Monday, June 17, 2013

Open Letter Response to Harry Reeder about Homosexuality

After I posted my letter regarding my disappointment about my former boy scout troop being in talks about leaving the boy scouts, Harry Reeder, the pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, one of the largest Presbyterian Churches in America, and the church I grew up in, sent me a response.  I am posting his letter to me, and my response:



I have read your numerous blog posts, writings, and media quotes on what seems to be an important issue for you, (the sexuality of other people, including children) and now that you have written to me personally about the subject, I want to take the opportunity to explain why I think you’re wrong about this issue and why it’s harmful to the people who are influenced by you.

Your position on the Boy Scouts of America seems to be poorly informed. According to the actual statement from the Boy Scouts:, this decision is based on over 1,400 voting members from across the country, representing roughly 116,000 scout troops. They are not endorsing homosexuality or saying that it is good, or even calling it non-sinful. The statement says that “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting." They are not accepting or affirming anybody’s behavior. To put it another way, the BSA is no longer disallowing gay scouts. This is very different from promoting "sexual anarchy,” which is fear-based terminology that you use on your blog and in your letter to me.  Your writings promote your personal conspiracy theory about a small group of sinister, controlling extremists within the boy scouts, which is simply false.

In your opening paragraph to me you state that the only acceptable form of sexuality is within a "monogamous, heterosexual marital relationship".  However, how do you explain the sections of the Bible which obviously promote alternative relationships like polygamy, concubines and taking women as the spoils of war? Some specific verses / questions:

- Multiple wives (Gen 16:3, 29:28, 30:4,9 Ex 21:10, Judges 8:29-32, 2 Sam 12:7-8, 1 Chr 14:3)

- Concubines (Gen 25:6, 1 Kings 11:3, 2 Sam 5:13, 16:21-23)  

- Soldiers and their female prisoners of war. Are they to submit sexually to the men who capture them? (numbers 31:1-18, deut 21:11-14)

Even more interesting to me, in our own nation's recent history, what about slaves who couldn't marry until 1860? I suppose that the slave families who were forbidden to marry were living in sexual sin. We'll get to slavery in a minute. 

What about interracial marriage, which the bible has been used to argue against (Ezra 10:2, Gen 24:-3-4, 28:1, Lev 19:19, Deut 7:2-4, 22:9-11, Neh 13:23-30)? Interracial marriage was illegal (in your lifetime) in Alabama until 1967 when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned Pace v. Alabama. Prior to 1967, was it immoral for interracial heterosexual couples to have sex within the state of Alabama, or did they get an exception since they had no option to marry?  Is it moral now? Along these lines, if you have time, here is a fascinating 3 minute video from a Pastor in Springfield Missouri about segregation arguments used from the Bible.

1. You claim that the church does not mandate sexuality and that you simply teach what the Bible has to say about sex. But those teachings ultimately say that unless people conform to your specific version of normal sexuality, they are disobeying god and run the risk of burning in hell forever! This is really nothing more than a poor way of re-defining a mandate. It reminds me of God wanting his people to love him. How often have we heard that God wants his children to freely love him? And yet, the first commandment is to "love the Lord your God." Commandments ARE mandates. Giving someone the choice of your way or eternal suffering is clearly not giving them a choice. 

3. You write: "Genetically determined homosexual behavior is simply a myth", and "homosexual practice is not an issue of DNA but an issue of influence and choice". Your response about genetics and science and DNA is intellectually lazy. It's unhelpful to make a claim about scientific studies and then neglect to share which studies you are talking about.  Yes, as far as we can tell, homosexuality is not solely a product of genetics. I would quickly grant that, yes, research does seem to show that homosexuality is a combination of genetics, biology, and yes, social/environmental factors. However, that in no way means that it is simply a choice! There are innumerable hormonal, biologic, sociologic, and psychologic variables that lead to human attraction and sexual development.  And while humans and animals are different and I want to be careful to note that I am not making any direct comparisons, its interesting to point out that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but I guess that's because monkeys make a choice to be gay...

Beyond this idea of "choice" stands yet another issue: the idea that homosexuality is intrinsically deviant, depraved and unnatural, while heterosexuality is not. Homosexuality, according to you, is to be lumped in with bestiality, incest, rape, etc.  I realize that your personal interpretation of scripture is truth of the highest order, but results of years of study by the APA on the subject offer a very different perspective:

4. There's no need for us to argue over whether or not you are homophobic. If you say you do not have a fear of homosexuals then fine, I grant that you are not homophobic. But you are a bigot. The definition of bigot is “a person who is utterly intolerant of any different creed, belief, or opinion”. Harry, your personal beliefs cause you to oppress, hurt and discriminate against homosexuals. This isn't just schoolyard name calling. This is simple categorization and confrontation because your writing defines your bigotry. It is equivalent to classifying a segregationist as a racist.  I only confront you with that word because I want you to know how seriously I take your comments about our gay friends, family members, church members, and neighbors. 

