Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Church debate on full inclusion for lesbian, gay and trans Christians has become commonplace in the US mainline Protestant denominations, and in some European churches. A few denominations already ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors in commited, monogamous relationships, or are engaged in regular debates on moving towards that goal. Others already provide for either full church weddings for same-sex couples (where local laws allow it), or accept church blessings.  Among these denominations, it is becoming ever clearer that full inclusion, for both marriage and ordination regulations, will soon become widely accepted, if not (yet) universal.

It is less well-known, but is slowly becoming evident, that a similar process has also begun in other more surprising denominations.

Toby Huckaby’s address on gay inclusion to a Catholic college is just one sign of the increasing debate in the Catholic Church, as is the number of bishops who have followed Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna in quietly asking for a rethink, or at least a more compassionate approach – and are not being repudiated.  A recent panel discussion in Utah is another indicator that churchmen and women are questioning the old assumption across a wide front. A report on this broadly based rethink at CNN has drawn my attention to yet more evidence that this new open-mindedness is also having an impact elsewhere, in some evangelical circles:

In Denver, an evangelical Christian pastor has split with his former church and started his own evangelical church that fully welcomes gays as worshipers and leaders.

The Rev. Mark Tidd says he does not see a discrepancy between the Bible and accepting members of the homosexual community.

“There’s times when we change how we approach scripture because we observe how God is making God’s self known in creation,” he said.  “We don’t consider it a sin to be gay and we don’t consider it a sin if you are gay and seek a relationship which is the only natural one you can have which would be someone of the same gender.”

Video: Colorado candidates debate same-sex marriage issue

Lisa Crane and her husband Ryan left their more traditional evangelical church for Tidd’s church, and have no plans to go back.

“Do we ever worry like, ‘Oh God am I wrong about this?’ and ‘Am I going to get to heaven and God is going to be like – No, you weren’t supposed to let the gays serve communion!'” Lisa said.

“You know, I don’t think so. That doesn’t jibe with the Jesus that we learned about from the Bible”

-Read the full report

My answer to the “WWJD” question is simple: there is no need to consider what Jesus “would” have done. Just look at what in fact he did do.  His ministry was deeply characterised by His conspicuous outreach to the oppressed and marginalized of all kinds, whom he accepted on fully equal terms with all other disciples. He also quite deliberately agreed to cure the Centurion’s “servant”, and even to enter the Centurion’s home, even though there would have been at the very least a popular assumption that in keeping with common Roman military custom, the Centurion would have had a sexual relationship with this servant.

 

Out in Church: Summer Progress Expected

Change is coming, of that there can be no doubt. (Sadly, in spite of the suggestion by Cardinal Schonborn, I am not here referring to the Catholic Church, but to others. Just how long Rome can lag behind, is another matter.)

First, consider the progress up to now. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ accepted full inclusion some time ago, and have many openly gay, lesbian and trans pastors.  Last year, in a blaze of publicity, the ELCA voted to approve the recognition of lesbian or gay partners in committed and faithful permanent relationships, without the expectation of celibacy, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual marriages. That decision was accompanied by many dire warnings of doom, and predictions that many congregations would secede in protest. There have been some withdrawals, but as far as I can tell, not too many. Meanwhile, life in the ELCA has continued as normal, and the decision came into practical effect earlier this year.

In the Episcopalian/ Anglican communion, things are more complex, with international ties and allegiances also coming into play. The US Episcopalians have now consecrated two openly gay or lesbian bishops, and have nominated but not approved a few others. In the UK, that decision has been highly controversial, but is closely tied up with controversy over women bishops, which (unlike the US) have hitherto not been permitted. British Quakers resolved last year bless same sex couples in church, and were influential in the recent change in the law to permit civil partnerships in religious premises. Meanwhile, the Swedish Lutheran church has also ordained a lesbian bishop, and has agreed to apply the new law on same sex marriage in church as well. The Danish and Icelandic Lutherans are considering following their Swedish counterparts in applying their own countries’ laws on gay marriage when they are approved by parliament.

In the US and Europe, therefore, progress to full inclusion in church is substantial, at least in American mainline Protestant denominations and their European counterparts. Where can we expect the next victories? With the summer assembly season approaching, these are the major things we should be looking for. Read the rest of this entry »