Homosexuality

Kirsten Powers 06-04-2014

Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA Today. Photo by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kirsten Powers.

Could there be a future where most American Christians support same-sex relationships? If so, it will be due to the emergence of conservative Christians who say orthodox believers can support lifelong, monogamous gay relationships without undermining their commitment to biblical authority.

In evangelical gay Christian Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian, he examines the six biblical passages on same-sex behavior and argues that they do not address today’s long-term gay relationships.

New Testament scholar James Brownson, who wrote the 2013 book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, concurs.

Kevin Eckstrom 05-30-2014

Moral Acceptability graphic. Photo courtesy Gallup.

Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .

The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”

“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”

Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.

Adam Ericksen 05-28-2014

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.

Matthew Vines 05-09-2014

Excerpt from God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, Convergent Books

Tom Ehrich 04-08-2014

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

I was dismayed when I learned that Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox Web browser, had named an anti-gay activist as its new chief executive officer.

Brendan Eich wasn’t a hard-core activist. He had donated $1,000 in 2008 to a California campaign to ban same-sex marriage.

Even so, his ethical stance struck me as unfortunate. Mozilla’s naming him CEO struck me as tone-deaf. And his refusal to discuss his views seemed too aloof for a high-visibility enterprise like Mozilla.

I didn’t join the crowd demanding his resignation. I did the one thing I could do: I stopped using the Firefox browser.

Tom Ehrich 04-02-2014
Young couple in love, Kseniia Perminova / Shutterstock.com

Young couple in love, Kseniia Perminova / Shutterstock.com

I don’t know about young girls, but I know from experience that young boys obsess about sex.

They crave it, fantasize about it, do everything in their meager power to obtain it, worry about their adequacy, get confused by their longings, and for the duration of adolescence — and often beyond — see people in terms of “getting laid.”

I suppose this obsession is natural, and that it serves some fundamental purpose, such as perpetuating the species or giving us something to think about besides our gangly bodies, weird thoughts, and being young and insecure.

I don’t know any adult who would willingly repeat adolescence. Yet here we are — we Christians seeking hope, grace, mercy, and purpose, we believers in a God of justice — treating our faith as an endless adolescence centered around sex.

Religion News Service photo courtesy of Wah Eh Htoo/World Vision

Religion News Service photo courtesy of Wah Eh Htoo/World Vision

Christian relief organization World Vision has reversed its decision after announcing this week that it will no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee conduct manual.

The earlier decision was a groundbreaking change for the Christian institution that came with heavy criticism from evangelicals. After its initial announcement, the Assemblies of God had urged its members to consider dropping support.

Ryan Reed tweeted on Wednesday (March 26), “My wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2000 kids dropped.”

World Vision’s child sponsorships are $35 a month, which means the organization could have lost at least $840,000 in revenue over the longterm.

About $567 million of World Vision’s $1 billion budget comes from private contributions, according to the 2012 annual report, according to Christianity Today.

“We’ve listened,” World Vision president Stearns told reporter, to supporters who were concerned about the conduct change in policy. “We believe we made a mistake. We’re asking them to forgive and understand our poor judgement in the original decision.”

Phil Griffin 03-21-2014

Phil Griffin, a member of Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka and a lay leader for the MCC denomination. Photo: MCC Topeka.

Fred Phelps, famous for picketing funerals with vicious anti-gay messages, died this week. His estranged son, Nate, had posted on Facebook that the 84-year-old Phelps had been excommunicated from his own Westboro Baptist church and was in hospice end-of-life care.

Nate and other Phelps children and grandchildren abandoned this church of hate over the years. In the end, Fred Phelps died without the comfort of church or family.

When I heard Fred Phelps was on his deathbed, I grieved for Nate. His whole life was spent either learning the lessons of hatred from his father — or recovering from them. I grieved that Nate Phelps was banned by his family from saying a final goodbye to his father which could have brought healing and closure for Nate in his battle against hate.

Nate Phelps, shown with fiancee Angela Feldstein, has broken with his father’s church. Photo courtesy Nate Phelps. Via RNS.

Nathan Phelps, the estranged atheist son of anti-gay Kansas pastor Fred Phelps who died Wednesday, is asking people to look beyond his father’s legacy of hate.

“I ask this of everyone,” the younger Phelps said in a statement issued Thursday about his father’s death at age 84. “Let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.”

The younger Phelps, who is 55 and goes by Nate, is one of four of Fred Phelps’ 13 children who renounced their father’s activities, which included picketing the funerals of veterans, AIDS victims, and celebrities and left his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. The church of approximately 40 members of the Phelps clan is best known for its public protests and colorful signs declaring, “God hates fags.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Sunday that Pope Francis is asking the Catholic Church to look at the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gay couples, although the archbishop of New York said that he would be “uncomfortable” if the church embraced that position.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week published an interview with the pope in which Francis reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage “is between a man and a woman” while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and health benefits, for example.

Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” he said.

Bishop Arthur Gitonga, center, of the Redeemed Church in Kenya. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

A call for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians has put African and Western churches on a collision course, as some African clerics liken mounting criticism from the U.S. and Europe to a new wave of colonization by the West.

Consider some of the statements at a news conference last week led by Bishop Arthur Gitonga of the Redeemed Church in Kenya:

“Homosexuality is equivalent to colonialism and slavery,” said one participant.

