Slowly the world -- at least parts of it -- changes for the better. A wonderful example that especially pleases me is that earlier this year the Presbyterian Church (USA), of which my congregation is a part, changed its constitution to allow the ordination of otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians.
Scott originally was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in 1982, but, as he confirmed to me in an e-mail, "I 'set aside' my ordination in 1990, and...when my sexual orientation was made public I had to leave parish ministry."
As most of you know, the battle over ordaining gays and lesbians has gone on for decades in many different religions, including various branches of Christianity.
My guess is that 100 years from now almost every major Christian denomination will have changed its rules to allow for ordination of gays. There's essentially no biblical reason not to. For my essay on the subject of what the Bible really says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.
It's not that our churches are caving in to the movement of the culture in this area. Rather, it's that some churches finally are doing what they should have been doing all along -- being voices for liberation and against a harsh, restrictive, literalistic reading of scripture.
It feels good to be on the right side of history, welcoming all of God's children into all roles within what we Christians call the Body of Christ.
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BARGAINING WITH SAUDI ARABIA'S CLERICS
Speaking of needed reforms, the King of Saudi Arabia this week declared that women there finally will be allowed to vote. But as this New York Times editorial suggests, that's just a needed first step. The problem is that King Abdullah, whom I met in Saudi Arabia in 2002 when he still was crown prince, feels beholden to Islamic clerics, many of whom want nothing to change. Their recalcitrance is in conflict with Islam as it was originally embraced by the Prophet Muhammad, whose words and deeds were quite liberating for women. But as Islam moved into different cultures, the patriarchal nature of those cultures often overwhelmed islam's liberating impulses. And that has continued today in many countries where Islam is dominant. The worst example of a repressive interpretation of Islam, of course, is the Taliban -- and, by extension, al-Qaida.
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THE BOOK CORNER
Beyond the Pews: Breaking with Tradition and Letting Go of Religious Lockdown, by Jillian Maas Backman. This book may challenge what you think you know -- or at least suspect -- about God's presence in our midst. From early childhood, the author began to experience almost a physical connection with spirits she came to conclude were from the divine. She would see colors around people and see ephemeral beings and feel shocks of electric energy. She came to understand that the beings she was in touch with were teaching her spiritual lessons that were not in conflict with -- but that supplemented -- what she was learning in a Christian church that her father pastored. In this book she draws together lessons she has learned about how to me more aware of the divine presence in our lives and seeks to teach them to her readers. She calls this spiritual intuition and says that we can get much better at it than most of us are: "The promising news is that your spiritual intuitive language will be sending signals and guiding you to a place of spiritual equilibrium throughout your lifetime." I would not classify this as a slightly different take on traditional theology but, rather, a take that both challenges and affirms that theology. Although this book was a bit beyond my personal spiritual comfort zone, it may be right in yours.