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Sabbath Sermon: Dwight Nelson on Homosexuality

During the recent Andrews University Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church Conference, Dwight K. Nelson, senior pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs, preached a sermon with the punchy title, “Sex in the Sanctuary: What’s so Gay About That?”

In it, Nelson spent a lengthy portion discussing a letter from a gay student who had graduated from Andrews University and wrote to describe his commitment to a loving, monogamous homosexual relationship some time in the future, and rejection of promiscuity. To provide context to the letter, which has been commented upon elsewhere on Spectrum, Nelson’s sermon is summarized below.

After praying the words from the song, “Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary,” Nelson opened his sermon with a question.

“What kind of sex should we have in this sanctuary, in this temple?” he asked, pointing to his chest.

“Heterosexual sex? Homosexual sex? No sex?”

Nelson explained that Andrews University’s national conference on homosexuality gave him permission to talk about sex. Then he ripped late night TV host David Letterman, saying that nobody needed to give Letterman permission, a reference to Letterman’s sexual misdeeds that became public. The audience chuckled.

Dwight Nelson: Screen Capture from Video

Nelson described human sexuality as “This roiling force within us that drives us.”

Then, turning to the scriptural passage for the morning, 1 Corinthians 6:9ff, Nelson apologized in advance “for all the blushing you’re going to do.” Nelson called the passage “One of the great, great human sexuality passages in all the holy scripture.”

The text begins with the question, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inheret the kingdom of God (NIV)?” The passage goes on to admonish hearers not to be deceived (and Nelson inserted, “Don’t let the culture pull the wool over your eyes–don’t be snookered by society, don’t be duped_dramatic pause_by politically correct thinking”). The sexually immoral, adulterers, male prostitutes and homosexual offenders (in the NIV rendition) will not inheret the kingdom of God, according to the passage. The text also mentions drunkards, people who swindle, steal, and slander and the greedy. Nelson added several comments of elaboration on the sexual offenses, and simply rattled off the other categories.

Then came the punch line for Nelson, a line he wanted to let hang on the screen all by itself: “And that is what some of you were (verse 11, emphasis Nelson’s).”

Nelson finished the thought for Paul: “But something radical has happened to you, and what you were, you no longer are.” Those words do not appear in 1 Corinthians.

Students Respond: Screen Capture from Video

In an accompanying study guide passed out among congregants, Nelson had church members fill in the blanks on key ideas from what he called “this great sex passage.” While ushers passed out extra study guides, Nelson chatted up television and internet viewers, inviting them to check out the other sermons in the “Temple” series.

Nelson said that there was nothing sinful about David (the king, not Letterman, Nelson joked) looking over the wall and seeing a naked woman any more than it was sinful for Joseph to be handsome and virile. The key difference between David and Joseph, Nelson said, was that while Joseph fled, David fed.

The pastor then took a detour to decry what he called a much greater sin than homosexual sin: pornographic sin. “It’s what’s enchained this generation,” he said. Despite pornographic sin being greater, it was not referred to again during the sermon.

To describe homosexuality’s presumed innate wickedness, Pastor Nelson borrowed a line from Wayne Blakely, a man who had lived an openly promiscuous homosexual lifestyle for nearly forty years, but testified during the conference that he had been changed within the last six months. Blakely said, and Nelson quoted, that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality; it is holiness.

Punctuating the sermon for emphasis, Nelson repeated the phrase, “What you were, you no longer are.” He added you have been_________________ and then asked congregants to fill in the many blanks in the study guide with the words “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified,” commenting on the latter that it is a phrase right out of the courtroom. Nelson then described standing in the courtroom and hearing read out a list of “all your guilty sexual sins.”

Nelson’s repeated insertion of the phrase “What you were, you no longer are,” gave the impression that it was part of the text although the phrase is absent from the 1 Corinthians passage.

Pulling a piece of paper off the pulpit, Nelson announced that he wanted to read a few lines from a letter he received, written by an Andrews graduate. The student offered feedback to one of Nelson’s sermons. The student said he was homosexual, but had never had sex with another man because he was waiting for the one with whom he would be monogamous. He wanted to be loved on logical, emotional social and spiritual levels before being loved in a physical manner.

Nelson said that his heart goes out to homosexuals at Andrews and in the Pioneer Memorial Church who wonder whether God and the Church has any place for them.

In answer to the issue of homosexual monogamy, Nelson cited Duke University professor Richard B. Hays’ book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, which notes that the very few biblical texts mentioning homoerotic activity do so with unqualified disapproval. The book goes on to suggest that homosexuality is different from slavery or the subordination of women, in which, according to Hays, there are internal tensions and “counterposed witnesses.” Nelson continued quoting the book, saying that the biblical witness against homosexual practice is univocal.

This was Nelson’s public response to the letter writer’s vow to wait for sex.

Nelson said that the question is really, “Why is God so insistent on his sexual blueprint?”

Projecting his words on the screens, Nelson asserted that human bodies were created by God for relational pleasure (“relational” filling in the blank in the study guide). Taking the sermon as a whole, it was clear that for Nelson this excludes homosexual individuals.

“Wanton sexual gratification is making love to yourself,” Nelson intoned, “whether you use a man or a woman or yourself.”

According to Nelson’s reading of Genesis, God defined marriage for all time as a union between a man and a woman, and Nelson leaned forward over the lectern for emphasis: “Only…Only!”

Gesturing: Nelson from Video Screen Capture

Drawing toward his conclusion, Nelson again referred to the student’s letter and the plea for allowing homosexual monogamy. Again, Nelson quoted Hays to respond, noting that for Hays, homoerotic monogamy is not acceptable and Jesus charges, “Go and sin no more.” The quote went on to compare homosexual activity to heterosexual fornication or adultery.

Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Anna the Prophetess all lived without sexual relationships, Nelson pointed out. “It can be done,” he shouted. Nelson has two children.

Nelson threw in one more statement from Hays, who seemed to be doing most of the talking for Nelson. Homosexual individuals do not have the option of homosexual marriage, according to Hays. Gays are “summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while groaning for the redemption of our bodies,” quoting Hays.

Nelson once more referenced the letter from the gay graduate, who implored the church to take caution not to push gay youth outside the church, and inadvertently into a life of promiscuity.

Sex belongs in the temple, Nelson concluded. All the sex people will experience, they will experience in the physical presence of God himself, Nelson reminded the audience.

Nelson ended the 50 minute sermon with several minutes of appeals, first to young men, then to older men followed by young women and older women. He asked each group in turn to stand if they were willing to commit their bodily temples to sexual (presumably heterosexual) purity.

The full sermon is available as audio or video recording here, along with .pdf study guides.

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