Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Adam Hamilton on Homosexuality & the Church

I have a few "favorite pastors" whom I greatly value...individuals that I am very thankful are great leaders in the evangelical church and leaders to whom I think we need to look for vision for the future of the Church, particularly in the United States.  These include "popular" names like Greg Boyd and Tim Keel, but also some Nazarenes like Jon Middendorf and Scott Daniels.  Perhaps the most recognized individual I really appreciate is Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.  Meghan and I would go there on Saturday evenings quite often to worship while we were in Kansas City.  I'm not big on big churches...but I could be a part of CoR if I weren't in ministry (though living in KC would be difficult!).

Anyway, below is Adam's response to a question about homosexuality & the Church.  He elucidates my feelings very well.  You can hear the overtones and opinions of the questioner in the way the question is asked..."reaches gays and lesbians".  I might have said "ministers to...".  Anyway, here it is:

SHANE: You recently preached a sermon on a controversial topic: homosexuality. Your position on this subject seems to have moved left over the years, but you show an unusual amount of respect for people on both sides of the issue and you even appear to be attempting to forge a "third way." What would be your advice to congregations that take far left or far right positions on this? Is it possible to take a traditional position on homosexuality and still be a congregation that effectively reaches gays and lesbians?

ADAM: I think it will be increasingly difficult to be a vocal proponent of the current UM position on homosexuality and effectively reach the next generation, or to effectively reach gays and lesbians. I think one might hold the current UM stance and not address the issue and reach them. One might, for the next five years (ten years in the south) articulate our current position with great compassion, and still reach young adults, homosexuals and their friends, family and co-workers. But the world is changing and I think the church will see this issue differently in the future. I'm convinced that all of the evangelical churches will wrestle with this issue in ten to fifteen years or they will have lost a generation and will themselves begin a steady period of decline. Sunday I asked our congregation to raise their hands if they have a close friend or someone they love who is gay. 90% of the congregation raised their hands. These folks already see greater complexity in this issue than the church does. They may still be a bit more conservative, but they will not tolerate churches that speak in ways that are cruel and insensitive about their friends. It's one thing to debate homosexuality as a hypothetical argument about someone you hardly know. It is another thing to consider a position regarding the life of someone you love.

My own journey and position on this involves several things: First, I continue to acknowledge that the scripture teaches that heterosexuality is normative and, to use Leslie Weatherhead's language from his book, The Will of God, God's "intentional will." The second is to recognize that there is a small portion of the population that seems to be shaped differently from that intention, either at birth or by early childhood, and usually not by a choice that was their own. For these heterosexuality will be very difficult to live into, even with the kind of "reparative therapy" offered by some. Next, after thirty years of daily Bible reading I have come to recognize that the Bible is a more complex document than most people would like to admit. It is both a book written by human beings who were shaped by their cultural and theological presuppositions, and the limitations of their knowledge, and it is a book through which God has spoken and continues to speak. This recognition gives us the ability to wrestle with the texts on homosexuality and to at least ask questions of them (did God really intend that homosexuals be stoned to death? Does God really see the gay children who we baptized, gave third grade Bibles to, confirmed and raised up as an "abomination"?) Fourth, we have a clear mandate, throughout scripture, concerning demonstrating love. We are to "do justice and to love mercy." Finally, what has most affected me and my views of this issue over the years has been my love of the children in our congregation. Having been in this church nearly 19 years, more than a dozen of the children I've baptized and watched grow up in the church later "came out" - I love these children (now young adults) and as I listen to their stories, and the way they've been treated by other Christians, I find myself being very protective of them. Likewise, in a congregation of 16,000 people, if we're reaching a representative sample of the community, 5% of these - roughly 800 people - are gay or lesbian. And I feel a great compassion and care for those in my flock that I know who are gay. So, both in my theological reflection about the nature of God, the nature of scripture and the nature of love, and in my personal experience with children and youth I care about in my flock, I find my views moderating on this issue.

I've tried to navigate a third way that says that we at Church of the Resurrection will agree to disagree about this issue - we've got folks on both sides. But we will continue to try to learn, grow and understand more clearly both the issue of homosexuality and how God looks at his children who are gay. And we will be a place where no one's children are turned away, or wounded by our church. I have tried to model how we might affirm the normative status of heterosexuality while seeing homosexuality with fresh and more sensitive and understanding eyes than we have in the past.

I still have a lot of unresolved questions about homosexuality, but what I've said captures the struggle, and the journey, I've been on.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Jeremy. I have struggled over the last several years to vocalize my thoughts on homosexuality and the church. Adam Hamilton does it very well.

  2. Jeremy,

    Thanks. This is a good read, and I appreciate his articulate thoughts. I know this wasn't the "point" of the posting, but the following quote resonated with me.

    "Next, after thirty years of daily Bible reading I have come to recognize that the Bible is a more complex document than most people would like to admit. It is both a book written by human beings who were shaped by their cultural and theological presuppositions, and the limitations of their knowledge, and it is a book through which God has spoken and continues to speak."

    As I contemplate Divinity school, I am driven by a passion to understand these cultural and theological presuppositions and to discover how our own culture and presuppositions affect how we view God, Jesus, the Bible, each other, and finally, how we ultimately express our faith in the community in which we live. Does this make sense? I've had difficulty articulating this in the past. I feel a blog coming on!


  3. Jeremy - I came to visit after reading your comments at Sanctifying Worship, and appreciating them. This post suggests they were not atypical.

    I am a fifty-something Nazarene pastor now, but I started adult life as a musician and university music teacher. Many beloved friends were/are gay or lesbian. They were, in many ways, the most ethically mature people in my community. They acted like Jesus to the evangelicals who rejected them. It changes you when you see dear ones in your mind's eye during these discussions.

    There is much about this I don't understand, but I do see that all six of the Bible's comments on homosexuality have unsettling hermeneutic problems. It is not as clear as it's been made out to be.

    And I have a hard time finding exclusion in the example of Jesus, except toward the ultra-conservatives of his day; never does he show it toward those disrespected by the religious.

    Questionable passages, example of Jesus - I think I'll just love GLBT people like I'd want to be loved, best as I can.

  4. I have just finished Adam's great book about Christians getting it wrong and found the section on homosexuality both informative and somewhat uncomfortable.

    He takes a political approach to the subject; says what he needs to say so as not to hurt anyone's feelings.

    I have seen both sides. I was an out and proud homosexual for 10 yrs. I was led to believe it was the way I was born and there was nothing I could do about is so why bother trying. I believe that is not God's will.

    God's will is for us to recognize the choices that lead to a sinful life and to turn away from them (repentance) and turn to Christ.

    I appreciate Adam's belief on love first, rules second. Christ cannot help sanctify you if you do not come to Him. I am reaffirming that approach in my life (please pray for me that I don't fall back into old habits).

    What I cannot accept is his assertion that the bible is outdated and God's new plan, through Jesus Christ is to dismiss His laws (it may not be exactly what he implied, but it is what I got from it).

    I agree with him that the topic of homosexuality will fragment churches. It is a result of a Church that has put the rules ahead of love and the Church has left us unprepared to deal with it effectively and not a result of getting the topic of homosexuality as a sin wrong. We may think we are so much smarter that Paul was, but we aren't. We have surrounded ourselves with a lot more toys but we are still the same broken, sad, and lost people we have always been.

    That's why the Bible will apply to us today just as effectively as it did before.

    Thank you Adam for a discussion that has changed me. God bless

    Michael from Calgary

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