Category Archives: Gender & Sexuality

It’s not gay couples marriage needs protection from

By Contributor Rev. Liv Larson Andrews

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I rejoice in the opportunity now offered by the state of Washington to marry same-sex couples. Not all my siblings in faith agree with me. Invitations crowd my mailbox to pray and act to protect marriage. From what, I wonder?

People of faith are hotly divided. It’s a bit stormy out.

As a married person, I rejoice in the blessing of my spouse. It is within the community, the Body of Christ, that our marriage is kept sacred and held accountable. Public accountability is the call and the gift of marriage within the church. The risen Christ, tangible in this community, protects and sustains my marriage; and will do so for gay couples, too. Isn’t this kind of community what we humans need?

Flickr photo by slgckgc

It is not from gay couples that my marriage needs protection. War, protracted and senseless, shatters marriages every day. Capitalism has warped weddings into a circus-like industry. Brides and grooms of all kinds fear the task of wedding planning, thinking if they can survive that process together, marriage will be a cinch. So I propose we pray: Dear Lord, protect us from David’s Bridal.

When we lived in Chicago, my spouse and I attended an urban Mennonite church. At the wedding of two friends, we ate potluck style and offered our hand-stitched quilt squares into their wedding blanket. The next day was an all-church gathering at the lakeshore. Our newlywed friends showed up, riding in on a tandem bicycle sporting a cardboard “Just Married” sign. It didn’t take long for others to start requesting rides. Soon, everybody around was hopping on and off the goofy tandem bike with joy. My husband and his buddy, Doug, took it for a spin along the lakeshore path, cardboard sign still attached. As they passed by two old men on a park bench, they heard, “Huh? Two guys?!” and then “Don’t knock it. It’s a beautiful thing.” They hardly stayed upright they were laughing so hard.

I guess I agree with the second old man: don’t knock it. Marriage is a beautiful thing. And it’s a powerful testimony to marriage that so many want to pursue it.

Lastly, as a child of the ’90s, I feel it is fitting to cite the Indigo Girls as a response invitation to my fellow Christians: “To let this love survive would be the best gift we could give. Though it’s storming out, I feel safe within  the arms of love’s discovery.”

BRIEF: Panel at WSU to address gay friendly churches

By Tracy Simmons

Faith leaders from Pullman-area gay friendly churches will participate in a panel discussion from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Washington State University.

The panel, organized by the Gender/Identity Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, will address two main questions. First, What is the significance of being able to live openly in one’s place of worship? And second, how does your faith community show that it is welcoming and affirming to LGBT members?

The panel will be in the Campus Union Building lair.

Church prays, petitions gay marriage legislation

By Tracy Simmons

Drawn by kattekrab/Open Clipart

Fourth Memorial Church will host a prayer gathering on March 29 in support of Referendum 74 and Initiative 1192, which petition Washington’s new gay marriage legislation.

The event is sponsored by Protect Marriage Washington. Guest speakers will be Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Gubernatorial Candidate Shahram Hadian and Attorney General Candidate Stephen Pidgeon, author of Initiative 1192.

Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the meeting begins at noon at the church, 2000 N. Standard.

Brief: Discussing sex and the soul

By Tracy Simmons

On April 1 Donna Freitas, assistant professor at Boston University, will present “Sex and the Soul” at Whitworth University.

Freitas is the author of “This Gorgeous Game,” “The Possibilities of Sainthood” and “Sex and the Soul.” Her academic focus has been on the struggle of belonging and alienation with regard to faith.

Her lecture will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Robinson Teaching Theatre in Weyerhaeuser Hall. Admission is free. For information call (509) 777-4535.

Church, university join in Shower of Stoles

By Tracy Simmons

A stole is a liturgical vestment worn by clergy/Wikipedia

Bethany Presbyterian Church and the Eastern Washington University Pride Center are teaming up April 22-29 to present Shower of Stoles.

The Shower of Stoles project began in the mid 1990s when Presbyterian minister Martha Juillerat was faced with the threat of being defrocked by the church it was discovered she was a lesbian.

She and her partner, also a Presbyterian minister, asked friends and colleagues to send a stole to hang at a presbytery meeting. According to the Shower of Stoles website, the couple received 80 stoles overnight. Stoles have been coming in ever since, along with cards and letters.

Now the Shower of Stoles Project (which includes other sacred items representing LGBT people of faith) tours constantly around the country, being exhibited in local congregations, universities and seminaries, and regional and national denominational gatherings.

An online peak at the exhibit is available here.

