Based on my observation, Forest Park's clergy are more conservative than many of their parishioners when it comes to homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.
As far as I know, all of the clergy in Forest Park, except one, are against gay marriage on the grounds that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior - with the key verses being Romans 1:26-27. Several of my clergy colleagues clarify their position by saying that God condemns homosexual behavior and not the sexual orientation itself.
At the same time, I know that many of the lay folks listening to these conservative pastors' sermons are ambivalent about LGBT relationships if not approving of them. Their neutral-to-positive responses to same sex relationships are based on gays with whom they are acquainted.
"I know some gay couples," they will say, "and they are some of the best neighbors and business people I've ever encountered." Their position on homosexual relationships, in other words, is based on their experience.
The clergy, meanwhile, base their opinions for the most part on the authority of the Bible and in some cases church teaching. For the laity who approve of gay marriage, their own experience trumps the authority of both Scripture and the church.
Personally, I'm caught in the tension between my experience and biblical teaching. On the one hand, what little the Bible does say about homosexuality - there are only a few verses - is all negative. What's more, the sexual imagery in the Bible - from Genesis 1 in the beginning to Revelations 21 at the end - is uniformly heterosexual.
On the other hand, none of the many, many gay folks I've talked to have ever said that they chose to be gay. What they chose, they all say, is to sooner or later acknowledge who they are.
Now many people relieve the tension between the two by dismissing one side or the other. That is to say, the Bible has this one wrong or they affirm their belief that the authority of the Bible always trumps our limited experience.
What I want to encourage you to do is to find some way to tolerate living in the tension. For those who condemn homosexual behavior on the basis of Scripture, talk to - no, better yet listen to - the stories of at least five LGBTs. Hear how they struggled to come to terms with a sexual orientation they never wanted. Better yet, find a healthy same-sex couple which is raising kids and see if you can observe anything except mainstream child-raising behavior.
And for those who dismiss Scripture as out of touch with reality in the Third Millennium, I encourage you to be willing to tolerate the intellectual and spiritual tension you feel by taking seriously your pastor's point of view. I'm not saying you have to buy it, just take it seriously and allow that your experience might not reveal all truth about human nature.
I'll give a non-spiritual example. Millions of us ignored a few conservative voices five or six years ago that warned us to put at least 20 percent down on a new home and to not spend more than 30 percent of our income on a mortgage. "Pessimists" is what we called them. Our experience indicated that we would be fools not to get into the housing market in which homes were increasing in value by 10 percent every year.
Well, well. Here a lot of us are, underwater and worried about what we will do if we lose our jobs. The Bible itself even has a story about a slave predicting that seven years of famine would follow seven years of plenty, and a ruler who was wise enough to pay attention.
Again, I'm not asking conservatives on sexual issues to give up their belief in the authority of the Bible, and I'm not urging liberals to ignore their experience. Whether you approve of the 43rd annual Gay Pride Parade or not, try to live in the tension between authority and scripture for a while and let that experience form your opinions about civil unions and gay marriage.
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.