Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Christian imperative to choose love

Lord help me, I did something entirely uncharacteristic last week --- listened to an hour-long sermon by a Baptist preacher (via YouTube). 

But this was an uncharacteristic Baptist sermon, preached by the Rev. Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in suburban Los Angeles. Cortez is a licensed Southern Baptist preacher; New Heart, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the sermon --- powerful and moving if you've got the time to watch it --- Cortez describes the process of study, listening, thought and prayer that changed his heart and mind; a seismic shift from condemning LGBT people --- a Southern Baptist tradition --- to affirming us.

When the process was complete, the preacher's teen-age son came out to him as gay. Cortez had not expected that.

After this sermon, the New Heart congregation supported its pastor and agreed to try at least to become a "third-way" church where LGBT people would be welcomed and affirmed even though opinions about gay issues would continue to differ.

These are the sort of combined circumstances that, if a guy didn't know better, might make him a believer.


But neither the Rev. Mr. Cortez nor his congregation will be affiliated with the Southern Baptists much longer. The SBC annual meeting is this week in Baltimore, and that will be the end of that.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and lead pit bull in the Baptist attack pack that goes after heretics such as these, went on the offensive immediately, announcing that there was no "third way" for Baptists and other evangelical Christians when it comes to gay folks.

You're either on God's side or Satan's (those gay people), he implied --- the future of Christianity is hanging in the balance.

Reality check.


I was extremely fortunate in choice of parents --- religion was not imposed and when it became evident  in graduate school, under circumstances that seem funny now (but weren't then), that we were going to have to have the gay conversation they were bemused and worried, but not angry. That was a hell of a long time ago.

But from that day forward, especially prior to the turn of 21st century, I've seen so many people damaged by Christian families and their churches, listened to so much hateful rhetoric from alleged Christians, that I've become phobic about the word; Call me an Episcopalian, if you don't mind; an admirer of Unitarian Universalists, former Lutheran. But don't use the "C" word.

Nowadays, it almost seems sometimes as if there's hope. And because so many Christians --- even entire denominations, including my own --- have changed their hearts and minds on gay-related issues, this aversion is beginning to seem a little unfair. But not yet.


Matthew Vines is the young man from Wichita, Kansas, who published recently a book called God and the Gay Christian, pointing out that the "clobber passages" in the Bible, used for so long to beat up on gay folks, can be interpreted in many ways.

He's also distilled quite recently, his hour-long video presentation on the same topic down to a few minutes. The first video went viral --- or as viral as anything an hour long can go. Here's the new version.

And here's a link to an article in today's Wichita Eagle that describes how this devout, but gay, young man and his conservative father worked together to change the father's heart and mind.

Dr. Moeller and his pack attacked Vines, too --- launching a free e-book attempting to refute Vines' conclusions at the same time his book was published.


Actually, what the Bible does or doesn't say about gay issues doesn't concern me much personally. That old book in my opinion is a mixture of myth, metaphor, inaccurate genealogies, questionable history, some fine poetry --- and the only known accounts of what that guy Jesus was all about. The latter is its principal relevance.

But the experiences of the Cortez and Vines family and others I could cite if it seemed useful to do so demonstrate just how pivotal a role the Bible, Hebrew and Christian, and how it's interpreted, can play in the lives of many gay people and their families --- especially in how they relate to each other.

That was true when I was a kid, and still is.

The important thing to realize is that sexual orientation is not a choice, but that how one interprets the Bible is.


That doesn't mean one shouldn't have a degree of sympathy for folks like Al Mohler and other religious leaders, from Vatican City to Nashville. Many have invested far too much in orthodox views regarding minor, debatable issues, like sexual orientation --- just listen to the news.

As the tide seems to turn increasingly against them and and begins to wash in the other direction, they're increasingly horrified at the prospect of losing control. Fear turns people mean sometimes.

And sympathy for families, too, who have too much of their own egos invested in conformity, in producing new generations that mirror the views and practices --- and sexual orientations --- of their predecessors. That rarely happens. Just a fact of life.

And although there are gay families now, too, churning out children who are for the most part heterosexual --- the gods traditionally have dropped gay kids squarely into the arms of straight parents. It may be a test.

Whatever the case, institutional or individual, denominational or family, the only acceptable option is love. That's the Jesus option, after all.

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