Episcopalians release same-sex marriage rites

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Shutterstock PhotoAfter several years of study, the Episcopal Church has released a draft of what same-sex marriage rites would look like. An important caveat: these are just drafts, and it will likely be years before any final liturgy is approved for official use across the church.

Episcopalians in states that allow same-sex civil marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and others) already have the option to bless same-sex marriages but there is no formal churchwide liturgy. Same-sex commitment ceremonies are permitted elsewhere in the church at the discretion of the local bishop.

From the church’s Office of Public Affairs:

The report’s theological reflection notes that the SCLM [Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music] has reviewed more than 30 years of General Convention’s deliberation on same-gender couples, especially [a] resolution approved in 2000, that identified characteristics the Church expects of couples living in marriage and other lifelong committed relationships: “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”

“Such covenantal relationships can reflect God‘s own gracious covenant with us in Christ, manifest the fruits of the Spirit in holiness of life, and model for the whole community the love of neighbor in the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation,”  the report states.

The drafts will now be studied by bishops and lay/clergy delegates ahead of the church’s General Convention this summer. The General Convention in Indianapolis won’t be asked to formally approve them, and it looks like formal approval wouldn’t come until 2015, 2018 or even 2012, depending on whatever timeline the General Convention approves. Either way, the formal liturgies are not likely to be included in the Book of Common Prayer unless and until Episcopalians opt to formally revise it.

The draft rites are here, and the part that everyone’s curious about (from the traditional “I know pronounce you man and wife”) looks like this:

“Inasmuch as N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I now pronounce that they are bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live. Amen.”

And the vows:

In the name of God, I, N., give myself to you, N. I will support and care for you: enduring all things, bearing all things. I will hold and cherish you: in times of plenty, in times of want. I will honor and keep you: forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

Santorum is not the best Christianity has to offer

By Contributor Sam Fletcher

Sam Fletcher

Last week, I attended Rick Santorum’s rally in Spokane Valley as one of a few protestors, a mixed group of Occupy Spokane and local clergy standing up for liberal, pro-humanity values. This article is partially a critique of Santorum, but I’d like to use his values as a springboard to talk about what values would be better than Santorum’s, and the conservative right in general.

At the rally, Santorum offered a philosophical dead end that decried science, education, climate change and values that affirm freedom and enfranchisement of all Americans regardless of gender, creed or income status. In other venues he has called for an end to the separation of church and state, an end to contraception and a hostile stance against the Middle East. He has even spoken against couples enjoying sex for more than procreation.

Santorum, deeply committed to his own faith, may be one of the most extreme in his views, but he is certainly not alone. As a liberal Christian, I think Christian values can contribute greatly to informing and shaping a better society for everyone, without succumbing to the compulsion to dominate and dictate. I believe it is an opportunity and a calling to a new generation of Christian leaders.

Rick Santorum speaks at New Life Church/Tracy Simmons

The tide is already turning, of course, and the conservative “establishment” is painfully aware of it. I believe the vicious return of culture warriors is partially due to the fact that the establishment was not successful in passing its values to the youngest generations, and is fighting a last-resort war, which will be followed by their long, slow decline. Younger generations of America need a plan in place as the cultural shift nears completion.

I invite you to consider my proposals for some of the values that characterize good society.

We will be social. Not as in socialism, but as in social life. In contrast to the “each man is his castle” ideals of libertarians and the GOP presidential candidates, we need to relearn that the only sources of happiness are others. Science shows the only true, lasting happiness comes from a state of connectedness and community with others — not money or material goods. Infrastructural changes such as demolishing sparsely populated areas of urban and (increasingly) suburban blight and rebuilding them into denser areas with integrated areas of local business and local food production would help people not only psychologically and economically, but environmentally as well.

The challenges to overcome are the fear of each other that has been instilled into us for the last half a century; and the fear of “dangerous” ideas. In America, we have given up dense, urban housing and communities for spread-out, walled off enclaves. We have given up dialectal discourse for intellectual echo chambers. Let’s get back to a healthy village life, even if only because it makes us happier and more tolerant.

Our foreign policy will be development, not war. Like many others on the right, Santorum has called for war on Iran, and promoted the idea we are, as a nation, more in danger of foreign threats than ever before. This is simply an egregious factual error. We are actually in a more peaceful time than ever before. Our foreign policy needs to change — and fast — to accommodate this new reality. We simply do not need large, expensive power projection anymore. Let’s spend the money developing resources that advance trade, education and infrastructure such as sewers, banking and clean food and water. This will make us safer. In the words of Jesus, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Let’s spend that $700 billion military budget on something more life-affirming and productive.

