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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Class notes for Week 3

Discussion during the third week of class was curtailed slightly because of the celebrations for Kyle Otterbein and Heather Woodin. What emerged was a quick summary of the five families in the “For the Bible Tells Me So” video and the theological and parenting challenges those families face.

In the second third of the documentary, class members saw how Gene and Boo Robinson — after much therapy, prayer and study — decided to dissolve their marriage through a ceremony in which they released each other of their vows. The Robinson’s situation was contrasted against how Chrissy Gephardt decided to leave her husband for a lesbian partner. That decision, not surprisingly, left many class members uncomfortable with its implication for all marriages, regardless of the genders involved.

We also so how the Rev. Poteat came to terms with her daughter being lesbian. She realized that she had been focusing only on how her daughter was having sex and not on all the other things that add up to her daughter. She said she still doesn’t accept her daughter’s lifestyle, but she now can have a relationship with her.

The video also introduced:
  • A discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah (a passage that focuses more on homosexual rape and breaking the code of hospitality in the ancient world than on any same-sex relationships) and
  • An all too brief discussion of Romans 1 and what it means as a passages that continues prohibitions on same-sex relationships into the New Testament.

The discussion after the film focused on how amazing it is that few words in Romans 1 can have such important consequences for gays and lesbians who want to remain in the church. Ken Kuntz also gave a short lecture on how the Hebrew word translated “abomination” — which was discussed in detail in the previous week — gets used differently in passages throughout the Old Testament.

Rather than provide an clear answers on this issue, the discussion illustrated why this issue has remained so thorny for so long.

Discussion Questions for Week IV

For this Sunday, I would like us to read and be ready to discuss N.T. Wright’s “Communion and Koinonia.” It’s a long essay that helps put our discussion about sexuality into a larger context of tolerance and boundaries within the church. (Wright also passionately and rationally rejects many of the biblical interpretations offered in “For the Bible Tells Me So” — especially when it comes to contextualizing and understanding what the New Testament writers’ words could have meant in a first-century Jewish environment.)

As you read, please mark the passages you have questions about or strong responses to. And, if you’re so inclined, please write your own response to Wright. If you send them to me ahead of time ( or post them as a comment on the Web site, all the class can benefit.

To help get things started, I’ve posted my response to the essay. Please remember that I offer my response as a starting point, not an ending point, for discussion. Your responses to my response are welcome and encouraged.

If you have time, please also read through the legal briefs (May 29 and September 26) that Dell Richard has written up. Dell has been an active participant in our class and would happy to answer any questions. If you have specific questions — especially any that would require more research — send them to me.

If you still have more time, read through the other links on the site that provide more traditional readings of the biblical passages we’ve been discussing. We’ll continue that discussion next week. In order to allow for more in-class discussion, we won’t be watching the rest of the documentary for a few more weeks.

Jeff's Response to N.T. Wright’s “Community and Koinonia”

As someone who already has identified himself on the “open and affirming”/”more light” end of this long theological spectrum, I want to point out those passages in N.T. Wright’s “Communion and Koinonia” that give me pause — passages to which I have no ready answers and against which I have no easy arguments.

I want our class to read and discuss this lengthy essay because it passionately and rationally rejects many of the biblical interpretations offered in “For the Bible Tells Me So” — especially when it comes to contextualizing and understanding what the New Testament writers’ words could have meant in a first-century Jewish environment. (The essay says nothing about Sodom and Gomorrah and the Holiness Code.) And on a personal level, I think anyone who would like to see St. Andrew become more fully accepting of its gay and lesbian members needs to wrestle with Wright’s reading of Romans 1.

First, let me say that I respect N.T. Wright as a scholar and as a bishop in the Anglican fellowship. I’ve read several of his books — those geared for a more popular than scholarly audience — and found him to be reasonable, engaging and worthy of rereading and close analysis. Thus I become nervous about my own understanding of the faith whenever I disagree with Wright. That doesn’t mean I trust his biblical understanding completely, but I’ve always found him to be a good marker for when I’m, in his words, em-bracing “the best of contemporary scholarship while refusing some of the follies into which it some-times falls” (8).

I’m likewise very interested in what Wright has to say about how first-century Christians decided for themselves “what counts as compromise, what is perfectly acceptable, what must be resisted at all costs and what you may get away with for a while but should expect to tidy up sooner or later” (1).

While other scholars find inconsistency in Paul’s calls for tolerance and boundaries, Wright reads Paul as being passionately and consistently concerned with overturning any cultural markers that reinforce ethnic identity to the detriment of Christian unity. That list primarily includes issues of circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance.

As Wright explains, “If you want to know why Paul insisted on tolerating some differences of opinion and practice within the people of God, and on not tolerating others, the answer is that the ones that were to be tolerated were the ones that carried the connotations of ethnic boundary lines, and the ones that were not to be tolerated were the ones that marked the difference between genuine, living, renewed humanity and false, corruptible, destructive humanity” (5).

Wright does not think Paul is preaching a gospel that overturns past sexual prohibitions. His analysis and commentaries suggest that Paul clearly understands genitally expressed, same-sex relationships as being evidence of “false, corruptible, destructive humanity” (5). Wright doesn’t think Paul is saying that everyone with homosexual inclinations has consciously chosen such a mindset but that “in a world where men and women have refused to honour God this is the kind of thing you will find” (12).

After all, if Paul had viewed those sexual prohibitions as merely expressions of ethnic behavior — or as elements of the old covenant that Christians have been freed from through the New Covenant — then Paul would have been accepting of the man in the Corinthian church who was in a relationship with his father’s wife (no incestuous blood connection, only cultural prohibitions). Instead, he told the church to put the man out of the fellowship (6).

