Marriage Equality

A Little Consistency Please

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By Dr. Lisa W. Davison

I am a fairly open-minded and intelligent person, but one thing has evaded my comprehension for some time now. No one takes the biblical texts more seriously than I do; I’ve spent my life studying, exploring and learning about the bible gaining a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (the 3 languages in which the biblical texts were originally written), so that I do not have to rely on someone else’s translation that is far removed from the extant biblical texts and tarnished by human biases. Granted, my own translations are also influenced by my biases, but I have made it an intentional effort to remove myself from and critique those lenses with which I read the bible. I cannot say the same for all translators; some of whom have claimed that they are merely giving a “literal” translation of the original language (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek) into the target language (in this case English). This is absolutely impossible.

At this point, I must say a word (or more) about this term, “literal”, and all of its derivatives. In my lifetime, I have heard countless, well-meaning people of faith who claim that they believe the bible to be the very words of God; therefore they take/read the bible “literally.” Really? How can a thinking person make that claim with a straight face? If one begins reading at Gen 1:1, it is not very long before this “literal” approach starts falling apart. In what order did God create the world (humans first or last)? How many animals went onto the ark (2 every kind or 7 pairs of some with 1 pair of others)? I could go on and on. In addition to these inconsistencies of the Torah, there are more glaring examples of how folks who claim this “literal” approach fail to be consistent. Ask them if they have sold everything and given it to the poor, as Jesus taught (Luke 18:22, Mat 19:21, & Mark 10:21), and they will quickly tell you that Jesus didn’t mean that “literally,” and they do it with a straight face. Really?

As I once heard Rev. Peter Gomes, former Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister at Harvards Memorial Church, say: “There are no true literalists; there are only selectivists.” This is spot on! All of us, who claim that the biblical texts have some authority/influence in our lives, are SELECTIVISTS. We select which texts we take somewhat “literally” and which are meant to be seen as “metaphorical” or too outdated to be binding in this 21st century world. So, the question must be asked: “How do you make that choice between those texts that are to be taken ‘literally’ and those that must be further interpreted and/or discarded?” The problem I encounter over and over again is that people cannot answer this important question. They cannot tell me why Lev 18:22 is to be taken “literally,” even though this text does not say what they want it to say, but Luke 18:22 should not be taken “literally.” They cannot explain why a strange text from the Pauline corpus about some sort of orgiastic behavior is a clear condemnation of same-sex relationships (Rom 1:25-26), but Jesus’ clear condemnation of divorce (Mark 10:1-12; Matt 19:1-9) no longer has the same authority. They cannot tell me why they think 2 commandments (Lev 18:22 & 20:13) from among the 613 commandments in Torah are still binding, while they eat their bacon (Lev 11:7-9) cheeseburgers (Exod 23:19) with abandon and ignore the clear commandment that sassy children should be stoned (Deut 21:18-21). They must intentionally ignore the use of “Sodom & Gomorrah” by Jesus (Matt 10:14-5; Luke 10:10-12), or they would have to acknowledge that even he understood that it was a teaching story against inhospitality not homosexuality. Why do they want to argue that the age of the earth must match the internal (and inconsistent) chronology of the bible, but they do not want their doctors to treat them with only the “medical” knowledge and advancements available in the 2nd century CE?

Why, one might ask, are these people unable to answer my basic question, to provide a consistent hermeneutic1 by which they interpret and apply biblical texts? For many, the answer is simple. They do not want to admit that they only take “literally” those texts that do not step on their own toes or negatively impact their desired lifestyle. I hope they would still agree that the biblical endorsement of slavery (Lev 25:44-46; Eph 6:5- 9; Phil) is no longer justifiable, and surely we are not stoning adulterers (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), otherwise D.C. and Hollywood would be a great deal less crowded. Perhaps their congregations would be as well.

