A Letter to Louise
Sunday, 2 August 2009
The Revd Wim Vermeulen
The Revd Wim Vermeulen was ordained an Anglican priest in 1998. He resigned from the stipendiary ministry in the Free State at the end of 2006 after he was released from some of his responsibilities by the Bishop for questioning the unauthorised use of Church Trust Funds. He currently resides in Cradock, Eastern Cape where he and his partner of 30 years own and manage a guest house. He is also the Eastern Cape Inland co-ordinator for the Christian AIDS Bureau of South Africa (CABSA).
The following meditation was on his heart to share with our readers:
A Letter to Louise
In the Anglican Church it is customary to share the greeting of peace with one another at a certain point during the service. The priest may sometimes introduce the peace with a short sentence. One I often used was this: “I give you a new commandment; love one another; as I have loved you, so are you to love one another. If there is this love among you, then everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13: 34–35).
These two verses, I believe, should be the foundation of our Christian faith. And yet many of us, lay and cleric, fall so terribly short of, not only grasping the true meaning of these words, but also in living out that commandment.
Our Christian journey and search for the truth is never an easy one and it is when we as clergy, and fellow Christians, fail to practice what we preach that we alienate and hurt the very people God has called us to gather to Him.
In my own search for the truth, particularly during the past three years, I have been encouraged by little gems that have been revealed to me. The most recent of these is a “Letter to Louise” written by Bruce Lowe, a graduate of OuachitaBaptistUniversity in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and Baptist minister (now retired).
I would like to share with you, briefly, some of what Bruce writes to Louise and strongly recommend that you obtain the full script of Bruce’s ‘Letter to Louise’ at http://www.GodMadeMeGay.com
Shortly after he had gone to his first pastorate out of the seminary, Louise invited Bruce and his wife, Anna Marie, to have Sunday dinner with her family. That was over 50 years ago, and she has been one of their dearest friends ever since.
The last time they visited her she told him what he shares in the first sentence of his Letter to Louise:
“Your heavy-hearted words to Anna Marie and me the last time we saw you will always burn in our hearts: “My brother hates God because God made him gay, and he knows he is going to hell, and I do, too, for that is what the Bible says.” I struggled for a response, realizing suddenly that what I knew about gays and what the Bible says about them was very superficial. Anna Marie’s immediate response to you was, “No one will go to hell who puts his faith in Jesus Christ.” How gloriously true! Whatever else the Bible says or doesn‘t say, homosexuals are not necessarily going to hell.”
At that time he really knew nothing about homosexuality. He did have some suppositions— quite negative— and had never thought he needed to study it. But her words made him want to know as much as he could learn about it.
When he began reading he soon realized things about himself he now deplores: He was ignorant of the many facts about homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Without facts he had pre-judged it; he was prejudiced. With little thought he had read into the Bible what he presumed it ought to say instead of reading out of it what it does say. His idea of not needing to study the subject was pure anti-intellectualism. He is now grateful to God that He led him to study.
He read some two score books, most by eminent sociologists, psychologists and theologians. Then he wrote the letter to Louise, reflecting what he has now come to believe is the truth about homosexuality, what the Bible says and what God wants us to think and do about it.
Now he wants others to study seriously this matter of such importance to many lives and many churches and denominations.
There was so much to learn about gays and lesbians—and the Bible—that he is glad to have come to know. It distressed him, though, to realize that most others of our church people do not know these facts about homosexuality and what the Bible really says, and that their thinking, like his own previous concept, is based on suppositions, not facts, and on feelings, which, of course, have no place in a thoughtful consideration of facts.
In the body of the letter he has put the convictions he has come to into ten statements that he believed Louise and her brother and our church families must come to understand about homosexuality and about gays and lesbians.
These statements are:
1. Homosexuality is an unchangeable nature; it is not a lifestyle choice.
This is an essential basis for understanding homosexuality. There may still be a few knowledgeable people who do not believe this, but practically all behavioral scientists now accept this statement as a fact. Advances in the sciences, particularly psychology, in the last 100 years have shown that not all people are heterosexual; some are homosexual, and their homosexuality is an unchangeable nature, not a choice.
Scientists and sociologists do not know what causes homosexuality, just as they don’t know what causes heterosexuality, but virtually all are convinced that whatever the cause, it is unchangeable. Homosexuals are homosexual by nature; it is never something they choose.
2. All people are created in the image of God. The homosexuality of gays and lesbians, created by God, is good and not evil.
