Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2015

Gay Marriage: When There’s No Room for “I’m Not Sure.”

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn't exist.

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn’t exist.

It’s hard to be on social media and ignore the dust that Tony Campolo kicked up on Monday in affirming gay marriage. I’m not here today to discuss the actual issue, but a particular nuance raised in an article on Religion News Service referencing Albert Mohler, in which he’s quoted as saying: “This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.”

I immediately thought of the four older women who sat in the back row of a church I once attended. They have to stake a position on this issue? They need to have an opinion? He did say every believer. And what does he mean by a place to hide? If it means hiding your position that’s one thing, but what if you just want to hide from this issue?

Furthermore, I’m not sure that I could state my own position on this with clarity because the issue is so terribly complex. It bears on one’s feelings about homosexuality, but even there we find people talking about different degrees of everything from mild same-sex attraction to actual copulation. It bears on one’s feelings about the word marriage, and whether or not one can be opposed to gay marriage but support gay civil union. It bears on your response to sin and whether or not we have to clean up to meet God or if we’re invited to be ourselves; to come as we are. It bears on how one feels about how the church sees itself: As a private club for members only, or as agents of grace and mercy on The Jericho Road.

(My personal take leans toward the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ position; the belief that some people are experiencing something that is good, but it’s good only because it borrows elements of the best.)

The article by Jacob Lupfer cites Mohler’s own blog noting, “For conservative evangelicals, there is no middle ground — no “third way.” Either churches will affirm covenanted same-sex relationships or they will not.”

Maybe it’s ostrich-like of me to believe this, but I like to think that somewhere — many somewheres — there is a church that simply hasn’t done a sermon or held a seminar on this topic; they are quietly working their way through a study of Hebrews, or Mark’s gospel, and they don’t feel the need to respond.

The article was prompted by support for Campolo by Christianity Today’s former editor David Neff. Fearing that this might send a signal that CT lines up with Campolo, current editor Mark Galli is quoted as saying, ““We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.”

Galli is touching on something important here. As the capital-C Church, we can’t let ourselves and our positions be overwhelmed by what’s happening in the broader culture. We can’t allow the daily news to be the lens through which we interpret scripture and establish doctrine.

But there’s a lesson in that principle for Mohler as well. Just as we can’t allow culture to shape our theology, so also we can’t permit culture to force what constitutes the preaching and teaching agenda of local churches. The rest of us don’t have to call an emergency membership meeting next Wednesday night to sort out our position just because we’re being told we have to have one. Again, this is a very complex issue.

Some will say my imaginary somewhere churches exist in a cultural backwater somewhere, but if they just want to trust God and let these social issues work themselves out under God’s sovereignty, I’m fine with that. True, the gay issue may come home to roost in some of those places, as it might in the families of the blue-haired women on the back row of my former church; but armed with a knowledge of the ways of God that only comes through in-depth study of the Bible, they’ll meet that crisis with a calmness and conviction that’s rooted in Christ, not in the need to declare a position that puts them on one side or the other.

In other words, thanks Tony, Albert, David, Mark; but now can we please talk about something else? We’re allowing ourselves to get oh, so distracted.

 

 

 

July 20, 2013

We’re All Gay Now

In Acts chapter ten, Peter has a vision of many types of animals that the Jews considered unclean.

13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

You can read the whole chapter here.

The purpose of this story is to show that God is about to usher in something entirely new, what theologians might call ‘a new dispensation,’ or specifically ‘the Church age,’ or a time of transition from law to grace, from First Testament to Second Testament.

The 2013 edition

The 2013 edition

Adam Hamilton invokes this passage in his book When Christians Get It Wrong. The book was first issued in 2010 by Abingdon Press. Book and music publishers often talk about “throwing it against the wall and seeing if it sticks.” This book didn’t stick the first time, despite the popularity of Hamilton — who we profiled here the same year — as an author and conference speaker.  So it’s back again with a new cover.

On page 83 of the new edition, we read Hamilton’s take:

Along the way Peter had an epiphany. He suddenly understood: The rules are changing! … So even Peter, who spent three years with Jesus himself, struggled with the Bible and with a God who seemed to be saying that what was written in the Scripture and what the people had interpreted might not actually be God’s will.

