Sep 20, 2010

Perhaps a Possible Way Out of the Current Sexuality Debate?

Those who believe changing the ordination standards is what Jesus would have them to do are not going to change their minds anytime soon.

I am also equally convinced that those who believe that maintaining the ordination standards is exactly what Jesus would want us to do are not going to change their minds anytime soon.

The question for the life of the church is not who is Jesus speaking to because people on both sides of this issue are absolutely convinced that Jesus is speaking to them. We can both cite our scripture passages and our theological convictions about our own perspectives. 

Does that mean that there is no absolute truth when it comes to Biblical standards for human sexuality? 

Of course not. I believe that Jesus and the Bible is crystal clear about one man and one woman, about chastity in singleness, and about fidelity in marriage. But the problem is that there are many who don't see what's so crystal clear to me. 

The only way everyone involved will be convinced which side Jesus is on is when Jesus himself declares it when he returns. Until then, we're going to have people on the entire spectrum on this issue. And what's more, the way we relate with one another in how we disagree over this matter bears witness to Jesus to an ever growing non-Christian world.

I used to believe that since I was on Jesus' side and therefore those who disagreed with me about Biblical sexuality were on the wrong side, they just needed to be convinced that they were on the wrong side.

And those who believe that changing the ordination standards and their understanding of Biblical sexuality is what Jesus would have them to do, are also convinced that they are right and that folks like me just need to be shown how wrong we are.

And the church has pretty much debated in this fashion for the past three plus decades. Look where that's gotten us.

The question isn't who's right - because we (regardless of which view one holds) are not going to be convinced our convictions are wrong on this issue. We will all go to our graves absolutely convinced we are right.

The question is how are we to be a church together when people on opposite ends of the spectrum are convinced Jesus is speaking to them? Or to put it more bluntly, can people who believe opposite things about Biblical interpretation stay within the same church family?

I believe that's the question we need to be exploring. We need to start asking and exploring answers to questions such as:
  • What do we understand about our connectionalism? 
  • What do we understand about ecclesiology? 
  • What does it mean to belong to a certain denomination when there are churches outside our particular denomination who are much closer to us when it comes to our essential beliefs? 
  • What does it mean to be Presbyterian? Is it our polity (how we do church) that make us Presbyterian? or is it our theology (our essential beliefs) that make us Presbyterian? Or is it a combination of both? And if so, what does that look like?
  • What does it mean to belong to a particular denomination in what many are calling a post-denominational world?
  • Would there still be a PC(USA) if there was no property clause?
There are so many more questions like this that needs both asking and exploring.

I have very little energy to continue the sexuality debates as we have been engaged in them for the past three plus decades. I see no end to them. 

However, I am passionate about discerning what the future/imminent church might look like. And I am convinced that we will not get there through our current way of debating over the sexuality issues. I am optimistically hopeful that the future church lies in answering questions like the ones above.


Peggy Howland said...

It just amazes me that a pastor can say that the Bible is crystal clear about marriage as between one man and one woman. What Bible are you reading??? The Bible ancients modeled polygamy... one man and several women. and St. Paul said Christians would make a better choice if they decided not to marry at all.

Noel said...

It's a little fatalistic to say that our present differing conditions will necessarily persist until Jesus comes. The way people think--both individually and corporately--changes from generation to generation. It is possible than one of the two parties(or their children) will realize that they had in fact been thinking wrongly about the problem and come to reject their former assumptions. I don't think we can make this happen; it just takes time, perhaps another generation. A lot of people are just tired of waiting--tired of trying to wake the other party from their charmed sleep. But to think these issues are permanently divided and perfectly well-founded as they are gives them much too much credit.

Ray Bagnuolo said...

Dear Pastor Kim,
While I appreciate your comments and all conversation related to the ways in which our current polity affects our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender - your suggestions for more study and your seeing no end to the "debates," are in fact the problem that has brought us to this place.

A few clarifications, if I might, speaking for me and those who might agree with me, I am not an "issue." I am a living, breathing human being, created by God as I am - gay, ordained as an openly gay man, serving all those who come to me as best as I can, and frankly - outraged - with the PC(USA) and it weakness and inherent cowardness in standing up for full inclusion. I may be a problem for some in the church, but I am not an issue. I cannot be objectified and talked about at arm's length as though I were not here. That has been part of the problem.

