On Sunday, three local Presbyterian churches completed a split from the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination.
Last week, the Vatican announced it would make it easier for Anglicans to convert to the Catholic faith.
And on Oct. 12 of this year, Gov. Schwarzenegger approved the designation of May 22 as “Harvey Milk Day” in California.
These three recent events have one obvious thing in common: the issue of homosexuality in society.
When Prop 8 was all the rage last year, many people (myself included) saw it as a black and white issue. Those who were less religious supported gay marriage, while the more religious types were against it.
It is now apparent that it is much more complex. Presbyterians and Episcopalians have already come to the dreaded “s” word (schism) over it, and other denominations may soon follow.
The issue hasn’t attracted much water-cooler talk since the big marriage votes of 2008, but it is only a matter of time before the national media pulls it back out for another round of debate.
And since the talking heads on TV are taking a break from getting angry over the gay issue, let’s do the same. Take the anger and emotion out of your system right now, and look at this in the broad spectrum. I mean the really broad spectrum.
It isn’t every day that churches completely divide over an issue. The Methodist church split over slavery in 1844. The Mormon church split the exact same year when its prophet, Joseph Smith, was murdered (and has since had many breakaway “Fundamentalist Mormon” sects that continue to practice polygamy). And we all learned in school about the Catholic Reformation and Martin Luther’s 95 theses.
In other words, churches split over huge events. And as such, the lightning rod issue of gay rights may become one of the defining issues of our time.
More historical context: homosexuality was considered a criminal offense in Britain until 1967. It was considered a mental illness in the United States until 1973. Crazy, right? How about this: former California congressman Bob Dornan once quipped, “Don’t use the word ‘gay’ unless it’s an acronym for ‘Got AIDS yet?’” This was an elected official who served multiple terms in the House of Representatives.
As you can see, these types of “moral issues” tend to move only in one direction. When my dad started high school, being gay was listed as a mental illness. It is safe to assume that when my children begin high school it will not have found its way back on the list.
The Bible does contain passages condemning homosexuality. It also contains many rather gruesome passages that support slavery (conducting a Google search will yield many of these very quickly, though I advise doing so at your own risk).
I have attended Methodist churches my entire life, and it pains me to say that my ancestors were on the pro-slavery side of the 1844 Methodist split. However, that denomination reunited in 1939, this time with everyone agreeing that slavery was unacceptable. I am certain these new schisms will end in a similar fashion.
I realize that this is an extremely sensitive issue, and I was quite nervous about writing a column of this nature. But, in the end, we are talking about the private acts of consenting adults involving no one but themselves. It probably will make its way into history books one day, but I honestly wonder why it counts as an issue at all.