Wright’s essay also suggests that our discussion of sexuality in general cannot be limited to those few passages that deal explicitly with same-sex relations. He writes, “When Paul writes a long chapter on the resurrection of the body (chapter 15), this is not simply because he has been working through a long list of topics and has now decided to deal with this one. It is because the resurrection of the body has been basic to his understanding throughout, not least his understanding of ethics, not least his view of sexual ethics” (7). And Wright claims that Paul would have viewed the “moral relativism” in which the Western church is engaged as “dehumanizing and degrading” (8), and he would have viewed homosexual behavior as being outside the “genuine humanness” against which all people will be measured on Judgment Day.

And all that’s before Wright turns explicitly to the question of how the church — read American church — deals with homosexuality in our current moment of transition from “modernism” (the legacy of the enlightenment) to “post-modernism” (the realization that, rather than benefiting the rest of humanity, the heirs of enlightenment have imposed a world in which someone always benefits personally, financially or sexually).

I think Wright’s harshest statement comes when he says: “We have become tolerant of everything except intolerance, about which we ourselves are extremely intolerant. If someone thinks through an issue and, irrespective of his or her feelings on the subject, reaches a considered judgement that doing X is right and doing Y is wrong, they no sooner come out and say so than someone else will accuse them of phobia. If someone says stealing is wrong, we expect someone else to say, ‘You only say that because you’re kleptophobic’” (8).

Indeed, Wright would view all the careful theological analysis offered in “For the Bible Tells Me So” as merely a privileging of Experience (personal feeling) over the time-tested standards of Reasons, Scripture and Tradition (8).

But in that statement, Wright also issues a warning to his American readers — who he thinks have an overly simplistic understanding of global issues of social justice. He warns American progressives not to assume that those in the international community who stand against them on “instincts for holiness” (14) will disagree with them on issues of economic justice. Likewise, he advises American progressives to not assume they can appeal to an international community through the language of minority and victim-hood when it comes to issues of sexual morality.

Indeed, while homosexuality used to be described as the “English vice,” Wright implies it is now an extension of American imperialism.

“Part of that imperial arrogance in our own day, I believe, is the insistence that we, the empire, the West, America, or wherever, are in a position to tell the societies that we are already exploiting in a thousand different ways that they should alter their deep-rooted moralities to accommodate our newly invented ones. There is something worryingly imperial about the practice itself and about the insistence on everybody else endorsing it. It is often said that the poor want justice while the rich want peace. We now have a situation where two-thirds of the world wants debt relief and one-third wants sex. That is, I think, a tell-tale sign that something is wrong at a deep structural level.”

It's a harsh critique, but one that can't be easily dismissed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Local Lutheran response to same-sex relationships

Last week, I asked Carl Beyerhelm, a retired ELCA minister who lives in Iowa City, to write about the recent ELCA decision as his September Writers' Group column for the Press-Citizen. Since Carl is in his early 80s, I wasn't sure what he would think about the ruling.

When I described the ruling to him over the phone -- explaining that the denomination was allowing individual churches to decide for their own congregations -- he said, "That sounds like a very Lutheran solution."

One of the class members suggested that I post a link to Carl's response on our site. Here's his main conclusion:
Our human ideas, feelings and fears about each other, and our differences in gender and sexual orientation don't have to be barriers to good fellowship in our congregations. In the day of Peter and Paul, being Jew or Gentile, God found a way to break down their fears and doubts about each others' background and cultures. With God, we can do the same, using our energy, concern and our unified life in Christ to work for peace and justice and the good life together.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Online resources

In the bottom right hand corner of this blog, I've added a very short list of online blogs and interactive Web sites for providing more information about faith and sexuality. Please send me what sites you've been turning to for information on this issue.

Better late than never

I finally have the text for the May 29 legal brief Dell Richard prepared for the Session before it voted on Michelle Wikner and Michelle Norman's request to use the sanctuary for their wedding.

Dell has provided a short update update on the legal decisions within the PCUSA since the Session vote.

We were supposed to have read these documents and be ready to discuss them during our Sept. 27 class -- but that hardly seems possible.

We'll probably have to wait to discuss them until next week.

Update on legal brief (Sept. 26)

TO: Jeff Charis-Carlson, St Andrew Presbyterian Church (USA)
FROM: Dell A. Richard,
RE: Same Sex Marriage at St Andrew
DATE: September 26, 2009

Dear Adult Ed Class:

The attached Memorandum to Session was prepared in May of this year and delivered to Session on May 29, 2009. Since that Memo was prepared, the courts of the PCUSA have continued to render decisions that affect the state of the law in the Presbyterian Church(USA). Most notably, our Synod handed down a decision involving the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area that gives us some guidance about how our Synod PJC might handle a similar case. In addition, the Presbytery of Boston refused to sanction a pastor that performed a legal marriage under Massachusetts law in a Presbyterian church.

In Bierschwale, et al vs Twin Cities, Remedial Case 2008-1, the PJC of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies was asked to address a rather esoteric aspect of our Book of Order that allows a Pastor to “raise a principled objection or scruple” to his ordination vows. The pastor at issue advised the Twin Cities Presbytery that he “cannot affirm G-6.0106b [part of the BOO that requires a pastor to be celibate or in a man/woman relationship]. Nor can I affirm the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on the question of the morality of homosexual relationships.”

During the Presbytery Committee on Ministry questioning period, the pastor stated: “Even if I could look in a crystal ball and know that I would have no future sexual relationships, I would still refuse to be in compliance with the Book of Order as it now stands."

