george_hancockstefanThe influential German theologian Karl Barth said that good preaching is always done by preachers who carefully read the Bible and the daily newspaper.  The Bible gives us God’s unchanging truths, while the daily newspaper lets us know where our audience is – those who are in the church and those who are outside the church.

From that preaching perspective, I was very interested to read the four day analysis by the Asbury Park Press entitled “Rainbow Renaissance –The influence of gay culture on Asbury Park.”  It is a reflective, optimistic perspective written primarily by interviewing the members of the gay community.

In the historical analysis, there was this extended paragraph on Monday, June 14th that made me stop and reflect on what was written.

“On March 28 (2004), local churches organized a prayer vigil along Main Street, with opposition to gay marriage cited as one of its motivating factors. That vigil still stings Navarrette, who now lives in Philadelphia with Best.

In an email statement, Navarrete said, “(F)or 30 years the religious community in Asbury Park allowed the town to be taken over by drug dealers and prostitutes, but it took two gay guys getting married for them to show any indignation. It’s time that superstitions were put aside and that bigotry based on the Bible has no place making public policy or civil law. We should be a bit more enlightened than that by now.”

This is a scorching analysis.  The question is: Is this assessment correct?  Is there a possibility that the churches of Asbury Park stood on the sidelines while the vices of drug dealing and prostitution ran rampant? Is there a possibility that collectively we regard some sins worse than others?  As I reflected I had to agree with the author that the churches of Asbury Park (as well as many others) in general are guilty of such practices.

However, the author also states that the reaction of the churches of Asbury Park was based on the bigotry perpetuated by the Bible which should have no place in making policy or civil law.  While the churches have been selective with their action, the author did not help his case by telling the churches that their views are bigoted and so is the Bible.

In the summer months when I have my vacation, I usually visit other churches to see what they are doing.  One morning, I was visiting a Baptist African American church in a different county.  The service in this particular church is over three hours (I was aware of that before I got there).  In addition, they had a baby dedication that morning with between 10 and 12 infants.

The sermon for that day was entitled “The Natural Order of Things.”  We Baptists are not known for being great students of Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, this pastor introduced his sermon with a superb analysis of Aquinas’ theology that has dominated the Roman Catholic Church. He claimed that Aquinas was one of the few theologians who understood that you cannot change the created order.  He then moved to Romans chapter 1, with the emphasis on the expressions “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images to look like mortal man”, ‘they exchanged the truth of God for a lie”, “their women exchanged the natural relations for unnatural ones” and “in the same way the men abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” The pastor concluded his sermon by asking the congregation how they will bring up their children – according to the natural laws of God or according to laws that men have created that move against the natural order that God has instituted.

There was nothing bigoted about this worship service.  The biblical text was very clear, the history and the theology of the church sided with this preacher and he was concerned for the children that he dedicated that morning.  Moreover, he was deeply involved in his community with providing assistance to those who were trying to leave drug use and prostitution behind. Therefore, while the gay community is correct to remind the church to be involved with other major issues, when the church is not siding with them in this particular issue, I do not think that Christians should be labeled as bigots.