By Barb T. with edits and advice from Kathy Madigan
Trinity folks pictured above: Julie Carter, Kathy Madigan, Kathryn Forsythe, Julia (friend), and Beth Pensiero at Pride Picnic in Jackson Park
June is Gay Pride Month. Trinity Presbyterian Church had a tent at the June 10 Hendersonville celebration at Jackson Park. I was one of the Trinity folks there handing out information and talking with the many participants. It was a fun day! A few of those people have shown up for our worship services since then. This is increasingly important to me and I wanted to tell you why.
I am glad that our Sunday morning worship bulletin is headlined with the following statement:
“This congregation welcomes you without regard to race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental ability, education, economic circumstance, your place of origin or any other issue that divides God’s family. We are Christ’s people and this is Christ’s place with it’s doors wide open.”
On our street sign, in our worship bulletin and on our web site, we display the symbol indicating we are a “More Light” Church. This means our Session has agreed to participate as one of 300 churches in this PC(USA) coalition of congregations and individuals committed to increasing the involvement of all people in the church, regardless of sexuality. At Trinity, More Light-related activity is part of our Matthew 25 Ministry.
I did some research to find the PC(USA) General Assembly’s affirmation of these issues at: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/sexuality-and-same-gender-relationships/ While I don’t find the authority of PC(USA) policies to be very significant to me, they do often have helpful things to say.
Sometimes I think about why we should do this? I know this is a controversial issue for many Christians. Won’t this scare some folks away from Trinity? Do I really want to make others uncomfortable?
It is important to me because more and more courageous folks are “coming out of the closet”. Increasingly, I am recognizing friends, neighbors and relatives who claim LGBTQIA sexual orientation. While this can be a bit difficult for me to fully understand, I see the sincerity of these people. I see the challenges they are encountering and I fear for them. Their normal human aspirations for a fulfilled life including loving family relationships are evident.
Pictured above: Barb & Rev. Dwight Christenbury, Trinity friend Christoph (of St. James), and oodles of supportive veterans!
Most of all, I remember Jesus’ declaration that the two most important commandments are “to love God” and “to love my neighbors”. The parable of the Good Samaritan and many other stories make clear that Jesus did not mean “only neighbors who are like me”. There are no exceptions. I am supposed to love my neighbors – each and every one. Jesus’ message calls me to love those who are not like me.
It did not take much reading to find reports of medical research that is beginning to discover ways non-heterosexual orientation is due to biological factors like hormones and genes. Sexual orientation is not a behavioral choice. Many LGBTQ+ people understand their sexuality has chosen them. It is not contagious. It does not threaten the rest of us with harm.
God made us the way we are. Each of us, every one, is created in the image of God. Each of us, every one, is worthy of the full love of God.
I remember the past when LGBTQIA folks were regarded much more negatively. They were ostracized and demonized and condemned by the church. I can’t help but to be aware that some churches and some Christians still have that view. After all, I do remember there are some Bible references condemning this behavior. Can I just ignore those words? I recall reading about this years ago. Actually, I recently told a 12-year-old who had just come out that if someone claims she is a bad person then she should just think to herself that they must not know their Bible very well. Upon further reflection I thought a “brush up” on these details was needed. I wanted to be sure.
Actually, deeper study by several highly accomplished theologians clarifies what behavior is being condemned. Interpretation of the Bible is complicated. Words from Christians throughout the past 2000 years as well as by recent scholars are worthy of my consideration. It is not just what others say because interpretation of scripture is a very personal action. I believe these words are “alive” today and speaking to me amid my current experience.
The Bible references related to LGBTQIA behavior include: Genesis 19:1-29; Judges 19:1-30; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Jude 5-7; Romans 1:18-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-17; and 1 Timothy 1:10. You can find analysis of these in the “easy-to-read” book “The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage; an Evangelical’s Change of Heart” by Mark Achtemeier published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2014. A more complicated and academic explanation can be found in “Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality; Explode the Myths, Heal the Church” by Jack Rogers published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2009. Or you may find helpful the detail in “On Being Human; Sexual Orientation and the Image of God” by C. Norman Kraus published by Cascade Books in 2011.
Interpretation of these words includes considering: how a phrase relates to the sentences and paragraphs within which they are embedded; how that phrase relates to the prevailing major messages of the Bible about responsible family behavior and loving of others; and the historical, social context regarding the people, customs and situations of these references. You are encouraged to prayerfully read these for yourself.
Basically, the Bible condemns behavior that is violent, abusive and harmful to others. This is true for all sexual orientations. So, my embrace of LGBTQIA people is fully aligned with what I know about being Christian.
This is what is happening to me. Maybe some of the above information will help you to more fully affirm your understanding and support for the issue, too. - B.T.
By the way, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay) is the first and largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQIA people and their families. LGBTQIA and their families and friends everywhere are invited to participate in sharing this information and support. Hendersonville has a local chapter. Look for details at https://pflg.org.
The library for our local PFLAG chapter is housed in a corner of our Trinity library and you are invited to check out books to aid your further investigations of this issue.
Pictured above: Jerry & Bea Miller, charter members of PFLAG of Hendersonville, at Pride Parade (2019)