This article comes from an update posted on
February 20, 2005
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before the tour
I thought this time of explanation would have
come sooner, but the cascade of affirmation for unicyling STRAIGHT INTO GAY
AMERICA lulled my senses. The unavoidable questions are now arriving about my
background and my motives for supporting the GLBT or queer community. Here's an
explanation of where my GLBT support comes from:
"Lars, wrote one good friend, "I am
confused. You are a pastor/minister, married and have kids. What is
all this about gay? You know in the Old and New Testaments that it clearly
states this lifestyle is an abomination to God."
"Lars," wrote another kind person, "I only pray and hope you are not so into
gay lib causes as to now accept the acts as normal…I can only hope you are fully
willing to, and open to, instructing homosexual persons you encounter on your
new quest, that their lifestyle is corrupt…I do wish to remain on your list as
somebody who has to be there to remind you of who your God really is before its
too late and Romans 2:5-9 becomes your calling card…
Time for some disclosures.
Seminary, at the age of 27, was my introduction to gay people and gay issues.
A year into hearing stories, making friends with gay and lesbian students, and
studying scripture, I sat around a table with six church leaders charged with
deciding my future as a pastor.
"Sign this," said the member of the seminary approval committee, setting in
front of me the latest escalation of the drive to limit gay influence in the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I was in my second year of
seminary. The year was 1988. The required statement said simply,
THE ONLY APPROPRIATE PLACE FOR GENITAL SEXUAL CONTACT IS IN THE CONFINES OF A
HETEROSEXUAL MARRIED RELATIONSHIP.
Not every region of the ELCA created a written statement to be signed.
Mine did, and because Anne and I were living together in that time of our
engagement, we were out of bounds.
"I could sign this," I replied to the committee member. "I can fit
these rules. But no gay or lesbian person in a relationship could meet
these requirements. So, if I have to make a choice, I'll choose not to sign
After more reminders of how much they wanted me to be a pastor, and how the
only requirement was for me to sign the statement, they sent me out into the
hallway for their deliberations. Ten minutes later I was expelled from
"You can finish out this semester," they offered, as if this were a gift of
grace on their part. The real grace was missing, though, that grace which
they'd taught me so well at this same seminary, that grace which goes beyond all
categories and classifications to provide the most honest offering of love,
care, and consideration into the unique particularities of our daily
lives. They had taught me well, this tradition of Jesus and his love for
the outsiders, the outcasts, the suffering. I relished what I was
learning. But when it came down to the practical application, there was no
hesitation in dismissing a "rule-breaker."
I spent the next two weeks calling everyone on my committee, arguing that
this rule was too simple, didn't look at any qualifications of a person to be a
pastor beyond their sexual orientation, and didn't represent the Jesus whom the
seminary had spent so much time, money, and effort teaching me about.
In the end, they made another offer, as if this were another gift of grace on
their part. "If you get married quickly, you can stay in seminary."
"Great," I responded, "Anne and I are already engaged and we have our wedding
date set for next summer, June 23rd."
"No," they replied, "we mean very quickly, like two weeks."
I still don't know if we made the right decision. If I'd been alone I
would have made my standard compulsive decision and told them they could keep
their seminary and I'd move on. Instead, together with Anne's calmer
approach and the consultation of another pastor who was a best friend to us, we
decided to acquiesce for the present so that I could become a pastor. At the
time it seemed noble and worthwhile.
I came back to the committee one last time, with marriage certificate in
hand, so they could confer their approval on my candidacy for ordination.
Walking into the meeting room, I slapped the certificate hard onto the table,
and dropped into my seat. The committee chairperson responded, "You look
"You're right I'm angry. Without this marriage certificate, I was
nothing. With it, I can become a pastor." I glared at him. "You only
care about this piece of paper. You don't care about me."
I estimate the anger stayed with me for the
next four years. And from that fire of anguish came a deep awareness of
what it means to be an outsider, to be sacrificed by an institution for the
safety and security of the organization. I have never since felt at ease
in relationship to any institution, whether of God or of government. I
also lost any sense that being a pastor was especially noble. Through the
painful process, though, I gained an appreciation for the guy Jesus who made
compassion his guide with everyone he encountered.
"But," comes the response to my story, "the Bible states that homosexuality
is a sin. How can you support gay people living together?"
Some words, then, about my understanding of scripture
and society, and how these inform my understanding of justice.
For the sake of good conversation, these things matter.
