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More than two decades after Scott Anderson told his California congregation that he was gay and therefore must resign as its pastor, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is preparing to welcome him back. Anderson will be ordained Saturday as the denomination’s first openly gay minister, marking the latest mainline Protestant church to move toward accepting homosexual relationships. During a recent interview at his new church in Wisconsin, the 56-year-old Anderson recalled keeping his personal life a secret from 1983 to 1990. He told his congregation the truth and resigned after a couple learned he was gay and tried to use the information against him. “That was really the best and worst moment of my life,” Anderson said. “It was the best because I was able to claim for the first time who I was as a gay man. That was incredibly empowering. But there was also the sadness, the grief of leaving the ministry and what I loved.” Saturday’s ordination was made possible by decades of debate over whether openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the church. The church constitution used to include language requiring that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” The Presbyterian national assembly last year endorsed removing that rule. The change was approved in May by a majority of the denomination’s 173 regional church bodies. via Presbyterian church in US to ordain 1st gay man – Yahoo! News.

The church’s call to exclusion is ‘killing its soul’.  Those are the words of Dr. Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School talking about the upcoming trial of lesbian pastor Rev. Amy DeLong in the United Methodist Church. Watch this: The soul of the church is what’s at stake, according to Marshall. The soul of the church deserves to be set free. Thoughts?

Current Events
Many people don’t know it, but one of Oral Roberts sons was a homosexual and eventually took his own life.  Now, his nephew, Oral Robert’s grandson, who is also gay, has made a video about his uncle and his current view on life. Take a look here.  [profanity alert] I’ve said for a long time that homosexuality will be one of the (if not THE) major social issue the church will deal with in the next decade.  Just in the past few weeks, I’ve heard new allegations of bullying by the church of homosexuals (bullying is the new politically correct buzzword, I guess). If you watched the video… what do YOU think? What would you say to Oral Roberts grandson? And what would you say to Oral Roberts son? Todd HT:  Jesus Needs New PR

According to the Houston Chronicle and a new Gallop poll:  Christians and people from other religious traditions have grown more tolerant of gays and lesbians. The percentage of Catholics calling gay relations “morally acceptable” has increased by more than a third in the past five years, up to 62 percent. More Americans also favor legalizing gay marriage. More from the article: Although America’s stance on homosexuality remains a contentious social issue, nearly split nationwide, gays and lesbians are moving towards equality in some of the country’s mainline Protestant denominations. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles recently ordained the church’s first openly gay female bishop. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided last year to allow non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy to serve. Despite some dissenters, the ELCA has continued to seek the full inclusion of homosexual church leaders and members. In the survey, fewer people cited homosexuality as a personal choice rather than a factor of genetics and environment (from 41 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2010). As I’ve said many times before… I really think the gay/lesbian issue will be one of the biggest areas of controversy and change in the church in the next decade.  How is your church engaging/reaching/reacting to gays and lesbians?  Do you feel you need to?  How will your church hold it’s theological views on homosexuality and yet minister in a world that is increasingly looking at homosexuality as a norm? You can read more here… Todd

Current Events
With special thanks to Frank Lockwood (The Bible Belt Blogger), take a look at this pastoral letter from Episcopal Church presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to the Anglican Communion… A pastoral letter to The Episcopal Church Pentecost continues! Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit. The recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the struggles within the Anglican Communion seems to equate Pentecost with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news. The crowd reported, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). The Spirit does seem to be saying to many within The Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God’s good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others. That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety. The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium. That diversity in community was solidified in the Elizabethan Settlement, which really marks the beginning of Anglican Christianity as a distinct movement. Above all, it recognizes that the Spirit may be speaking to all of us, in ways that do not at present seem to cohere or agree. It also recognizes what Jesus says about the Spirit to his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process. At the request of other bodies in the Anglican Communion, this Church held an effective moratorium on the election and consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian priest as bishop from 2003 to 2010. When a diocese elected such a person in late 2009, the ensuing consent process indicated that a majority of the laity, clergy, and bishops responsible for validating that election agreed that there was no substantive bar to the consecration. The Episcopal Church recognizes that these decisions are problematic to a number of other Anglicans. We have not made these decisions lightly. We recognize that the Spirit has not been widely heard in the same way in other parts of the Communion. In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions. We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries’ standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity. We do not seek to impose our understanding on others. We do earnestly hope for continued dialogue with those who disagree, for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding. (You can read more of the letter and some great comments over at Frank’s Blog) What do you think? Todd

