open and affirming


I didn’t write yesterday because I used what time I had reading This Is How It Happened on Real Live Preacher. Gordon does a great job describing his pilgrimage to inclusiveness. Then came the comments, which — if you’ve spent anytime on RLP — you know are many. I threw in my two cents and went to work.

As I sat down this morning, I checked in again to find fifty new comments since yesterday. I read them all. As I said there, by the time I finished I was exhausted, encouraged (by some), and deeply saddened by some of the things people will say in Jesus’ name. Comments on a blog do not communicate tone effectively in every case, so I won’t assume to know people’s feelings or motivations, but their words made me sad because they said, on one way or another, gay and lesbian people should not be welcomed unconditionally into the church.

I don’t believe that.

I also don’t believe homosexuality is a sin. It is an orientation — a way of being — not a choice. If I say someone chose to be gay, then I have to articulate when I chose to be heterosexual; I didn’t choose it. I was born this way, as were my gay and lesbian friends. We miss the mark when we let the discussion be about sex. All of us are more than just sexual beings. My parents talk about “the gay lifestyle,” which translated means sexual promiscuity, which is certainly not limited to gays and lesbians. Sex for the sake of sex without regard for the other human being and without the necessary relationship is sinful and damaging, regardless of who is involved; being gay or lesbian, however, is not a sin. I understand there are different ways to interpret the passages, and I’m not claiming everyone has to read it my way. Good scholars are deeply divided on this issue. I am saying I’m not going against the Bible to take the stand I’m taking.

One other thing I believe: rarely does anyone change his or her mind in these discussions. We’ve already decided where we stand and we like to make our points. I’m not trying to pick a fight here, I just want to go on record — again — for who I think God is calling the church to be.

As a minister in the United Church of Christ in Massachusetts, I have the wonderful opportunity to be a part of a denomination who has chosen to welcome everyone, has ordained gay and lesbian ministers since the late seventies (when the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as mental illness), and — based on each congregation’s decision — can perform marriages between two adults who have committed their lives to one another under God. When same gender marriage became legal in our state, opponents ranted about the threat to “traditional” marriage. I wondered what they meant: anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night? threatening letters? gangs of gay couples intimidating husbands and wives at the mall?

I would like to report, two years on, that Ginger and I have not been threatened in any way. Just the opposite. We have had the chance to attend the weddings of dear friends who have finally been able to feel completely welcome in the church and the faith to which they have committed their lives. One couple got married on their thirtieth anniversary. It was amazing.

The UCC designation for churches who want to be publicly intentional about welcoming everyone is open and affirming. You would think those two adjectives would fit any church. Too often, however, the public face the church puts forward is one of exclusion. Fred Phelps drove from Kansas to stand across the street from a wedding here in our state so he could scream,”God hates fags.”

That’s what Christians do?

I know he’s the lunatic fringe, and I know he’s also part of the “everyone” I think needs to be welcomed, and I know he’s sometimes the only person labeled “Christian” that some people encounter. I’m not trying to beat him up. My point is I can’t find a place where Jesus acted that way, or called us to do so.

When same gender marriage became the law here, our governor leaned into an old law to keep people from out of state from getting married here. The law, passed early in the twentieth century, was written to curb interracial marriage, which in its time was seen as a threat to “real marriage.” In terms of civil rights, his move brought the issue to clarity. The law was wrong then and it is wrong now. This is a matter of treating everyone equally, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes some of us.

Faith, however, is not about civil rights; it’s more than that. We are called to love the world — everyone not because it’s the legal thing, or even the moral thing, but because it is the truest thing we can do. There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea, says the hymn. From the beach at the end of my street, the sea is endless.

When it comes right down to it, all I know to say is this: when I stand before God to account for my life, if God says, “Why did you let so many people in?” I’ll take the hit. I can live with that. If God were to say, “Why did you keep closing the door when I intended there to be room for everyone?” I couldn’t take it.

And I can’t, for a minute, imagine God would ever say that.