“We feel it’s like a weapon of mass destruction,” said another.

“It is not biblical and cannot bring blessing to Christians,” said a third.

Gitonga, a powerful East African Pentecostal church official, is among a group of Kenyan leaders who have launched “Zuia Sodom Kabisa,” Kiswahili for “Stop Sodom Completely.” The campaign seeks 1 million signatures to petition legislation to criminalize homosexual acts in Kenya.

Russell Moore at the Washington offices of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

American evangelicals are denouncing a new Uganda law that criminalizes homosexuality, reiterating a position that many have held for years but which has nonetheless drawn scrutiny and skepticism from critics.

Since 2009, several American pastors and leaders have condemned legislation in Uganda that in its initial version imposed the death penalty for some offenders. Under the revised law signed recently by President Yoweri Museveni, the death penalty was removed and replaced with life in prison in some cases.

Now, American evangelicals who insist they never supported either version of the law nonetheless find themselves playing defense, saying their statements against homosexuality at home are being twisted as an endorsement of harsh penalties against gays and lesbians abroad.

02-28-2014
My friend Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers co-penned a piece on the Daily Beast titled, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate.” Their essay, written in opposition to the Arizona legislation allowing companies to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, is fair and even-handed. In fact, if anything, it’s too safe.
Suzanne Ross 02-28-2014
Arizona highway sign, Janece Flippo / Shutterstock.com

Arizona highway sign, Janece Flippo / Shutterstock.com

Arizona has been in the news because of an attempt to get a law on the books that would give Christian business owners the right to refuse products or services on religious grounds. Many commentators feared it would create a right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. A robust debate has ensued around the question of whether it is Christian to refuse service for any reason or more Christian to serve everyone without qualification. It’s a good debate and it has revolved around the interpretation of certain Biblical texts – the so-called “clobber texts” and whether they condemn homosexual behavior; the call to be neighborly and love our enemies and whether that includes a bit of tough love now and then. My view was well explained by Benjamin Corey – I’m on the love everyone, no exceptions side of this debate with Ben. To my way of thinking, the law was very un-Christian and I’m glad that Gov. Jan Brewer refused to sign it .

But despite Ben Corey’s eloquence and my agreement with him, we didn’t really settle anything. These verbal jousting matches about whose interpretation of Christianity is more true, important as they are, don’t go deep enough. I’d like to introduce a historical element by looking closely at what religion is and how it has functioned in human history. The question I want to ask is not whether it’s Christian to exclude someone but whether it is religious. I’d like to make the case that the answer is yes, it is religious, and propose that Christianity, and any religion that emphasizes the unity of humanity over our differences, is therefore not a religion like other religions. Christianity is therefore more radical than most of its adherents realize.

“Conflict Between Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Belief” graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute. Via RNS

Americans’ attitudes toward the lives and choices of gays and lesbians have changed radically since Massachusetts first legalized same — sex marriage a decade ago.

new survey finds a significant shift toward tolerance across every religious, political, and age group and every region of the country, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. PRRI’s survey, released Wednesday, reveals the ramifications of these changes in family, church, and community life.

“Only the issue of marijuana looks anything like this in terms of rapid movement in favorability,” Jones said. “But with that one exception, it’s unusual to see this much change in a relatively short amount of time.”

Adam Ericksen 02-12-2014
Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

There’s something about Michael Sam that we are missing and I hope the church will see it.

Michael Sam is the college football star who “came out” in an interview with ESPN and the New York Times . He graduated in December and will be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft. Sam was the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year and a first-team all-American. He came out to his teammates before the season started and at the end of the year they voted him their most valuable player.

But it’s not his superior football skills that the church should pay attention to. It’s his spirit and his sense of identity.

Throughout his interview on ESPN with Chris Connely, Sam smiles, clearly comfortable in his own skin. A few highlights of the conversation that are worth pointing out:

Gay Clark Jennings 01-27-2014

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. Photo: Courtesy of Mort Tucker Photography/RNS

In the last month, many Westerners watched in horror as Uganda, and then Nigeria, enacted laws that are brutally repressive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The fate of a bill passed by the Ugandan parliament remains uncertain after President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign it, but news reports from Nigeria indicate that there have been mass arrests of gay men following President Goodluck Jonathan’s signing of the National Assembly’s anti-gay bill.

World leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have expressed their dismay. Many Christian leaders around the world, regrettably, have been largely unwilling to criticize Christian leaders in Africa who cheered the passage of these punitive laws.

Ann Oldenburg 12-20-2013
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 art by Zoltán Marton, Transylvania, Romania (Lead Pencil). Via RNS.

When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather on Monday for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, one of their chief duties will be choosing a new slate of leaders to guide the American hierarchy for the next three years.

But the more than 200 prelates will also be looking over their heads — and maybe their shoulders — to the Vatican to gauge what Pope Francis’ dramatic new approach means for their future.

If Francis has made one thing clear in his nearly nine months on the job, it is that he wants the church to radically change its tone and style, starting at the top. The pontiff has repeatedly blasted careerism among churchmen and ripped “airport bishops” who spend more time jetting around the globe — and to Rome — rather than being pastors who go out to their flock and come back “smelling of the sheep,” as he likes to put it.

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