In an effort to be candid, I will share my hermeneutic for reading biblical texts. As a follower of the way of Jesus, I value and recognize the two “greatest commandments” that at least 2 gospels (Matt 22:36-40 & Mark 12:28-34) attribute to Jesus: “Love God with all you are(Deut 6:5) & “Love your neighbor as yourself(Lev 19:18). Every text in the bible must be evaluated with these questions: does it teach me to love God with all that I am and does it teach me to love my neighbor as myself. If the answer is “no,” then I must delve deeply in research to seek an answer as to why this text might be in the bible. If the answer is “yes,” then I must also delve deeply into the exegesis of the passage, so that I do not just bend it to approve of what I do and what I value.

In addition to a consistent hermeneutic, I also weigh biblical texts in light of logic, scientific knowledge, and contemporary contexts. Do I believe that evil spirits cause human diseases? No, so I do not go to an exorcist or priest when I have a headache, fever, or other signs of illness. I would say that the same is true for many of the well- meaning folks I have been describing. So, I wonder why, if they are thoughtful people on other topics, they do not apply the same level of thought to the issue of same-sex relationships? I would welcome that conversation, that honesty, but I’m still waiting for someone to offer that opportunity.

_______________

1 “Hermeneutic” refers to the interpretative framework that one uses in interpreting and determining the applicability of biblical texts. In biblical studies, we seek to have a consistent hermeneutic, meaning we evaluate all biblical texts through this framework. 

Equal Marriage?

By Rev. Mindi

I celebrate with my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends and family that now, in over thirty states, you can get married and have your marriage legally recognized. We still have a long way to go for rights for all LGBTQ folk (and especially the T, our Transgender kindred). But I am happy and celebrate in this moment.

But there is another group that does not have equal marriage, and those are persons with disabilities.

In the United States, if you are disabled and you get married, you run the risk of losing some, if not all of your disability benefits. According to the Social Security website ssi.gov, if you were diagnosed with a disability as a child and then get married, your benefits are revoked. Disabled individuals who marry someone who also has a disability can lose up to 25% of their benefits. My husband and I have heard many painful stories of couples who are not legally married because they would lose their benefits. We have also heard stories of couples who didn’t know that their benefits would be reduced so much, and struggle to make ends meet but cannot have a job due to their disability.

This is legally recognized marriage in the United States, and it is not equal or just. Many persons with disabilities choose to have a religious ceremony only, and maintain separate addresses so they can maintain their benefits that they need in order to live.

Sadly, the church, like the rest of society, is silent on this. When we and other disability advocates bring up this issue, we often hear, “That’s sad.” “I didn’t know.” “That’s too bad.” But I see no action. I see no work on legislation or even a cry out that this is unjust.

As we near the end of Disability Awareness Month, as we celebrate the news of legal marriage across the country for our gay and lesbian kindred, let us raise up our voice for disabled couples. Please listen to disabled couples and hear the stories of families. Speak to your lawmakers and encourage legislation to change this devastating fact for couples in every state.

And raise this issue in your congregations. People need to hear that equal marriage still does not exist for couples in which one or both have a disability. As you study this issue, be aware of areas in which the church is still not welcoming of people with disabilities, visible and invisible. How accessible is your building? How inclusive is your governing board? How welcoming are your Christian Education programs? What can you do to change the culture of your congregation?

May we celebrate with our lesbian and gay families and continue to work towards equal marriage in this entire country, and may we also raise up the voice for those who continue to struggle for a legal marriage in which their rights are protected.

A Faithful "NO"

A Letter to Indiana Legislators

By Doug Sloan

One of the overarching messages of the Bible is that it continually calls us to grow and to move beyond where we are now and to more fully live as a community of God. Even the proponents of HJR 3 demonstrate this when they advocate only for Leviticus 18:22 and not for Leviticus 20:13. Both verses prohibit sex between men, but the latter stipulates a death penalty. HJR 3 does not require a death penalty and its supporters are not clamoring for it. However slight, this is a move forward and a sign of a growing understanding and a maturing faith.

