“What is something you wish you had known about pastoral care and sex/sexuality/gender identity when you were in seminary or before ministry began?“
That was a question the panel moderator raised at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Wednesday, March 27. I continue to ponder my response.
I attended seminary 1962 to 1965. I don’t recall a single discussion about sexual identity and orientation during those three years. The “sexual revolution” had not reached our campus.
The hot button issues were racial integration, poverty, and the Vietnam war. Those were on the cutting edge of Biblical/theological/ethical inquiry and at the top of the justice agenda.
We grappled with what the Bible says about race, slavery, economics, and war; but the passages referring to “homosexuality” received no exegetical analysis.
Matters of sexual identity, orientation, and expression were physically, emotionally, and morally settled and unambiguous.
There were only two prevailing truths about sexual identity: (1) There are males and females! (2) You don’t “do it” until you’re married! It’s that simple!
Any deviation from that binary description was considered “abnormal.” The American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a “disorder,” not removing it from the list until 1973.
During my thirty-two years as a local church pastor, people who didn’t fit into that dualistic, simplistic mold of sexuality largely remained hidden; or we operated by the principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So I answered the moderator’s question this way: “I wish I had known the complexities involved in sexual identity and orientation. Since I didn’t, I have been complicit in hurting people who don’t fit into the binary description.”
I failed as a pastor to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers to openly accept their full identity as beloved children of God, made in the divine image. And, I failed to challenge the prejudices and injustices directed toward them under the guise of being faithful to the Bible.
Scientific understanding and biblical interpretation regarding sexuality have greatly advanced over the last half century. We are learning that the binary understanding of sexuality is as antiquated as the notion of a flat earth.
And, using the Bible to justify discrimination against LGBTQIA people is as flawed as using Scripture to exclude women or divorced people from church leadership.
I have much to yet to learn about the complexities of sexual identity and orientation! I’m still having trouble fully comprehending the realities behind the letters L G B T Q I A.
Thankfully, people who live the complexities of sexual identity are opening my eyes and helping me receive their marvelous gifts.
I am convinced that God is working in, among, and through LGBTQIA colleagues to bring to reality God’s dream of a redeemed and reconciled humanity.
I regret that it has taken me so long to welcome, affirm, and support their gifts.