5. That's interesting that you meet with two gay people.  In the time since I've posted my initial letter to you, I've received letters and calls from people all over the country, most of them thanking me.  I've gotten several calls from Christian pastors who support my arguments and are encouraging me to speak up. One of them read over a draft of this letter. Believe it or not, I am friends with a LOT of pastors, and none of them agree with you on this issue. I am personal friends with 3 PCA pastors who have told me that they believe that homosexuality is not immoral.

The bible endorses slavery.  Slavery is rampant in the old testament, but in the new testament as well (Eph 6:5, 1 Tim 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:18). Even Jesus supports slavery! He says in Luke that it is acceptable for masters to beat their slaves, even if the slaves didn't realize that they were doing anything wrong (Luke 12:47-48).  Clearly, no modern person can accept the notion that owning another human being, under any circumstance, is moral. Harry It would be nice to be able to get inside your head and find out the real reasons homosexuality is such a big deal to you, but clearly it's not because it is in the bible. That's just ammo for you.  You and other Christians like you prove everyday that you are cherry pickers and not strict, fundamentalist followers of biblical morality. 

This is an issue that is bigger than religion. The simple fact is, the Christian community does not have a consensus on this issue. There are many Christians who find no relevance in the few passages where the Bible mentions homosexuality, just as they find no relevance in the many passages which endorse slavery. Using divine law to establish your argument against homosexuality is really not helpful because Christians simply do not agree about what divine law is.

My real interest here is fighting to end discrimination against homosexuals. I know very well that there are many Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin, that it is wrong in the eyes of God, punishable by damnation, etc., and as absurd as those ideas are, I support freedom of belief and am thankful for a world where people are free to disagree.  However, in this world of ideas, bigotry and discrimination of homosexuals is in fact coming to an end.  The conversation has already changed.  I urge you to reconsider your position on this important issue.


Brian T. Murphy

below is the letter Harry sent me on June 11.

Mr. Murphy,
Having read your “open letter” per your invitation, in courtesy I will make a few responses. First, in contradiction to your opening statement the issue is not whether there are “gay boys” in Troop 254. There may or may not be. Regardless of that, there have been, are and will be young men addressing the issue of sexual behavior in general and homosexuality in particular at Briarwood. They don’t have to be “allowed,” they are welcomed and we minister to them. The issue facing us by the actions of the BSA Council is the requirement of affirming homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. That is something which we cannot do in our allegiance to God’s Word and our desire to see the power of the Gospel at work in the lives of men and women as they are freely forgiven and transformed from the addictions of this world including any and all addictions of sexuality outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marital relationship.

Secondly, I will respond briefly to your numbered “thoughts.”

1.       We do not “mandate” another person’s sexuality. We simply teach what the Bible teaches. Sexual behavior is to be heterosexual, monogamous, and marital. For instance, we do not have to affirm heterosexual promiscuity in order to minister to the heterosexual promiscuous. Nor do we have to affirm aberration of homosexuality to love those practicing homosexual behavior. To affirm and accept others does not require affirming and accepting that which is unacceptable. Actually, authentic love is “patient” and “speaks the truth” so that what is ultimately destructive – sin in any and all of its forms including sexual immorality – can be addressed by the redeeming and transforming power of the Gospel
2.       Concerning your second thought - Since homosexuality is affirmed as normative by the actions of the BSA Council, if it is surfaced by conversation then there is no basis or reason to confront it or disallow it within the oversight of the troop.
3.       Concerning your personal sexuality as a scout, I would suggest to you that you had numerous “clues” about your sexuality. The point would have been to teach you as a scout what is “morally straight” which is sexuality between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. Your responsibility would then be to fulfill your scout vow by embracing that which is “morally straight.” Genetically determined homosexual behavior is simply a myth - not only does the Word of God reveal this but the numerous studies which are easily acceptable in multiple journals have affirmed time and time again that homosexual practice is not an issue of DNA but an issue of influence and choice.  
4.       Refusing to affirm homosexuality as acceptable behavior is not “homophobia.” Name calling just doesn’t work. Again, it is not necessary to affirm sinful and destructive behavior in order to affirm people. That is another myth. For believers the issue isn’t whether homosexuality makes us “uncomfortable.” On the contrary it is very uncomfortable to identify homosexuality as sin in a culture of relativism and sexual anarchy. The call of the Lord upon His people is not to our comfort but to our faithfulness. So, in a faithful ministry to people of any and all addictions to sexual sins, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the truth of sin must be addressed in the context of the redeeming and transforming power of God’s grace in Christ.  
5.       You are absolutely correct concerning the fact that homosexuals “are not alone.” I meet with two regularly. We care for, minister and shepherd to many more than that. They are not, nor should they be alone. We are now and will continue to minister to them. But not only to them but to any and all whom our Lord allows us to speak of the saving grace of Christ.  But our ministry to them is one of hope – the glorious, redeeming forgiving, and transforming power of the Gospel. It alone has the answer to sin’s shame and guilt. The shame and guilt of sin is not removed by calling what is sin – good and what is good – sin.  It is addressed through the free, forgiving, redeeming, transforming power of the Gospel.  This is why Paul could write in the midst of the decadent Corinthian culture…
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. I Cor. 6:9-11