The Bible was not written in English. Consequently, any English translation – at best – can only approximate the language, meaning, and connotation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. For those of us who do not read ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, we must study the research and opinions of biblical scholars who do and who have access to the biblical source documents. The hundreds of biblical source documents range from complete scrolls to fingernail-sized fragments, were written over a span of several centuries, and source document copies of the same text can have significant differences. The books that are selected to be included in the Bible varies throughout the world – there is no single universal authoritative version of the Bible. The source documents span a lengthy time and clearly document that the text itself changed over time as it was copied. Most importantly, there are no original documents and there is no way to verify how closely the source documents replicate the original documents.

Over time the understanding of the Biblical texts has grown and matured. Slavery used to be the norm. Now, we reject it and advocate for its global abolition. Racial discrimination used to be the norm. Now, we reject it and advocate for global racial equality. Women as chattel used to be the norm. Now, we reject it. Women can own property, vote, and have access to a wide range of educational, economic, and ecclesiastical opportunities. Like the struggle for racial equality – the struggle for sexual equality continues globally, including the United States. Through all of these changes, the text of the Bible did not change. What did change was our understanding of the Biblical message, our understanding grew and matured.

Torah (best translated as “instruction”), the first five books of the Bible, has 613 instructions for the ancient nation of Israel – substantial evidence that they took seriously the call to be a people of God. The specifics of most of those instructions for the ancient nation of Israel have no relevance to us. We are neither controlled nor obligated by them. What remains is the message, gathered from the entire Bible, that we worship a God of unrestrained boundless love and unconditional grace whose deepest and most passionate desire is that we live long healthy joyous lives as a community of peace, justice, and compassion and as individuals of generosity, hospitality, and service. We do not worship a god of war, suffering, exclusion, vengeance, condemnation, sacrifices, blood debt, torture, abuse, shame, of neither punishment nor reward. We reject the universalism that declares every person is born into a state of hopelessness and condemnation. We continuously engage in lengthy, serious, deep scholarly study and prayerful contemplation of the Bible. Consequently, we proclaim the Good News that as a community, we are divinely called to a life of inclusive justice that repairs, rehabilitates, restores, and – where possible – reconciles. As a community, we are divinely called to be a people of abundant generous compassion that feeds, quenches, clothes, heals, houses, visits, and welcomes without exception or qualification.

Because it is contrary to the Good News, contrary to what God wants for us, and contrary to how God wants us to treat each other; vote “NO” on HJR 3.

Douglas C. Sloan, Elder

Central Christian Church

Terre Haute, IN

A Response to HJR-3 on Same Gender Marriage

By Bruce Barkhauer

As the Indiana Legislature considers HJR-3, I offer a few reflections. 

1. In our legacy as a country, time has not favored the suppression of the rights of a minority by the will and power of a majority. Whether it was enslaving other human-beings, forcibly taking the lands of Native Americans, failing to grant women the right to vote, interring all of the Japanese Americans during the Second World War, or any of a plethora of similar travesties; they all share one thing in common – they have proven to be on the wrong side of history and those who championed them now lie disgraced on the sideline of human progress.

2. “Letting the people decide” while politically expedient, is morally bankrupt.  If Congress in 1964 had allowed the people to decide the outcome on civil rights, in many southern states African Americans would not be able to exercise the right to vote and would still be drinking from “separate but equal - Blacks only water fountains”. [Look at North Carolina’s response to SCOTUS relaxing of voting law changes in the once segregated southern states if you think this is over-reach.] At the risk of failing to win a future election, this group stands in the privileged place of doing what is just, fair, and right.

3. I have yet to be convinced that my marriage (or the institution of marriage) is threatened by allowing same-sex persons who choose to commit themselves to one another to enjoy the same legal rights that my partner and I enjoy. 

4. Religious Communities who teach against same sex relationships will continue to be protected in their right to do so (and while in disagreement with them, I would defend their right to do so).  Churches and pastors will not be required to marry same sex couples.  As a pastor for 25 years, there were numerous occasions where I elected not to solemnize and preside over a couple coming to me who wanted me to officiate at their wedding.  No attorney or state official ever “came calling” to threaten or force me to do so.  Nothing changes.

