This post focuses on the sexual policy and the church in the U.S. and Canada. It does not address the international issues regarding sexual policy, which I believe are significant in considering the church’s progress on addressing same-sex ordination and marriage as a global church. For more information, see H-6: Committee on Homosexuality and the Church Report from the 2007 World Conference.
On May 22nd, the First Presidency of the Community of Christ issued a letter to administrators about the authority of priesthood to conduct same-sex marriages. Not intended for wide distribution, the letter restated the church’s current position against this practice. It requested, again, that leaders respect the current position while the church continues to struggle for a way to adequately address the issue. This letter circulated among some members on the internet.
The letter was prompted by inquiries following Iowa Supreme Court’s decision. Same-sex marriages have been legal in Iowa since April 29th. On May 17th, Michael and Chuck Hewitt of Community of Christ’s Cornerstone Congregation (see KMBC 9 story) married in Roy A. Cheville Chapel at Graceland. June 2nd, Graceland’s President, John Sellers, issued a letter stating his administration did not know that a same-sex wedding was planned. Given current church policy, it would not have authorized the service knowing a Community of Christ minister was officiating. The letter invited responses.
In Chicago, where I worship and work for the church, reactions to this chain of events continue to unfold. I still receive emails and phone calls. Almost all are negative. The tone and timing of the First Presidency’s letter frustrated many. Many feel they can no longer be patient regarding these issues. The majority of the reactions have come from young adults. In Chicago Mission Center, a majority of young adults are concentrated in the leadership and fellowship of two emerging congregations. The First Presidency’s letter upset many of them because it affected their ministry. These leaders spent hours on the phone, Facebook, and email assuring new friends and members of the circumstances of the letter and their hope for change. Others simply circulated their disagreement and call for action.
Given the impact of these issues in Chicago, I want to try to make a small contribution. In the last two weeks, it’s become clear to me again how the politics of church policy determine these issues. These politics seem to define the future more than faith and human sexuality do themselves.
The church is caught in a knot. The way definitions of sex and marriage polarize eclipses the call to faith in Christ and better understanding of sexuality in our global church. If we were to actually take stewardship of these issues, I think many would recognize an initial response to question sexual policy at all. It’s a rhetorical point at this point, but one we must consider.
It is not that sexuality must remain private. By no means; the fact is sex is very political. Enough questions about human sexuality have been raised in the last decades to transform our very understanding of human relationships, what it means to have prophetic faith, and the meaning of Christ’s ministry through the church. Traditional views, in the U.S. and Canada, have come into question. Eclipsing the purpose of the church, church energy instead is absorbed in managing change.
I mourn that a history of reactionary positions defines the church on sexuality instead of the other way around. Arguably, the entire history of sexual policy in the church can be summarized like this. What is true of American Christianity is true for the Community of Christ church in the U.S. Conservative reactions to shore up traditional positions drive power struggle. Liberals, who spiritually uphold the values of tolerance and acceptance, are increasingly driven to either leave the church out of conscience or oppose the absolutism of the conservative position. None of this is new. But, the intensification of these positions tightens the knot and drives the fear of division. Little attention is given to the fact that these politics distort the very meaning of faith, marriage, and sexuality themselves. They distort the meaning of prophetic ministry and cripple the mission of the church to proclaim Jesus Christ and community.
On sexuality, I believe our church remains largely in the dark. Sex remains submerged in privacy, where Americans like it, except for the politics of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ identity. These categories actually pigeonhole people, erase others (such as bisexuals and transgendered), and prevent open discussion about how faith and sexuality interact in real life. Without this discussion, discipleship is ignored. Worse, ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ wholly define the marriage debate in the U.S. This is precisely the trap church politics are trapped in. From a justice perspective, it makes sense. The question whether marriage is “between a man and a woman” or a civil right open to all is a matter of equality under law. But, this argument suffocates any real discussion about why marriage is a sacrament in the church. In reality, marriage in the church is a ménage à trios, a threesome. The sacrament is a public action in which God is proclaimed and intimately involved. The politics of ‘gay’ verses ‘straight’ must change if the church is to proclaim and testify how the Spirit of God consummates marriage today.
I see the real meaning of faith also getting lost. Profound spiritual questions regarding our common faith and the power of personal testimonies get lost in the politics. On the side of our common faith, what it means to be prophetic and proclaim Christ’s life and resurrection in light of our sexuality and public life is being pushed to the margins. All of this gets contorted in oppositional politics on sex and marriage. Such either/or politics leave little room for revelation. On the personal side, way too few testimonies about how God transforms us in our search for peace and self-acceptance are being widely shared. They are either edited for being ‘political’ or lost in the mix. This is a travesty for a U.S. church longing for signs of life and evidence that God’s Spirit still speaks to us in the world today. Such testimonies would enlighten our situation and provide direction. They point the way to becoming a prophetic people, and could literally save the church. When the debate on sexual policy is at its best, we hear these testimonies and face the real questions.
In praise of Steve Veazey’s April 5th address, I credit the President/Prophet for addressing the use of scripture in the church. Scriptural interpretation plays a direct role in the politics of sex and church policy. President Veazey has called the church to higher accountability. As his sermon states, Jesus Christ is God’s most decisive revelation. We must use and interpret scripture in the light of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. I hold the wild belief that if we took this basic belief of Christian faith seriously, new revelation would happen.
I’ll close with a confession. On the one hand, I confess I have faith regarding the church and sexuality. I believe the future is possible, even waiting. I see it in people’s lives. I see God at work, even amidst the church’s sexual politics.
But, I also confess real despair. When it comes to the politics of these issues, I do not ride a wave of hope. Faith is often a forced decision for me. I feel empty.
The church seems paralyzed by tension. International, ethical, financial, spiritual – the conflicts are everywhere. Our little denomination is bombarded with religious and ethical issues – sexuality, re-baptism, the politics of peace and war, and persistent theological questions about identity and mission. I am thirty five and I understand why people leave. My hopeful words can fall deaf on my own ears. I confess my own cynicism.
I want to have integrity in my role and ministry. I want to support our leaders and I want decision. I personally disagree with the church’s current policy. God has not redeemed the church from its sexual controversy. Like Jacob, I see the church wrestling. (Genesis 32:24-32)
Also sobering, I am full after lunch and so many will not eat today.
When I look at my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the face, I feel ashamed. I wonder if I should leave. When I pray and look Jesus in the face, I ask if I should leave, but that road is not lit for me. Sometimes I want to, but my ego, not my faith lead me there.
When I hear the anger of young adults around me, I share their anger and want to support them. I ask God what to do, and feel called to respond personally.
When I hear the anxiety of pastors and priesthood I serve, I feel love for them, uncommon love. I also search for the Spirit in our discussions. I challenge them with the basic tenets of faith in Christ and press them to embrace the opportunity God is presenting them through the church.
When I spend time alone – feeling the tensions of my role, faith, what the church could be – I feel paralyzed, too. In the feelings, sometimes my mind goes to the Gospels. The circumstances of Jesus’ life come alive for me. I see the controversy. I look for myself in the drama. I know I’m a Pharisee. When I embrace this, a strange peace comes over me. It’s not that my sin is excused. Actually, the Pharisees show me that self-righteousness blinds me to the sin all around me…especially my own.
Then I read what Jesus is doing, in and away from church. It’s amazing to me. I begin to realize following is harder than leading. Perhaps it’s our way out of this knot.
The Christian obsession with sexual practices is not founded upon any timeless heavenly principle, it is rooted in historical realities and traditions that are almost totally anachronistic and meaningless today. In the Middle Ages, birth control was extremely ineffective, there was no way to prevent sexual transmission of disease, and individuals (especially women) did not have the autonomy to break family connections and make new lives for themselves. Where paternity questions arose, there were no tests to say one way or the other. As a result, regarding sexual relations, people were living in a condition similar to the ancients who could not assure that their pork and shellfish were free of disease.
However, those Medieval concerns are not our concerns today, and we are thus able (and are therefore commanded) to eliminate anachronistic practices that are inimical to Jesus’s gospel and God’s law. We should no more settle for thoughtless, blanket prohibitions of sexual activity, than we should enslave ourselves to unthinking prohibitions on eating pork and shellfish. Simply put, it is not immoral for unmarried people to engage in sexual activity. Sex can be important, powerful, and meaningful, and it can still have consequences, so it should be approached thoughtfully with due consideration for those consequences for all persons involved, keeping principles such as “do unto others” in mind.
The fact that the church has these historical rules on the books is obviously not the optimal condition. I think, in general, the church’s leadership is saddened that in enforcing anachronisms, they (and the church) are put in the unfortunate position of defying God and betraying the core principles of the gospel. However, they are also aware that they have not yet been able to lead everyone in the church to the truth and they have a responsibility to minister to the members are wrong about this topic.
And thus there seems to be paralysis and (even worse) occasional moments where good leaders must do bad things that go against their own personal understanding of the gospel. However, we need to understand that there actually is not paralysis. The church is moving and it is moving in the correct direction rapidly for an institution (even if the movement doesn’t seem rapid in our personal, human sense of time).
In the meantime, people whose hearts pour out for their LGBT sisters and brothers, and those sisters and brothers themselves, need to stay in the church and continue to be a part of the change that God will pour out upon the church. If possible, these church leaders and members should creatively deal with the current, unchristian rules as best they can. If necessary, they should defy those rules, and, if punished as a consequence, they should defy that punishment and continue to participate. On the other side of the divide, those whose hearts are not open to their LGBT sisters and brothers need to open their hearts, they need to pray for understanding, and they need to prepare themselves so that when the change in the church comes, their current beliefs do not shatter their faith and turn them against the community that has been their home.
Great comment, btw. Never said so. :-)
I think the best way to summarize the progay argument in the face of the clear historic teachings of Christianity would be to compare it to the Vietnam-era philosophy that sometimes one must “destroy the village in order to save it.”
There is nothing in Christianity as known for the last 2,000 years that permits the official church sanction of homosexual practices. Of course, the Lt. Calley’s among us are determined to destroy the village if they have to.
How about this? Why not start a new village? If it’s really better, then everyone, including the inhabitants of the other village, will come and join you. But, then again, there are already a few of those villages, such as the Metropolitan Community Churches, and the Unitarian Univeralists.
It’s impossible that the MCC or the UU accept homosexuality. For they are Christian institutions and there is nothing in Christianity as known for the last 2,000 years that permits the official church santion of homosexual practices. You must be mistaken.
I cannot tell if your third paragraph is meant seriously or sarcastically. It’s so high in the list of comments I can’t tell even if you’ve read the deep and sincere discussion that has gone on in the entire thread. I will treat it as serious and assume you have read the entire thread.
It really is not in the power of gays either to save or burn the Community of Christ. It is also not in the power of the denomination to deny them the opportunity to claim the things of the gospel that they find precious for themselves. That is exactly like saying that the Restoration movement must give up the right to an open canon of scripture or abandon the New Testament. So perhaps in the interests of unity and peace, we should all convert to Catholicism.
Or perhaps that isn’t far enough; if we give up Christ for peace and unity, we can ask the Jews to accept us back into Judaism.
It is possible that God regulates His dealings with humanity through a faith community, but our leadership will NOT assert that the boundaries of that faith community coincide with the boundaries of our denomination. It will therefore find it difficult to sustain the argument that no one has the right to expand the boundaries of the faith community without the permission of existing denominations — since we come from a long line of denominations that did EXACTLY that. God will judge; not man.
You may well be right that it is less expensive in human costs for gays to find direct connections to God outside the denomination than to cause their conservative brethers and sisters, both in the West and in the emerging fields of the denomination, pain or risk over this issue. If so, then send them with prayers for God’s blessings, or be willing to bear their pain yourself.
“People today usually think about male and female as two kinds of the same thing. There’s one thing, the human being, and it comes in two types, male and female. There are problems with this understanding, as we ourselves sometimes admit. There are hermaphrodites, for example. But basically, this is how we see it. It is not, however, how people in antiquity saw it. For them, male and female were not two kinds of human being, they were two degrees of human being. Women, in fact, were imperfect men.
The way to make sense of the ancient understanding is to imagine all living creatures on a kind of continuum. At the far left of the spectrum are plants, to the right of them are animals, and to the right of (other) animals are humans There are different degrees of intelligence and perfection among animals: slugs might be on the left of the continuum and chimpanzees might be further along. So it is among humans as well. Children and slaves are not perfect, as they have not reached the level of the men. Women are not perfect, as they have not reached the level of the men. The male body is the perfect ideal. Moving along the continuum, beyond humans altogether, are other living beings, the gods, who are in fact, superhuman, the very pinnacle of living existence.
The goal of humans is to become like the gods, and that requires movement along the continuum. Men have to transcend their mortal limitations. For women to transcend theirs, they first have to move along the continuum through the place occupied by men. For a woman to have life, she must first become a male.
Women then, were imperfect humans, or as some authors would have it, imperfect men. Many ancients held this view in quite literal terms: women were men who had never developed. Their appendages hadn’t developed and what they had was an inverted appendage that never emerged; their muscles hadn’t fully developed; their lungs hadn’t matured; their voices hadn’t deepened; their facial hair hadn’t appeared. Women were men who hadn’t yet reached perfection.
To go off on a bit of a digression for a moment, that is the reason that some ancient texts are opposed to certain same sex relationships. The problem with such relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity was not that it was unnatural for two people of the same gender to have physical intimacy, as some people today feel. The problem had to do with the ancient ideology of dominance as it relates to understanding of the genders.
In the Greco-Roman world, dominance was a firmly held and seldom questioned ideal. It was simply common sense that human relationships were organized around power. Those who were more powerful were supposed to dominate those who were less powerful. Thus one empire could destroy another with impunity. They had no particular qualms about it. The stronger could and should dominate the weaker. Masters had complete control over slaves. Parents had total dominance over children. Men could and should assert their power over women, who were literally the weaker sex..
