Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Father of a Teenage Girl: HELP!

Molly K. White

Molly K. White

Well, Gentle Readers, I knew this day would get here, but I am still not ready.  I have become the father of a teenaged girl!

Yes, 13 years ago, today, Katharine (Kate) E. Westmoreland-White brought forth her firstborn daughter. She couldn’t wrap her in anything because the nurses pulled her away to clean her up (she was a mirconium baby) and Kate did not get to hold her for over an hour! Molly cried until she heard me say, stupidly, “Holy Cow, I have a daughter!” At this, apparently recognizing my voice from all those conversations I had with Kate’s belly, her unfocused eyes tried to find me and she stopped crying–briefly–to seek me out.

I have been wholly hers ever since.

Molly Katharine White, named for the famous Baptist theologian who introduced (and later married) her mother and me and for her mother and grandmother, is now 13 years old.  Look out world, here she comes.

What she is, now: A child of God by both birth and new birth (She confessed Christ and was baptized last year). [For my reflections at the time of her baptism, read here and here.] The delight and exasperation of her parents.  The friend and bane of her younger sister, Miriam.  A brilliant scholar in middle school.  A passionate advocate for the earth and for peace.  A willing servant in church. 

What she will be? Who knows. I don’t hold out much hope that either of my daughters will follow either their mother into pastoral ministry or my path as a theologian/philosopher–especially since we have been unable to keep earning our living at our callings.  As of right now, part of Molly wants to work in the United Nations as an interpreter (she is good at languages). Another part would like to write fiction.  And another part would love to work with animals in one of the biological sciences.  Whatever she does, she will do well.

What she’ll always be: My little girl.

Update: How disturbing! Molly’s birthday is also the anniversary of the death (in 1918 ) of that great Baptist theologian, Walter Rauschenbusch! I hope there is no significance to the coincidence. 🙂

Other great events of Church History on Molly’s birthday include:

  • 25 July 325 Close of the Council of Nicea which gave us the Nicene Creed and condemned the heresy of Arianism.
  • 25 July 1593 King Henry IV of France, raised Protestant (Huguenot), converts to Catholicism.  It was once commonly viewed, at least by Protestants, that this was a political move, but Church historians of many different persuasions are now convinced that the move was a genuine conversion of conscience.  Significantly, Henry continued to protect the religious liberty of French Protestants, promulgating the Edict of Nantes that did just that in 1598.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | family | 6 Comments

