2005-08-02

Houston, we have debate!

Y'know, if you want no one to care what you write, write it very carefully, nuanced, so that it does not offend anyone. If, however, you want to get a lively discussion going, make outrageous statements that are just on the cusp of being undefendable! A theo-blogger named Krister (check his blog out here) just got kind of ticked off at my blog on the current homosexual crisis in the Anglican Church and wrote this:

--- FROM KRISTER ---

"When God becomes meaningless, the only thing that remains meaningful is how you feel. And the strongest feelings always come from between one's legs. So it is kind of a logical conclusion that when a Church body largely rejects Christ and Scripture, the only really meaningful thing left to debate is what we do with our genitals."

is this really your argument? life is surely much more complex than dividing the world into the binary, dualistic structure that you posit in your entry. Having been to a couple different seminaries (Princeton Theological Seminary and Brite Divinity School), the implication that there are professors who are out there to undermine the community of faith is without merit. These people, by and large, are not there to gain the accolades of men and women. They exist for the sake of the students whom they are equipping for Christian service.

Additionally, when you say that the church now has a "minority voice" that is truly Christian while the other voice (there is the other half of the camp that you argue for, since we can't have more than two groupings) is apostatic, it seems that you have bought into the interesting concept of remnant theology of the 21st century in which those who are truly in the majority (being a white, middle class male) adopt the theological position of the minority and play the victim.

With all of the great heresies that you mention and their solutions, what good has come of the this wonderful Christian community of yore of which you longingly speak?

Do we stand up for the poor, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick? Or do we sit around and complain about the state of our denomination or religion or society or relationships or ...? My guess is that in your attempt to demand that professors and bishops pass a test of orthodoxy you are trying to rid the world (er, church) of those who think differently than you on whatever the topic may be. If it were not for people who had the courage to stand up to the same old way of interpreting scripture, the reformation would have never happened. In like manner, the restoration would never have taken place. Women would not be allowed to minister. Blacks would still be enslaved. The church is always in the process of reforming.

Christ's call for unity is not a call for uniformity. It is a call to appreciate the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Christ himself explained that the wheat and the chaff shall grow together until the day that God determines to separate the two. The decision rests with God, not on humans.

The call to the Christian ministry is call to kenosis, the call to emptying oneself for the sake of others. This requires humility, a posture to see others as incarnations of the Christ. The decision of who is or is not a Christian is ultimately not up to men and women but to God who will judge justly when the time comes.

--- END KRISTER ---

So, here we go for the reply.

Part I: First, I will start out with positive, constructive statements about how I deal with some of the issues Krister raises.

1. Regarding how I understand the use of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason, refer to the following blog.

2. Regarding how I understand the "theology of culture" (i.e. how the Church should interact with the surrounding world), read the following blog.

3. Regarding how I understand the reform of the Church's tradition in the light of new questions asked by culture, refer to the following blog about why I AFFIRM ordination of women to ALL levels of ministry. The concept I use is what Brian McLaren refers to in "Generous Orthodoxy" as "emergence" (Read his chapter on "Why I am an emergent Christian", which I agree with substantially). It is very similar to Cardinal John Henry Neuman's concept of how the Tradition and Practice of the Church grows organically over time as an Oak Tree grows and emerges from an acorn. He is careful, however to differentiate between that growth which is healthy and natural and emergent, and that growth which is malignant and diseased and must be cut out.

Here is my blog on affirming women's ordination which touches on these issues, especially and including slavery and women's rights:

4. Finally, if you want to get a fuller understanding about how I view homosexuality in light of Scripture, and in light of other more important issues facing the Church (such as social justice, integrity, and ministering to the needy), then you might want to look at the following blogs:
Blog 1
Blog 2

Part II: Now that I have been all constructive and laid out my basic method (if you have bothered to read it), it is time to critique the post that Krister gave me:

1. Krister chides me for using a simplistic worldview that he terms "binary" and "dualistic". He then goes on and tells me the source of his authority for saying this: he has been to schools which include both "theological" and "divinity" in their titles. How can a simple ol' southern boy like me hope to compete with that type of learnin'?

Apparently, these schools are too enlightened to believe that reality has any dualistic elements. I am sure that if Krister did not pay his tuition, they would not be dualistic and say "you cannot attend here, because you either paid or didn't". I am sure that if Krister failed to turn in his work for his professors, they would not be so simple minded as to fail him because he either did his work or did not. I am sure that if Krister's spouse committed adultery it would be completely fine with him, because the marriage covenant is not about black and white dualisms of faithful versus unfaithful. Then again, maybe there are dualisms after all...

