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The Cornerstone Connections lesson for April 19, 2014 (God’s Eye for the Gay Guy)

by Robert Robinson

The Cornerstone Connections lesson for April 19, 2014 (God’s Eye for the Gay Guy), suggests that teachers will be prepared to teach a Sabbath School class for high school-aged students with the targeted objectives where the students will:

    • Hear about the freedom that results from a life of obedience to God.
    • Sense God’s passion to save every person.
    • Be challenged to experience the assurance that comes by following God.

This week’s Bible lesson and study is based on the books of Romans and Galatians, and also uses the chapters “God’s Special Plan for the Jews” and “Paul’s Timeless Letters to the Galatians” (both chapters from Unlikely Heroes, an adaptation of The Acts of the Apostles in today’s language). When looking at the intended focus for this lesson, those objectives sound very reasonable for teenagers to explore from two of Paul’s important letters to the Church. 

The teenage years can be confusing and perplexing. Teens are no longer considered children, and yet aren’t adults either. They stand in that perplexing time of life where they are right in the middle of things, not sure of their social standing and often times unsure of where they stand on many issues. During adolescence, children begin to explore their independence (in traditions, actions, thoughts, values and beliefs) and develop their own personal sense of self. With encouragement and reinforcement from supportive adults in their lives, along with personal experiences, teenagers arrive with a strong identity of who they are, along with increased feelings of personal independence and control. Those who lack these nurturing adults and positive experiences in their lives continue to remain uncertain about themselves and also what they value and believe.

As I remember my son’s high school years (and the trauma and drama associated with it), I can think of no greater principle and belief for him to have walked away from Sabbath School than to know that he was saved by a loving God—that he had the assurance of salvation-- and that he was being equipped to grow in his faith and experience that assurance of salvation. I know I stand with many other Adventist parents and guardians who also live with that hope and desire for their teenagers.

However, the focus of the printed resources (for both student and teacher) highlights only Romans 1:26, 27—frequently used as a “clobber text” to prove God’s disfavor of gays and lesbians living a “homosexual lifestyle.” While the teacher resources begin with some open-ended questions that could lead to a genuine discussion, the lesson moves into the story of one young woman’s process of growth and change tells how she is no longer sexually attracted to women. The scriptural bridge to the story leaps into Romans 1:26, 27 and guides teens to an agreement that homosexuality is not simply an alternative lifestyle, but a sinful lifestyle.

The resource material is filled with traditional rhetoric and flawed assumptions, uses language that present a bias (quotes around "orientation" are extremely telling), and frames the difficulties that gays and lesbians face in contemporary society as the results, or consequences, for their choice. 

Some teacher/reference material is included that outlines some of the themes of the books of Romans and Galatians, but no activities or suggested questions for further study of these two books have been provided. In addition, there is no correlation between the suggested readings in Unlikely Heroes and the lesson as it’s presented and developed in the quarterly.

The lesson is designed to end with a panel of parents who are to share their views on homosexuality. The prompts to the teacher stress the importance of being respectful of all people—regardless of their orientation. An honest conversation about this topic is encouraged between the students in the class and the parents on the panel.

I will commend the Adventist church for including such a hot topic as homosexuality for discussion in their four-year cycle of high school curriculum for Sabbath School. The Church should be a place where we continually get to know God better, love Him more, and in return we naturally love others. We simply learn how to love well! 

I also applaud the authors and editors for including one question for discussion:  Even in a world that is, generally speaking, very tolerant and accepting of gay people, how might they suffer today? The “kids” in our Sabbath School classes can speak volumes about times when they’ve seen other people bullied, mistreated, and marginalized. This is one of those great opportunities to talk about the increased risk of suicide and substance abuse among gay and lesbian youth; the problems faced at school resulting from bullying; isolation from peers and family from living in a condemning environment;  verbal and physical abuse; rejection and isolation from family and peers; and an increased involvement in at-risk behaviors. I think these same “kids” could spend more time engaging their youth leaders in how to love well.

I must also add that the editors and publisher have done a remarkable job of holding to the traditional Adventist teachings and interpretations of related “clobber texts” that impact Fundamental Belief #23 and also shape the development of policies such as"Guidelines for the Seventh-day Adventist In Responding to Homosexual and Other Alternative Sexual Practices.”

However, I disagree with the authors and editors when they assert that today’s teens are growing up in a world more tolerant of alternative lifestyles. I believe our teens are growing up in a world that is far more informed and respectful of others. Today’s teens are growing up in a world that is immensely different from that of their parents and grandparents. Today’s youth Sabbath School class in North America represents a generation that is diverse, liberal, techno-savy, open-minded, and committed to equal rights for all.

How I wished this week’s Sabbath School lesson might have focused on:

    • The beginning of Romans chapter 2 as a key message to be used to interpret chapter 1.  Judgmental behavior causes conflict within the body of Christ.

    • Paul’s writings as a criticism of Greek behavior in temple worship.  Greeks often included sexual behavior in their temple worship.  There seems to be no doubt that Paul feels strongly that certain behaviors are a result of the influence of a pagan world. How does that impact an understanding of Romans 1?

    • There may be more than one way to interpret this text. Perhaps this passage has nothing to do with homosexuality as we know it today.  In context, the passage could describe a group of Christians who left the church, converted to Paganism, and engaged in sexual activities that were common among Pagan fertility religions in Rome during Paul's time.

    • The passage in Romans is not a condemnation of homosexual behavior. Rather, it disapproves of sexual behavior that is against a person's basic nature (i.e. homosexual behaviors by people whose orientation is heterosexual).

    • The  heart of Paul's message of unconditional grace and the assurance of salvation.  Perhaps Romans 5-8, which describes God’s love for all His creation and His unconditional deliverance, should begin the discussion and be the true center of Paul’s message.  The focus of Romans 1-4 then becomes a discussion of how we grow in our faith and experience God’s salvation on a daily basis as we live in an imperfect world.

    • Only parts of this text truly represent Paul's teaching. Other parts contain the arguments of another teacher who Paul feels is mistaken. It is a type of conversation in which the beliefs of a teacher in Rome are contrasted with Paul's own beliefs.  Thus, a  conventional reading of Romans 1-4 represents what is actually two contradictory views of the Gospel, Paul's and his opponent's, as Paul's view alone -- thereby importing false views of faith and God into the Church's theology (e.g., conditional grace).  Paul's message is more clearly that of a gracious, unconditional deliverance from sin and death in order that believers might live life to the fullest as believers. It’s like reading a transcript of a debate between a Democrat and Republican and assuming that the transcript represents the views of only one person.

    • Paul describes a generation that is truly in need of hearing the good news of God’s love.  It was to that very culture that Paul longed to minister to.  He was eager to go and share the gospel; he knew that the world needed to know the person who brought salvation.  He knew that was found nowhere else other than through Jesus Christ. Similarly, it should be our passion to love well.

As I was finishing my last year in academy, I remember a page from an old Cornerstone Connections quarterly. With a pale blue border surrounding the page, the quote read:  Let every decision you make, from this day forward, be based upon your deep love for Him. I sincerely wish that at the end of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, a new generation of teens will be challenged to love rather than judge; to include rather than exclude; and to hear an alternative to what God’s Word might say so they will be thinkers and not merely reflectors of other people’s thoughts.

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Journey - Chapter 1