#2: “But the Bible Says…”

This is the second of several posts addressing the debate about homosexuality that will soon take place at the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (June 7-12, 2018).  To see earlier posts, scroll down.  

Before I continue, let me say that every single statement I make in these posts is backed up by many hours of study and thought and dialogue.  I could provide lots of footnotes, but I am just going to ask you to trust that I have done my homework in the Bible, in scholarly resources I trust, in relationships and conversations. If you want a bibliography, I’ll be happy to furnish one.  More than anything else, I am trying my hardest to follow Jesus.  That doesn’t mean I’m right.  It just means I’m earnest.

The first consideration that has to be addressed about affirming or not affirming LGBTQ persons as full and legitimate members/leaders in the Christian church is the Bible.  The arguments using biblical texts for either stance reflect the speakers’ understandings of how and why the Bible was written and what it means for us today.

For that reason, in my own exploration of what the Bible says about homosexuality, I had to ask myself the question, “What is the Bible for?”  Did Moses, or Paul, or anyone else think that what they were penning would be scrutinized two or three thousand years later for evidence in ethical debates?  It seems unlikely.  Nor did those who prayerfully determined the biblical canon (the writings included in the Scriptures) anticipate fundamentalism many centuries later, when people would consider every word in the Bible equal to every other word in weight and meaning.  (See, that idea is pretty young.  Christians didn’t play “my text can beat your text” for many centuries, probably because they were dealing with things like the plague, war, slavery, stuff like that.)

Here’s what I think about the Bible.  It is a record of people’s understanding about God that evolved over centuries.  It was not one-sided; God was active in the process.  But it seems that God let people deduce things about the divine that weren’t so great (like God annihilating people out of wrath) because it was all on the way to revealing the bigger (truer?) truth, but one step at a time, each one through the lens of anthropology at the time.  These are big things to teach, and God is patient.  So… there’s a story of God calling Abraham to sacrifice his son and then stopping it so he could learn that God doesn’t operate that way even though the religions of the time thought God did.  There are so many other examples, but I’ll leave it at that.

Did the Holy Spirit inspire it all?  I think so, because that’s what the Holy Spirit does.  How that happened was probably as different as each writer was to each other.  Are there things in the Bible that no longer apply?  I think that’s true too, because the Holy Spirit is dynamic and involved in our progressive understandings of God and what it means to follow God, from four thousand years ago until today.

Am I wise enough to know which things still apply in original form and which don’t?  Well, I do have a God-given brain to help me with that.  But thinking we can tell everybody else precisely which text is timeless and which is contextual is a weighty responsibility that pastors can fumble even when we take it seriously.  We need to offer one another grace about it instead of spending all our time debating, because too often the people whose lives we are discussing end up suffering collateral damage.

So we have Paul telling the early Christians that people who lusted after their own sex were sinners, because back then, there’s a good chance that older men taking advantage of younger men is what that meant (pederasty).  Nowadays we have a different understanding of what homosexuality is.  It’s good to have Paul’s example of discerning what it means to follow Jesus, because that is what we should be doing.  But assuming that Paul’s advice two thousand years ago was meant to be a static ruling for all time seems to me to be an insult to the Holy Spirit, who expects us to pay attention to the factors at play in our time, in light of what we know about God.  Then we can determine how we are called to love each other, the driving ethic for followers of Jesus Christ.

And frankly, Paul had a background of killing people over rules, and we can’t expect him to shake that impulse completely.  He had his dark side just like the rest of us.  He also wrote about grace, and about love being the bottom line, so I am willing to give him a pass on a few comments in his letters.

Then there is Jesus.  I have to give his words and witness more weight than anything else, because he said himself that he is the only one who has been in both places (in the full presence of God and here among us), so he ought to know what he is talking about.  But that’s for another day.

In case you are wondering which texts people have been arguing over, here’s the list.  I’ll take you to a few others in the next few days, so stay tuned.

Noah and Ham (Genesis 9:20–27)

Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1–11

Levitical laws condemning same-sex relationships (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)

Two words in two Second Testament vice lists (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10)

Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 1:26–27)

I believe that these texts do not refer to homosexual relationships between two free, adult, and loving individuals. Legitimate (non-condemning) interpretations of these texts include rape or attempted rape (Genesis 9:20–27, 19:1–11), cultic prostitution (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), male prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10), and promiscuity and/or the Isis cult in Rome (Romans 1:26–27).

