Romans 1 Revisited

This week I continue looking at religion and LGBT issues, today focusing on a new look at scripture as it concerns homosexuality.

All the religions of the world are based on fundamental tenets that followers believe. These are embodied in texts such as the Bible or Quran, and are generally seen as permanent and absolute. Society isn’t static, however, and so neither is scripture — or at least our understanding of it. In addition, different people interpret scripture differently, which is probably why Christianity, for instance, has different denominations.

Before the Civil War, for instance, some people cited biblical scripture to justify southern slavery. One citation was Ephesians, VI, 5-7:

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”

Fast forward to 2020 and few people still believe now that slavery is Christian. That is not the interpretation you’ll often see today for this passage.

Homosexuality is different. There are six passages in the Bible that have historically been cited in condemning homosexuality, LGBT rights and Marriage Equality — and these are still cited today by many. Three of these are in the Old Testament and three are in the New Testament.

“A sentence of life with no chance to love”

In 2014 Danny Cortez was a pastor at New Heart Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in La Mirada, California. He had been there for 16 years. During those years he counseled parishioners as they struggled through hardships of all kinds. Most of the time he was able to impart light and hope, but not so with those experiencing same-sex attraction. While assuring them of God’s love, he explained the requirement of scripture that they live celibate lives. He could see dread descend upon these parishioners as he delivered what was effectively a life sentence of no chance to love:

“For the rest of your life you can never fall in love. For the rest of your life, you should never give yourself or anybody permission to love you in an intimate manner.”

This became deeply disturbing to Pastor Danny and eventually he embarked on a journey examining scripture and homosexuality. It took several years and culminated in a completely new perspective.

In 2014 he approached the church elders and then the congregation informing them that he no longer believed that God condemned homosexuality. In explaining this to the congregation, he detailed the errors we make reading 1st Century writings with a 21st Century eye. Biblical writers could never image the world as we know it today. They weren’t writing with modern society, knowledge, experiences and perspectives in mind. To truly understand scripture, we need to understand their world then. We need to understand what words and phrases meant in their time.

A New Look at Romans 1

When he announced his new views to the congregation, Pastor Danny chose Romans Chapter 1 to explain his transformation. He cited it as one of the primary discussions of homosexuality in the Bible. In this video he discusses in depth how the church has historically understood Romans 1 and what he thinks it actually says.

Pastor Danny’s Personal Journey

As one would expect, Pastor Danny’s congregation was rocked by the disclosure that he was breaking with a fundamental church teaching. New Heart ultimately adopted a position accepting homosexuals into fellowship and was consequently expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention. New Heart has now adopted a “Third Way” approach to ministry that looks critically at theology and practice. Pastor Danny is co-pastor at New Heart and also a board member of the Q Christian Fellowship.

Pastor Danny’s initial reason for examining homosexuality was the experiences he had counseling parishioners. These sessions left people feeling worse, and one of the women he counseled challenged him to really explore the issue. While doing his research and study, the question eventually struck close to home when Pastor Danny discovered that his own 16-year-old son, Drew, was gay. He described this in his presentation to the congregation.

Pastor Danny and Drew recorded their story at the StoryCorps project in August 2016.

Drew Everett’s Journey

It seems that Pastor Danny and his son were on parallel journeys that eventually merged when Drew came out to his father. Drew posted this video on YouTube on February 7, 2014, two days before his father addressed the New Heart congregation above.

Title image: Cathy Mü on Unsplash

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