This ideology of power affected not only military and political ideology but also personal and sexual relations. Free men were made to be dominant. Modern people have trouble understanding how the ancient Greeks could accept pederasty, where an adult man took a preadolescent boy as a lover. In this system, the man could inculcate moral and cultural values into the boy, teaching him the ways of society and politics, in exchange for sexual favors. But wasn’t that “unnatural”? Not at all. In fact, Greeks talk about it as the most natural thing in the world. The reason is not hard to find once you understand the ideology of dominance. Boys were imperfect men. The more perfect was to dominate the less perfect. It was natural for a free man to have sex with a young boy. And that’s why pederasty applied only to preadolescent youths. Once a boy reached puberty, he started attaining his manhood and from that point on it was a shameful thing to be dominated by someone else, since men were to be the dominators not dominated.
That is also why in the ancient world it was widely acceptable for a free man to have sex with his slaves, whether male or female. He was dominant over them. What about when two free men had sex, though, wasn’t that unnatural? As it turns out, most ancient people thought that’ same sex relations between men was unnatural for only one of the two involved, the one that was on the receiving end of the sex act. Since the “unnaturalness” of sex involved being dominated by someone when you were to be the dominator, then only the dominated partner acted unnaturally. So when Julius Caesar was known to have been involved in a sexual relationship with the king of Galatia and was suspected of having been himself the submissive partner in the relationship, his troops composed humorous little ditties making fun of him for it. The king of Galatia hadn’t done anything immoral or unnatural, though. He had acted like a man.
When ancient texts, therefore, condemn same sex relations, it is important to understand what it is they’re condemning. They are condemning a man for acting like a member of the weaker sex, or a woman for acting like a member of the stronger sex.”
Bart Ehrman’s remarks..
From a Washington perspective, I know that NOTHING more controversial than the annual Presidential pardon for the Thanksgiving Turkey will avoid being caught up in political controversy. And there will be partisans who will try to use even the turkey as a pawn for their own interests.
Sexual politics are just one of the fronts on which battles among “principalities and powers” are being fought. Each side, not just one or the other, will exploit legitimate concerns among people by creating “poster children” among the innocent to attract power to their side. But it is all too often power, not justice, that is sought at this level — on both sides — regardless of the consequences to their supporters. The supporters can always be “thrown under the bus” when doing so becomes convenient to the pursuit and maintenance of power.
I fully sympathize with administrators who have to try to find a way forward for the church in this environment — and who don’t even get the luxury of neatly separating this into North American versus World Church issues as this post can.
Our leaders are genuinely, I believe, trying to avoid seeing our people “take casualties” by deciding either way. But the paralysis you describe probably doesn’t avoid the casualties in the long run. It may mean we take them now AND we take them later.
I’m on record in many places as saying that the only way this denomination can still have a meaningful role in what God is doing in the decades to come is to put its support behind the life missions of its individual members, even if doing so seems to lead the institution to its end on the cross.
Matt, if you feel God leading you to stay as YOUR personal life mission, you’ll have my continued prayers and support. If you feel God leading you to leave, you’ll still have my prayers and support. And I’ll continue with prayer and support while you wait for guidance.
I think people are giving up because it is a hard thing to passively watch their loved ones being hurt, and abiding by the current policy means they are complicit in the hurting. Some people are needing to say “No More”, and others really don’t know this conversation is happening in the church.
I have been hearing Leaders privately say that the church will move with the culture. The US culture has made some major unexpected leaps in recent months, and the Church is not prepared to move and gain momentum with that wave. That tension between the hope found in cultural progress and the silence and “stay the course” message of Church brings a fresh wounding every day when I watch the news.
I have been out in my congregation for almost 3 years. To this day my gayness has not been spoken out loud, except when I asked Brother Veazey a question when he toured my area recently. My people just stared at the floor in silence. I know they love me and accept some ministry that I can give, but even the silent acceptance has been eroding into fear.
I stay, but often it’s a weekly decision. The fall business meeting is in the back of my mind…deciding what kinds of commitments I can make for the coming year. I truly believe that the ministry of Presence is what awakens people to seek and discern just and loving answers, but I need a measure of Presence and Community returned for my own well-being, and it is not there. I can only go so long before I need the sustenance of people that give listening presence, and voices of affirmation and I am at that place. The few allies in my life have already hit the wall and are drifting, too. When I have shared heartaches with individuals that understand, they are broken and angry, and then they leave in distress as well. Many times over. So I don’t talk much about it anymore.
My sense is that many are cascading into anger/hopelessness, and I don’t know how to climb back up to receive more of the same. Sorry, this is kind of raw.
Matt, thanks for this piece. It is one of the most sensible reflections on sexuality in the church that I have seen in a long time.
Thanks for the discussion Matt. It needs to be had.
I haven’t been to my home congregation since I was made aware of this latest offensive act by the leadership of the Community of “Christ”. I did, however, find a nice little UCC church nearby, the pastor of which I am associated through an interfaith group.
I was surprised and saddened to see that more than one friend from Graceland was there – people I never even knew were in town – and they attended because they happened to fall in love and start families with someone of the same gender and as such, couldn’t find an accepting congregation in our church.
Read that again – Graceland graduates couldn’t find a Community of “Christ” congregation where they could feel comfortable and accepted raising their families.
Veazey and the FP continues to say they are in the process of discussion. These discussions have allegedly been going on since 2000. After the 2007 Report you site gives up on its mandate of making policy suggestions, the topic has been gone (not that it had every really been there).
Look at the wave of Herald articles, published materials, and even the April 5 address aimed at promoting discussion on re-baptism. Has anyone seen anything like that on homosexuality? And they are afraid that a few marriages will call into question the “legitimacy” of the discussion – Hah!
On April 5 – Veazey stated that our mission isn’t the survival of the church, but that we should seek the “most important thing” God is calling us to do. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, for him, survival of the church at all costs is that thing.
As for me and my house, we will seek justice. And it looks like we are being not-too-kindly asked to seek it elsewhere, because the Community of “Christ” has other priorities.
Churchmen have been telling churchmen that the church is vitally important to what God is doing since Constantine or before. Who would have imagined that?
But the assumptions that go with being ANY faith community are precisely the hardest assumptions for a faith community to question. The fish don’t notice the water. So the church can’t even consider how God might accomplish the church’s mission without the church, and failing to accomplish the church’s mission IS, in their eyes, bound to perpetuate the greatest injustice of all.
So, to use the phrase of a previous generation, we find ourselves “burning the village in order to save it” and still failing to save the village even in a sense of being able to rebuild it.
My advice is to protect the people God has given into YOUR care. Yes, pray that God will help Steve protect those God has given into his care. Don’t angrily hurt your African or Asian brothers and sisters or the many conservatives still in the denomination. But figure out who are the people whom God has made your primary responsibility and protect THEM.
Thanks for this post. You’ve given voice to the struggle that many of us are dealing with in one way or another.
[…] Policy and the Church On June 6th, I posted a piece entitled “Sexual Policy and the Church” on the independent blog SaintsHerals.com. While I write about my experience as a […]
It’s not just you young people are are sick and tired of the hesitancy of our church to make a decent and just decision on this subject. I am 73 and am ashamed every year the leadership puts this off. I know their fear of losing more membership and income but they’re losing membership and income over this question already. Surely they’re aware of that.
There are just so many people who are living in the dark ages with this subject. I am back posting on the church’s web board sand absolutely appalled at the ignorance I find there on nearly every subject. The Bible is still the Word of God for so many. Jesus is still “divine”.
I think the church needs to do the right thing and take a just stand on this issue and let the cards fall where they may. At least they can always say they did what Jesus would do in a similar circumstance in our world.
Matt, I appreciate what I sense as humility in your confession and admission to be a Pharisee. Perhaps all of us in some way or another are Pharisees when we fail to see our own shortcomings or sins. If we would all come to this discussion with an honest look at ourselves, in humility and an understanding that we (none of us) have all the answers) – then perhaps we could have a fruitful and meaningful discourse or dialogue. May God’s grace be upon on us.
This is an unfortunate situation that our church is faced with.
It, along with the re-baptism debate, is distracting us from just BEING the Community of Christ.
I also find it unfortunate because it is hurting a lot of our members.
I think it is important to remember that there are people on both sides feeling marginalized.
Many homosexuals feel marginalized because they believe they cannot participate in the church in the same way heterosexuals can.
Many of those who oppose changes to the policy are feeling marginalized also. I know of some who are afraid to share their views publicly in the church, because they would be condemned as the “homophobe”. These are not Fred Phelps types. These are Christians who love their homosexual brothers and sisters, but believe they have made bad “lifestyle choices”.
I feel that many of the more conservative members of the church bring a lot of grounding to the church. Having worshiped and shared with people on this end of the spectrum, I have found many of them to have a faith and a love for God that I am in awe of, and I feel we would be losing a lot to have them leave the church feeling “pushed out”.
However, the same applies to our homosexual brothers and sisters. Each disciple brings a lot to the body of Christ.
We must treat all people with a sense of love.
So how do we best struggle through this?
Firstly, we must approach all people with a spirit of acceptance. We all have differing perspectives on some things, and it is wrong to make someone feel unwelcome in participating in the body of Christ, no matter what side of this debate they’re on.
Secondly, I feel that those who oppose changes to the church’s policy would appreciate if there was a real effort to discern God’s will.
Often our discernment processes involve a prayer and then simply sharing our opinions. This is not discernment.
Real discernment requires us to attempt to remove our intellectual biases, truly open ourselves up to God, and ask for God to provide whatever answer he will – whether we will like it or not.
It is not enough, and it is even dangerous for the church to “move with the culture”. That is not our role. If it was, we should not challenge any cultural trends. How can the church be counter-cultural (something I’m sure we all believe should be the case) if we always “move with the culture”.
Our answers need to come from God, not culture.
In my experience, this tendency of the church to go with the culture, without seriously and deeply discerning God’s will is what is most concerning to a lot of conservatives.
This also applies to the Conditions of Membership issue.
To me, it just makes sense to do this. It makes sense, not because we should cater for conservative members, but because as the Community of Christ, we should be concerned with doing God’s will.
I also understand that this discernment may lead us to different perspectives. I know it has for myself and some others. But at least there will be a respect there for the process we have gone about finding our answers.
And most importantly, it means that we can give a testimony of our position that is based upon spiritual encounter, rather than intellectual rationalizing. It means our answers will have come from God.
And if we were able to discern together with love and respect for all of our members, rather than it being a distraction, wouldn’t it be a wonderful expression of us going about our mission to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace?
Thank you for your stimulating thoughts. I believe that you essentially call for something like what I am getting at. However, I would radicalize it spiritually. The acceptance you talk about, for me, is not possible without repentance. Repentance is a call that falls upon all.
That said, I don’t think we, in the church, can pretend the issue of sexual identity is discernible on equal grounds. The call to repentance falls on all, again and again. But, the church cannot discernment God’s Will as if it is between “conservatives” concerned about lifestyle choices and “liberals” who want to go with culture. This just rehashs the current politics. As I said, it leaves no room for revelation. Based on your comments, I assume you agree.
The idea that progressives want to go with culture is as much a distorting caricature as believing everyone against changing church policy is Fred Phelps. Thank you for pointing that out. Accepting each other and talking takes us closer to breaking through this stereotype and ignorance. But, discernment will take much more.
Beyond the distortions of ‘lifestyle’ issues, church policy on sexuality is about foundational definitions of human being and human identity. The majority of church members fit traditional heterosexual definitions. Ironically, if any position goes with culture, it is keeping with current definitions. In sheer numbers, it serves the heterosexual majority.
It is my testimony that discerning God’s will ultimately takes us beyond such definitions. You point is right. Discernment would take us beyond rationalizations – rationalizations that turns definitions into rationalizations about ‘bad lifestyle choices’ and ‘going-with-the-flow.’ Discernment would require us to ask “God, what is your Will to us to those who do not fit our, the majority’s, definitions?”
Again, it is my testimony, this sort of spiritual discernment might open our hearts and minds to a whole new level of spiritual awareness of what we really must repent from.
If repentance is not at the heart of the call to acceptance, then what is the purpose of any of this? Of faith? The church? Of Jesus? And, if repentance degenerates to debates about who really needs to repent – either those who make ‘bad lifestyle choices’ or those who ‘go-with-the-cultural-flow’ – then, I believe the church is already lost.
The problem with discernment, in my opinion, is that the decision has already been made. Whether you officially look to the 1982 SHC position, WCR 1182 or D&C 111, the First Presidency is using it’s position as interpreter of scripture to make policy. Make no mistake, they have affirmatively made a discriminatory policy.
There is no binding resolution/revelation that goes to the question of ordination or marriage (or acceptance generally) of homosexuals. The First Presidency could just as easily interpret scripture liberally to require acceptance of homosexuals. They could just as easily point to WCRs expressing the Church’s will not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The administrative infastructure exists to allow the FP to provide any policy it chooses.
However, when President McMurray in 2002 suggested we “live on the boundaries” he was rebuffed and forced to backpedal. The notion that we now have to adhere to the policy in order to give legitimacy to the discrenment process is bologna. The policy is what it is for one reason – the FP deems it so. They could just as easily deem the policy to be something else – they could declare we have a congregational approach – they could do anything.
The integrity is already broken, in my opinion.
If a decision has been made, it is perhaps more reason for us to discern.
I believe we should be discerning in how we react to policy as well as in the formulation of policy.
[…] But for now it is thoughts formed this evening as I have re-read a post by Matt Frizzell, a seminarian, Mission Center President, father, husband, a man who a little over a year ago I sat an conversation with, and much more, along with the comments thus far. That blog post is entitled Sexual Policy and the Church. […]
In preparing for bringing the message yesterday, the scripture theme was Isaiah 6:1-8, where Isaiah has an encounter with God and recognizes that he is unclean, and lives among an unclean people. God provides a way for him to become clean, and then sends him on a mission to preach to the people of their arrogance, call them to righteousness, and then offer them a vision for their salvation.
In reading through the thoughtful blog (wish you had the guts to discuss something controversial, Matt!) and responses, I find one word missing: sin. Whether or not you believe that sex outside of marriage – and not just LGBT-related – is a “sin”, we live in a generation that avoids this term at all costs as some form of anachronism that somehow no longer applies to the human condition in relationship with our Creator.