Current Events
Well, I kinda pegged this one last week… Ted Haggard’s launch party for his new St. James Church happened last week.  A few interesting observations about the first service… 1.  According to media reports, only 160 people attended the first service of this new church.  That’s with nation-wide media coverage that it was going to happen; and in a town that is nearly the evangelical mecca of the United States.  Seems like a whole bunch of people just don’t care about Ted these days.  Even an LA PR firm wasn’t able to drum up a crowd. 2.  People that were there:  a production company that was filming the whole thing for a documentary; and a gay couple (that was recruited from CraigsList), one of whom who shared what an inspiration Ted was. 3.  When asked whether he feels homosexuality is a sin, Haggard told CNN’s Joy Behar:  “Sexuality, no matter which grouping, is complex. It’s confusing and some people have healthy sexuality, other people have unhealthy sexuality. They’re on their own journeys with God. They’ve got to work that out. And what we’re going to do at St. James Church is encourage them in their process to get that settled in their life.” 4.  Here’s a bit from an article on Beliefnet: Haggard’s new church will embrace an open-door philosophy that could raise eyebrows among some evangelicals. The former evangelical icon has said he supports equal civil rights for gays and lesbians, even though he will bar openly homosexual members from leadership positions. “Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those who go to Tea Party rallies. If you are straight, gay, or bi, I want to walk through the Scriptures with you,” Haggard said at the press conference that launched the new church. “If you are black, white, Hispanic, Native American, or a confusing combination, you are welcome here. If you have a friend or family member who struggles, St. James is for you. Adulterers, ex-cons, everyone is welcome.” With the restriction on gays in leadership, Joe and Jan Narracci were left a little disappointed. “This church is making qualifications that I don’t think Jesus made,” said Joe Narracci, who with his wife counsels gay and lesbian Christians who struggle to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation.

Current Events
Remember Ray Boltz? It’s been nearly seven years since Ray ‘came out of the closet’ and took a hiatus from Christian Music… But now Boltz is back with a new album, and a new belief.  And a call for Christians to not discriminate against homosexuals. Here is one of the lyrics to a song called “Who Would Jesus Love?” Would He only love the ones Who looked the same as me Would He only offer hope When He saw similarity Would He leave the others waiting Like a stranger at the gate Would He discriminate. Or, part of the lyrics of his song “Don’t Tell Me Who To Love” Don’t tell me who to love, Don’t tell me who to kiss, Don’t tell me that there’s something wrong, Because I feel like this. Maybe you’re in love today and you’ve been making wedding plans But there is someone in your way shouting things cause they don’t understand The judge says that’s not legal, the preacher calls it a sin Oh you just remember they were wrong before and they’re wrong again On his transformation, Boltz says:  “I don’t believe God hates me anymore…I always thought if people knew the true me, they’d be disgusted, and that included God. But for all the doubts, there’s this new belief that God accepts me and created me, and there’s peace.” Make no doubt about it… how the church responds to the issue of homosexuality will be one of the major issues in the church over the next decade. What do you think?  You can read more on Boltz in a New York Times article written recently here… Todd (PS — I was never a big Ray Boltz fan.  Ever.  But take a short listen to the song linked above.  Let’s just say, the music itself would not make me a fan, ever.  Not one of Boltz’s best songs, gay or not gay.)

Given the interest in the Jennifer Knapp story here at MMI yesterday, I thought this would be a great follow-up, and I’d really like to spark some additional conversation around this topic because I think it’s vitally important.  Meet Constance McMillen.  Constance is an 18 year old high school senior from Fulton, Mississippi (but she might as well be from your town).  Constance is a lesbian.  She’s been ‘out of the closet’ since eighth grade. It’s prom time, and Constance wants to take her girlfriend to the school prom.  School rules state that prom dates must be of the opposite gender.  She asks the school board to reconsider.  They refuse.  She enlists the help of the ACLU.  The school board’s response:  cancel the prom for everyone because the whole matter is a distraction “to the educational process”. My question:  how should the church respond to this? This morning, I tried to find out a little more about the situation, and how any of the local churches responded to the local controversy.  I found nothing. Oh wait.  I did find one thing.  The infamous Westboro Baptist Church (look them up if you need to) has announced that they are going to picket Constance’s graduation this year.  Here’s the only response from a ‘church’ that I could find on this story.

“WBC will picket the graduation of Itawamba Agricultural High School to remind the parents, teachers and students of this nation that God said ‘Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind, it is abomination,’” the church said in announcing the protest.