When asked in reference to G-6.0106b, whether he would refrain from intimate sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman, he responded: “I refuse to take a vow of celibacy.”

The Presbytery approved his call and a member of the Presbytery brought an action in the church courts challenging the decision to approve the call.

The legal issue as framed by the majority opinion of the Synod PJC was that it was up to the Presbytery to determine if the pastor’s “departure” from the book of Order was of significant enough magnitude to considered a violation of the constitution. By a preponderance of the evidence presented, the PJC found that the pastor’s stated departure did not rise to the level of “infring[ing] on the rights and views of others, and d[id] not obstruct the constitutional governance of the church.”

As to the matter of serious departure from these standards, G-6.0108b states, in part, “The decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity is made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the governing body in which he or she serves", namely the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area in this case. The Presbytery took extraordinary care to make it clear that their decision applied only to the current expression of departure and was not making policy or setting precedent and the Complainants have not contested that claim by the Respondent.

The Synod PJC found that the action of the Presbytery was not irregular and refused to set aside the Presbytery’s action in approving the pastor’s call.

Concerning the claim that Presbytery had waived the “fidelity and chastity” requirement of G-6.0106b, the PJC found that the Presbytery clearly stated in its acceptance of the pastor’s call that it was not waiving any requirements of the Book of Order, and therefore did not set policy to be applied to any future departures.

The dissent took the majority to task on several fronts. Pointing out that the majority opinion did not specifically examine the constitutionality of the pastor’s alleged “departure”, the dissent argued that the majority simply accepted the Presbytery’s determination that the pastor had not “departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity” without considering G-9.0103 that states that “the jurisdiction of each governing body is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution, with powers not mentioned being reserved to the presbyteries, and with the acts of each subject to review by the next higher governing body."

Chiding the majority for avoiding its constitutional responsibilities, the dissent went on to argue that it is impossible for the Synod PJC to rule on the constitutionality of a particular action of Presbytery when it gives Presbytery ultimate authority to make the decision. The dissent points out that it is the very constitutionality of the Presbytery’s action that was being called into question in this case and just because Presbytery says it acted correctly should not preclude a challenge before Synod PJC based on Presbytery’s self reported alleged compliance with the constitution. The dissent argues that it was the majority’s responsibility to determine if the pastor’s “departure” was a failure to adhere to the requirements of the Book of Order. The majority decision was based on the circular argument that the pastor’s departure was not a failure to adhere to the requirement of the Book of Order because the Presbytery determined that it was not a failure to adhere to the requirements of

the Book of Order. But whether the Presbytery’s determination was correct is precisely what the majority was asked to review.

The dissent further questioned the wisdom of the majority by arguing the absurd results that could come from the reasoning of the majority in accepting at face value the claim by Presbytery that it did not set policy to be applied to any future departure and therefore did not “waive” the “fidelity and chastity” requirement of G-6.0106b. By definition, a “departure” creates the basis for an exemption to the standard. The pastor presented the departure and the Presbytery accepted his departure. It seems reasonable that if an individual exercises freedom of conscience to depart from a particular standard that the individual is no longer bound by the language of the standard.

Therefore, by accepting the pastor’s departure from the standard, Presbytery may not have overtly “waived” the “fidelity and chastity” requirement, but it has exempted the pastor from future compliance with a constitutional requirement and insulated him from any possible disciplinary action. This action therefore appears to have the same effect as waiving the requirement.

In Presbytery of Boston vs Jean K. Southward, charges were brought against a pastor for performing a legal marriage under Massachusetts law (similar to Iowa). The facts were not in dispute, and the charges against the pastor claimed that the pastor had conducted the marriage in the sanctuary of a Presbyterian Church that (a) appropriated the liturgical forms for Christian marriage to celebrate the marriage of two women sanctioned by civil law and purporting to be consistent with the Christian understanding of marriage under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); (b) declared that as a result of the marriage ceremony she performed, the two women were then joined in Christian marriage, declaring a new status that is reserved to the marriage of one man with one woman under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and (c) failed to differentiate between the marriage celebrated between the two women and a Christian marriage between one man and one woman. (All of the things set out in my memo to Session outlining the previous decisions of the General Assembly PJC - DAR). By so participating and directing the worship service, the prosecuting committee claimed that the pastor had disregarded the Directory for Worship W-4.9000, in particular W-4.9001, which expressly defines our biblical and constitutional understanding of Christian marriage.

The Boston Presbytery PJC found that the Prosecuting Committee has not proven beyond reasonable doubt that W-4.9000 contains mandatory language that would prohibit a Minister of Word and Sacrament from performing a same-gender marriage.

The PJC found that since the Preface to the Directory of Worship (clause b) states that the Directory uses language that is “simply descriptive”, this Commission takes this to mean that the definition of Christian marriage in W-4.9001 is merely descriptive; there is no mandatory language in this article. Where mandatory language is used in subsequent articles (e.g., W-4.9004), it is taken to refer to mandatory action, not limiting the gender of the couple to be married. In addition, there is no mandatory language in the Constitution, nor in any Authoritative Interpretation, prohibiting Ministers of Word and Sacrament from performing same-gender marriages in states where this is allowed by law.

The Authoritative Interpretation of 1991 (Request 91-23), written by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, again contains no mandatory language. Also, it addresses the distinction between mixed-gender marriage and same-gender unions, not same-gender marriages (as no states allowed same-gender marriage at the time), and is therefore not applicable to this case.

