aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Here I stand

I was asked recently about The United Methodist Church’s stand on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and on my opinions of the same. This is a minefield for many of us, who would rather deal with other things, but it is of prime importance to many others. Some of those others are traditionalists or evangelicals, who want The UMC to hold the line and enforce its rules; others are progressives or radicals, who want The UMC to embrace the new normal and drop all impediments to full inclusion of gays including same-sex marriage and ordination of gay clergy. In the end, none of us are going to be able to avoid delivering our souls on this set of issues. So here’s where I come from.

My primary beliefs are derived from the Bible. That doesn’t mean that I read the Bible uncritically or without understanding context. It just means that the Bible is The Book. It is the source of our identity as the People of God. It’s our story. What it teaches, it teaches with plenary authority. I vowed at my ordination to teach what it teaches. I am not at liberty to change it. If I hope to attain what the Bible promises, then I have to deal with what the Bible requires.

And: to any properly educated, fair-minded interpreter, there is simply no doubt worth expressing that the Bible – both Old Testament and New Testament, including Jesus – have nothing but a negative message to convey regarding homosexual practice. That doesn’t mean it’s not a forgivable sin, or a worse sin than any other, but it is sin. This constitutes a problem for those Christians – especially the clergy among them – who want to approve homosexual practice, same-sex marriage, ordination of gay clergy, etc. What shall we do with the Bible? Well, there are two main options.

The first option is to simply toss the Bible aside. Bible, Schmible, we don’t need no steenking Bible! Some who advocate for changing our doctrine and rules are quite up-front about this. They believe that the Bible is simply wrong. Some think the Bible as a whole is wrong, or at least dated. What new authority they would put in its place is never quite stated, but they feel quite sure that the Church doesn’t need the Bible to tell it what it can and can’t believe and do. Others think the Bible is fully authoritative for some things, but outdated or wrong on others. They don’t want to throw the Bible out, but they are willing to declare some parts of it null and void. Once again, by what authority they pick and choose which revelation they will endorse and which they will not is never stated beyond appeals to love or justice – as interpreted, of course, by them. (This means, in effect, that they are claiming a more-than-apostolic authority to reveal the Truth of God – not that they put it that way.)

The other option is to say that, yes, the Bible is unchangeably true, but we’ve misunderstood it. What once seemed so clear to everybody is really a total misunderstanding on our part because we have been reading it from a bigoted, homophobic point of view that really is not part of the Biblical witness. In order to get the result they want, these “exegetes” will turn the Bible on its head and make it say what they have already decided it should say. It appears to me that they have less integrity than they guy who says, “Of course the Bible rejects gay sex – who cares what the Bible says?” but people will snatch at whatever fig leaves that are at hand to cover their shame. (Note: when I reference shame, I’m talking about scholarly integrity here, not sex.)

From my point of view, the real problem is what happens once you take either of these alternatives and then go about your business. Will gay everything take over? Probably not. But decline – rapid or slow, explosive or implosive, will almost certainly set in. This is shown by the experience of every major denomination of Christianity that has changed its standards in this regard. No doubt to the true believers, this is of small consequence: they see this simply as a matter of justice, and don’t care if it means that the Church declines. But I see a loss of power in all these churches. And that loss of power troubles me.

It works like this. Let’s say we’re talking about ordinary spiritual concerns; e.g., the efficacy of prayer, the destiny of the soul, the proper celebration of the sacraments, or an invitation to join the church. Having cramped and contorted one’s spirit and brain into believing that the Bible can be dispensed with, or that it can be made to say what it manifestly does not say, what do I, as a pastor, have to offer on these other questions that have nothing to do with sex? Will not everything I might offer to someone else be affected by how I have agreed to use the Bible from which I am supposed to now draw authoritative answers? And what do I, as a penitent or seeker or parishioner, see as of value in the bizarre reasonings of the person in the dog collar addressing me? Is this the faith once delivered to the saints? And if it isn’t, then why should I want it?

From the point of view of orthodox believers like myself, it’s not a question of sex. Sex is irrelevant. It’s a question of authority. Where are you getting this stuff from? And who would want to belong to a church that thinks of its primary document what these official teachers do? The ghost has left the machine; the glory has fled; there is nothing here that anybody really trying to find God can’t get two a penny anywhere else. And so, the inevitable decline. The lack of power is something ordinary people who aren’t asking about sex notice when they ask ordinary clergy who aren’t talking about sex or visit ordinary churches that aren’t dealing with sex, when the Bible has been laid aside or made to say things it obviously doesn’t say.

So, while I really try to love everybody, and teach that no sin is unforgivable, nor any particular sin worse than any another, still, the Bible says what it says, and I have vowed to uphold what it teaches. That is the only way I can maintain my integrity. And that is also the only hope I have that you or any other sinner might encounter both the truth and love of God through my ministry and so find the fulfillment and transformation that God promises both of us in Jesus Christ.

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