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:

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Harry,

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: http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/MembershipStandards/Resolution/results.aspx, 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: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx

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.

Sincerely, 

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.
HLR3





14 comments:

Matthew Jackson said...

Wow...good read Brian (and Harry). This is a hard subject to deal with for Christian (and non-Christian).
Things that are more or less unknown scares us, but the church, and in particular the PCA denomination, is going to have to deal with the subject, because its members are split as to how to care for homosexuals that are members and homosexuals that are not and also how to proclaim what the PCA denomination perceives as "The Truth of the Gospel"

Robert said...

Why should this be a difficult issue for the church (relative to other issues)? It has to deal with adulterers, alcoholics and everything in between. Some sins are in the open and others not. Some repentance, others not. These sins involve more than the 2% homosexual population. Maybe the church should start addressing them in due proportion. Biblically, the principles of dealing with sin in the church are applied the same way. Disciple and minister to the repentant and usher the unrepentant out.

Briarwood is forced to abandon BSA because the BSA is ultimately under an authority that contradicts scripture. This organization merely borrows biblical principals that align with its own institutional charter. Much like the organization of this nation, the misunderstanding that underlies the conversation is that it was a Christian organization to begin with. It was not. This separation was always a question of 'when' not 'if'.

The fact is, the Bible, in its greater dominion mandate, outlines the role of the father and the church in disciplining boys and young men to enter manhood. This certainly includes trips to woods, various survival skills and even how to defend your family by force. Certainly the men of the church can fill the void left by 254?

Todd Higey said...

Brian, your atheistic morality is weak and anaemic. It has neither muscle nor might. You give me no reason to submit to your morality. What is the downside for me if I don't? We give you every reason to submit to God's Law. You are playing a high stakes wager here. I fail to see what you gain if you win.

Brian T. Murphy said...

Matt,

honest question, what is "hard" about this subject for you?


Robert,

so you advocate the end of the church / boy scout relationship? you see this as a good thing?


Todd,

interesting reactions.

so, is the morality of so many christians I know and respect (who I mentioned in my post, agree with me) atheist morality? who is "we"? what is my "high stakes wager"?

BTM

Matthew Jackson said...

Brian,
It is hard to deal with fear and the unknown.
All practicing Christians in dealing with this issues have to take a look at whether what they believe about the Bible and Jesus is true.
Each "side" wants to claim they have all the answers, or at least the right answer for this topic, but it is very uncomfortable and difficult to be okay with not knowing exactly what the right ,or complete, answer is.

I am completely dumbfounded by the church of my parents and grandparents in regards to their actions and mostly non-actions regarding the civil rights movement in the South. It is completely inexcusable the way the white evangelical church responded, or the lack thereof, to fellow humans (both Christians and non-Christians) fighting against segregation and discrimination based on race.

While I think the issue of homosexuals and the church is not as black and white (pardon the pun) as the civil rights movement in the 60's. It still forces people, specifically Christian, to reexamine their beliefs and that many times is frightening to do, because you do not know where your beliefs may end up at the end, and those new beliefs could be counter to the culture, church, friends, co-workers, Bible and family you have known and are accustomed to.

I think all practicing Christians would agree that Jesus taught us to love others, but there is not much agreement as to what that means in practice. This is where we see discrimination in the Church, because, like Harry, many believe that affiliation is akin to promotion and the purity of the Church becomes the end not Christ's love and redeeming grace.

So as Christians deal with this issue they will have to establish first what is the point, meaning why God, then go from there. Most people will not reexamine what they believe, this is why most people's beliefs as adults (atheism, agnostic or religion) are what they were raised to believe.

Was that process not scary for you when you realized the way you had been brought up may not be what you believed anymore? (I am assuming that you more or less believed what Briarwood taught growing up)


Robert,
Should churches stop sponsoring AA, NA and SA groups, because if you have ever been to one, they most certainly do not follow the Christian God nor ask anyone to. They use principles of repentance and forgiveness to help deal with addictions, but they promote no doctrine nor do the leaders need to follow any specific doctrine other than the 12 steps. Brian's point regarding the diversity of beliefs in the Christian faith is true and valid. You argue as though the way your church does ministry is ordained by God through golden tablets and there is not even an issue.

Todd,
I don't have any basis to argue with the followers of Islam.


Robert said...

Brian,

I am in no position to argue that it is good or bad (it is sad). It is inevitable. At some point the relationship becomes untenable for those that hold the author of truth to be beyond the hands of men.

In the interest of full disclosure, I despise youth groups, singles groups, married, young life, old life etc... institutions that pop up in today's mainstream church. That is to say I despise the institutionalization of church.

Matt, in short yes. IMO, these organizations exist largely where church discipleship does not.

Brian T. Murphy said...

Robert,

Fair enough.

Brian T. Murphy said...

Matthew -

first off are you the matt jackson I knew from 254?

Great points about the white evangelical church failures during the civil rights era - couldn't agree more. King's letter from the birmingham jail is worth re-reading, at least once a year.

and good points about the difficulty of re-examining one's beliefs. Sam Harris is working on a new book about the science behind how people actually change their minds, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I've heard him mention in lectures that people rarely change their mind in a given moment, but upon reflection and over a period of time, usually in private. anyway I don't know anything more than that but it is interesting, the process by which people consider information that is uncomfortable. I hope to always be someone who is open to changing my mind or position, in the face of compelling evidence or argument. you know? that's a challenge for any person, seems to me. I think its a mark of someone who is still learning, which is a place I hope to live in for the rest of my life. and at the same time I hope to always be working at getting better when making cases for issues I am passionate about - so that I can actually be persuasive. anyway I'm rambling now.

me, personally, no I wouldn't say the process was scary. yes growing up at briarwood, I was a very thoughtful child / young adult who took my faith very seriously. I led bible studies for years and worked in the children's programs, all of it very real for me. I had good friends growing up who were similar, and we would stay up late discussing the bible, apologetics, and theology, etc. (this was the nerdier part of my childhood, obviously). I would say in college and especially after college in my 20's (while I worked for a church, by the way) I abandoned most of what I was taught and believed growing up, though definitely not all of it. people have been telling me for years that I'm not a christian even when I was pretty sure that I was. that bothered me, though less and less as the years went on, I think maybe because I had friends who made me feel not alone and not crazy. and my wife is also a person who has always encouraged me and read with me and I'd say I feel a lot of confidence in my ideas because of her. also there's freedom in admitting there are things you just don't know (like what happens when you die), you know? I have some answers, and I have some things I know I will never have answers for. I'm happy with that. certainty is a heavy burden.

anyway sorry for the long response I appreciated your thoughtfulness and I guess you got me going.

cheers -

BTM

Robert said...

The idea that Christ would not seek the total purity of his followers because of his love and redeeming grace = Pure.Lutheranism.

The idea that (weekly) creedal affirmation somehow paints every issue, every turn of Christian life into black and white (certainty)=Pure.Lutheranism.

Both Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy because of thier emphasis on the individual soul, the heart and general metaphysical otherworldness ultimately leaves a giant vacuum as to the way Scripture speaks to the physical, day-to-day rest of the world (ie how to build a fire in a rainstorm). It is in this vacuum that other subcultures arise to fill the void of the church calling: the institutional church, pietism, BSA, AA and even government welfare. (In the case of Europe: Bolshevism and National Socialism. --The geographic overlay is not a coincidence.) In other words, your concern that a church without 254 would see the need for scouting as "less spiritual" than other "churchy" things, is likely a legitimate one.

Phillip Ratliff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
simon femi festus said...

ahahah. Yea

Happy Valentine's Day said...

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Happy Valentine's Day said...

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