Chapter 1: Studying Homosexuality for the First Time
In the first chapter, Rogers basically sets the stage for the discussion. He shares his own history and upbringing, and shares what eventually brought him into the conversation concerning homosexuality and the church. While he was a member at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, the pastor was asked to put together a study group to discuss the possibility of the church becoming a More Light Church – a church that would ordain LGBT folk into all offices of the church, despite the denomination prohibiting it. Rogers ended up on that study group, even though he didn’t really want to serve in that role. Through the study that took place in that group, and in the years following, he eventually came to hold a completely different position than he previously had. Rogers writes:
“I have had a change of mind and heart. I had never really studied the issue of the status in the church of people who are homosexual. I opposed homosexuality reflexively – it was just what I thought Christians were supposed to do…I wasn’t swayed by the culture or pressured by academic colleagues. I changed my mind initially by going back to the Bible and taking seriously its central message for our lives” (15).
Rogers shared some about his role in teaching at Fuller Seminary and then shared some of the history of the way in which the church has been debating the issue of homosexuality for some time now. For the PC(USA), this has generally come by way of Task Forces. Whether a task force on how to interpret the Bible, or on studying homosexuality, or pluralism, this is an issue that the church has been publicly wrestling with for awhile. However, Rogers is quick to point out that this is not just a Presbyterian or mainline issue – it’s an issue for all of us – an one that will shape who we become. Rogers writes, “Extending equal rights to people who are homosexual is a critical issue for our time. How we deal with it will determine, to a large degree, the kind of people, church, and nation we will become” (15).
As mentioned above, Rogers wants to remain clear that this was not something that he changed his mind on instantaneously. It was a process – one that required rigorous study of the Bible, but one that was equally relational as he got to know gay and lesbian men and women who were seeking to live out the Christian life with integrity. Describing his process of “conversion” on this issue, he writes:
“I saw a clear picture of a shift from a literalistic method of biblical interpretation to one that looks at Scripture through the lens of the redeeming life and ministry of Jesus Christ…I have wrestled with the biblical texts usually cited in this discussion and come to a new understanding of them. I came to know many gay and lesbian people and have had my Christian life enriched by their profound witness to the gospel. I now know many people across all theological and ideological lines who are convinced that the Spirit of Christ is leading us, based on our best understanding of the Bible, to be consistent in allowing all of our baptized members eligibility for positions of leadership” (16).
I appreciate Rogers’s honesty in this chapter about his own previous thinking on this issue, and about what led him into new understanding. I am hopeful that if more and more people take time to really look into the whole message of scripture (and not select prooftexts), spend time getting to know LGBT folk in our communities, and really allow themselves to be open to where the Spirit is leading us, that more people will find themselves moving toward a position of acceptance and openness. That is my hope. I’m not naive enough to believe that it will happen overnight – or even fully in my lifetime. But I do hope the church will be moving in that direction…
This post is part of an ongoing review of Jack Rogers’s book “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality.” For more information about the series, you can read the first post here. Individual Chapter Reviews: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6 and Chapter 7. I also share some Final Thoughts about the book here.