BLOG 11/8/15. A PERSONAL NOTE: A LIBERATING ENCOUNTER
I have experienced a most helpful encounter in recent days, and it has to do with whole GLBT issue, which has been so controversial. I was formed in a very well-structured family with very well-defined male and female roles. My frame of reference really had no place for any other. Sexual roles in my ‘traditionalist’ life were probably defined by teachings such as are expressed in the (Puritan) Westminster Shorter Catechism. We were conservative-evangelical folk with a very strong sense of the authority of scriptures as our rule of faith and practice.
Years later, in my days as pastor in New Orleans, we had a very colorful and out-in-the-open gay community in the Vieux Carre/French Quarter, with whom I had some contact, but then the Vieux Carre was expected to be a bit weird, … but I was made aware of a whole culture of gay folk. But about 1978 two things occurred that challenged my traditionalist thinking on the issue. First was that it was at that time that the first overtures came to our Presbyterian General Assembly to ordain gay-lesbian persons—but the overtures came from the theological ‘left’ who were always a bit cavalier in the dismissal of scriptural authority, and so I assumed that this was what was behind their overtures, i.e., make scripture mean what suited their purposes.
The other event was that I received a call to become pastor of a historic old Presbyterian Church in upper west-side in New York City. The church actually had an evangelical history that was quite impressive. But in visiting it, I found that they had a gay elder on their Session of elders, and to me that was a ‘yellow light’ (maybe a red light) to my traditionalist persuasion. I assumed that the church had compromised its sense of Biblical integrity. And so I refused the call. But the reality of that decision has haunted me over the years, … how could it be that a person who was considered to be one of the most mature and respected Christian persons, a person of wisdom and grace, and celibate in his gay experience be refused as an Elder? Again, my frame of reference had no place for such.
Thereafter, I had some minor role in the leadership of the evangelical coalitions within the Presbyterian Church, USA, and much of that including our continued resistance to the whole GLBT reality. … But the cultural tide was rising. Children of some of my closest friends ‘came out’ so that the issue came closer to home. I am, at heart, a teaching-pastor and a disciple-maker. I want the grace and love of God to come to real broken, lost, hurting, confused person. But, again, the GLBT community had a difficult time finding a place in my frame of reference. I moved into a neighborhood with a number of gay-lesbian neighbors who were not only some of the most responsible neighbors, but became the first real gay-lesbian folk to become real friends.
Much of the advocacy on both sides of the issue I found unconvincing. Both sides seemed to me to be interpreting scripture and the human realities to confirm their predetermined conclusions. In my octogenarian years I was aware of this blank spot in my sense of the mission of God. Then, at the recommendation of some trusted friends I encountered David Gushee and his book: Changing Our Mind. It was uncanny to me how his whole pilgrimage and experience mirrored or paralleled mine, how his struggle and his traditionalist convictions were so similar to mine—he as a brilliant evangelical ethicist, and mine as a missiologist and pastor. In his quest he never equivocates on the authority of scripture, but also he also never equivocates of the love of God for the real human beings in the GLBT community.
The book has been liberating. Dr. Gushee is gracious, Biblically thorough, brutally honest, … satisfying my spirit, liberating and powerful. He is compassionate and lucid. His book is a gift. I can accept the conclusions he reaches. I am at peace on this issue for the first time in my adult life. He has defused the issue for me. I commend the book to my readers and subscribers.