I am not saying that everything is black and white (I have painted too much to do that), but I am saying that everything isn't grey. There are boundaries and limits to social structures, belief systems, moral choices, and even cellular structures. If you think that clear boundaries are not important, think about how your cells would function with no permeable boundaries, how chess would function with no rules, or how a counseling session with a therapist would go if there were not clearly defined boundaries.

Krister, in fleeing from the heresy that everything is dualistic, do yourself the favor of not falling into the equally damnable heresy that nothing is dualistic. It is a bit simplistic and polly-anna-ish to think that our reality is permeated with dualisms in every area of life (some pretty basic ones are that X cannot be non-X; you are either pregnant or not; either dead or alive), and then to think that this dualism somehow does not apply to ultimate reality in at least some ways.

When the boundaries of our cells become too hardened, the cell dies because food can no longer pass over the boundary. Theology that is moribund in dualisms and over-systemization likewise starves those who believe it. I will grant that. But also, when the boundaries of a cell completely dissolves, it dies and becomes a lump of mush. Likewise, theology that does not have clear boundaries dissolves into a tasteless milktoast pabulum that brings life to no one, but rather hides the true reality of God from us.

2. This brings me to the issue of authority and whether or not we are willing to hear, and obey, the word "NO". It is the issue of whether or not we will be bold enough to discern between truth and falsehood, love and hate, and then have the courage to choose truth and love. To know the truth and not tell others for fear of hurting their feelings is not love. It is hate, just as surely as knowing a bus is coming and not telling someone to get out of the way.

I will say this: I can honestly admit that if someone were to show me how monogamous, lifetime covenants between practicing homosexuals is the best, most honest way to understand Scripture and the consensual Tradition of the Church, then I would affirm it. I myself have sought this in the past. I have read the best books I could find from both sides on the subject. I have talked with good friends who are homosexuals about it (yep, I do have good friends who are gay, and an uncle too!). I have also read countless websites and articles on homosexuality, medicine, psychology, sociology, and Scripture. I have translated the relevant texts from Scripture, exegeted them, and looked at the best commentaries I can find on the subject. I have wanted, honestly wanted, to affirm that the Church could have the power to bless homosexual unions. It would make life easier on many people I know if that were the case. But, I cannot. God, as I have sought Him in prayer, Scripture, Tradition, experience, and reason, has said "No" to me on this matter. He has said "Yes" to me on the issue of women's ordination (see above). But I have come to the firm conclusion that the Church has no power to bless or sanctify sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and women. Neither do they have the power to ordain those who practice such relationships openly.

I will admit, that if God showed it to me through Scripture and Tradition that this were not the case, I would follow that. But, can you say the same? If the evidence were overwhelming that homosexual activity is intrinsically disordered, a-typical, and sinful, would you be able to stomach that and live by it? If you would not, then the debate needs to end here, because you hold a position that is absolute, un-correctable, and (may I say it) closed-minded.

3. You talk about the nobility of your professors who have made it their life's work to "equip people for Christian service". I have no doubt they have given their lives to equip people for service. Noble aspiration at that. But is it CHRISTIAN service? How do you define Christian? Does that definition root itself in the etymological source of the word, so that it is someone who is a Christ-follower, or more literally, a "little Christ"? Or is it some feel-good definition of "someone who does nice things to help people"? Does Christian for you have a denotative, objective meaning by which we may judge whether someone is actually Christian, and choose whether or not they are truly part of the Christian community? Or, does Christian merely have a connotative, subjective meaning, that means "people who do stuff I like and value"?

If you have no objective criteria behind the word Christian, then it is a term empty of any value we can actually discuss, and it is just as good as saying that your professors equip people for Flubnarbian service (Flubnarbian, of course, refers to someone who flubnars, or does what I like).

If you do have objective criteria behind the word Christian, then you are actually in the same boat as me, and we can have a wonderful debate over which criteria qualifies for making someone part of the Christian community. Is it a certain amount of "good works" that promote righteousness and social justice (for true righteousness, after all, is social justice in the Hebrew Scriptures). Yet, there is a problem right off the bat here, since St. Paul was pretty adamant that those trying to justify themselves by works of law were not part of the Christian community. Well then, is it someone who is baptized into Christ and confesses faith in Christ as Lord? I think this is probably closer to the fact, but still offers some problems. For instance, what exactly is meant by "Christ" and "Lord"? What does it mean to be "baptized into" this Christ?

