Gay, Lesbian, and Christian
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy Ahrens
North Congregational church
United Church of Christ
March 26, 1995
In this sermon the Rev. Ahrens tells his story about moving from a “homophobic”( person who is afraid of homosexuality) and his journey as a recovering homophobic. My purpose in using excerpts from a series of sermons embracing an Open and Affirming (ONA) mission of churches is to generate conversations and questions around what it means to be ONA.
This week we explore what the Bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality.
He begins by saying that he was dishonest about his fears surrounding homosexuality. On the surface his words were open and affirming to lesbians and gays but underneath he was very troubled by and often visibly upset in the presence of lesbians and gays.
Then Rev. Ahrens’ said God began to work on his heart, mind, and even his feet! He voraciously read articles, scriptures, asked questions about the “why’s and wherefores “ of both men and women gays and their sexual orientation. Slowly he grew out of his fears and grew into the convictions of his Christian faith.
Rev. Timothy talks about the Holy Spirit working on his heart and mind but also his feet! What could he mean by that—his feet? Well he was attending his Conference and the topic of discussion was the UCC Conference becoming ONA. Two microphones were set up so members could speak their objections or approvals. The line for a negative stance was very long while only one person stood at the mic for approval. Rev. Timothy, disliking an unfair fight, got up and went to stand behind the one person speaking passionately in defense of the motion. That man was a UCC pastor who was speaking of the love he had for his lesbian daughter. Rev. Timothy was next, yet had no idea what he was going to say. Thankfully the passionate pastor left little time for Rev. Timothy to speak. He only had time to say his name before the buzzer silenced him. But he says the miracles happened the rest of the day. Person after person, all gay, made it a point to thank him for standing up for “them.” His thought was: “if only they knew my heart.”
Down the path five years later, God’s Spirit moved up from Re. Ahrens’ feet to his heart! What followed was a ten year journey theologically, spiritually, and interpersonally for him. He grew
a great deal in that time. As he began to preach this sermon he asked his congregation to please give him their best attention and try to listen to “this recovering homophobic’s inadequate, hesitant, and long overdue words. “They come from my heart and my head,” he said.
The following are the questions he learned to answer:
- Who are these people anyway?
- What does the Bible and Christian tradition say about homosexuality
- How shall we welcome gays in the diverse mix our God calls the “body of Christ?
We begin with question 1: Who are these people anyway?
First of all and most importantly, these people are our sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, our children and grandchildren, our co-workers, and neighbors. Gays work and live among us, and share dreams for their lives among us, yet some remain strangers at our gates (Matt. 25:43)
He learned that the word homosexual didn’t even exist before the 19th century. It was created by German psychology that tried to label same sex attraction as a disease. Science spent 100 yrs. trying to prove the pathological nature of homosexuality but came up empty. “In 1973…the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of ‘mental disorders’ declaring that ‘it is not in itself a psychiatric disorder.’” In the past forty years, geneticists have begun to unravel the DNA that indicated that some people are simply born gay. “Increasingly, there is agreement that some people are predisposed toward homosexuality and it is an involuntary orientation.
It is an orientation, not a life style or a choice. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? In the case of sexual orientation it is clear that “the firmly rooted preference for same sex romantic attachments precedes rather than follows any gay behavior.”
Question 2: What does the Bible and Christian tradition say about homosexuality?
Are you surprised when I tell you that homosexuality as we know it is NOT addressed by scripture.
Before wandering into the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament writings, I want to be clear that Jesus is totally silent on the question of homosexuality despite having addressed many other issues head on. We don’t know why he didn’t. It is possible that it wasn’t an issue for him or he simply chose not to address it.
In our scripture this morning from Genesis we heard part of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a strange story if you don’t know the culture in which it took place. Even given that it is a difficult passage. Without studying the passage wrong assumptions arise. Many Christians assume the sin of Sodom was homosexuality and that is why it was destroyed. This believe is based on the assumption that the word “to know” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. “Although ‘to know’ refers in Hebrew to sexual intercourse in about 10 Hebrew Bible passages, in addition there are 933 passages where the word does not appear to have any sexual connotation at all. Rev. Ahrens states that,”in fact biblical evidence would suggest that it most likely means a more straightforward kind of knowledge or acquaintance, as it means in the other 933 passages. Thus the sin of Sodom is not Sodomy (as we know it) or male to male sexual intercourse but inhospitality.
