Sunday, 7 February 2010

Reforming Orthodoxy - Am I Losing My Saltiness?

Two weeks ago the House of Lords in the UK discussed the Equality Bill and an amendment to the current Civil Partnership Act was tabled.  Both were associated with secular interference of religious organisations.

A little background:
  • The Equality Bill
The Equality Bill sort to consolidate several different bits of existing legislation regarding UK discrimination and employment law. Conservative religious groups including the Christian right opposed a clause that limited religious organisations' ability to discriminate who they employed to only those roles that related to doctrinal teaching. Therefore, while they could appoint only males to the role of a preacher, they could not appoint only males to a position of a receptionist.
The House of Lords removed this clause. This has profound impact on the gay community as it allows religious organisations to fire anyone who is gay and reject any homosexual applicants.
  • The Civil Partnerships Amendment
The amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act will allow religious organisation to perform civil partnerships.  Currently, any religious organisation is banned from performing these.  The conservative religious organisations oppose this amendment.  The request for the amendment came from more liberal religious organisation who said exactly what the religious right said about the Equality Bill: the current situation banning civil partnerships in churches who wish to perform these services amounts to interference; secularists have no right to say what should happen in their churches or organisations.
As a person who agrees with tolerance, those churches who do not wish to perform these services on justifiable doctrinal grounds should not be forced to perform them; churches who feel that blessing a gay relationship does not contradict their doctrine, should not be forced not to perform them either!
In the various related discussions I was struck by the common theme that the orthodox understanding of homosexuality and marriage must take precedence over equality & discrimination, i.e., religious organisation must be allowed to discriminate when they feel something is immoral.

Myself and others who questioned the validity of traditional interpretations and orthodoxy were accused of dummying down God's moral requirements; that we appear to be loosing our saltiness by accepting a reformed view, rather than a traditional view, on sexuality.  I have been accused of having a gay theology.

Religious Freedom To All

In as much as the House of Lords defeated the clause in the Equality Bill on grounds that it interfered with religious bodies, so to does the current status of the civil partnerships act interfere with those religious bodies who do not have doctrinal issues with the civil partnerships.

I did hear an argument that these other organisations where not "Christian", apostate and full of heresies.

I do not believe that there should be a measure of how "Christian" a religious body is before it is considered religious. While I do not agree with all the doctrines of these religious organisations, they are religious organisations irrespective of my beliefs.

I wish my fellow siblings in Christ would stop spiritually bullying me & others, and making assumptions about what motivates me or is in my heart just because we disagree with them.

Christian vs. Christian

How is it that when two Christians sincerely read the Bible, refer to the same original texts and have the same hermeneutic methods, yet come to different conclusions. To the independent observer or sceptic, they would argue that the Bible can be used to justify just anything. I disagree that the Bible can be used to justify just anything. When interpretations disagree, the only possibilities are:
  • we are both entirely wrong,
  • we are both partially right, or
  • only one of us is entirely right.
Our views are well considered and we both have the right to express them or criticise each other's hermeneutics.

We can be sincere, but also sincerely wrong.

There are consequences to our respective positions if either is incorrect ... as well as the way we express our views. In many ways I'm very concerned that the way others Christians prescribe heterosexuality results in homophobic attacks on gay people ... even if they did not intend so.

I personally do not hold the view that other conservative Christians are necessarily bigots. I to said many of the things they say. I held passionately to my interpretation believing it to be the correct interpretation and was greatly concerned for the way I believed others were misusing scripture and insulting the Christ I love. I still love Christ, but over time have come to accept that my final authority is the Bible, not any doctrine, presupposition, orthodox view, interpretation or social agenda.

Understanding this has allowed the Church to acknowledge its past orthodox errors and move on.

Past Orthodox Errors

1 ) The Earth Is Flat

One of the areas that the Church has done this in the past is shape of the Earth and the order of the solar system.

Beyon & Sachs in their book "Dig Deeper" in the section "The Bible is True and does not make mistakes", highlight the church's persecution of Galileo for stating the Earth revolved around the Sun, against the orthodox understanding at the time based on Ecclesiastes 1:5. The Ecclesiastes reference does imply that the Sun revolves around the Earth.
'Ha!' says the sceptic. 'How hopelessly naive of the pre-scientific Bible writers, who knew nothing of cosmology! The Bible must be riddled with mistakes like that.' But of course we still speak of 'sunrise' in our own day. That's what it looks like from the standpoint of someone on earth.  It's not saying anything about cosmology. It's not a mistake.
Beyon & Sachs (2005) "Dig Deeper", IVP
Therefore, it is quite possible for someone holding to the inerrancy of scripture and, with a clear conscience, accept what modern science is telling us.

2) The Reformation

The Reformation is another case in point: Reformation theologians rediscovered what was in the original scriptures; although they were accused of introducing something new. They did not; they simply re-interpreted the scriptures.

3) Racism

Growing up in South Africa I was taught that mixed marriage was a sin; that like the Jewish theocracy was meant to be separate from other nations/races - so to were we supposed to keep the races separate; ... and a whole lot of other things too horrid to repeat even as examples ... all on the pretext (with Biblical justification) that the Bible never changes; God never changes; what is sin never changes.

Indeed the list goes on: slavery, women's rights & six day creationism to name a few.  The orthodox views of the Church have been rightly challenged as our knowledge of how God created this world grows.

Why I Changed

It is because of all of the above, that some of us have shift our theology after much prayerful consideration.  We have examined what modern science has discovered about sexuality and revisited the scriptures. We do not believe we are adding to or taking away from the scriptures.

