Pre-Ride Reactions

This article comes from an update posted on February 20, 2005

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Spring, 2005
before the tour

I thought this time of explanation would have come sooner, but the cascade of affirmation for unicyling STRAIGHT INTO GAY AMERICA lulled my senses. The unavoidable questions are now arriving about my background and my motives for supporting the GLBT or queer community. Here's an explanation of where my GLBT support comes from:

"Lars,  wrote one good friend, "I am confused.  You are a pastor/minister, married and have kids.  What is all this about gay?  You know in the Old and New Testaments that it clearly states this lifestyle is an abomination to God."

"Lars," wrote another kind person, "I only pray and hope you are not so into gay lib causes as to now accept the acts as normal…I can only hope you are fully willing to, and open to, instructing homosexual persons you encounter on your new quest, that their lifestyle is corrupt…I do wish to remain on your list as somebody who has to be there to remind you of who your God really is before its too late and Romans 2:5-9 becomes your calling card…

Time for some disclosures.

Seminary, at the age of 27, was my introduction to gay people and gay issues. A year into hearing stories, making friends with gay and lesbian students, and studying scripture, I sat around a table with six church leaders charged with deciding my future as a pastor.

"Sign this," said the member of the seminary approval committee, setting in front of me the latest escalation of the drive to limit gay influence in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  I was in my second year of seminary. The year was 1988. The required statement said simply,


Not every region of the ELCA created a written statement to be signed.  Mine did, and because Anne and I were living together in that time of our engagement, we were out of bounds.

"I could sign this," I replied to the committee member.  "I can fit these rules.  But no gay or lesbian person in a relationship could meet these requirements. So, if I have to make a choice, I'll choose not to sign this."

After more reminders of how much they wanted me to be a pastor, and how the only requirement was for me to sign the statement, they sent me out into the hallway for their deliberations.  Ten minutes later I was expelled from seminary.

"You can finish out this semester," they offered, as if this were a gift of grace on their part.  The real grace was missing, though, that grace which they'd taught me so well at this same seminary, that grace which goes beyond all categories and classifications to provide the most honest offering of love, care, and consideration into the unique particularities of our daily lives.  They had taught me well, this tradition of Jesus and his love for the outsiders, the outcasts, the suffering.  I relished what I was learning.  But when it came down to the practical application, there was no hesitation in dismissing a "rule-breaker."

I spent the next two weeks calling everyone on my committee, arguing that this rule was too simple, didn't look at any qualifications of a person to be a pastor beyond their sexual orientation, and didn't represent the Jesus whom the seminary had spent so much time, money, and effort teaching me about.

In the end, they made another offer, as if this were another gift of grace on their part.  "If you get married quickly, you can stay in seminary."

"Great," I responded, "Anne and I are already engaged and we have our wedding date set for next summer, June 23rd."

"No," they replied, "we mean very quickly, like two weeks."

I still don't know if we made the right decision.  If I'd been alone I would have made my standard compulsive decision and told them they could keep their seminary and I'd move on.  Instead, together with Anne's calmer approach and the consultation of another pastor who was a best friend to us, we decided to acquiesce for the present so that I could become a pastor. At the time it seemed noble and worthwhile.

I came back to the committee one last time, with marriage certificate in hand, so they could confer their approval on my candidacy for ordination.  Walking into the meeting room, I slapped the certificate hard onto the table, and dropped into my seat. The committee chairperson responded, "You look angry."

"You're right I'm angry. Without this marriage certificate, I was nothing.  With it, I can become a pastor."  I glared at him. "You only care about this piece of paper. You don't care about me."

I estimate the anger stayed with me for the next four years.  And from that fire of anguish came a deep awareness of what it means to be an outsider, to be sacrificed by an institution for the safety and security of the organization.  I have never since felt at ease in relationship to any institution, whether of God or of government.  I also lost any sense that being a pastor was especially noble. Through the painful process, though, I gained an appreciation for the guy Jesus who made compassion his guide with everyone he encountered. 

"But," comes the response to my story, "the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin.  How can you support gay people living together?" 

Some words, then, about my understanding of scripture and society, and how these inform my understanding of justice. 

For the sake of good conversation, these things matter.

