gay

She’s Black, Gay, and Soon You Can Call Her ‘Rabbi’

Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times

Sandra Lawson. Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times / Sandra Lawson / RNS

Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything, except maybe fitness. She wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism or any other religion.

And she certainly never aspired to be one of the first — if not the first — black, openly lesbian rabbi.

But this spring Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia with the help of an online GoFundMe campaign. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination in 2018.

Tackling the Hard Questions

YOU CAN'T TURN AROUND these days in Christian circles without bumping into questions around gays and lesbians and the church. It has become the hottest of all hot potatoes in evangelical Christianity, as it has in much of U.S. and global culture.

Long-term consensus evangelical positions and practices on various aspects of “the gay issue” are being challenged at every turn. Indeed, some have already given way.

It used to be that anyone with same-sex desires was considered willfully perverse; but now many evangelicals acknowledge the clinically/medically recognized category of same-sex attraction (SSA), or sexual orientation, as a mysterious but globally recurring pattern among 3 to 5 percent of the human family.

It used to be that LGBT people were frequent targets of derogatory preaching and teaching, often so fierce that some church folks were motivated in the direction of hatred, contempt, and bullying; but now more and more preachers and teachers are moderating their language so as not to do harm.

It used to be that evangelicals sent those with SSA off to “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapies; but now those harmful and futile “treatments” have been discredited and are fading fast, as evidenced for example by Exodus International’s closure and apology in 2013 and its leader Alan Chambers’ statement that “99.9 percent” of the people they had tried to help had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation. More evangelicals are recognizing the importance of not harming their own gay and lesbian adolescents and family members. Family acceptance and suicide prevention are becoming important concerns.

It used to be that evangelicals rejected from church membership anyone who experienced same-sex attraction or claimed a gay or lesbian identity; but now more and more evangelicals are at least opening their doors to LGBT visitors and members—even if they hesitate to go further than that.

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Gay, Christian, and … Celibate: The Changing Face of the Homosexuality Debate

Image: Alan and Leslie Chambers married in January 1998. Photo courtesy Alan Chambers.

When Julie Rodgers came out as a lesbian at age 17, her mom responded by taking her to an ex-gay ministry in Dallas. Rodgers had grown up in a nondenominational evangelical church where she assumed being gay wasn’t an option.

“With ex-gay ministries, it gave me the space to be honest about my sexuality,” said Rodgers, now 28. Yet that same honesty eventually led her away from ex-gay ministries.

Rodgers spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.

When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.

For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.

But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer Gay? A New Biography Raises Questions

RNS photo courtesy Joshua Zajdman, Random House

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived from 1906 to 1945. RNS photo courtesy Joshua Zajdman, Random House

A new biography is raising questions about the life and relationships of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi dissident whose theological writings remain widely influential among Christians.

Both left-leaning and right-leaning Christians herald the life and writings of Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for his involvement in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Bonhoeffer was engaged to a woman at the time of his execution, observing that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin.

The new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from University of Virginia religious studies professor Charles Marsh, implies that Bonhoeffer may have had a same-sex attraction to his student, friend and later biographer Eberhard Bethge.

“There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh’s claim,” Christian Wiman, who teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, wrote in a review for The Wall Street Journal. But there’s been no bloodbath yet, at least considering a few initial reviews.

From the Archives: July 1991

MOST discussions about the Bible and homosexuality are limited to a handful of passages and the subject is viewed as a moral issue in which the burden of proof is placed on lesbians and gay men to defend our right to be who we are in light of those passages. If we approach scripture understanding that heterosexism, like sexism and racism, is a justice issue, then we move to a different plane of inquiry.

