Gay, Lesbian and Christian:
Genesis 19:1-12, Romans 1:18-32, Matthew 25:31-46
(Part V of VIII in Lenten series, "Woven Together in Love")

Sermon preached by T.C. Ahrens at North Congregational UCC, Columbus OH 
2040 Henderson Cols OH 43201, Lent IV, 3/26/1995, dedicated to J.W. Wright 
and to countless number of beautiful gay and lesbian Christians who died not 
feeling loved and embraced by the church which they love so completely 
and always to the Glory of God!

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our
 hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen

Let me share with a story with is my story. Ten years ago I was scared of
homosexual persons. Some of you in this room would have called me 
"homophobic," which means "scared of homosexuality." And while it is true that 
sex is scary, I was dishonest about my fears. For you see, on the surface, my 
words appeared open and affirming to gays and lesbians, but I was utterly 
appalled and often became visibly upset in the presence of gays and lesbians. 
While others openly declared their disdain and disgust of homosexuals, 
I was "closeted" about my feelings and as a result, I was dishonest.

In the past ten years, I truly believe God has worked on ly head, heart and even 
my feet. During this time, I have carefully scoured the scriptures, and read many
 articles and books about homosexuality. I have conversed with gay men and 
lesbian women about the "whys" and "wherefores" about their sexual 
orientations. A curious man by nature, I have asked many questions and quietly
supported "friends," while remaining safely in my heterosexual Christian closet.
But, slowly I have grown out of my fears to speak and into the
convictions of my Christiian faith.

I think the turning point came in 1990 when the Holy Spirit got into my feet at 
our Ohio Conference meeting in Tiffin, Ohio. We were in the midst of a hot 
debate on becoming an "open and affirming conference." Lined-up a mile long 
at the negative microphone were all the people speaking against the motion. 
Meanwhile, one person stood alone in defense of the motion. Since I hate an 
unfair fight, I got to my feet and went to the mike! The man in front of me was 
a UCC pastor who spoke with passionate words about the love he had for his 
lesbian daughter! I was next. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say.
 There was not a thought in my head! Fortunately the impassionated speaker 
had used all but ten seconds of the pro-side, so I only had time to say, "My name
is Rev. Tim Ahrens..." before the buzzer sounded. But the rest of that day,
miracles happened. Person after person came and thanked me for standing up
for "them." Each person was gay or lesbian. If only they knew my heart.

Five years later, God's Holy Spirit has moved up from my feet and gotten into
 my heart. This last ten years has been a long journey for me spiritually, 
theologically, and interpersonally. But, I believe I have grown considerably. 
And today I hope with more than ten seconds to speak before the buzzer goes 
off on your alarm watches! I ask this of you this morning - please give me your
best attention and try to listen to this recovering homophobic's halting, feeble
and long overdue words. They come from my heart and from my head.

Here are some of my learning in three areas:

Who are these people anyway?

What does the Bible & Christian tradition say about homosexuality? 
How shall we welcome gays and lesbians in the diverse mix our God calls the 
"body of Christ?" 

Who are these people anyway?
Most importantly, these people are our sisters and our brothers, our children,
our co-workers. They are we. They live among us, work among us, and share
dreams for their lives among us - and yet they remain strangers at our gates
(Matthew 25:43). The first thing I have learned in my journey from fear to faith
 is not to be afraid of persons who are homosexual. And that, my friends is the
 most difficult lesson my tiny brain has yet had to absorb. The challenge in this
 journey has been to overcome and outlive this statement:

"We are 'they' to 'them' and 'they' are 'them' to us."

Allow me to share a few gleanings. First, I have learned that the word 
"homosexual" was the creation of nineteenth-century German psychology which
labeled it a disease. Trying to prove the pathological nature of homosexual 
behavior, science spent one hundred years of research and came up empty. 
In 1974, (under extreme protest from the Christian right mind you!), the 
American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of 
"mental disorders" declaring that "it is not in itself a psychiatric disorder." 
In the past 20 years, geneticists have begun to unravel the DNA which indicates
that some people are simply born gay. Like with other questions of "nature or
nuture," the jury is still out about "how" one becomes gay or lesbian. But it is 
not something the parents did to their child or did not do. However, there is a 
complex interaction of factors - both biological and environmental. But, 
increasingly, many are persuaded that whatever its origin, some persons are 
predisposed toward homosexuality and it is an involuntary orientation.