If we are to understand that our bodies are temples of God’s Holy Spirit and not to be defiled, if we understand that sin (there are many definitions) may be viewed as that which separates us from God, and if we are to understand that Jesus lovingly called to the woman taken in adultery to “go thy way and sin no more” after he declined to authorize her stoning, then we all must look at our lives in the way that God looks at them. He called us to be holy, even as He is holy. Paul recognized the thorn that was in his side, but he wrestled with it so that it would not hinder his relationship with God.
The Bible warns its readers against those who would call “wrong” right, and those who would call “right” wrong, and we are surrounded by liberals and conservatives who do both to bolster their position.
Like Matt, I confess how easy it is to become Pharasaical, but I also confess that Jesus said he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus was not afraid to talk about sin, but we are, because then we have to hold ourselves accountable to it and then repent. While I love those who partake of alcohol or sex outside of marriage, etc., I cannot condone such action anymore than I condone my own sin.
Let’s also cut the church leadership and those of us who struggle with this discussion some slack. If we are a global community, do we think our members in Congo or India or South Korea would accept this in the way that we think the North American and European churches would? Also, we happen to have a historical issue with a situation called polygamy, and once a change is made from a position of heterosexual marriage, where does it end? If one thing is acceptable, why not another? Why not with chidren or… As the 70’s song goes, one thing leads to another.
Jesus hated the sin, but loved the sinner. Which, is why he can love me. We are called to do the same, but let us not confuse love with acceptance or approval anymore than he did. And, all are welcome in God’s house.
I like the idea of discernment with a repentance focus. It requires humility, and the dropping of dominance vocabulary by all parties. I do think that a way can emerge that respects all of our humanity, and also the realities of the hardships that will come into lives no matter what policies will be ours. It may even involve submission, but a more authentic and chosen submission.
It is just urgent that the conversation begins now. It is like a marriage on the rocks, either we actually invest and engage together in mutual therapy and healing, or I have to leave this household. To do otherwise is harmful to myself and the entire body of Christ, recognized or not. There has been lip service about discernment, and avoidance, and talking about talking about it, but it is past time for the hard and messy and loving work to begin.
I’ve already posted this comment on Stacie’s blog and Matt has seen the original paper it is from. I believe it’s relevant here.
I am very happy to have a discernment process. If anyone is aware of such a process even beginning to be implemented after 10 years, I certainly am not.
The church is discerning right now. When we published Homosexual Saints: The Community of Christ Experience, Steve Veazey snapped up one of the first copies, read it, and bought more copies for all the general officers of the church. This particular injustice has been climbing to the top of the heap and it’s going to get its due attention. Decisions have been made, as you say, but history never ends. New decisions will be made in the future. At this point, probably a relatively near future.
Come on John. This issue first came up at the 2000 Conference and to a head at the 2002 Conference. Each time resolutions were referred or stifled with the FPs promise to begin dialogue.
The biggest response was to institute the Committee on Homosexuality and the Church and instructed it to instigate dialogue and make recommendations. Not only did it not make recommendations, but it reported a horribly poor record of dialogue – 20 listening circles over 3 years (200 people total), 2 Herald Articles over 5 years, and, in the words of the Report, “etc.”
Compare that to the discernment over conditions for membership. This is in response to a 2007 WCR and you probably can’t count the number of Herald articles from different perspectives, historians, theologians, testimonies – materials published in various languages for different age groups, reunion publications, and even a prime-time world-wide presidential address.
Can you point to anywhere the FP has encouranged dialogue on the issue of homosexuality? It’s been 10 years. If the FP waits long enough, the membership will stop clamouring for dialogue, because the only membership left will be fundamentalist heterosexuals.
I don’t want to minimize your frustration at wanting to eliminate a very real, painful, and ongoing injustice instantly, but I believe that more progress can be made doing good things in a good way (slowly and deliberately) than in a bad way (precipitously and rashly).
I’m reminded of the US political issue of gay people in the military. This long-standing discrimination has been bad for gay people in general, bad for the military, and it has caused pain and the ruined careers of thousands of gay and lesbian service people as we’ve waited for the change that will come. But we’re still where we’re at, in part, because Bill Clinton reacted to loud clamor from the left and precipitously announced that he was going to right the wrong at the outset of his presidency. His hasty actions moved centrists, who could have been wooed, rightward into the laps of conservatives. He then had to reverse himself and agree to a “compromise” which was a serious setback rather than a compromise, and we’re stuck with the same discrimination 17 years later. If Clinton had set up commissions to study the issue and took the time to build consensus among military leaders in the Pentagon (in part by appointing his own leaders), he could have ended discrimination without much ruckus in the sixth or seventh year of his presidency.
And now that Obama is in office, we have the same clamor from the politically unsavvy left to act precipitously on this issue and screw it up again. Fortunately, Obama is too savvy to cave into calls for rash action; he will end discrimination in the military, and it will come with consensus without compromising the credibility of Obama or the Democratic leadership among US centrists. Compromised credibility, of course, was the other problem with Clinton’s course. By leading with something that was, for most Americans, a fringe issue, Clinton showed himself to be out-of-step with the majority; by stepping quickly back when his foot got burned, he not only upset his base on the left, he destroyed his own credibility with everyone. This was one of the factors that spurred the Republican revolution and brought George W. Bush to power.
As great a friend of GLBT saints as Grant McMurray was and is, he followed Clinton’s same misstep by going to the pulpit and calling injustice “injustice,” and announcing that he (as president of the church) had violated and would continue to violate the church’s outdated and wrong policies regarding homosexuality and priesthood. Of course he was right to violate those policies, and his statement was a very good thing to say — but the fact that he said it without first getting the rest of the leadership on his same page and without doing the groundwork of building consensus was a serious mistake. And when he reversed himself, it had the same bad consequences of Clinton’s reversal: frustrating the base (like you) and sapping his own credibility on the issue and that of the leadership of the church in general.
Seven years is not a long time in cultural and institutional terms. (Painfully, it is a long time in human terms.) However, in the US, we’ve had incredibly rapid movement in general public opinion in those few brief years. Ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the military is now supported by a supermajority of Americans and it will happen. We will see the same ending of discrimination in the church.
In the meantime, I think the constructive way forward is (1) to build awareness of the issue by telling personal stories of faithful members who have faced and endured incredible pain and injustice, (2) for GLBT members to continue to actively participate in their congregations and to bring their GLBT friends to church, (3) to expand consensus-building networks like the welcoming congregations, and (4) to remind leaders privately of the gravity of this situation for the church and its membership, while publicly expressing faith, confidence, and support.
That’s what the listening circles were designed to do…facilitate dialogue. However, it’s like we’re preaching to the choir. No one who really needs to hear the discussion and do the discussing ever attends.
John, it is a pleasure to have this discussion with someone who articulates his thoughts in such a logical and coherent manner. Thank you for the time and effort you have put into your post.
That said I vehemently disagree with pretty much every single thing you have said. You have given me so much meat, however, I will have to take some time to formulate an equally compelling and well-reasoned response. :)
Thank you, I look forward to it. :)
First, I reject your premise that there are only 2 ways to approach an issue, (i) slowly and deliberatly (good) and (ii) precipitously and rashly (bad). One may also be quick and decisive, bold and wise, strong and swift – well, you see where I’m going. I believe progress can be made more effectively by doing good things in a good way (quickly and sensitively) rather than the bad way the leadership is currently seeking (plodding and ignoring).
Your notion of US politics aside (Clinton left office with some of the highest approval ratings ever, so the argument that DADT somehow hurt him with the base seems, well, off base) relating the CofC debate on homosexuality and that of the US is a troublesome analogy.
I agree, in some ways they are similar and to liken Grant’s exeperience in 2002 with Pres Clinton’s DADT debacle (although I’m not sure why Obama has to wait and proceed carefully when nearly 80% of the public agrees with him) in some very important ways, they are very different. Most importantly, culture and society progress naturally in the US and other countries mainly because of the difficulty involved with leaving a country and moving to another. So notwithstanding homosexual discrimination in the US, homosexuals will still live among us, we will become gradually more comfortable, and eventually demographics will change and with it, the laws. This has gone on throughout civilization. I have no doubts that, within a finite and even determinable amount of time, the US will be (legally anyway) completely inclusive and affirming of homosexuality the same way as it finally became towards women, minorities, mixed race couples, etc.
But the demographics of a church are quite different, precisely because, unlike a country, one can easily just stop going. I’ve dealt with some immigration laws and believe me, it’s much easier to just sleep in on Sunday morning than it is to move to the Netherlands.
As such, the longer the church delays in doing the right thing, the more the demographics will make it harder to do. While Clinton may have had an easier time being progressive if he had spent a few years on consensus-building and Obama could probably swipe his pen right now due to increasingly open views on homosexuals, President Veazey will have a much harder time trying to move the Church to being affirming than Brother Grant would have had – and, after this is put off in 2010 (as it will be) will have an even harder time in 2013 and beyond.
Like it or not, the more the CofC embraces the policies of conservative, evangelical mega-chruches, the more it will become one. And when the leadership gets their consensus and finally goes to the people for discernment, they will find that the people still around have already made up their minds.
And that doesn’t even go to the fact that the Church, unlike a country, isn’t supposed to do what is politically expedient. It isn’t supposed to represent the will of the majority. It’s supposed to do what’s right.
My original post was saying that no process is ongoing. You then talk up the “slow and deliberate” process. Even if I were to agree that was the way to go – there is no slow and deliberate process either. If you can show me evidence of one other than the leadership’s say so everytime they have to justify another bigotted interpretation of policy, I’d like to see it.
We hold up people like Rosa Parks and MLK now, but at the time they were persecuted from within for making waves, for turning over tables, for not being patient.
Change may come to the CofC. Personally, I doubt it, but it may. But it will not come as a result of “slow and deliberate” discussions. That didn’t work for women in the priesthood and it won’t work now. The bigots have time on their side and anyone who advocates for giving them more time are playing right into their hands.
Thank you, beware the chicken for letting me know I am a bigot. That should really help to move the discussion along! I guess now that you have informed me that I am a bigot, I should jump over to your side and see things your way. Very persuasive.
It looks like you could learn a lot from listening to people like Mr. Hamer. You make zero attempt to see things through the eyes of others. Please re-read Matt’s post.
Dear Chicken, there’s too many things to respond to all at once, and I have to get in the car now — heading for Kirtland for the weekend and then a week long (well earned, IMO) vacation in New York. However, the first thing I want to address is the last thing you said, “Change may come to the CofC. Personally, I doubt it, but it may.” I’m sorry that you don’t feel any optimism for the future, and that you see neither reason for hope nor any light ahead.
I presume — and I hope you will forgive my presumption — that this pessimism has been born of long, hard struggles, and repeated injustices personally experienced, that have gone uncorrected. If so, I feel for you and admire everything you’ve done in your life to testify that this great wrong in the church must be corrected. However, I also make this presumption because it seems to me that your analysis must be colored by personal subjective experience, because any objective analysis should be giving you every reason to see that the path ahead it bathed in light. God is pouring out change upon the church and I have faith the church will receive it.
As we wait, Rosa Parks did not accomplish change by sitting on her porch, railing against the crackers, and declaring nothing would ever improve in the near future because nothing had ever improved up to that date. Rather, she engaged in personal, positive, constructive heroism, involving short-term, practical, and achievable goals, of the sort I’ve advocated on this thread.
John, I really admire the non threatening way you have expressed your views and I couldn’t agree with you more
I only wish I had been as level headed in expressing myself.
Not surprisingly, my previous post in this discussion has been completely ignored. Ignore me if you want, ignore the scriptures if you want, ignore all of the contrarian ideas if you want, but there are those of us who do not agree with the idea that homosexuality is compatible with celestial living, or with the process of becoming the sons and daughters of God.
I have yet to hear a CofC theological perspective that takes into account the whole scriptural body that will move me out of this position (don’t go telling me that Christ didn’t condemn the woman taken in adultery without including his next statement to her to go and sin no more). I realize most of you are more well-read than I am, but I have a fair idea of what the scriptures say and the context within which they are said.
Until I – and the majority of CofC members like me – hear a sound and coherent and unemotional scriptural basis for changing my perspective, I am left with bearing the burden of my fellow saints, even as others bear mine. Argue among yourselves all you want, and I will continue to argue with myself (and wrestle with God), but assuming you are right and I am wrong is not a productive place to start.
The listening circles were sold like they were to be wide open, when we all knew they were focused on the issue of sexuality, so most of us ignored them (just being real here, folks). That doesn’t make us homophobes or anti-gay or bigots, but neither are we going to have things pushed down our throats in a church where the power is with the membership and our right to develop our own theology.
If you have ever felt Tevye’s torment in Fiddler on the Roof where he finally cries “No! There is no other hand!”, you may appreciate how many of us feel when we say “no more”. I am a conservative, but I too sing “the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from His word” and understand His revelation of His nature to me is not yet complete.
But please, don’t sit there and judge me and categorize me the same way you think I judge you, and by all means don’t ignore me if you hope to change my mind and my heart, which I have been known to do.
Each of us are created by God, and he calls us to love one another like he loves us. I can do no less than that, but I will not love choices I believe to be the ways of the world and (to my current understanding) not the ways of God.
I ask forgiveness if I have offended, but my portrayal as unenlightned is offensive to me. I wrestle with the saying of Jesus that he came not to bring peace, but a sword, as his followers will need to make decisions that will not be popular with their families, neighbors, or the person next to them in the pew. Each of us might think we are on the “right” side of this separation, his sword that makes us choose, as “this is a hard thing – who can hear it?”
I pray for each of you “shalom”, and hope you pray likewise for me.
I cannot speak for anyone else here. But, I need to correct several of your comments. Hopefully, you will hear it in compassion and respect.
