The events in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub those two weeks ago have been so omnipresent in the news, and receiving so much commentary, that one wonders if they are in some sense a cultural diastrophism? A diastrophism takes place when the subterranean tectonic plates shift and in so doing obliterate or totally rearrange all of the familiar landscape on the surface above them. O, to be sure, there have been cultural tremors on the subject of same-sex relations for the past half century, or more, in church, in military, in qualifications for many places in society. There was the Stonewall Inn tragedy in New York in the late ‘60s, and others. But this event in Orlando produced an outpouring of grief and love for the gay community that was quite unique. Who would have thought, only a few years ago, that the names of the victims of the massacre in the Pulse would appear on the cover of Time Magazine, with their pictures and a very searching article seeking to interpret the even in sympathetic and compassionate terms to its readership?

In my own life, I have been the product of a very conservative Christian perspective. Growing up in the mid-20th century, same-ex relationships was hardly a subject ever discussed in the polite society with which I was familiar. Among the conservative evangelical contingent within the Presbyterian Church it only became an inescapable issue in the late ‘70s when there was an overture to ordain practicing homosexuals. The debate over that consumed the church for all the years that followed. It was the watershed issue defining one’s faithfulness to Biblical authority (as my colleagues saw it). To be candid, yes, those espousing the ordaining of homosexual persons did, in fact, frequently sit lightly on Biblical authority. I spent decades in the leadership of the conservative evangelical organization within the Presbyterian Church, and engaged in many debates over this subject.

But the culture was shifting under my feet. I have found myself living in a metropolitan community, and in a wonderful neighborhood, with a large percentage of LGBT persons who have become dear friends. Even so I was pretty resolute on my own interpretation of such. But then again (as I have related in recent blogs) the majority of the world’s population is under twenty-five years of age, … and their cultural values are shaped differently.

For me the transforming moment was when I encountered two writers whose arguments I found quite inescapable. One is David Gushee, who is a dean among evangelical ethicists, and the author of the magisterial book: Kingdom Ethics. He is a professor at a local university and I have been drawn to his blogs. So when he admitted that he had changed his position on the whole debate, and written it in a book: Changing Our Mind, I was compelled to read it, and found it very persuasive. He, in turn, pointed me to a younger author, Matthew Vines, whose upbringing was identical with mine in both family and church. He was member of a large Presbyterian Church in Kansas that was of a conservative evangelical persuasion. But as a sophomore at Harvard, in what for him was an inescapable and traumatic moment, he had to admit to himself that he was gay. That being so he faced it head-on and returned to Kansas to engage his family and his church, and to take a year’s leave from Harvard and to all of the intense Biblical research on the controversial texts, etc. He has written all of this up in a very convincing book: God and the Gay Christian. For me the book was inescapable, enlightening and liberating to be able to get inside of the heart and mind of one whose upbringing in family and church so identical with  my own. He does not dismiss (or ‘whitewash’) the controversial texts. I needed this. I have had to face the conscious, and sub-conscious factors that have shaped me with new eyes. Gushee and Vines. They may have give us clues on a possible and inescapable cultural shift.  I commend them both. “O, the deep, deep, love of Jesus.” Stay tuned.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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