If we did, conservative Christians could justifiably call us apostate or heretics.

Much of the condemnation of homosexuals is based on assumptions orthodoxy makes of heterosexuality. While the Bible has a lot to say about heterosexual relationships, it is relatively silent on homosexuality. Myself and others believe that Biblical assumptions add to the scripture that which is not there, and therefore can be challenged and re-understood with a clear conscience.

In fact, I would go so far as to say these assumptions have even erroneously influencing our Bible translations: e.g., the word Greek "pias" in Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10 is translated as "servant" when to the reader at the time would have understood the word "pias" to mean the younger partner in a same sex relationship.  The Roman centurion was almost certainly gay.

As someone else put it:
Did Christ get in his face and tell him, "You're going to roast in hell like a marshmallow if you don't stop being gay"?
Did Christ tell him, "Sure I'll heal your partner if both of you promise to join Exodus International and become Ex-Gay"?
No, Christ simply healed the beloved partner of the gay Centurion and affirmed his remarkable faith in God!
Unlike other miracles, Christ did not say, "Go and sin no more."

For further consider of these translations and references to same-sex relationships I recommend "Would Jesus Discriminate". It gives a less heterosexist interpretation of the Bible. Although you are welcome to disagree, I trust you can understand why some of us believe the Bible is not that clear in its condemnation of homosexuality.

Never Say Never

Myself and others also hold to our position with firm conviction, but we never can say, "never will we be persuaded otherwise."

In relation to sexuality, modern science is telling us that one's sexuality is not a simple choice. While what determines our sexual identity is not know (nature, nurture or both) it is clear from modern science that it is not a choice. Granted some behaviours and life style aspects are a choice.  What is also very clear from scientific studies is the damage that "correction therapies" cause; that they do not work. Not to mention the associated spiritual damage that comes from inadvertent spiritual bulling.

Therefore, some of us have reconsidered our position on the orthodox view of Biblical sexuality.

This is not to say we regard modern science as more authoritative than the Bible.  As with the Galileo example above, we can accept what science is telling us but adjust our understanding of the Scriptures.

For those of us who have done this, it has not been a decision we have taken lightly.  We to want to be found to be good and faithful servants. As the apostle Paul wrote to 2 Tim 2:15 we want to be found as correct handlers of the truth.  Like the Bereans we examine everything we are told against the scriptures. We believe that when we read the Bible, this is God speaking even though the human authors' own style, education & circumstances influenced the words and grammar.

The Narrow Gate

On this bases, I believe that I'm not widening the gate. I believe that I'm removing a man made obstacle in front of the narrow gate that is causing homophobic attacks on gay people and causing them to unnecessarily reject the Gospel.

I am not a polytheist - in this regard I'm a "Christ-ist" - that the only way to God is through Christ. If there was another way to be reconciled to God, then why the cross? My narrow gate is therefore the same as other conservative Christians.

When I present the gospel to gay people, I do not let them believe that they will not have to change their lives.  I believe the Genesis 1 & 2 teach us that we are designed to be in life long monogamous relationships.  As with heterosexuals, homosexual promiscuity leads to all manner of problems. As with some heterosexuals, this is difficult for some homosexuals to accept.

What would Jesus do?

Given Christ's response to the Roman centurion in Matthew and Luke, I think he would have wept at what is supposedly done in His name.

Christians who use pejorative, unsubstantiated & generalised statements to condemn & deny equal rights to gay people show unnecessary anger, arrogance, hatred, prejudice & little attempt to understand what gay people endure. It shows very little of the love Christians claim to have for gay people.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant 1Cor 13:4
Many Christians feel that they are being persecuted for their heterosexist views. Alas, looking at some of their statements, it is little wonder us Christians are being persecuted. Sometimes I think we do bring some of it on ourselves.
Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. Prov 10:12.
As a fellow Christian ministering to the gay community, trying to bring them the inclusive gospel of Christ, many well meaning Christians do us a huge disservice. Not only do their statements feed other people's homophobic attitudes that materialise in attacks, rapes and murders of gay people, their statements also cause gay people to dismiss the gospel out right:
God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. Romans 2:24
As in Romans 2, they focus on the law: how many times is Leviticus and Sodom & Gomorrah quoted … and not grace? I am gaining more and more sympathy for the apostle Paul when he was debating the early Jewish converts to Christianity.

To the Christian reader, I beg of you, heed Christ's warning in Revelations 2:2-7:
... I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers*; ...But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen.

*Assuming, as some do, that being gay is a sin.

In my own conversion from heterosexism, the words “Remember from what you have fallen” really hit home: “But by the grace of God go I.” To my siblings in Christ: remember grace; it is by grace we are saved through faith; not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

I therefore feel the label of a "gay theologian" unfair. Using it this way is to say that I'm also a "liberation theologian" for turning my back on the Biblical justification of Apartheid that I was brought up to believe.

In as much as I'm accused of a gay theology, I feel that others could be accused of a heterosexist theology.  My final authority is the Bible, not a presupposition, orthodox interpretation, particular doctrine or some social agenda.

I have to agree with the LGCM that those Christians who support discrimination of homosexuals ...
... have failed to engage with the experiences of the people which the equality Bill seeks to protect and which a rigid unyielding interpretation of Scripture and tradition continues to do violence to.
LGCM web site (7/2/2010 08:20) LGCM rejects Pope’s condemnation of the UK Equality Bill

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