What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Slavery, segregation and what to do about gays in church

There's been a bit of a discussion over at Steve's blog about the issue of gays and the church, specifically in our denomination. In his defense of why the RCA should exclude gay people, he advocates a denominational 'intervention' to make sure that no gay folks end up in ordained ministry.

His argument goes like this: since a 'majority' of people in the RCA supposedly believe that gay folks don't belong in ordained ministry there needs to be a national pronouncement since we can't trust local classes to effectively keep gay folks out of the ministry. He likens it to when the federal government intervened against slavery. Some states supported slavery, others didn't - so the federal government intervened in order to effectively end slavery.

Now, let's go back to what Confederate States used to justify their support for the instiution of slavery. Hum...could it be THE BIBLE? Yes, let's take a look at some of the passages that Christians tossed around to support their position that slavery was biblical.

Eph. vi. 5: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh."

And from Timothy: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed."

How about I Peter 18: "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward."

Now we can go on with this, but you get the picture - and I'm pretty sure that we can all agree on this - the Bible was used to justify slavery. So how did we get from having slavery to not having slavery? Part of it involved legislation, part of it involved a civil war, and part of it involved a shift in our theology. The words of the Bible did not change, but our interpretations of them did.

And let's not forget how far more recently in our history the Bible was used to justify segregation and Apartheid. Over the years, though, we reinterpreted the Bible and now see segregation and Apartheid as reprehensible and horrible misinterpretations of God's Word.

Last year, I was blessed to get to know a South African theologian who led a Bible study of which I was a part. At our first meeting, he said that the greatest mistake the Dutch Reformed Church made was that it stopped reading the Bible in community with people who disagreed with them. The DRC cut themselves off from the world church, and reassured themselves that their reading of the Bible justified Apartheid. They wouldn't listen to others around them who pointed out their misreading of the Bible.

Could it be that when it comes to gay folks and our participation in Christ's church that those who would like to exclude gay folks might just be misinterpreting the Bible in the same way as those who justified slavery, segregation and Apartheid did? And if that's the case, why would either voice in the debate what to cut themselves off from those who think differently from them? I certainly don't want to. But it sure seems like Steve wants to get rid of me and those who might disagree with him about homosexuality.

By the way Steve, you may think that there is a large majority of people in the RCA who share your opinions about homosexuality, but I'd like to assure you that there are many many others who do not. Please remember that 1/3 of the delegates to General Synod did, indeed, vote in favor of my father. That's a pretty decent indication that the denomination as a whole is not of one mind. And like with slavery, segregation and Apartheid, more and more people will emerge to say that the church is not a place for prejudice to influence our theology.

While visiting the Smithsonian this weekend, we got to view the Brown v. Board of Education exhibit. Jen came over, pulled my sleeve and demanded to show me this photo. In an odd way, it gives me hope because the photo shows similar attitudes to what gay folks encounter every day in the church. One of the signs that you can't see too well says "INTEGRATION IS UNCHRISTIAN." Transport these people in this photo 50 years into the future and their signs say things like "Gay marriage is illegal" and "Gays are unchristian."

Times change. The Bible doesn't change, but our interpretation of it certainly does. Just ask the Dutch Reformed Church. And fortunately for all involved, God's grace is poured out equally on all of us.


At 7:12 PM, Blogger Abby said...

Right on, sister!

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

Amen and amen. Who knows; we may be wrong about how we read the Bible. But how will we ever know if we just kick out all the people who disagree with us, so we don't have to bother with hearing their voices?

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you, anne!
preach it!

At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Marey said...

Well said!

I found it so hard at Synod to understand how un-Christian those who do not support inclusion of all in our denomination are. The mean-spiritedness, lack of compassion and outright lies just threw me for a loop.

I took heart in those who support inclusion, the new friends I met and the strength of you and your family and friends. Alot of people I admire were supporting you and your family. They make me hopeful.

There is another cause for hope - young people like my older son and many more like him support inclusion. It may not happen soon but it WILL happen. I have faith in that.



At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that those who used the bible to support slavery, apartheid, segregation where obviously wacked. Shoot, even Hiltler twisted the scriptures for his own purposes. But lets actually look at the truth. True, ripping people from their homeland, seperating families and the horrors of people thinking that just because someone has a different skin color or religion menas they are sub human is wrong. But their were good and fair slave owners. They treated their slaves with respect and dignity. It is the abuse of slavery - the abuse of one person over another- that the bible speaks against. We have slavery today. Each of us who have a job or are employed are slaves. We each have decided what we are worth and are willing to "sell" ourselves off to whomever will pay for our services. We "sell" our time, energy, families and who knows what else ofr the almighty dollar. Now, state and federal regulations monitor modern day slavery to prevent anyone from being "mistretaed", but its still slavery. Thh good slave owners provide for the needs and security of their slaves and treated them as human beings.