Well, to answer that, you have two routes: Either you can choose to self-define those terms as you see fit, picking and choosing whatever scholarship says what you want it to say about Christ as Lord. Or, you can try to find out and affirm what the most ancient, most universal, most reliable Christian Tradition on these issues is. If you choose the former, you are still stuck in a trap of subjectivism, whereby you affirm that "Christianity is what I want it to be", and therefore, meaningless to anyone else. If you choose the latter, then you are arguing EXACTLY what I am arguing for in my blog, namely that Christians are those who are defined by (a) affirming that Christ is both God and Lord; and (b) affirming that Scripture is the authoritative source through which we know Him.

4. Dude, about the quip that I am trying to rid the "world (er, church)" of people I disagree with: are you a totally brainwashed westerner or what??? You want to see "ridding the world" of people we disagree with? Hang out with some of the Christians (or Muslims) in Sudan or other similar countries. Liberals and Fundamentalists in this country think that they are getting "persecuted" (sob, sob, why is life so unfair???) when people simply tell them they are wrong. Go somewhere where your God can get you killed, then come back and talk to me.

I am happy to enter into dialogue with people I disagree with (notice, I am writing you back, not driving over to Brite Divinity School to beat you up). I do not want to exclude anyone from dialogue. I just want people to be honest about where they are dialoguing from. Are they speaking as a Christian, or as a non-Christian? That is all I am asking.

Yes, the basis of most of the argument over homosexuality is not in fact between Christians, but between Christians and pluralists.

Yes, some who argue for the acceptance of homosexuality are in fact Christian in both name and fact. I know some of them and dialogue with them, but as yet remain unconvinced by their arguments. They are, however, rare in this debate.

Yes, this debate has led me to the realization that homosexuality is indeed sinful and cannot be sanctified by the Church as normal, but also that there are much more important issues out there to stand for or against (namely, Christ and Scripture).

No, this does not, in my opinion transfer to the sphere of governmental policy, because the New Testament is pretty clear that Church and State have separate spheres and responsibilities. As far as I can tell, it is only the business of the government to protect persons, freedoms, property, and contracts made between consenting persons. If the state desires to protect people who have made a contract to care for and support each other for a lifetime, no matter their gender, then the state should be able to protect such persons and their contracts. Yet, the state, as I understand it, has no more ability to bless and sanctify a marriage than it does to declare the next Pope.

And yes, if you are wondering, I am basically a Christian Libertarian and not necessarily supportive of either major party.

5. You said "It is a call to appreciate the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Christ himself explained that the wheat and the chaff shall grow together until the day that God determines to separate the two. The decision rests with God, not on humans." Yep, He did. He also said to recognize false teachers "by their fruit" and to out them as wolves among sheep (cf. Mat 7). So, what do you do about that?

If you really, really meant the above statement, then you could not have written the email you did to me. You would not be in any position to judge or even comment on my blog. But, you are supremely intolerant of those you perceive as intolerant, so you did not really mean the above statement for yourself. You only meant it for people who disagree with you.

Here's a better way of looking at it:

I think the key to understanding Jesus' parables on not judging (on one hand) and judging and discerning (on the other hand) revolves around two distinctions: First, we are to make a person vs. doctrine-action distinction. We are to judge doctrines and actions. We are to be constantly merciful to persons. Second, we are to make a this age vs. the eschaton distinction. We are to realize that none of our judgments can be definitive until we "know fully even as we are fully known" (cf. 1Co 13).

I know this is hopelessly simplistic and dualistic, but I think it works a heck of a lot better than your "I appreciate the diversity of everyone except those I do not appreciate" approach.

6. You said:

"Do we stand up for the poor..."

Yep, painted houses for four immigrant families on the border last week. My youth ministry goes out every month to serve the needy. I support native missions, child care, and social justice in developing countries. I teach it to my kids at Church all the time.

"...visit the imprisoned..."

We have active people in our Church who do prison ministry, as well as people working in recovery and support groups helping free people from addiction to everything from alcohol, to drugs, to ADHD. I personally worked full time in social work for 6 1/2 years with runaways, addicts, and criminals.

"...care for the sick..."

I am actively involved in visiting hospitals as the need arises. Many of our service projects involves working with the sick.

In short, I and the youth that I serve probably do not do as much as we should, but we are involved with the praxis of ministry, and I preach that orthodoxy of faith is NOTHING without orthopraxis of action in the world to liberate everyone and everything from spiritual, physical, social, psychological, and economic bondage.

You imply your own dualism here: Either you work for social justice OR you work for orthodox beliefs, but you can't do both. That is hogwash. I do both. Do you?

