (USA) amended their constitution to allow for the ordination of LGBT deacons, elders, and pastors.  Then, last week, New York became the sixth US state to legalize same-sex marriage.  My wife and I participated in demonstrations both inside and outside our state capitol building.

I also had the opportunity to speak on the local news about the upcoming vote in the senate.

Here is the link to that conversation.

On the Sunday after the vote passed, the same news station surprised us by showing up with cameras in hand at our morning worship service.

Click here to watch the video of the segment they did on our church.

The responses have been myriad and diverse.  Here are some words I would use to describe the responses:

Reaching out

Look carefully at this list.  It would be a mistake to assume that all the “positive” adjectives refer to those who agree with me and all the “negative” adjectives apply to those who think differently.  As a matter of fact, the list is mixed for a reason.  I could use several of these words to describe people on both sides of “this issue” (although I am loathe to call it that).

What speaks the most about us in times like these is how we respond, and not just the content of our response.  I have felt such compassionate support from those who passionately disagree with me.  I have also cringed at the hard-hearted self-righteousness of those who hold views similar to my own.

I will continue to hold onto the views I express in these articles because I believe them to be good and true.  I honestly believe that I am following (however imperfectly) the lead of the Holy Spirit and the message of the Bible as I take the course I have chosen.  I know that not all of you will agree with me.  I won’t ask you to change your mind unless you want to.  I will not enter into a Bible-quoting argument with you unless you truly want to understand how someone can read the Bible differently than you do.

I encourage you all, wherever you stand, to look at the character of your response to others.  Is it in keeping with the Spirit of Christ?  In your words and deeds, are you loving your neighbor as yourself?

What you say does not say so much as how you say it.