This is the second essential basis for coming to a right understanding of homosexuals. Lowe says: “If I can say God made me as I am, a heterosexual, then homosexuals can say God made them as they are. If God made them that way, that way is good. If I am created in the image of God, homosexuals are created in the image of God. And if God has a purpose for every life, the lives of homosexuals have a God-given purpose. Then refusing to accept and affirm them in the same way we affirm others would be trying to thwart the purposes of God. Can we draw any other conclusion?”
3. The homosexual is just as normal a person as a heterosexual and should not be thought of in sexual terms.
Lowe says that the best definition he has read of a homosexual is that he or she is a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender. “What made me, a heterosexual, fall in love with a person of the opposite gender? I can’t say—it is just some innate characteristic of my makeup”, he says. In the homosexual, that characteristic works differently for some yet unknown reason, and the falling- in-love process is directed at the same gender. But it is a true falling in love. It isn’t a sexual thing for them any more that it is for heterosexuals.
If we look at a heterosexual man or woman and do not immediately think of sex, then
when we look at a gay or a lesbian, we should not immediately think of sex. They are people like us with the same needs and concerns, problems and failures and successes and sorrows and joys that we have, plus lots of problems that we do not have. What is a homosexual act? Examples: a gay man walking his dog or a lesbian fixing her supper.
4. Several passages in the Bible speak of same-gender sex. In every instance, the Bible is talking about heterosexuals who, filled with lust, have become sex perverts. The Bible says nothing about innate homosexuality as we know it today or about people who are homosexuals.
Until the late nineteenth century the concept of homosexuality was totally unknown. No Bible writer knew of homosexuality, so no Bible writer could have said anything about it. When the Bible speaks of same-gender sex, it is always talking about heterosexuals who are given over to such lust that they commit lustful acts. There cannot be anything in the Bible that says anything about (unknown) homosexuality or homosexual people or acts by homosexuals.
The Bible also says nothing about homosexual people being sent to hell.
5. The burden imposed on homosexuals by society is a great evil. We should stand in revulsion against, and do all we can to oppose, the prejudice, the hatreds, and the condemnation of a society that make the homosexual’s life so difficult.
Psychotherapist John J. McNeill writes,
Many problems… make a positive adjustment to a [homosexual] life
extremely difficult. Among these difficulties can be enumerated the agonies
of remorse and self-torture over what typical homosexuals feel to be their
immoral desires, whether these arise from conscious identity with the
condemnations of Church and society or from neurotic conflicts within
themselves; their openness to blackmail and other forms of intimidation; their
status of being outside the normal protection of the law; their necessity
continually to conceal what they frequently believe to be their true identity
from public view, with the added threat that accidental revelation could result
in loss of their job, expulsion from school, dishonorable discharge from
military service, loss of future security and job opportunities, loss of friends
and the respect of family and dependents. Still other problems involve their
propensity to sexual promiscuity [because they are] divorced from a complete
and healthy interpersonal relationship; and the resulting tendency for sexual
desires indulged in, but never fully satisfied, to occupy a disproportionate
place in their life. Above all else, there is the very real threat of ultimate
loneliness to one to whom all the normal structures of society – marriage,
children, dependents, etc. – are closed. It should be noted, however, that all
these negative aspects of homosexuality are not due to homosexuality as such,
but are the results of both society’s and the Church’s attitude to the
homosexual. All these rather common aspects of homosexual life can
effectively paralyze all initiative, result in a feeling of inferiority, and lead to
an emotional breakdown which could make social adjustment impossible.
All of this hate is a sickness in our society that comes from ignorance about homosexuality. Our society must become informed, enlightened about it. Those who are involved in discussions in denominations and churches about it must study it and not speak from ignorance of it and the result of ignorance: prejudice.
6. Homosexuals are being sinned against by our churches. Like our society, our churches need to change.
A gay and a straight man worked together and became close friends. Then the straight man became a Christian. When his friend learned about it, he was concerned and asked, “Now that you are a Christian, will you still love me?” Isn’t that a tragic question? What did this man think about Christians that made him ask that? The Christian has a love that transcends anything known by the world, doesn’t he/she? Yet how many Christians would desert such a friendship? Christians! Jesus’ love included; our lack of love excludes. Carl Sandburg was once asked what he thought was the ugliest word in the English language. He thought for a minute and replied, “Exclusion.”
Our churches need to change, for the churches ought to be havens for gays and lesbians from the insufferable burdens they bear constantly. But when the world believes that churches despise and condemn homosexuals, those who hate them find encouragement. Fundamentalists promote the problems seemingly with a vengeance, declaring homosexuality itself a sin. Even the mainstream denominations do to a great extent as we read frequently in the papers. Most denominations are discussing it openly; without exception they are divided in their thinking, and the news reports of the discussions publicize the negative rhetoric along with the positive. This subject so needs to be examined and discussed at length in our churches, without passion and with open minds. Lowe believes that what he has stated in this letter will be the truth the churches will discover. Then they must act on and proclaim that truth.