That’s the takeaway. The rules are changing. He says this in a chapter devoted to the Church’s response to homosexuality as one of the things we’ve gotten wrong. Now, you’re not going to read many Evangelical Christian blogs that are as compassionate toward the gay issue as this one. Yes, this is an issue that the capital “C” Church has messed up and that some among our numbers are continuing to mess up. I agree with the core premise of Hamilton’s book, and its attempt to find some way to let a broader population know that we know we’ve dropped the ball on some issues.

I always tell people that apologetics doesn’t mean anybody is apologizing for anything, but in this case, someone is apologizing.

So Hamilton takes a view of science that is pro-Evolution theory; a view of world religions that leans toward inclusivism; a view of human tragedy and suffering that detaches God from such breaking news stories and somewhat absolves Him; and a view of homosexuality that emphasizes the need to love everyone.

To repeat, there is some wisdom in trying to meet people on level ground; to have discourse without being adversarial; to be seeker-friendly instead of seeker-hostile. I have had so many views challenged over the past few years — heaven, the rapture, women in ministry, etc. — and I’ve been so thankful that I wrote my doctrines and beliefs on these secondary issues in pencil and not indelible ink.

But where I part company with this book is where he forces the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 to speak something into situations it was never designed to address. It panders to the postmodern mindset that truth is relative and that doctrines are “subject to change without notice.” So yes, the last few years have seen accelerating change in the Church on various issues, but this is not to imply that God is ushering in a new dispensation today.

The 2010 edition

The 2010 edition

Peter’s vision is a microcosm of the “before / after” transition that begins at the cross of Calvary. A new era has begun. This is where the Jewish story that we call The Old Testament is about to open up into a new act that introduces a much larger cast. It’s not a blanket verse that allows for what was inappropriate yesterday to be acceptable today. I didn’t get that memo. Are we all gay now?

In other words, while I might agree with some elements of Adam Hamilton’s approach and be more gay-friendly to his conclusion than you might think; I don’t believe you have to twist scripture to get there. Just state your opinion and tell your stories.

But that’s not the real reason I don’t like this book. I just think that at (barely) 114 digest-sized pages, it’s a rip-off at $14.99 US. And if it didn’t perform the first time, maybe there was a reason.

August 20, 2012

United Church of Canada Elects Openly Gay Moderator

Following in the steps of some Anglican national groups,  on August 16th, the United Church of Canada (UCC) Canada’s second largest religious denomination has elected Rev. Gary Patterson to its top post.  Patterson has been in a high-profile gay relationship for thirty years. You can read more, and see a video interview at BDBO.

The UCC was formed in 1925 through a merger of Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist churches; though each denomination also survived in some form with congregations that did not submit to the merger. My father once said, “When you try to merge three denominations, you end up with four,” and certainly that proved true here.

Although the phrase consisting of the last 75% of its name, “Church of Canada” isn’t heard too often, the vision was to create something that would form a national brand church in the same way Anglican churches are referred to in Britain as “Church of England.”

However, on the spectrum between conservative Evangelicalism and liberalism, the UCC has been progressing toward the latter. Some would argue that statement and say it’s more of a progression from orthodoxy toward universalism.  A Wikipedia article notes the church’s inter-faith stance:

“The church believes that there are many paths to God. The United Church’s path is through Jesus Christ, but the church also recognizes that Christians’ understanding of this is limited by an incomplete comprehension of God; their belief is that the Holy Spirit of God is also at work through other non-Christian faiths.”

There are however some very evangelical congregations currently under the UCC umbrella. This raises the question as to whether or not they will wish to continue in the denomination or if this leadership vote constitutes a ‘last straw.’  In 2002, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) diocese of New Westminster created a rite for the blessing of same sex marriages.  This resulted in a backlash both nationally and from two African countries who felt they couldn’t continue in an Anglican body that would permit that position. 

As a result, there have been numerous breakaway congregations in the ACC —  forming alternative denominations or just becoming independent — and some feel this trend could surface in the UCC over this choice of moderator. The problem in both cases is that the denomination claims title to land and buildings; groups that leave are left with nothing in terms of property or facilities. 

But others note that land and buildings are all the denomination has. Certainly attendance is flagging, and many churches meet their bottom line each year only because of bequests from parishioners who have died. (The UCC congregation where this writer did pulpit supply occasionally over the past three years was staying afloat through rentals to two ethnic churches and the income from a Montessori school and daycare.  Attendance averaged 25-30 adults with no children or teens present.)

There was a record field of 15 candidates for the UCC Moderator position and news reports did not mention the sexual orientations of other individuals the 350 delegates could have chosen.

Blog at WordPress.com.