  1. I believe in welcoming all into the church, as well. I’m not the one to judge…but I do have a hard time understanding how you as a minster, can say homosexual acts are not a sin. The bible clearly states they are. In the beginning, God created male and female. He created Eve to be a partner for Adam. He didn’t create a male to be Adam’s partner. I believe the homosexual urges and tendencies are no different than any other sins that heterosexuals also commit. We have to resist that temptation and pray to God to help us refrain from sinning. I have homosexual friends I dearly love, but I know they are living in sin and I pray for them daily. I don’t understand though how a minister can stand before God and bless same-sex marriages….I’m praying for those ministers, as well.

  2. My mind changed on this issue almost overnight – I once was a “Well, it’s a sin like all other sins” Christian, until I saw a gang of biker types with two-story “god hates fags” banners at the San Diego Gay Pride parade. It was over for me then. Done. Same kind of track as RLP, I guess.

  3. Anonymous, Does the Bible say that? Or have you been told that it says that? Surprisingly, very few Christians can even find the passages that speak to this issue. Would you be surprised to find that the issue is only mentioned twice in the New Testament? And one of those is a warning against what seems to be homosexual prostitution and exploitation.

    The other describes a very specific situation where a promiscuous kind of homosexual lifestyle is given as a punishment for someone who hates God.

    The point is, that many of us are not at ALL certain that’s what the Bible says. So if your certainty rests in your assumption of what the Bible says, you might want to read these passages yourself.

    Here’s a starting place:

  4. I had already read the blog entry you referred to on RLP and agree with another anonymous poster who commented that perhaps the reason it’s not mentioned more in the New Testament is because it’s not up for debate. It was clear in the Old Testament that homosexuality is wrong. I don’t hate anyone…I love my homosexual friends just as much as I do my heterosexual friends. We are all sinners, but I also believe that those who continue to make the same mistakes over and over will lead God to eventually say, “I know you not”. That’s why I cannot be supportive of or condone same gender marriages. I believe in having compassion for everyone, but I struggle to understand how any minister can support gay and lesbian marriages, much less live that lifestyle. I don’t believe homosexuality is an orientation; I believe it’s a choice and I believe God wouldn’t approve of that choice.

  5. I have evolved on this too, and what changed me has been relationships with devout gay Christians who clearly have not chosen their orientation any more than I chose to be heterosexual.

    I have a friend (former member of my church staff) who — in the hope of changing his “choice” to be gay chose electric shock therapy, “re-orientation camp,” and marriage to a woman before realizing that the one thing he didn’t choose was to be gay.

    I can see how people interpret Scripture both ways (it’s a sin; it’s not a sin). But the bottom line for me is that sin is not being the person God created us to be.

  6. Anonymous #1:

    You said, “I don’t believe homosexuality is an orientation; I believe it’s a choice and I believe God wouldn’t approve of that choice.” THat’s where the difference between us begins. I with jledmiston — gay and lesbian people didn’t choose to be that way; that’s how they were created. The issue is not “homosexual acts” or “lifestyle,” it is about the very core of our beings — who we are. I like jledmiston’s definition of sin: “not being the person God created us to be.” Right on!

    One other thing. I don’t know how you feel when you say it, but to say you love your hoomosexual friends but to remain so judmental of them by not allowing them to be as fully human as you is nothing more than a separate but equal approach. It didn’t work for race issues, it doesn’t fly here. I konw that may sound harsh, and I also know how condescended to my gay and lesbian friends feel when they hear stuff like that.


