Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics

By Kathy Rudy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
A Divided Church
The Political Landscape of Contemporary Christianity

One liberal straight churchman frankly told me that "too much emphasis" on abortion, sex education, and gay rights would burn too many "ecumenical bridges" between Christians. A reasonable and charitable position? Those "bridges" are built on our backs. Let them burn.

Scott Tucker, Fighting Words

In a small northeastern town in 1970, a group of Roman Catholic nuns took a couple of busloads of Catholic high school students away for a weekend retreat. If the retreat had happened fifteen years earlier in 1955, the students would have been praying for homes in the suburbs with two-car garages and automatic dishwashers. If it had happened fifteen years later in 1985, the students would have been engaging in something called "values clarification," a new style of ethics which suggested that the social worth of any action or attitude could be understood quantitatively, (and hence, who ought to survive in the proverbial lifeboat became a simple mathematical problem). But it didn't. It happened in 1970, the culmination of the sixties, and the teens participated in workshops on the sin of war, the plight of the United Farm Workers, the injustice of the criminal justice system, the lack of adequate housing for the poor, the iniquity of capitalism, racism in American institutions, world hunger, and women's role in church and society. The students learned from that retreat that their faith in a loving God would require them to become earnestly involved in social action. Neither a rich prayer life nor worldly success nor even a personal code of ethics would fulfill their Christian obligation, for they were called to change the world.

The scene was replayed in many other high schools, colleges, churches, and religious institutions across America. Christians saw secular liberation movements such as civil rights and women's rights as possible ways to understand faithfulness in a turbulent, troubled age. Pope John XXIII encouraged all Christians to open the windows of their churches and welcome the spirit of renewal. In America, opening those windows most often meant extending Christian community to the poor and disenfranchised. It meant learning how to welcome women and blacks in positions

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