Chapter 6: Real People and Real Marriage
In this chapter, Rogers deals with some of the stereotypes and language that surrounds the topic of homosexuality. For example, many times you’ll hear people refer to “the gay lifestyle” as inherently promiscuous, sinful and the specter of AIDS. This is just one way in which people use the power of language and perceptions to foster fear against the LGBT community. Rogers likes to point out the injustices and inequalities that exist in our current system, especially when it comes to issues related to clergy sexual misconduct. Rogers speaks about male PC(USA) pastors who have affairs with women in their congregations:
“…These heterosexual male pastors who have clearly violated the teaching of Scripture, their marriage vows, their ordination vows, by having affairs with female parishioners, are usually treated as individuals, with restoration always a possibility. But in the case of homosexual people the church makes a blanket a priori that none of them is worthy of ordination to serve as deacon, elder, or minister of Word and Sacrament” (93).
It would have been interesting if this chapter would have been written after the recent passing of Prop 8 in California. Rogers believes that the issue of ordaining people who are gay and lesbian is linked to the issue of marriage. Specifically in the Presbyterian Church (USA), candidates for ministry are supposed to be married or celibate. And since LGBT folk are barred from marriage in the church, we give LGBT persons one option: to remain celibate and not express their God-given sexuality.
Rogers spends some pages in this chapter going through recent court cases having to do with same-sex marriage (if you want a much more thorough account, read William Stacy Johnson’s “A Time to Embrace“), and also includes an in-depth look at some of the ways that James Dobson and Focus on the Family has sought to promote a case for male gender superiority and privilege, as well as his beliefs of homosexuality that directly go against commonly accepted science of the day.
In addition to the rhetoric of Dobson, there has also been violent rhetoric used against the LGBT community. He quotes televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who in 1994, said the following to his audience:
“I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry…And I’m gonna be blunt and plain, if one ever looks at me like that, I’m going to kill him and tell God he died…In case anybody doesn’t know, God calls it an abomination” (101).
Homophobia, something I’ve experienced in some unfortunate ways recently, is driven by fear, ignorance and is an attempt to dehumanize a group of people who are seen as “other.” In the remaining pages of the chapter, Rogers shares some poignant stories of some of the LGBT couples he’s engaged with and developed meaningful friendships with over the years. I can echo many of his words when I think of some of the people whom I respect deeply and admire, who are both gay and Christian. I’ve learned so much from my LGBT brothers and sisters about how to live a life that seeks to follow after Christ.
Rogers quotes the late Lewis Smedes, a former professor at Fuller Seminary, when he was arguing for the full acceptance of LGBT persons in the church today. Smedes recalled a line from an old hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” There is a similar line in William Sloane Coffin’s “Letters to a Young Doubter.” In a letter discussing issues related to LGBT persons, Coffin writes, “It’s always a good time to change your mind when to do so will widen your heart.” From the first time I heard that, I thought it was such a beautiful way to think about this issue, and so many others. I think it’s similar to the idea of wanting to err on the side of love and grace. As Christians, we should be people who are seeking to have wide hearts – hearts that can witness to the vastness and wideness of God’s rich mercy, grace and love. Rogers ends the chapter this way:
“There are gay and lesbian people in most of our churches. When they can be full and equal members we will all be blessed. The possibility that we can fully include all of our members in the life of the church is within reach. It requires only that we be true to the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith” (108).
I’m going to include, at the end of each of these posts, a link to an article written by Real Live Preacher, on the issue of homosexuality. I’ve always loved his writing, and I hope you will too. In his post, “Fractured Family of Men,” he shares a touching story of observing two gay men in a bar.
This post is part of an ongoing review of Jack Rogers’s book “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality.” For more information about the series, you can read the first post here. Individual Chapter Reviews: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6 and Chapter 7. I also share some Final Thoughts about the book here.