The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What if the Worship Leader Dresses Gay?, part 1

Jose writes, “I’m a passionate student of the word. I’ve recently encountered a young man in church who leads worship. His attire and mannerism disconcert me. Those who do not know this young man personally will label him as gay.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

 

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Jose writes, “I’m a passionate student of the word. I’ve recently encountered a young man in church who leads worship. His attire and mannerism disconcert me. Those who do not know this young man personally will label him as gay. However, he has been asked by the pastor and he claims he is not gay. I’ve shared with the pastor that many people are not happy with this situation and his only reply is that he cannot do anything. I would love to read an ethical as well as a biblical response on the matter.”

Rabbi Krishef’s note: Not surprisingly, this question exposes a chasm of difference of opinion among our panelists, even among Christians of various Reformed traditions. We’ll present the responses in two parts. Watch next week for Muslim, another Reformed Christian, UCC, and Unitarian responses.

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“Unless the church has a specific dress code for leaders, I don’t think this young man is violating any dress code; so, ethically what he’s doing is not wrong. The issue of being gay and being a leader in the congregation is a different issue and if your pastor is not addressing it it’s most likely because he’s too afraid of taking a clear stand in favor or against it. So, you may have some difficult decisions to make as you continue to worship in this congregation. You say you’re looking for a biblical response on the matter so I’ll give you mine: The Bible is clear and unapologetic in addressing the issue of homosexuality as sin (See Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Timothy 1:10). The problem is that many people today—even within the church—are echoing the Serpent’s words to Adam and Eve in the Garden: Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1).”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“From scholarly Catholic biblical research, the word “homosexual” is not found anywhere in Catholic versions of the bible. 

“The Roman Catholic Church does not struggle in its teaching on homosexuality. Same-sex attraction is not a sin, but homosexual acts are sinful and gravely disordered. This is because the homosexual act cannot bring forth life, i.e., produce children. 

“Members of the Church struggle with the topic which is the reason the Church asserts with certainty that individuals with a homosexual orientation are to be treated with dignity under all circumstances. The Bishops of the United States demonstrate their dignity for those who are homosexual with two pastoral documents, entitled, “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (www.usccb.org – 1997) and “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (www.usccb.org – 2006).

“A careful study of these documents may provide insight into how to proceed with not only those who are gay but also those who are perceived to be gay.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“As a student of God’s Word, you know that time and again Scripture warns against judging others by outward appearance. The prophet Samuel was schooled in this matter when he was sent by God to anoint the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Standing head and shoulders above all others, Saul was ‘a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he’ (I Samuel 9:2). He looked the part, but Saul failed as king because he didn’t have the heart for it. 

“So Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to find a new king. Looking on Eliab, eldest son of Jesse, Samuel was sure he had found his man. But God said, ‘Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart’ (I Samuel 16:7).

“The New Testament word for judging by outward appearance is translated as ‘respect of persons’ in the KJV (see James 2:1). ‘Person’ is the outward appearance of a man or a woman. It may or may not be a reliable indicator of what’s behind it. Rather than draw inferences from mannerisms or fashion choices, we need to hone our powers of perception and discernment. Look for indications of what’s inside. Is there evident faith in God’s Word? Love for Jesus Christ? Joy in the Holy Ghost? If so, your part is to embrace the young man as a brother in Christ and bear with his outward foibles and frailties. Tell his critics that they err greatly in their superficial and evil-minded judgments. 

“One more thought​: In Reformed churches, leadership of public worship is restricted to those who have been trained, tried, called, and ordained for this important task. The young man may be out of his depth as a worship leader. The Corinthians erred greatly when they reduced public worship to an every-member talent contest (I Corinthians 14:26).”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to ethic[email protected].

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