1. I have not ignored your original comment. The comments you make in your original reply, I have heard several times before. Unfortunately, they are not brief to respond to. Moreover, I have never spoken to someone who has your views and found common ground on the basis of sheer argument. History bears out that moving beyond traditional definitions of the “conservative” position requires personal experience with a LGBT person close to you. Or, it requires real openness into delving into one’s own erotic world or becoming versed on other interpretations of the scriptures usually cited against “homosexuality.” Until someone really spends the time delving deep into these elements, I find what results is just argument. I’m actually willing to have those exchanges, but I don’t want to overwhelm this blog.
2. I take issue with the idea you expressed that no one has talked about “sin” or scriptures. First, I focused explicitly on repentance in my post. Repentance without sin is senseless. I realize I may not be repenting for the sins you identify. However, getting into a debate about which sins we need to repent for draws us into the very Pharisaism and legalism you and I want to avoid – yet I also here as the cornerstone of conservatism on this issue. Secondly, I did allude to scripture. I think President Veazey has been crystal clear that the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is the lens by which all scripture must be interpreted. After this, it is a matter of study, faith, the Holy Spirit. In short, hermeneutics or ways/methods of interpretation. While you reference Jesus’ response to the adulteress to ground one view, I think your interpretation of that scripture for this setting is a stretch. There are several others that I see as more biblically grounded and more appropriate. Your focus on sin as wrong-behavior speaks to the heart of the issue for conservatives. Conservatives generally feel sexual behavior is divinely prescribed. Focusing on sin as wrong-behavior skips over Paul’s deeper analysis of the relationship of sin and the law, and freedom in Christ. Just as importantly, it also omits the scriptural view about the basic nature of sin as structural. By this, I mean that sin, far beyond any one wrong-decision (like a one-night-stand outside of marriage), is a structure of human existence and social life. Way oversimplified, the Bible makes clear that the condition of sin precedes individual sinning. This is what the whole creation myth imputes and the Pharisees miss. So, Jesus dies. Conservatives generally reverse the Biblical view putting sins over sin. In doing so, they confuse repentance and takes us back to legalism (which is very different than love of the Law, from a Jewish perspective). All the while, conservatives usually vehemently this is the biblical view. How does one call gay sex a sin while campaigning that the heterosexual majority oppress the sexual minority without some sort of Pharisaic righteousness or biblical legalism?
Simply put, I believe repentance doesn’t parse sins, while ethics does.
3. In closing, I am sorry you personally feel the way your post states. I was a bit surprised; it does come across as a rant. I don’t say this to offend you, but reach out to you.
In closing, I think you are right; this is an issue for many where Matthew 13 applies. (Jesus brings sword, not peace.) If you feel you need to separate from “what’s popular” to be on Jesus’ side, you introduce a whole new level of dynamics and temptations that should be brought into the light. As I stated in my response to Rick Collins, the idea that accepting gays “goes with culture” or is “popular” flies in the face of the fact that the vast majority is heterosexual. You might be comfortable declaring yourself in the righteous remnant. I hear this, too, from a lot of conservatives. But the righteous-remnant theology is precisely the Pharisaical apple that the RLDS once ate – core and all – and the CRC (West Michigan reference) like to bite from. The persecuted minority will always justify itself with its suffering – no matter their position. It is easy, and very American, to build one’s sense of rightness on the wrongness of one’s enemies. Is that precisely the faith Jesus came to correct? I think Bonhoeffer, who died at Buchenwald, may have had it right when he said we ultimately face Jesus alone.
I’ll close by saying, I think the more this debate becomes characterized as two-sided, either/or, liberal/conservative, us/them, the more it is not about faith or human beings but based on fear and pain. I, for one, think we have yet to scratch the surface of human sexuality. There is still terrible guilt about pleasure and this belief that this guilt can be redeemed with sacrifice and asceticism. This sacrificial system killed a savior, and at the same time showed the way to life was neither sacrifice nor hedonism. But, love.
Matt, you know I love you and your family, and respect you and what you are doing. I’ve encouraged our son to be in dialog with you as much as possible, and continue to do so. Your making an assumption that I don’t have experience with the non-hetero community is like saying I live in Cascade so I have no experience with the African-American community. Likewise, while I have many Calvinist friends, I have difficulty with many of their perspectives even while I admire their life response to Jesus Christ.
I am not oppressing anyone, but have the right to understand Godly living as I see it. Anyone is welcome to sit in the pew next to me, but that doesn’t require either of us to accept lifestyle choices either of us might make. Each of my siblings has lived with someone outside of marriage, and I love them, but that doesn’t mean I have to hold up that choice as good.
Finally, the righteous remnant may hold the seeds of getting us into trouble, but playing Samuel while your sons are straying does not produce good results either. No one is my enemy unless they declare themselves so, and still I will work for peace. I’m not saying Me Good – You Bad. I am saying I Uphold This – I Do Not Uphold That, and that my mind is open to changing, or I could not be a CofC’er.
God knows that I sin, and he knows that like any human, our sexuality is an area where we struggle (although I have never struggled with idea that God gave us this part of us for our enjoyment, and not something to be ashamed of). It seems to me, though, that there is a difference between where my sexual thoughts might go and where I act on them.
The side I want to be on is Jesus’, and I am still learning what that means. My greatest hope is that when we leave this earthly life, all of our blinders are removed and all truth is made available to us, and that I am prepared and open enough to it to receive it. I am doing what I can in this life to make sure my spirit remains open to God’s truth, and that is why I appreciate this dialog.
You have not offended me; quite the opposite. In fact, I want to apologize for failing to engage you in dialogue. My excuse is that my normal (self-appointed) role is to talk my allies to the left of me down from the ledge and back into realm of political reality. And you can see from my argument with Chicken (who says, quote, “I vehemently disagree with pretty much everything you have said,”) how much they like that.
I appreciate and I respect your openness, your earnestness, and your commitment to the church. I’m the one who is using harsh rhetoric here. I may well be the person that Stacie (above) advises should drop “dominance vocabulary.” I believe in avoiding weasel words and embracing gut words. So let me start here: I am a gay man and I am married to another gay man. We are a family. All of our extended families recognize us as such, including my extremely conservative LDS grandparents. I believe fervently and whole-heartedly with every ounce of my being that our relationship is eternal and is in consonance with the divine. There is no sin in this.
I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but my reading of your responses is that you believe, based on your reading of scripture, that my marriage and my family are not “the ways of God.” I don’t necessarily think that this means that you are judging me; and likewise you should not think that I am judging you, even if I say that I believe that your beliefs are out of harmony with God. As you’ve requested, I will use the word “sin.” I firmly believe that the only sin associated with homosexuality is the sin of intolerance towards gay people. This is sin and it is mortal sin. And to turn a much discredited chestnut on its end, while I hate the sin of intolerance, I endeavor to avoid hating the intolerant sinners.
I firmly believe that the core principle of Christ’s gospel is to reject senseless Pharisaic rules (such as the cleanliness rules that prevented otherwise good people from helping the injured person ultimately helped by the Samaritan). These trifling distractions should be abandoned in favor of two great commandments: (1) love God (by avoiding idolatry), and (2) love others inclusively (by understanding that your experience is not their experience and putting yourself in their shoes).
I know you want scriptural authority, but I believe that making scriptures authoritative is nothing short of idolatry — it’s worshipping human-wrought texts whose particular words are strung together as they are as accidents of history. If you want a scripture, here’s my favorite verse of scripture (out of all holy writ): D&C 163:7b “Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.” Obviously parts a, d, and especially c of this remarkable verse are equally inspired and applicable.
You mention Tevye’s torment from Fiddler on the Roof. This was a formative movie in my family growing up. In the movie, tradition informed everything — how to eat, how to sleep, how to work, even how to wear clothes. But reality intervened in the little village of Anatevka. Tevye’s first daughter married for love, the second married an intellectual, and the third married a Christian. Tevye bent for the first two, but he decided he couldn’t bend for the third. Marrying a Christian strayed too far from “tradition,” so he preferred to cut off his daughter, reject her utterly and leave her in agony. Doug, you’ve picked the perfect example. I feel it. I feel for Tevye and I feel for you. But Tevye was wrong! Fiddling on the roof and slavish devotion to traditions are not worth your daughter. Tevye was redeemed when he abrogated tradition and spoke again to Chavaleh as she and her husband were leaving for Poland. That doesn’t mean he rejected all tradition — he slyly motioned tradition to follow him to America. But he retained the traditions that were harmless and good, and he obviously rejected those that were harmful and wrong. I am a great respecter of traiditions; I love tradition. But we mustn’t enslave ourselves to them to the extent that we lose sight of what really matters.
So you and I disagree for now. I don’t think the fact that you think I’m wrong and you’re right and the fact that I think that you’re wrong and I’m right means we can’t have dialogue. It also doesn’t mean that one person has to take all his marbles and go home. The reality is that the church needs everybody and I think the sense that we all must do everything right now “my way or the highway” is institutionally suicidal. If you and I never agree, but we can still be civil with each other and in communion, so be it. That’s a reasonable, working start.
John, thank you for your thoughtful and peaceful response. I would like to also count you as a friend, and have seen your mediating touch in your posts.
We do disagree on some things, but I kind of like the old saying that if two people agree on everything, one of them is redundant! Solomon said that as iron sharpens iron, so one man (person) sharpens another. This is good stuff.
Tevye is an interesting example, because he never stops loving his daughter even though he may not agree with her decisions. That seems very God-like to me, because somehow God still loves me if if I am not always Godly.
D&C 163 may be the most important document the church has received in our lifetimes. Like any scripture, it can be used to prove point A or point B, depending on the context we put it into. I have been challenged by it, and continue to wrestle with its meaning in my life. There is a balance in its interpretation that reminds us of Jesus saying that he came to fulfill the law and not destroy it. Too many people arguing for one position or another just want to forget that scripture that doesn’t agree with their point actually exists. Still, it calls us all beyond our current understandings, and calls for us to be peaceful with one another.
As Amy Grant sang many years ago, I want my Father’s eyes, I want to see as He sees, to love as He loves. I need the reference of scripture to help me do that, and I need the witness of the Holy Spirit to help me do that. But that is my desire.
To use your reference about marbles, they are almost all out on the floor right now. My father taught me to never be afraid to question what I held as truth, because I could not lose either way. If it holds up as truth, I have gained testimony of that. If it does not, then I have grown through newly-revealed (to me) truth.
I appreciate your spirit, and would look forward to becoming your friend.
Doug, thanks much you for your thoughtful and peaceful response. I really do appreciate your words and I look forward to getting to know you better and to becoming your friend as a result.
Doug, what processes do you think would be helpful for the Church to find our way?
What a great question!
First, I am in total agreement with where Steve and Becky and Dave are leading us, placing the responsibility for prophetic insight clearly on us instead of us waiting every 2-3 years for “Moses” to come down off the mountain.
Second, we need to realize that good and Godly people in the church will remain on both sides of this issue. And, we need to be okay with that. We need to figure out how to move beyond the political context we always want to put this discussion in, and frame it in the light similar to the process 163 and We Share does. This is not about you or me or justifying our position – it is about wanting to know God’s way and becoming open to the fact that our previous mindset may not be in keeping with God’s way.
Third, I think Matt had a very clear vision in his original post here – this is a matter of the entire church repenting about this issue, as “all have fallen short” of seeing this as Christ would see it. All of us. All of us. It seems to me like we should have a CofC day of repentence (something most of the church has become uncomfortable discussing) where every single member and friend of the church fasts, prays, and asks forgiveness for seeing the issue of human sexuality too much through our own lenses, and not through God’s eyes.
We need to forgive each other if we have felt offense, and give that burden away. Each of us needs the cleansing so that we can give God a clean slate to write on.
We need to create a dialog that is not agenda-driven, which to me was part of the problem of the listening circles. We need to move beyond dialog into discernment without predisposition of the outcome. I thought the discernment process used at World Conference was outstanding, and very helpful to me.
I would like to see a dialog where every perspective is represented and shared (again, not agenda-driven) with equal respect given to each perspective. This cannot be about who is right and who is wrong – it needs to be about how we become a prophetic people and discern God’s will for dealing with this subject.
We cannot, as Matt says, become Pharasaical about this. We do need to address the entire platform of human sexuality. And we need to understand that our brothers and sisters in every land may be hurt by decisions that are made one way or another, especially if we make them based on our own bias. We need to be sensitive to every sister and brother in the church, not just those who feel the church is not listening to them.
Finally, I believe that after all of this, we will need prophetic counsel from Steve to bring peace to our church family. From the way the church responded to the counsel regarding polygamy in India to section 163, the people will respond to counsel. But, the people must first be engaged in a way that opens our hearts to God’s understanding.
If we are to be the church of Christ, we must be willing to hear Him. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit moves through our fellowship AS WE ALLOW IT TO.
But let me share one more thing about that. I reached a decision some time ago that if the church allowed gays into the priesthood, I would leave the church. I then found myself saying like the early disciples “where would we go? you have the words of eternal life”. I have moved beyond that position, and would invite any who feel offended to ask yourself the same question – in being honest with yourself, where would you go? Are you here because you believe in Christ and in his call to this small group of saints, or because of tradition, habit, friends, etc. What is your purpose in associating with the CofC?
I would enjoy the thoughts of others on this very interesting question.
Hi Douglas, I do appreciate this post. I generally agree with it, with just a couple areas that trigger some thoughts for me.
I don’t think this is comletely possible:
“I would like to see a dialog where every perspective is represented and shared (again, not agenda-driven) *with equal respect given to each perspective.* This cannot be about who is right and who is wrong – it needs to be about how we become a prophetic people and discern God’s will for dealing with this subject.”
There are a couple of congregations in the Independence area that formally teach that when Christ returns the Levitical Law of execution of gays will be restored. There are many who will claim that gayness is a perversion in the company of bestiality, pedophilia and necrophilia. These are commonly thrown into the conversation. There are some points of view that deserve our full condemnation. I cannot give equal respect to these points of view, and giving equal respect to the airing of these views gives them a harming legitimacy. imo.
