Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Anyone who follows church politics knows that homosexuality is one of the most divisive religious issues we face. The Episcopal Church is on the brink of a national split, based principally on this issue. Meanwhile, just up the road, a mega-church is still reeling from the news that their leader engaged in some form of homosexual extracurricular activity.

Like a phoenix from the ashes comes a summit to be held in, of all places, Colorado Springs. Religious leaders and thinkers from across the sociopolitical spectrum will come together for three days to discuss homosexuality and the church in a respectful, thoughtful environment. The purpose of the event is to begin engaging in constructive dialogue about something that threatens to divide an already weakened Christian community.

Despite how you feel about sexuality with respect to scripture, it’s in our best interest as Christians to deal with this in a matter-of-fact way. For some, it’s a moral wedge issue. For others, it’s a call to justice and equality. The idea that both parties will take the time to discourse about their beliefs – and even their differences – is encouraging.

My only wish is that the debate could move beyond the conceptual level, though this is better than nothing. As long as we’re simply discussing issues and ideas, we’re not likely to get much further than agreeing to disagree, with an amicable willingness to coexist.

If the summit included first-hand accounts from gay and lesbian clergy, or from family members of gay people, we’d start to get past ideology and begin dealing with the flesh and bone of the matter. After all, we’re talking about people, not issues. Still, the face time offers hope, suggesting that some Christians still are willing to share a table together, even if they don’t see eye to eye.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to wade back into the religious waters, a volley is fired over the bough.

The Southern Baptist Convention still claims that women should not be allowed to preach or lead churches, based upon a verse in I Timothy, wherein the author – who some claim is Paul – says, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” The issue entered the media spotlight this month when Dr. Sheri Klouda, a tenure-track professor of theology at Southwest Theological Seminary since 2002, was fired on the grounds of her gender.

Under the leadership of Paige Patterson, the seminary’s current ultra-conservative president who was hired after Dr. Klouda became a professor, the school is returning to a “traditional, confessional and biblical position that women should not instruct men in theology or biblical languages,” according to Van McClain, chairman of the Southwestern trustees.

Clearly, I have a strong personal bias about gender roles in the church, but it’s hard for me to imagine that we still discriminate in any professional role based upon body parts. It’s tragic to justify oppressive, discriminatory behavior “because the Bible says so.” I also believe it’s un-Christian.

The Bible tells stories about men selling their wives into slavery, fathers giving up their virgin daughters to angry mobs, concubines and teen marriage. Shall we observe these traditions, “because the Bible says so?” Everything from indentured servitude to genocide has been carried out with one hand on the Bible. That doesn’t make it right.

I’m glad we’re making progress in some arenas, but the fact that we are still contending with such issues as sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender in the church is disheartening. Some might say I should be happy with any development at all, but I expect more from the church.

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