Second, whose side is Jesus on? Whew. That sure is a way to solve this all. It's clear to me, actually which side Jesus is on. Jesus is on the non-violent, loving side. Those still fighting to keep us divided by G-6.0106b and other "standards," are actually complicit in the violence that continues to be experienced through hate crimes and other exclusionary measures toward gay people that are rampant in our society. And, the voice of the church and the limited interpretation of the gospel that would exclude gay people is culpable in that violence. On which side do you think Jesus would side here?

Additionally, there is no one that I know in the community of LGBT people in the PC(USA) that wants to keep others out, i.e. excluded, to settle our differences. In fact, the LGBT community continues to try to work together and honor each other in ways that are far from returned by those who call upon the gospels as reasons to marginalize out community. On which side of that do you think Jesus would place his affirmation.

Look, we need to move on, embrace on another with all our differences, and stop studying and delaying the call to love, non-violence, and leaving the judging to God. If we are making a mistake, let's err on the side of love. That I think Jesus would agree with.

In peaceful outrage, because this call for more than study and time -
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament

Walter L. Taylor said...

It strikes me that the comments of Peggy Howland and Ray Bagnuolo show that there is no way to be the church "together" in the face of these issues. Ms. Howland completely misunderstands scripture, it seems. She cannot tell the difference between what is descriptive (namely, that many of the patriarchs practiced polygamy) and what is prescriptive (God's call from the beginning for one man one woman union as the only sexual union to be blessed: Gen. 2:24, a text that our Lord and Paul quote in the New Testament). Ms. Howland cannot show us a single text of scripture that endorses polygamy, only texts that describe it happening. On the other hand, there are plenty of scriptural texts that make it clear as to what God's desire for human sexual union has been from the beginning. I would remind Ms. Howland that the first example of polygamy in the Bible is the example of Lamech (Gen. 4), an altogether poor example on all counts.

Mr. Bagnuolo wants to have it both ways. He wants to accuse those of us opposed to endorsing and blessing same-sex relations as hateful people responsible for violence against those who practice such things. Yet, he also wants to talk about how we all need to come together, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya. You cannot have it both ways.

To make my point a little more poignantly, I would not want either Ms. Howland or Mr. Bagnuolo to teach Sunday School in my congregation, serve in office, or otherwise serve in any leadership capacity until the Lord changes their minds and hearts on this matter. They have departed from the apostolic faith of the church.

Finally, there will be no peace on this issue. My prediction is that the pro-same-sex party in the church will do their best simply to root out those in the future from church office who oppose same-sex relations.

Perhaps from the beginning an agreement should have been reached on this issue: when the denomination votes to go pro-same-sex relations, then those churches who find this to be a rejection of the Reformed and Christian faith would be freed to depart with their property. That would be the best way of solving the matter. The only things holding us together are property and pension.

Anonymous said...

Peggy,nowhere in the Bible does God affirm the polygamy you reference. Those doing so where being disobedient to God's clearly stated Word on the matter.
Jim, I think we need to embrace reality and move on. The PCUSA is not "The Church" but only a very tiny part of God's family.
We in the PCUSA are of two minds on this topic (and a few other issues that folks hold as very important to their being faithful to God's calling in their life). And the problem is not that we don't understand each other's viewpoint.
I believe we would be a far better witness to the world at large if we simply parted close company (within the same denomination). We could still work together on some items, just as we work with other denominations on some items.
Those who hold the belief that we must stay within one denomination are ignorant of our history and of the greater church and our place within. I believe some have simply gotten used to the fight and may not know what to do if we did part ways.
Jim, if we need anything right now it is some leaders with enough clout to come together to bring about an honest, open discussion on how we might part ways in the best manner possible so we can remain in as good standing with one another as possible.
Who knows, maybe 50-60 years from now we would reunite! That would be more likely and more easily attained if we parted as good of terms as possible.

Paul Masters said...

Is there a way forward? The 800lb gorilla in the living room that no one seems to want to talk about is the possibility that the paradigm of what “denomination” that we have been operating with is increasingly irrelevant and ineffective. In other words, have we reached the point of diminishing returns? We seem to have an ideal of the denomination working and speaking as one. When in the last century or so have we done that? From modernist/ fundamentalist controversies to sexuality debates, conflict has been the overriding norm, not cooperation. And yet the Presbyterian church continues on, thriving here, declining there.