5. The arguments made not to grant same-sex couples these rights are primarily based on religious values and a particular interpretation of sacred writings.  The very communities that claim these writings as scripture are not in full agreement about this, nor are they of one mind about hundreds of other issues. The First Amendment would suggest that such a basis for a law (solely based on religious practice) would in fact, render it unconstitutional.  Yes, many of our laws are based on some of the “Ten Words” of the Hebrew Bible – but they are also laws which order society in such a way as to protect and sustain human community and are not bound by a particular religious perspective.  Allowing two people who choose to be committed to each other share property legally, provide for the transfer of that property as inheritance at the time of death, enjoy a tax deduction, and have a right to visit and care for their partner as any married couple would; strengthens, rather than diminishes our social fabric.  Such commitment between individuals provides for stabilization, not chaos, in our communities.

6. Making something legal does not mean I condone it, it simply provides the protection of the civil rights of those who choose to do so.  There are plenty of laws on the books that allow me to do things I personally find objectionable. I simply do not engage in some behaviors that I am afforded the right to under the law, should I choose to exact that privilege.  For example, just because it is legal and constitutionally guaranteed that I may own a gun, does not mean I have to purchase one.

7. Should Indiana both resist the temptation to crystalize this aging and passing cultural norm of the opposition to same gender unions and eventually come to (however hesitatingly) embrace or accept these unions, it would strengthen the state. By affirming the value of the diversity of her citizens, it would be a recognition that all who reside within its boundaries have gifts to share that benefit us all.  Such a position would be more true to the framers of our original governing documents who were never foolish enough to believe that “Out of Many, One” meant homogeneity of thought, but rather unity of purpose.  That purpose, at its best, was meant to be the freedom to pursue one’s happiness and to contribute to the prospect of liberty and justice for each and every individual. 

8. Bad laws can be undone, but it is messy, expensive, time consuming, and wastes energy that could otherwise be used to craft legislation that is badly needed to protect the poor, secure the legacy of our natural resources, and provide for the education and nurturing of our children.  The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually struck down by the Twenty-first, and this too, if ultimately enacted could be (and likely in less than a generation will be) undone – but at what cost.  Let us focus instead on some of the things that really will make the Hoosier State a better place to live.

SCOTUS Decisions—Reflections Part 2

By Rev. Mindi

This morning on the West Coast I quickly turned to the news at 7 a.m. just in time for the breaking news to be revealed that DOMA had been struck down, and in the revealing of the decision and the minority opinion it was clear that Prop 8 would also be struck down.

I rejoice in that there is no federal reason for denying people the right to marry or to deny benefits for certain types of marriages. However, the ruling leaves it still up to states to pass equal marriage laws.

As many have already noted, if one really is for civil rights, for human rights—we cannot rejoice fully. Voting rights have been restricted; Euro-American cultural values have been valued as the norm; we still do not acknowledge the T in LGBT. Trans rights are often ignored or scoffed at, though there are currently several court cases for trans teens fighting for their rights in state courts. Teenagers are the ones speaking out for their own rights because teachers and administrators have failed to do so.  And as a parent of a child with special needs, even though we have had the IDEA act renewed in 2004, we find our rights and our son’s rights violated everywhere we turn in the public school system. And we are Euro-American—add in other cultural differences and different languages, and we find that even Supreme Court rulings do not guarantee rights for all will be granted.

As people of faith, we must lead the way on human rights. We must listen to the minority voices in our congregations and beyond in our communities, and work for justice for all. It’s easy to take a quick look at one’s congregation and see some of the issues they face, whether it’s the right to marry, the right to receive disability benefits, the right to get a driver’s license; it’s much harder to know whose rights are violated with the lack of a comprehensive immigration law, who doesn’t have access to adequate health care, and other rights that may be violated or ignored. If we assume a certain issue does not apply to our congregation so we can ignore it or evade it, we are failing the community at large.

Post-Electionacalypse

By Rev. Mindi

It’s over. It’s over.

Of course it’s not totally over, but it’s over enough for now.