We will value education as a currency, and a healthy habitat as wealth. Santorum, Sarah Palin and others on the extreme right have publicly decried education as some sort of corrupting influence on our populace. Quite to the contrary, education is the one thing of value that can never be taken from someone who has it. Education not only affords a better living to individuals, it drives a sustainable, innovative and agile economy. Education also helps to inoculate people against charlatans and demagogues (perhaps why Santorum is so outspoken against it). Think of what life would be like if the uneducated were considered “poor” and the educated considered “wealthy”? With nothing but knowledge to impart, how easy would it be to advance one’s own “wealth portfolio”?

Education is not the only “alternative wealth” we have. Clean air and water, green places and a healthy climate are also valuable to us, and we are rapidly losing them. Christians should reclaim the value of caring for creation, not exploiting it.

We will uphold healthy sexual norms. Folks, it’s time for this. The recent debate over whether contraception should be available to all women, and the resultant “slut shaming” (or, shaming of all women) by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, has highlighted a long-standing injustice. Christians have sadly promulgated much of it. In the good society, sex is a part of life, to be enjoyed and celebrated in healthy, loving relationships. This isn’t to imply the necessity of sex only in marriage, heterosexuality, and sex for the sole purpose of procreation. Those values demonstrate their impracticality by the simple fact that so few practice them. Sex is a biological need, as much as hunger, thirst, shelter and activity. It’s not really an optional thing, and in striving to encourage overall health in our citizens, we need to allow consenting adults to live out their sexual lives in dignity and respect. This includes allowing homosexuals to enjoy the same marriage rights as straight couples.

All human behavior can be subject to pathologies and sex is no exception. But it is time to treat the pathologies and problems with science, compassion, experi and understanding instead of shame and taboo.

We will remember that Earth does not exist for the shareholders. Perhaps this is the most important item on this list. God did not create the world so that the rich may profiteer from its abundance (in fact, Jesus said the rich will have a hard time in the kingdom of heaven.) We are alive on this planet so that we may be happy. Not happy from material things — happy because of experiences, sharing and connections to others. If we look at things this way, money and material goods serve their purpose but are not the overwhelming goal of all existence.

Santorum rallies conservative Spokane voters

By Tracy Simmons

SPOKANE VALLEY —Rick Santorum has a lot of people praying for him.

More than 500 supporters filled New Life Assembly Church in Spokane Valley on Thursday to show the Republican candidate that they champion his Christian values.

“Thank you Rick, you’re in our prayers,” people called out to him.

Rick Santorum speaks in Spokane/Tracy Simmons -

They cheered when he boasted about being a long-time conservative. They hailed when he knocked the idea of man-made global warming and spoke about unborn babies and the sanctity of life. And they hailed even louder when he slammed the Obama administration’s healthcare plan.

Santorum touched on those issues briefly, and he only had to speak about Washington’s new same-sex marriage legislation momentarily to stimulate the crowd.

“I know what happened here in Washington,” he said. “I know you feel like you’ve been railroaded and bulldozed. Well now you have a chance to speak to the country.”

And that’s exactly what 70-year-old Terry Thach wanted to hear.

“I came (today) because I like the Christian principles that Santorum stands for,” he said. “He’s taken a lot of heat from the press because he stands up to issues that are controversial…like gay marriage.”

Thatch, a member of Life Center Church, said he, an evangelical, supports the Catholic candidate, “because we learn from the same Bible.”

Rick Santorum visits with supporters/Tracy Simmons -

Before Santorum delivered his speech (almost an hour late because of travel delays), New Life Lead Pastor Steve Williams asked the crowd to bow their heads.

“We come here today with great joy in our hearts, with anticipation for the future,” he prayed. “We ask today that you lead us in a common journey to restoring truth and faith. Let it begin in us. We pray that the process our founding fathers started so many years ago would be honored in the months ahead.”

“This race is about what kind of America you’re going to leave to your children and grandchildren because big things are happening in this country, and most of them are not good,” Santorum said when he took the stage.

He said the country needs a conservative republican to take the reins — not a moderate like the other candidates, who he didn’t name specifically.

Santorum supporters sign gay-marriage petition/Tracy Simmons -

“I didn’t decide to become a conservative a few weeks ago to run for president. I’ve been a conservative and have fought in the trenches for conservative causes when they were unpopular,” he said.

He asked the crowd to stand firm for “the values that made this country great,” by voting for him on Saturday at the at the GOP caucuses.