In the Spahr case the GAPJC ruled that the decision in the Benton case was not applicable. Benton was a remedial case, rather than a disciplinary case and involved the policies of a session. Moreover, its subject matter was same-gender civil unions, not same-gender marriage. It is not applicable to this case. The decision in the Spahr case does not contain a clear prohibition that is applicable to this case, while it also cannot serve as precedent to the present case, as precedent cannot be applied retroactively.

Mirroring the arguments that will be made if the matter comes up in Iowa, the dissent argues that in rendering this decision, the majority has taken the liberty of legislating change in the Constitution through the judicial process. W-4.9001 definitely does define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Since 2004 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the civil act of marriage between same gender couples is a possibility, making this case different from the context of the Spahr decision. Thus, the rationale from the Spahr decision does not fit, wherein the General Assembly PJC argued that a same gender ceremony can never be a marriage. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a same gender ceremony can definitely be a civil marriage. Benton does set a rational standard for deriving the difference between a blessing of a same-sex union and the celebration of a Christian marriage. However, this case does not elucidate the facts of this case, as Benton assumed the impossibility of a civil marriage between same gender participants. Further, the issues of fact of this case were stipulated – both the Prosecuting Committee and the Accused provided and accepted evidence that this was intentionally a Christian marriage.

Because of this changed legal state in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the importance of the definitions within the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) become more important, not less so. Further, the argument that the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman is only descriptive and reflects the ideals and mores of a bygone age cannot be sustained. The claim stands without proof, and can only be maintained through dependence on the argument from silence. This sets a dangerous precedent, that any part of the Constitution that has not recently been sustained by legislative action can be assumed to have lost validity. In the absence of that legislative action, the majority has substituted its judgment for the clear words of definition. This makes a mockery of the prescriptive language of W-4.9004, wherein the Directory for Worship orders that “The man and the woman shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness.”; and “In the name of the triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage.”

Legal brief for Session (May 29)

TO: Session, St Andrew Presbyterian Church (USA)
FROM: Dell A. Richard, Attorney at Law
RE: Same Sex Marriage at St Andrew
DATE: May 29, 2009

Dear members of Session:

Interim pastor Bob David has asked me to prepare an advisory opinion to Session regarding the Book of Order implications of performing a same sex marriage ceremony at St. Andrew. This matter is coming before the Session, in part, as a result of the recent Varnum vs Brian decision of the Iowa Supreme Court declaring Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a violation of the Iowa Constitution. Specifically, two members of St. Andrew have submitted the following request to Session:

Members of Session,

We have spoken to Pastors Bob and Kyle and it has been recommended that we write to you to request the use of the church for our wedding. We have been longstanding members and involved in numerous programs at St. Andrew.

Michelle Norman and our children have been baptized here. We contribute financially and have been on mission trips sponsored by St. Andrew. Quite simply, we love God and we love St. Andrew. It is our hope to have this ceremony at our church. Thank you for your consideration.


Michelle Wikner

Michelle Norman

Pastor David has provided session with citations to several authorities that discuss the underlying ecclesiastical issues of homosexuality in the church. This memo will focus solely on the constitutional status of same sex marriage within the PCUSA.

For the record, I am personally supportive of the request and would like the PCUSA to change its interpretation of scripture on several GLBT issues.


The current state of the law inside the PCUSA can be best summarized by referencing four documents:

  • 1991 Authoritative Interpretation of the Book of Order (BOA) W-4.9001.
  • 2000 GA Permanent Judicial Commission (GA PJC) remedial decision in Benton, et al. v. Presbytery of Hudson River
  • 2008 GA Permanent Judicial Commission disciplinary decision in Spahr v. Pby of Redwoods
  • 2008 vote by the General Assembly Committee on Church Polity to reject a proposed overture that would have changed the constitutional definition of marriage from a man and a woman to "two people."

(For those of you not steeped in church polity, a remedial case typically seeks to undo an action of a church body such as a session or presbytery, and a disciplinary case is always against an individual person who is alleged to have done something wrong).

The Presbyterian Church (USA) view of marriage.

The Constitution

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) defines Christian marriage in W-4.9001 as follows:

"Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith."

The 1991 Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of W-4.9001 reads as follows:

There is no mention in the Book of Order of same sex unions (ceremonies). If a same sex ceremony were considered to be the equivalent of a marriage ceremony between two persons of the same sex, it would not be sanctioned under the Book of Order. In section W-4.9001, Christian marriage is specifically defined as:[A] covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage[,] a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

Inasmuch as the session is responsible and accountable for determination of the appropriate use of the church building and facilities (G-10.0102n), it should not allow the use of the church facilities for a same sex union ceremony that the session determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony.

Likewise, since a Christian marriage performed in accordance with the Directory for Worship can only involve a covenant between a woman and a man, it would not be proper for a minister of the Word and Sacrament to perform a same sex union ceremony that the minister determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony. (Minutes, 1991, pp. 55, 57, 395)

This Authoritative Interpretation makes it clear that at least since 1991, it has not been proper:

1) for a PCUSA minister to perform a same sex union ceremony that the minister determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony; or,

2) for a PCUSA session to allow the use of church facilities for a same sex union ceremony that the session determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony.

The Cases

In 1998, a same-sex holy union service was performed at a Presbyterian Church in New York. After questions were raised about the propriety of the service, the Presbytery adopted the following resolution in support of the session’s and pastor’s actions:

. . . that the Presbytery affirm the freedom of any session to allow its ministers to perform ceremonies of holy union (within or outside the confines of the church sanctuary) between persons of the same gender, reflecting our understanding at this time that these ceremonies do not constitute marriage as defined in the Book of Order.