1.  How do we understand the origins of the Bible?  Is it a book that lays down a timeless law?  Some believe so.  But there are problems with this viewpoint.  First, the Bible's words sometimes contradict. Second, no one takes all the Bible's decrees literally.  How do we make our choices as faithful people?  It comes down to INTERPRETATION.  There is no way to avoid INTERPRETATION.  In other words, we must admit that our view of the Bible cannot be OBJECTIVE.  It is always SUBJECTIVE.  I do not agree with an understanding of the bible to be a literal, inerrant word of God that can be received without interpretation.  

Neither scripture itself, nor historical study of the biblical context support a literal, inerrant word. Specifically, with regard to homosexuality, there is extensive Biblical scholarship which comes to a conclusion that loving committed relationships between same sex partners can be affirmed by God and society.  While some disagree with this outcome, it is important to acknowledge that serious study by serious theologians and scholars often reaches a conclusion of affirming same-sex relationships.

The website of contains over 2,000 articles and links to hundreds of other websites from the full spectrum of many different religious issues.  It's one place to start.  As they acknowledge, after receiving hundreds of e-mails from all perspectives,  "We have been unable to change the beliefs or actions of any of these hundreds of people on even one point related to homosexuality. Their views appear to be fixed. It is doubtful that much progress towards compromise on homosexual rights can be made by means of dialogue. We don't expect that the attached essays will change the beliefs of many visitors to this web site. However, the essays may help people understand opinions that are not their own." also includes an analysis of how liberals and conservatives approach the bible differently.  (I like what is trying to do, but I am not endorsing this website or its views.) On then….

2. How do we understand God?  For some of us God makes sense as a judge and a ruler. God makes sense as the one who measures our performance and determines our rewards.  But there are other ways to view God, and my study of Jesus has taught me to focus on love, compassion, care, and kindness, shown always to the outsiders of Jesus society.  When Jesus offers judgment, it almost always falls on the rulers.  Jesus never condones using one's power to keep outsiders out.  I believe he was onto something way back then.  The problem of misusing power has been a constant theme through history.  It's a problem that is still with us. How do we take seriously Jesus commandment to love one another when power is at stake?  For myself,  I try and listen to the outsiders.  I try and listen to what GLBT people are saying.  I try to serve these issues of justice in ways consistent with my understanding of compassion and care.
3.  How do we understand society and culture?  For some of us the perfect society is a timeless vision.  Society, though, has changed and continues to change.  The ages have ended slavery, empowered women, and moved beyond the tradition of marriage that viewed women as property and gave sanction to harems.  Scripture as timeless law was once used to support these arrangements that today we consider abominations.  To overcome the injustices, seekers of justice invoked the compassionate love of Jesus and created new arrangements of society.  Over time we've expanded our notions of equality and justice. The Old Testament and Paul have a few words about homosexuality, but no word of Jesus is recorded on the subject of homosexuality.  On the other hand, many, many words of Jesus are recorded about love for the stranger, and the outcast.  Where would Jesus be found in the current religious and societal positions on homosexuality?

I have found many good examples to follow as I try to pattern my life in pursuit of compassion.  One of the most powerful for me is Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who worked so hard to end apartheid in South Africa and continues to labor for justice in his country and abroad.   His bottomless good humor and uncompromising attention to grace and compassion is captured in NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS, his story of serving South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation work after the end of apartheid. I would have thought that with all his busy work on apartheid, nation building, and global issues of justice, might have bigger fish to fry than talking about homosexuality.  But no, Bishop Tutu regularly speaks out for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in the sight of both God and society.  For Bishop Tutu,  GLBT inclusion is a core issue of justice.

Much lies ahead of me, before, during, and after pedaling STRAIGHT INTO GAY AMERICA this summer. I feel deeply grateful to be involved in a conversation of importance that has multiple sides to it.  I feel honored by each one who takes time and care to write and express a viewpoint. I hope that our conversation will only continue to grow in richness and in depth. My own study and my own experience lead me to believe the wandering man Jesus would have affirmed my unicycle ride STRAIGHT INTO GAY AMERICA.  And I hope that Jesus would have backed my goal of riding beyond our religious and cultural polarization to find everyday stories of everyday life in gay America.  Thanks again for sharing the journey.