Homosexuality has been a topic discussed in the news lately. Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sep. 22 after his roommate secretly streamed on the Internet a video of him kissing another man. President Obama is trying to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, and parents at Beye Elementary School in nearby Oak Park were castigated on the Internet by a conservative group called the Illinois Family Institute for hosting a speaker from the Safe Schools Network, an organization that supports gay students.
In the midst of all of this controversy, the Review wanted to find out what Forest Park churches are teaching about the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender issue, noting that at least two Forest Park business owners on Madison St. are openly gay and Oak Park has four churches led by gay clergy.
Five of the pastors in Forest Park, all from different denominations, agreed that homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will but differed in the tone of their disapproval.
Rev. David Steinhart, pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church, was anxious to make it clear that his church welcomes GLBT people even though his congregation is compelled by the Bible to call the homosexual lifestyle a sin. “I don’t want to come across as someone who writes people off,” Steinhart said. “I myself am under God’s judgment like everyone else. We are a welcoming congregation but not an approving one when it comes to sin.”
Rev. Tony Davidson, pastor of Chicagoland Christian Center, put it this way: “I have no trouble with anyone coming to the church, as we are all sinners. But after being saved, we are supposed to go and sin no more. You don’t beat them up about it. You love them out of their sin.”
Other pastors used different terms while being united in saying that the gay lifestyle is sinful. Hope Tabernacle’s pastor, Rev. Bill Teague, said that homosexual behavior is “against God’s will or intention for how we should live,” while Fr. George Velloorattil at St. Bernardine Catholic Church referred to it as an “intrinsic disorder.”
Rev. Bill Winston was not available to lay out Living Word Christian Center’s teaching, but the manager at the Royal Crown Book Store, Winston’s official outlet for literature, pointed to a pamphlet by Frederick Price to represent the teaching of Living Word’s pastor. Price called the orientation “unnatural” and declared, “According to the Bible, homosexuality … is as much a sin as murder, lying or stealing. Sin is sin.”
All five pastors explained that they were compelled to come to that position because their churches believe the Bible to be inerrant as God’s truth and that the Scriptures consistently maintain a heterosexual view of what God’s intention for human sexual behavior is.
They also emphasized the distinction between homosexuality as a personal orientation and the homosexual lifestyle. Steinhart said that an individual’s attraction to the same gender might be genetic. What is condemned by the Bible, he said, was acting on that proclivity.
Thus, all five pastors agreed that the GLBT lifestyle is to one degree or another a choice. Frederick Price wrote, “People are not born with homosexual desires,” the implication being that not only homosexual behavior but also being attracted to same sex persons is a choice.
St. John Lutheran Church did not respond to calls, but the denomination to which they belong, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, passed a resolution in 1992 which expressed the intention to “offer to our world biblically alternative models of sexual celibacy” and added that “God can rescue individuals from homosexual orientation” as well as practice.
The one church that was affirming of GLBT people was St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Although St. Peter’s has not gone on record as welcoming gay people, their pastor, Rev. Audrey Catalano, read to her congregation a resolution passed last year by their denomination’s national assembly by a two to one vote. The resolution said that the church would ordain not only openly gay people but also GLBT individuals who are living in committed same sex relationships.
“After hearing the resolution and being able to ask questions,” Catalano recalled, “the people of St. Peter’s seemed satisfied.”
It should be noted that the resolution acknowledged that the ELCA is divided on the issue with some of its members believing homosexuality to be a sin. The resolution went on to assure the members of the ELCA that none of its congregations would be forced to call a gay person as their pastor.
Rev. Pongsak Limthongviratn, the Director of Asian Ministry for the ELCA and the interim pastor of St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church, said that although St. Paul’s has not addressed the issue, the 120 Asian congregations in the ELCA tend to be more conservative and that some were considering the possibility of leaving the denomination.