There has been much in the way of response to Michael Stack’s letter to the editor in Expressions, the SLO High School newspaper. In that the issues raised by Stack’s letter and the response of our community are ones with deep roots in the minds and hearts of many, I am compelled to write this response as a pastor within our community.
In his letter, Stack quotes a passage from the first chapter of Romans stating that homosexual persons “deserve to die.” (Romans 1:31) The quotation of that passage and the balance of Stack’s letter constitute a very clear condemnation of the LGBTQ community and a level of intolerance, if not hate, of this minority community.
Stack’s stated opinion is certainly within the context of protected speech. It is also an opinion that is deeply held by some conservative Christians and is unfortunately often portrayed in the media as “the opinion of the Christian Church.” This is simply not true.
While there is a long, dark history within Christianity of exclusion and persecution of LGBTQ persons, there is a growing body of believers in Jesus Christ who welcome all people, including members of the LGBTQ community.
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Virtually every heresy, every hateful belief and every compulsion to violence can be supported with scripture, most often taken out of context. As a Christian pastor serving in the United Methodist Church, I believe the totality of scripture, the traditions of the church, our ability to reason and our experience should all inform the decisions and assumptions we make. To do less than this results in using specific scriptures as spiritual bricks to hurl against those with whom we disagree. All scripture is interpreted. There is no such thing as inerrant scripture. Even a cursory reading of the Judeo/Christian scriptures reveals this to be self-evident.
Furthermore, all scripture was written within a particular social context, and often when our social context changes, our interpretation of particular scriptures needs to change as well.
In part of the Christian Church’s dark history, it either supported slavery or ignored it. Part of the scriptural basis for this position is from Ephesians 6:5 — “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” Today, however, the immorality of slavery may be one thing on which the Christian Church almost universally agrees, even though the practice of slavery can be supported by scripture.
Even most conservative Christians do not forbid women from coming to church without their heads covered (I Corinthians 11:5). Nor do they stone their rebellious children as the Bible commands (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). There are indeed many scriptures that even Christians who take the Bible literally simply do not live by or try to enforce. But, for some reason these same Christians get oddly focused on issues related to sexual orientation, a subject Jesus himself does not mention even once.
For me, and for the United Methodist congregation which I serve, we believe in unconditional love, in grace, in drawing the circle wider, in acceptance of all people and that there truly is nothing that can possibly keep us from the love of God. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:38-39.
I share this message with the LGBTQ community, the students and staff at San Luis Obispo High School, and the people of the greater San Luis Obispo community, you are sacred and you are loved. Your lives are of sacred worth. In contrast to some of the other messages that have been shared in our community, I offer the following welcoming statement by which our church lives and journeys together in faith. “With great joy we welcome individuals and families of all ages, races, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities to worship together and participate in the ministries of our church.”
Whoever you are, wherever you are in your faith journey, and whatever questions you wrestle with in life, you are welcome to be a part of our Christian community as we seek to follow Christ and live out his teachings in our world. And, we are not alone as a Christian community of faith that accepts everyone.
Rick Uhls is pastor of San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church. Reach him at email@example.com.