  7. Milton,

    After reading your response to Anonymous #1, I see that there is no hope for you to understand what Christianity is all about. If you believe that God is going to tolerate homosexuals, he will show you like he will show the rest of the world – that his word is his word, period! God will show you like he has shown the rest of the world when he destroyed it by water and killed women, children, grandmothers…that he will not put up with or tolerate this kind of activity. Human beings at that time worshipped golden statues and refused to listen to God’s word, he showed them his power by destroying the world and starting over again. People like you say these things because you must have homosexual tendencies yourself even though you may be married to a woman. People like you who try to steer other people in the devil’s direction will see that the Lord will stop you whether it be a cancer, or taking a loved one in a car wreck, etc. He will show you through these means and bring you to your knees to show you that his word is his word. Remember, people like you who believe this is okay are the type of people God talks about in the Bible about not believing his word. If you think you can change God’s word, you are no more than the devil yourself. Whether you like it or not, God’s not going to have any more mercy on homosexuals who don’t repent than he does murderers who continue to kill.

  8. Oh wow! I just have to respond to the last comment. Why is it that so quickly the line of argument turns to themes of violence and awful threats and force? Let alone finger pointing accusations. Is this the way of Christ, is this the way of the Cross?

    When the Bible says ‘slaves obey your masters’ I dont think any of us thinks that God was endorsing the horrors of the slave trade. We do something with that verse, we realise we need to look beyong the initial statement. Why is it we cannot do that with the verses which are commonly used (wrongly)to put down women’s involvement in church leadership or to condemn certain sexual bebviour?

    God bless you Milton.

    When a person chooses ‘Anonymous’ as their identity then prehaps they reveal more of the truth about themselves than they realise!

    All the best,

    PS – It was me who deleted a previous comment when I realised how many spelling mistakes I made!

  9. Thanks, Mark

    I appreciate the graceful word. I followed your name to your blog and also found you’re a Buddy Miller fan (and Emmylou and the rest). No wonder you’re such a good guy.

    When I get a chance I will add your blog to my links.

    God bless you, too. And Anonymous, whoever you are.


  10. I have been following the comments over on RLP’s post too. It is so discouraging to me to read things by all the people who want to make God so small and so crippled. I know we’re called to welcome all without exception, but I have such a hard time with those people.
    God bless you Milton.

  11. This issue is a tough one. It is so easy for straight people to condem homosexuals because we are not going through that situation. You’ll have to forgive me but when some tells me that bible clearly states something, red flags go up in my head. How is a translation, which was simplified for us to understand, clear?
    I know my friends who struggled to come out deserve my love as Christ loved me. I chose to love them for who they are.
    The old testament “cleary” states many things but when was the last time you took an eye for an eye?

  12. My point is I can’t find a place where Jesus acted that way, or called us to do so.

    Faith, however, is not about civil rights; it’s more than that. We are called to love the world — everyone not because it’s the legal thing, or even the moral thing, but because it is the truest thing we can do.

    Amen, Milton.

    I pray for those who live in constant fear and insecurity, so much so that they need to judge the world — everyone — in such black-and-white terms.

    I’m with Huck Finn: “Alright then, I’ll GO to hell!”

  13. To Anonymous

    My prayers are with you as you struggle with your anger and that which has wounded you so deeply. May we all love God with our hearts, souls, and minds and our neighbors as ourselves.


  14. Thank you, Milt, for your wise words.

    We’re called to love one another. It’s not complicated. The Old Testament prohibitions can be read a couple of different ways (see Dan Via & Rob Gagnon’s “Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views”, which outlines the differences of opinion very succinctly, written by two serious Bible scholars). I choose to look at the Old Testament citations the same way I look at the ritual purity laws also contained therein: they represent the old covenant, not the new. As for St Paul, he thought marriage was a poor second-best to celibacy. I go back to my source, Jesus, who says what?

    He calls us to love one another.

    As a gay friend of mine says, “Why would we CHOOSE to be this way, when it makes our lives so hard?” It’s not a choice. It’s the way God made him or her. All the “reparative therapy” in the world doesn’t change the way gay and lesbian folk are wired, just like therapy wouldn’t make me less intense and driven in my work, or like colored contact lenses wouldn’t change my brown eyes.

