Last year, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA appointed a Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage. The committee was given two years to study how the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed tradition and the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

This adult education course tries to do something similar over an eight-week period for St. Andrew Presbyterian in Iowa City. Throughout this discussion, we hope to hear from class participants’ personal experiences and questions concerning sexuality and the Presbyterian faith.

For questions or comments, contact Jeff Charis-Carlson at

Friday, September 18, 2009

My own biases

Some St. Andrew members recently challenged the wording of one my discussion questions for Week 2. The question asked, “In general, what biblical passages do you have trouble reading because they seem completely at odds with what you consider a modern understanding of science, philosophy, psychology and culture?” They thought the wording betrayed my bias on the subject and risked expanding a rift in the congregation into an impassable gulf.

I’m giving a lengthy answer to that challenge because it’s completely on target. I do come to this issue with a bias, and I’m not trying to hide it. I’d rather own up to it as a way of helping to make room for alternative viewpoints as we discuss this potentially divisive issue. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working with Pastors Kyle Otterbein and Bob David as this class has been taking shape. And as we facilitate this discussion, I'll also draw on my experiences teaching rhetoric students at the University of Iowa how to map various controversies – how to identify the stakeholders and summarize the various positions before beginning to advocate.

I’ve been thinking about this issue seriously for at least 15 years – ever since I was a 23-year-old youth pastor who tacitly (if not actively) agreed with my senior pastor’s decision to fire an office manager who was just suspected of being homosexual. In that time, I’ve revised my views on this issue. When I joined St. Andrew 11 years ago, I thought of it as fairly liberal congregation, one that was open and affirming in its acceptance of gay and lesbian members. It was a congregation I felt comfortable in, one I thought would challenge my faith and one that I thought I could grow with. And this summer it became clear to me that the spiritual path St. Andrew has allowed me to walk – including my time on session (1999-2002) and the Adult Education classes I’ve been allowed to teach – has led me to question whether the automatic denunciation of homosexuality I learned as a child is a cultural interpretation that’s been added on to the gospel rather than part of the core message of Christianity. (It’s an issue many members of my family will disagree with me on.)

So, I am very interested in figuring out how the church should separate itself from cultural issues that have nothing to do with the core message of the gospel. That’s why I think the discussion question is one we need to ask and answer. There are many passages that have nothing to do with homosexuality but are still very troubling to for 21st-century, American Christians to read: passages dealing with slavery, divine right of kings, racial superiority, polygamy, subjugation of women, holy war, walking away from familial obligations, dietary restrictions, etc. (and that’s only the New Testament).

I would like to hear more about how our church should decide what elements of our faith are culturally determined (and thus open to change and reinterpretation) and what elements constitute the core message of the gospel (and thus are worthy our full obedience and sacrifice). And as we have that discussion, if you think I am using language that is dismissive or betrays my biases, please feel free to call me on it.

This is probably a good time to say that the comment features are active on this site. I’ve set them so that a site administrator has to approve every comment before it goes live, but I’m only doing that to make sure that the site doesn’t get hijacked by people not connected with St. Andrew who want to use this discussion for their own purposes.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, Jeff, for this FANTASTIC blog, especially since Mike and I are teaching Sunday school and can't attend this class. Wish so much I could be there for the discussions though. I was disappointed last night that there's Session members who didn't know this class was even going on. I think so many only hear bits and pieces no matter how much effort is put into communicating. Or maybe it's only hear what they want to hear, not sure, but pray it's innocent.
    The Andersons are greatly looking forward to celebrating Michelle and Michelle's wedding today with many friends from St. Andrew!


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