Mars Hill Forum #120 at Brown University: “Religion and Queer Sexuality”

John C. Rankin

On November 15, 2006, in a forum at Brown University, the other four panelists and the moderator were supportive of homosexuality. I was the only one representing the biblical worldview. I loved the ratio, for truth is truth, and will always rise to the top.

The topic was “Religion and Queer Sexuality,” sponsored by The Queer Community Committee at Brown.

  1. The moderator was the Rev. Janet Cooper-Nelson, university chaplain. She was to my right at the end of the table. Her concern was not for us to focus on biblical or intellectual content, but on the how each of us would welcome “a stranger” who seeks us out as to “the likelihood of [our] tradition” sharing “their identity as a gay man/lesbian woman.”
  2. Sitting next to her was the very affable Swami Yogatmananda of the Vedanta Society in Providence, RI. He gave a classic Hindu presentation of dualism, where the goal is to be freed of the body and its desires. He stated that the core Hindu scriptures say nothing about homosexuality, but gave a permissive view toward homosexual identity and actions, saying: “Each soul is potentially divine regardless of sexual orientation.”
  3. Sitting next to him, and next to me, was a pleasant young woman, Emily Mathis, a Jewish “queer” rabbinical student. While alluding to the text of the Hebrew Scriptures, and while making mention of “limiting, exclusive texts” relative to “queer” people, she then moved on to say that modern Jewish midrash allows the addition of new stories which can be more inclusive of homosexual persons.
  4. I then spoke of my evangelical identity, having been raised an agnostic Unitarian until my conversion to Christ in 1967. I started with how my own church welcomes all persons who seek Jesus on his terms, regardless of their struggles with any range of temptations, including homosexuality. But the question is whether we come to Jesus on his terms in these struggles, or whether we come to a given church and seek to change its reliance on the Bible. Jesus fulfills the biblical order of creation that defines human sexuality uniquely for man and woman in marriage, and he fulfills the Law of Moses that says no to homosexual acts. I then outlined how I seek to treat all people according to the six pillars of biblical power — the power to give, the power to live in the light, the power of informed choice, the power to love hard questions, the power to love enemies and the power to forgive. I was happily surprised by the robustness of applause when I was done. The Rev. Cooper-Nelson then called these pillars “novel,” in a sense of not knowing how to respond to them. But they are at the core of biblical reality, able to answer her original question with truth and grace.
  5. To my left was a young man, Rusmir Music, a Bosnian “queer” Muslim. He started by calling my presentation “eloquent,” again a pleasant surprise. He was raised a secular Muslim, but says that in coming to terms with his homosexuality, he found comfort in Allah and the Qur’an, and looked to find whatever he could within the Islamic tradition that would welcome him. He said that the historic inhospitality of Islam toward homosexuals was a result of, or some sort of reaction to, Western Colonialism and its Victorian sexual morality.
  6. Finally, at the end of the table to my left was the Rev. Lynne Phipps with the United Church of Christ (UCC). Rev. Phipps started by calling herself a liberal Christian who was also “evangelical.” She said that not all evangelicals are “conservative” – an allusion to me (though I have never called myself such, as it is penultimate political language). She argued for the acceptance of homosexuality in God’s sight, against the polarity of calling things “good and bad,” that the seeking of the good has nothing to do with sexuality, and that “some of us are uncomfortable because we are not queer.”

There was only time for two questions from the audience. First, an Egyptian Muslim asked why the panel was so imbalanced – in that only one panelist (me) reflected his view on the subject. And second, a woman asked a question as to how some panelists, on the one hand, face “the danger in new interpretations leading us away from God,” and on the other hand, can lose truth if they think it is “settled.”

The Rev. Cooper-Nelson then concluded by asking each of us if we can look backward historically in our own tradition, and see where it needs change. The agenda was clear – change biblical truth, ultimately, for pagan sexual mores.

Afterward, I was able to speak in depth with two avowedly bi-sexual men. The goal as always is to let the light shine, and allow the proactive nature of the Good News to be clearly seen.

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