Second, homosexuality is an "orientation," not a lifestyle or choice. There are 
a number of persons who have homosexual feelings, but do not behave on their
 feelings. In their classic Sexual Preference, researchers Alfred Bell, Martin 
Weinberg and Kiefer Hammersmith of Indiana University's Alfred Kinsey 
Research Institute for Sex Research repeatedly underscore one main point: 
"homosexual feelings appear to play a more important role than do homosexual
 behaviors in the development of sexual orientation." (Sexual Preference, p.188).
 That is, the firmly rooted preference for same sex romantic attachments tends 
to precede rather than follow any homosexual behavior.

While this may be upsetting to some of you who can quote to me testimonies 
of persons who have been converted from homosexual to heterosexual 
orientation, it still is true. In anonymous interviews with founders and leaders
 of "Ex-Gay Ministries," persons who have claimed to be "cured" of their
 homosexuality have most often come clean that in fact, their feelings and
 orientation have not disappeared, even though they have sublimated their 
desire to act upon their feelings. In reality they admit, they are not really 
"ex-gay" but rather celibate gays believing they can honor and serve 
God this way (see "Can Homosexuals Change?" by Letha Dawson Scanzoni, 
in the The Other Side special issue "Christians and Homosexuality, 
Dancing Toward the Light", p.7).

Addressing the question of sexual orientation in the foreword to
 Mel White, Jr.'s book Stranger at the Gate: 
To Be Gay and Christian in America, Lyla White writes:

"Mel White is a good person - kind, generous, funny, insightful, a man of faith 
and integrity. I ought to know. For twenty-five years I was married to him. 
I know what he went through trying to understand himself and what it means to
 be both gay and Christian. Whether you agree or disagree with Mel's 
perspective on the issue, I hope you will take him seriously... I hope you'll take
 him seriously because what we learned together will be important to you and 
your family as well. For example, after all those decades of trying, we 
discovered that no one can choose to change his or her sexual orientation... 
Mel had no choice about being homosexual. Believe me, if he had a choice, 
I know he would have chosen his marriage, his family and his unique ministry, 
for Mel's values, like most of the gays and lesbians I know, are the same as mine
 and my heterosexual friends: love, respect, commitment, nurture, responsibility,
 honesty and integrity. (Stranger at the Gate, pg.5).

There are many who stand as strangers at our gate - the gate to our family's 
homes, our churches, and our hearts. They feel they cannot speak the truth to
 us about who they really are, because we have given them clear signals, 
"Don't tell me the truth, I can't hear it." (Mel White tells how his fundamentalist
 parents shamed him for wanting to go to a high school dance. If they thought 
dancing was a sin, could you imagine how they would have reacted if I told them
 I was homosexual ?!) But, scripture says, "You shall know the truth and the 
truth shall set you free"(John 8:32). What else does scripture say and not say 
about homosexuality ? Let's look closer ....

What do the Bible and Christian tradition say about homosexuality?

Actually - this may come as a surprise to you, but homosexuality, as we know 
it today, is not addressed by holy scripture. There are however, seven passages 
of scripture - four in the Old Testament (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, 
Dt 23;17-18) and three in the New Testament (Romans 1:18-32, I Corinthians 
6:1-8, I Timothy 1:9-10) - that are used in the arguments against homosexuality.
All seven of these passages could fit onto one page of the eleven hundred page
Bible. And they make up less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the scriptures which 
God has given us.

Before speaking to the Old & New Testament writings, I'd like to point out that 
Jesus is silent on the question of homosexuality. Although he addreses many 
issues head on, he says nothing on this. Why not ? Well either homosexuality
was not an issue for Jesus or he deliberately chose not to address it.

