Forum: Cumberland Presbyterians and Gay ChristiansReport shared by Rev. Carolyn Smith Goings, PhD, Joint Committee on Theology and Social Concerns, New Hopewell (CPCA) and West TN (CPC) Presbyteries

Cumberland Presbyterians gathered on 6 November 2016 and on 22 January 2017 for a two-part forum, “Cumberland Presbyterians and Gay Christians,” held at Bethel University and Memphis Theological Seminary, respectively. The purpose of the forum, hosted by the Joint Committee on Theology and Social Concerns of the West Tennessee Presbytery (CPC) and the New Hopewell Presbytery (CPCA), was to provide two opportunities for listening, learning, and sharing.

Rev. Byron Forester welcomed attendees, a variety of interested Cumberland Presbyterians (CPC and CPCA) mostly from the two presbyteries, with one or two from the university and seminary. Rev. Lisa Anderson welcomed the forum speaker, Rev. Dr. Roy Hall, author of God So Loved: A Pastoral Reading of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith recently published by the CPC/CPCA Historical Foundation. She introduced Dr. Hall as a theologian and thinker who cherishes “honest and difficult” conversations that “challenge us to really listen and hear each other.”

Hall then presented a comparison of critical scholarship on homosexuality and the Church, condensing into the forum’s limited timeframe the two main approaches typically employed in mainline denominations when debating the question of homosexuality and the Church. 

Dr. Hall noted that those who consider it a closed question (the traditional view) do so for three reasons. First, marriage of a man and a woman has been tradition in the Church and culture for more than 2000 years. Second, Jesus endorsed male-female marriage. Third, a group of biblical texts are seen as thoroughly negative about same-sex activity.

Dr. Hall cited Richard B. Hayes’ defense of the traditional view in The Moral Vision of the New Testament in which Hayes describes the Gospel as entirely disapproving of homosexuality. Hall also referenced Thomas Schmidt, a traditionalist who argues that biblical texts against same-sex intimacy have normative force because they are rooted in the creation story, unlike texts related to exclusions no longer observed, such as dietary restrictions. Contributions of a few other traditionalist scholars were also cited.

Next, Dr. Hall explored what he termed the contemporary view held by those who think of homosexuality and the Church as an open (or unsettled) question and who believe scriptures assumed to be condemning homosexuality should be considered in their specific contexts, allowing more accurate applications of those teachings in modern times.

Hall cited author Dr. Ted Grimsrud as an example of those scholars who feel that Paul’s primary concern in the first three chapters of Romans is that Christ’s followers not become judgmental. Grimsrud believes Paul is not teaching about sexual sin in Romans as much as about sins of hypocrisy, religiosity, and idolatry. He suggests that sexual practices Paul critiques negatively are promiscuity, prostitution, and any activity associated with obsessive lust, coercion, or exploitation, all of which would be wrong for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Scholars such as Grimsrud argue that Paul does not condemn covenanted, mutual, loving homosexual partnerships, Hall explained. Attendees wanting to learn more about Grimsrud’s views were referred to Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality among other works.

Dr. Hall also cited Dr. Daniel Helminiak. Helminiak is persuaded the bible does not address the type of same-sex relationships under scrutiny in today’s context in which homosexuals are understood to be God-created persons. Rather, same-sex acts described in biblical texts refer to heterosexuals engaging in acts opposed to their God-created natures. Other similar scholarship was discussed.

Christian marriage, Dr. Hall observed, may be considered “a covenant of two people with God and others—including the church—to love one another for a lifetime the way Christ loves everyone.” He called it an “evangelical sign” of agape to the world and asked rhetorically, “Can two people of the same sex express agape in their attraction to one another?”

Following Dr. Hall’s remarks, attendees engaged in robust but courteous discussions moderated by Rev. Anderson. Participants sensitively shared a variety of opinions and experiences from across a wide spectrum, proving the forum gatherings to be the opportunities for “honest and difficult” conversation that “challenges us to really listen and hear each other,” as Dr. Hall and the Joint Committee had hoped.

Though no attendee spoke openly of having a change of heart attributable to the forum, participants listened, learned, and conversed in atmospheres of love for each other and the Church. Dr. Hall observed that persons examining these questions hold an equally high regard for scripture and a desire to live according to God’s will, regardless of their views on the topic. 

Resources for Further Reading:

  • Gagnon, R. A. J. (2002). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics
  • Gagnon, R. A. J. (2003). Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views
  • Grenz, S. J. (1998). Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality
  • Grimsrud, T. (2008). Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality
  • Grimsrud, T.( 2016).  Mennonites and Homosexuality: The Struggle to Become a Welcoming Church
  • Hall, R. (2016). God So Loved: A Pastoral Reading of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith
  • Hays, R. B. (1996). The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics
  • Helminiak, D. A. (1994). What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
  • Myers, D. (2005). What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage
  • Nissinen, M. (1998). Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective
  • Rogers, J. (2006). Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church
  • Schmidt, T.E. (1995). Straight and Narrow? Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate

Report originally published in the April 2017 issue of The Cumberland Presbyterian magazine.

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