Will Your Church Be Inclusive?

I think it is important for the people of Reformed churches to know what is happening in your denomination that will have a direct impact on the life of local congregations.  In June this year—less than two weeks from now—the General Synod of the RCA will meet in Grand Rapids, Michigan and vote on overtures that include:

1) Whether to enable each classis*—the body that has authority over the local pastors, consistories**, and congregations—to deny ordination to an LGBTQ person

2) Whether to enable each classis to discipline a pastor who is living in a same-sex relationship or who marries a same-sex couple or his/her congregation that allows it to happen.

3) Whether anyone with an affirming*** stance on LGBTQ persons will even be allowed to serve in any agency, commission, or task force.

In addition, there are attempts—and some actions already taken—to disband affirming classes and to allow the formation of non-affirming classes in order to gain more voting power within the denomination, both at the classis level and at the General Synod.  This would enable non-affirming entities to virtually control what remains and is changed in the Book of Church Order, to which all congregations and pastors must adhere.  Obviously this is good news for some and troubling news for others.

If you have questions about this, please ask your pastor about it.   You can see the entire workbook for the General Synod this year at this link:  https://www.rca.org/rca-basics/general-synod/general-synod-2018-workbook

I intend to write several posts this week to explain why I affirm LGBTQ persons as full members and legitimate leaders in the Christian church.  I do not intend to provoke debate or disharmony.  I merely want to share the views that have formed in my own mind and spirit over the past few years as I have studied and wrestled with the biblical texts, the life of the church, and a theology of humanity.  Very few church people in my acquaintance are able to undertake the study it takes to give these a fair treatment.  Since there are plenty of advocates for the non-affirming side in northwest Iowa and online, I want to present the other side of this contentious and important topic.

If you want to read about the two main groups that are taking a stand on the subject of LGBTQ persons, you can go to their websites:  https://roomforall.com/ and http://thegospelalliance.com/

*A classis is a group of churches and their ordained leaders.  It is somewhat equivalent to a Lutheran conference or a Presbyterian presbytery.

**A consistory is the group of elected leaders (elders and deacons) along with the pastor who govern the local congregation.  It is somewhat similar to a Lutheran church board or Presbyterian session.

*** The use of “affirming” and “non-affirming” is problematic, I know.  However, these are the ones I am choosing for the sake of simplicity and clarity.

Knowing

Spring can’t decide  MVIMG_20180324_084510

snow

rain

sun

Snow today

 

Wind can’t decide

which way to blow today

west

east

swirl

catch

 

One thing the snow knows

without a doubt

 

Down

Eucharist

Fallen seed

hidden

not taken.

Moistened

overtaken

broken.

Awakened

called out

to outgrow its death

fill its latent shape

push and seek

the light

bathe

breathe earth’s air

enfold time

into its fiber

defying gravity.

 

Smooth shell

greying

crusting itself

into wizened story.

Green hands

receive

radiant life

reshaping

taking shape

pushing up to

reach for more

of itself.

 

Divine seed

fallen

into tissue and blood

overtaken

fed and formed

in the body

he made.

Seeded woman

humble soil

offering her offspring

to earth’s air.

 

Broken boy

clinging to the tree

he made.

Life force

defying gravity

pushing up

spilling out

down

moistening the soil

reshaping

into love’s food.

 

Wood felled

and riven.

Sun and soil

rain and air

bound together

holy altar

offering its offspring.

 

Grain and fruit

sun and soil and air

love’s ancient force

shaping

binding to unbind

broken boy

fallen

into greening hands

reaching for life

defying gravity.

Oahu, January 13

Oahu
Photo by Karen Mechler

To find the sermon for this week, please go to the “Lectionary Sermons” section in the Menu.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unhurried morning

stepping out our door

coffee warming

surf pounding

eyes trained

on the horizon

anticipating surprise

of spout

breach

delight

whales

tasting air

reminding themselves

that they dwell

in the deeps

 

Unearthly noise

breaks the mood

 

MISSILE INBOUND

TAKE SHELTER

 

Disbelief

 

Confusion

 

Disturbance

breaking

the surface

 

Malevolence

invading

questioning

the balance

reaching its

dark

finger

to strum

the cord

between

human

and

human

 

Unexpectedly

it sounds

the eternal

tone,

emits

calm

that holds

tenuous

attentive

 

Eyes trained

on the

horizon

hold images

familial

indelible

 

The moment

passes.