The other thought I’m having is that most Saints have not spent the same time and intensity in the prayerful discerning and indepth study on this topic as gltb/q and their families (yourself probably an exception.) It is a daily, constant, experiential, relational, sometimes dark-night-of-the-soul prayerful discerning. We are not all going to coming from the same starting point, and this will affect the process.
jeswitts, when I suggest all sides, I think we need to hear ALL sides. Can we be judgmental of what our brothers and sisters believe and say? If we cannot hear their side, how can we ask them to listen to another’s side?
I don’t believe Christ is going to return again through the dome of the Auditorium, but if someone else does, I need to hear them out. We cannot exclude points of view unless they contain hate pointed at individuals, as we will then become a politically-correct movement, and back to square one about creating a meaningful dialog.
God keep us from the Levitical law, but we need to hear everyone out.
We also need to understand that some in the GLBT movement espouse some of the other sexual ideas you mentioned, and like it of not, they are a part of the dialog of the GLBT movement (because I am a conservative, lots of people associate me with white supremacy ideas and thoughts, whether I like it or not, and that same goes with other associations). That gives a lot of people pause as to what doors are being opened.
Thank you for the comments and observations.
You just expressed, in describing your position in the past, the exact feeling that many of your brothers and sisters are feeling now. You felt if the church did something, you couldn’t stay; they feel that if the church does not do something, they can’t stay.
Jeswitts explains in her adjacent reply how far the gap is between our congregations even in the same city in the US. And the gap with non-Western cultures is probably even larger in terms of its impacts, in the concerns the leadership must bring before the Lord, than the gap here in America.
If we are going to discern, we cannot limit the discernment to those answers that keep the family together — or we’d all be Jewish.
Perhaps you remember the Gene Hackman movie “The Poseidon Adventure” in which an ocean liner is capsized. There are two ministers in the movie. One stays to comfort those who hold to the security of regular order even while everything has been turned upside down. One leads a small band to possible safety. The movie suggests that BOTH are acting in the best of the Christian tradition.
The scriptures suggest that the answer to “where would I go?” has at least two answers as well. I think Alma 16:124-130 has relevance as well as the scripture you were thinking about. The word of life can have no value to those from whom it is withheld, and there are deep ethicsl issues in asking others (be they very liberal North Americans, conservative North American, or saints in the emergind world) to make deep sacrifices to maintain a vision of the church that does not match the light they have been given by God.
I told myself the same thing over the issue of Open Communion. I abstained for four years from taking the communion in protest to closed communion.
Then I too said, “Where would you go?” I could not attend any church where the main issue of Jesus was salvation theology. Our church teaches it some but our main thrust is the Kingdom of God on earth and that and peace and justice is where my heart is.
So, I understand and I could not go anywhere else either. We will simply have to respond to one another in love and get to know one another well enough to be able to accept one another where we are.
This is what happens when we take scripture out of context and out of the culture in which it was written.
I know because it took me many years to work that out. I still tend to do it occasionally but then have to stop and remind myself that there was much of early Christianity that was varied and early “scripture” that never made it into the canon and the canon was not formalized for several centuries after it was written.
Okay – what context should I be putting it in (assuming I haven’t done this myself)?
Help me understand what I am missing. I can use your thoughts to throw away all scripture, or can conveniently believe only that which conforms to my ideas. Please help me to understand…
Again Doug, I never called you a bigot, but I do note a familiar theme in your posts. It reminded me of a blog entry just today on a site I enjoy:
“The most predominant mentality in right-wing discourse finds expression in this form: “I am part of/was born into Group X, and Group X — my group — is better than all others yet treated so very unfairly.” This claim persists — indeed, is often intensified — even when Group X is clearly the strongest, most privileged and most favored group. So intense is their need for self-victimization — so inebriating is their self-absorption and so lacking are they in any capacity for empathy — that, for all the noise and rhetoric, the arguments they make virtually always have this tribalistic self-absorption at its core.”
I definitely do not suggest that you throw away all scripture. There is value in scripture as a guide to our ethical values.
Context is another thing. We are talking about a world view at least 2,000 4,000 years old. The Sodom and Gomorrah story is cited to be a biblical account and therefore a justification of God’s condemnation of this behavior. Yet a closer reading of this strange story finds it involves hospitality laws in a nomadic society. It is a story about gang rape, which cannot ever be anything but evil. Furthermore, it expresses violent malevolence toward women that people even today would find hard to condone.
In the biblical world of dominant male values, the humiliation of a male was best achieved by making males act like women in the sex act.
There are other places both in the Torah and Paul’s writings that deplore homosexuality. The question arises about the biblical authority of fifth and sixth century B.C.E. scripture, and even first century scripture in the light of scientific data that did not exist in that day. The authors of the Bible did not have the knowledge on the subject that we have today.
Doug, et al,
I have so much I’d like to say, but I cannot. This medium just does not allow. I’ve read the responses today with interest. I’d like to reply to a few things.
1. DOUG. I forgot not everyone here knows Doug and I know each other. My tone is direct because I trust his sturdy character and fierce interest in his faith. But, it is probably sharp for some. I apologize if it is sharp and hurts.
2. THEOLOGY. That said, I don’t apologize for talking very directly about this issue for those who are willing because I think we have soft-shoe’d sex and theology for a decade, at least. I think all its aspects in the life of the church are hugely important, in prophetic proportions. Personally, despite stereotypes defining this issue, I don’t have *one* perspective on sexual policy in the church. Discussing its theological grounding differs from talking about human sexuality, itself. And, its political and social aspects yield even different revelatory insights. I think each are very important and bring differing revelations to the discussion.
The one that dominates my view, however, is the theological. I don’t believe it’s necessarily the most important. It’s simply hard to shake the way I think and 10 years of paying to get hammered theologically. :-) I praise GOD for this issue insofar that it forces us to do theology – even if we are beating each other with sticks and limping along. God bless those who can’t stand it and leave. Thank God for those who suffer through it. God forgive me (us) for those who hurt themselves or another because we, the church, get caught up in navel-gazing and fail to live the Gospel with those who are bereft of your boundless invitation.
3. SIN/OPPRESSION. Doug, we would need to talk much more if I am to feel you understood my last response to you. Your reply indicates we need to talk more and there’s not enough space to go deeper, here. I am not trying to talk down to you or arrogantly about the scriptures or theology of this. In fact, I am deeply humbled by your earnest care about it. If you and I are going to come together on this issue, we have to talk much much longer about sin. I think grasping SIN is central to a life with God, at all. However, I do think we need to be clear about our confessions. Also, an understanding of sin as “we all don’t measure up” is inadequate. You’ve consistently talked about sin in personal terms. This is the fundamental understanding of sin for most conservatives. It is radically modern conception of sin, not scriptural – just as personal salvation is not. While a modern interpretation of sin as personal is not wrong, it shouldn’t be separated from its scriptural background, which is much more involved and nuanced. This is one scriptural message that cannot be boiled down. Similarly, with my mention of oppression. Oppression is not a ‘personal’ thing. The bad news before Christ’s good news is that you do oppress. We all, especially as white male straight guys, need to accept the ugly revelation that we do oppress. It is part of our condition. Historical study bears annals of evidence. You oppress. I do.
One of the greatest gifts and challenges to my discipleship was/is the divine revelation that I am an oppressor. My commitment to Christ, to be Godly, moral, and righteous, was strange proof that I was. But, I did not and could not see it that way at first. When I finally did – I experienced salvation for the first time. Truly really saved. I finally knew why I need God.
4. LGBT CLOSE TO YOU/ME. I did not assume you had no contact with the lesbian/gay community, or black for that matter. When I said “History bears out that moving beyond traditional definitions of the ‘conservative’ position requires personal experience with a LGBT person close to you,” I meant having a daughter or son or parent that is gay or lesbian, or something the like.
I risk this sounding like posturing. But, I don’t intend it to be. Margo and I lived in community for 3 years in Chicago. We raised Katy and Kenzlee with a bi-sexual woman, a straight couple, a lesbian, and her transgendered partner. We actively invited them into our family to be their role models and care-givers. Even in close proximity, sharing house chores, weekly meetings, a common food budget, and adopting inclusive language regarding relationships and gender, I still am not sure I was close enough to really understand LGBT/Q experience. But, that is the kind of closeness I’m talking about.
5. YOUR QUESTION: WHY HERE? You asked, “…where would you go? Are you here because you believe in Christ and in his call to this small group of saints, or because of tradition, habit, friends, etc. What is your purpose in associating with the CofC?”
I don’t have a short answer for this. I could leave the church. God’s work is everywhere. I bear strong testimony of God’s signature in the most atheistic modern philosophy. I’ve witnessed that Restoration sense of the Holy Spirit in other ministers, churches, and places. But, God has planted and called me here. I argue with God about it. I don’t fully understand it. Sometimes I hate it, and I keep a healthy cynicism about religion that is brash for some. But, I have consistent testimonies. When I see the challenges serving in this church brings my life, I continue to see a divine hand in it.
I did have a light slowly go off between high school and about 5 years ago. At some point, I realized this church, and me, was still steeped in sectarianism. It is still part of our corporate mentality. We’ve shaken alot of its core mythology and “one true church-ism” and realized God/Christ are a lot bigger than our perspective. But, our sectarianism lingers and I needed to deal with it. Some of my liberation is in my criticism of “righteous remnant” theology. Growing up in West Michigan, I realized I was born into a sectarian faith movement and surrounded about another (W. Mich Christianity). I don’t point this at you. That was my journey and my experience. And, I felt the deep need to deal with this sectarianism if I was to really know God. I’ve been on that journey.
In closing, I had a testimony at the 1984 World Conference. As I was watching the conference floor as a 10 year old, I had an experience where I somehow knew this: the church is the only institution on earth that can commit itself SOLELY to the kingdom of God on earth. It was one of my earliest spiritual experiences. But, it had a deep impact on me.
I realize other people, religions, and institutions commit themselves to the kingdom. But, there is something particular and unique about the church’s ability to commit its whole existence to the KofG on earth. What I grew up knowing as Zion. I still believe in that and am summoned by that testimony most every day. It’s also why I went into theological education. I wanted to learn the spiritual disciplines of this commitment. I’ve by no means arrived, but I’ve been blessed, humbled, humiliated, and challenged beyond measure. It’s the only life worth living.
Thanks for asking.
Matt – I so appreciate your posts. I would like to hear you speak more about sin. It is a concept with which I struggle. I think sin is very very personal, but I don’t think in the way you are describing.
In the real world, we call sin “crime” – it is something we do that is “wrong”. Progressive justice systems seek to implement punishment fairly by treating similar acts similarly. If you punch someone in the face, you get 6 months probation. If someone else punches someone in the face, that person must therefore get 6 months probation. In seeking fairness, we find reasons to differentiate offenses in order to make punishment more or less strict (ie. if your face punch was a first offense, less – if you face punch was a policeman you were trying to evade, more).
I think it is natural to try to humanize the divine. With sin, this means sin must be equal and based on acts. If it would be bad for me to take a drink of wine, then it must be bad for you to do it. Also, as humans, we tend to ascribe the worst possible offenses to things we’d never do: suicide, murder – and, coincidentally, homosexuality.
But an act which may be very morally wrong for one person, may be the ultimate in divinity for another. The perfect example of this is homosexuality. It would likely be wrong for me to engage in homosexual activity. But I’m heterosexual and married. Someone who is homosexually inclined, however, may find the same act which for me would draw me away from the divine, for them it could be the ultimate expression of divine love.
Since we cannot know everyone as deeply and intimately as they know themselves, there is no way for us to judge another’s sin, because it is too personal to them.
As I’m constantly telling my kids – “don’t worry about your sibling – you worry about you.”
Since you shared a WC testimony, let me share mine. I attended the GALA service in 2002 ready to leave the church. Brother Grant let just enough debating to occur to let off some steam before asking all the motions to be referred (into the black hole apparently). But the joy and exuberance of my brothers and sisters empowered me to stay and keep trying. It was very humbling and ironic to receive such uplifting ministry as an oppressor, from the oppressed.
Over the last 7 years, unfortunatly, I’ve seen the issue pushed further and further out of the light as policies have become increasingly more oppressive.
There is a scene from the classic mini-series, “The Lonesome Dove” where Robert Duval and Tommy Lee Jones as aging Texas Rangers track down their old buddy Jake Spoon who had gotten caught up with a gang of murderers in an effort to get through their territory. As he was about to be hanged by his two old friends, he explained he never meant any harm – that he was going to leave them the first chance he got. With a tear Robert Duval’s character lamented that he seemed to be “takin’ his leaving a little slow.”
I guess I could be proud of myself for sticking it out this long, but instead, I feel like Jake Spoon -that I’ve been takin’ my leaving a little slow.
I’d love to have coffee and listen more. You are articulate and clear. I deeply empathize with you.
Getting to the bone marrow of our own struggle is essential to staying in – no matter what “side(s)” we are on. There’s something of a refiners fire in the struggle, I think. I, too, struggle with leaving at times. But in the end I’ve been blessed with moments with God, moments in which I realize, “I’m not going to let someone else push me out.” There is more power, I think, with being true to yourself within.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend it someone in the sexual minority. It would be akin to counseling someone to stay in an abusive relationship. In the end, the world is God’s and, like Adam/Eve w/o clothes, our shame may make us run, but we can’t outrun God.
Wow, the first several paragraphs of your post – BTC – are wildly intriguing to me. In my quest to see things as God sees them, yours is a perspective I will need to think deeply on. Thank you for sharing.
You are right that it is very hard to get over the way we are wired and trained (and maybe we even end up getting trained in something because of our wiring). I can’t help but think of the spiritual realm as a naturalistic phenomenon as real as anything else I study, and I certainly won’t be satisfied long-term with a theology until I can attach it to such a framework.
From what you say, I can begin to grasp that you and I can both see the horror of sin, but I can’t even express the concept in the same way you do nor feel that the universe is brokenm in some way as a result, as I sense many of our theologians see it. To me the universe is functioning exactly as God designed.
The closest I can come in my “wired language” is to express what is happening in the human era of history as a close spiritual parallel to what happened at some point in the distant past when consciousness and/or self awareness began to evolve to control physical bodies.