We might then understand that what is at stake in questions of sexual morality is not sexual orientation per se but rather the rightful or wrongful use of sexuality whatever our orientation. Sexual sins can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships wherever people are exploited, abused, neglected, or treated as objects. On the other hand, love, commitment, tenderness, nurture, respect, and communication can be expressed in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

As I come to scripture with a lesbian feminist hermeneutic, the stories of oppression and exodus, exile and homecoming, death and resurrection take on new meaning. Our scriptural study will be stunted if we stop our inquiry only having asked, What does the Bible say about homosexuality? and fail to ask, What do lesbians and gay men have to tell us about the Bible? How do the biblical stories come alive in fresh ways when they are read, seen, and heard by lesbians and gay men?

Melanie Morrison was co-pastor of Phoenix Community Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., when this article appeared.

Image: hands forming a heart, nito / Shutterstock.com

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Atonement and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines' book: "God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships."

Matthew Vines has done us an incredible service by writing his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Matthew’s book is an articulate and engaging argument for Christians to support same-sex relationships. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in debate over Christianity and the support of same-sex relationships.

I appreciate this book for primarily two reasons. First, Matthew presents scholarship on the topic in a thoughtful way that won’t bore you to death. If you’ve already done your homework on the topic you probably won’t find anything new, but by reading this book you will encounter scholarly arguments in an engaging way. There are other books on the topic, of course, but what makes Matthew’s book different than most of them is that this is an engaging page turner.

Matthew skillfully debunks many of the arguments against same-sex marriage throughout the book and replaces them with arguments to support same-sex marriage. He not only takes a look at the biblical “clobber texts,” the six passages in the Bible often used to denounce same-sex relationships, but he also takes a look at the historical and cultural context of the ancient world’s view of sexuality. His argument is convincing. I encourage you to buy the book for yourself and for anyone you know who is open to hearing his side of the debate.

Neon Tree's Tyler Glenn Is Gay, Mormon, and Proud of It

Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees performs in 2012. Photo courtesy of Mike Deerkoski via Wikimedia Commons.

KISS may have been on the cover of the April 10 issue of Rolling Stone, but the most eye-opening headline may have been the one that proclaimed: “Gay, Mormon & Finally Out.”

It led readers to page 46 and a story about Tyler Glenn, the frontman for Neon Trees, Utah’s most prominent band.

After years of denials and lyrics that obscure the issue, Glenn declared proudly that he is gay — and still a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I believe and I have faith and I was born with this,” Glenn told The Salt Lake Tribune in one of the first interviews since coming out.

In Missouri, Oak Scouts Offers an Alternative to the Boy Scouts

Photo courtesy Kerry Kasten

One of two Oak Scouts logos — each troop individually decides the logo they wish to use. Photo courtesy Kerry Kasten

As the Boy Scouts of America gets ready to admit gay youth, one Missouri organization has already broken away, but not because it favors tradition.

Oak Scouts is designed to be a safe space for everyone, regardless of faith or sexual orientation.

It all started when Kerry Kasten began guiding children’s meetings at a nature preserve and nondenominational Shamanic Wiccan church in Boonville. The more Kasten met with the children, the more she realized the need for a new type of scout troop.

“I realized there are all these parents out there who were not wanting to go into the mainstream scouting program due to disagreements in faith and sexual orientation,” Kasten said. “They wanted to go somewhere they felt safe being gay or pagan or not mainstream and express how they felt.”

On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting openly gay youths, a historic change that has prompted some churches to drop their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy.

‘Duck Dynasty’ Family: ‘Coarse’ Statement Was Grounded in the Bible

Photo courtesy Duck Commander

Cast members of “Duck Dynasty." Photo courtesy Duck Commander

The “Duck Dynasty” family issued a statement Thursday evening supporting patriarch Phil Robertson and throwing the future of their successful hit reality show into jeopardy.

The A&E cable channel has put patriarch Phil Robertson, 67, on “indefinite” hiatus from filming after anti-gay remarks he made in the January issue of GQ erupted into debate about free speech.

Now the clan is thanking fans for their support, but isn’t happy about the cable channel’s decision.

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

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