Separation of Church and Hate
Local Clergy Discuss Religion and Homosexuality
City Paper assembled a team of experts from different sides of this issue, representing various religious schools of thought and morality, and sat them down for an hour and a half of dueling scripture references as they discussed homosexuality and the church.
Deacon Paul Weber, director of the Archdiocese of Baltimoreís Ministry to Gay and Lesbian Catholics; Larry Thompson, associate minister at the nondenominational Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries; and Earl Musheer, assistant imam for Masjid Ul-Haqq mosque, say that homosexuals are welcomed in their churches as long as they turn from their sexual behavior. The Rev. David Flaherty, of St. Sebastian United Reform Catholic Church, and Meredith Moise, a deacon at St. Sebastian who is also field organizer at Equality Maryland (the stateís largest LGBT advocacy organization), say that their church encourages homosexuals to be who they are.
City Paper: Are homosexuals welcomed in your faith?
Paul Weber: I think the teachings of the Catholic Church are somewhat misunderstood. To address [the question] directly, the answer is yes, they are. What happens is that too many people intermix the term homosexual and equate it with homosexual activity. And where the Catholic Church really tries to make a difference is between the individual and the activity. The Catholic Church does look at the individual as being exactly that, an individual created by God and worthy of all of the respect and dignity that that affords any individual. Where the teaching and the morality issue come in is the same for homosexual people as heterosexual people, and that is in the teaching that sexual activity is allowed in the context of marriage of man and woman. Sexual activity outside of marriage for any orientation is not considered to be morally acceptable.
CP: I think what youíre saying is that homosexuals are welcome in the Catholic Church as long as they donít practice sexual activity that equates to homosexuality.
PW: Thatís correct. Everybody is welcome in the Catholic Church. Itís just that our struggle is to help people comply with that teaching. And obviously we have to welcome them if weíre going to help them.
Earl Musheer: Because the word of God, or the scripture, is against homosexuality, then of course the Muslims are against homosexuality. But our doors are open for people to come and learn the religion of Islam, to learn to worship, and while theyíre learning the religion of Islam, they will learn the word of God teaching against homosexuality. Of course they couldnít practice that openly. We wouldnít allow it. But, what you do at home is up to you. But at the same time, our job is to teach the word of God, and to teach the way that God intended for man to live. And, homosexuality is not a part of [that]. Itís plain in the scripture. Itís plain in the Bible. Itís plain in the Quran.
Larry Thompson: My churchís stance on it is the same thing as the Bibleís stance on it, that homosexuality is wrong. We take that from the Bible from the standpoint of Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, Romans 1, and thereís several other passages also. Basically we do believe that everyone has been created in the image of God. Therefore, everyone is eternally valuable. However, that does not mean that we can negate what the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality.
David Flaherty: Our folks were raised Roman Catholic and left [because of] many of the different social teachings, one of which was definitely homosexuality. So we celebrate our mass and our sacraments along the very same lines that we did in the Roman Catholic tradition, but our social teachings are different. We have found that folks have come forward and said this is who we are and this is, in fact, created in Godís image and we have something to say to the community of faith.
Meredith Moise: In the United Reform Catholic Church, we believe that Godís love is for everybody, without question, and Godís love is expressed in many different ways. And we also believe in the inherent dignity of all people. And we understand that scripture evolves through time. The concept of gay/lesbianism or homosexuality as we understand it today did not exist in biblical times. And so we have to understand scripture in its context. And because we are Christians, we have to look at the love of Jesus Christ and how that is expressed in each and every person. Jesus calls everyone to a unique relationship with God without exception, and thatís the love that we stand on.
If you look in the scripture, [Jesus] radically interpreted scripture a different way than it had been understood at that time. Heís constantly going back and forth with the Pharisees on their understanding of the scripture. A lot of things that are in the Hebrew testament we donít practice today. Many folks like to throw out Leviticus and its quote on homosexuality [Leviticus 20:13: ďIf a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.Ē], but we also have quotes on not eating pork, we also have quotes on women separating themselves during menstruation. So when I say scripture evolves through time, our understanding evolves through time, too. As human beings adapt and change in their environment, their understanding of God changes.