The pastor of another church in the presbytery objected to presbytery’s action, resulting in the GA PJC remedial case decision of Benton, et al. v. Presbytery of Hudson River, in which the GA PJC concluded that ceremonies of “union” between persons of the same sex are governed by the General Assembly’s AI of 1991 cited above.

Under the third specification of error, the Benton decision stated that the 1991 Authoritative Interpretation assumes that some same-sex ceremonies could be the equivalent of a marriage ceremony, and therefore, would contravene the Book of Order, and some might not. A determinative distinction between a permissible same-sex ceremony and a marriage ceremony is that the latter confers a new status whereas the former blesses an existing relationship. The Book of Order makes this theological distinction concerning marriage in W-4.9004: “In the name of the triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage.” This and similar pronouncements declaring a new status are to be reserved for services of marriage. (Emphasis added).

The Benton court went on to make it clear that a liturgical distinction should also be made in services blessing a same-sex relationship. According to the court, the 1991 General Assembly Authoritative Interpretation leaves to the judgment of individual ministers and sessions (if church property is to be utilized) whether to conduct same-sex ceremonies. In exercising this judgment, however, ministers and sessions should take special care to avoid any confusion of such services with services of Christian marriage. Ministers should not appropriate specific liturgical forms from services of Christian marriage or services recognizing civil marriage in the conduct of such ceremonies. They should also instruct same-sex couples that the service to be conducted does not constitute a marriage ceremony and should not be held out as such. (my emphasis).

In 2004 and 2005, Presbyterian pastor Jane Spahr acknowledged that she had performed same sex ceremonies and that she also had signed a “Certificate of Marriage” for each of the ceremonies which were the subject of the case. When charges were filed in a disciplinary case against her, the matter of Spahr v. Presbytery of Redwoods began its way to the GA PJC. In her trial, Spahr testified that her ministry had been a “ministry of marriage equality.” and that she had officiated at ceremonies between same gender couples whether the couple described the ceremony as a “union,” a “marriage” or in other terms. Spahr provided heterosexual and same sex couples the same counseling and preparation work before performing any ceremony.

The court noted that Spahr was charged with and found guilty of violating W-4.9001 and the 1991 AI by performing “wedding service[s] in the marriage of” two same sex couples. The S[ynod]PJC determined that Spahr was guilty based on her actions in performing “wedding” services for two same sex couples.

In concluding that Spahr had not violated the Constitution, the court stated:

The ceremonies that are the subject of this case were not marriages as the term is defined by W-4.9001. These were ceremonies between women, not between a man and a woman. Both parties acknowledged the ceremonies in question were not marriages as defined by the Book of Order. It is not improper for ministers of the Word and Sacrament to perform same sex ceremonies. At least four times, the larger church has rejected overtures that would prohibit blessing the unions of same sex couples. By the definition in W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony can never be a marriage. The SPJC found Spahr guilty of doing that which by definition cannot be done. One cannot characterize same sex ceremonies as marriages forthe purpose of disciplining a minister of the Word and Sacrament and at the same time declare that such ceremonies are not marriages for legal or ecclesiastical purposes.


In holding that Spahr was not guilty as charged, this Commission does not hold that there are no differences between same sex ceremonies and marriage ceremonies. We do hold that the liturgy should be kept distinct for the two types of services. We further hold that officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.

In response to the Spahr decision, the Presbytery of the Redwoods (the Presbytery that had brought the charges against Ms Spahr) included the following recommendations in an Advisory Opinion to its members interpreting for them the meaning of the Benton and Spahr decisions:

The General Assembly PJC, in both Benton and Spahr, recognized the necessity for ministers to be sure not to permit confusion regarding the difference between same sex unions, performed in the course of pastoral care and marriage ceremonies, described in our Directory for Worship.

These authoritative interpretations offer ministers and sessions the following guidance:

They should not utilize liturgies for Christian marriage or liturgies for the recognition of civil marriage in ceremonies for same sex couples.

They may not perform a ceremony that they consider or represent to be the same as a marriage ceremony nor may they permit their facilities to be utilized for any such ceremony.

They may provide pastoral care in the form of worship services that "celebrate a loving, caring, and committed relationship" such as civil unions for same sex couples, but they must also advise such couples that such a service does not constitute a marriage and may not be held out as such.

This means that ministers and sessions continue to be responsible to make appropriate decisions concerning pastoral care for members, all the members of the church.

Inasmuch as the session is responsible and accountable for determination of the appropriate use of the church building and facilities (G-10.0102n), it should not allow the use of the church facilities for a same sex union ceremony that the session determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony. (my emphasis)

The General Assembly

The 2008 General Assembly soundly defeated a resolution that would have allowed same sex marriage ceremonies under W-4.9001 and appointed a committee to study the issue. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for June 2009.

Where we are Today

Although the Iowa Supreme Court was careful to point out that the Varnum decision did not in any way affect church practice, the case may have a significant impact on how churches in Iowa deal with requests such as the one before Session. Prior to Varnum, a same sex ceremony could not be a legal marriage in Iowa, and consequently everyone could easily argue that neither the officiating pastor, nor the participating church would be violating W-4.9001 for the reasons discussed in Spahr. So long as the event could not be legal a marriage ceremony in Iowa, under Spahr, the participants had what we call in the tax law “a safe harbor” that allowed a clear definition of what was, and was not, allowed in the PCUSA. So long as everyone followed the Spahr rules, the participants could have an appropriate ceremony presided over by a PCUSA pastor in a PCUSA church, without violating the “no same sex marriage” PCUSA constitutional provisions.