False alarm.

 

But we are

changed

 

The beast

has touched

the depths

 

 

 

The Last–and First–Word

Nativity-2017-1024x649

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (Jn 1.1-5)

You may have heard before that “word” in this passage is logos in Greek, which means a lot more than letters strung in order to symbolize an idea.  It is the root word for logic, and so it can be translated as reason or structure or purpose.  If Jesus is the Word sent to us, then he is the divine key that unlocks the very substance of existence itself.  “In him all things hold together,” wrote one of the apostles.  (Col 1.17)

One reason we know that Jesus is eternal with God the creator is that John put it right there in his gospel.  “Without him not one thing came into being.”  So Jesus is not only the Son sent to save us, he is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 22.13).  Every single thing that has ever existed, from the tiny tree frog to the galaxies yet to be discovered, all of it has spun out from the mind and being of Christ who was in on creation.

Something, someone so big cannot be defined in human language.  We have language, and we use language to describe God, but that doesn’t mean God is confined by our lexicon.

I was visiting with a friend recently about her faith, and she told about a recent evening with her husband, when she tried to describe to him the depth of her experience as God’s beloved, and she burst into tears because she couldn’t find the right words.  She still can’t.  She writes and writes about it, but the profound experience itself defies language.

Perhaps you know about that.  You have had moments of holiness that washed over you unbidden.  Somehow you felt connected with everything in the universe…or it was a sense of deep contentment and hope…or you felt forgiven—really forgiven—for the first time…or the love you felt for a child or parent was bigger than you remember feeling before.  You got a glimpse of eternal reality.

Our faith is such a small sampling of the life God has for us.  It comes in words of the creed, words of the Bible, words of our prayers.  Yet these are only door latches just within our reach, handles on a portal to a dimension far beyond our imagining.

Jesus came to us from that divine dimension to tell us there is more.  The life that is truly life, the life God has for us, is rich with beauty and love and belonging.  The ways we pervert that life and obscure the riches are no obstacles for Christ.  He wears his forgiveness on his sleeve and offers his own self to enliven our curiosity and enrich our lives.  He loves us so much!

Words can’t describe it.

And so he became the Word.  A human.  A baby.  He pitched his tent among us as a walking, talking message from the God of the universe that life is meant to be filled with beauty and meaning.  He offered himself on a cross to clear away the layers of guilt and violence and greed that we have allowed to masquerade as life.

The light is coming.  It shines in our darkness.

The Word is coming.  He makes sense out of our confusion.

God’s promise of a Savior is the Word made flesh, the light the darkness cannot overcome.

This is an excerpt of a sermon–The Light and the Word–on my “Lectionary Sermons” page.  You can access it by going to the menu.  

 

For Terry

My friend Terry was a farmer, a man who embodied faith and joy.

Rising early

first thoughts

of tasks

toil

contained in a vessel

of trust

and praise

and thanks

 

Pulling on worn jeans

familiar as the

breakfast

and markets

soft voices

going over the day’s schedule

flexible as farming requires

prayer

intention

a joke or two

a wry acceptance

of what is here

and hope

always embedded

cultivated

as surely as the soil

 

Awakened machine

trained to walk

the uneven ground

to climb the fueled beasts

of burden

and planting

and harvest

hands reaching for controls

that cannot control

the sun

and rain

 

Body fueled

by home cooking

and love

and Spirit force

and legacy

of cherishing the land

and the coaxing

of creatures

to be born

and eat

and grow

as they know to do

 

Body diseased

but never dis-eased

by its betrayal

forced Sabbath

strange gift

opening the heart

to joy

and wonder

healing over with

scar tissue

of trust

 

Father, lover, grandpa, friend

spirit expanded

bursting

the bonds

of this world

the door opens

to Presence

glory

life

wider

deeper

wonder full

 

Beloved whispers from beyond

I am here.