Gays in the Church Part 1: Commonalities in the Debate and What Liberals Should Keep in Mind

There seems to be a good amount of debate on the web regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approving the full recognition and blessing of monogamous, same-sex relationships. You can read the statement from the ELCA right here.

John Piper made his thoughts well known here, if you’re in the mood for some comedy. Here is a thoughtful response to Piper from Greg Boyd. I’ve really appreciated Nadia Bolz-Weber’s perspective as a Lutheran minister in Denver. Tony Jones has been blogging regularly on the subject as well. Tony’s effort has been both brave and helpful but reading his comments section leads me to believe that there are some profound differences in the assumptions we all bring to this debate and until we do our best to identify those differences and set the stage, the debate inevitably leads us not very far. Rather than drawing the lines in the sand and duking it out, I think some mutual understanding is critical right now. The central purpose of this debate shouldn’t be to win but to better understand the other side. Maybe I’ve missed it in what reading I’ve done on this subject but I think there are a few things that are worth wrestling with before we lace the gloves up.

First, I want to talk a bit about what both sides have in common. An important commonality is that we all share is foundational longing to belong, to be accepted and to do so in a safe and stable environment. This same impulse fuels both sides of the debate and it might be helpful if we all could recognize this in all of our brothers and sisters and not demonize these desires but allow them to inspire empathy between ideological foes.

With that being said, the purpose of this specific post is to explore what those who are on the affirming side of this debate should keep in mind when engaging conservatives on this issue. Conservatives are genuinely fearful that the Scripture on which they base their understanding of the world and it’s proper order is being pushed aside. Right or wrong, conservatives take Old Testament law and/or Paul’s words at face value and for anyone to do otherwise is a marginalization of God’s Word. This reliance on Scripture is a foundational element of their sense of belonging, their desire for order and their understanding of the world in which we all live. Whether one agrees with them or not on their view of Scripture, it is understandable that this debate immediately puts them on unstable ground which can be an immensely troubling experience which inspires much fear, anxiety, even anger. It might be as if someone was dancing on the grave of your grandparent, mocking the life they’ve lived. While I don’t believe for a moment that this is the intent of the vast majority of those who affirm same-sex relationships, this might be how it feels for conservatives who’ve entered this debate. For those of us on the opposite side of the debate, we must do all we can to empathize with this anxiety and fear, especially when things get ugly.

Next I’ll write a bit about what conservatives should keep in mind when engaging folks who affirm monogamous, same-sex relationships. Thanks for reading.

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Pete Rollins on Biblical Criticism and the Religious Register

In my review of Bart Ehrman’s newest book Jesus, Interrupted, I wrote, “The Bible does not need to be inerrant or infallible in order for it to be the inspired Word of God.” As I read that back I realize that I sort of said that and left it there without going in depth as to what that means or looks like. I’ve been thinking about how I could articulate how one could wrestle with that tension and was meaning to write a clarifying post……and then I read this from Pete Rollins’ Fidelity of Betrayal:

“While I’m an advocate of biblical criticism, I wish to argue that a truly religious reading of the text involves bracketing out these questions and engaging with the text as it is received, without justifications or explanations. This does not meant that we have to place our critical faculties to one side when reading the Bible, somehow ignoring the various antagonisms at work there. It simply means that when engaging with it in a religious register, we bracket out such questions in order to perceive a spectral presence that lies beneath the various antagonisms that mark the text.

In this way one can say that an academic reading and a religious reading of the Bible do no clash in any way, for they operate in different, incommensurable registers and approach different dimensions of the text. For instance, when reading in Revelation about the 1,500 square mile New Jerusalem descending from heaven, with walls of jasper and streets constructed from pure gold, the religious reader does not ask whether or not something like this is possible but rather allows the image to burn itself into the imagination. The religious reader endeavors to approach the impenetrable source that gave birth to this wondrous image while simultaneously allowing the vision of an aweinspiring city with gates that never shut, bathed in eternal light, overflowing with mercy and full of people from all nations to impact the way that we live today.”

Not surprisingly in the slightest, Rollins put into words this idea much more effectively and eloquently than I ever could have. I echo his sentiment and I hope it more clearly reveals where I’m coming from. Ehrman is fighting fundamentalist fires with his own fundamentalism and in many ways it’s very important work, but my hope is that we can include and then transcend that conversation for an entirely new one.

Check out Rollins’ blog for some more great reading.

Jesus, Interrupted

I recently read through Bart Ehrman’s newest book, Jesus Interrupted. It is a fascinating look at the Biblical texts in all of it’s quirks and contradictions. He sets out to undermine a literalist, objectivist view of scripture in a very compelling and accessible manner. More than anything, I appreciate Ehrman’s ability to bring folks along into some pretty deep waters while keeping his scholarship within the reach of his audience. In my case, Bart is pretty much preaching to the choir. He takes a wrecking ball to the myths of biblical inerrancy and an objectified treatment of scripture.