I was sick of the commercials, sick of the rhetoric, sick of the Facebook status updates.  But yet I stayed up and watched the returns, the projections, the predictions and the announcements. Because this election was incredibly pivotal.

Equal marriage has prevailed, though civil rights should never have been on the ballot to begin with.  But the people have affirmed that marriage should be for all committed couples.  (note: I'm writing this before Minnesota and Washington's returns are in, but hearing that Maine and Maryland have spoken, I'm feeling good about the prospects). Surprisingly, marijuana use was approved of even more than equal marriage in some states—which leads me to believe that this is a lot less about decriminalization for law enforcement’s sake and more that marijuana use has gained greater acceptance.  I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the margins in the votes on marijuana use compared to equal marriage in my mind.  

And yes, our president was re-elected. And the discussion of the electoral college may come up all over again, as it did twelve years ago, but somehow I imagine the fact that Gore won the popular vote will be lost in the discussion.

So where do we go from here, post-electionacalypse?

Where do we go from here on the struggle for equal marriage?  How do we overturn constitutional amendments in other states and get legislation passed at the national level to guarantee the rights of all couples to legal marriage?  How do we take up the call for justice and move on the momentum?

Where do we go from here in the separation of church and state?  We know the violent rhetoric from the right that has become infused with religious jargon will intensify.  How do we continue to speak out for religious freedom?  And how do we claim our space and voice as Christians when others have held such a tight grasp on Jesus and the Bible?  

And finally, where do we go in giving voice to the voiceless?  I think of all the issues that were never addressed in this election: yesterday as people went to the polls, another mass shooting took place.  We have not addressed gun violence and the accessibility of weapons.  We have not spoken up enough about this nor have we demanded that our candidates address it.  While healthcare, mainly “Obamacare” was addressed, there are still so many people who will be without healthcare even after the reforms are put in place.  How do we continue to push for healthcare as a right, and not a privilege for a few?  How do we continue to raise the issue of women’s rights and health as people of faith?  And immigration: how do we continue to work towards equality and justice for all of God's children?

I could go on and on.  I’m glad it’s over, and yet, the work has just begun, Christians. The work has just begun.  

Finding Our Voice

The church has a problem.

The trend in American public life over the past few years is undergoing a seismic shift. Acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people has begun to reach a tipping point. According to a leaked memo by Republican pollster, Jan van Lohuizen, the increase for those favoring something like same gender marriage was steady at 1% every up to 2009. Since 2009, however, support for same gender marriage has gained momentum, increasing by 5% every year. Mr. van Lohuizen’s memo announces that recent polling now indicates a 10% difference in favor of those who support same gender marriage.

For something less controversial than same gender marriage, like acceptance of gays and lesbians, the numbers jump to nearly two-thirds (64%) in favor. Even in a state like Kentucky, with a reputation for being socially conservative, over 8 in 10 people polled agreed that LGBTIQ people deserve workplace protections against discrimination, equal access to housing and public accommodations.

When it comes to the demographics of age, the numbers become even more revealing. Millennials, those roughly between the ages of 18 to 29, 62% favor same gender marriage, compared to 31% of those over the age of 65. 69% of Millennials support the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt, compared with 36% of seniors.

This demographic information is important because Millennials have reached distressing conclusions about the church’s handling of this issue. Indeed, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s findings, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) Millennials believe “that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.”

The situation is particularly serious for those Christians who care about the mass exodus of young people from the church. The Barna Group, an Evangelical polling organization, asked young people, ages 1- to 29, what words or phrase best describes Christianity. The top choice of 91% of those who self-identified as non-Christian? “Anti-homosexual.” As one might expect, among young Christians, the number who thought the words or phrase that best identified the church as “anti-homosexual” dropped … to 80%.

The church has a problem. While the culture has shown an increasingly amazing ability to adapt to the notion that LGBTIQ folk have every right to live the kind of flourishing lives God created them for as their heterosexual sisters and brothers, the church has, in many cases, not found a way to address this as an issue of justice. In too many cases the church has failed to lead.

