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Is Homophobia Holy Writ?

By Gabriel Rotello, Newsday, March 10, 1993

 SHOULD RELIGION hold gays to one standard and straights to another? Apparently some Presbyterians think so.

 Although theirs is a fairly broad-minded denomination, Presbyterians last November barred the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian minister, from leading a Rochester congregation. Their highest judicial body ruled that although celibate homosexuals can be pastors, "unrepentant" ones like Jane Spahr cannot because their sexuality is contrary to scripture.

 I asked a leader of the ad-hoc group of upstate Presbyterians that opposes gay pastors, the Rev. Ronald Sallade of the Union Presbyterian Church in Scottsville, where scripture condemns gays. He mentioned Matthew, Chapter 19, but Sallade seemed to be stretching. Although there are a few anti-gay passages in the Bible, they're not in the four Gospels. Jesus, it bears remembering, never said a word about homosexuality. But I recalled that he opposed divorce and remarriage, so I asked Sallade whether Presbyterians also banned divorced ministers.

 "Oh, we allow divorce. I myself happen to be divorced. But I'm remarried, and I intend to remain remarried for life."

 But I thought Jesus said you couldn't do that. "No, he said that divorce is adultery. And to adulterate is to water down, right? And that's the point with all sin: to look at it, see it's a mistake and recover from it."

 But if a remarried person really repented, wouldn't he return to his original spouse? If not, isn't he simply continuing to commit adultery? "No, it means that when you remarry, having made one mistake, don't make it again."

 That prompted me to look up Matthew for myself, and, surprisingly, the passage Sallade said condemns gays actually condemns...divorce. The Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is allowed for any reason, and Jesus replies that once a couple gets married, they are "one flesh" that can never be "put asunder." But, ask the snooty Pharisees, didn't Moses allow divorce? Yes, Jesus replies, "But from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."

 Since the ban on adultery is one of the Ten Commandments, while a ban on homosexuality is not, I couldn't help wondering why Presbyterians allow remarried, but not gay or lesbian, pastors. I interviewed several Presbyterian theologians and ministers, who mostly just looked embarrassed. I even got a concordance, an index of every word in the Bible, and looked up dozens of words atonement, forgiveness, charity searching for a passage that says, or even hints, that Christians can ignore Jesus and remarry. I found nothing, though I'm still looking. I'm up to the entries under hypocrisy, and I think I'm getting warm.

 Protestants' qualms about homosexuality are indeed embarrassing when juxtaposed to their general acceptance of divorce. Fears of an imaginary gay threat to the family seem particularly absurd next to the very real damage divorce does to families. But on the other hand, this modern tolerance of divorce shows how easily many Christians could- accept gays and lesbians, if they really wanted to. After all, if they've found a way around Matthew 19, they can find a way around anything.

 You'd think they'd be eager to, what with Jesus' other admonition, the one about casting stones. I mean, if people can interpret the Bible to cut themselves a little slack in their love lives, the least they can do is be charitable about it. And it's hardly charitable or consistent to insist that the Bible requires gays and lesbians to be celibate for life, while straights don't even have to be faithful.

 It doesn't even make sense. After all, we frail humans are expected to have double standards. But it's hard to imagine God does.


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