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Homosexuality and the Bible: The Debate Continues

Christians of several denominations are today involved in a painful and difficult debate over the degree to which lesbian and homosexual persons should be welcomed to serve as ministers or in other capacities as leaders of churches. We are privileged to bring two thoughtful, but opposing perspectives to the GodWeb. When you've had an opportunity to read the papers written by our two "presenters," please take a moment to let us know what you think. You can either send your reaction and viewpoint directly to Charles Henderson, or participate in the online discussion at the CrossCurrents Forum. But, first, to introduce our protagonists, we turn to Barbara Wheeler, Director of the Center for the Study of Theological Education as Auburn Seminary in New York:

barbara.jpg (17650 bytes)"There is no doubt that the issue we are discussing here it a tough one. Not since slavery, in my estimation, has there been an issue that has as much potential to divide the religious communities as this one. The Presbyterian denomination to which the participants in this discussion are all linked is a good example. For more than twenty years the Presbyterians have been locked in unremitting conflict over the question of whether to ordain minister and officers who are openly homosexual. And the potential for the Presbyterian Church to split over the issue remains very real. From the perspective of persons who identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the issue is also critical, whether they are members of congregations or not. In this country religion still plays a major role in forming social attitudes and in supporting or undermining those attitudes that are already formed. So what we in the churches teach about homosexuality affects the lives of many more people than our own members. That responsibility seems to me to make a difficult issue even more difficult and important.

The infamous John Mitchell said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We are pleased that we can present in this forum two tough Biblical scholars who can help us think about this question in relation to the Bible, to the texts that form and sustain us as communities of Christians and Jews.

Bible scholars have gotten a bad reputation in recent decades. Many people think of them as obsessed with small sections of scripture and uninterested in contemporary social and religious issues. Our quests do not fit that stereotype.

Ulrich Mauser, educated in Germany and Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary, has taught at three theological schools during his career, serving as academic dean at one of them. All along he has focused on the meaning of the scriptures for what we actually believe and do as a people of faith. His books and articles focus not on texts by themselves but on their theological meaning, often in relation to real world issues. His most recent book, for instance, is The Gospel of Peace: A Scriptural Message For Today's World. During the last two years, Professor Mauser has joined some of his colleagues at Princeton to issue public statements on burning issues in the church: one of these focused on the ordination of homosexuals. He is not the sort of Bible scholar who hides in the library.

Nor is Walter Wink. Until recently, Dr. Wink was Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Seminary, an assignment that took him to several dozen different cities each year to teach. Formerly he taught at Union Seminary and before that was pastor of a Methodist Church in Texas. He is well known for pioneering a method of Bible study for use in churches and for a three volume series of books on the principalities and powers. He not only writes about principalities and powers but mixes it up with them as well. He has been involved in movements for non-violent social change in this country, South Africa and other parts of the world, and written and spoken widely about non-violence, disabilities, homosexuality and other contemporary topics.

We are grateful to both Dr. Mauser and Dr. Wink for participating in this forum."

To read either presentation:

Dr. Ulrich Mauser
Dr. Walter Wink

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.