Hear what some of the Hebrew Bible prophets have to say about the sin of Sodom. “Isaiah claims that Sodom was destroyed for lack of doing justice (Isaiah 1:10, 3-9). Jeremiah accuses the Sodomites of adultery, lying and refusal to repent (Jeremiah 23:14). Ezekiel says God was angry with Sodom because the people were proud and overly prosperous and they refused to aid the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16: 49).” Unfortunately, we have continued to misinterpret and misuse this passage in such a way that even our civil laws refer to “sodomy and sodomizing” in incorrect ways.”
“In the law codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, male homosexual activity is condemned (female homosexual behavior is never mentioned). The wording is a bit unusual and the meaning not entirely clear, but laws do exact punishment on offenders.” Did not Jesus say,””I come not to destroy the law but to bring in to its completion. Under the New covenant in Christ, we are called to ‘love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and souls and love our neighbor as ourselves!’ This law supersedes all others!”
What then, does the New Testament say? Paul does speak about homosexuality. However, Robin Scroggs, a New Testament theologian has shown that “Paul was speaking against pederasty—which in a literal sense is men having sex with boys—an open and common practice in many Hellenistic cities during the time of Paul. It is a form of rape in which power, abuse, snd lack of mutuality are the issues—not sexual intimacy and relationships!” He ends by writing, “What the New Testament was against was the image of homosexuality as pederasty and primarily here its sordid and dehumanizing dimensions” (Scroggs, p. 126). One would mourn the fact if somebody in the New Testament had not opposed such dehumanization.
Scroggs ends with: “The fact remains, however, that the basic model for today’s Christian homosexual community (of mutuality and covenanted relationships) is so different from the model attacked by the New Testament that the criticism of reasonable similarity of context is not met. The conclusion I have to draw seems inevitable to today’s debate. They are no longer to be used in denominational discussion about homosexuality, should in no way be a weapon to justify refusal of ordination, not because the Bible is not authoritative , but simply because it does not address the issues involved. (Scroggs, p. 127).
That is a powerful conclusion, but one that Rev. Ahrens shares “having carefully studied the Greek, the Hebrew, and a multiplicity of books and writings on this topic from various sides of the debate. He goes on to say, in fact in a past issue “of the conservative periodical, Christianity Today, conservative biblical scholar John Stott tells readers to stop using biblical texts to prop-up their arguments against gays and lesbians” (quoted in the Virginia Ramey Mollencott lecture notes, 3/4/95).
Question 3: where do we go from here? How can we welcome gays and lesbians to the church?
A lot has changed since Rev. Ahrens delivered that sermon. The UCC listened to the needs of the LGBTQ community and have welcomed them as full members of UCC churches who became ONA. The UCC ordains gay ministers. Some of the finest pastors I have met and come to know are gay. Their gifts are just as welcomed as those pastors who are straight. There is a sense of aliveness in the churches they serve. It has been a long journey for many of the churches but they have persevered. You are apt to see more ONA churches than ones who are not and that speaks volumes to those who have been hurt and rejected by churches. Several years ago we had a visitor to BBCC who was a gay pastor and I also received a call from a person who was interested in coming to BBCC. On both occasions the individual asked if we were Open and Affirming. I told them no but all were welcome here. Both responded in a similar fashion saying that they did not feel safe in a church that had not gone through the process of ONA. Who knows how many others searching the Internet and looking at our website did not pursue contacting us because we were not ONA.
Of course if we choose to become ONA that does not guarantee an increase in members. But it would say to the world that we are a safe place where we try our utmost to love as Jesus loved.
While the original focus for ONA was for the gay community the focus has broadened to include any group that has been traumatized by the church or have just not felt comfortable in church. I’m speaking of any person who has felt marginalized by society, the church or both. I’m thinking of the people who are differently abled. Is our building saying yes you are welcome here? I can think of a lot of small things that would make our space even more welcoming.
In Matthew 25:43 Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me…” Rev. Timothy says, “My friends, this time is long past that we would find it in our hearts to welcome the stranger at the gate in the person of gay Christians. I can wait no longer to extend the hand and heart of welcome.”
He closed with a quote from Lyla White former wife of 25 years to gay pastor Mel White:
“We are all on this journey together, and we must ensure that the road is safe for everyone, including our homosexual brothers and sisters who for far too long have been unfairly condemned and rejected. Isn’t it past time that we open our hearts and our arms to welcome them home instead of seeing them as strangers still waiting at the gate?”(Stranger at the Gate, p.7).
May God guide and uphold us as we journey together into the future. Jesus was Lord of the dance. May the Holy Spirit infuse us with joy and may we dance together and love as Jesus loved.
In the greatest of hope