Several members of the Gay in the Lord Church, Lynchburg Virginia, recently left the congregation after the pastor, Frank Lee Wright, performed a union for a heterosexual couple. The official church doctrine remains rather ambiguous in regards to heterosexuality. (Article IX, subpoint 3, section F, sub section point 34.5 of the church constitution states: “We affirm God’s will for humans to express their God-given sexuality in the context of committed partnerships of mutuality.”) Many church members, however, maintain strong views on the subject, and clear factions are forming. One long-time church member claims that the Gay in the Lord congregation hasn’t been this divided since 1978 when they had to pick new carpet for the sanctuary.
‘Hate the sin and kick out the sinners.’
One faction adamantly opposes Rev. Wright’s actions. Many in this group have already left the church. Others feel called to remain as prophetic voices-and for the potluck suppers. Former church member Ima St. Seime said, “I simply can no longer be part of a church where the Word and will of the Almighty Lord my God is being blatantly ignored.”
St. Seime, and others who have left over this issue, insist that theirs is not a position of hate, but one of love for the righteous plan of God. In a time of increasing acceptance of heterosexuality nationwide, many anti-heterosexuals feel that those within the church who condone the heterosexual lifestyle are merely succumbing to the secular values of our age.
“This ludicrous position [pro-heterosexuality] cannot be founded on anything but specious secular relativism,” claims R.U. Wright, cousin of Rev. Wright and president of Christians for Righteous and Appropriate Partnerships.
Members of CRAP cite numerous biblical passages to support their position. “Eve’s desire for her husband was a curse-a curse from which we must break free!” says R. U. Betty Thanue, vice president of CRAP, explains that the purity codes found in the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly prohibit mixing different types of things. “If we can’t mix wool and linen,” Thanue argues, “how can we justify mixing men and women?” Leviticus 15:18 specifically states: “When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen . . . they will be unclean.” In Judges 21:11 the Israelites are ordered to “destroy every woman who has lain with a man.” Even Paul says that, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (I Corinthians 7:1).
In addition to clear biblical teachings against heterosexuality, Thanue says, there are also obvious ethical and social reasons to reject the heterosexual lifestyle. The message of Jesus Christ is ultimately a gospel of revolutionary equality, claim CRAP members. Such equality is fundamentally impossible for a heterosexual couple to achieve in our hopelessly patriarchal society. Thanue explains that “Jesus’ relationships were primarily homo-social, and we should follow his example if we hope to move toward the Kingdom of God that Christ came to proclaim.”
“Besides,” says St. Seime, “just look at the mess our society is in now! This is a society based on unorthodox heterosexual models of family-and it is screwed up!” Richards cites heterosexuality as a key factor in such societal problems as domestic abuse, rape, drugs, gangs, war and Brittney Spears.
‘As long as your daughter doesn’t hit on my son.’
A more moderate constituency in the church feels that heterosexuality is not the best lifestyle for someone to choose, but these members are unwilling to deny membership or condemn someone to hell based on sexual preference.
Many of the teens in the church fall into this group. Their viewpoint is summed up well by 15-year-old Don T. Kare: “Yeah. It just seems, kind of, you know, weird. I mean, really, kind of gross. But I mean, you know, if that’s their thing, I mean, I guess maybe a guy can’t help it if he falls for a chick. That’s his thing, you know. I just don’t want to see it or nothing.”
More eloquent members of this group explain that, while they do feel heterosexual sexual activity is a sin, they also believe that some people are born with an attraction to people of the opposite sex. “I can’t really imagine it,” says Lou Sur, “but I have a close friend who says she just can’t help being sexually attracted to men.” For people like this, some members believe lifetime celibacy is the only Christian option.
Others, however, recognize the difficulty of celibacy and concede that what people do in the privacy of their own homes really should not be an issue for the church. “I mean, as long as they aren’t sending their daughters in here to seduce my son or talking about their perverted sex acts in Sunday School or something, people have a right to their own lifestyle, you know” says Will N. T. Kare, Don’s father.
“Our God is a loving God,” says Sur. “God would want us to welcome everyone, even if we don’t necessarily agree with the choices they have made.”
‘I’m O.K. You’re O.K. Heterosexuals are O.K. too.’
While Sur’s view sums up the majority opinion in the church, there are those, Rev. Wright among them, who adamantly declare that heterosexuality is a valid lifestyle for committed Christians. Despite libelous remarks by critics that Rev. Wright is himself a closet heterosexual, he affirms his own homosexuality and has indeed been living with his male partner for more than 20 years.
“The issue for those opposed to heterosexuality,” says Rev. Wright, “is cultural, not Biblical.” Wright points out that scriptures most often used to condemn heterosexuality are taken out of context and, at times, rely on specious translations of the original texts.
Holly R. Zanthou, who mastered in divinity at the School of the Bible in Tulsa, Oklahoma, agrees. “Not only are their translations and interpretations suspect, but these people (anti-heterosexuals) are ignoring the larger issues present in the scriptures. Love, justice, compassion, wild parties-that’s what Jesus was about.” Indeed, many biblical scholars suggest that the ambiguity of Jesus’ own sexuality and his apparent lack of sexual interaction make a strong case for inclusion of all people-even heterosexuals-within the body of Christ.
For some, though, the issue goes far beyond biblical exegesis. Mrs. and Mrs. Love, long-time members of Gay in the Lord, used to believe heterosexuality was a sin. But when their 17-year-old daughter Moira told them she was straight, the two women had to reconsider their position. “I could tell Moira had struggled with this a lot,” said Mrs. Love. “It became clear that she had already been through a lot of pain regarding this issue, and we just decided we could not put her through any more. It has taken us a while to understand it, but we have prayed about it and we know God wants us to support our daughter.” “And,” adds Mrs. Love, “we know God loves Moira.”
It was the union of Moira and Paul Lease, performed last month by Rev. Wright at the Gay in the Lord Church, that sent some members packing. This is clearly a church divided. Tensions are running high, and no clear resolution of the issue is in sight. To top it off, the carpet from 1978 looks like it needs replacing.