One of the student pastors I'm mentoring came by for an appointment this afternoon. Not only am I this guy's official mentor for the District Committee on Ministry, but I'm also supervising his field work for three hours' credit in seminary this semester.
He was looking for advice on time management and the discipline of sermon preparation. After we'd kicked those two to death, we talked church politics. I have a lot of clergy or clergy-to-be on my flist, so maybe I'll post something sometime on time management (particularly as it relates to pastoral calls) and something on sermon prep; however, church politics is of perennial interest to lots of church-goers, so let me say something about that today.
We talked about two hot-button issues: 1) Christology; 2) Homosexuality.
Christology. When I graduated from seminary a gazillion years ago, I realized that I was fairly conservative (both theologically and politically) compared to the mass of my colleagues. I didn't want to be a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, so I decided that I would restrict my indignation to a very small cluster of issues, viz., metaphysics. Unless it involved defending the Creed or the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith or something, I would strive to resist the temptation to fight about stuff.
I thought I was safe. In 1978, all the liberals (the bulk of my colleagues) were into saving the whales, nuclear freezes, and other sideshows. I decided I could smile and let them lead those parades, so long as I was free to maintain the faith as we had all vowed to uphold it. Even the evangelicals weren't hopping up and down on metaphysics (they were all into Lay Witness Missions and "feelin' it in yer heart," and thought theology was dull, a head trip). I had the field to myself.
Lo, and behold, around 1995, we had this crazy event called the Re-Imagining Conference, hosted by a bunch of radical female church leaders, which offered a completely re-designed God(dess) for our inspection. Reluctantly, I rose to defend what I thought would never be placed at issue. People couldn't figure out why I was so intense about this. But this, you see, was the Last Ditch, and I had promised to die in it, if I had to.
I still feel that way. And while I'm not going to engage in the futile filing of heresy charges that would never be sustained, neither am I going to let anyone presume that I buy this crap. Any time the definition of God is attacked, I will respond, if only by walking out. If I had the power, I would certainly demand orthodoxy from the clergy who have been given the authority to teach in the church, and who all stood before the Annual Conference and said Yes, they had studied our doctrines; and Yes, they believed they were in harmony with the Holy Scriptures; and Yes, they would teach them and no others.
To now teach something different is simple fraud on their part: we pay them to teach one thing, but they teach another. If they had any integrity, they would resign. But then, they have no integrity.
Homosexuality. I feel less forthright about homosexuality. That's because moral judgements are queasier affairs than metaphysical definitions. When you're dealing with people as people -- even if you disagree strongly with them -- you've still got to respect and love them as people. You cannot just reduce them to causes or issues.
So, even though I agree with our official church stance that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," that doesn't mean you can just write people off. We're all sinners; none of us can afford to be proud. Even if I've got to tell somebody NO about something, I should try to communicate that he or she matters. That person is not a cause or an issue, but somebody for whom Christ died, somebody whom God loves.
I still believe the Scriptures are clear about this, and that the near-universal testimony of society over 10,000 years of history is pretty clear, too. But homosexuality, like all sorts of things, will always be present in human relationships, and will always have to be dealt with in helping people find and sustain their relationship with God.
You can't deal with sin by saying that anybody with any sin can't come in. That would eliminate everybody you're trying to save. Sin has to be dealt with pastorally. But you can demand of the official teachers of the faith that they teach our official beliefs. Heresy and apostasy cannot be dealt with pastorally. I guess you could say that sin is an addiction, and breaking an addiction is tough; but heresy is a cancer, and it must be destroyed or removed, if the patient is to live and return to health.