More specifically, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) finds itself in the awkward position of wanting to say something, but not knowing how to do so—whether because it feels like opinion is too divided, or because there is no mechanism in place to find the consensus its leadership feels is necessary before advocating publicly for a position—either for or against.1

However, if Disciples are to have a place at the table of justice, we need to Find Our Voice.

If Disciples are to be, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not the thermometers of culture, but its thermostat, we are going to have to Find Our Voice.

To that end, the GLAD Alliance is sponsoring an endorsement page to allow Disciples the opportunity to begin the difficult process of gathering voices together to demonstrate the shift that is taking place, both within the culture and within the church.

The need for an endorsement page is explained:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people have suffered, often most egregiously at the hands of the church. This suffering has come as a result of outright violence in word and deed and, perhaps just as damaging, through silence in the face such injustice. As a denomination that proclaims itself “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) must accept a special responsibility in actively finding ways to bring wholeness and offer healing, in particular to those whom the church has had a hand in harming, as well as to those whom the church has failed to stand beside in the face of the harm perpetrated by others.

Unfortunately, our denomination—which has officially engaged in a process of discernment with respect to this issue since 1997, achieving mixed results and no definitive statement—continues to have difficulty finding its voice when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTIQ people in the life and ministry of the church. Because of the congregational polity that characterizes the organization of our denomination’s common life, many have argued that the CCDOC will never speak with one voice about extending hospitality and affirmation to our LGBTIQ sisters and brothers.

Given the nature of that denominational structure, leaders (the General and Regional Ministries, clergy, and laity) among the CCDOC occupy a crucial role not only in reflecting denominational self-understanding, but in helping to shape it. The pastoral role of ministry requires a willingness to stand out front and point the way forward in the presence of divided convictions about which way is more faithful. No one denies that a prophetic stance will be difficult; if it were easy, it would be neither prophetic nor necessary.

Moreover, a prophetic voice has been found in recent times among Disciples, a voice to call us beyond our division and into a more just and equitable future.

At the height of civil unrest in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the country remained violently divided on the issue of race, Disciples stood up and spoke with a clear voice at the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in 1968 “to address the sin of racism through resolutions and direct action.”

In 1973, when only 4% of the of professional church workers and 9% of seminarians were women, and congregations were divided over whether women should be allowed in ministry, the General Assembly in Cincinnati, Ohio found its voice and passed resolutions urgently seeking to address the inequities of gender discrimination posed by excluding women from serving the church in the same capacity as men.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in need of such a voice today to speak courageously against the exclusion of LGBTIQ people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church. However, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has taken shape over the last two hundred years with a particular ecclesiological bias toward the notion that ministry is a function of baptism and not ordination. Consequently, any progress toward a realization of our identity as “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” that welcomes “all to the Lord’s table” will necessarily derive a great deal of its energy and authority from people who express their passion without benefit of institutional sanction. If things are going to change in our denomination in a way that offers a more expansive welcome to those who have been forced to the margins, it will come as a result of committed lay and clergy voices joining together to speak about the demands of justice and the possibilities of the grace signaled by the coming reign of God.

The question that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will continue to contend with is the extent to which it can claim to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” that welcomes “all to the Lord’s table,” when in practice it defends or is silent in the face of a brokenness that excludes people from that table.

Therefore, we call on all within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—those within the General and Regional Ministries of the Church, those clergy, who help to organize and shape the course and direction of ministry, and finally, those lay leaders, who inspire and often provide the passion and wisdom that result in faithful ministry—to find their voices and speak out publicly against the injustices visited upon LGBTIQ persons.

As an aid to gathering together these disparate voices in one place, GLAD offers an endorsement page inviting a public endorsement of a commitment to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people in the life and ministry of the church.

If it’s not clear to you by now, I think the church needs to move on this issue. And this is one way to begin the process.

Follow this link to help the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Find Our Voice!

