On Saturday, February 19, an article ran in the St. Joseph News-Press telling of a baptism service held at our church and Zion United Church of Christ. Of the nine people baptized, most of them were gay or lesbian. The article told about FCC’s and Zion’s openness to all people, as well as, our decisions as congregations to welcome lesbian and gay people as they are, in contrast to the “welcome” most churches offer which considers being homosexual to be a sin and expects a gay or lesbian person to become heterosexual. I’m quite proud of the article, just as I am proud of First Christian and Zion for being courageous enough to live out God’s life-giving grace to all people.
Although it did get a mention in the daily display of anonymous ignorance and intolerance published in our city newspaper as “It’s Your Call,” the article didn’t provoke much of a negative reaction. On the contrary, I heard all week long from people in the community who attend other churches that do not welcome LGBT people. They praised the article as well as FCC and Zion. (I could only wonder if they said anything at all to their own ministers and priests about the practices of their own churches which are either silent on the issue or outright hostile towards gay and lesbian people.) I was surprised at how small of a negative ripple the article made.
My faith in the judgmental types in our community was restored, somewhat, by a letter I received about a week later. Here is an excerpt (note—the grammatical mistakes are those of the letter’s author not mine):
In Saturdays February 19, 2011 issue of St. Joseph News-Press there was an article about your church receiving homosexuals. I understand you are baptizing these individuals. Now as I understand the Holy Bible this is good if they are acknowledging this is a sin, then repenting and giving up their ungodly lifestyle. However, as I understood the news article, you are saying after baptism they may continue their sinful life style. Yes or No. If Yes, I would like to know what Holy Bible you are using.
The letter goes on to mention some Bible verses and to declare what the Bible says. I’ll give the author credit for not making anti-gay slurs or engaging in name-calling. He sticks to the question of biblical interpretation. Although his interpretation is one I disagree with vehemently, he at least deserves credit for being more polite in expressing his intolerance than most people are these days.
The letter’s author invites me to respond, but I doubt I will. I learned long ago not to waste my time debating the Bible with someone who really doesn’t want to engage in dialogue but instead just wants to let me know how wrong I am. If I were to write back, however, I might note that the modern understanding of sexual orientation (a person being born with a sexual attraction to a gender the same as or different from one’s own) is a modern idea, just like other modern ideas such as women should have rights as individuals rather than being treated as property and owning another human being as a slave is immoral (all are relatively recent conceptions that came long after the biblical writings were produced), so we shouldn’t be surprised the authors of biblical writings considered sexual activity between people of the same gender to be sinful. I could mention in my reply the many difficulties in translation of the original Greek words usually translated as “homosexual” in English Bibles. I could also point out examples in the New Testament of the early church choosing to include people who would have been excluded on the basis of the scriptures they knew from the Hebrew Bible and ask if that provides any model for Christians’ interpretation of scripture today? But, if I did write back, I would probably not say any of these things.
If I did write this person back, I wouldn’t expect to change his point of view. I would thank him for sharing his unsolicited opinion with me, and I would correct him and note that the folks baptized were members of Zion; we just shared our baptistery with them. (Although I would love for First Christian to baptize that many people, no matter what sexual orientation they have.) Also, I would let him know that should any of his children, family members or loved ones turn out to be gay or lesbian—or for that matter should any of his loved ones end up holding a view of God, scripture, politics, science, or whatever that is different from his own—please let them know that they would be welcome at First Christian Church of St. Joseph, because it doesn’t sound like they would be welcome at his church.
Grace and Peace,