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A Church without Hellfire IN MID-FEBRUARY 1993, the Metro politan Community Church of Dallas moved into its new home, the Cathedral of Hope, a $3 million church financed by bonds sold throughout the local gay and lesbian community. \(When financial planning for the Cathedral began some years ago, the prospect of getting a bank loan for a major homosexual religious center in Dallas appeared unlikely, and so the congregation turned successfully to this means Only two years after the founding of the Metropolitan Community Church as a denomination, Dallas’ Metropolitan Community Church began with a group of 12 worshippers in 1970. By the mid-1970’s, services in Dallas were attracting as many as 75 people, a huge turnout for that time. This church of lesbians, gay men and their families is now the world’s largest of its kind, with more than 1,000 congregants overflowing the Cathedral of Hope on ‘ Sunday mornings. The church’s fulltime staff numbers 16, and its budget runs to over $1 million for 1994. Like the other 250 or so MCCs across the U.S., the Cathedral of Hope’s theology is trinitarian, in line with basic, orthodox Christianity, but allows members intellectual leeway on questions such as the virgin birth of Christ, according to Associate Pastor Paul Tucker. The church also ordains women; ministry in the MCC has been open to females from the church’s beginning. The MCC’ s two sacraments are baptism, which is administered after attendance at membership classes, and communion, which is celebrated weekly in conjunction with Sunday public worship. The success of the Metropolitan Community Church within Dallas’s gay and lesbian community stems directly from its spirit of tolerance and compassion, extended within a group which has often experienced rejection from religious institutions. The communion table at the Cathedral of Hope is open to all believers, whether they are church members or not: “Being refused communion has happened to a lot of us,” comments Tucker. Besides its regular worship services, the church offers dozens of programs and forms of assistance to anyone who is interested, from lay ministry training courses to extensive practical help for people with AIDS and their , primary caregivers, emergency financial help to any person in need, counseling for couples, 12-step groups and opportunities to explore spiritual issues through workshops and conferences with visiting luminaries. Underlying all the works and liturgies of the Dallas MCC is the message that it’s okay to be one of God’s creations, both gay and Christian. Hellfire and damnation are conspicuous by their absence from Cathedral of Hope sermons. MCC ministers stress the love of God and compassion for one’s fellow beings, rather than the image of the vengeful Sky-God, in Gore Vidal’s terminology. By necessity, the Metropolitan Community Church has faced the damage done to its members by the ecclesiastical thuggery of large segments of organized Christianity. Its message of spiritual healing deserves a hearing *from the more massive, older denominations from which its membership comes. M.O. fish, lobster and oysters; drinking milk while eating a roast beef sandwich or putting butter on the bread used to make that sandwich; men shaving or cutting their hair; planting tomatoes and carrots in the same garden; and women talking in the temple or attending religious services during their menstrual periods. How can one say that two verses of Leviticus are “God’s Law,” while completely ignoring hundreds of other provisions of “God’s Law”? And even if the Hebrew Law condemns homosexuality and it does not –both Jesus and Paul say that Christians are not bound by the law of the Old Testament, but by the new law of love described in the New Testament. The New Testament The most important thing to note about homo sexuality in the New Testament is that the main authOrs Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus never once mentioned it. Why then does the Religious Right talk and act as if homosexuality is their single most important concern? Bigotry. John Spong, a prominent contemporary Episcopalian bishop and theologian, attributes it to fear and insecurity. The absence of discussion of homosexuality in the New Testament leaves the Religious Right two passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul to condemn homosexuality. The first is from Paul’s letter to the from his letter to the people in Corinth. Rome and Corinth were both appropriate targets of someone like Paul, who was concerned about morality, especially sexual morality. Both cities were centers of pagan worship. For more than a half a century several Biblical scholars have tried to establish that Paul himself was gay, that his “thorn in the flesh” was a gay orientation. This may or may not have been true, but in any case Paul didn’t approve of any sexual relations. Convinced that the end of the world with the return of Jesus was imminent, he believed that marriage and reproduction were unnecessary. For Paul, the only excuse for marriage was a man’s inability to control his sex drive and remain celibate. Though Paul was essentially opposed to all sexual activity, the passages from Romans and Corinthians are not condemnations of loving relationships between persons of the same gender. The first reference, Romans 1:26-27, speaks of women exchanging “natural relations for unnatural ones” and says that “men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another …” These references follow sons who don’t worship the one God whose Son Jesus had called Paul as an apostle. Paul shippers who worshipped images of Gods “made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” The references in verses 26 and 27 appear in the context of idol worship, probably referring to male and female prostitution in the pagan temples and have nothing to say about loving, committed gay relationships. The second reference is I Corinthians.6;9 10, which equally condemns idol worshipers, drunks, slanderers, swindlers, thieves, the greedy and people whom Paul, in Greek, calls malakos and arsenokoitai. These words have been translated in many different ways and scholars can’t agree on what Paul meant Malakos has been translated variously as “people who wear clothes of soft cloth”, \(like turbators” or “homosexuals.” Based on .other usage of this word the latter translation is the least likely to be accurate. Arsenokoitai is a word, possibly invented by Paul, combining two Greek words for “bed” and “males.” An early Greek church leader, John Chrysostom, used this word to mean anal intercourse. Chrysostom assigned different penances for anal intercourse, depending on with whom it was done: one’s wife, a woman not one’s wife, another man and so on. But because Paul, in Chapter Six is most concerned with male prostitutes, the most likely meaning of the word is male prostitutes. It is regrettable the Religious Right and others who oppress gays and lesbians have taken the Bible captive and are using it to further their private agenda. But it’s been done before. People of the same mindset wrote a book in the U.S. in 1904 called The Negro a Beast. These Bible bigots tried to use Bible quotations to prove that African Americans aren’t human and, therefore, don’t have souls. Not surprisingly, they arrived at the conclusion that African Americans couldn’t have eternal life. Gays and lesbians were simply next 26 MAY 21, 1993