Rev Kim is dead on correct in his observation that the issue de-jour should be about ecclesiology. Most Presbyterian churches I have known operate with a high degree of autonomy, often sharing only a common language and an agreement to forward a minimal per capita payment. Take the per capita requirement away and I wonder how different from the UCC we would actually be? How common is the feeling that one has been abandoned in place or that the concerns of the parish are not mirrored by the concerns of our upper judicatories? My concern is that we are not talking about these things, and as a result of our failure to speak past the talking points we are marching into the future blindfolded. Our future is being forged now, in the experience of each congregation. We need to honestly talk about them while we can.

James Kim said...

Thank you all for posting your comments.

I have been traveling all day and have been away from my computer.

As several of you have stated, the issue is a matter of ecclesiology. We cannot continue debating in the way we have been engaged in this dialogue. The question that has to be addressed is an honest discussion about whether we can still be in the same church family. As is evident in the comments as well as our recent history over these issues, we are not going to see eye to eye on the ordination debate.

The question that has to be addressed in an open and honest way is can we stay together? If we yes, what are the things that hold us together? If we cannot, then how can we be gracious with one another in our separation?

Thank you again for your comments.

Now, I need to get some sleep. Been up since 4am!


James <><

Anonymous said...

I would like to know where you see "connectionalism" heading?
I believe the growing crisis in the church is "independent" churches. Such an idea is not Biblical (see the Jerusalem councils in the Bible).
I believe each church must have some sort of accountability over it in order to be structured as God has eastablished things. Our current way of doing denominational relations is surely not functioning but what should replace it?
I believe we have so many in places of leadership who hold to a "unity at all costs" view that we will not be able to do anything other than hang together until we blow apart. It will be very sad it that is how things go down. I think we are needing to begin the process of a grace-filled separation. For those who like to cry "Schism" we need not create any new denominations (as if having 36,002 denominations instead of 36,000 is some great schism!) but the progressives could join the UCC and orhtodox folks could join the EPC or other reformed bodies for either one.
I think the least faithful thing we could do right now is continue as we have been doing.

Ray Bagnuolo said...

Dear Rev. Taylor,
I just left you a message on the phone. And I realized that it is appropriate to post here, as well.

I apologize if what I said suggested that all folk in opposition to the ordination of people who were LGBT are hateful. Simply, that is not true, and I always state that. Perhaps, I was just a little tired and too quick in responding to Rev. Kim. There are very good reasons for faithful people to disagree. That has been at the foundation of our denomination since 1729 and the Adoption Act, as a way of trying to deal with disagreements with mutual forebearance.

And I do understand how folks like me being in the church in leadership roles challenges some and everything they believe and have passed on to others. Those are honest and faithful differences we share. I would stand by your side in honoring your right to stand by those beliefs. I would hope, too, that we can come to know one another better to understand how God might be moving all of us. That's not a hidden request for a chance to persuade - just to stop arguing.

So, my apologies if my words offended you. There are attacks that do come from places that are not as honest and thoughtful as yours. I have felt the sting of those with many others. They are real, too. In spite of it all - I still think we can be this church together. I think that in many ways, we are now.

Blessings on you and your ministry and all those you serve.


Anonymous said...

The Bible clearly teaches that marriage is between one woman and one man, and that sex outside of marriage is sinful. The Bible also is clear that God hates sex between 2 men (Leviticus 20:13). So how can you say you love others, when you are leading them astray with false doctrine. The only person you love is yourself. When I asked Jesus Christ into my heart to be my Lord and Savior, I said goodbye to the sinful self. I now try to live a life pleasing God. If I say I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, then how can I continue to live a sinful life and tell others that it's okay to live a sinful life. If you teach others that marriage is between anybody and that sex outside of marriage with anyone is okay, then you only love yourself and not God and not others. Be very careful with your theology, "what you save them with is where you save them to".

Charlie said...

I am going to be deliberately hyperbolic. A crass, nihilistic and dehumanizing statement, founded on ignorance; superficially benign but ultimately toxic and corrosive
'Those that blindly tread on the Gospel texts should be do so carefully, lest the shadows of THEIR natures darken Love's light.'
The Christians of alternate sexuality I know within the the church do seem to have a tendency to radiate Love in a profound way that would appear to be at odds with dogma, not unlike a certain Galileen in whose footsteps we are following. As a straight man, am I personally concerned with the sexuality of Jesus or of Paul or of any member of this faith community? Is your sexuality an issue of personal concern to me? It is none of my business.