Should gay and lesbian people be full members of the Christian community? Should they be priests? Should the sacrament of marriage be extended to them? Should they even be welcomed into the building?
A lot of people point to passages in Leviticus, which call homosexuality an “abomination.” But are those passages valid and binding?
For that we need to consider the book of Acts, written by the author of the Gospel of Luke. In the sixth and seventh chapters, Stephen is arrested by a religious council and charged with saying that Jesus came to “change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
Stephen does not (and cannot) deny the accusation, since Jesus did specifically reject Torah passages on vengeance, divorce and dietary restrictions, but instead, after demonstrating his full familiarity with Scripture, turns on the council and accuses them of “forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.”
In the tenth chapter, Peter has a vision of “something like a sheet” coming down from heaven, and on it are all manner of animals designated by Moses as unclean. “Get up, Peter; kill and eat,” says God. Peter protests: “I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean!” But God responds, “What God has made you must not call unclean or profane.”
Then Peter goes to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter, remembering the lesson from his vision, greets Cornelius by saying, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
After talking with Cornelius, Peter declares, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” But Peter’s Jewish followers were troubled, because Hebrew Scripture quotes God as saying, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant,” yet they “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Peter answered them by saying, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Just as Peter understood that his vision of the animals applied not just to dietary restrictions, but the inherent sanctity of all creation, it is to be understood that Peter is not referring just to circumcised or uncircumcised people, but rather the invalidity of Scriptural passages that put barriers between people and the God who calls them. God wants you just as you are. No man is unclean. No change is necessary to be worthy of God’s love.
Yet people still insist on building barriers to the church. Yesterday, The New York Times reported on an Episcopal bishop in Connecticut who has authorized religious blessings for civil unions.
Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, of the American Anglican Council, criticized Bishop Smith and called it “proof of his disregard for the larger Anglican Communion and further evidences his militancy with the homosexual gay agenda” (someone call the Department of Repetitive Redundancy!). “Bishop Smith and some other bishops as well are literally choosing to pull themselves and their churches out of the broader religious community. In the future…there might be no place for people like Bishop Smith.”
Anderson tries to blame Bishop Smith; but it’s not Smith trying to fracture the church, he’s one of the many heeding Peter’s lesson that the church is open to everyone. For all their citation of scripture in oppressing gay and lesbian people, what many Christians miss is that the New Testament explicity forbids restricting Christian fellowship. Anderson closes the door not just on gays, but on everyone who takes the Gospel message seriously. How does a priest manage to claim that “there might be no place” for anyone?
Bishop Smith said, “I believe that it is time for us to rethink, repray and reform our theology and our pastoral practices; to welcome, recognize, support and bless the lives and faith of brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian in the equal fullness of Christian fellowship.”