Loose Ends, 2: GLBT Series

  • Alan and Steven: Please try to indicate in a clearer way when you are talking to each other and when to me. That hasn’t always been clear.
  • The rules for commenting on this blog are posted to the right.  Please follow them. Alan, I did not remove any of your comments. I don’t know what happened and I can’t seem to reply to your email. I am not all that tech-savvy. 
  • In the time I have held this blog, I have found it necessary to ban only one commenter–someone who kept up vicious attacks and tried to hijack every conversation, plus emailed me constantly under numerous different email addresses so that I had to keep finding new blocks for him.  No one else has been like that. 
  • I welcome criticism. I learn from my critics.  It’s no secret that I find D.R. Randle to be annoying, but he sometimes brings up good points that I need to address.  For instance, in one of the recent GLBT posts, he pointed to a possible inconsistency in the way that I appeal to tradition: I appeal to the witness of the early church to support my view that Jesus demands all Christians to be nonviolent. But, says D.R., I ignore the witness of the early church on “homosexuality.”  This is true and I need to say why the difference.
  •    1) My ultimate authority in matters of both doctrine and ethics is neither the letter of Scripture, nor church tradition, but Jesus Christ.  In the words of the Barmen Confession (when something is right, I’ll quote it), “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” Holy Scripture bears witness to Jesus Christ and mediates that Living Word.  Tradition is useful as a guide to interpretation, but can always be wrong.
  • 2) Nonviolence is the WAY for Christians throughout the New Testament as well as throughout the early church. There are only 3 texts in the NT, two of them fragments of verses that have translation issues, that have negative judgments on (at least) some same-sex actions. In the only developed passage with a theological context (Rom. 1), no command is given and the main point is the sinfulness of everyone and the inability of any to boast in themselves.  Either Jesus gave an ambiguously positive word for gays and lesbians (Matt 19) or said nothing on the topic at all.  Either way, unlike nonviolence, this is not a central concern of Christian discipleship, never mind a unified witness of the New Testament.
  •  3) I am suspicious of the approach to sexuality taken by the early church altogether because, influenced by Platonic philosophy and Gnostic asceticism, the post-Apostolic church soon developed very anti-body and anti-sex views that contrast with the testimony of Scripture, the goodness of creation, and the full, embodied humanity of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Word of God.  Thus, I approach the early church testimony on “homosexuality” with far more suspicion than I do it’s testimony on war.  This could be bias on my part.
  • D. R. Randle also asks a good question about the data on violence against GLBT persons. For the stats on the violence and persecution suffered by gay youth in U.S. schools, see this report by Human Rights Watch from May 2001 entitled “Hatred in the Hallways.”  In 2006 (the most recent year for which there is data), the FBI reported that hate crimes against gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgendered persons made up 16% of all hate crimes in the U.S.–up from 14% in ’05. More data on hate crimes against GLBT persons can be found here. Despite gains in some states, legal discrimination in many areas (employment, housing, marriage, adoption, healthcare benefits, etc.) is still widespread throughout the U.S.  The suicide rate for GLBT teens is 33%, 4 times that of heterosexual youth (which is already too high)–and it is higher for youth who come from conservative religious homes and churches.  I don’t have documentation on the churches or clergy who are picketed, but it is more than Westboro BC of Topeka.  I know that when Belmont Baptist Church in Nashville called an out lesbian as pastor, they faced daily pickets and stone throwing for weeks on end.  I also know that when students attempted to form a gay-straight alliance in a local highschool in Bowling Green, KY 2 years back, the pastor of a local church led protests and one of the deacons was quoted in the paper as threatening to burn the school “when only the queer group is inside.” So, D.R., I stand by my claim that solidarity with GLBT persons is NOT conformity to the dominant culture.
  • A final good point made by Randle:  The Scripture calls us not only to be in solidarity with the marginalized, but to proclaim/demonstrate God’s holiness. True enough, but I have been at pains to show that Jesus transforms the meaning of “holiness” from concern about purity matters to compassionate justice.  Holiness as “taste not, touch not” was the way championed by the Pharisee party. The Jesus community, instead, practiced compassionate justice for the outcast.
  • If I don’t reply to your comments, I still read them. But all conversations must come to an end.  The post on a single sexual ethic for everyone will be posted before the end of this weekend and bring this series to a close.
  • In the end, some will never be convinced.  I do not expect the Body of Christ to be unified on this subject in my lifetime. So, how can we be faithful to the gospel as we understand it, follow Jesus’ Johannine prayer that we may be one “as I and the Father are one,” instead of splitting every major denomination, and respect as sisters and brothers those with whom we strongly disagree?

A Bibliography for Further Study:

There are far too many books on this subject to read them all.  I highlight ones that have been helpful to me. In an attempt at fairness, I will include a list of the best “NOT affirming” books at the end of this post.

I. Anthologies that Cover Diverse Views:

Jeffrey S. Siker, ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994).

Sally B. Geis & Donald E. Musser, eds., Caught in the Crossfire: Helping Christians Debate Homosexuality. (Abingdon Press, 1994).  (Most of those in this book are participants in the debate within the United Methodist Church.)

Michael A. King, ed., Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality (Cascadia Publishing House, 200&). Participants represent the debate within the Mennonite Church, USA.

Timothy Bradshaw,ed., The Way Forward? Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. (Eerdmans, 2003).

Dan O. Via and Robert A. J. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. (Augsburg-Fortress, 2003). A debate between two well-known NT profs, with Via arguing for the revisionist/inclusive view and Gagnon arguing for the traditionalist/exclusivist view.

