Bible study could change Grand Rapids perceptions

By Crystal Proxmire

GRAND RAPIDS -

A Grand Rapids pastor is changing the way people are reading the Bible, with a seven-week Bible study class for the entire community.

Over 20 people came out to the first workshop, with ages from 20 to 80 and multiple races and faiths represented, to talk about the Bible and what it means in today's society. It's not about what the Bible says so much as understanding that no one has exclusive insight into what it says.

"When we read the Bible we are interpreting it," said Reverend Bill Lyons of St. John's United Church of Christ. "No person simply reads the Bible. Even if you know Hebrew and Greek and are reading the original text, you're still interpreting it. The Bible was written in a specific time and place. And it was written by people, who each had their own contexts and filters."

Long story short is there is wiggle room in what the Bible may or may not really mean.

Even as an expert - with 26 years as a pastor, a BA in Bible, two masters degrees and an American Bible Society Award for Biblical scholarship - Lyons contends that he is not here to tell others what to think, only to open their minds to looking at the Bible for values, guidance and inspiration, not absolutes.

The "What the Bible Really Says about Gay Christians (May Surprise You)" class meets every Sunday from May 20 to July 1, from 5pm to 6:30pm. St. John's UCC Grand Rapids is one of over 30 west Michigan Churches that are listed on the GIFT (Gays In Faith Together) website as being open and affirming to LGBT worshipers. The workshop is in partnership with GIFT, a group that made headlines recently for their controversial Gay Christian Yes billboard on US 131.

The first class focused on how to read the Bible, and the many ways that the Bible has been interpreted and used. Subsequent classes will focus first on relationships and sexuality in general, and then on parts of the Bible most often used as 'evidence' that God is against Gays.

"Some people call them 'Clobber Passages,' but I don't use that term," Rev. Lyons said. "Properly understood, they aren't clobber passages, that's just how they're used. Understood in their context, these seven passages are trying to teach all of us God's values and boundaries for healthy sexual relationships - gay and straight.

"The Bible says nothing about gay Christians. Today's understanding of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender was outside of the worldview of the contributors to the body of literature we know as the Bible. Christians today try to apply what the Bible says to same gender relationships, often failing to understand the people who produced the Biblical corpus in their context.

Another term Lyons avoids is that of 'gay marriage' when talking about the Bible. "The Bible speaks of our relationships regardless of who are relationships are with. The Bible does two things; it prescribes things and it describes things. Descriptions are formed with ancient world views, and they describe situations that were observed at the time the text was written. Prescriptions are laws from God, like the commandments. Nowhere in the Bible does it prescribe, or command marriage, or that marriage can only be between one man and one woman," he said. "When we talk about relationships, we talk about all relationships. When we talk about marriage, we talk about all marriage.

"The Bible says the same things to gay Christians that the Bible says to all Christians, for being a Christian is possible by grace through faith, sexual orientation and gender identity notwithstanding."

St. John's welcomes people of all backgrounds. "We are not a 'gay' church, rather we recognize the importance of articulating our welcome, by name, to marginalized people who attend our services." There is also a rainbow flag hanging in the sanctuary as a sign of support.

Rev. Lyons is a gay man who has been in a committed relationship for eleven years. He has adult children with his former wife, whom he still considers a good friend, and he is very close to his children. He was ordained in the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in 1985, but in 2000 "grew beyond" his calling there and found a denomination more in line with his progressive values.

"I did everything that the fundamentalist evangelical teaching told me to do regarding my awareness of my sexual orientation. All the prayers I said asking to change my orientation, God said no to."

Find out more about St. John UCC Grand Rapids at http://www.stjohnsuccgr.org/. Learn more about GIFT at http://gaysinfaithtogether.org/.

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