In Light of Recent Events

gay marriageThis is the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 28, setting aside my summer sermon series to address a number of recent events in our nation.  I publish it here by request:

On Thursday Christy and I drove from Richmond, Virginia, to Niagara Falls, Ontario, which means that we waited in line to cross the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side of the border. I don’t know why. You can see the falls from the American side. But we love international travel, and it only cost $3.50 to cross the bridge, so we did it. And, besides, we had reservations at a bed and breakfast on the Canadian side. To avoid roaming charges we switched our phones to “airplane mode” and spent a blissful sixteen hours ignoring the news. When we crossed back over the next day it seemed that everything had changed. Christy sat in the passenger seat looking at her Facebook feed and telling me that the Governor of Alabama had taken down the Confederate flag. And then she told me the Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act and made gay marriage legal everywhere in America. A little later in the day she told me that President Obama had started singing “Amazing Grace” near the end of his eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and that someone here in our own town had spray painted “Black Lives Matter” on the Jefferson Davis Monument just down the street.

Honestly, you leave the country for one day!

But now I’m back, and like most of you I’m trying to discern what these events will mean for America, for the Commonwealth of Virginia, for Metropolitan Richmond, and for First Baptist Church. It’s a complicated question, and I went for a run yesterday morning to sort things out. During that run I stopped at the Jefferson Davis Monument and looked for evidence of the words “Black Lives Matter.” I couldn’t find them anywhere. But I thought about the person whose job it was to remove those words from the monument—James Robertson, a private contractor, a white man. I had seen his picture in the paper before I went for my run. And I wondered: what was he thinking as he scrubbed those words from the stone? Because I wouldn’t be surprised if, even as he was doing it, he was thinking, “But black lives DO matter!”

Every life matters.

I preached in Dallas, Texas, on June 19, at the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and I reminded the audience that exactly 150 years earlier Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word that slavery had been abolished. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect some two-and-a-half years earlier, but most Confederate states ignored it until they were forced to free their slaves by advancing Union troops. From the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, General Gordon Granger read the contents of General Order No. 3:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor…

Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets after that announcement, but you might imagine that former slave owners did not rejoice. In a single moment they had gone from owning slaves, who worked for free, to having hired hands, who would expect to be paid.

I also reminded the audience that on June 19, 1964, exactly 51 years earlier, the Civil Rights Act had been passed, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. On that day I’m sure there was rejoicing in the streets, but again, not everyone was rejoicing. And so it was on Friday, when the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. I saw a picture of a woman holding a sign that read: “I’m not just gay; I’m ecstatic!” Everywhere on Facebook people were putting rainbow stripes over their profile pictures and celebrating this momentous day in our nation’s history, but again…not everyone.

Does it always have to come to this? Big decisions by the government that split the country into two groups: those who are rejoicing and those who are not? Does it always have to divide us as a people? Will this latest decision divide us as a church? I hope and pray that it will not, and to that end I thought it might be helpful to spend a few minutes talking about just what is at stake here.

First of all: marriage.

In the Bible, as far as I can tell, marriage is the creation of a stable social structure in which children can be born and raised. It is the logical outcome of the first commandment ever given in the Bible, Genesis 1:28, in which God says to the people he has just created, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” In the very next chapter the Bible says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” This is how humans multiply. A man and a woman “cleave” to each other. Biologists call it sexual reproduction.

This appears to be the primary purpose of marriage in the Bible, and for that reason it is necessarily between a man and a woman. But not only one woman. Early in the Bible we have the story of Jacob who married first Leah and then Rachel and then had children by their maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah. Ultimately he produced twelve sons and who knows how many daughters. He was fruitful. He multiplied. He fulfilled the first commandment. But I don’t know many people these days who argue for that kind of biblical marriage. Instead they talk about a lifetime of love and commitment and I agree. That’s a better model than pure procreation. But I’m not sure where we get that. Not from the Bible, certainly, where Jacob may be the only example of someone who wanted to get married because he was in love. Most of those marriages were arranged by parents who made the best matches they could for their children and then waited for the grandchildren to come. It wasn’t about love; it was about multiplication.

But these days we talk about love and commitment. A woman gets married because she falls in love with a man and wants to spend the rest of her life with him. A man gets married for the same reason. And while he may want a family at some point it’s hardly ever the main point. That became clear to me on the day I did a wedding for a couple in their eighties. They were so precious! And each had survived the loss of a spouse after more than fifty years of marriage. When I asked the groom, “Do you take this woman in sickness and in health?” I saw the tears come to his eyes, because he had nursed his wife through a lengthy illness. And when I asked the bride the same question she did the same thing. She had sat by her husband’s bed until he drew his last breath. These two knew what they were getting into! But they weren’t getting into it to start a family. They were lonely, and they had come to love each other, and they longed for human companionship. How could I deny them that?

So, our understanding of marriage has changed since biblical times. It’s not just about multiplication anymore. It’s about love and commitment. And our understanding of human beings has changed since biblical times. We know now that while most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex, some people are attracted to members of the same sex. What we don’t know is why. Is it genetic? Is it something determined at an early age? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be a choice. I can still remember the day I discovered that I was attracted to the opposite sex: it was in fourth grade, and her name was Bamma Donohue. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But I didn’t choose to be attracted to her; it just happened. People who are attracted to members of the same sex report precisely that kind of experience.

And so the Supreme Court has decided that, since marriage is no longer strictly about multiplication, but rather a matter of love and commitment, and since people don’t seem to choose whom they are attracted to, but rather discover those attractions at an early age, then who are they to tell two adults that they can’t share their lives with each other? That they can’t have joint ownership of property and joint custody of children? The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is a civil right, and that withholding that right on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is unconstitutional. But what about us? We are not the Supreme Court. We are, most of us, members of First Baptist Church, and when it comes to marriage the separation of church and state prevails. No one can force me to do a same-sex wedding: all they can do is ask.

And so far, no one has.

But surely, someday, someone will, and so, when same-sex marriage became legal in Virginia a few months ago, I asked our deacons where we stand on the issue of homosexuality. I passed out little slips of paper and put four points on the spectrum: 1) we condemn homosexuality and exclude homosexuals from our church, 2) we tolerate homosexuals under an unwritten “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, 3) we welcome homosexuals as members but we do not ordain or marry them, or 4) we extend to our homosexual members the same rights, privileges, and blessings as any other member. I asked the deacons to write down the number that best described First Baptist Church and the average was 2.5—somewhere between tolerance and welcome. And then I passed out more slips of paper and asked them to write down where we should be and this time the average was 3—welcome. We weren’t drafting policy. We weren’t making decisions. We were just finding out where we were on this issue and not everyone was in the same place. There was at least one 1 on those little slips of paper and a few 4’s. As I’ve said before, this church is a big tent. It has all kinds of people in it. The only common denominator is our shared faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Which brings me back to my first thoughts on this topic.

When I was still wondering whether I should address these recent events in today’s sermon I thought I might just say something during the welcome. I might say, “There have been a lot of changes in our country in the last few days, but as the author of Hebrews says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (13:8). So, maybe we should spend some time sitting at his feet in the next few weeks, listening to what he has to say about all this.” But then I gave it some more thought. What does Jesus say about gay marriage? Nothing at all. What does he say about the Affordable Care Act? Nothing. What does he say about the Confederate flag? Nothing. What does he say about black lives? Nothing that I can recall. But he does say something that could be extended to all lives. He tells us to love our neighbors, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he makes it clear that the people or groups of people we have the hardest time loving are also our neighbors. Samaritans were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ time, but the Samaritan in his story stopped and helped a Jew who had been beaten and left for dead.

“If you want to inherit eternal life,” Jesus said, “then go and do likewise.”

What would he say to us in these days when some people have been shot because their skin was black and others have been allowed to marry even though they are gay? I’m fairly sure he would say, “Love your neighbor.” And I think he might add (although I don’t want to put words in his mouth) that the commandment to love applies to everyone with no exceptions, that those of us who follow Jesus must love our black neighbors, our white neighbors, our gay neighbors, our straight neighbors, our Christian neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, and even the neighbors who borrow our tools and forget to return them. Leave the work of judgment up to God and the Supreme Court. Our job is not to judge; it is to love. And it is to love everyone.