However, now that same sex civil marriage is legal in Iowa and the Session has specifically been asked in writing for permission to conduct a “real” same sex legal marriage ceremony at St Andrew, the safe harbor of “it is not really a marriage” no longer provides an automatic shield against a charge of W-4.9001 violation for either the pastor, the session or the Presbytery. Since the same sex couple really can be legally married in Iowa and the pastor would have the civil legal authority to perform the ceremony, greater care will be needed to insulate the pastor and session from a charge that they have conducted a “marriage” ceremony.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Under W-4.9001 and the 1991 AI, neither a PCUSA pastor, nor a PCUSA session can authorize what they know to be a legal marriage ceremony without inviting sanctions. If the applicants are willing to get married somewhere else by someone not a PCUSA pastor, neither the officiating PCUSA pastor that celebrates the relationship, nor the accommodating session, are likely to be sanctioned by the GA PJC, so long as the Spahr “safe harbor” rules are followed and everyone involved denies that a marriage is being conducted. That, of course, does not mean that members of the PCUSA could not bring charges, only that they are not likely to be sustained on appeal.

Given the state of Iowa law and the nature of the submitted request, if Session is inclined to honor the request, it will be a significant challenge for Session to construct and maintain a process that will not be subject to a court attack as being outside the safe harbor rule of Benton and Spahr. A decision to go forward with the request as submitted would probably contemplate performance of a legal “marriage” in the church, and as such would likely be considered to be a direct affront to W-4.9001 and the 1991 Authoritative Interpretation that says “no same sex Presbyterian marriages”.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Additional analysis of the biblical passages on homosexuality

Here are some other resources for analysis of the biblical passages on homosexuality from a more traditional perspective:

Kenneth Bailey, "The New Testament and Homosexual Practice." Bailey has lived in the Middle East several decades and approaches reading scriptures from a culturally-relevant approach. Click here for his biography.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Latest news on the PCUSA committee report

The latest news about the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Unions and Christian Marriage confirms what we already know: The church is divided on the issue.

It appears that the special committee's preliminary report, which was supposed to come out soon, will include no recommendations -- meaning that there won't be much for us to study.

Class Notes for Week 2

Starting as close to 9:45 a.m. as possible, the class began with a very quick summary of the list of goals we hope to accomplish in the next few weeks and the values we hope to convey as we discuss such a divisive issue.

All attention then turned toward the first third of the documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”

We were introduced to five families — the Robinsons, the Poteats, the Reitans, the Gephardts and the Wallners — who share several commonalities and multiple differences.

All the families are well-rooted in various Christian traditions — though predominately Protestant. And all the parents describe in detail their reaction when one of their teenage or adult children came out as either gay or lesbian — as well as their ongoing experiences coming to terms with what having a gay or lesbian child means to their family and their faith.

Three of the families, in fact, are closely connected with clergy. The Poteats are ministers in a predominately African-American church (their daughter Tonia came out to them while attending college), the Reitans have a number of Lutheran pastors in their extended family (their son Jake, who describes the family as being something out of a Garrison Keillor story, came out while still in high school) and the Robinsons are the parents of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, who came out to the Robinsons when he and his wife decided to end their marriage. The back story for the Gephardts and Wallners hasn’t been fully told yet.

Between the details of how parents reacted to the news, the documentary presents the views of a number of theologians and pastors from different Christian and Jewish denominations who discussed the passages about homosexuality in Genesis (the sin of Onan) and Leviticus (the holiness code). Specifically, the discussion focused on the word “abomination,” in the Hebrew, referring to an act that is ritually unclean rather than an act that is inherently immoral. As one of the respondents explains, the holiness code says that it is an abomination to eat shrimp. That doesn’t mean that eating shrimp was inherently immoral, but it does mean it was ritually unclean.

The discussion in the film also turned to “procreation” as the purpose of marriage. As Tonia Poteat’s mother explains, “Adam and Steve and Eve and Jane can’t procreate.” The respondents explained that because the Israelites were building a nation, the act of procreation was of utmost importance to them. And homosexual behavior might have been singled out in the holiness codes in part because it did not help grow the nation.

The first section ended with Gene Robinson explaining the individual and couple therapies that he and his wife underwent until he finally owned up to what he was calling “the gay part of myself.” Robinson and his wife decided to have a ceremony in which they released each other from their vows, both pledging to continue to be good parents for their two daughters.

After the film, we split into groups of four or five people, introduced ourselves, and began sharing reactions to the film and to the other biblical passages assigned for class.

Some participants noted how surprised they were that there were so few passages in the bible that discussed homosexuality explicitly. Others were surprised at how widely the biblical translations ranged as to whether a passage explicitly singled out homosexuality or not.

Others noted how well chosen the families were in the documentary — all grounded in faith traditions, coming different generations, different parts of the country, different races and even different birth orders for the children who came out. (I reminded the class that they should pay attention to the rhetoric in which film’s message is being conveyed as much as to the message itself. Because the film tugs so well at the heart strings, its message needs to be analyzed all the more closely.)

Others challenged the films reading of the Holiness Codes — and especially the clip from the “West Wing” included in which the fictional president takes on a radio commentator by equating the biblical passages against homosexuality with passages allowing for a daughter to be sold into slavery and requiring the death of anyone who works on the Sabbath. The vast majority of the prohibited sexual relations listed in Leviticus — various definitions of incest and bestiality — continue to be prohibited (even abominable in the current sense of the words). While the film noted the elements of holiness code we no longer follow, it didn’t point out the elements that we do continue to follow.