II. Revisionist Views:

     A. Biblical Arguments:

Alice Ogden Bells and Terry Hufford, Science, Scripture, and Homosexuality (Pilgrim Press, 2002). A collaborative effort between a biologist and a biblical scholar.

Jack B. Rogers, Jr., Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006). Rogers is an evangelical theologian (formerly prof. of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary; later president of San Francisco Theological Seminary; still later, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA) who describes his journey from the traditional to a revisionist view.

Walter Wink, ed., Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for Christian Churches (Augsburg-Fortress, 1999).  More than most revisionist collections, this anthology contains several essays by prominent evangelicals including Ken Sehested, Lewis B. Smedes, Peggy Campolo, and others.

Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality. (Augsburg-Fortress, 1983).  Although, I now see that Scroggs overstated his case on Romans 1, this was the first book on this topic to be a major help to me. Scroggs’ basic argument is that the NT condemnations of same-sex behavior have a different focus than our current debate and, thus, are being misused in most of the debates.  I think that broad argument still stands.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, revised and updated edition.  (HarperOne, 1994).  Significantly stronger than the first edition. When the first edition was published in 1978, it was almost the only revisionist book from a Christian perspective, and definitely the first written by evangelicals. (Later, Mollenkott herself came out as lesbian, terrified that her friend, Letha would reject her as her home congregation had.) The original edition was written before the dominance of the Religious Right in North American evangelicalism–the book got a somewhat positive review in Christianity Today. (The CT review did not accept the thesis, but recommended it as a conversation starter in all churches!)

John J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual, 4th edition. (Beacon Press, 1993).  When published in 1976, this was one of the first studies of its kind–possibly the first revisionist study in English by a Catholic priest.  This was the book that converted one of my heroes (and a deeply biblical Christian), Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S. J., to a revisionist view. In 1987, Fr. McNeill was thrown out of the Society of Jesus for refusing to stop ministering to gays and lesbians.  Later, he was thrown out of the priesthood, despite having remained faithful to his vows of celibacy.

   B. Testimonies from GLBT Christians:

Mel White, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. (Plume Books, 1995). Mel White began as a member of the Religious Right. A ghostwriter and film maker for Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell (his “autobiography”), Pat Robertson, and a speechwriter for Oliver North!  He worked for years to be “cured” of his gayness (and save his marriage), but eventually had to admit he was always going to be gay. He also came to a different view of Christianity. Today, White is the founder of Soulforce, an organization which uses nonviolent direct action to confront Religious Right and evangelical churches and leaders with the harm they do to gay and lesbian Christians.  (In recommending the book, I am not necessarily agreeing with all of the tactics of Soulforce.)

Michael Glaser, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church.  (Westminster/John Knox, 1994).

Gary David Comstock, A Whosoever Church: Welcoming Lesbians and Gay Men into African-American Congregations. (Westminster/John Knox, 2001).

 III. Best Books from the “Not Affirming” Perspective

Stanley Grenz, Welcoming but NOT Affirming:  An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998). Written by a Canadian Baptist theologian and ethicist who died unexpectedly.  The hardest part for me with this book is that I support Grenz’ wider views on sexual ethics–which are so much more Christian than much of what is sold as “orthodoxy.”

Thomas B. Schmidt, Straight & Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. (InterVarsity Press, 1995). 

Marion L. Soards, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995). Written by a former Southern Baptist who became a Presbyterian to escape fundamentalism, but still sees the revisionist/inclusivist view as a threat to the health of the church.

Paul A. Mickey, Of Sacred Worth. (Abingdon Press, 1991). Argues against the Religious Right’s singling out of gays and lesbians for persecution, but also against revisionism on ordination or same-sex marriage.

More could be added from all perspectives. This is the tip of the iceberg where this literature is concerned.

See also the books recommended or cited in earlier posts in this series.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | GLBT issues, homosexuality | 22 Comments