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Testimony at Oregon Senate Hearing -- SB 1000
May 5, 2005

My name is Dan Bryant, I am the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the heart of Eugene and President of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a statewide organization of 17 Christian denominations.  I speak today in the later capacity and am pleased to report that the EMO Board of Directors voted yesterday to endorse SB 1000.  I emphasize that I ­speak today only for the EMO Board and not for our member communions.   Because I know there are many who have or will testify on Biblical statements against same-sex relationships, I want to speak to that issue and briefly explain why a Christian organization of EMO’s size and stature would endorse this bill.

I wish to note for the record that Senator Frank Morse, one of the co-sponsors of this bill, is a good friend with whom I used to sing in the church choir at First Christian Church in Albany.  I know no finer Christian gentleman and applaud his courage and that of Senator Brown, Senator Bates, Senator Westlund and the Governor in bringing this legislation forward.  Also, I need to say that I do not believe it is appropriate for this or any other legislature to pass legislation solely on the basis of religious belief.  I do believe strongly, however, that religious beliefs are important to consider in such matters as part of the moral fabric that is the basis of our society.  It is important to recognize that whereas on such issues as murder, our religious traditions are united, on this issue there is no common consensus.  In Christianity in particular, there are a growing number of churches which have blessed same-sex relationships and many, many Christians who simply do not believe that homosexuality itself is sinful.  How can this be, given the frequent claims that the Bible condemns it?

First, it is important to recognize the Bible shows no awareness of sexual orientation, only of specific sexual activity.  The notion that a person is gay or lesbian and may have been such since birth or at least a very early age, is foreign to the Christian and Jewish scriptures.  Research is very clear that sexual orientation is simply a part of who we are and can no more be changed than our skin color.  If all beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:24), it therefore follows that our sexual identity is part of that image.  Thus many Christians believe that we are created with different sexual orientations just as we are created with different skin color and that a homosexual reflects the image of God no differently than a heterosexual.  There is no question in my mind that if the Apostle Paul were alive today, instead of writing that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), he would have written something like “there is neither Republican or Democrat (now there’s a thought!), gay nor straight, male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”  Such radical inclusivity is at the center of the Christian gospel; it was radical in Paul’s day and is just as radical today.

Second, most of the passages often quoted in these discussions are in fact, terribly misquoted.  In part this is simply the result of poor English translations.  Words often translated as “homosexual” in the New Testament do not refer to loving, committed relationships between people of the same sex, but rather to the practice of pederasty, a common Roman tradition in the first century in which a man, often married, would keep a young boy as a sexual slave.  This is also true of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, often cited in these matters.  The issue in that story is one of rape and inhospitality, not homosexuality.  Thus texts which people use to condemn homosexuals actually are condemnations of sexual abuse and have no bearing on the kind of civil unions we are discussing today.  There is not a single text in the Bible that cannot be read differently from the way interpreted by those who use these texts to justify their discrimination against our gay and lesbian neighbors.  In fact, there is much more written in scripture against divorce than there is on homosexual activity, yet who calls today for laws against divorce?

That leads to my third point, that some claim that civil unions somehow will demean or lessen the institution of marriage.  I am a happily married man and will celebrate with my wife and two beautiful teenage children our 25th anniversary this summer.  I can assure you that nothing in this bill can lessen that relationship, nor does the recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples change anything in anyone’s marriage.  And how can it?  We have defined marriage in this state as the union between one man and one woman.  This bill does not change that.  Indeed, it was that action by the voters of this state that enabled many members of the EMO Board to endorse the concept of civil unions as the best means to grant same-sex couples rights approximating that enjoyed by married couples.  I would point out to you again from the Bible that there are many models of family relationships in addition to one man and one woman.  For instance, Abraham, the father of all semitic peoples, had, in essence, two wives.  King David had a concubine of wives.  To suggest that one woman and one man is the one and only Biblical model for families is simply not true.  The Bible gives witness to the evolution of marriage to the model as we know it today, but for the reasons I have outlined above, I believe it is consistent with Biblical faith to affirm the possibility of the continuation of that evolution as an affirmation of God’s love manifested in every loving, committed relationship between two people.

Children of same-sex couples need the legal protection that civil unions will provide should their birth mother or father become incapacitated or die.  This bill, therefore, provides greater legal stability for our society, these couples and their children.  I would also note, that if the statewide average holds true in the case of same-sex couples, and I have no reason to doubt that it does, then ¼ of the 3000 couples who sought to get married in Multnomah County, are Christian couples.  That is a minimum of 750 couples whose religious beliefs include a loving, same-sex relationship as an affirmation of God’s love, not to mention couples of other religious traditions.

While there are precious few statements in the Bible on homosexual activity and none on homosexual orientation or on loving, same-sex relationships, there are many statements on the need for people of faith to speak up against the marginalized, the oppressed and disenfranchised. In its deliberations, the EMO board affirmed the inalienable worth of each person as created in the image of God, regardless of race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation and felt that SB 1000 provides much needed civil protections congruent with these principles. The critical question for serious students of the Bible, therefore, should not be just what does the Bible say about homosexuality, but what does the Bible say about loving our neighbor, liberating the oppressed, protecting the rights and dignity of those harmed by society?  Are same-sex couples discriminated against in our society?  Without question.  Are they treated as lesser members of our society?  Without question.  Are they subject to abuse and victimization?  Without question.  Are they at a legal and financial disadvantage in comparison to heterosexual, married couples?  Without question.

Has the time come for this legislation to protect the rights of same-sex couples in the state of Oregon?  Without question.  I urge you to support SB 1000.

Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church
Eugene, Oregon

 


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