Ron Paul is expected to make a similar plea today when holds a noon rally at the Spokane Convention Center.

View a photo gallery of this event on our Flickr page.

Colville churches repent for their sins

By Tracy Simmons

COLVILLE — On Sunday two Colville congregations came together to profess that they, as part of the common Christian church, have at times been destructive.

“…We confess that we have sinned in communal ways in accepting and perpetuating the prejudices and injustices that persist in our culture and our world,” more than 125 voices together recited at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Two Colville congregations worshiped together on the first Sunday of Lent/Tracy Simmons -

St. Paul Lutheran and 1st Congregational UCC churches are journeying through Lent together, apologizing for the sins of the Christian church. Rev. Eric Ohrtman, rector of St. Paul, explained that the congregations will repent for how they’ve harmed everyone from the Native Americans hundreds of years ago, to today’s gay and lesbian community, to the times the church has been silent when it should have been a prophetic voice.

Rev. Jim CastroLang, of 1st Congregational, said the confessions are a step toward restoring the church “to its wholeness,” particularly as Christians recognize their iniquities and begin to live more consciously.

Rev. Michael Denton, conference minister for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ and Bishop Martin Wells, of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, helped the congregations begin their journey by delivering a sermon together on Sunday (which was the first Sunday of Lent).

Rev. Mike Denton speaks in Colville/Tracy Simmons -

“Institutions are one of the ways human beings help organize themselves. As such, they can also be one of the ways we express some of our worst characteristics and behaviors as well as one of the ways we benefit from the harmful acts of others. Institutions can be used as walls and weapons as well as a tool to help rationalize some actions, that when it comes down to it, can only be described as sins,” Denton said. “It takes honest, faithful conversations just like this to change the world.”

Both Wells and Denton urged the congregations to own and confess the sins they may not have been directly involved in — like slavery — noting all Christians are a part of the body of Christ.

Two Colville congregations come together during Lent/Tracy Simmons -

“I’m anxious for you because I think the work you have in front of you during this Lenten period of confession is difficult.  You are going to be leading the larger church into a territory that we usually avoid,” Wells said. “I’m wonderfully stimulated and grateful to you and I’m eager to know how it goes for you, I’m eager to learn from you and from these good pastors who will lead you.”

St. Paul and 1st Congregational are the only two churches in the area that have teamed up, as separate denominations, to spend Lent together.

Ohrtman explained the congregations will explore a different sin each Sunday during Lent.

View a photo gallery of the communal service here.

What sins do you think the church needs to confess?

Is homosexuality OK in Jesus’ eyes?

By Contributor Dr. Karin Heller

Dear Dr. Heller, 

I have a question about something that was brought up at Judy Shepard’s recent presentation on her son Matthew’s death. Her son was gay and was killed by two other young men out of hate for homosexuals. Judy is a Christian, and with a son whose sexual orientation is by the Bible’s definition a sin, this woman is caught between love for her son and the truth of the Bible. At one point in her presentation a question was voiced over how she felt about this contradiction. Her answer confused me. She said, “the New Testament gives us permission to move away from the teachings of the Old Testament.” She believes that Jesus’ call to love our neighbor regardless of their sins makes homosexuality OK. What are your thoughts on this? I’m a bit confused on how to feel about homosexuality and how to love these people without accepting their way of life as one approved by God. 

Thanks for any insight on this issue, 


Dear Travis,

Dr. Karin Heller

Your message raises a question on the way we very often come to a conclusion on biblical texts. Is it my personal experience that determines how we should interpret texts? Or does a right interpretation of a biblical text depend on interaction between the author of the text, its reader and the larger Christian community? Martin Luther went with the first option. Only personal experience counts. This choice led to the Reformation and a splitting up of Christians in thousands of different denominations.  The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches continue to stick to principles of biblical interpretation represented by the second option.

It’s not my goal to displease the lady whose son died in such horrible circumstances. But the harshest words on homosexuality can be found in the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27). Yes, according to God’s law and Jesus’ new commandment (John 15:12), we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us. Now, what does “to love” mean? It does not mean to disregard sin, any sins, including homosexual acts. Homosexuality is a human condition just as heterosexuality is. Both, homosexuals and heterosexuals, have a sinful nature; both can sin. To love people is not to accept whatever they do or hold. To love as Jesus loved is to show homosexuals and heterosexuals a path to life where all are offered healing from sin, including homosexual acts and sexual sins related to heterosexuality.  This lady just wants homosexuality to be OK! Does she want she and for her son to be totally healed from whatever sin? That’s the ultimate question.

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.