Letter from Ann Reppun

Ann Reppun
San Rafael, Calif.
Aug 16, 2009

Dear Session and Pastor,

My name is Ann Reppun and I was a member of St Andrew 1990-1996. Our daughter Emma, now 17, was baptized by Pastor Mark Martin. Associate Pastor Blake Richter concelebrated our wedding (my wife is Michelle Fouts) at the UCC church in Iowa City in 1996.When we moved, our membership was transferred to our local Presbyterian Church. I am currently the moderator of the Deacons board and I have been a Sunday school teacher for the last eight years. My wife has served as financial chair and clerk on Session. My wife and I were “re-married” to fulfill California State law last September by our Presbyterian Pastor. Over all these years I have received the Messenger and attend St. Andrew yearly when we are back visiting. I am including this personal history because I want you to know that it is possible to embrace gay members and have them fully involved in the life of the church.

We were in Iowa City last week and spent time with Michelle Wikner and Michelle Norman and their daughters. When asked, Michelle and Michelle said it has been a “long and hard summer.” They said they have cried daily since the Session had denied them the right to be married in church. “How could we have let ourselves be fooled into thinking that they would let us be married at our church?”

After reading your Special Report on Marriage Request there were two points I want to put before you for consideration:

First, my wife and I, like Wikner and Norman, grew up in the church. We were loved, nurtured and taught about God’s love for all His children. As teens we were in youth group. We were mentored through confirmation and encouraged to know the “Lord God as our personal Savior.” Each of us accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. We came into young adulthood feeling like valued members of our church families. In college we reached sexual maturity. We realized that, as the American Medical Association defines it, we were part of a group with a “normal variation of human sexuality.” We realized we were gay.

Straight adults will never know how difficult this self realization is. Nor have they experienced the pain, the searing agony of lying awake at night as you try to make sense of this realization. In my coming out process, I struggled for months with the question “Why would God do this to me? Why would He make me this way?”

Most straight folks don’t spend time contemplating what it is like to come out first to yourself, then to your family and your church. The rejection is often fierce and with the church long lasting. In the spring you are a beloved member of your church. Six months later, after the news is shared, you are not. How is it that you are a child of God before sexual maturity and afterwards, you may be tolerated, but you may not serve on Session and we will not marry you.

You can love the Lord your God with all you heart and soul, — but you will never be allowed into the full communion of the church — because you are a part of the 10 percent of humankind who God made with this variation of human sexuality. Who would choose to be gay?

It is so unfair it makes me weep.

My second question is: When you rejected Wikner and Norman’s request for a traditional marriage ceremony, did you think about St Andrew’s witness to the Gay Community? There are youth growing up at St Andrew right now who will end up having to go through the coming out process in the future. What is your witness and message to them? If it is your son or daughter who wants to be married in the church they grew up in, will your answer be the same?

Here is the most important question: Is it important to you that they remain Christians when they hit sexual maturity and realize they are gay? Do you have any idea at all what it is like for Norman and Wikner to be out Christians in the gay community? The gay community is largely made up of children of God who grew up in the church. They were rejected, scorned and cast out by their churches when they hit sexual maturity. Can you imagine the flack Norman and Wikner get for raising their children in the church … the same church that has dished out so much rejection and pain.

As Norman and Wikner witness to their gay friends about their life in the church, they are scoffed at. Their friends question their trust in “the church” and their love for God. It reminds me of the original apostles out there doing Jesus’ work; they were scoffed at too. But Michelle and Michelle persist, reassuring their friends that “God loves everybody.” And “Jesus died for all people’s sins.”

It’s like you said in your report, “Their love of Christ and this church is obvious.” Who among the Session at St Andrew will now step up and fill Norman and Wikner’s place as evangelists to the Gay Community? Is it only straight harlots and straight beggars that Jesus welcomed into a full life in the church or did Jesus also intend that gay people should be welcome to participate in the full life of Christ’s church?

For 19 years I have sat in the pews at St Andrew. What I know to be true is that at St Andrew, if you are gay, you can sit in the pew but don’t expect to be on session. Joan Benson was asked to be on Session. When she said “Yes, but you know I’m gay.” the St. Andrew member said “Oh, gee sorry. I guess you can’t be on Session.” Can you even imagine the reinforced feeling of lasting rejection that a Christian feels after such an exchange? At St. Andrew, if you are gay, you can sit in the pew but don’t expect to have the bonds of marriage recognized. After all, God made us straight and you gay. It might be Christ’s church but because you are gay, you are just out of luck.

I started this letter with my personal history because I want you to know that it is possible to have gay people fully involved in the life of the church as my wife and I are. Human injustice can only be changed by brave people willing to stand up and say just that. “They are all children of God and we love them and treat them all the same.” Although the General Assembly is currently “investigating” a potential change in its wording to “between two people” Presbyterian churches all around are choosing to embrace the new wording. They are embracing justice for all of God’s children.

There are numerous youth at St. Andrew. This is only the first of many requests that St. Andrew will face. We hope with this difficult and emotional decision made, you will indeed find a reason to have an ongoing scripture-based, open-minded, respectful and loving dialog.

At this moment it is sad and it is illogical to think any of us will feel like valued members until we are valued equally before and after the age of sexual maturity.

Your sister in Christ,
Ann Reppun

Quick guide to the biblical passages on homosexuality

Here’s a quick summary of the Traditional and More Light interpretation of the biblical passages that get used when discussing homosexuality. Please realize that these are simplified versions of larger arguments and that there is no monolithic interpretation of these passages for any side of this debate. Also, please realize that although I use the term “More Light,” these paragraphs are my summaries of various positions. They not pulled directly from any sources from the More Light Presbyterian movement.

Creation (Genesis 1-2)

Traditional: The passage says that “God created man in his own image … male and female he created them.” The male/female paring is part of the human creation and is symbolized in marriage. As the second chapter asserts, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God’s command, “be fruitful and increase in number,” likewise asserts that procreation is one of the main purposes of marriage.