Before, there was only the subconscious. At the end of a probably long era, there was consciousness. But now we can only imagine with horror what must have gone on as evolution worked out the bugs in our software, when the ancestors of all of us were not yet sane — unable to distinguish between contradictory instints, let alone override the self-destructive ones. In my expression, our human spirits are now awake, at least some of the time, and realize with horror that we are not yet spiritually sane.
It is probably a further measure of the difference in our wiring and training that I don’t mean the above as metaphor, but as a poor description of an actual process essential to God’s ongoing creation of the KofG and greater works beyond that.
Yet, because of your post, I think I’ve come one step closer to understanding what you’re saying, so I thank you.
FireTag, I can understand your thought process very well, so thank you for sharing it. Several months ago, I had a dream about what I only know to call Celestial Glory, and the amazing sense of oneness and beauty and openness of thought and belonging and the joy that came as others entered that realm. It humbles me every time I think of it to be reminded that God calls for that condition to exist here on earth. We have so very far to go.
Matt, please give me permission to try a little humor with tongue firmly planted in my cheek: God, I am angry with you today upon realizing that I am the owner of original sin, not that Adam guy. You made me be born white, which comes with its own baggage. Then you made me be born male, which makes me dominant, and therefor oppressive. Add to that the insult of being heterosexual and being born in the USA, and it is more than I can bear. As if I had a choice in these matters! My oppression of others from being born this way is obviously sinful, as I am to blame for the pain and hurt of just about everyone else in the world. Why have you put me in this awkward position of original sin? Now, no one will like me and they will point me out in whispers when I go to the mall. The “mark” is upon me! Oh, and then you had to give me British ancestory and stick me in conservative western Michigan these last 15 years? Did I tug on your beard before you dismissed me to this existence, making me bear all of these damning characteristics? Having not done anything as an infant to oppress anyone, the sin of others feeling oppressed throughout the ages and up until noon EST today is still mine, because there are lots of doctoral theses that say it is so. Take my sin away from me, God, and make me everything I am not so this guilt will not be upon me. Please add this as the 433rd Psalm so others can relate and complain to you in my gifted language, right after all of those theses (did you have anything to do with them being accepted?). And God – what? You don’t believe in original sin? All that stuff about the snake and… its all allegory? Oh, well scratch some of this then, and while you are at it, teach me to love like you love and to see others like you see them. Teach me to understand the past without being weighed down by it, and to become who you have called me to become. Help me to bear the burden of sin that surrounds me and invokes those things that are not holy. And about Matt and all of these other crazy people on this blog (including me, I guess), bless us, every one! And all God’s children said…
Doug: Thanks for understanding my comments. I’ll have to do a post soon on my own blog (a more appropriate forum for discussing science) on how personality types make political, ethical, or theological discourse between two conservatives easy, between two liberals easy, but between a liberal and a conservative very hard.
Thanks for taking the time to share, Matt. I do honor your commitment and your struggle, and I appreciate the rigor you subject your thinking and your testimony to.
Love you, brother.
I guess I’m just not getting it. I didn’t call Doug a bigot – he sounds like someone willing to engage in discussion (although the discussion he says he wants sounds an awful lot like listening circles and he said those had some sort of an “agenda” – not clear how a circle of people telling their feelings moderated over by someone who won’t let you correct or debate could have an agenda, but still).
And John, you seem to agree with me on most points but in doing so you say I’m wrong. I agree, Rosa didn’t sit on her porch – she did things. She did unpopular things. She was told she was rocking the boat and making trouble. In your words, she was precipitous and rash. She and others caused people to have fire hoses turned on them. She also helped create change.
Your assumptions are wrong. I have had no personal injustice levied against me. My analysis is purely intellectually based. It’s a little insulting to say that my reason must be coloured otherwise I would come to the same conclusion as you. I would love to hope for a positive outcome – but I think that hope must be tied to some sort of faith, because the numbers don’t bear it out.
You also seem to assume I am sitting on the sidelines and “eating crackers”. I’m not sure why you assume this. I like to think I do my part to right the injustices. I also like to express my opinions. I’m not sure how seeing a decade of progressives leaving/not joining the church while policies become increasingly more harsh and discussion becomes more and more muted by leadership cannot lead me to a rational, albeit negative view.
Doesn’t mean we should give up – but I think slow and steady here, loses the race – for the reasons I’ve stated. If you think it can be won because “God is pouring out change” then I applaud your spirit. But I think I have a different opinion over which one of us is being objective, and which one is being “coloured.”
Chicken: I probably wasn’t very clear. “Cracker” is a pejorative term for a white person. In the context of the 1960s civil rights movement, a black person “railing about the crackers,” was an analogy to ineffectively ranting about the bigots, instead of taking effective action.
You’ve made declarations that nothing will be done, but you haven’t suggested what can be done.
I understand my goals and how to accomplish them. I believe I understand the institution’s needs and the leadership’s goals. Doug has done a good job explaining his goals to me. But I have no idea what your goal is, nor how what you’ve written here moves us toward whatever that goal might be.
Ah – got it. Not being American, I sometimes struggle with your pejorative terms.
I’m not attempting to meet any goal by writing here. This is an open forum and I’m responding to prior posts and expressing my opinions.
I guess I don’t really know your goals or how what you’ve written gets us there either, but I don’t make assumptions that you have none or that you’re doing nothing.
My point was that current leadership is doing nothing and that over time doing something becomes more difficult. What we should be doing something (akin to what we’re doing vis a vis conditions for membership) meanwhile policies should be tempered back to a more neutral stance.
Not wanting to be argumentative, but my wife taught me years ago that it is not so much what I say that counts, but what other people hear me say.
My prayer for you is that you enjoy the peace in your soul that only Christ can bring, and my prayer for all of us is that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom.
Peace. May our cause be His, and not the other way around.
Mine taught me that people hear what they want to hear.
My prayer for you is to realize that God is not someone “out there” that must be obeyed, but is within all of us. Our way, is His way – may your way glorify the divine in all people.
Not sure I can follow you down that road, BTC. God is neither my schoolmarm nor a collective of humanity, some Force. To quote: “I am that I am”, not because we made him or think that he is. Does His spirit permeate all His creation, and is there an element of divine in each of us? I believe so. But, I prefer the attitude of the psalmist who cried “show me your paths, O Lord”. I think it was Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who wrote in Aqualung that we have created God in our own image, and call it good.
My own perspective is that everyone of us has walked in his own way, but God walks in straight paths. It may be simplistic (iron age visuals) to describe God in human terms, but I believe that He exists with or without me, and I only exist because of Him. If I say my way is His way, does that not make me god? Pardon me if I am taking your phrase too far or hearing what I want to hear, but your statement sounds like a cross between John Denver and Joe Smith Jr in Nauvoo. Sadly, both crashed and discovered they were not gods.
My belief is in Process Theism. The process God is not made in the image of man. God does not coerce us but tries to persuade us to follow the path that is best for us.
Your last reply and “tongue-in-cheek” prayer has left me somewhere amidst confused and wounded, Doug. I’m not sure what to say. It probably looks like I want the last word. But, I just want to close with an invitation. I want to thank you for your passionate engagement and help in clarifying more for me. You have served as a helpful dialogue partner. I pray you have ears to hear this as someone who aspires to be a Christian. Not a liberal, not a theology student, or church employee.
Until a Christian realizes that sin is not personal in terms, is not about personal guilt and innocence, and not definable in human terms by laws or moral choices, they cannot be saved. Not because they don’t qualify or deserve salvation, but because they have yet to meet Jesus on the cross. To put it in a metaphor, Jesus’ salvation is for those without hope for righteousness and without lawyers.
On the issue of sin and guilt, my problem is that conservatives on sexuality is that theologically they are not conservative enough. No Christan will ever understand sin, grace, and resurrection as long as they are concerned with guilt.
Most Christians I know are largely in the dark regarding the lengths with which Jesus’ crucifixion swallows all attempts at adjudicating guilt or protecting innocence. True, you and I are not personally guilty of original sin, any more than we are guilty for hammering the nails that held Jesus to a tree. But, you nor I will ever know the divine meaning of his death and resurrection until we clearly and honestly accept and embrace that we are responsible. Jesus’ crucifixion and the impossible hope of resurrection happen happy every day. It happens in a global scale in the same proportions as Jesus’ life and death in the death of innocent life and the hopelessness of a truly just world. Guilt, sin, protecting personal innocence – it is all the religion of legalism, loosely the rationale of the Pharisees. Jesus’ Gospel, however, and New Covenant does not concern itself with personal guilt.
The moment of Christian conversion begins when we realize we are not guilty, but complicity in sin. True conversion happens when we see ourselves as the bystander, the soldier, the Judas who betrayed or Peter who denied, or the Pharisee in the daily recurrence of his death and life. I said I was a Pharisee in my original post, and I meant it. I’m not sure I will ever overcome that. I still behave as one, but Jesus gives me hope. Someday, I do hope to really follow him.
To grasp what I am saying, every Christian conservative and liberal must abandon their thinking that original sin or Jesus’ salvation are religious propositions. We all must dispense with the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection are past events to be believed or disbelieved. As religious ideas, they are idolatrous Golden Calves. They are stumbling blocks and distractions.
My fervent testimony is that the passage of sin and salvation are in ‘real time,’ not in some religious scheme someplace “up there.” Truly believing in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection catch us up in ongoing human events that take place as we speak. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection perpetuate in the conditions of our world, in the teeth of powers and principalities. Either Christians believe this, or they don’t. They believe in personal religion, instead.
As we scribes, Levites, and Pharisees debate in the Temple, innocent and guiltless lives wither in the heat of political struggles and economic dysfunction that are in epic proportions. These broken lives are not guilty, but they are born into it. Innocent and guiltless lives learn the harsh realities of being born with dark skin, disproportionately in prison or failing schools. Guiltless and innocent white people wrestle with their closeted doubts about whether they are the good people they work so hard to be. They go to church, vote for symbolic candidates, and give to causes in a gesture of hope that it will contribute to easing the uneasiness we feel about making a difference, finding spiritual meaning, being more than “consumers,” and deserving the lifestyle that 2/3 the world doesn’t have. Some, like Pilate, look into the face human innocence and wonder whether it is our responsibility. Sometimes, like Pilate, we find no fault with the innocent ones who end up in our responsibility. We “find no fault” with them. But, we send them to the crowds to die anyway.
What I am saying to you about our complicity in sin is not in doctoral theses. Your jesting in your comment is hurtful, disrespectful, and below you. Look to the Gospels. Read about the circumstances of Jesus’ death at the hands of those he came to save. What does it reveal about us and our world? What does it reveal about the righteous, the church, or protecting our innocence? Read Galatians and Romans prayerfully and listen again to what Paul is saying about the law and moral justification. What does he tell the Romans and Greeks in Ephesus about who God’s people chosen people are now. What does Paul say about what this special Jew’s death really means?
John tells us that Jesus is the logos, the crucified and resurrected meaning through which all creation passes. (John 1) Jesus’ innocent death is the imprint of all of creation and human history.
Oppression is central to the Bible because God’s original intervention into our world, according to the scriptures, is the Exodus. The Genesis story and the allegory of original sin was the product of centuries of theological reflection. Furthermore, it was written in exile, after the destruction of the Temple. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers were the result of Israel’s profound struggle to grasp God’s deliverance from slavery, his gift of the Law, and yet their judgment and guilt. Jerusalem was in ruins, Judah plundered, and the people taken into Babylon. Had God failed them?
The prophets did not come to preach to the widows, slaves, and children. They spoke to the righteous, the chief priests, the Israelites in good standing!! You and me! For the prophets to be truly prophetic, is it any different today?
Jesus’ death and resurrection declared Israel’s final judgment. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God arose victor. Through Jesus, the God of Israel was both the Judge and Redeemer of all of history.
As Christians, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection sets the pattern for understanding ourselves and human history until Jesus comes again. That is why it doesn’t matter if you are ‘guilty.’ We must try to read the scriptures in the context of its day. Attempt to understand the Jewish or “religious” perspective of Jesus’ day. The righteous will judge and betray God. The Pharisees and scribes interrogated Jesus and his righteousness. The chief priests, in giving Jesus to the Romans, believed they were justified, clean, and without blemish. The law was preserved and they were justified. The Galileans in the hillside certainly weren’t at fault for Jesus’ death. But, even Jesus’ own disciples betrayed and denied the messiah. Moreover, the crowd who ordered him dead. Where are the innocent?
After Jesus, there is no square inch of innocence left. Moral codes can’t restore innocence. How can we approach the gospel with such self-centered questions? Aren’t *I* innocent?! I didn’t do anything?! I’m not gay?! I’m not an oppressor?!
Righteousness is the measuring rod of the old covenant, the old religion. It is still the truth, but it is also the way of death. Paul is clear about this in Romans.
Beyond any moral code or priestly qualifications, we either see ourselves and our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection or we don’t. We either recognize ourselves among Judas, Peter, the Pharisees, Pilate, or the crowd – complicit in his death – or we don’t. We don’t need his salvation yet. We either see our shame on his cross, our responsibility its existence, or we don’t. We see faith as defending our righteousness and “right religion.”
There is no personal salvation until we realize “It ain’t about you/us.” Guilt is path to salvation, but it is not the path of discipleship. That is repentance.
Discipleship begins when we recognize, we may not be guilty. But, we are complicit. We are responsible. Jesus is the Son of a living God. His death and resurrection are not some ancient religion or set of traditional values – that historians can show us have changed. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection unlock the very structure of human existence, the battle between powers and principalities, and the ongoing death of human innocence. There is no room or time for you or I to go back to reconstruct the Law of marriage or the moral lifestyle. To do so would take our eyes off the cross. What of Jesus’ Gospel do we really want to proclaim and perserve?
A final thought about the ways of the world and the way of Christ. Liberalism has taken a huge step forward in bringing the kingdom about. Because of classical liberalism, we live in a world that will proclaim our innocence and full personhood upon birth. This is the advent of human rights!