Our churches are ignorant about the truths surrounding homosexuals and homosexuality. They must be made to realize that honesty and integrity demand they make judgments on the basis of knowledge and not on groundless feelings and prejudice. It’s like the race hatreds and segregated churches of a few decades ago; most church people know better now and our churches are at least open to all. The same must happen with this issue. Philosopher Josh Billings’ said: “The longer I live the more I find it necessary to reexamine those things about which I was once most certain.” The church can’t begin its reexamination too soon.
Our churches are so terribly wrong here. All the wonderful things our churches are doing and the immeasurable importance they are to our society can’t cover up our woeful failures in this matter.
7. Gays and lesbians in general have the potential for outstanding character and accomplishment; some may have greater potential than most heterosexuals to be exceptional persons.
It is well known that while certain characteristics are dominant in men and others dominant in women, all people have some of both characteristics. Psychologists have found that the gay man has an exceptional supply of feminine characteristics (enough that he falls in love with a man -?), and the lesbian has an exceptional supply of male characteristics (enough that she falls in love with a woman -?). Psychologists are recognizing that this special combination of characteristics in homosexuals often results in their having exceptional potential.
Psychologist Mark Friedman, from a series of tests administered to both gays and lesbians, found that the homosexuals he tested were superior to their heterosexual counterparts in such psychological qualities as autonomy, spontaneity, orientation toward the present, and increased sensitivity to the value of the person. Thielicke remarked that the homosexual “is frequently gifted with a remarkable heightened sense of empathy.”
One ought to look on a gay or a lesbian as potentially a very special person made that way by God, one we should seek out, especially for our churches.
8. It is not only unrealistic to expect homosexuals to live without sex, but also it is psychologically harmful to them for them to do so.
Now we are face to face with the question of what is moral in sex expression. In so many people’s minds, the whole meaning of homosexuality is immoral sex. And that is evil, they say, because sex must be between male and female, and it is evil because sex must be in marriage; it is as simple and black and white as that. But nothing as complex as sex, which plumbs both the heights of beauty and the depths of ugliness, can be simple, and no black and white rule can touch it. Professor Kathy Rudy says, “Christian ethicists, moral theologians, and religious leaders throughout the ages have spent an enormous amount of time and energy thinking about when sex can be considered moral and when it cannot.”
Must sex be between male and female? One act of sex must be. Is that all of sex, or for heterosexuals does sex—let’s think only of beautiful sex—involve many other acts, some of which sometimes become more important than that one act? Does marriage make sex beautiful and moral? Even those who insist that sex must be only in marriage admit that there is often immoral sex within marriage—selfishness, exploitation, even rape. So the marriage certificate is not what determines whether sex is moral or immoral. Then we must say that if legality is not the criterion for the morality of sex, lack of legality cannot be the criterion for its immorality.
These things clearly indicate that requiring celibacy of gays and lesbians cannot be supported by the Bible, is unjustifiable from an ethical standpoint, and can be damaging psychologically. Many psychiatrists believe
(a) it is wrong to consign a person to such isolation and loneliness, one who is thus cut off from close relationships with either sex, not temporarily but until death;
(b) it is unrealistic to expect this for it is virtually impossible for it to be done;
(c) many of those who attempt to do this do so for pathological reasons;
(d) the “almost inevitable results [of attempting celibacy] will be tragic in terms of suffering, guilt, and mental disorder;” and
(e) growth and maturity require deep and committed relationships in one’s life.
It would seem that a sound scriptural argument against requiring celibacy would be Paul’s writing clearly in I Cor. 7:9 that he does not expect all the church people to be able to be celibate even for the brief time before the (expected) return of Christ. Some commentators suggest that I Tim. 4:1–4, in speaking of marriage being good and not to be denied because “everything created by God is good,” would include homosexual marriage because God created homosexuality.
Lowe adds: “If I can believe as I do, that gays and lesbians can have in their hearts and minds the criteria set forth here in their relationships, then I can believe, as I have come to, that they can engage in loving sex that is moral and that provides for their psychological needs—God-created needs—as celibacy cannot. And I can believe that their sexual love is not condemned by scripture, but is within the principles God expects us to live by.
“You understand this is not a blanket approval of all homosexual sex. It is speaking of loving, committed relationships. I do not know what percentage of homosexuals are included here, but probably it is, unfortunately, a small percentage (10% in one large-scale study of gays). Many believe that number would increase if society accepted homosexuality for what it is and encouraged committed relationships, as it does heterosexual relationships”.