Genesis 19 is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18:16-33, God sends
 two angels to the city of Sodom to find ten righteous people that the city might 
be spared from destruction. When the angels arrive they are befriended Lot, 
Abraham's brother. Lot invited them to his house. That night, before the 
strangers go to bed, Lots house is surrounded by all the males of Sodom, old and
 young who demand that Lot bring his visitors outside so the crowd "might know
 them." Lot pleads with the crowd on his guests' behalf and offers up his two 
virgin daughters to pacify the crowd, suggesting the crowd do with his daughters
 what they please. A strange passage to say the least. Without studying the 
passage, an amazing number of Christians assume that the sin of Sodom 
(for which the city was later destroyed) is homosexuality. This interpretation 
is based on assumption that the word "to know" is a euphemism for
 "sexual intercourse." Although "to know" refers in Hebrew to sexual
 intercourse in at least ten Old Testament passages, in an additional 933 
passages the word appears to have no sexual connotation at all. It doesn't have
 to mean "sexual intercourse" or "rape" in this case! In fact biblical evidence 
would suggest that it most likely means a more straightforward kind of 
knowledge or acquaintance, as it means in the other 933 passages. If this is so,
 then the sin of Sodom is not "Sodomy" (As we know it) or "male to male sexual
 intercourse" but inhospitality!

Listen to what the Old Testament prophets say about the Sin of Sodom. And 
quite frankly, I listen to and trust the OT prophets far beyond my imagining my
 ability to trust and listen to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on this topic!

The prophet Isaiah claims that Sodom was destroyed for lack of doing justice 
(Isaiah 1:10; 3:9). Jeremiah accuses the Sodomites of adultery, lying and a
 refusal to repent(Jeremiah 23:14). Ezekiel says that God was angry at Sodom
 because the people were proud and overly prosperous and they refused to 
aid the poor and the needy(Ezekiel 16:49).

In the NT, the Apostle Paul doesn't refer to Sodom in any of the 13 letters. Peter
mentions Sodom in general terms as what happens when people live ungodly 
lives. Jude mentions Sodom but not in the context of homosexual intercourse or
 rape. And finally Jesus says in Matthew 10:15 that if a town refuses his disciples
 hospitality they should shake off the dust and leave. The story of Sodom is really
 about wicked, greedy, self-centered people who refuse hospitality to strangers 
and perhaps even threaten abuse or rape them as a sign of contempt. Is it any 
wonder that God's wrathful anger was exacted against this unrepentant and sinful
 city ? Unfortunately, we have until this day continued to misinterpret and misuse
 this passage in such a way that even our civil laws refer to the "Sodomy" and 
"sodomizing" in incorrect ways.

In the law codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, male homosexual activity is condemned(Female homosexual activity is never mentioned). The wording is a 
bit strange and the meaning is not entirely clear, 
but laws do exact punishment on offenders.

This raises two questions for me. First, if we choose to use these laws to judge
 others, where do we begin and end in doing this ? There are 613 laws in 
Leviticus and Deuteronomy - including stoning children for disobedience,
 husbands and wives abstaining from sexual intercourse except during fertile
 periods, and not harvesting the edge of the field. Which laws do we follow ?
 Which laws do we not follow ? Some suggest that we ought to uphold the 
"moral laws" while abandoning the "ceremonial laws." But, since the OT itself
 makes no such distinction, that's difficult to do.

Second, did not Jesus himself say that he came not to destroy the law but to 
bring it to its completion ? Under the New Covenant in Christ, we are called to
 "love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls and love our 
neighbor as ourselves!" This law supersedes all others!

So, what does the NT say then ? In his classic 1983 biblical study, The New
 Testament and Homosexuality, New Testament scholar, Robin Scroggs studies
 the question of what the New Testament says about homosexuality. I have 
mentioned the passages in which Paul speaks to homosexuality. scroggs has 
shown that Paul was speaking against pederasty - which in a literal sense is men
 having sex with boys - an open and common practise in many Hellenistic cities
 during the time of Paul. Along with, I hope, all of my colleagues, I am against
 this abusive form of sexuality. It is a form of rape in which power, abuse, and
 lack of mutuality are the issues - not sexual intimacy and relationships! He 
concludes, "What the New Testament was against was the image of 
homosexuality as pederasty and primarily here its more sordid and dehumanizing
 dimensions" (Scroggs, pg.126). One would regret if somebody in the NT had 
not opposed such dehumanization.