Because every life matters.

____________________________
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160 thoughts on “In Light of Recent Events

  1. This is an important sermon and one that will likely need to be repeated in different versions because the message is so very important. Thanks for your insight and clarity on a number of breaking topics. “Love your neighbor” is indeed the key and guide for today and every day.

  2. The last 3 sentences of this sermon say it all to us as Christians! It relieves us of a lot of stress to know that we can leave the judging up to the Lord. I love that and need to hear that reminder often!

  3. Jim,

    Thank you for sharing the text of your sermon from June 28th. It was, and is, a powerful message.

    Ron Smith

  4. I am so very grateful to God for First Baptist Church, and the pastors it has had throughout its 200+ years and for the 72 years in which I have been privileged to be a member of its congregation. My minister father came to Richmond in 1943 to be the Director of Race Relations for the Virginia Council of Churches, & he & my mother both taught in the Sunday School here for many years. He also led work for Interracial Reconciliation with the National Council of Churches for four years before joining the faculty of the Virginia Union Divinity School for the last years of his active ministry. There is no doubt in my mind that Black Lives Matter; indeed ALL lives matter, and Jesus made it rather clear that loving ALL our neighbors is an important part of following HIM. Thanks, Pastor Jim, for helping us ALL to put in perspective the days we are living, and helping us to clarify our ways of doing God’s work here in Richmond as we try to bring the Kingdom of Heaven right where we live every day of our lives.

  5. Once again, Dr. Sommerville, I find the perfect words for the thoughts of my heart on your blog. Thank you for sharing with such love, patience, gentleness, joy, self-control, goodness, kindness, peace, and faithfulness. I’d love to share on my Facebook wall. Is that permitted?

  6. Jim … thank you for the well stated and well thought out message … you never disappoint …

    As you know, Elizabeth and I are both Christians … you (as our former Pastor) and Christy have been to our home when you were Sr. Pastor at 1st Baptist Church in the City of Wash DC … you know we love all people … we don’t judge. We know what the Bible says about judging, we also know what it says about love and we also know what it says about marriage … we also understand the SBC’s position on marriage … my question for you is what will you do when a same sex couple asks you to marry them in 1st Baptist Richmond? I ask, because, we all know that day is coming … its the same question I would pose to any Baptist Pastor … what will you tell them or what will you do?

    Best always …
    Tim

  7. Jim, our shared, dear friend, Roger Maye, told me to read your blog. I did. I needed that. We miss you in Wingate.

  8. Tim: If I knew the answer to that question I would tell you. While I can accept and appreciate marriage as a civil right for all people it gets personal when someone asks me to bless their marriage, and that’s true regardless of sexual orientation. What is it that they are asking me to bless? Whose blessing are they seeking–mine, the church’s, God’s? I have a hunch that in primitive times communities gathered around young people and blessed them because they knew how hard it was going to be to have and raise a family. I think our modern marriage ceremonies have evolved from there. But how does that speak to same-sex marriage? Before I can answer your question I may need to spend some time working up my own theology of marriage. But thank you for asking. It’s a fair question.

  9. So I didn’t see your answer on same sex marriage, I just saw that you said ,no one has asked.

    So would you perform a same sex marriage in your church? I would like to know ,since my children visit this church on occasion with a family member , as well as I also come on occasion.

    THANKS
    David

  10. Dr. Somerville,
    Thank you for posting your sermon. Your thoughts are like a breath of fresh, salty gulf air (I live near the Gulf of Mexico). Your thoughts resonated with as you spoke about all lives matter. In a country that seems embroiled in hate and contempt it’s refreshing to read that our Savior instructed us to love as he loves us.
    With time comes change. It is inevitable these events would come to pass. Now more than ever we must reach out and embrace those we might not understand or agree with. Love is love.

  11. David: Thank you for asking. You are not the first. The question itself is forcing me to examine my theology of marriage and wonder what my actual role is. Am I giving MY blessing? The church’s blessing? God’s blessing? Until I get that sorted out the answer is no. Besides that, I have told our deacons that if I should ever feel led to do a same-sex wedding I will ask their permission, since I don’t only represent myself but also the church. I have a feeling it will be a long time before that happens.

  12. This is the best explanation and reasoning I have heard. I am a firm believer in God and truly believe God hates no one. I am also a believer in love. Love is not defined as male or female, and should not be. If I am truly loved and respected by the one I am with than what does it matter to anyone else if they are male or female. You took so many of the things I think about and put it all into words. You are a true blessing to people, thank you!

  13. While I enjoyed reading the sermon, Pastor Jim, I totally agree that ‘WE MUST LOVE” for that is the foundation of Christian living based on the Holy WORD of GOD…for GOD is love; HIS love(agape) is what draws one to HIM. However,GOD’s principles do not change…the world may change , but not the WORD OF GOD. Nowhere in His WORD does GOD advocate “same sex” marriage/unions. The Supreme Court may very well be the law of the land (world), but we should be aligned with THE SUPREME GOD(WHO tells us that “we (Christians) are in the world, but not OF the world). GOD’s WORD and principles cannot and should not be compromised!!! Strattling the fence is not an option.

  14. Dr Sommervile:

    I noted that you mentioned Jesus’ words in you sermon, and we will all agree that Jesus would certainly have visited with and witnessed to all who need Him. What I don’t understand is if we’re to ignore the huge part of the bible that Paul contributed…most of the 14 passages in the bible that mention homosexuality are in Paul’s books. Are we to ignore these passages? How are we to know?
    Others that are well versed in the bible, as you are, are leading us otherwise. I’m confused a lot and I was raised that the bible is the bible. I’m good with loving our neighbor, but do we allow our neighbor to choose for us what is right and wrong? I want to love my neighbor, but I don’t want to be bullied into agreeing to something that doesn’t feel right biblically.

  15. Dr. Somerville,

    I will remember that Jesus wants me to love, but I will also remember that homosexuality is a sin which leads to death. If we truly love gay people, we will not hide this to make them feel comfortable, we will want them to understand this so they can have eternal life.

    Perhaps we cannot help who we are attracted to. However, acting on attraction is a different matter. You said that our understanding of marriage and human beings has changed since Bible times, but God says that His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.

    I hope that First Baptist will always remember 1. that this sin is indeed sin, 2. that our own besetting sins, whatever they are, make us as no better than any other type of sinner, 3. that Jesus will pardon anyone who follows Him and take away even the “worst” sin, and 4. that a true follower of Jesus will steadily (if not always successfully) forsake sin and pursue a life that honors Him.

    My intention is not to appear disrespectful or start an argument. I am simply writing what my conscience dictates must be said.

    Sincerely,
    a member of FBC

  16. Jim – appreciate your honest response … Our challenge that we are struggling with is our religion and biblical teachings clearly defines marriage … As Baptist we subscribe that the Bible is the word of God … So, when I go to the Bible for clarification and guidance it’s pretty clear what the definition … So, God had told us that there is God’s law and man’s law … When there is conflict between he two as Baptist whose should we follow and ultimately who are we accountable to? Matt 16:26 … For what is a man profited, if he shall gain he whole world, and lose his own soul …

  17. Hi Jim. Your sermon has made it out to San Francisco on Facebook. I find it interesting that your sermon seems to make a argument for the fact that loving and committed people should have a (civil) right to marry, and that, based on Jesus’ example, we should all love our neighbors equally and not judge them. I am friends with four gay couples, two are in Dallas, TX and two are in California, all of whom love their spouses greatly and are fully committed to each other and their relationship. Two of those couples have adopted children and have such loving and happy homes. God does not make mistakes – and love is not a sin. As you recognize, my gay friends did not choose their sexual orientation. If there is a genetic component, or if people are born with this predisposition, then God did not make mistakes with these lovely and loving people.