    Sin is predicated upon the choice of the sinner to commit the sin. If there is no choice, there is no sin. Insofar as folks who have a hard time with homosexual sex are concerned, from where I sit, any relationship that is a loving and respectful one between equal partners, one that is not abusive or exploitive, is following Christ’s teachings.

    Violent language (suggesting that God will punish us with cancer or a car wreck) seems to me to be born of fear. We needn’t be afraid of gay folks. They don’t want to “convert” us. They are actually less likely than straight folk to sexually abuse children. All they want is to be allowed to be themselves.

    What’s so wrong with that?

  15. To gigibc,

    Please tell me why whenever we speak negatively about gays, you look at it as anger. Is it not possible this could be reality we speak of? Also, what about AIDS? This seems to prey primarily on gays. Before blood banks tested for AIDS, innocent children and others were sadly infected due to the sins of gays and others who commit sexually immoral acts. Please tell me what Bible you use in your church, as I know it cannot be the KJV. All gays and your husband have said that this bible is a lie. So if one part in the bible is a lie about homosexuals, then all the Bible must be a lie. Thanks for your time. Signed: Big Daddy

  16. to BD: at least get your facts straight if you are going to be so “factual” in your arguments: the fastest growing population of NEW AIDs infections is the heterosexual population…at least be respectful of science.

  17. To Atticus: You must be on those funny cigarettes to believe that. I also bet you are infected and have a lot of hate for straght people. Also where did aids start?
    Thats right with people like you. Good luck with your tretment.
    Signed: Big Daddy

  18. Big Daddy,

    I understand that the nature of a blog is to create conversation, so comments are open to anyone, but I’m really tired of the hate you are spewing on my site. You are entitled to you opinions, whether I agree or not. That’s not what I’m addressing here.

    In almost everyone of your responses to people you have attacked and berated them. Your words help no one, They are destructive and damaging.

    I’m tired of it. I can’t stop you from feeling the way you do, but I can keep my site from being a conduit for your violence and hatred. Feel free to comment if you have something constructive to add, but if you continue to attack, I will delete you comments from this blog.


  19. I don’t recall anyone saying the KJV contains a lie, although I’m not sure why so many people worship King James as if his selective inclusion of scriptures he liked and the influences he had on translation of said scriptures is any better than any other person’s. What was pointed out, though, is that there are many items in the Levitical code which the gay bashers accept as not applying to us now (eating shellfish, working on the Sabbath, possessing slaves, men cutting their hair, touching pigs’ skin, etc. — some of which are described as “abominations” just as is “lie with mankind”), but they suddenly play the “inerrant” card when the issue is sexual orientation.

  20. If the Lord decides to destroy the world over this issue, I hope it’s the last thing on the to-do list. There are a lot more issues to destroy the world over than this one.

    Whether or not a person chooses or is born to “gaity” is not a matter for my concern. I know I was born the way I am, and if that’s okay with God, it should be okay with you and me.

    I once heard a comic on the radio talking about gay marriage, and I like his train of thought: “I tell all my homo sapien friends that same thing I tell my hetero sapien friends: Don’t DO IT!”

    Amen for people like you, Milton. Keep writing.

  21. Hello Milton,

    I liked what you said about the “wideness in God’s mercy”. I don’t think many people truly understand the graciousness of God – the “wideness” in his grace, if you will. Jesus always demonstrated his love for the “outcasts” of his time, those considered unlovable. Regrettably, many “Christians” have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus (“a theology of love, acceptance, inclusion”). I don’t think Jesus would condemn homosexuals – I think he would love them and would want us to do likewise.
    Take care,

  22. I didn’t read these comments until they had accumulated for a while. I’m not quite sure how to come down on this issue, except to hold fast to Jesus’ statement that we should love one another, and to remember who and how he interacted with other humans while he was on earth. I know that I have been and will be tempted to do things that are outside of God’s plan for me. Whether small and hidden or huge and in plain sight, sin against God is sin – and grace is grace. Adultery is wrong – the bible is clear on that – but many people commit adultery with little shame. Premarital sex is not affirmed in the bible – yet our culture condones and encourages sexual exploration outside the bonds of marriage, with little shame. Lying is wrong. Hatred is wrong. It happens.