But, the world will tell you to protect your personhood and your innocence. This is a worldly fixation. The world, even while it has moved ahead, will take your personhood from you if you lose your innocence. We carry this shame and guilt in our hearts. I think of the sex offenders I’ve visited in jail. Submersed in the ways of the world, we must protect our innocence. We must think of our guilt in personal terms.
We take this worldly perspective to our Christian faith and look to Jesus. He becomes our personal savior, the solution to our personal guilt. We make sin and salvation about imperfection, not the transformation Paul talked about or the Kingdom Jesus’ ushered in. We worry about ourselves.
But, this is not the scriptural perspective. For the Jews, God was both deliverer and judge. God delivered and judged all of Israel. They were a people. When Jesus died, the Law was fulfilled and died. So did all hope for innocence. God had judged.
But, in Jesus’ resurrection, all were also reborn. True, death took innocence. The disciples betrayed and denied him; the Pharisees and chief priests wanted him dead; the crowd called for his death; Pilate recognized Jesus’ innocence but was complicit. So was the death of all righteousness, forever.
But, life and personhood? Resurrected. Read Paul. From Christ our status as God’s children is restored. In Christ, our personhood can never be lost. The world will grant us personhood. We see this in the civil rights battles. But, the way of the world will also fixate us protecting ourselves, our rights and our innocence. In Christ, there is no protecting ourselves. There is no righteousness left. There is no innocence. Yet in him, we ultimately do not need them to justify ourselves. Our personhood can never be lost.
I am not a conservative because I believe, in a way, in true Christian conservatism. The Gospel should not be lost. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has restored and justified us beyond righteousness, personhood beyond innocence, and salvation beyond the Law – if we need his salvation. This Gospel we can never loose.
LGBT/Q individuals and couples receive the same Gospel, the same full personhood, the same inheritance, and yet unique gifts.
Now, that is rant, and a bit of a sermon. With that, I’ll close.
Matt, I ask your forgiveness for offending you – that was certainly not my intent, as hopefully shown in previous statements of my respect for you.
You have provided much food for thought, which I promise to digest slowly and carefully.
Given the discussion on this thread, the following site, whose appearance is noted in the news column on the Bloggernacle site Mormon Matters seems relevant.
Hah! Wouldn’t that be something if the Mormons were more progressive than the CofC on this issue?
Well, they’re not.
John is correct, Chicken. I use FireTag because it fits my blog name, helps manage my e-mail, and is something I’ve had around from my days a a computer gamer. Anybody in the CofChrist who doesn’t know my identity and cares could find out in about 15 minutes by asking around. And there would be no consequences.
There are people in the Bloggernacle who closely hold their identities because they worry about disciplinary action from their priesthood, which can include excommunication. And Mormon theological understanding for many people includes the notion that marital status on earth strongly influences the chances for Celestial Glory. Can you imagine the thought of being marginalized for eternity?
No comparison at all.
Thanks for the link, FireTag. The list of suicides and personal stories were pretty incredible.
No John – they are the same. Doesn’t that say something.
Just thought I’d share a link to a facebook conversation begun by a Graceland Student.
Ok, John, here’s my argument – from my blog (http://bewarethechicken.blogspot.com/):
“If, as so many suppose, the Church leadership is in favor of changing policy on homosexuality, while simultaneously limiting the unavoidable schism which will accompany it, they should (a) present issues rather than generaly theological ideology (ie. discuss gay marriage and gay ordination rather than the theological morality of homosexuality in general) and (b) they should actively and affirmatively promote church-wide discussions of these issues.
It would not be a leap therefore, to assume that the Church, by vehemently adhereing to conservative social policies on homosexuality, are discouraging growth and encouraging loss among those who would be more likley to support policy change. Moreover, as within those who continue to support the Church, the strategy of ignore and delay with respect to these policies, is more likely to cause the progress of memebrship opinion to stagnate.
Bottom line is – over time, the Church will become more and more composed of conservative thinkers whose attitiudes toward homosexuals will progress slower and slower relative to the outside world. This does not support the continual pleas from the First Presidency and the Leadership in general, that progressives should be patient, should be quiet, and should be deferential to current policy, in order to bring about positive change. Quite the opposite.”
BTC: I read your blog post cited above, and tried to post this comment there unsuccessfully, so I’ll try to put it here instead. I urge the SH readers to check out your entire post for context.
While I agree with the overall point that the church leadership is NOT moving toward discussion of the rights of gays and lesbians and I see no sign that such a position is going to change, I’m having a real problem with seeing how your data above support your claims about the impact on the church. So I’m left with agreeing with your general complaint, but not buying your rationale.
To begin with, a state by state analysis of public opinion tells us less than you’re claiming — about either the trends in American society or on how those trends affect the very self-selected population that the church leadership has to consider.
The red state – blue state phenomenon is really an urban versus rural phenomenon. If you break down the state voting maps to the congressional district, county, or precinct level (which may still be available in the polling archives at RealClearPolitics.com going back for several years), you discover that whether voting blue or red, states are composed of urban “blue” islands surrounded by seas of rural “red”. Expansion or contraction of the blue areas occurs in the suburbs, where everyday political factors like the economy or peace-war issues are decisive. So it’s the relative population size of urban vs rural areas in a state that determines whether the state will be red or blue. That’s why the states in your graphic are clustered the way they are: states where urban populations are dominant swing more toward acceptance of all progressive positions as political discourse becomes more polarized, a trend underway since at least the Clinton administration if not before.
So, migration patterns between states are secondary to migration in and out of cities — which your data above doesn’t address.
The urban vs rural break in political and cultural attitudes is far more general than anything having to do with gay and lesbian issues. You’ll find the same larger tolerance in racial, religious, national origin, economic class, or any other kind of cultural issues. People just adopt a “live-and-let-live” attitude as a means of avoiding constant psychological discomfort. (Interestingly, there is also some evidence that they group into homogeneous communities even within urban areas — you don’t see things on the streets around Columbia University at 116th Street in New York that are common in the Village (which is why it’s called “the village”).
Urban culture also drives media exposure of an issue. Nothing sinister about that; media will be where the concentrations of population make a market, so they will concentrate on stories that draw their audience. (Think of Fox News as a great example of counter-programming for the open market niche — but even their studios have to be in places like NY, Washington or LA)
I am also confused by your references to the “conservative minority”, since your graphic shows that only in the most liberal political states are the conservatives a minority. You may be right that the movement toward greater equality for gays and lesbians — a trend I would welcome within the church — is unstoppable, but a general belief in the inevitability of progress is a cultural marker of a progressive to begin with. One of the cultural markers of conservatives is that we regard progress as tentative and fragile, imagining how easily progress can be lost.
And, of course, nothing we discuss here applies outside of NA or the EU countries, which are not the dominant long-term concerns of the church’s leadership.
As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that anything the church has decided for 130 years has affected its overall growth rate because it is too structurally tied to the society in which it lives. So it’s not like we actually have anything to lose by doing whatever we feel is just. The leadership simply thinks the church does.
FireTag, thanks for the review. All I was doing was hypothesizing based on new data. I don’t see how your comment undermines or contradicts that – merely offers an alternative hypothesis based on your personal political opinion. You are entitled to your opinion and I appreciate your position, but I’d like to see some data to back up your claims to political demographics.
As for my comment regarding the conservative minority, that was made in connection with findings in the study with regard to policy moving incongruently with public opinion. With respect to issues on homosexuality, the study found that, in the vast majority of these scenarios, the policy favored a conservative minoriy – rather than a liberal policy in the face of a conservative majority. I wasn’t making a general claim that conservatives were in the minority on the issue of homosexuality or same-sex marriage.
Sorry you couldn’t get your comment on there. Not sure what the problem is. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for clarifying.
I have seen the data — The Washington Post had a stunning full page graphic, as I recall, that showed the island effect after the presidential elections in 2000 and/or 2004. (I don’t recall looking in 2008 because the election wasn’t close enough for the analysis to be interesting.) I don’t haunt the political sites as much in non-election years, but I’ll see what I can find that’s still out there as soon as I get a chance.
In fact, I strongly think the church should do the “just” thing and let the cards fall where they may.
Otherwise their entire mission stand is hypocrisy.
FireTag – with respect to your point on urban/rural demographics, I’m not sure how that plays out with respect to my overall point. The graphic I laid out showed state-wide attitudes and my purpose was to show how these attitudes have changed over the last 15 years.
If you are saying the rate of change had to do, not with salience, but with a shift from urban to suburban areas, I’m not sure the data bears that out. I’d need to see something that says states with more progressive views have also had above-average migration to the suburbs relative to other states.
My position is that liberal states tend to vote for liberal candidates which tend to more readily discuss liberal issues. To the extent these issues relate to homosexuality, increased discussion seems to have lead to faster relative movement of public opinion.
I’m not sure breaking down red/blue demographics intra-state(especially as to nation-wide elections) is applicable. As always, however, I’m happy to hear anyone out.
“My position is that liberal states tend to vote for liberal candidates which tend to more readily discuss liberal issues.”
That I can certainly agree with as a more likely explanation of the data we’ve both cited. The difference is in what we expect to happen in the future, which depends on whether the increased discussion is cause, effect, or merely a proxy veariable to what is really driving events.
What I’m saying regarding elections is they are decided by the swing voters, who are concentrated in the suburbs and switch votes according to the relative importance of issues to them in a given election cycle, not because of migration from place to place. Migration increases the importance of urban versus rural areas, and so population growth as a whole tends to drive a country like America towards urbanization and liberalism.
So the tipping point in our society, if it goes on a state by state level, may take much longer than the church has in North America. More acceptance of gays in the NE won’t translate that quickly into acceptance in the majority of states, because every place can’t urbanize. That means that the church’s attitude may end up being decided by 3rd world attitudes, not North American or European, and those attitudes don’t even match conservative-progressive axes of political discussion.
Ok – that may well be – but that doesn’t relate to my point. Although based on current state by state review it seems the US is moving pretty quickly. More than 10% of the states have permitted same-sex marriage outright in just 6 years. Studies also show that the more a homosexual progressive policy is implemented, the faster public opinion moves positively and the quicker policy changes. It’s exponential.
How many of those states (and you should count DC in there, too) have done so since the beginning of 2009? Most of them, right?
Liberalism may be at the beginning of a new era, or the last 6 months may represent its high water mark for at least the next 8 years. New political administrations are like that — they are all hired on probation. Initiatives undertaken next year will be decided by whether liberal policy positions actually succeed, which may actually be more the decision of leaders in places like Iran and Korea than any inherent correctness or error in liberal positions.
No one (and I know Chicken doesn’t) should count on society allowing the church to avoid making the tough decision it has to make about what’s just.
I’m certainly hoping the church doesn’t allow areas of fastest growth (African Continent, for example) to dictate policy on homosexuality, or other issues that I think require being prophetic. Otherwise, the church might need to come up with a stance on the death penalty because that is how gays are treated in parts of Africa and the Middle East, etc.
I think the larger issue is really what the church’s role is with regard to cultural context. Should the church adopt the dominent membership’s culture? If the church is called to be counter-cultural, to which culture should this apply?
And if the call is to be prophetic, then how do we be respectful of cultural differences without being trapped by any of them, including the church culture?
The Death Penalty is one issue we have taken a stand on:
resolved, That we stand in opposition to the use of the death penalty; and be it further resolved, that as a peace church we seek ways to achieve healing and restorative justice
I think the answer to that is to allow gay marriage and ordination in states and countries where it is legal and to allow our ministers to officiate.
If we allow gay marriage and ordination in states and countries where it is legal, should we also support marginalization and poor treatment of gays in states and countries where that is the norm? If the gay minister is called by God and vested with authority by God, does that power go away when the minister is in another state, like Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin at midnight?
It took at least one full generation for women to get the vote in America after the movement began. Even then, many men resented that. It took at least one full generation for blacks to realize the results of receiving their civil rights. Even yet there are racists who resent our new president and cannot accept blacks as equals.
It will take intense education to teach those who oppose gay rights and gay marriage that being gay isn’t a choice and a sin. Some will never accept that.
I recall in church history about the teaching of baptism for the dead. The practice was taught in Nauvoo and many of those who joined the RLDS knew what they had been taught.
It took a wise Joseph Smith III to just not push it and allow that generation to die off.
States in the USA regulate marriage and those who are allowed to marry. When a state votes to allow gay marriage, then it should be allowed by the church and the church’s ministers should be allowed by the church to perform those weddings. Many countries in Europe take gay marriage for granted…especially the Scandinavian countries.
We cannot force people in the general population to accept others who are gay. That comes with education and actually knowing someone who is gay. But the church should be leading the way in changing the culture…not standing back waiting for the culture to change. If that had happened with women’s rights, we still wouldn’t have them. If it had happened with the civil rights movement, blacks would still be drinking out of separate drinking fountains.
The church should be a driving force and a leader to change the views of society. Other churches have stepped up to the plate. Our leadership is dragging their feet. Fear is a terrible thing.
Thank you for your clarification toward the end. I have been a bit troubled by some of the discussion of a connection between events in the political world and in the beliefs and standards of the church. While realizing that one affects the other, I am constantly reminded of the counsel to be in the world, but not of it, and of Lehi’s dream of the rod of iron and those in the building on the hill who laughed those on the path to scorn, even causing many to leave the tree of life.
If we are called to be a prophetic people, and if we are called to walk the path Christ trod, then I could care less about what they are accepting in Scandinavia or in Mississippi. It doesn’t make being a racist Christ-like, and it doesn’t make legalized prostitution in the Netherlands Christ-like (I know that is not in Scandinavia).
We somehow need to find the footprints of Jesus and learn how to walk that same way.
I agree with you about following the footprints of Jesus, Doug, and also like what you said regarding Lehi.
The difficulty is that people on both sides of a controversial issue believe that there way is the way that is faithful to God.
I’m all for whether someone is straight or gay not being an issue at all. My point is that how gays are treated and views about how gays should be treated is cultural. Having a liberal view about things doesn’t mean that you escape culture, it means that you (not you personally but a person) are living the way that your culture says you should. Just like people from socially conservative cultures are living true to their culture.