In fact, it is precisely my belief in the Orthodox Christ -the God-man, the Myth made historical fact, the unprecedented life of beauty, truth, and love that He lived, the death that He died, the physical resurrection in which He conquered death, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father- it is this belief that urges me onward to fight for BOTH social justice AND right beliefs. Without this Christ, Christianity would be just another meaningless crutch to deal with the uncertainty and vanity of existence. It is precisely this Christ- the Christ of Scripture, the Christ debated by the seven Ecumenical Councils- it is this Christ who I know, love, and follow, who gives my existence meaning, who stopped me from blowing off my head when I was a teenager, and who keeps me sane today.

Don't tell me that doctrine is not important, or inferior to action. It is precisely what we believe that fuels and motivates what we do and why. If a vague, nebulous God in which anything goes is enough to get you out of bed in the morning, and fuel your passion for life, then good for you. I do not have enough faith for that. My God rose from the dead in Jesus Christ. My God gave me a love letter, a saga, a scrapbook of the best and worst moments in HIStory, filled with all sorts of idiosyncrasies and anachronisms, so that I could walk on my journey with Jesus Christ. Out of love I am duty bound to follow Jesus, in Community, according to this strange, awful, and wonderful book He has given me, without simply editing out the parts I do not like.

For the same book that tells me "God is Love", "Jesus saves", "We are all one in Christ Jesus", "Love your neighbor as yourself", and to practice Social Justice, also tells me not to sleep with my mother, sister, brother, or pet. It tells me not to eat shellfish and not to sacrifice my children. It tells me not to lie, not to steal, to honor my parents, but also to "hate" my mother, father, sister, and brother for Christ's sake (His words, not mine). The Spirit who inspired this book cries out for us to wrestle with it, to listen to it, to take it seriously. We cannot simply edit out the parts we are uncomfortable with, and then ex post facto create a method of literary criticism to justify it. We can't just edit out what we do not like without putting those parts that we like on the line as well. The knife cuts both ways, and there is nothing which does not then stop people from saying that "God is Love" is what we should edit out instead.

And, oh yeah, by the way: Before we start talking about how the slavery movement and women's rights movements got started, we should think about their origin. It was very evangelical believers who took the Bible very seriously (even literally) who spearheaded all of these campaigns. They were people who affirmed that the Biblical Christ is the true Christ. They are people who affirmed Biblical morality. We cannot in the same breath claim them as our spiritual foremothers and forefathers, and then eschew the very basis on which they argued their case.

7. Now, here is where I get a little pissed off: What the hell does the fact that I am a "white, middle class male" have to do with anything??? Have you told that to the 60 million African Anglicans who agree with what I wrote? Unless your enlightened head has been under an enlightened rock you will have noticed that the resistance to the "pink agenda" in the Anglican communion has been spearheaded almost exclusively by "people of color".

Let me let you in on a little secret: I am currently a white male student at a mainline Seminary (Perkins School of Theology, you might have heard of it). The people who disagree with me the most at my school are white folk, like you, who like to bask in self-deprecation over their own skin color. It is actually the African students I agree with the most. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in North Little Rock, which was 2/3 minority (thereby making me a minority). I played football for a decade on mostly minority teams. I worked full time in social work for 6 1/2 years with mostly minority clients and co-workers. Don't tell me I theologize a certain way because of my skin color. Don't sit me at the "whites only" table of your little politically correct theological buffet.

I resent you impugning my theology on the basis of race, instead of on the basis of issues. I resent you making value judgments about me based on the color of my skin instead of on the content of my character and my theology. I think it is this comment that shows the true nature of your theology and pretended tolerance.

Do you want to practice kenosis? Really practice it? Try emptying yourself of the race-baiting "I tolerate everyone except those I disagree with" stuff that you spewed out. You want to practice humility? Engage the issues, instead of sloganeering.

8. And finally, you ask what has become of "this wonderful Christian community of yore" (a question which belies your western egocentrism)? It is not "of yore". Actually, it is of the East. The oldest Christian body, in continual existence, without all the denominational schisms and revisionism rampant in the west today, is actually the Orthodox Churches. Ever been to an Orthodox Church? Ever interviewed an Orthodox priest? Ever read an Orthodox book of theology? Or over a dozen? Ever read some of the Church Fathers and Mothers of the East? Ever read the proceedings from the seven Ecumenical Councils? I have. It opened my eyes in ways I have just begun to describe.

Want to find the "Church of yore"? Look east. Eastern Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Mar Thoma, and I could go on. Around 300 million of them wandering around on planet Earth right now. You should be able to find one easy enough.

And here's a bonus, since valid theology seems to be mystically tied to skin color: most of their theologians and bishops are not Caucasian.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.