    Much of the literal Bible does not apply when held to strict standards in today’s world. I attend Danville Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ, which is an open and affirming church for all. We understand the importance of taking the Bible seriously, but not literally. Imagine how we might be living in modern society if we took every word literally. I was brought to tears a couple of years ago when some of our gay members shared the stories about how they were not welcome in the church in which they were raised, how they could not become members, were ostracized and shunned in the Christian churches. Don’t you think that Jesus might have had a lot to say about that? In our church, we see gay men and women who have adopted children and are so happy to be parents, and the children are so happy and blessed to have parents. If ever you are in the Bay Area, I would like to invite you to visit our beautiful Christian church. Based on your sermon, I am guessing your theology is actually already decided for you in your heart. Perhaps it’s time to consider another denomination?

  18. I just read your blog, “In Light of Recent Events”, I am not a member of your church, but I am a Christian that belongs to a Baptist Church. I agree with you that we are not to judge others. God makes that clear in His Word. What I don’t understand is your comment that we don’t know what causes some people to be attracted to the same sex. You also stated that God doesn’t mention same-sex marriage in His Word. This, of course, is true. However, when I read Romans 1:26-27, First Timothy 1:10, Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13, I’m not at all confused about what God says concerning homosexuality/same-sex marriage. This scripture makes it clear to me that it is our sinful nature that causes some people to be attracted to the same sex. It is the same sinful nature that causes a married man or woman to be attracted to someone other than their spouse. In order to be obedient to the Lord, it is imperative that we not act on our sinful desires. I agree that we are to love others. That also is made clear in God’s Word. What concerns me greatly, as a Christian that worships at a Baptist Church, are the statements you made that I mentioned. Your blog is being posted by people on Facebook that are vocally supportive of the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage. We must show Christ’s love to all, but we must make it clear that we do not condone or minimize sin. We are living in the last days when false teachers are plentiful. People will be looking to the Church of the Living God for direction and clarification. We must be careful not to cause confusion. Thank you.

  19. I sincerely appreciate you bringing to the attention of the Christian community the issue of separation of church and state. It’s been lost in a lot of the coverage and response (celebration or condemnation) to the ruling. Wherever you stand on the issue, the church is not to instruct the state how to make their laws, no more than the state may instruct the church to perform marriages they do not wish to execute. I wish more people had an understanding of law enough to fully comprehend what the ruling means from a legal standpoint, but unfortunately we are a large flock and all of us have our strengths and weaknesses.

    Thank you for sharing your message of love and tolerance.

  20. Even the ones who don’t bring our tools back?? Really? Hmm. I think I have a long way to go before I’m there. Wherever there is. But I’m guessing I still have time to practise 🙂

    For the rest of your sermon – Amen!

  21. Hi Jim, it was a pleasure to read your blog post. Although I am not currently religious, I used to be extremely Christian. The alleged disagreement between homosexuality and Christianity is just one of the factors that caused me to split and become atheist. Your post has demonstrated just how Christians can reconcile this issue. I appreciate you taking sections of the Bible and setting them in context. You did a great job. Thanks again! – Catherine

  22. I loved your post! I’m not a religious person. Where I live it seems that people use their religion as a way to justify them judging everyone and everything. I am spiritual and a nice person, but I have had quite a few people ignore and condemn me because I don’t follow a religion. I wish more people had your train of thought on “loving thy neighbor”. Again, beautiful sermon!

  23. Mr. Somerville,

    I just wanted to thank you for your overall message. I am actually a humanist and am hoping not to receive backlash from other readers based on that fact.

    My wife, a former believer, recommended that I read this, as you were her pastor when she attended Wingate University. The both of us are incredibly thankful for your delivery of such an important message and I wanted to take a moment to let you know why.

    As a man who uses no religious text for my moral compass, I have never questioned whether or not homosexuals have the Constitutional right to marry in our country. I will not deny that I’ve often been angrier than I would have liked to have been in trying to get Christians to understand that the government absolutely cannot deny rights to gays simply because the Bible speaks (very little) in opposition to homosexuality.

    I have a few close friends who are gay and it can be heartbreaking to listen to some of the stories of abuse (emotional and physical) that they’ve endured in their lifetime. Sometimes, there is no emotion when they relay to me some horrific memories. It’s as though these memories are a callous in their mind, just a fact of life for them that is almost “normal” all because, biologically, they are different from the majority of the population. And it truly hurts me. It hurts me in the same way that I’d hurt if anyone else had grown up being judged and abused for anything completely out of their control.

    Obviously, there are men and women of faith preaching the exact opposite of what you are to their congregations right now. But, I just wanted to thank and applaud you for making it clear to the many people who take your words to heart that love and acceptance is the only way to react to the recent ruling of the SCOTUS. You’re a very good man with a very good message.

  24. This is a brave and thoughtful sermon. Humble and compassionate. Confident and faithful, yet just the right amount of “We don’t know know, and that’s okay because: God.”

    Thank you for sharing, Pastor Jim.

  25. I loved the sermon. I have to ask for mercy quite often as I seem to be making mistakes along the way, but I still ask God for forgiveness and I am now paying more attention to my forgiveness of others. Your statements of leave the judging to God ,I feel , are profound. One more load off my shoulders. I can really accept people as they are . If I don’t want to agree with them I can move on , but I don’t need to judge them. I am fairly familiar with the Bible teachings and I have not found there that it teaches that we are not supposed to love people who are gay . I have close friends and relatives who are gay and I cannot stop loving them . I do find the Bible says it is wrong, and I am not of that persuasion, but they are the ones who will have to answer to that, not me, and it is not for me to judge. Thankfully, because I am too human.

  26. This. This. This. So much respect!!! Haven’t found one sentence, post, statement, testimony, word or commentary as beautiful as this. This is showing Christ to the world!!!

  27. Pastor Jim, blessings on you as you lead your congregation. I think that we are all challenged by our roles as both pastor and agents of the state in marriage. Perhaps we should get out of the marriage business and stick to the blessing business. Then the question we have to answer is not whether we will marry two people but whether or not God wants us to bless them in their relationship; it may not be any easier to answer but at least we are staying in our bally-wick. Let the courts stick to interpreting law and defining civil rights and let the church stick to prayer and blessings. May the Holy Spirit guide you in your discernment and leadership.

  28. This sermon deeply settles my thoughts on the latest court ruling. Im very supportive of gay marriage but such much use of biblical references to condemn something that I saw as a great stride in human history, so thank you for sharing this.

  29. Hi Dr. Somerville, was it a happy time in the car when your wife said the Supreme Court ruled the way it did? Now that would be revealing, and some of the confusion among the readers might melt away.

    I won’t be surprised if you decide marrying two men or two women is okay. Certainly if you do the world will be there to give its approval. And if you don’t, it could mean persecution or being called a homophobe. I share Debbie Ivy’s concerns and questions to you.

    In response to the comments, I do want to clear up the oft repeated “Do not judge” as if it were somehow a complete and utter prohibition against judging. Hardly anyone who quotes Matthew 7:1 goes past verse 1 to read all the way through verse 5, “And then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye”. Jesus tells the people, and seemingly the Jewish leaders in their hearing, in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment”. The Greek literally says “but the righteous judgment judge” (imperative mood for the verb judge – a command/exhortation/advice). Words mean things. Paul said to the church at Corinth “remove the wicked man from among yourselves”. Yikes, “wicked”, that’s kind of harsh! Is the Scripture God-breathed or not? The church is taught by the apostles to maintain purity in doctrine and morals, and to do so, sin will have to be brought up one way or another. Again, judging. Church discipline is not possible if one is prohibited from talking about the issue i.e. “judging”. Matthew 18:15-17 is another good passage to read if one is interested. Disbelieve what the Scriptures say if you must, or simply assert that a full prohibition on judging is better, but please don’t make the Bible say something it does not.

    I praise God that faithful men taught what sin was to me (judged me, in today’s wording), and through that the Lord reached down, convicted me that I was a sinner and lost, and He saved me.