While it saddens me that Ehrman has abandoned his faith, what he provides here in this book and others is something that should be very helpful for Christians. The Bible does not need to be inerrant or infallible in order for it to be the inspired Word of God. Not only does Ehrman highlight contradictions that seem a bit superficial, but he sheds light on the differences between the competing theologies we find in the New Testament. For example, who’s voice do we heed when it comes to keeping the law or not? Paul’s or Matthew’s? Not that we can’t include both perspectives into a singular theology, but they ARE at odds with one another. What do we make of that? That’s just one example of many that Ehrman proposes.

There is quite a bit of material in Jesus, Interrupted that because of the little I know is hard to totally buy into what Ehrman is saying. His section on the early history of Christianity seems to make sense at face value but I’m not too sure about it all. Ben Witherington has done an extensive blog series responding to this book. It’s worth skimming just to keep some balance but when I read a bit of it, it seems like Witherington is doing a bit more stretching than Ehrman seems to be doing.

On a related note, you can check out an interview with Ehrman by Tony Jones right here.

Things Hidden

It is not about becoming spiritual beings nearly as much as about becoming human beings. The biblical revelation is saying that we are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it yet. The Bible tries to let you in on the secret, by revealing God in the ordinary. That’s why so much of the text seems so mundane, practical, specific and, frankly, unspiritual!

We have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual. This dualism precisely is what Jesus came to reveal as a lie. The principle of Incarnation proclaims that matter and spirit have never been separate. Jesus came to tell us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t see it until God put them together in his one body (see Ephesians 2:11-20).

Richard Rohr, Things Hidden

Rick Warren’s Mythical Definition of Marriage

Rick Warren swings and misses:

“…I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”

Interesting. Apparently Rick Warren is unaware that polygamy is a well documented and accepted marital practice in the Bible. One would think he’d have a better grasp.

His whole take on Prop 8 and the issue of homosexuality is, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out, absurd. Warren supported Prop 8 on the fear that if it hadn’t passed, he could have been accused of “hate speech” for his position on the issue. Andrew hit back:

Well, yes, you could be considered as engaging in hate speech. But so what? As long as there are no criminal or legal penalties for religious speech – as guaranteed by the First Amendment – being called a hater is part of living in a democracy. I should say that I would not use the term “hate” for a principled theological defense of heterosexual normativity. And I have engaged very deeply with the arguments on those grounds. But fanning paranoia among Christians that somehow civil gay equality requires that they lose any free speech rights whatsoever is irresponsible, and presumably a conscious untruth.

Step it up, Pastor Rick.

You cannot get there…..

The biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. It is about realization and not performance principles. You cannot get there, you can only be there, but that foundational Being-in-God, for some reason is too hard to believe, and too good to be true. Only the humble can receive it, because it affirms more about God than it does about us.

The ego, however, makes it all into achievement and attainment, and at that point religion becomes a worthiness contest, in which everybody loses, which they realize, if they are honest. Many people give up on the who spiritual journey when they see that they can’t live up to the performance principle. They don’t want to be hypocrites, I see this is especially males.

— Richard Rohr, Things Hidden

Already

The Logos, or Word, means God’s inaugural vision for the world at the dawn of creation. It is not as if God came up with a new idea or a new program at the time of Christ. The divine vision of freedom and justice, of non-violence and peace, and of an earth in which all have a fair and equitable share was there from creation itself. Recall the discussion of the Sabbath from Genesis 1 in chapter 2: it was not a vision invented for or by Jesus; it was simply incarnated through and in him. It was as if the mighty stream of divine nonviolent radicality had been pushing steadily against the logjam of civilization’s violent normalcy until it finally broke through. “And the Logos became flesh,” according to John 1:14, “and lived among us.” Already.

— John Dominic Crossan, God & Empire

In the Image and Likeness of God

“We have heard this phrase so often that we don’t get the existential shock of what “created in the image and likeness of God” is saying about us! I always tell people if we would just try to believe it, we could save ourselves ten thousand dollars in therapy! If this is true, it says that our family of origin is divine. Our core is original blessing, not original sin. This says that our starting point is totally positive, or as the first chapter of the Bible says, it is “very good” (1:31). We do have someplace good to go home to. If the beginning is right, the rest is made considerably easier, plus we know the clear direction of tangent.

The Bible will build on this foundational goodness, a true identity “hidden in the love and mercy of God,” as Thomas Merton once said. That is the place we are always trying to get back to, because there are many detours along the way, and many “devils” planting the same doubt they suggested to Jesus, “If you are the son (or daughter) of God” (Matthew 4:3,6). All of the Bible is trying to illustrate through various stories is humanity’s objective unity with God.

–Richard Rohr, Things Hidden