Being in Kenya and then Amsterdam visiting with family, I have not commented on Adam Hamilton’s article in the Washington Post on February 13. Rev. Brent White and I are United Methodist clergy colleagues and share in the ministry of teaching Kenya United Methodist pastors. We have different points of view on this topic and we also share some points of view on this topic. His blog, http://revbrentwhite.com, where he writes frequently addressed this article by Adam Hamilton (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/on-homosexuality-many-christians-get-the-bible-wrong/2013/02/13/2443d062-761f-11e2-aa12-e6cf1d31106b_blog.html), and Brent also mentioned Rachel Held’s blog, http://rachelheldevans.com, where she addressed the article. I’m ready to add my thoughts to this topic. Not for the purpose of persuading anyone to change their mind for I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is already doing this work–and it’s work that I have seen occur in Adam Hamilton. Let me explain.
I am one of those second, possibly third career, United Methodist clergy. I’ve been in ministry all my life, and I did not accept the call into ordained ministry until I was 42. That’s when I entered Emory University Candler School of Theology. When I became a provisional full-elder in the North Georgia Conference in 2003, the first large group meeting for all provisionals in August 2003 included Adam Hamilton as the featured speaker. He was just beginning to produce and publish his sermon series into small group studies, and Confronting the Controversies was his first study produced with a leader’s guide, participant book, and DVD. I disagreed with his point of view on homosexuality in that series, and I fully believed then that he would one day change his position based on what he did say in that series.
I have continued to read and hear Adam Hamilton in person–twice now at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta in 2009 and again in 2012. In 2009 he addressed his small group study When Christians Get It Wrong, and the topic of homosexuality appeared in that study, too. I heard the beginnings of change in his thinking. I was hopeful. In 2012 after General Conference, I felt certain he had changed his point of view although the letter he and Mike Slaughter presented to General Conference did not state their opinions on the topic.
This Washington Post article makes it clear that change has occurred, and I am grateful. Here are my thoughts on what Brent White, Tim Tennent and Maxie Dunham all seem to be agreement about:
- Paul’s letter to Philemon appealing to him to set his slave Onesimus free as the correct and proper response for a Christian–there is neither slave nor master, Paul wrote, when Christ/the Holy Spirit abides in us–certainly sets the precedent for Christians to follow. However, that did not settle the issue, did it? Slavery has become illegal and unacceptable in most societies today. Without the consistent efforts of people deploring this practice, and in this country without a war to make it the law of the land, slavery could still be legal. We replaced it with Jim Crow laws and a system of segregation. Scripture was consistently used to support slave ownership and Jim Crow laws and a system of segregation. We do look back on these days now, and the majority of people shake their heads in wonder that we, as a nation, supported this way of life. Paul’s letter to Philemon did not resolve the issue although I have always found myself in full agreement with his argument. Too many people did not agree with his argument–people who considered themselves to be Christian.
- On the issue of discrimination against women in the U.S. there is so much that was based on scripture that supported treating women as “less than men” and not “capable of being anything but emotional” along with legally, just as slaves, being property of men. Here again we find Paul’s writings that most people who are educated in the source language of the New Testament now put into a cultural context and understand that Paul was speaking to his context and culture. There are still many people who consider themselves Christian who still believe that women are less than men, and that women should have no leadership role in the church, in business or in society in this country today. We can easily look to scripture to explain that their rationale is incorrect, and yet it doesn’t stop the continued discrimination in churches and in society.
Yes, the issue of homosexuality can be easily divided and addressed by laws in this country and by the church–separately. It has taken the law to make slavery and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, and race illegal in this country. And sexual orientation/homosexuality is another issue that is now being addressed by our government and by churches.
I think the church should always be on the side of inclusiveness and always demonstrating the grace, forgiveness, love, and mercy of Christ. This issue falls very firmly in the same camp as the ways scripture and the laws of the land have been used to exclude “others”.
Adam Hamilton’s thoughts reflect my thoughts that I began holding more than fifteen years ago. My childhood faith tradition of Southern Baptist theology and scripture interpretation is something I considered rubbish when I reached my late teens. Having become a divorced woman and then marrying again, my first faith tradition had no room for me in its walls. Many churches still have no room for me within their walls as a member much less as clergy, and they will use scripture to justify their reasoning.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. asked, “If not now, when?” He could have waited until more people were in agreement–more Christian leaders and more elected government officials–or he could follow Christ and do what he knew needed to be done to stop the use of scripture and unjust laws being used to discriminate.
Yes, I see the issue of homosexuality in the same light. And like the issues of slavery and women’s equality, the future will see this issue ultimately resolved in the same ways that we had to work to make slavery illegal, Jim Crow and segregation illegal, and as we continue to work to make discrimination against women illegal and unacceptable in faith communities and in society. We still have work to do on all three of these issues, and the question still remains, “if not now, then when?”