  30. As the article says, I certainly could always be better at loving my neighbor. It really comes down to what is loving and who gets to define it. For example, if I am kind to my gay neighbor, help in the yard, lend money, or am a comfort in time of need, all good, right? Now let’s shake it up a little bit. The same Jesus that said to love our neighbor also told Nicodemus that he must be born again/born from above. The apostles said to repent and believe the good news/gospel. They preached against sin, preached the law of God, and preached the love of God. The gospel was for sinners. The message was hated and opposed (think about how upset some people get when they hear exclusive sounding statements from Jesus, you can’t say Jesus is the only way, how dare you impose your religion on me!). See Acts 2:40 for one example of their message. Peter practically sounds like one of the street preachers holding up a sign. Uh-oh.

    Now if I witness to my gay neighbor and say that the Bible says they are a sinner (same as I should tell my adulterous neighbor or that family member who is a drunkard and remind myself that I too must forsake sin), now we are getting into offensive territory. If the Bible is true and there are the saved and the perishing, is that loving? Is it loving to teach from the Scriptures that there is the love of God and the wrath of God, and to lovingly warn as the Scriptures do? I think it is, and it isn’t mentioned in the article. That’s troubling if for no other reason the other side isn’t presented (or the other side of love as I’m arguing).

    But let’s go a step further, what does the firmly-in-the-camp-of-gay-marriage think when they read the article, perhaps cheer it, and repost/tweet it as something to read with their cause? Do they see it and think – “Yes! Christians and those bigots that oppose me getting married. We have had to live for decades in the shadows because of religion. Judge not! Judge not! Amen Pastor! — I do wonder a little if it is sympathetic to the cause, though I recognize Dr. Somerville suggests he is going through some type of evaluation of his beliefs. (A big change, perhaps?) I hope it is not sympathetic to the cause but as DS said, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, either.

  31. Our job as Christians is to love, yes, but not to condone sin. To welcome all people into our houses of worship, yes, but not to tell them that their sinful lifestyle is okay, not to keep quiet when we can lovingly show our Christian brothers and sisters their error.
    Jesus did talk about gay ‘marriage’; this is what He said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-20) The Law says about gay ‘marriage’: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (Lev. 18:22) Also, as set forth in Romans 1:21-27, homosexuality is a punishment on society for abandoning God.
    The question is not whether our understanding of marriage in the West has changed – it has, that’s obvious! – but whether it should have changed. Is not God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Is not His holy Law the same yesterday, today, and forever? When God changes His views on gay ‘marriage’, so will I. Until then, I must respectfully disagree with you.

  32. Hi Jim, I admire your addressing such difficult issues head-on. Though, I have a couple of questions/comments. You reference that the original reason for marriage is procreation/multiplication. But, nowadays, marriage is based more on love and commitment. Hence the story of the couple who were married in their eighty’s because they desired the companionship within the marriage relationship. But wasn’t this the original reason a mate was provided for Adam? “It is not good that the man should be alone…(Gen. 2:18).” It seems that God’s primary intent was for the man and the woman to share their life together in a loving relationship. It was only after the relationship was established that God needed to give them some direction as to what to do with their spare time : ) In regard to guys like Jacob having multiple wives, I think it’s important to determine what is descriptive in God’s word and what is prescriptive. Just because the Bible describes a behavior, it doesn’t mean that it is prescribed by God. If multiple wives was what God prescribed, it seems to reason that in addition to Eve, God would have created a few other women to be with Adam.
    Did Jesus talk about the confederate flag? Of course not. But his word does talk about how we are to love on another. Did Jesus talk about Affordable Care Act. Again, no he didn’t. But his word does talk about how we are to care for one another. Did Jesus talk about gay marriage? No, he didn’t talk about that either. But, again, his word does have something to say about homosexuality. It seems that too often our problems with these issues arise when we decide to take a poll about what we think is right rather than going to God’s word to see what he has to say about the issue.

    Grace & peace,

    Paul

  33. Thank you!!!!!!! I am not Christian, but went to Catholic school from first grade through college (a Jesuit university). I was lucky to have been taught how to study the Bible in religion class. To study it, and analyze it, not to just take it at face value. It is so wonderful to know there are still preachers and people of your faith who remember the basic command to love others and not to judge them.

  34. I don’t know exactly how I came across your sermon but I am so glad that I did. It truly gives me hope that there are people that understand we do need to separate religion from “state”. As a Jew, I guess I am a little more sensitive to this than most but even if I wasn’t, I choose to believe I would still be an extremely tolerant human being. When I received a very hate-filled message from someone via my Facebook fan page because of a post I put on it that clearly showed my support for the #SCOTUS decision, I could have responded to the individual directly but I chose to write a blog about it instead. And the bottom line message…we all need to just agree to disagree re: the hot button issues we face as members of society and move on. I have lost several friends and followers in the past week but have also gained many new ones. Life really is all about balance 🙂

  35. @subomibalogun, in your blog you mention that people should ask your country. I think that is a good idea, it has begun a few interesting conversations for me in the past. However, just this week the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point issued a document to faculty explaining about microaggressions. The first item is asking Asians and Latinos where they are from. The microaggression is (you are not American, you are a foreigner). Granted it doesn’t mention folks that have black skin or Brazilians or Nigerians, but I don’t think it is a stretch to say that someone could perceive it as a microaggression. I’m not one to usually go along with the mainstream of thought or caught up in all the things people supposedly get offended about (am offended every day but don’t pay much attention to it), but it can be hard to keep up with.

  36. The fascinating thing about blogging on the internet is that you never know who your words may reach. For instance, I am not a Christian-though I used to be devoutly committed to God and used to think a LOT like all of those who are condemning these ‘sins’ and feel the urgency to sincerely remain a humble servant and stay true to ‘the word of God.’ Therefore, I’m able to understand where they’re coming from and not be too judgmental. I understand they truly believe they are doing what is right and pure. However, all too often people don’t realize their perceptions of what is right or wrong, or what is the ‘worst’ sin, comes more for the society they grew up in and what they were taught in their homes growing up. If they truly knew their bible, they would know that there is no ‘worst’ sin. All sin is equal in his eyes. They would also know the importance of loving their neighbor as you so beautifully conveyed in your blog. Just because you don’t approve of something doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself. Do not take part in it, but do not make the mistake of continuously spreading hate. Sadly, that is what judgement does….it spreads hate, fear, disgust, misunderstanding, and all sorts of negativity. All things which the God in our bibles discourages. Let us love one another!

    I also love that you pointed out that one cannot choose who they are attracted to. Growing up, I never knew ANYTHING about same sex relations. I was in a happy, oblivious world of innocence in which it was black and white – boy + girl = love. So, when I began obsessing over a girl in the 5th grade, I just assumed it was because I really admired her and wanted to be more like her. Somehow, I never realized I was majorly crushing on her as I admired her long, silky blonde hair, blue eyes like the sky, or her perfect fair skin with the cutest splash of freckles across only her cheeks and nose. I couldn’t stop staring at her. I didn’t even realize there was anything out of the normal when I made her a cassette tape singing all kinds of songs for her and talking about how much I was going to miss her when she moved away at the end of that year. I didn’t know! I just thought it was normal. I also never realized how little I was ever truly attracted to guys. I had ‘crushes’ sometimes because it was the ‘cool thing to do’ lol. Everyone was writing I ❤ *insert random boy names here* and so I wanted to do it to! Oddly enough, the only boy I ever really liked had VERY feminine features, which I also never noticed at the time. Then, when I got married, I never noticed he had a very feminine personality and long hair. It wasn't until I got divorced and met a girl who practically forced me to fall in love with her without me even realizing it that I understood what had been going on with me all of those years. It was the most beautiful love, the most awe inspiring relationship I've ever experienced. It was then that I FINALLY realized what love was and how much I had been condemning people for something that was clearly a beautiful thing. How could any God disapprove of anything so beautiful? So inspiring? Something that so much GOOD to the world?

    As this is getting long, I'll try to wrap it up! lol. Even after all of that, I still do not consider myself gay, straight, bi, whatever. I eventually met my current boyfriend of 3 years and he's honestly the only male I've ever truly been attracted to. I have to be honest and say that I've never loved him quite as intensely as I did her…However, as a lot of Christians like to point out "You can choose who you get with." and I suppose I do agree to some extent. However, you can NOT choose how much you love someone or how much chemistry you have. I chose to be with this amazing man because I want to be a mother more than anything in the world. I chose that over love. So I suppose in the eyes of many Christians it's all about choosing God over love. Yet, I can't see how God could ever condemn true love that does not hurt anyone.

