The debate over homosexuality in the Christian church reached EWU Thursday, January 15, when a panel discussed the intersection of spirituality and LGBT identity in Monroe 207.
Thankfully, there was no yelling.
You can’t blame me too much for expecting a little yelling; proponents of both sides of the gay rights debate have often proved rather boorish in vocalizing their opinions. On the fundamentalist Christian side of the coin you’ve got the Westboro Baptist Church which coined the slogan, “God hates fags.” Then on the radical gay rights side you’ve got the protesters that vandalized a Catholic church in San Francisco after Proposition 8 passed.
None of that vehemence was on display during the forum, though, and there’s some good reason for that-this wasn’t really a debate, and the discussion didn’t really question the role of homosexuals in Christianity. It seemed that the forum’s purpose was to reassure Christian homosexuals that they could reconcile their sexual lifestyle with their faith. In fact, those of us in the audience were specifically asked not to shoot “Bible bullets”-that is, not to use scripture to get into a back-and-forth over the sinfulness of homosexuality.
The panel featured several local clergy: Paul Rodkey, who helped organize the discussion and is a Pastor for EWU’s United Ministries and Bethany Presbyterian Church in Spokane; Holladay Sanderson, Vicar of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cheney; Wayne Shull, Pastor at Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church in Spokane; Debi Hasdorff, Pastor at United Church of Christ in Cheney; Joanne Coleman-Campbell, Pastor at the United Methodist Church in Cheney; Marj Johnston, a pastor at the United Church of Christ in Spokane; and Shelley Wee, Pastor for Lutheran Campus Ministry.
The discussion started out with each panel member introducing themselves and explaining their background both in terms of their faith and their interaction with the gay community. Each panel member related a different journey, although many also had similarities. For example, several of the women clergy told of their difficulties being accepted as leaders in the church as women. Their own struggles helped them commiserate with the difficult place homosexuals sometimes find themselves in with their church relationships. Many also grew up in conservative churches that preached against homosexuality. Wayne related how he’d been married with children, but decided at 45 that he “needed to be honest with who I was.” Now that he’s come out, he said, “I am free. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, because I’m honest about who I am.”
The question and answer period elicited a question about the labels “conservative” and “liberal” and how it might be unfair to put such labels on people.
“We’re not whole until we can be one with one another through the body of Christ,” said Coleman-Campbell. “Labels bring more division than unity.”
Nevertheless, she added that she often associates with more conservative peers because they make her uncomfortable-that is to say, they get her out of her comfort zone. She said they learn from each other.
Coleman-Campbell’s comment on being united through Christ was a dominant theme throughout the entire discussion. Another main theme was the interpretation of the Bible.
Rodkey said that our biases and prejudices color our interpretation of scripture. Wee echoed that sentiment when she described “canons within canons”-that is, that everybody has specific scriptures that they give precedence to over others, and that affects how one interprets the Bible.
Everyone on the panel seemed to agree that scripture seeming to condemn homosexuality is often taken out of context, and that people tend to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to follow and which they don’t.
While I never voiced my disagreement on this point (I didn’t want to be admonished for shooting “Bible bullets”), I do take issue with the notion that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality. I can see how it can be interpreted differently, and I accept the fact that some people do. (In fact, I argued with my own mother on this topic when I told her I was writing this article-thankfully my mommy still loves me even though we disagree). But I do not believe that homosexuality is condoned in the Bible and I doubt that I will ever be convinced otherwise.
But I did voice my agreement with the assertion that Christ’s love for us knows no bounds, and that if we love Him, His blood washes away all of our sins. That’s the common belief that unites all us Christians, I said; the belief that we’re all saved because God sent His only begotten Son to earth, and He died on a cross in our stead, so that we liars, murderers, homosexuals, heterosexuals, liberals and conservatives, can all live eternally with Him. That, I think, is something I’d like to dwell on a lot more than someone’s sexual preference, and that was the only thing I agreed with the panel members on-but I think it was the most important thing, too.