Oh I fully agree with you, Doug. It’s just that we are presently living in this real world and have to face it’s realities.
You do realize that that dream of Lehis was actually a dream Joseph Smith Sr. had, don’t you? Somehow it was implemented into the Nephi/Lehi story.
Whether the dream was Lehi’s or Joseph’s father’s, it has always spoken deeply to me. While the realities of the world are here with us all of the time (I am currently dealing with some of the economic ones), we choose how we live within them.
I have been marginalized my entire business life because of my beliefs, not drinking, not “going out with the boys”, etc., just as others have been marginalized. In the end, it is my choices who make me who I am and define my relationship with God, not the actions of others that may seem so judgemental. So, I have chosen to try to hear what Paul told us in being slow to take offense, knowing all I can do is be true to myself.
I remain intrigued by the idea that has been expressed a couple of times in this blog that two people can make choices in opposition to each other, and yet both be living with God. Assuming this is not related to situational ethics, can someone help me get a better view of this idea? It may be one more limitation I am able to remove from my perception of God.
I think it is situational ethics – with the understanding that no two people are identical and therefore no two choices are exactly opposite. As such, even if the outward situation is identical, the fact that two unique individuals are involved makes the situation necessarily different.
I saw your comment come through your email. I wanted to quick reply.
I want to respond to this: “I remain intrigued by the idea that has been expressed a couple of times in this blog that two people can make choices in opposition to each other, and yet both be living with God. Assuming this is not related to situational ethics, can someone help me get a better view of this idea?”
Completely undoing the orthodox view is not quick. But, once done, I think it opens up a whole new world of faith where faith in Jesus and faith based on the Law (or right view) opens up a whole new understanding. What I mean by the orthodox view is not “conservative” or traditional. Orthodox literally means right-belief or right opinion. Christian reactionaries will pit orthodoxy against “situation ethics” as a way to condemn the ways of the world and uphold the “one true way.” People forget, whenever someone says “What would Jesus do?”, they are doing situation ethics. Their just doing Christian situation ethics. Jesus, himself, was a kind of situation ethic who would have made no sense outside of 1st Century Judaism. That is why context, or “situation” in all its aspects is important. It would be good for every Christian to understand where this idea of orthodoxy actually came from, largely Empire. And, it would good for them to know that it’s sole purpose was to identify heretics. Orthodoxy was the prime way Christians took salvation in Jesus Christ and turned it back into the distortions of the Pharisaic law where “the faithful” were on one side of the law or and “heretics” on the wrong side.
As for two people being faithful in opposition to each other, consider the kind of freedom Paul starts alluding to in this passage, Romans 14:13-14. This is after he talks about salvation for all in Romans 10 and Life in the Spirit in Romans 8. He writes to explain himself:
“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”
Here, you can see how “situationally” something being ungodly or unclean is in the eye of the beholder. In this passage, Paul starts talking about how Christians shouldn’t do what is troublesome to others as stumbling block. Here, it is important to realize, Paul isn’t talking about “not offending anyone” like he’s addressing us in liberal 21st century America. He’s talking to the Romans, where there is a great diversity of members in the capital of Empire and grace is essential to keeping a growing faith together. This, at least, helps point out how some kind of “situational” ethics is important. Few, if any, pundits I know who are against situational ethics actually read Romans or Corinthians with the understanding that Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles was completely based on taking Jesus’ proclamation and making it work in another “situation.”
There are other ways two people can make choices in opposition and both be living with God. One way is to accept that living in God is not an option. It’s like after Adam and Eve tried to hide after eating from the Tree of Life. We can’t hide from God. So, some clarification of “living with God” needs to be made.
If you mean living a “godly” life, alot of that can be answered by defining the Godly life. Again, the scripture talk about this alot. Paul’s letters, as well as Matthew 5-7, and other passages. The problem is when Christians try to turn the Gospel and living the Godly life back into a Pharisaical law structure. (And, most conservatives base their faith on this….pls understand, I’m not trying to pick on them but state my experience.) Being a Jew (elect, Godly, righteous) and Gentile (sinner, unclean, ungodly) is reproduced all over again. This is what a large portion of American Christianity has become. Christianity is not a new faith, but a new form of Pharisaic legalism…which is actually worse than the Jewish faith it came from. Explaining that would take another post. But, consider what Paul talks about in Romans 3:27b-31.
“…the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Christians today don’t realize the real riff between Jews and Gentiles. Circumcision in Paul’s time was probably even more a big deal than homosexuality is today. We Americans have been used to pluralism for a long time and cannot fully appreciate the history that gives birth to the separation from Jew and Gentile. We are talking about centuries of oppression and violence, which Jesus asks the Jews to confront in welcoming Samaritans and Gentiles. Gentiles were the imperial power!! Can you imagine being conquered by another country and the messiah of your religion coming and asking to you let go of your sign of election, circumcision, and let the soldiers of the army persecuting you into your faith!!
Homosexuality ain’t nothin’.
I’m not trying to pick on same-sex stuff. It’s just related. People can make opposing choices and both living with God because we all have limited knowledge. I think you’d enjoy the theology of Karl Barth, who reminded us that there is no way we know what God calls righteous and unrighteous. We only have Christ to know what it means to be human and be with God. That is it.
Therefore, one way two people can make opposing choices is not based on “opinion,” but because of our common situation. Our situation is that we are limited and, even with the help of scriptures, can never have full access to God’s knowledge, or what God is doing in and for others. This isn’t liberalism. This is based on a doctrine of God. Barth was clear. Christianity was not some religious system, but the answer to the question: What does “this God” mean to “this particular person” at “this particular time.” The only way to know that was in faith – not of certainty, but in the freedom of the holy spirit.
In actuality, Christians who believe the scriptures tell them everything and, therefore, they need only belief in Jesus to enter the realm of certainty are not professing Christianity at all. That God is no longer free. God, too, is bound by the law they create. That is why Community of Christ witness to a God who still reveals is so so so so so SOOOOOOO amazing and important. If God is truly free, God can choose to justify whomever S/He wishes.
Jesus is our most prime example.
I would agree with Matt totally and even go one step farther. Not only does God allow people to make opposing choices, He may actually encourage it. I put this in Seth’s “Log Cabins” thread:
“It strikes me that we should be unsurprised that parts of the “Body of Christ” actually get told to do different things for the HEALTH of the Body. After all, the human body works precisely because some cells get chemical messages telling them to “put more potassium into the bloodstream” even while other cells get chemical messages telling them to “take more potassium out of the bloodstream”.”
I can see that I need to submit to some guided study. A part of me would like to argue with some of what you have just shared, but the part of me that lives in the faith that God thoughts are higher than my thoughts won’t let me do that.
Matt, how do we reconcile this with Jesus’ admonition to the woman taken in adultery to go and sin no more? Was he speaking to her personal identification of “adultery” as a sin, or to the communal ID as such? I understand the admonitions to the Pharisees, as they led the people to an impossible-to-achieve earning of good standing with God. Paul also tried to shore up the actions and beliefs of Jesus freaks, long before the heretical movement, defining what was right and what was wrong.
Let’s take Romans 8 again about putting stumbling blocks in front of each other. If I believe it is okay to practice same-sex marriage and profess that belief to those who do not, am I creating a stumbling block for them? How then am I to communicate with fellow believers my life and my journey without being disingenuous? And I could – as Paul does – turn the argument around by professing a belief that same-sex marriage is not of God, causing fellow believers pain. Is there a way through this Gordian knot without taking Alexander’s approach?
If there is a beam in my eye, I should perhaps go back and read your original post. Or change my glasses prescription…
I believe that the ministry of a Prophet comes in part from the ability to see how doctrinal principles can be combined in new ways when they do come into conflict with new evidence and new realities. In doing so a deeper, more general doctrinal principle comes through as a guide to “apostles” as they translate those principles into practical creative opportunities in the lives of those to whom they minister.
Due to my own background, I can relate that “generalization of principles” most closely to the work of a theoretical scientist (although many theologians have the same goal in their own realm). Since the times of the Greeks, the scientific tendency in every era has been to see phenomena as specific cases of more general principles, and the times when brand new cases arise that do not match the old principles – when there is a critical mass of anomalies — are the key times when new, more general principles can be discovered.
Yet, these principles are seldom discovered by those who are too wedded to the established principles and have risen to leadership in the scientific establishment. They are discovered by these rare geniuses who can, for some unexplained reason, escape the conceptual thought processes of their contemporaries and get outside the framework of the science (or theology) of their times and ask questions that have seemingly never been seriously pushed by others.
Einstein saw, for example, the inherent paradox in how things could move as if we on Earth were standing still and everything was in relative motion to us. This question must have been obvious since it had become apparent centuries earlier that the sun, not earth, was at the center of the solar system. Why was earth the place that was standing still? Why not the sun? Why not Jupiter? Why not the center of the Milky Way?
But only Einstein made the conceptual leap that the laws of nature must have the same form to everybody, regardless of their motion, so that everyone in the universe would believe they were standing still. In so doing he generalized many different observations under a single principle of space-time symmetry – and launched a conceptual revolution that profoundly affected all of culture.
At the time he made the leap and published, hardly anyone could grasp the implications of what he was saying. There is a rumor among physicists about a reporter approaching a famous scientist of the time and asking whether it was true that there were only five people in the world who could understand relativity. The scientist was silent for a while and then replied, “I’m sorry, but I cannot imagine who the fifth person might be.”
Yet, today, there are thousands of people in the world who understand relativity better than Einstein ever did. They routinely elaborate new consequences of the theory and open up new creative possibilities for society. But none of them would ever have made the conceptual leap on their own.
This gift – new principles to resolve the paradoxes of established doctrine that emerge as new information comes into the system — can amplify the creative gifts of the whole church. But the church remains crippled in seeking those new solutions without someone who can actually make the conceptual leap and generalize the principle. A prophet, to be prophetic, must not ignore the paradoxes in established doctrine; he or she must probe them until they are resolved. He or she cannot merely observe that the paradoxes exist and then retreat behind the mystery of God once the suffering of people due to the paradox is called to his or her attention. Even less can he or she disregard one principle as universally subordinate to another as if the paradox did not exist.
The notion of two people receiving opposing guidance for the health of the whole is interesting. It also makes the importance of each individual following his or her guidance that much more important. For example, if potassium ions in the blood stream tried to be like sodium ions (or vice versa), nerve cells wouldn’t be able to work. Each person must live his or her truth and must live the fullness of that truth. The question is, how do we avoid the trappings of relativism or, said another way, make sure that the guidance we follow is God’s for us.
What an elegant expression, Firetag. I feel a bit like a child sometimes in these conversations.
In each of the leaps of science you discuss, the previous framework for understanding the world around us had to be deconstructed, and then reconstructed into something that went beyond imagination into some definable and explainable system where the various elements hang together.
The last time I saw the church do anything like this was from I think it was the old Go Ye and Teach slides, with the drawing of the church and how all of our teachings created a foundation, a structure, windows, etc. We could all understand that.
In the 40 years since then, we have been in a deconstruction mode (which we all excel at), but I have yet to see a cogent reconstruction of a framework the body could grasp and claim as our own. We keep getting building materials lobbed at us as if we are supposed to understand how they go together, but how are we supposed to understand the construction process without a blueprint or model that shows how everything goes together?
This construction of what we might call the Fullness of the Gospel (I’ve always loved that term, even though almost no one can describe what it is) seems to me to be more important to the body than ever, and I think that is one of the purposes of We Share (although I missed the drawing).
“How shall they hear without a preacher?” is one of my favorite scripure lines, and I wonder where the Harry Black’s are of this age who can elegantly weave together scripture and testimony and revelation and conviction in a way where we are all taken along the journey with the preacher. I hope we have raised one, but time will tell.
I guess since each of us is called to be prophetic, we each have responsibility to probe the paradoxes you talk about, and then to share with the greater body how they are reconciled. I hear some of that taking place here, which is why I am thinking of changing my name to TakingACrowbarToAPharisee,
Well, Doug, don’t get too close to me. I can’t take a punch.
Eh, the crowbar is to get the beam out of my eye!
While I hate to break the nice even 100 comments, I note that I got the Herald today and – sure enough, notwithstanding the President’s policy statement, followed by Graceland’s issues, and continuing promises of dialogue, not a single mention of homosexuality. Not a single letter to the Herald.
Odd too, because I know many many people who wrote leters to the Herald concerning recent events. Also, it seems no one in the church was interested enough in the President’s statements on polygamy last Herald. I thought that would have garnered some interest, but apparently not.
Ahhh, the First Presidency’s commitment to dialogue continues.
BTC, have you spoken with them about your concerns that all the dialog seems to be in private and not in public? Perhaps they are looking for a way to format the discussion that is reasoned and analytical and formative without being directional? I have no problem calling either Steve or Dave to discuss one-on-one where this discussion is going (although the conversation would of necessity need to remain private). I’m sure other could do likewise…
I have spoken to them about these concerns. I have written them. I have e-mailed them. About two dozen times over the last decade.
The really, really understand my concerns and absolutely, definitely will include my comments in their internal discussions.
And I am not concerened that the dialogue is occurring on in private – I’m concerned it’s not happening at all. I know many people who work at the church, including those on the SHC and Council of Twelve. None have been able to tell me of a single discussion any have had on a formal level about changing policy. If you have different information, I’d be happy to hear about it.
I wish I could tell you differently…
[…] Recent events in my denomination have me pondering, trying desperately not to react out of the emotions of anger […]
The church has posted an announcement at the following link on its website:
The substance of the announcement is that legislation is coming to the 2010 world conference that will only be published in the Saint’s Herald magazine or shared by email with local leaders because its open discussion would endanger leaders and members of the church.
I will obey the spirit of this announcement and let those with access to the written Saint’s Herald read the legislation for themselves.
But I will ask two questions.
1)Which group of my brothers and sisters am I supposed to sacrifice to keep this “NOT-the-one-and-only-true-church” together — the one that will suffer if there is discussion, or the one that will suffer if there is not?
2)How do we learn how to discuss divisive issues if part of what divides us is that many of us would have to have the discussion hidden?