  37. Enjoyed what you wrote but I think you missed a few key points. I covered them in my blog pls read it https://uniquelymeandyoublog.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/same-sex-marriage-what-does-the-bible-really-say-who-was-the-bible-speaking-to/ The bible does have a lot to say on all issues but it speaks to believer’s. We all are called to love and we as believer’s have a ton of cleaning up to do in our own back yards before we even began to point fingers. The divorce rate in this country among believer’s is astounding and I feel G-d is calling us all to look at ourselves and adjust our hearts because if we had love real love we could conquer all.

  38. Great to read your insight. I believe we should love our neighbors just as God loves us. God loves all but Sin still exist. When we begin to twist and degrade God’s scriptures to make living in this world more comfortable we should pray for strength here and for peace in heaven when we get there. We can not have one foot in this world and change his scriptures, and then profess to follow Christ. Christ warns against this and says ” he will spit you out of his mouth.” I would rather be confident in my relationship with Christ than be worried about complying or adapting in this world. The scriptures tell us that it will be hard to stand strong and it certainly is in this day. We try to keep our eye on the Lord and not be swayed by those who wish to condemn us for speaking what we believe. In this instance, I have heard scriptures and read in my bible that “Men shall not lay with men” and women shall not lay with women” etc. I’m sure we are all familiar with these verses. Being in this world and having pressures from society who may not follow Christ, tempt us to jump on the popular easy route and ignore or water down the scripture and so it goes. The scriptures are there for us to read. If we do not believe them , then I guess anything goes! The scriptures do say to love, but they do not say to ignore everything else in scripture because of this. I am not comfortable with the direction or tone of your comments seeming to suggest times have changed and so we basically need to just love and lighten up and go with the times. What a mistake. We are instructed to love all. Correct. We should love our brothers in the world that are beheading people and pray they would stop and love them even though they are doing this. But that certainly does not mean we should condone beheadings. The first beheading we heard about made us all gasp. Now that we have heard and seen more of them, we somehow don’t have quite the same reaction as the first one we saw. That does not mean they are now ok. No they are just as sinful and wrong. Yet we must live with the new normal forced upon us because we are living in a sinful world. We can still choose to follow scripture and stand for what God’s way is and know that we will be rewarded not in this world by others who would judge us, but by God in Heaven. It is becoming increasing harder to support Gods scriptures and voice that without being accused of not loving others and not understanding the way things our these days. So respectfully, there are obviously things we should pray about and ask for guidance from God. But whether we should pray and read the bible, and follow scripture should seem obvious. However, I feel we are feeling increasing pressure from even some of those who are called on by the Lord to lead such as Pastors. The Bible does not exclude Pastors from making a decision on whether to be lukewarm and live for the world and then say the are following Christ. He clearly tells us in scripture we will see degrading of his scriptures by all types. So I will pray for all to stay with their eye on the Lord and let him judge each person individually at the time of his choosing not known to us. I want to do my best to Love others but at the same time believe the scriptures that are there for us all and speak out for them when I have the opportunity. I know there will be those that will try to degrade me or look down on me because I have given my beliefs here. But by example Jesus endured a lot on his time here on Earth. He stood strong and said “they know not what they do.” He never took his eye off God. He continued to pray and depend on God. The world did not change his beliefs and he still managed to be the most “Loving.”

  39. This is a very interesting read, Christians have been put in a hotspot.
    *[[Rom 1:27]] KJV* And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    But by the time we are done reading Romans we’ll notice that each and everyone of us were once sinners.
    And God sent Jesus to die for us all, hence we are to love all men and preach the good to all men.

  40. I totally agree with what you have said, but all we can do as Christians is to preach the message of love and not condemnation, through our lives and dealings.

    God has told us that homosexuality is wrong, and we must abhor homosexuality as we abhor all sin, but Jesus also says “love your neighbour as I have loved you”; and so when we condemn the act, we must try NOT to condemn the people because if God were to mark our iniquity, no man would stand.

  41. Not to digress far from the point, but if you watched Les Miserables, I want to point out something. A man takes a thief into his house (knowing he is a thief) and feeds him and clothes him. When the man wakes up the next morning, the thief has stolen all of his silverware and candelabra. Luckily, the police catch him and bring him to the man. What does the man do? He brings out all the remaining silverware and gives to the thief saying “with this, I have bought your sins”.

    The thief goes on and repents and eventually becomes the mayor of a town where he did a ton of good.

    What this is telling us is that be it homosexuality or theft or prostitution or anything, as Christians, we should not judge but love. Let our love be the reflection of what Jesus would do

  42. “They may call me narrow minded, but the truth is a narrow road.”
    Well said and adequately conveyed, sir.

  43. Dr. Somerville,

    I’d suggest, if I may, asking God for His wisdom. He’s promised to give it generously unto him who asks. (James 1:5) Sometimes, we don’t need scholarly answers, we just need a word from Him.

    Shalom

  44. Hi Jim,
    I appreciate what you are saying. As I also agree with what you are saying. But I do have a question, but to ask the question I must first tell a story. So I am a 17 year old, and I was sitting in my senior year political science class, and the gay marriage question got brought up, wether or not it should be legalized. And in the middle of class this one kid stand up and yells “All gays are burning in hell!!” I couldn’t help but instantly get furious. This is what I told the young man.
    Me: so all gays are going to burn in hell? Is that what you are saying?
    Him: yes
    Me: and why is it that you think this?
    Him: the bible says being gay is a sin
    Me: ahhh so then have you ever lies to your parents are shopliftted?
    Him: yeah I have lied to my parents before
    Me: so then your going to hell with them and the rest of us then huh.

    You get the point where this is going. But I guess my question is whether or not to just know that they sin just like we sin and Christ died for our sins. I would love to hear your response plz reply 🙂

  45. At the end of my q and a time with this gentlemen I could not help it but I told him that people like him are the reason why people hate Christians. I now know that I shouldn’t have Said that. But I just forgot to put that on there

  46. Agape love is what shows a true Christian. I for one am glad that marriage equality is legalized. One, because not legalizing it would have been judging, and shoving God down their throats (which is not how you introduce God’s love, it must be planted and watered delicately) and also, even if God decided to condemn all gays no matter what, at least let them be happy on earth. Telling someone that God hates them, will cause them to deny Him and reject his love. We need to be planting the seeds of his love into everybody’s hearts.

  47. Thank you so much for preaching what is in my heart in more eloquent words than I could muster for my own blog. It is a great joy to me to find kinship of love in the broad spectrum of the Internet.

  48. I found it an interesting reading but I can’t help myself asking which kind of Bible you are referring to. Is firmly true that Jesus told “Love your neighbor” but, hey, are you even thinking that loving a serial killer means to find him/her new victims? I guess this is a point you should reflect upon: what does really mean to love someone? Is it facilitating his/her wishes, whatever they are, either good or evil or everything in between, or pointing him/her the only path which leads to salvation?

  49. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, for doctrine, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” You have to read, believe, and practice the whole of scripture to be fully prepared as a man of God. Where Jesus Himself may be silent on the issue, God the Father is not. Christ said “I and my Father are one”. So Christ is against homosexuality. We shouldn’t hate homosexuals. We should love them, but we also shouldn’t condone their sin or promote it. Be careful pastor you don’t take your church down a slippery slope. I’ve no quarrel with you, but I felt I should help if I could.

  50. Uh jim, ‘what does the Lord say about gay marriage?’ you muse, as if it even needs addressed, proving there is somehow ambiguity in silence…..no.

    Some things are obvious. One may as well ask if oranges grow from apple trees.

    The truth of God is always higher than the love of man.

  51. I’m not a Christian. But I must say, people like you reaffirm my faith in not all religious people being intolerant!
    Thank you so much for writing this!

  52. As an athiest I was pleased to read a thoughtful level headed commentary on the recent ruling. I’ve shared this with many divisive and hysterical Christians on my Facebook.