Follow updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FindOurVoice and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/find_our_voice (@find_our_voice)


  1. Once again I find myself having to be clear about how I am framing this plea. If you don’t believe LGBTIQ folks should enjoy full inclusion in the life and ministry of the church, the purpose of this article isn’t to argue you into submission on this issue. If, however, you do believe that LGBTIQ people have been created by God this way and ought to be allowed to bring their gifts to the life and ministry of the church, the purpose of this article is to argue that the need for the church to take a position of advocacy on this issue is urgent. ↩

Telling the Salty Truth

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

We live in a society that cares very little about hearing the truth.  In fact, we often go out of our way to avoid the truth, in favor of some more palatable lies.  I have a feeling that’s why we are so enamored of talk shows.  We see the sorts of people and situations featured on Jerry Springer or Montel Williams, and we figure that, compared to their outrageous behavior, we have few problems.  We can avoid having to face our own sinfulness and lostness precisely because we surround ourselves with people and stories more depraved than we are.  We circumvent the process of being honest with ourselves about who we are; and we are just as dishonest with one another.

If we’re asked about what we think of someone’s new hairdo or someone’s new choice of a partner, either we lie outright, or we ask first if they really want to hear the truth (viz., “Do you want the truth?”), implying of course that if it’s all the same, we’d much prefer to lie and save everyone the embarrassment.  Lying comes much easier to us.  And sometimes knowing the truth and being unwilling to say it is even a worse form of lying.

Telling the truth is painful, which is why this verse from Colossians is so perplexing.  In the Oxford Study Bible the helps say that “seasoned with salt” means “with spiritual understanding.”  Next it gives reference to Mark 9:50.  I find that particular interpretation of Mark (i.e., “spiritual understanding”) unsatisfying.  The salt that Mark is talking about is cleansing, purifying—“Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mk. 9:49).  Mark goes on to say that “Salt is good” and that it may bring peace, but more in the sense that an enema is good: It may clean you out, but in the process, it’s going to be extremely uncomfortable.

It occurs to me that the church needs to speak the truth about some things.  I’m at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, at the moment.  I just came from a very moving service, centered on healing and wholeness for those afflicted with AIDS.  The Reverend Bill Lee spoke the difficult truth about how when folks need healing, people who follow Jesus ought to be ready to tear the roof off to bring it to them.  It then struck me that there are a whole lot of people who need to find the healing love of Jesus, but the church is often not only unwilling to tear off the roof to bring it, in some cases the church is guilty of reinforcing the steel girders that keep people on the outside, hammering away to break through.

Why have we as a denomination at our national gathering, for instance, once again avoided having the conversation necessary to bring healing and wholeness to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  I know there are difficult disagreements surrounding this issue.  People get mad.  It’s tough.  But this issue isn’t going away just because we don’t want to talk about it.  We’re Christians, people who follow a crucified nobody—tough is what we do!  The church—we folks who follow Jesus—shouldn’t be afraid of dying for what we believe in; we should be afraid of not speaking truthfully.  Where did we ever get the idea that we could get away with anything less?

There are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me—who think that LGBTQ folks are in need of some kind of repair before they get access to the healing love of Jesus.  But I think LGBTQ folks are already the way God wanted them; it’s the church that stands in need of repair.

There are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me—who think we should let this lie, avoid stirring the waters.   But I think there are too many people dying up on the roof to let it lie.

All of which brings us back to Colossians.  How can the author say, “Let your speech be gracious,” which implies blessedness, life-giving affirmation, and then turn around and add, “seasoned with salt?”  They certainly don’t appear at first to go together.  In fact, those two phrases look awfully awkward placed next to each other.  How can talk seasoned with grace be also seasoned with salt?  It may just be that the biggest part of grace is telling people the truth rather than the lies they’d prefer to hear.  Come to think of it, if it is the salty truth we speak to people, rather than the savorless lies that help them maintain their self-delusions, then maybe we’ve spoken to them with “spiritual understanding” after all.

 

Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities.  He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions.  He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville.  He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.  Penwell was once shot with a potato gun while fleeing the scene of a Cold War espionage sting at a premium vodka distillery in a rural Estonian outpost. (He doesn't like to talk about it . . . so don't ask.)

