If Jesus were alive in 2017, would he be hanging out at a gay bar?
That’s what a group of reverends, professors and students discussed at a panel titled “Christianity and/or/versus Homosexuality” this Tuesday.
“One of the problems in American culture today is we tend to speak about groups that we differ with. We don’t speak to groups that we differ with,” said Reverend Santosh Ninan in his opening remarks.
Ninan’s statement voiced the panel’s overall theme of encouraging “exposure to diverse viewpoints within the Christian tradition.”
The panel brought together six panelists from a variety of Christian backgrounds to discuss their views on homosexuality and its place in the Christian faith. In responding to a series of questions posed by a student moderator, they voiced differing views on homosexuality that sometimes conflicted with each other.
The panel featured Reverends David Kaden, Santosh Ninan, and David McMullin, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work. It also featured Prof. Michael Ferguson, human development, Brian Patchcoski, associate dean and director of the Cornell LGBT Resource Center, and Ben Hutton ’08, a volunteer with Campus Crusade for Christ/Cornell Cru.
“If Jesus were in our midst, he would absolutely be hanging out in gay bars and walking in pride parades because this is the same guy who in our tradition is God in flesh. This is the same guy who embraced people outside the mainstream,” Kaden said. “Jesus could think outside of tight boxes.”
He added that “it is our job, as 21st century interpreters of these traditions, to privilege, in the Bible and in the Christian tradition, those elements that are inclusive and universalist.”
Panelists Hutton and Ninan both took a different stance, arguing that homosexuality is a sin. They also pointed to a misplaced emphasis on homosexuality over other sins.
“The Bible says way more about pride, greed, love of money and lust than it does about homosexuality,” Ninan said.
Hutton elaborated on this view, grouping everyone as “sexual sinners,” with the sin associated with homosexuality as one among other sins, including divorce and sex outside marriage.
“Yes, I think that homosexual sex, homosexual lust is sinful, but then I want to be quick to rope myself and everyone in this room to say, ‘you know, we’re all in that boat,’” he said. “We’re all sexual sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption.”
For this reason, Hutton stressed the importance of increasing “empathy and understanding” and a way of balancing between “endorsing homosexuality outright and hating homosexuals,” he said.
Ninan expanded on this theme of “empathy and understanding” in the context of the evolution of his views on homosexuality and faith.
He said that despite his understanding of homosexuality as a sin, he wants there to be a church “community that will open their arms, homes and hearts to welcome same-sex attracted men and women.”
“I grew up with heterosexual privilege … but God in his grace allowed me to become friends with two gay men in my early 20s. Listening to them and their stories was life changing. I’m ashamed that I carried those homophobic and evil feelings in my heart, but as a Christian, I believe that God forgives,” Ninan said.
As indicated by its title, “Christianity and/or/versus Homosexuality,” the panel also addressed whether Christianity and homosexuality need be viewed as potentially-conflicting, binary entities.
On this question, Ferguson argued against the Christianity or homosexuality view.
“It is our universal spiritual calling to first, take up the cross and second, queer it,” he said.
“Jesus is supremely and unapologetically queer,” he added. This is a being whose coming out story violates the boundary between virginity and pregnancy, divinity and humanity, spirit and flesh … Jesus is the original queer gangster.”
Reverend McMullin also argued against a binary view, saying the two concepts ought not to be viewed as antithetical.
“I didn’t like the idea of Christianity and homosexuality referred to as an issue and as if there is only one Christianity that exists and as if that word ‘homosexuality’ somehow or other indicates a whole variety of the ways people see life and engage in the way that they love one another,” he said.
Ultimately, the panel was, as Ninan said, a “civil dialogue,” of people speaking to each other from different backgrounds about issues on which they sometimes disagreed.
Reflecting on the value of the panel, Ferguson concluded that in creating a sort of “conversation place,” people can learn to accept their differences. And in doing so, he said “we can go to each other’s churches and worship the same God afterwards.”