“This generation has been raised to believe that they can live for the devil and still go to heaven, that God has no standards and the biggest lie of all – that God loves everyone.” “The parents of Fulton, MS feign outrage that a filthy dyke wants to parade her ‘girlfriend’ around at their night of fornication called a prom,” the church added. “They had a duty to teach their children what the Lord requires of them. They shirked this duty.” Fulton, Mississippi is a town of less than 5,000 people.  It could be any of our ‘hometowns’.  Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Constance lived in your community.  That Constance went to the same high school as your son or daughter.  That your church found itself in the same location as this community-changing story. What would your church’s response be?  Would you/should your church have a response? This is where the rubber meets the road, folks. You’ve often heard that we are to love the sinner but hate the sin.  How do you do that when it’s a very public and very divisive issue? Sinners have names.  Most all of us (myself included) on this forum (at least from the Jennifer Knapp post) believe that homosexuality is forbidden in scripture.  So how do we mesh our love for Constance with our understanding/condemnation of sin? I would argue that calling Constance a ‘filthy dyke’ is not the way to do it (as Westboro has done).  I think most of you would agree. I would also argue that affirming Constance’s lifestyle choice as God-honoring is also not a good choice.  Again, most of you would agree. So… if the church can not affirm the lifestyle, but cannot call names; how should the church respond?  It HAS to be somewhere in the middle.  But where? Like it or not, our culture HAS changed.  When I was in high school (a few years ago); homosexuality still had a very negative connotation to it.  Today, culture has shifted to the point that most high schoolers don’t think twice about homosexuality being negative or sinful.  It’s like red or blue… pick a color. In fact, I would bargain a guess that in your church, you have people that struggle with same-sex attractions on a regular basis.  You might not even be aware of their struggle.  How do you love them?  How do you reach them?  Just preaching against homosexuality won’t do the trick anymore. Here’s the deal… Gay people need Jesus too.  Specifically, Constance needs Jesus.  My fear is that the only ‘christian’ or church that Constance will hear from is the likes of Westboro.  Or, just as bad, a local church that will speak against the ills of homosexuality and never do a thing to personally reach out to Constance or people like her with the LOVE of Jesus.  ‘If Constance could only be delivered from her sexual orientation, then maybe she could hear the gospel and be saved.’  Is that not the approach that many of us take? OK… I’ve rambled long enough.  I’ve written about the homosexuality issue alot over the past five years because of one reason:  I think this is the BIG social issue the church will have to wrestly with in the next decade.  And how we respond now will determine our direction. Truthfully, I don’t know what the proper response is.  I know it’s somewhere between Westboro and affirmation. So… if Constance lived in your town, went to your kid’s high school, maybe even attended your church’s youth group… how would your church respond to this very public, very polarizing, very nasty situation? Seriously… think it through.  You may very well have a situation like this happen very soon in your community.  If it happens in Fulton, MS, it could just be a matter of time before this happens in your town. Please, take a moment to share your thoughts.  Iron sharpens iron, you know. Thanks, Todd

A defiant Christian Singer Jennifer Knapp takes on a pastor of last week’s Larry King Live… Watch the video, then let’s discuss: First of all, while I do think that homosexuality, biblically, is a sin, I think Jennifer makes a couple of good points: 1.  She is correct when she asks why this one sin is chosen to debate.  Homosexuality is the big taboo sin in Christian culture these days.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing; but it is seen as a much greater sin than any number of other sins combined:  lying, cheating, divorce, living together before marriage, guttony, gossip.  Many of these are tolerated.  We very seldom ask the glutton or the gossip to turn from their sinful ways.  We just assign them to a different committee. 2.  She does, I think, have a point against the pastor.  He is not her pastor.  He does not have the power/privelege of speaking into her life; privately or on national television. That said, 1.  Jennifer cannot condone her sin by saying that other people who sin are getting a free pass.  It might be true, but it doesn’t allow her to play the ‘they’re sinning so I can sin’ card. 2.  Unfortunately, Jennifer has (as have many other gay christians) found a spiritual leader that has said that homosexuality is acceptable under scripture. This is not the first time that a Christian singer has come out of the closet.  Ray Boltz came out a few years ago (no one ever say that one coming!).  Kirk Talley shocked Southern Gospel fans with a scandal a few years back as well.  I’m sure there are others that will happen in the future. How will/are you responding to Jennifer’s announcement?  Will you buy her album (if you’re a fan?)  Will you continue to use her music in your services?  Would you attend her concert?  Would you have her sing in your church? And what do you make of her defiant attitude on Larry King?  Justified or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Todd

John continues:  “Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East – you’re as good as dead.”  Here’s the article. A couple of thoughts: 1.  Just because Jesus was compassionate and super-intelligent, doesn’t mean he was gay. 2.  Jesus wants us to be loving and forgiving, but that has nothing at all to do with ‘gayness’. But you may be surprised that I agree with Elton John on a couple of things. 1.  Many Christians are cruel. 2.  Many Christians aren’t loving, forgiving, or compassionate. In fact, many Christians are unloving, unforgiving, and rude.  And, quite frankly, those are probably the only types of Christians that Elton John has ever met. Here’s our problem:  I think we’d much rather see Elton John delivered from his homosexuality than see Elton John come to know Jesus. And… truth be told, I think that’s the way many Christians feel about all homosexuals. Don’t get me wrong.  I think homosexuality is Biblically wrong.  So is adultery, cheating on your taxes, gossip and gluttony.  It’s just that some sins we allow more than others (before, during, and AFTER conversion) I mean… if we could just get them to change their sexuality, maybe they would accept Jesus. In reality, maybe if they’d accept Jesus, it would change their sexuality. QUESTION:  What does Elton John need more?  A woman?  or Jesus? Your thoughts? Todd