LT: I donít believe that scripture changes with the culture. In the Old Testament they had their religious laws, their ceremonial laws. And then, in the New Testament we see that in the church weíre not obligated to hold on to the theocratic laws of the Old Testament. However, the moral law of the Old Testament did. So when it comes down to ďThou shalt not kill,Ē or the issues of homosexuality, those types of things did carry over to the New Testament.
Homosexuality did exist in biblical times. Even the emperor Nero was a homosexual. In the Old Testament, the word ďhomosexualityĒ is not there, but it does say in Leviticus, one who lays with a man, as one lays with a woman. In the New Testament, the word homosexual is not there, but the words from Greek are translated ďa male bedfellowĒ when it speaks about homosexuals. So to say that homosexuality, the way we understand it, did not exist back then is not accurate, because it was there. They may not have used the same exact words that we do because words evolve through time, but the act and the principles didnít.
I totally agree with the concept of love and that Jesus did challenge the religious people of his day and their understanding. But Jesus never said that love negates our obligation to follow Godís principles. So, for example, the woman that was caught in adultery and Jesus went to her, he did not let the religious people of his day stone her like the laws of the Old Testament would have. He said, ďYou who is without sin cast the first stone.Ē So in that, he did love her, but he didnít let her leave without saying, ďGo your way, but sin no more.Ē So, the concept of love does not say, ďI love you enough to let you do whatever you want whenever you feel like it.Ē It says, ďI love you, but Iím still going to hold you to a certain standard.Ē
MM: Itís not about homosexuality being right, itís about who we are, and where we stand in this reality. When I say Iím a lesbian, I mean that socially and emotionally. I think that people get wrapped up in the sexual part, but itís more than sex.
Science is continually evolving our understanding of what sexuality is, especially homosexuality and heterosexuality, and what makes people such. I believe that I did not choose to be a lesbian, I was born a lesbian. So as a result of that, I have different emotional responses. My level of intimacy with women is different, but thatís OK. I think what we really need to understand, when I say scripture evolves, our human understanding of scripture evolves.
And letís be clear that weíre reading this word in English. So when we look at this word, we have to take it in context and know that it has been translated for many different purposes, by many different people throughout time.
EM: Itís very important that we understand that you do lose things in translation. This was the reason that the Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, through the angel Gabriel. It was revealed in the Arabic language, and the Quran is still in its original form. In the Quran it goes back 6,000 years to Abraham. [Angels] told Abraham that they were going to destroy the people of Lot. It was based on homosexuality or what we might call men sleeping with men. So scripture is a part of history. It gives us an example of something that happened, and it gives us an example of what Allah or what God did to challenge that action.
CP: Hereís a scripture that has always stuck out in my head: 1 Corinthians 6:9: ďKnow ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Be not deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . . Ē And my understanding as it was explained to me by pastors the word effeminate refers to homosexuals. But there are several words here and they all seem to have equal weight. Why is it that in our hypersexed society, homosexuality is at the top of that list? Fornicators, idolaters, and adulterers, especially, are not held to that same standard.
MM: No theyíre not.
EM: But you donít really have to list them in order of the position that they are looked upon because they are all sinners.
CP: But my point isóand letís just be real hereóletís look at people in our society who have committed adultery publicly: Bill Clinton . . .
MM: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker . . .
CP: Right, all of these peopleóand not just men, women, tooóin some of these cases adultery is just another notch on these peopleís belts.
EM: But see the country is not ruled by Godís law. So thatís why people can do whatever they want to do and thereís nothing done about it. Now if the world was set up with the law of God, if everybody followed the law of God, then people would be whipped when they commit adultery, people would be whipped when they commit fornication, people would be killed if they killed somebody else. For instance, if someone kills someone in my family, under Godís law I have the right to kill them, or I have the right to ask their family for blood money. But the world is not run by religious laws.
CP: Yeah, but in the church the weight does not seem to be equal.
LT: I think that the church is somewhat to blame on this issue, because we elevate homosexuality and we will [go to] rallies in Annapolis and to other places to fight against homosexuality, but we donít give the same momentum to dealing with fornication and adultery in the church. And I think the church needs to step up in that area also. The issue is exactly the same. Itís a sexual sin according to the Bible. And I think that no one should ever say that homosexuality is the reason for the decline of our country. What they should say is that all of these issues are affecting the family, and because all of these issues are affecting the family, all of them should be dealt with equally.
