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Faith in Lodi and the region Jesus didn’t address homosexuality

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Jim Stickney, interim pastor, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lodi


Posted: Saturday, April 13, 2013 12:00 am

When I joined the Episcopal church in 1980, my nearby parish seemed to be the Republican Party at prayer — back when moderate Republicans roamed the earth. The church members welcomed me (a moderate progressive), and when they found out I was a former Roman Catholic priest who had just gotten married, they encouraged me to consider becoming an Episcopal priest.

To my surprise, over the following years and decades, the Episcopal church began to explore how to be more explicit in welcoming gay and lesbian persons. Earlier, people just understood that some church members were not heterosexual. But by the 1990s, resolutions were passed to make our welcome explicit.

Same-sex blessings were debated, and at first were not approved. But over time (and with often heated public debate) more and more dioceses (which are groupings of local parishes) began to vote in favor of them. And certainly, by the turn of this century, more clergy were explicit about their same-sex orientation, including the first openly gay bishop in 2003.

As one would expect, the changing stance of the Episcopal church caused some people to depart, while at the same time, some new members have joined us because of what they perceive to be a prophetic stand.

It has not been an easy journey, but over time, our church has evolved its solidarity with a minority who have been persecuted, shunned and condemned. And I have gradually come to see that it's really an issue of justice.

I regret that some conservative Christians select a few scripture verses and fashion them into arrows to exclude homosexuals from their churches. Rather than respond in kind, I reflect that not one of the four gospels recalls any word of Jesus on this topic. In contrast, Jesus, more than once, forbids divorce and remarriage.

I surmise that Christians who claim that the Bible is inerrant carry a deep-seated guilt that their churches indeed do permit remarriage after divorce. It's as if they are trying to say, "Well, we may not follow Jesus' teaching against divorce and remarriage, but we'll step up our exclusion of those other people, whom we don't understand anyway."

What about those pointed "arrow" verses? I make a parallel with the Episcopal church's encouragement for women to be ordained as deacons, priests and bishops. We are not constrained by some New Testament passages that reflect a first-century patriarchy any more than we are constrained by the dietary restrictions of preparing kosher meals.

To sum it up: Our church's leadership and a large number of our members are not in favor of California's Proposition 8. And yet the genius and challenge of our Anglican heritage is a broad tolerance for ambiguity! We enjoy worshipping side by side with people who disagree with us about politics, theology and even Proposition 8.

Above all, we embrace diversity in our community and keep coming together for fellowship, our heritage of compelling sacred music and outreach to the disadvantaged.

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