Friday, October 07, 2005

Talking about the tough issues

Kudos to the Bishop of the United Methodist Desert Southwest Conference, Minerva Carcaño, for hosting a "Christian Confererencing" discussion in Tucson last night to talk about two tough issues, migration and GLBT issues. It was a roundtable discussion, very respectful, and people from all sides of both issues got to speak without interruption. A big thanks to the Bishop for getting dialogue started.

I confess I haven't given much thought to migration issues and there actually wasn't a lot of disagreement about that. Mostly a lot of people searching for answers on how to help people and keep them from dying in the desert with no one really knowing what to do.

The discussion on GLBT issues was more divided. I found it interesting that almost to a person, those who spoke from the position that same-sex relationships are sinful spoke of scripture, while those who spoke from the position that same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful spoke of experience.

First I'd like to say that in my opinion, talking about whether or not this is a sin is putting the cart before the horse. In John 8, Jesus saves an adulteress from being stoned to death then tells her to go and sin no more. Note that he waits until she is safe and then only when she is alone does he tell her to go and sin no more. He doesn't make a public speech about how, yes, she's a sinner, but... He is more concerned about her safety first. We're not at that place yet. When our GLBT brothers and sisters are safe and aren't being persecuted anymore, then we can have the discussion about sin (or not sin). But not yet.

That said, I'd like to comment on the scripture vs. experience dichotomy I witnessed last night. In the United Methodist Church, we're taught that when we address theological concerns, we should apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, meaning we should look for answers in four areas: Scripture, Tradition (Church history), Reason, and Experience. It strikes me as particularly un-Wesleyan to go back to scripture alone without looking at the other three. What Tradition says about GLBT issues is pretty clear and doesn't come down in favor of same-sex relationships. Reason... that's thornier. That can depend largely on what place you start from: the infallibility of scripture or that it is God-inspired but written by fallible humans.

When it comes to scripture vs. experience, to me, staying with a literal reading of scripture over personal experience with the Living God feels like we're limiting God to the confines of words that are centuries old. Paul says we see through a mirror dimly, and I don't think that was any less true for the Bible writers than it is for us today. The idea that God would speak so clearly and directly in the past but stop at some point and expect us to get it without such clear, inerrant guiding directly from God (as opposed to through writings that in our present English form have passed through hundreds of human hands from the writers to the editors to those who decided what was canon and what wasn't to the translators) doesn't make sense to me. God is living and dynamic and cannot be contained in scripture. Scripture points to God but cannot be God.

But let's look at scripture. It is interesting to me that in the entire Bible, (which reading two chapters a day takes me two years to complete a cycle of reading the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice) there are only seven places that talk about this issue. Seven. Out of thousands. They are: Genesis 18-19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Judges 19, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9, and Jude 7.

The Genesis and Judges verses are two similar stories. They deal with violence and rape and do not address the issue of loving relationships at all. In fact, the hero of the Genesis story, Lot, is saved from the destruction of Sodom because he protects his male visitors (angels, but Lot doesn't know that) from being raped. He does this by throwing his daughters out to the rapists instead. And for this he is commended as righteous. Not a standard many Christian men I know would adhere to today. I'm pretty thankful that isn't a standard for righteousness my father followed.

The Leviticus verses are the Law. Anyone who wears cotton blends or thinks it's okay for a woman to have sex when she's menstruating is disobeying the exact same section of the law as the verses prohibiting men from having sex with other men. The penalty for these "sins:" death. (Note: there is nothing in the Law prohibiting women from having sex with other women.)

Of the New Testament verses, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy have translation issues. The truth is, no one knows what the words we see in English Bibles translated as "homosexual" really mean. Jude refers back to the Sodom story in Genesis, which again, is not about loving same-sex relationships but about violence.

So, if you understand that two of the OT stories are about violence, not same-sex relationships and that the OT Law is not adhered to by most (if any) Christians, and that translation issues make it impossible to really understand what three out of four of the NT verses are saying, that leaves us with one place in scripture (Romans 1:26-27) that is worth discussing in regards to loving same-sex relationships. One. Out of the entire Bible.

There is another verse I'd like to point to. It isn't about same-sex relationships, but it is from Jesus. Matthew 7:16-20:

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

That's where experience comes in. I challenge theological conservatives to get to know GLBT people. Get to know GLBT Christians. I know many of them, both clergy and lay, who bear excellent fruit. Some of them have walks with Christ that I admire as much closer than my own. If the fruit is good, how can the tree be bad?

I've studied the scripture. A lot. And a literal view of it just doesn't hold up with my experience. It doesn't fit with the measuring stick Jesus told us to use.

I hope that in the United Methodist Church we will keep discussing this issue. I hope that as Christians we will all be a part of making people safe so that we can get to the place where we can actually have a conversation about sin. Thank you, Bishop Carcaño.


At 8:28 AM, Anonymous T. Shawn Long said...

Wow, you've got to be the best Bad Methodist ever! I appreciate your thoughtful, intelligent posts.

It seems like a lot of blogs have fallen to the trend of coarse, vociferous vitriole, but your comments always seem very humane and considered. We could all use a lot more of this type of blogging and discussion.

[I also appreciate your blog as a former Methodist who left the church because it condemned my gay brother.]

Please keep up your good work. Change is slow, but God is all about opening people's hearts to truth.


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