More Light: The creation story isn’t about defining sexuality or identifying sexual prohibitions. And — because it is not concerned with the questions that are being asked of it by traditionalists — neither does it suggest that procreation is a necessary purpose for marriage. Indeed, Chapter 2 seems to stress companionship as the main purpose of marriage — “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)

Traditional: Whatever other many sins get attributed to the people of Sodom, homosexuality should be counted among them. The story says clearly that God punished the men of Sodom after they called on Lot to deliver “the men who came to you tonight” so that they could “have sex with them.” Lot offered to give over his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom, but that only enraged them more. The angels responded by striking the city residents with blindness so Lot and his family could escape.

More Light: Ezekiel 16:49 is equally clear when it says that the sin of Sodom was that its people were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” The men of Sodom violated the ancient near east’s code of hospitality — as shown when Lot says, “Don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” The residents were not after sexual gratification, they were intending to gang rape and thus humiliate the strangers and aliens in their midst.

Holiness Code (Leviticus 18 and 20)

Traditional: Leviticus 18 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” — an “abomination” in the King James — and that “Everyone who does any of these detestable things, such persons must be cut off from their people.” Leviticus 20 likewise says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Although some of the prohibitions outlined these chapters are no longer viewed as taboo, the vast majority of them are still part of Christian teaching — including prohibitions against incest and bestiality. Thus, the prohibitions against homosexual behavior can’t be dismissed away as easily as the “More Light” proponents would like to believe.

More Light: Among many limitations on sexual relations, Leviticus 18 also includes “Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period” — which seems an act that is ritually unclean rather than something inherently sinful. The commands for purity and non-defilement are so strong, in fact, that other holiness code passages focus on not combing two different fabrics or two different seeds. In this way, the prohibitions against homosexuality are viewed as taboo because they blur gender distinctions (and don’t allow the Israelites make a clean break from the idolatrous actions of their neighbors). Just as the dietary restrictions were removed with vision of Peter before he baptized Gentiles into the faith, homosexuality isn’t idolatrous or otherwise sinful in itself.

Sin of Onan (Genesis 38:1-10)

Traditional: The sin of Onan illustrates how much the early Israelites valued clear family lines and how much they valued the role of procreation in marriage. Onan was supposed to impregnate his late brother’s wife to ensure his brother’s line would continue. But Onan “spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother.” The Lord killed him for the act.

More Light: Onan’s story does illustrate the importance of procreation in ancient near east culture and suggests that the prohibitions against homosexual acts came because the Israelites needed to grow stronger by having more children. Onan’s sin, however, was also to deny his sister-in-law the opportunity to get pregnant and contribute to society in the only way possible for her.

Jesus on Divorce (Matthew 19:1-12)

Traditional: Jesus never dealt with the question of sexuality directly, but in his passage he reaffirms the male-female paring of the creation story: “‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’” Jesus also stresses that God’s original purpose was that marriage would last and divorce would not be an option.

More Light: For decades, churches have been dealing with this passage in terms of approving re-marriages for divorced members as well as ordaining ministers on their second marriages. It would be easy enough to say that similar grace should be granted to homosexuals in committed relationships. But Jesus’s own statements on alternative sexuality (eunuchs), familial obligations (especially to his mother and brothers) and discussion of post-resurrection marriages (where there won’t be any) further complicate any discussion of his statements here.

Against Nature (Romans 1-2)

Traditional: This is the most damning passage because, in describing the general depravity of human beings who have turned away from God, Paul says, “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” Even if the Sodom passage and the holiness codes are explained away as part of the old covenant, Paul’s words here show that the prohibition against homosexual acts continues into the new covenant.

More Light: In the very next chapter, Paul turns to discuss how the Christian faith moves beyond the strictures of the law outlined in chapter 1. In expanding the gospel to include the uncircumcised, Paul shows how the early church decided that God didn’t require Gentiles to become Jews in order to embrace the gospel and to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit: “If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?”

Excluded from Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Traditional: The passage lists “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders” among other sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God. They rank along with the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers.

More Light: The exact meanings of the Greek words translated “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders” are under dispute. In “The Message” Eugene Peterson translates the list as, “Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it.” Paul was focused on men who offered themselves, for money, in the service of pagan gods. He was not talking about same-sex couples in monogamous, loving relationships who are actively seeking after Christ.

Traditional interpretation of passages on homosexuality

I'm still working on the summary for yesterday's class. In the meantime, here's a link one of the class members sent me providing a longer, traditional readings the relevant biblical passages than what we discussed in class.

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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Discussion Questions for Weeks 2 and 3

Read through the biblical passages most often cited in discussions of homosexuality:

  • Creation (Genesis 1-2)
  • Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)
  • Holiness Code (Leviticus 18 and 20)
  • Sin of Onan (Genesis 38:1-10)
  • Jesus on Divorce (Matthew 19:1-12)
  • Against Nature (Romans 1-2)
  • Excluded from the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Before reading the passages above for this class, how familiar were you with them? How often have you heard them cited? And what did you notice different about them upon your reading this time that you might not have noticed before?
  • In general, what biblical passages do you have trouble applying to your own life for whatever reason?
  • 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?
  • What is/are the purpose(s) of marriage? Where does “procreation” rank on that list?
  • How have you and your family members reacted to news that someone close to you has come out as gay or lesbian?
  • How much autonomy should a local congregation have when it comes to setting standards for ordinance and marriage? How comfortable would you belonging to a congregation or a denomination whose stances on these issues differed from your own?