1. How do we understand the origins of the
Bible? Is it a book that lays down a timeless law? Some
believe so. But there are problems with this viewpoint. First, the
Bible's words sometimes contradict. Second, no one takes all the Bible's decrees
literally. How do we make our choices as faithful people? It comes
down to INTERPRETATION. There is no way to avoid INTERPRETATION. In
other words, we must admit that our view of the Bible cannot be OBJECTIVE.
It is always SUBJECTIVE. I do not agree with an understanding of the bible
to be a literal, inerrant word of God that can be received without
Neither scripture itself, nor historical study of the biblical context
support a literal, inerrant word. Specifically, with regard to homosexuality,
there is extensive Biblical scholarship which comes to a conclusion that loving
committed relationships between same sex partners can be affirmed by God and
society. While some disagree with this outcome, it is important to
acknowledge that serious study by serious theologians and scholars often reaches
a conclusion of affirming same-sex relationships.
The website of ReligiousTolerance.org contains over 2,000 articles and
links to hundreds of other websites from the full spectrum of many different
religious issues. It's one place to start. As they acknowledge,
after receiving hundreds of e-mails from all perspectives, "We have been
unable to change the beliefs or actions of any of these hundreds of people on
even one point related to homosexuality. Their views appear to be fixed. It is
doubtful that much progress towards compromise on homosexual rights can be made
by means of dialogue. We don't expect that the attached essays will change the
beliefs of many visitors to this web site. However, the essays may help people
understand opinions that are not their own." ReligiousTolerance.org also includes an analysis of how
liberals and conservatives approach the bible differently. (I like what
religioustolerance.org is trying to do, but I am not endorsing this website or
its views.) On then….
2. How do we understand God? For some
of us God makes sense as a judge and a ruler. God makes sense as the one who
measures our performance and determines our rewards. But there are other
ways to view God, and my study of Jesus has taught me to focus on love,
compassion, care, and kindness, shown always to the outsiders of Jesus
society. When Jesus offers judgment, it almost always falls on the
rulers. Jesus never condones using one's power to keep outsiders
out. I believe he was onto something way back then. The problem of
misusing power has been a constant theme through history. It's a problem
that is still with us. How do we take seriously Jesus commandment to love one
another when power is at stake? For myself, I try and listen to the
outsiders. I try and listen to what GLBT people are saying. I try to
serve these issues of justice in ways consistent with my understanding of
compassion and care.
3. How do we
understand society and culture? For some of us the perfect society
is a timeless vision. Society, though, has changed and continues to
change. The ages have ended slavery, empowered women, and moved beyond the
tradition of marriage that viewed women as property and gave sanction to
harems. Scripture as timeless law was once used to support these
arrangements that today we consider abominations. To overcome the
injustices, seekers of justice invoked the compassionate love of Jesus and
created new arrangements of society. Over time we've expanded our notions
of equality and justice. The Old Testament and Paul have a few words about
homosexuality, but no word of Jesus is recorded on the subject of
homosexuality. On the other hand, many, many words of Jesus are recorded
about love for the stranger, and the outcast. Where would Jesus be found
in the current religious and societal positions on homosexuality?
I have found many good examples to follow as I
try to pattern my life in pursuit of compassion. One of the most powerful
for me is Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who worked so hard
to end apartheid in South Africa and continues to labor for justice in his
country and abroad. His bottomless good humor and uncompromising
attention to grace and compassion is captured in NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS,
his story of serving South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation work after the end
of apartheid. I would have thought that with all his busy work on apartheid,
nation building, and global issues of justice, might have bigger fish to fry
than talking about homosexuality. But no, Bishop Tutu regularly speaks out
for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in
the sight of both God and society. For Bishop Tutu, GLBT inclusion
is a core issue of justice.
Much lies ahead of me, before, during, and
after pedaling STRAIGHT INTO GAY AMERICA this summer. I feel deeply grateful to
be involved in a conversation of importance that has multiple sides to it.
I feel honored by each one who takes time and care to write and express a
viewpoint. I hope that our conversation will only continue to grow in richness
and in depth. My own study and my own experience lead me to believe the
wandering man Jesus would have affirmed my unicycle ride STRAIGHT INTO GAY
AMERICA. And I hope that Jesus would have backed my goal of riding beyond
our religious and cultural polarization to find everyday stories of everyday
life in gay America. Thanks again for sharing the journey.