  53. All I’m gonna say is, the enemy, Satan, wants us to hate one another. Because he knows the scriptures. He knows that Jesus said, if you hate someone, that is the same as murder. Jesus said love your enemies. I don’t believe to have enemies, because my only true enemy is Satan. But what I am trying to say is, the enemy will try to make us hate others so when we die we won’t be saved for not loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. This is one of the many tests christians will go through, because we must love others, no matter who or what others are. But we can’t applaud the sin. God loves the sinner, but hates the act of sin. Jesus loves the world so much, that He died for us to make a way to Heaven. He taught us the way, but only those who obey His words (commandments) will be saved. Only those who does His will and not their own will, will be saved. If anyone loves father, mother, son, daughter, or anyone else more than Jesus, is not worthy of Him. We must deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Him. He wants us to depend on Him for everything. He has made me happy. He can make you happy. God bless you. Jesus loves you. He is coming soon for His church. Be ready as if He is coming tonight or live for Jesus as if it’s the last day of your life.

  54. Meh. Of course we are called to love one another. But if you want to go to the Bible, what about those two towns destroyed by God? What about the instructions to fathers and mothers about raising their children after they have multiplied? Marriage is not only to procreate but is a blood covenant before Almighty God. The affordable care act is not. apples and oranges. A study on Blood Covenant would be really good thrown into this talk about the definition of marriage.
    What about obedience to God? Jesus was never PC. He told us how to live… and how to love. He never said make your own rules about covenant.

    As Christians, we can and do love, but that does not mean we automatically sanction or agree with all the choices of our loved ones. Jesus didn’t.
    But love is a verb. So how do we love? By mushing around in a squishy people pleasing feeling of love?
    Or do we show love through obedience and submission of self, to Him who gave us life? We all know the story of the prodigal. God is someone we cannot choose to approve of, or not.
    Respectfully, Pastor, It seems to this Baptist that you are tickling ears and serving up milque toast. Love, in Christ

  55. Dear Jim I’m an English non church goer setting up a blog and saw this. We are about to buy a home in Florida as we have visited the place Many times and the family fell in love with it. People are friendly and it feels like home. However I have an internal fear about the USA , after seeing so much intolerance, and unchecked violence particularly gun violence and the injustice that I see in the media. When I see and hear that, America looks like a place so removed from my own world, I wonder whether we are on the same planet or indeed belong to the human race. We don’t have guns thank god, and arguments, running red lights at worst end with a punch up or arrest. 18 year olds who hate the world, write diaries or indulge in petty vandalism. Not mass murder.

    I have to own up when I started reading your words I expected the stereotype views of right wing Christianity , which seems to shout loudest and has the most money. Thank you for your voice of tolerance. I cannot speak for my country, but to many people here the USA I looks like a place that has lost its way, morally.
    Thank you for showing common sense and leadership. I hope your message is shared and understood .
    Neil.

  56. Thank you for posting this. I am not a Christian and don’t follow any religion currently, but I completely agree with and respect what you have written. I completely and unconditionally support any decision for equal marriage rights, no matter who a person chooses to marry, but it is always good to hear other’s perspectives.

  57. Just out of curiosity, why would you not perform a same sex marriage? Your god created man in his image, right? He created homosexuals, right? You do say yourself you don’t think it’s a choice. That’s not enough for you? It’s not enough for your the people commenting on here I guess. Side question to this is why would your god create homosexuals in the first place if it was some deadly sin that would result in eternal hell fire? Seems kinda shitty to damn someone at birth, but what do I know?

  58. As I recall, the Semarian in the Sermon had committed no sin, but was despised for some other reason. For that reason, the stoning of Mary seems more applicable. She had committed a sin. In that case, he who was without sin was to cast the first stone. As, it turns out, the only one without sin declined to cast a first stone. So no stones were thrown. But Mary was sent on her way with the direction that she sin no more. The sin was not excused, but the sinner was loved and understood. Is not this whole debate the same situation. If sex with a person of the same sex is a sin (and if it’s not . . . never mind, and what is the issue then) then shouldn’t it be treated just like every other sin? The church is full of sinners. But we all love and respect each other anyway. Not one of the leaders in the church doesn’t sin. Yet they can be leaders. If we drill down, we would find nuanced differences between the beliefs in what the Bible teaches of different members. Some not so nuanced. Yet we don’t let those differences divide the church. Gays believe the parts of the Bible against them are outdated and have evolved with the times and the increasing sophistication in and understanding in men that God has lead mankind to. Others don’t. But those same other will pick and choose what parts of the Bible they will focus on and/or ignore in their own beliefs. I see no contradiction in a church allowing gays into its congregation with open arms and love and understanding. But still not agree with that part of their belief and life. We do it every day, but just with different sins and different sinners. The church need not fascillitate the sin by actually performing gay marriages, or allowing them to be performed on the grounds that are supposed to be sanctified. Pick one of your own favorite sins. One you know you will do again. One that maybe you’ve convinced yourself is not so bad, or maybe not even a sin. Yet one that you don’t advertise that you do to your church family. How would you want the church to treat you if they knew? And, isn’t that what the Golden Rule therefore requires of us?

  59. What a powerful sermon. I especially appreciate that you focused on Jesus and his teachings. Today, our pastor in Virginia Beach preached on the same issue, but needless to say, his focus was on a very different. Reading your sermon, I can see why Todd, my son in law, who is a minister in Maryland, has such a high regard for you.

  60. Reblogged this on Shells And Bobbles and commented:
    This is a blog by a pastor in the US. I am sharing it, because I feel his sermon puts a lot into perspective, not only on the same-sex marriage, but even on other society issues. We need our love for others to reflect what Christ would do.

  61. I love this! The church needs more teachings like this, lately all I’ve heard condemns gays. But all sin is the same, Mathew 6:14-15 says: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins your Father will not forgive your sins.”

    We ought to forgive and welcome. We’re all sinners: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

    Thanks for this great read! God bless!

  62. Unfortunately, labeling one’s self a Christian does not make it so. This also applies to those in the pulpit.

  63. Amen! I’ve been waiting for someone to raise this reasonable point: Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing (1 Corinthians 13:6). If we truly love our LGBTQ neighbors, we have to condemn their actions from we have to share from a position of compassion.

    Liz @ Downtown Demure

  64. What a brave, straightforward, well thought out sermon. Thank you for your eloquence and for your leadership. While I am not a member of your church I know some of your congregants. I know more than a few gay people, some of whom are lucky enough to have found each other and are living committed, loving lives together. What a joyous day for them!

    It strikes me that many of the folks disagreeing with this sermon agree that they are not to judge, and then go about justifying why they are going to do so anyway. Many old testament scriptures are thrown in there to justify positions, ignoring the fact that not one modern Christian lives by most of the requirements of Leviticus or Deuteronomy these days — with the coming of Jesus the New Covenant replaced the old. And a good thing too — none of us wants to sacrifice living doves and sheep, or march forth to destroy all cities that are predominantly non-Jewish and kill every man woman, child, and animal therein, or send our wives into seclusion one week a month, or grow our hair to our knees. The New Covenant washed all of those requirements away.

    So what did Jesus say in the New Covenant? Actually he went back and quoted Deuteronomy and Leviticus: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Think of that — all 362 times the Bible says Thou Shalt Not, and all 850 times the Bible commands Thou Shalt, all wrapped up in those two commandments! All those Shalts and Shalt Nots are enlightments and expansions on those two overarching principles.

    That’s good enough for me. Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. It doesn’t say “tolerate.” It doesn’t say “castigate.” It doesn’t say “love, but judge.” It says you are to regard every person to be just as important and deserving as yourself. As they are, not as you want them to be, and not as you declare GOD wants them to be either — that is what judging would be about.

    I am not blameless in the eyes of God or man (or my wife) yet I expect to be accepted as a child of God’s kingdom, a member of my church, and an equal citizen of this society. It is against the second greatest commandment, as articulated by the Son of God, for me to hold my neighbor to a higher standard than that. It is not up to me to judge whether physical love between two adults is sinful — that is God’s call alone. But I can say without any hesitation that for two adults — ANY two adults — to fall in love and commit to spending their entire lives trying to make each other happy is something sacred, to be celebrated rather than condemned.

