"The primary audience I have in mind, then, are people (and mostly heterosexual people) who come from mainstream Christian traditions and who are interested in participating in constructive discussions and dialogues about the significance of the presence of lesbian and gay Christians within the church. The contexts for such discussions might be local congregations, university and seminary classrooms, or even somebody's living room.
"Participating in constructive discussions means that people must be willing to risk something of themselves, for we are not talking here primarily about some objective 'issue' out there, but about real people: about ourselves, about gay and lesbian people among us, about sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. This is by definition an intensely personal conversation, for we are talking with and about actual people, about matters of personal identity and self-understanding, about our relationships with one another. And so I hope as people read and discuss the various essays included in this volume that they will truly risk being open to listening and to learning, for to honestly listen and to learn is a risky thing. To deal with real people whose perspectives are quite different from our own can be challenging and threatening. But to avoid such engaged conversations and encounters is far more dangerous and destructive, for it simply dismisses and ignores people and merely masks our own fears and ignorance. Only through hearing, listening, and careful reflection can we then venture to speak ourselves and so move beyond the impasse of polemical rhetoric that vilifies and demonizes others and move toward conversations of understanding, empathy, and mutual care.
"In order to facilitate such constructive conversation, I have included what I consider relatively moderate perspectives (some more so, some less) from different sides of the discussion/debate. There are clearly more than two unified camps in this discussion, but I think it safe to say that the various approaches fall into two general schools: those who advocate that all homosexual relationships are in some way less than what God intends for human beings, to the point of being sinful before God, and those who advocate that homosexual relationships can be as fulfilling and as legitimate before God, and therefore as blessed by God, as heterosexual relationships. Within each approach there are certainly differences and tensions, but I have chosen to let these tensions stand and so to reflect the actual character of both general approaches.
"After struggling with how best to organize the book, I have decided to stick with what has become, for better and for worse, a traditional strategy in the church for approaching controversial topics, namely, reflecting on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. For the purposes of this book I have divided reason into moral reasoning and scientific reasoning because the social and biological sciences have come to occupy an increasingly significant, if not always clear, place in discussions regarding the status and identity of homosexuality and heterosexuality.
"In each part, two essays reflecting rival sides of the discussion are included; in Reflecting on Experience there are three. In general, the first essay in each section presents a relatively traditional approach to the consideration of homosexuality in the church; the second essay in each section presents a perspective that challenges traditional views and argues more for the inclusion and recognition of gay and lesbian Christians in the church. Each essay ends with questions for reflection and discussion. An appendix at the end of this volume presents some of the various denominational statements on homosexuality. Finally, I conclude with a selected bibliography that provides suggestions for further reading, study, and discussion.
"As I have worked on putting this modest reader together, I would call attention to some significant features in the scope of this collection. First, most of the essays have been written by people who are heterosexual and have a primarily heterosexual audience in view. Thus I do not presume here to be speaking either on behalf of or to gay and lesbian people. Rather, I have edited this volume as a heterosexual white male who has become convinced that heterosexual people in particular must move into more constructive discussions with and regarding gay and lesbian people in the church.
"Second, the voices of women, and especially lesbian persons, are underrepresented. In part this limitation reflects the scope of the literature available (and the literature that I have read), and in part it reflects some different concerns that have become dominant among gay and lesbian communities respectively. As gay and lesbian people have explained it to me, gay men have been opposed in the church primarily because of their identity as homosexual persons, whereas lesbian women have been opposed primarily because of their identity as women and less so because of their sexual orientation.
"Third, while I have paired the essays in each section to be read and discussed together, sometimes these pairings are closely related (e.g., McNeill's responses to Ratzinger), and sometimes they are more loosely related (as are the essays in the section on experience, and Jones and Workman's emphasis on psychological findings in contrast to Burr's emphasis on the biological literature). Nonetheless, I believe that the various essays present the essential points at issue that have gone into deliberations on the presence of lesbian and gay Christians in the church." - from the Introduction by Jeffrey Siker, Editor.