Furthermore, Scroggs concludes:

The fact remains, however, that the basic model for today's Christian 
homosexual community (of mutuality and covenanted relationships) is so
 different from the model attacked by the NT that the criticism of reasonable
 similarity of context is not met. The conclusion I have to draw seems inevitable:
 Biblical judegements against homosexuality are not relevant to today's debate. 
They no longer be used in denominational discussion about homosexuality, 
should in no way be a weapon to justify refusal of ordination, not because the
 Bible is not authoritative, but simply because it does not address the issues
 involved. (Scroggs, p.127)

That's a powerful conclusion, but one that I share having carefully studied the 
Greek, the Hebrew and a multiplicity of books and writings on this topic from 
various sides of the debate. In fact, in a recent issue of the popular conservative
 periodical Christianity Today, conservative biblical scholar John Stott tells 
readers to stop using biblical texts to prop-up their arguments against gays and
 lesbians(quoted in the VR Mollencott lecture notes, 3/4/95).

Wow! Talk about a change in the times? I see it like this: "The problem is not 
how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that appear to condemn
 it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals 
with the love of Christ. I do not think it can be done." (Willam Sloan Coffin).

So where do we go from here?

Knowing that the biblical props for our homophobia are knocked out and wiped 
away, how can we welcome gays and lesbians into the church ?

First, I think we need to listen to the voices of gay and lesbian Christians 
speaking to us about their needs. Listening would be a wonderful place to begin.
 Then out of a spirit of repentant proyer, we need to break out of the code of
 silence. How many of our children, our grandchildren, our brothers and sisters,
 our friends, even perhaps you have been scared to step foot inside a church 
because of the shunning, the hurt, the rejections, and the bible beatings and 
abuse doled out within the walls of churches and organized religion ? Or perhaps
 folks have simply been shunned and ignored in church often enough to give up ?
 How many of you would like to speak openly about who you are, and how God
 is made manifest in your faith life as a gay or lesbian person but fear that 
stepping into the light of day in the context of the church will cuase you more 
pain than healing ? How many of you need to ask someone you love that very 
question, because silence has for too long kept them away ?

Chris Glaser concludes his book, Coming Out to God with these words: 

When I think of the institutional church these days, images of death come to me
 rather than images of life. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I believe that,
 in some sense, the church would prefer death for those of us who are lesbian or
 gay, or at least the equivalent of death: a casket-sized closet. Maybe it's because
 I believe that the church too often chooses death itself: by rigidity, by 
exclusivity, by stupidity, by insensitivity. It too often closets itself in a world 
hungry for liberation...and spiritual community. The church has frequently 
seemed like those whitewashed tombs, Jesus decried: outwardly they appear
 beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness, 
outwardly they appear righteous...but within...are full of hyposrisy and iniquity. 
(Matthew 23;27-28). (Chris Glaser, Coming Out to God, 
Westminster Press, 1991, pg. 160).

I don't want to be this kind of church for those who are seeking to be apart of 
our community, but have not been welcomed. I want to us to be a 
church of resurrection and life!

In the Last Judgement of Matthew 25:43, Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you
did not welcome me..." My friends, the time is long past that we would find it in
our hearts to welcome the stranger at the gate in the person of gay and lesbian
Christians. I for one, can wait no longer to extend the hand and heart of welcome

I close with this appeal from Lyla White, former wife 
of 25 years to gay pastor Mel White:

"We are all on this journey together, and we must ensure that the road is safe for
 everyone, including our homosexual brothers and sisters who for far too long
 have been unfairly condemned and rejected. Isn't it past time that we opened 
our hearts and our arms to welcome them home instead of seeing them as 
strangers still waiting at the gate ?" (Stranger at the Gate, pg.7).

We are indeed all on this journey together. I know I haven't figured out the path
 which undeniably clear on this and other questions of inclusivity and faith. But,
 I do know that my former answers are not my present answers. And I, a sinner
 and a recovering homophobic, graced by God to love my neighbor invite you -
 whether you are gay or straight - to join me on the journey. I invite you to 
welcome the stranger (who may indeed be you yourself!), to reach out in 
unconditional love to people who have been wounded and hurt by our silence 
and neglect, or simply to join me - wherever you on your journey to wholeness 
in God's unconditional love, light and love. Let us move forward together.