DF: I think, first of all, the way each one of our traditions looks at scripture and holds it is different and has to be respected. Our denomination came from respecting the fact that as Roman Catholics we could not live with that understanding [of homosexuality as a sin]. And rather than do the rallies and [protests], . . . weíre going to do something different.
I think folks are looking for faith communities today, that sound like the struggle that theyíre going through. And theyíll hear a compassionate response, and theyíll say, well, we might not tell you that everything you do is OK, but come here and weíll work through it together. My parish meets on a weekly basis and a yearly basis and a seasonal basis, and there are gay and lesbians there who are teaching this community what it means to be gay and lesbian and have this Catholic tradition.
MM: In response to [Musheer], yes, the world is not ruled by what people interpret scripture as, or what people believe the law of God is. However, in this country we do have a Constitution, and although not coming from heaven, we realize that thatís the law that weíre ruled under. So, the Constitution guarantees certain freedoms, and one freedom is freedom of expression. Another is the right to due process and equality under the law. And so, these are the things that weíre standing by. In truth, because America is a pluralistic society, people are going to believe what they want. People are going to worship God or the Buddha or Jesus however they want. But we do have a rule of law. And weíre standing on the fact that all people should be treated equally under the law.
CP: Iíve noticed in African-American churches if members are homosexual itís something that everyone seems to know but no one talks about. Do churches from other cultures have the same view? Is it easier to be white and gay in the church than it is to be black and gay in the church?
PW: Thereís definitely a cultural difference in the way people look at the subject of homosexuality. And again, I must emphasize Iím talking about people, not activity. But, for example, in the African-American community it is something that is not talked about for cultural reasons. In the Hispanic community itís the same way. You keep this information within the family. You just donít advertise it to the world.
EM: In the Masjid [Ul-Haqq], there are whispers of homosexuality. But you wonít see two women coming in the Masjid holding hands. It definitely exists and people know about it because things happen in the street and the word travels. But at the same time, the people know that we teach a certain way, and they know that there is a day of judgment. I believe that everybody here believes there is a day of judgment, and that you will stand before God and he will judge you according to what you did.
LT: I think that itís everywhere. So of course itís definitely in the church, but itís definitely unspoken. As far as the church goes, I think that people understand the position of the church, so they donít come out and do it openly in most communities.
MM: Iíd just like to say as a black woman, and I donít presume to speak for the black race or anything like that, itís just been my observation that in the black community there is a hypermasculine air. And homosexuality seems to violate that. So anything that goes against that grain, or not what they think a man should be, is perceived as gay even though it may not be, and perceived as dangerous to the community.
CP: We canít have this conversation without talking about marriage. What is the definition of marriage is in your faith?
PW: Well, the Roman Catholic Church cannot approve the marriage of same-sex couples because of the churchís long tradition of . . . marriage being for the dual and equal purposes of procreation and mutual love. And since the one aspect of procreation is not possible, that causes the problem with accepting the marriage as is traditionally and normally defined.
EM: Basically, [the Quran] tells us that Allah created Adam, and then he created Eve for his wife, and he put love between them and this is how we have humanity here today. Allah gives us examples of how he wants us to live, and if we follow that direction, then we will be successful. If we donít follow that direction, then we have the problems. Thatís not to say that men and women donít have problems in marriage. But in most cases, if theyíre having problems in marriage, itís because theyíre not following the laws of God.
DF: The sacrament of marriage in the Catholic tradition is celebrated and conferred not by the priest but by the two people that come forward, by the making of vows. If a woman and a man come forward, the priest is not the convector of that sacrament, itís the two that are marrying each other. If a woman and a man come before me and make vows to each other, I give a blessing. Itís what I was ordained for. If two men or two women come forward to me and show a relationship of consistency and commitment and make vows to each other, I as a priest will bless that.
MM: Let me just put on my Equality Maryland hat here and say that the issue with marriage is really not about getting married in a church. Because the truth of the matter is gay and lesbian people get married in churches that affirm them all the time. So that point is mute and irrelevant. What we are talking about now is the rights that are conferred on people when they get married [civilly]. There are over 1,000 rights that people get when they get married, and so, as a consequence of that, you have a whole segment of the population thatís left out of that because theyíre not heterosexual.
If churches or temples or mosques donít want to marry gay and lesbian people, thatís fine. Itís within their right according to the First Amendment freedom of religion to do so. But we already have those institutions, so thatís not a question. We want the rights that go along with marriage.
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