Paul’s obvious joy expressed in these verses above of the redeeming and transforming power of God’s grace would have never been known or experienced if he had not identified both sin with clarity and sin’s answer in the Gospel with integrity - speaking the truth in love

Grateful to Christ – knowing that “where sin abounds grace does much more abound” – forgiving and transforming grace.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boy Scout Troop 254

An open letter to Briarwood Church, Harry Reeder, RJ Fischer, and Boy Scout Troop 254:

believe it or not, I'm an eagle scout.  I have a certificate to prove it, signed by Bill Clinton, hanging in my old room at my parents house in Alabama.  It's the only thing signed by Bill Clinton in my parent's house.

people who don't know that about me are usually surprised when they find out.  it doesn't seem to go with the rest of my personality / personal philosophy / lifestyle, etc.  but anyone who's ever been in the woods with me wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'm an eagle scout.  I'm the guy who always has extra gear.  and backup gear for when that gear breaks.  I know how to tie nerdy knots.  I never get wet even in the hardest rainstorms.  or cold even on the coldest nights.  the woods is my favorite place to be. 

my mother made me try things growing up.  she made me take tennis lessons once and I was miserable the entire time.  I made the instructor miserable too.  I never had any more tennis lessons after that.  she made me play a season of baseball (the coaches hated me).  she made me join a church choir and I got in trouble for not singing during the performances.  she made me try boy scouts.  I protested.  I told her scouts were nerdy and I hated the dumb uniforms and I wanted nothing to do with them.  My protests were in vain; I went on a camping trip over a weekend and I was hooked.  I had more fun on that weekend boy scout camping trip than I had ever anticipated.  I had friends in the troop that I didn't realize were in it.  we were set free in the woods and the dads who led the troop were fun and taught us things.  from the age of 12-17, it was my secret - I was a boy scout.  

I did other things during those years.  I had a girlfriend and got my drivers license and went to high school and had a part time job at the local ice cream shop.  but once a month, I'd be free in the woods with my friends for a weekend camping trip.  no sunday church.  no saturday chores.  it was never boring, it was always free and exciting and I loved it.  I learned how to pack for backpacking trips and canoeing trips and survival trips.  I spent nights miles deep in caves, and high up on the tops of mountains.  I figured out how to turn a tent tarp into a sail and stop paddling in a canoe.  I learned how to hang food to keep it away from bears at night.  and I learned about how beautiful friendships can be forged simply because you had the gift of time.  I'm still very close to some of the guys I was in scouts with during those years.

And so, it feels worth writing about, that my former boy scout troop (troop 254 in birmingham, alabama), former scout leader, and former church I grew up in (which sponsored troop 254), are now in talks to end the boy scout troop because of the recent decision by the boy scouts of america to allow gay boys to be apart of the boy scouts.  here is an article in which the pastor of my former church (harry reeder) is quoted. here is a link to more of harry reeder's thoughts on the issue. and I recently received a very disappointing email from my former scoutmaster rj fischer where he expressed very negative thoughts about homosexual boys, and suggested that the troop might be ending because of this issue.

here's a few thoughts:

1. No person has the right to mandate another person's sexuality, especially the sexuality of children.  Sorry, religious people, sexuality just doesn't work that way.

2. this new rule says that openly gay BOYS can remain in the scouting program.  lets talk about this for a moment.  When I was in scouts I don't ever remember any talks about sex or any conversations about sex at all.  We talked about the woods.  we learned how to camp and survive outside and tie knots.  Any conversations about sex - no matter the orientation - would have been inappropriate.

3. this is worth repeating.  the new rule says that openly gay BOYS can remain in the scouting program!  listen, when I was 13 years old, I hadn't a clue about my sexuality. my friends who are gay now and were gay then CERTAINLY weren't talking about their sexuality, and it never affected our friendship, or my sexuality.  Like most children, we didn't know what to make of our sexuality.  also, we were all born to heterosexual parents; nobody was a product of any mythological "homosexual agenda".  

4. Christians, if you are apart of a church (and that includes Briarwood Church - the church I grew up in) that ends their boy scout program due to this homophobia, you should be ashamed of yourself.  This is not love.  This is not how you care for children.  This is not how you deal with sexuality that makes you uncomfortable.  If you are a member of this church, or any church currently discussing this issue, I urge you to voice your opinion.

5. if you are a boy scout, or a young person reading this, I urge you to read and think for yourself about this issue!  don't just take what your leaders tell you as fact.  Ask the hard questions about the Bible and morality and sexuality and come to your own conclusions. Think critically about yourself and your friends who are gay and how you feel about them as people.  How do you feel they should be treated?  if you are a boy and you are reading this and you are gay, please know that you are not alone, and that there are people out there like me who are fighting for you. 

homosexuality is not controversial. there is no reason to be afraid of other people's sexuality.  as adults we should not teach children to be afraid of other people's sexuality.

I am thankful for my experience in the boy scouts.  I hope this tradition can continue for future generations and boys, regardless of their sexual orientation.


Brian T. Murphy