What If We All Raised Our Voices Together?

 “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm. 133:1).

Of critical significance to the life of our community lately has been the discussion about sexual orientation.  Douglass Boulvard Christian Church, the church I serve, has engaged in discussion at great length about we can be a part of the solution in embracing diversity, rather than the problem.   

We’ve taken important steps to live into our identity as An Open and Affirming Community of Faith.  Most recently, we voted as a congregation no longer to sign marriage licenses, since our LGBTQ members cannot avail themselves of the same rights.  As a church and as a culture we still have many miles to walk.  The only way to begin the process of healing and reconciliation is to be honest about the fact that things are not as they should be.  Honesty, after all, must be the bedrock upon which we build any new foundation of trust.

To suggest that there are problems, however, is not to say that there are not a number of folks deeply concerned to see those problems addressed.  It occurs to me that the LGBTQ community, in particular, feels like it has been shouting itself hoarse for some time in an attempt to raise the alarm that problems exist.  Apparently, though, they feel like their cries have gone largely unheeded.  How can we create an atmosphere in which people’s deepest fears and longings are heard, not as threats, but as pleas for a more equitable community?  That, it seems to me, is the first hurdle we must surmount on this journey we have begun together.

I know, as I have said previously, of a considerable number of Christians who want to see the bonds of exclusion loosed once and for all.  What they want to know is, “What can we do?  How can we make a difference in the fight?”  Now, I am aware that that can sound like just another case of liberal guilt masquerading as patriarchal philanthropy.  Affluent, well-situated folks often have nothing better to do than sit around feeling guilty because we are affluent and well-situated.  But, as ridiculous as it may sound, there are folks who want to change things, not merely because of some free-floating feelings of shame but because of whom they claim to serve.  There really are folks who, honest to goodness, believe that their faith compels them to see everyone, regardless of race, gender, or nationality, or sexual orientation through the prism of the cross.  But we are not perfect.  We need some help figuring out how we can help make things better.

I know that many people think it’s unrealistic to expect that the church is the place to begin this work.  The church, we must admit, has a history of being as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution.  We can neither ignore that, nor should we try.  No, in most people’s minds the place to begin is in the “real world.”  If we could just get this fixed in our society, or if we could just insure that that inequitable practice could be stopped, we would have what we need to announce the end of homophobia.  Why?  Because the “real world” is where people live—not in the insular halls of religion.  And what needs to be fixed is the “real world,” which the church cannot effectively change.  The church is just a lot of well-meaning, but impotent folks who may care but who do not have the wherewithal to do anything of lasting significance.  If we want real change, it is thought, we will have to go to city hall or to the state capitol, or to Washington.  The church may be nice, but it’s irrelevant when you get right down to the hard matters of the “real world.”

And while I would be the first to admit that we need to address the systemic inequities that foster discrimination against people based on their orientation, I would like to suggest that the church has a stake in learning to live like Christ, regardless of what the rest of the world does.  We need to learn to seek out those who’ve been marginalized and forgotten, and embrace them the way Christ has embraced us.  Whether or not society ever sees fit to extend justice to the beleaguered (which I fervently pray it does), we must learn to speak up for justice.  While we trust that making the world whole is ultimately God’s responsibility, we are still charged with the faithful pursuit of wholeness.

And we’d love to join our voice with yours to let the world know that those people who follow Jesus really mean it when we say that, through us, God continues to seek out the last, the least, the lost, and the dying.  If our LGBTQ sisters and brothers face injustice, then we who love the lover of everyone need to raise our voices together to speak the truth.  If you care about trying live the difficult demands of Jesus, drop me a line.  I’d like to see what kinds of miracles we might be capable of together.

Maybe we don’t control the levers of power, but we serve a God who is victorious over death.  And if God can conquer death, we naive fanatics believe God can conquer injustice.  Maybe now is the time.

by Derek Penwell

 

Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities.  He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions.  He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville.  He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.  Penwell frequently crochets Mexican serapes from the tattered remnants of repurposed 1970s tube socks.