by Jack Rogers. Louisville: WJKP, 2006. ISBN 0-664-22939-5. Pb., 176 pp. $17.95
You are invited to travel with Jack Rogers on a life-changing, personal journey as he moves from being a conservative evangelical who viewed homosexuality as a “sin” to a progressive evangelical who now promotes the acceptance of homosexual orientation and practice.
Dr. Rogers, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly in 2001 and former professor of theology at Fuller and San Francisco Theological Seminaries, was asked by his pastor, Dean Thompson, in 1993 to participate in a Bible study about homosexuality. The group took seriously the seven official guidelines of the Presbyterian Church for Biblical interpretation. The first of these is “To recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture.” The seventh guideline is to “Seek to interpret a particular passage of the Bible in the light of all of the Bible.”
Using these guidelines the group came to the conclusion that the Bible says very little about homosexuality, which Jesus never mentioned. What the Bible does say in Leviticus 18:20 and Romans 1, studied in their full contexts, is a strong condemnation of idolatry and uninhibited sexual orgies that characterized the heathen worship of the times. The concept of committed, long term, same-sex relationships had not yet entered the culture. Rogers argues in clear and fascinating detail how the current bias against homosexuality in the 21st century is not based on what the Bible says but on cultural prejudice and a distorted understanding of natural law.
Opponents of homosexuality also refer to its being against our Confessions. Jack Rogers’ knowledge of both German and Dutch helps him expound on the original text of the Heidelberg Catechism, adopted in 1563. In the early 1960’s, in celebration of 400 years of usefulness, the Reformed Church in America and the Dutch Reformed Church produced an edition of the Heidelberg Catechism to which was added a reference to homosexuality–question number 87, which was not found in the original version of 1563. Except for this contemporary and unauthorized insertion, there is no mention of homosexuality in any of our eleven official confessions.
Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality is primarily addressed to those who have not yet carefully and prayerfully examined the biblical and confessional standards for ordination. Rogers makes the case that the crisis concerning the potential ordination of qualified homosexual persons to the offices of deacon, elder, and Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) will only be solved by prayerful Bible study. He states that until we understand that our basic sacred documents grant us permission to learn and to change, we cannot follow the direction of the Holy Spirit.
People change their minds and hearts about important issues for a wide variety of reasons. Some seem to enjoy confessing other people’s sins, resisting other people’s temptations and avoiding controversial subjects that benefit their vested interests. Thankfully many others take seriously Paul’s statement, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith (Romans 1:16).
Within recent memory, the Presbyterian Church has changed its position and spirit regarding slavery, racial discrimination, women’s ordination, divorce, and remarriage. Rogers’ retracing of these dramatic transformations is instructive and inspiring. Each change has taken place as Presbyterians have been led to view Christ as the center of Scripture and to view the particular issue as it is framed within the context of the entire Bible. The author shares his own new understanding of the inclusiveness of God’s love and invites us to journey with him.
Ralph D. Bucy is a retired Presbyterian minister living at Massanetta Springs, Va.