Monday, June 1, 2009

Hamilton on Homosexuality

Following is an excerpt from an interview with Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Kansas City-area mega-church, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. The interview is from the Wesley Report blog, and can be found in its entirety here. Hamilton offers an interesting take. Feel free to share your own.

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 [United Methodist] position on homosexuality [that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching] 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.


Anonymous said...

Hamilton's "third way" resonates with me...I, too, have much praying and reflecting to do on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I would prefer to see "God on Homosexuality", rather than Hamilton; I do believe that God loves homosexuals, as he does alcoholic indulging in drunkness, but I believe He would not soften His hate for either sin.
And yes, I do realize I am presupposing that the scripture is clear on both subjects (which I do believe).
I think a church can take a hard stance on a particular sin, such as (insert sin of choice here), and still meet the sinner where they are at.
If find it interesting that no scripture was mentioned in the snippet I read. So I have an honest question. What does Hamilton believe the Bible teaches? I don't ask this with any ill intention. I ask because, there are more liars than homosexuals and probably more addicts, adulterers, theifs, etc. than homosexuals, in most congregations. So would he create a third view for those sins? If so, I would say that at least he is consistent. Again, this is assuming that our hermanutic leads us to believe the scriptures are clear on all these areas.
Also, if we look at the way that Paul dealt with the church in Corinth (much more sexual than our own society), he did not presume that the church should adapt to society.
To close this comment (and question), I want to note that I have people that I know and deeply care about that are homosexual. So I am not some homo-phobe. I write all of this with the greatest of love, respect and care. And I do believe that God loves everyone. period.
You asked for my there it is, with an embedded question (and plenty more questions depending on the answer).

robert c. pelfrey said...

Regarding Anonymous #2's question, which I understand to be, "What does Adam Hamilton believe the Bible teaches?" I don't know. I would refer you to his books "Confronting the Controversies" and "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White." Also, you could check out the church website and maybe even e-mail the guy.

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert....Paul W (Bako) here....I should have posted my name (it was not an intentional oversight). I was Anonymous #2.

Yes, you understand the question correctly.

I asked the question because you posted a blog on the subject. I figured if one were to post a interview on the subject from the guy, you might know his views.

I don't have the interest in pursuing things as far as writing him or reading a book by him. I figured you (or someone else) may be able to summarize his view for me. I am genuinly curious, but not that curious. I figured it was the subject of the blog, so it was an appropriate question(s) to ask and get a summarized view.


robert c. pelfrey said...

Great to hear from you, Paul. I guess I'm not completely clear on your question. If you're asking if Hamilton believes Scripture to be authoritative and the inspired word of God, I believe he very much does.

Regarding the Bible and homosexuality, I think Hamilton believes the issue to be a complicated tension between God's ideal ("normative heterosexuality" he says) and the scriptural mandate for love, mercy, and grace. These are things Hamilton addresses in this snippet, so I don't think I'm reaching here.

Basically, he doesn't reduce the Bible to a list of do's and don'ts, but a complex story of a complex God and his complex creatures. Hope that helps.

Unknown said...

I know a gay Episcopal priest who once described Christian homosexuality as a "reality in search of a theology." After reading Hamilton, I believe the search continues. Hamilton's theological position may feel warm and fluffy to some, but it has no theological heft. Or, at least I would say I find it unconvincing.

Hamilton both over-values human goodness and under-values God's grace. He under-values the Scriptures while over-valuing his culture. He confuses mystery with inscrutability and therefore allows himself to eject any portion of God's Word that creates a pastoral difficulty.

Hamilton is not creating a third way, he is sugar coating false doctrine and corrupt pastoral practice, and I hope that you Methodists will recognize that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert...Paul again...yes it does help. Was just kind of looking for that summarized view. Thank you for that.
You restated my question the first time so it does seem that you understood it correctly...and you answered it well. Certainly wasn't asking you to represent they guy to the death. Just curious about his overall views.
It seems that this is not an appropriate area to push the subject further, so I will 'back off' here.
Hope all is well with you and your church brother!

Anonymous said...

Paul again...I had not Mr. McKenzie's comment yet, so I am pleased to read that view and someone who took more time to read the interview than I did.
I have a great appreciation for your view! I appreciate that you can write such an unpopular comment too. =)
I find the gay priest's comment very interesting and insightful.
I also wanted to point out one other thing: I do not believe that God is complex. By nature, God is simple. Now, I do believe His creatures are complex and sinful; but, I do not believe that the complexity of God is a view held often. But just to be fair Robert, I don't think you were making a statement meant to be intepreted as a description of the nature of God; and I also realize that you were doing your best to quickly summarize Hamilton's view for me (which I appreciate).
Ok, so I need to remember my password so I can stop posting as an anonymous =/

robert c. pelfrey said...

Thomas, I think you're making some extreme generalizations with your "over-/under-value" statements. I think Hamilton is grappling with an extremely complex Scriptural and pastoral issue, trying to form a pastoral theology from the general tenor of Scripture. That said, despite the fact that he's still searching, I think his position is becoming pretty clear.

Also, we Methodists are grappling with this, even voting next week on propositions that seek to seperate the U.S. Conferences from other global UM Conferences. Obviously this is an attempt to go the Anglican way of fracturing us away from the more orthodox (and growing) Conferences of Africa, Asia, etc. This is in addition to the votes on changing the language of our Book of Discipline to be more "inclusive." Please pray for us.

The presence of Hamilton's thoughts on my blog do not mean that I share them. He is the keynote speaker at our Annual Conference next week and I thought it helpful for my readers (many of them UMs) to see the way Hamilton is considering the issue. He's a reasonable man and a very gifted church leader, and I think he deals with the issue thoughtfully, albeit sentimentally, regardless of his conclusions. Judging by my StatCounter and messages on facebook, this post has served its purpose.

still searching said...

I thought this was an excellent discussion of a difficult and divisive subject. I have a 20 something nephew who is a homosexual and I know what he and his parents have gone through the years. I'm also acquainted with a number of other people who are homosexual, and some of them are committed Christians. It would be easy to condemn them, but they are people and children of God. Life would be easier if it was black and white (as many people believe), but I can't ignore the gray.

David Hyman said...

According to Romans 1, the indictment against humanity is not about homosexuality. It is that we don't honor and worship God. I wish the hot topic of denominations was pressing into what the Spirit is saying through Paul there rather than finding ways to be culturally relevant. The world around us can do all that the Church does: youth groups, local missions, support groups. What it can't offer an alternative to is corporate worship of the Triune God.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Thanks for sharing, folks.

Still Searching--It does make the black and white seem more gray when things like this are closer to home. You can't go wrong with loving people, no matter who they are or how the culture lables them.

David--Good insights as always, my brother. You can't go wrong with loving God, and loving those he loves.

I guess, in the end, that's mainly what's up to us: loving God and loving others. We strive for holiness in all things, and loving is perhaps the most holy thing we can do. Now what that "loving" looks like is where the challenge lies.

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