    I know the Supreme Court decision does not mean that every congregation or sect or denomination or cult has to extend their religious rituals to loving gay couples. They should not be required to by the laws of men, although the Words of Jesus seem pretty unambiguous on that topic. But our faith DEMANDS that we treat our fellow men and women with dignity and respect. Our faith DIRECTS us to honor the laws of men and obey them when they do not conflict with God’s laws. And God’s command says Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. There is no conflict there. So as for me and my house, we will honor the Lord AND we will respect the law of the land.

    I am so happy for those who are now able to openly marry. Not only do they deserve equal treatment under all of this country’s laws, but they deserve the opportunity to celebrate their journey together on the path God has set before them. Godspeed.

    Thank you again for the sermon. While I suspect it didn’t change the minds of anyone on either side, I sure hope it gave everyone something to think about. And maybe even pray about.

  65. Your post is very wise and a good example for others to follow – if you don’t mind, I’ve linked this via my own site, as I feel it’s worth spreading this message.

  66. Thank you, Pastor, for your thoughtful witness, both in your message and in your response to the comments. I learned about this post through a United Methodist clergy group.

  67. Masterful sermon, Pastor Somerville. Well done. I am a retired United Methodist Pastor, and I would come to your church if I lived in Richmond. You are truly anointed.

  68. In response to the comments, I do want to clear up the oft-repeated “Do not judge” as if it were somehow a complete and utter prohibition against judging. Hardly anyone who quotes Matthew 7:1 goes past verse 1 to read all the way through verse 5, “And then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye”. Jesus tells the people, and seemingly the Jewish leaders in their hearing, in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment”. The Greek literally says “but the righteous judgment judge” (imperative mood for the verb judge – a command/exhortation/advice). Words mean things. Paul said to the church at Corinth “remove the wicked man from among yourselves”. Yikes, “wicked”, that’s kind of harsh! From a lot of the comment boxes, it seems many would have to disagree with the church at Corinth saying anything about the man having his father’s wife. The judging’s solely up to God, right? No, the church is taught by the apostles to maintain purity in doctrine and morals, and to do so, sin will have to be brought up one way or another. Again, judging. Church discipline is not possible if one is prohibited from talking about the issue i.e. “judging”. Matthew 18:15-17 is another good passage to read if one is interested and has ears to hear. The Scripture is the guide for correct, righteous judgment, and it is clear. Reject it if one must, but let’s not make it say something it doesn’t.

    1 Corinthians 6 is problematic for the assertion that it should not be declared what God wants homosexual (and other) sinners to be. Paul warns the believers to not be deceived, that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, and gives a (not exhaustive) list. Such were some of you it says. If someone came to a church and said they are an idolater/adulterer/thief/drunkard/swindler (see 1 Cor 6:9-10), define that way, and how dare you call me to repent of it/God made me that way and I demand you accept me as a child of God, I hardly think the same conversation would ensue there or here.

    I don’t think I would be far off in saying that many on this blog would say that FBC Richmond should advocate for full membership/communion/marriage/baptism of LGBT. That there really be no significant difference theologically between it and Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, for example. If that is someone’s perspective and they are correct, then FBC Richmond is sinning, quite grievously, by currently excluding. Excluding would not only be culturally offensive but offensive to God. In that case, they need to repent and stop being bigots too. Right is right, and God has always called his people to obey Him now and not go through a process or make change slowly. Personally I think FBCR is in a dangerous place if they do not clearly understand their theology of marriage. The advocates would however from their perspective have a point in saying that a decision to only extend membership is inconsistent, that is with any understanding of what church membership is and has meant historically.

  69. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Pastor Somerville! As a gay, spiritual-minded man, I was moved with so much emotion listening to your sermon. Eloquent, compassionate, honest, and an awareness of what it means to be human and the purpose of every being under whatever God we choose to honor and worship: LOVE.

    About a week ago, after seeing so many negative posts, articles, editorials–on both sides–I decided to post a few thoughts on my own Facebook page about….loving one another:
    “It’s been almost a week since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality for all and I would like to express a few thoughts of my own after reading so many posts/articles from both supporters and opposers of this monumental moment in our colorful history.
    Every day when I wake up I say “Thank you” for the gift and miracle of another day and for the love I receive from friends, family, and strangers alike. As much as possible, I try to share this gift of love with others through a smile, a positive word, or a kind gesture. Some days it’s easier than others. Some days I’m scared of people, situations, or issues that I simply don’t understand. In my experience, it is the sharing of love and positive expression–no matter the fears present–with the people who don’t understand me or the struggles I’ve been through, where I gain the most growth and where we all end up growing together as one. There will always be two or more sides to every struggle, but let’s continue to share a positive word, love one another, and say “Thank you” to life and to each other.
    Thank you to those who fought the fight.
    Thank you to those who are scared and still don’t understand. We still have work to do, but we aim to love unconditionally. That’s a human right too.”

    What you said–what I was trying to say–I cannot fully express the gratitude I feel today after hearing your message. A heartfelt thank you to you.

    Sincerely,
    Michael

  70. I don’t walk in there shoes and don’t sleep under there roof I don’t pay there bills. They don’t scare me. All humans have the right to live as free people with free will. For peace and love is worth standing up and fighting for.

  71. (iPhone would not let me put a small r at the beginning of my email address)

    Jim – I am 68, white, widowed, heterosexual, raised in the ALC, attended St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary (St. Paul). I confess that my belief in the basic tenets of Christianity has diminished over the years. I still occasionally feel the a vestige of faith, both in judgment and hope. I did civil rights in Alabama in ’65 and in ’68 working for the National Council of Churches. The responses I read here to your very fine sermon reveal the same spectrum of opinion that has characterized religious communities in the Jewish/Christian traditions over the course of millennia. There has never been full agreement as to the clear meaning of God’s acts or words. We have no record of Jesus ever teaching by using the religious pedagogy common in his time and community. Mark reports Jesus as saying that he teaches in parables so that people will not understand and be saved. A difficult text that I have only heard addressed from a pulpit once. John reports things differently. What does seem to be clear is how Jesus acted, how he handled personal encounters, how he accepted being abandoned even by those closest to him and death on a cross. No gospel reports any talk of sin by him as he was dying. You have spoken out of a call to follow him in acts of love – acts which may well be in conflict with the interpretation of others. A few have had the temerity to put you on the spot – what will you do when/if….. But their interest is not in their own struggle to understand and act with love. The only struggle that counts for you is in your own mind and heart. It is a good, true struggle. I believe that each time you step in the pulpit, each time you have a private conversation, each time you pray and listen for God’s voice, you will see, hear, and understand in a new light. How did your heart feel when you finished your sermon? Do you have faith that God will be with you, though others may revile and abandon you, as you approach your own cross? Jesus did not simply ‘bear’ a cross / he died on it. The love that others show to you, without condition, will help you. I admire your courage and I hope for the best for you and your family. My great grandfather preached in many small Baptist churches around Winnsboro, Texas. He was a hellfire preacher, was known to grab his long hair and ‘cuss the devil’. But he fed, comforted, and buried the poor and homeless. We have two graves of homeless children in our family cemetery. I doubt that he cared very much about their ‘sins’. Go and do likewise. Respectfully, Rick Harrison

  72. Thank you Pastor. I have reposted the video of your sermon and was just sent your blog with the sermon. It is so well thought, we’ll written, and we’ll delivered. Thank you for your spiritual thought leadership on this issue.

  73. I think to the degree tha Dr. Somerville’s message provokes comments such as this will produce the most benefit. The dialogue is one which should bring non- believers closer to serious thought about Christianity and their relatiship to it. My thought is that was central to his intent.

  74. You are beginning down a path I had to take many years ago. I don’t know where it will lead you, but it took my denomination and my personal beliefs down a path that was not comfortable. Even today, there is a lot of angst over the notion of gay marriage, but it is becoming better by the day. Slow, tiny steps, but it is getting better. I will continue to pray for your peace, understanding, and your wisdom in helping those you serve.

