The debate over homosexuality and the church is really over whether homosexual persons are made in the image of God, says a pro-gay Baptist responding to criticism by a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In a column last week in Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Albert Mohler critiqued left-wing religious groups as theological enablers of supporters of same-sex marriage in the “quest to normalize homosexuality.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Mohler labeled the Alliance of Baptists, an SBC breakaway group that recently issued a statement decrying the “politicization” of same-sex marriage, as “the latest group to join the parade.”
Invited to respond to Mohler’s column, Alliance Executive Director Stan Hastey submitted a statement to EthicsDaily.com. In it, Hastey said Mohler’s accusation “puts in bold relief what the debate over homosexuality and the churches is really about.”
“What he sees as a ‘quest’ we see as a given,” Hastey said. “Homosexuality is normal, and homosexual persons are no less made in the image of God than are heterosexual persons. The entire debate turns on this crucial difference in perspective.”
Mohler accused the Alliance of doing the very thing their statement decries. Recognition of same-sex marriages is a political argument, he said, suggesting it is wrong for the Alliance to imply that its own motives are above politics.
Hastey conceded that this issue is political, but he said the Alliance statement was “a response to prior politicization of the issue.” Hastey noted that President Bush came out in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage only after prodding from the Religious Right. He said the president really doesn’t want homosexuality to be an issue in the campaign, because there are as many gay Republicans as gay Democrats. Vice President Dick Cheney’s own daughter is an out-of-the-closet lesbian.
“We liberals say ‘So what?’ Bless her for being who she is,” Hastey said. “Good for the vice president and his wife for accepting and affirming their lesbian daughter. Does this mean they too, in Mohler’s words, are ‘enablers for the homosexual movement’s rejection of Christian morality’?”
Most of the rest of Mohler’s column, Hastey said, “has to do with what he considers our low view of Holy Scripture.”
“He is quite simply wrong,” Hastey continued. “What we try to do in interpreting the Bible is to take the approach to Scripture that Jesus himself took.”
Christ set aside major portions of the Old Testament law in order to meet human need, Hastey said. He rejected the ethic of eye-for-an-eye in favor of forgiveness. The Sermon on the Mount includes a litany of rules superseded by Jesus’ call to sacrificial love.
“Biblical inerrantists cannot get away from the simple fact that Jesus himself rejected inerrancy as a methodology for interpreting the Scriptures,” Hastey said. “And with respect to homosexuality, the simple fact is that Jesus himself said nothing about it—not one word.”
The debate over homosexuals and the church is one of the most divisive issues facing religious denominations today. The United Methodist Church this week refused to soften its official stance that homosexual activity is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and banning self-avowed practicing gays from pulpits.
The denomination’s highest court, meanwhile, said it had no power to overturn a controversial acquittal of a woman charged with violating the ban on gay clergy.
Bible scholars interpret the Scripture’s message on homosexuality in different ways.
Conservatives tend to view homosexuality as sinful. Some cite the Old Testament’s description of same-sex activity as an “abomination,” viewing it as a more serious class of sin. Most, however, teach that homosexual orientation can be changed through the power of faith.
Liberal theologians say the biblical writers knew nothing of what today is described as sexual orientation and that references against certain sexual practices must be understood in light of the culture and times when they were written. This leads to a “welcoming-and-affirming” stance on issues such as ordination of homosexuals and the “blessing” of same-sex unions.
A third camp says that the Bible doesn’t condone homosexual acts but recognizes those who define themselves as gays as being of equal dignity and worth to heterosexuals. Some refer to this middle road as “welcoming but not affirming.”
Mohler and Hastey agreed on at least one point.
In his column, Mohler credited the Alliance for its “candor and honesty” on a controversial issue that many would prefer to avoid.
“There is no refuge on the issue of same-sex marriage,” Mohler said. “The questions will eventually be answered. Churches will either endorse same-sex ‘marriage’ or they will not. Denominations and religious institutions will recognize same-sex partnership, or they will not. There is no middle ground, no place of compromise and eventually no place to hide.”
Hastey agreed that “no denomination will be able indefinitely to hide from taking a stance on the whole range of issues relating to homosexuality.”
While he and Mohler “differ fundamentally” on those issues, Hastey said he welcomes honest, respectful and robust debate on the subject. But, he said, “In the end, I am confident that the positions we have taken will prevail, for throughout the long sweep of Christian history inclusion has always prevailed over exclusion in every similar debate.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.