9. Full acceptance by society, including the blessings and legality of marriage should be extended to gays and lesbians in the same way it is extended to others.
If it is moral as well as psychologically needful—a God-created need—for homosexuals to live as couples in committed relationships, as many theologians and psychologists have said it is, then homosexuals who are in loving, long-term, committed relationships should have the societal rights and privileges that marriage can give them.
Was it not God who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18)? James Nelson, Professor of Christian Ethics, believes that “same-sex relationships are fully capable of expressing God’s humanizing intentions,” and views the “homosexual problem” as “more truly a heterosexual problem” (of homophobia), just as the “woman problem” is a problem of “male sexism.”
The Bible cannot be used to argue against this for the Bible has nothing to say about homosexual people. Here is a religious editor’s word in this connection:
Nor can the Bible be confidently cited in this debate. Certainly, the concept of
same-sex marriage is not found in the Bible. But the concept of government
by democracy is also not found in the Bible, only that of monarchy. On
strictly biblical grounds, the doctrine of the divine right of kings has a firmer
base than government by the people. Human experience, however, has led us
to believe that democracy is not an illegitimate, unbiblical form of
government. Since the biblical models of marriage range from polygamy at
one end to celibacy on the other, we shall have to find our own way and not
claim that the Bible permits only one model of marriage.
There is an interesting note from church history.
[Noted church historian] John Boswell… has discovered that, whereas the
church did not declare heterosexual marriage to be a sacrament until 1215
C.E., one of the Vatican Library’s earliest Greek liturgical documents is a
marriage ceremony for two persons of the same sex. The document dates to
the fourth century, if not earlier. In other words, nine centuries before
heterosexual marriage was declared a sacrament, the church liturgically
celebrated same-sex covenants.
10. As in society, gays and lesbians should be accepted and affirmed in our churches and given any opportunity for service, including ordination, that others have.
For the past decade or so most Protestant denominations have been debating whether to affirm, and especially whether to ordain, homosexuals. Many committees/commissions have been appointed to study the matter and make recommendations to their general denominational bodies or their churches. Lowe says: “I have read of much of this activity and the reports. In every case that I can recall now the commissions have recommended just about what I have said in this discussion. Then when the commissions have brought their recommendations to the general assemblies/conventions or to their churches, their reports have been voted down.
“I am impressed that those who have made a serious study of this matter—the members of the commissions—are in favor of affirming gays and lesbians, and that those who vote it down are the ones who have not studied it. If they vote it down because they have not studied it, then they are voting on the basis of pre-judging, that is, prejudice. Prejudging, prejudice, is evil. We need to put aside our prejudices and presuppositions, then seriously and open-mindedly study this matter”.
Since there is no explicit instruction in the Bible about homosexual ordination, we must
derive our belief from our understanding of the principles of the Bible. Dr. Tex S. Sample
has this concept:
The question of their union – and celibacy and marriage as well, for that matter
– is whether it serves the kingdom of God…. [There are three questions about
ordination:] the first is whether one’s union basically frustrates one’s
commitment to the kingdom of God…. The second issue for ordination is
whether one’s union, like marriage or celibacy, frees one for obedience to God
and propels one to fulfill God’s aims…. Finally, and perhaps most important,
does the union itself bear witness to the covenantal reality of the kingdom of
God?… When homosexual unions are faithful to God’s rule, manifest its
power, serve its aims and bespeak its hopes and joys, the basic question of
readiness for ordained ministry has been met.
Surely any gay or lesbian who comes to our churches professing that Jesus Christ is Lord should be accepted and affirmed in every way.
Lowe concludes his letter: “I have to believe deeply that these ten statements are true. The convictions have come from seriously studying this subject, and, thankfully, I now can feel enlightened about it. How I wish all our church members, especially all our pastors, would make such a study.
“Now I know that gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation, for they are created by God, in his image with an unchangeable orientation which is good and with a God-given purpose. I know the love between gays and between lesbians is no less than that of others. I am convinced the Bible supports their loving, committed relationships, that there is no moral evil in such and that society and our churches should affirm them fully.
And homosexuals have those characteristics that give them some extraordinary potential in very desirable areas! If we would only accept them, respect them, affirm them and bring them out of their closets, they could give beauty and strength to society and our churches. It is not only sad, isn’t it somewhat irresponsible that for a matter so important to so many people, to churches and to denominations, our churches and their members have never seriously studied what the Bible says and doesn’t say about this matter?”
God opened the eyes of a seemingly conservative Baptist minister to the truth. We pray that His work will continue and that many more hearts and eyes will be opened.
“I give you a new commandment; love one another; as I have loved you, so are you to love one another. If there is this love among you, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”