Three reverends, a pastor and a rabbi walked into an art museum on Saturday, but this was no joke.
The mood was respectful, polite and ecumenical as five members of Tacoma’s Associated Ministries met at the Tacoma Art Museum for the program “Seeking Common Ground: a Dialogue About Art, Faith and Sexuality.”
The dialogue was held as part of the museum’s controversial exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which explores the pain, passion and portrayal of homosexuality over the past century.
Before a gathering of some 50 people, moderator and Associated Ministries Executive Director Rev. Chris Morton described the event as “a new type of program for us.”
It would be, he said, “a fishbowl dialogue” conducted in “a safe place” where participants would respect each other’s dignity.
Morton began by asking members of the panel if they had known a person identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual.
• The Rev. Dean Curry of Life Center mentioned the next door neighbor of his younger days, a boy who exited the closet in high school.
“We grew up together,” said Curry, pastor of one of the South Sound’s largest churches. “Homosexuality was not a vague concept, it was my friend.”
The young man died of AIDS in 1990.
• The Rev. Sarah Wiles of Bethany Presbyterian Church knew a childhood friend who came out to her during his freshman year at college.
“He and I are still in touch,” she said.
• The Rev. Gregory Christopher of Shiloh Baptist Church said his only living uncle, and the patriarch of his father’s side of his family, is gay.
“He is dear to my heart,” Christopher said. “He put me in a position to go to college. I love him.”
• Early in his career, Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Temple Beth El ministered to the needs of the family of a gay man who had died. This taught him “important lessons in terms of taking care of one another.”
• Rev. Sharon Moe, district superintendent of the United Methodist Church, grew up in a town of a few hundred people and attended a school serving 50 in grades 1-8. A boy on whom she had a crush, for whom she kept “a tender spot in my heart,” became among the first young men to die of AIDS.
Thus began Saturday’s dialogue.
For Moe, the controversy surrounding gays and lesbians in church leadership has become “a gut-wrenching tension.” That some believe homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching has become “so harmful to so many people. We live in that dichotomy.”
Of sexuality, Curry said, “God made it up.” But sometimes, according to his reading of the Bible, “that appetite can become out-of-bounds.”
Rabbi Kadden stated simply: “Reform Judaism early on embraced complete civil rights for gays and lesbians.”
Simply stated also was the view of Christopher, who was raised in a conservative black Baptist church.
“The religion I chose to serve does not condone homosexuality and sees it as a sex act that is not accepted by the God of the Holy Bible.”
Christopher noted that in the New Testament letters of the Apostle Paul it is said that some people, because of their behaviors, “will not inherit the kingdom of God. If (homosexuality) is in our heart, then God has a problem with that.”
The moderator wondered if a homosexual can be a Christian.
For Curry: “A follower of Jesus? Yes. Thieves can also be followers of Jesus.”
For Christopher, “If that person is saying ‘I am homosexual,’ the Holy Bible is saying no.”
“Do we take the Bible very seriously? We do take it seriously,” said Wiles.
But, she said, “We need a grown-up, an adult reading of the Bible. We see change within the Bible.”
“What’s wrong is violence, and injustice, and inequality and anything that wounds another person either in their soul or their psyche,” said Moe.
“It’s not who we love, but how we love,” she said. “I believe that there is goodness in homosexuality and heterosexuality. Encouraging that goodness is what I believe in.”
Near the end, there was a question from the audience.
“If it is not a choice, wouldn’t it be cruel to exclude them from the Kingdom of God?”
“I don’t believe it’s a choice,” said Kadden.
“If it’s not a choice, it is very cruel to them,” Christopher email@example.com