Furthermore, the issues of slavery and apartheid deal with skin color - something that can not be chosen or changed. The issue of the inclusion of homoselxuals is not the same. They are apples and oranges. Sceince has not (they may some day) but as of today cannot and have not provided any evidence for a homosexual gene or the like. While it may be mixture of nature, nurture and choice it is not equilavent to the color of skin issues.

There are men who have misused Ephesians 5 to beat their wives. We don't change the principle of the man as the head of the home - we help men love their wives as Christ loved the church. Their are parents who abuse their children - that doesn't mean parents stop disciplining their children.

The point- the church of Jesus has not loved the gay or lesbian. It has responded only with statements and proclamations of truth with no compassion or love. The church has not been willing to embrace gay and lesbian. The answer is not to change the truth but to call the church to repentance for its lack of truth in regards to love.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

In response to Anonymous. Throughout the long stretch of history, slavery has not always been about skin color. Those conquered were made slaves--skin color was irrelevant. Of course, that doesn't get around your argument that the conquered had no choice. I do not understand how we are slaves if we freely choose to work at a job. Slaves had no such choice--there was no economic exchange freely entered into. They didn't set their own price and sell themselves. Sure some slave owners treated their slaves well, but I don't know what that proves, since they still assumed they had the right to own another person, that person's labor, and that person's children. Anyway, this is a bit off topic, but it bothered me.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bad alice - what choice do we really have? Sure it may be free exchange - but employers fee like they "own" their employees. Employess often express working like dogs. We are not as free as we think we are. It may be a democracy and a captilistic society but free? If we would really stop and think, we are probably more enslaved with our freedom than we dare to beleive.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

Anonymous, perhaps, but I still make a choice based on various options. Some people have more options than others, and our options change over time.

A slave has no options, since she is the property of her master. Even her body is not hers but can be taken into the use of her owner at any time, and her children can also be taken away (and I'm not talking about Child Protection here). I do not have an owner 24/7. I receive wages for my work, that I can disperse as I desire. I can move to another part of the country and work for someone else. Now, if we talk about class, I think another picture emerges, because those at the lower end of the economic scale are more limited in choices. Exploitation is possible at all levels. Manipulation exists on all levels. Certainly I would not compare my situation (or that of most people I know, however crappy their work situation) with that of a slave working on a plantation in the Deep South, or a woman in the Baltics sold as a sex slave.

If science proves that homosexuality is not a choice, would you decide that the Bible had it wrong?

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

Anonymous, One other thought came to me: We did not decide that slavery was wrong because some slave owners abused their slaves; we decided that owning slaves under any circumstances is wrong--incompatible with Christianity as expressed in Jesus and incompatible with democracy. The Bible assumes slavery as a given of the society of its time. If we take a literalist approach to the Bible, we are often confronted with contradictions: Why is it okay to have slaves when that is obviously opposed to the equality of the Kingdom? Why is polygamy wrong if the patriarchs practiced it and had concubines to boot? The list is quite extensive, although I hear arguments that somehow Jesus changed some things (keeping Kosher, wearing only single-fibered garments, and being considered unclean during your period, for instance) but not all (the prohibitions against homosexuality).

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bad alice-
Even those in injust situations have a choice. Peter tells us that even though Christ was abused, mistreated, misunderstood and crucified He entrusted himself to the one who judges justly- His heavenly Father.

As far as science goes - do we really want to take a position where science is our final authority? Pedphiles claim that their sexual expression is natural, rapists say their drive for sex is natural, alcholics claim a gene that leads them to their addiction, sex is in everyone's genetic code so adultery-premarrital sex or whatever is ok. In all of these cases science has been used to justify the actions of the pedephile, rapist (oh forgot murders) and ect. If science is our final authority - then ???

So my answer would be that even if science finds a "gay" gene it would not usurp God's position on it. Science can help us understand but it cannot give God's perspective or voice on it. That's what the scriptures are for. If there was a "gay" gene, then it is a result of the fall. It isa departure from God's creative order and design.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Jarred said...

I have to admit, this is the first time I've ever heard anyone try to compare working at a job to being a slave. The very suggestion boggles my mind. But then, maybe that's because I work in a high tech industry. Maybe employment in my field works a little differently than the rest of the world? I doubt it, but who knows?

And back to the original entry, I agree with you Ann. I find this tendency to try to "pull away from" those of a different viewpoint -- whether in the RCA or any other aspect of life -- to be a dubious proposition. I'm all for putting myself in a position where my basic assumptions and the understandings I've built upon them are regularly challenged.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger LutheranChik said...

Anonymous, it is patently offensive to compare homosexuality to bestiality. How would like it if I kept comparing your lifetime committed partnership to prostitution?

If you want to have an intelligent conversation with gay folks, kindly refrain from going down the low road.

(Sorry for hijacking your blog, Ann...I'm leaving now.)


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