    I believe that each of us carries a propensity for sin, for actions that do not allow us to be our best selves in God’s eyes. I hurt for my brothers and sisters who have battled romantic and sexual desires for others of the same sex, to the degree that it has caused them pain. I encourage them to seek happiness and contentment as best they can, and to continue to seek God’s will. I have no problem acknowledging the committments made by many gay couples to remain steadfast and loyal life partners.

    However, I struggle with how to bring this issue into the full and complete blessing of the church. I confess that I’ve not had the benefit of deep and honest relationships with gay couples; I cannot speak as a witness of the heartbreak of not being complete in Christ in loving, homosexual relationships.

    What I can say for sure is this: as we work through this issue, what matters is PEOPLE; not politics, not tradition, and certainly not condemnation and hatred. We are discussing people, who have struggles and victories just like the rest of us. The hateful, condemning words of annonymous are representative of exactly why many people refuse to take Jesus seriously. Jesus did NOT curse and condemn; his harshest words were for the ‘religious’ people in his midst. The sinners, the broken, the disenfranchised – these he LOVED. Any change that came about in their lives came because of LOVE.

    This is long enough to be its own post…sorry, but those are my 2 or 3 cents. Milton, thanks for having the courage to address this and to encourage the ensuing dialogue.

  23. To Milton: From Big Daddy,
    I knew my ears were burning today for a reason. Yes Milton you are right this is YOUR blog and if you want to delete what I say so be it.
    But let me tell you something about what I see in you. Only a coward and someone that would think that they know all the answers about christianity would say such as you have in your responce to me. But let’s cut through to the real deal of why you said what you did to me.
    When I commented to your wife yesterday thats what your reasoning for this really is. Just be MAN enough to admit it. Also all people are not the same and dont express in the same tone as you. I know you dont want to hear this but I truly believe that God will use his power to stop people like you from denying his words in the bible.To say that because God is against Homosexuality, you and the gay population think that you can say the Bible is totally false. God could not be that way. Well I just dont believe that a God that can create the world, make people well, at a blink of an eye can change the world, could just let the Bible be published in a wrong way. Why would God allow this to happen to a book that he wants all people to abide by. I do believe you have to be compassionate sometimes, but straightforward and hard at other times. Ever heard of tough love?? I do believe God is very merciful but I also think God can be very hard at times when people just keep on making excuses about the Bible to benefit their cause. o well just my opinion. And by the way I meant no threat to you or anyone else. Just making a point that God will not allow people to keep on making excuses about the Bible’s teachings. Good luck with YOUR blog.

  24. Milton,

    Even though Big Daddy sounds harsh at times, I have to agree with some of what he’s saying. The only way you can love another is through following Jesus and his teachings even if it’s tough. I agree you should be loving and compassionate toward your homosexual friends, however I don’t think God wants you to adjust your interpretation of the scriptures to condone what they are doing. If someone is sexually attracted to the same sex, I think they should be trying to avoid that since I don’t think it’s natural or in God’s plan. When you condone homosexuality, I don’t think it’s the same thing as “love” and refusing to condone it is not the same thing as “hatred”. I think God wants us to love while obeying his word and helping others to do so at whatever cost. A true disciple of Christ cannot continue to engage in sexual immorality and I believe homosexual relations are just that. Let’s say you’re right and that homosexuality is an “orientation” and not a choice. The choice though is to walk away no matter what the cost to follow God. I love all people but that doesn’t mean I have to accept their sin. I’m disappointed that so many ministers like yourself seem to have taken the stand you have on this. Sinners look to you to teach them the way and I’m afraid you are only leading them astray from the Spirit by saying it’s not a sin. I’m not berating you for your beliefs, but I’m troubled by the ways of this world…May we all seek and find the truth.

    God Bless us all.

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