    In your sermon, you mentioned all the arguments I made to myself in becoming comfortable with the changing attitudes toward gay marriage, save one. I realize that throughout the years, many changes rocked the world, and most today would say that they were for the better in a Christ-centered society. Slavery, once acceptable, is now a crime under international law. Women are no longer chattel. There are many others I’m sure you can think of. For each in turn, Biblical scholars showed why God supported each. Today we realize differently.

    For myself, the bottom line is John 16:13, which comes up every time I pray about how to discern the truth. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Are we ready to declare that the Spirit is done with us? I think not…it is still alive and well in the world. It is quite possible that we are in another learning phase. I urge you to pray and see what you learn.

    The bottom line: be at peace. The world has tried to break down the church for centuries now, and failed each time. This will not be the undoing of the church. Indeed, if we err in fully accepting homosexuality in our churches, I am certain that God will not let that error stand. If I have to stand before my Lord and admit error, I would far rather err whilst obeying Christ’s commands to love one another, and not judge.

  75. “Love your neighbours” will be apt where those who engaged in same sex marriage are subjected to discrimination.
    God ordained marriage between man and woman for procreation. If it is something else the it is strange and more so we do no create ourselves.

  76. Excellent. Tell me though did Jesus more or less claim that marriage was only an earthly phenomenon? It seems as though it is a very good way on earth to experience a taste of the direct love that awaits us when we are fully a part of the kingdom of heaven for which we are preparing.

  77. As an liberal and an atheist, I didn’t think I’d spend my lunch break listening to a sermon from a Baptist Church, but I’m glad I did. I’m happy to know that there are pastors like you, and wish there were more.

  78. I just happened across this and found it to be a really interesting read and relevant to this conversation. Whether one agrees with all of it or not, it’s important to remember that the Bible as most of us here know it today (as English speaking Americans), is a translated text. Translation, context, and meaning are tricky things sometimes. This needs to be taken into consideration when addressing these current social controversies, as well as many other topics.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-nicholas-phillips/the-bible-does-not-condemn-homosexuality_b_7807342.html?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000055

    “There are six Bible verses used to defend a “traditional” view on homosexuality. However well intentioned, these verses are known as the “trouble verses” that condemn same-sex behavior. Some call them clobber verses. I like how my friend Steve Chalke in the UK describes them as “the six bullets in the gun.”

    What do we do with these Bible verses? We must read them in context. And take the bullets out of the chamber. It’s time for a cease-fire.”

  79. Dear Pastor Somerville, my husband, Bob and I watched your sermon and couldn’t believe what you were saying. At first we thought you might be Tony Campolo, ha,ha. As a long term couple (48 years yesterday) and Christians since 1988, we have seen God’s Spirit moving quickly in the last few years. We read and hear that same-sex marriage will destroy the Church, and indeed the nation. We disagree with that prediction. We believe that the Church has become a “Valley of Dry Bones,” without life or love. Only judgment and condemnation, mainly toward our community.
    As one of the litigant couples for the court challenge in Canada, that brought same-sex marriage to our country, we faced ignorance and homophobia during the three years we were in court. But since 2003 we have seen same-sex couples meld into the great mosaic of Canada. We have become full citizens of the country we love. That is all our neighbours to the south want. To be full members of society. They don’t want to destroy the Church, they want to be allowed in. Thank you for following Holy Spirit’s prompting.

  80. And another falls to the world..Pastor, you have just separated yourself from God my friend. You stood in that pulpit and denied the words of God. You are a false teacher and you will answer for this at judgement day. You are either uniformed, (doubt it, you have a PHD) or worse, you knowingly preached a sermon to your flock that smacked God in the face. Dr. I hope you pray and repent and Jesus comes into your heart. I see you have a huge following and lots of support, but that does not remove the sin pal. We are all born with sin, be it idolatry ,homosexuality, lust, greed, etc…We can choose to surrender to it or we can surrender to Jesus. You have succumbed to the pressure of the world. And by the way, the Supreme Court, yeh they once ruled Plessy vs Ferguson, which made it legal to deny blacks the basic rights of all Americans..(legalized racism) remember separate but equal? yeh, that would be kind of bright minds of the Supreme Court judgement you are asking me to accept…no thanks. Have nice day.

  81. Landon, I agree with you. We must continue to stand strong! It is going to get tougher before Jesus returns. I am sad to see the Pastor fall prey as well to the World and Satan. This is not the Holy Spirit leading him. We must continue to pray for him and so many who are relaxing their beliefs and compromising. I sincerely hope the pastor will get on his knees and pray that God would increase his faith and he will change his current course and have a new sermon to his congregation proclaiming his weakness and ask for their support. Otherwise, to save his church I believe a resignation petition or letter is in order. We should never give up on him and love him, but we must think of his church body and Our Lord.

  82. I was having dinner last week with several male friends – two of whom happen to be married to each other. Knowing that I am a former Southern Baptist minister and chaplain, we discussed your sermon and they shared the link. I appreciate both the insight and the struggle that is evident as you bravely attempt to say what surely Christ meant when He said: “Love your neighbor…” I spent years trying to defend the “good” that the SBC did for our world, and finally had to leave the denomination I loved, as it seemed to be more concerned about condemning than embracing. I hear stories almost weekly from former members of SBC churches who no longer feel love and accepted by those who first taught them to sing, “Jesus Loves Me”. They believed those words until they got older and were taught there were exceptions to that love, perhaps not by God, but of those who claimed to be His followers. You are in a tough place – you have proclaimed the right of gay couples to love each other and marry. I am sure your have gay members of your congregation – “the rubber meets the road”, when you are asked by them (and you will be), can we be married in the church we love by the pastor we love? If the answer is “no”, nothing you say afterwards will matter. My prayers are with you as you struggle through this issue.

  83. Pastor Somerville:

    EXCELLENT message! It’s something a LOT of Baptists need to hear.

    BTW, have you heard of Matthew Vines? I think you’d really like him!

  84. I am a former member of First Baptist – Richmond. My wife, daughter and I moved our membership from there several years ago for reasons having nothing to do with gay marriage and nothing to do with Dr. Jim Somerville (we were gone just before he got there – I often listen to his sermons online and find them inspirational). The church which we currently attend broadcasts its services live on Sunday. Several months ago, before the gay marriage decision was arrived at by the Supreme Court, in response to questions about gay marriage, our Pastor (who holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) gently, kindly explained, on the air, that our church, while welcoming all and commending faith in Christ to them, would not be able to allow a gay marriage to take place in our church and gave the Biblical reasons why(it was also mentioned that adultery and fornication are wrong, according to the Bible, and reasons why were given). We are probably in the “Number 3” category mentioned by Dr. Somerville. In response to that, our church started to receive threats of harm, threats of violence. At some point, someone broke into the church, one night (they said that security cameras showed them dressed kind of like a ninja) , and, after wandering the halls, the intruder went into our Pastor’s office and started searching his desk. At one point, in one service, some male came in walked up to the pulpit and started animatedly talking with our Pastor so some male members gently yet firmly escorted him out (I heard that they asked him not to do that again, not sure what was up with him, he may have had some psychiatric challenges). Things got to the point that the Deacons felt the need to hire two off duty police officers to be on premises during services to try to make certain that anyone making threats would at least think twice before coming in and trying to hurt anyone. I doubt that whoever was making the threats will ever read this, however, I would simply say that our nation does have – so far at least, or is supposed to have anyway – freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If a church takes a position that gay marriage is wrong, it is their right to take that position while, hopefully, loving sinners and counseling them against committing the sin (of any kind). Even before the Supreme Court decision, there have been and continue to be many churches which will perform gay marriages. I am sorry that some people object to churches like mine which, while welcoming all to attend and be members, do not conduct gay marriages or ordain homosexuals to the ministry (unless, of course, they were celibate and intend to remain that way) as would also be true of those committing adultery or those involved with fornication. Even so, some people unhappy with churches like mine should, nevertheless, support freedom of speech and freedom of religion in our nation. I tend to think that God would disapprove of threats to churches no matter what God thinks of gay marriage. Just sayin’, as they say nowadays.

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