Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Another Addendum on GLBT Posts

Some “cleaning up” matters on these posts before going to the next stage.  I am rushing through some things in order to try to finish this series and be done with it. The series is tiring for me and I don’t want to neglect it again.

At any rate, there are some loose ends on the biblical survey to date that need to be cleared up.

  • Would the biblical writers, especially the Apostle Paul, have known of long-term, same sex, partnerships based on love? I have followed the likes of Robin Scroggs and Victor Paul Furnish in saying, “No.”  However, several classicists have pointed out that such pairings were well-known in the Greco-Roman world–something I did not know when I began this series. (Randle and others repeatedly cited Plato’s Symposium. The thrust of that discussion still seems to me to be Plato’s condemnation of pederasty in “mentoring,” but there are mentions of longterm male/male lovers. Ergo, Scroggs’ original claim, and mine by extension, was too strong.)   However, this does not settle the question of whether Paul would have known them or had them in mind in his condemnations. It is certain that he is condemning exploitive relationships like pederasty and temple prostitution. If, in Rom. 1, he is also including non-exploitive same-sex pairings more like marriage (which is possible), it is not because he knows the concept of sexual orientation, but because he considers such acts to be evidence of idolatry and “unnatural” behavior.
  • In 1 Cor. 11:14, Paul asks rhetorically, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him. . .?”  Here “nature” clearly means “custom,” because what is “unnatural” is cutting one’s hair.  So, it is possible (by no means certain) that Paul has the same meaning in mind in Romans 1 when he calls same sex pairings “unnatural.”  What is clear is that Paul is not a reliable guide to “nature” or to natural law arguments.
  • I have said that Romans 1 is the only place where lesbian acts, not just male same-sex actions, are under review.  What I didn’t know until quite recently is that lesbianism may not even be mentioned in Romans 1.  The early church, up to and including St. Augustine, interpreted “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones,” NOT as referring to female-to-female sex acts (i.e., lesbian behavior), but to male-female anal intercourse.  It is only beginning with St. John Chrysostom that the early church starts interpreting this verse as referring to lesbian actions.
  • If the earlier tradition is the correct exegesis, then nowhere in the Bible are lesbian acts discussed.  The focus is entirely on male/male acts and the concerns are purity/holiness concerns and concerns about men being treated “as women,” like conquering armies did in raping those conquered. Note the strong connection between condemnation of male homosexuality and patriarchy.

In my next post, I will briefly turn from the biblical texts to discuss the (little) we know scientifically about the causes of homosexual orientation. Science does not give moral guidance on its own. But, as H. Richard Niebuhr constantly reminded his students in Christian ethics, the first question to be asked is not, “What should I/we do?” but, “What is going on?”  This post will also include a brief discussion of the related-but-different issues surrounding transgendered persons.

From there, I will make some comments on ethical method and on hermeneutics (as it applies to our discussion).  My concluding posts will present a theological case for fully welcoming and affirming GLBT persons in the church:  Defending their civil rights in society (something I would expect even of “welcoming, but NOT affirming” folks since public justice matters are distinct from purity issues or moral issues for religious communities); blessing same-sex covenantal unions (whether or not the law grants them the status of “marriage,”); and ordaining those called to ministry with same standards of chastity used for heterosexuals (not restricting all gay or lesbian ministers to celibacy unless the same standard is required for heterosexual ministers).  I will conclude with a brief outline of a “single standard sexual ethic” for the church today–one which is open-ended and welcomes additions and corrections by my readers.

I will then update the index of all these posts and create a new page of indexed series.

I hope to post the science post this afternoon/evening.

Advertisements

July 23, 2008 Posted by | GLBT issues, homosexuality | 6 Comments

Another Barrier Crossed

Women continue to make progress in Baptist life around the world–everywhere except the increasingly far-right and  cultic Southern Baptist Convention.  My friend Dan Schweissing reports that back on 01 March of this year, Margarita Campos became the first woman ordained to the ministry in CHILE.  See his full report here.  In the ’90s such firsts happened in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Bolivia.  At the turn of the millenium, such firsts happened in several Eastern European nations.  Meanwhile, a Southern Baptist “scholar” blames wife abuse by conservative Christian men on the supposed failure of women to submit to their husband’s “God-given authority” quickly enough. 

For the sake of my daughters, I rejoice constantly that, although I remain a Baptist from the (U.S.) South, I have long since ceased to be a Southern Baptist.  My daughters have grown up knowing that their mother is an ordained Baptist minister (and formerly a pastor), having a woman for a pastor, women as over half of the diaconate in the congregation.  They worship in a congregation of several racial/ethnic groups (at one time, we had 5 separate racial/ethnic groupings in the membership, though “whites” remain the numerical majority) and with out gay and lesbian Christians.  A congregation that works hard to be accessible to its members in wheelchairs and which contains a wide diversity of education levels. We have to let middle-aged white men like myself preach at least twice a year just so the children know that it’s allowed. 🙂

I just worry that they won’t be able to find many congregations like this when they go off to university. But the news from Chile suggests that things are changing all over the globe.  Hallelujah.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, sexism, women | 8 Comments

My Peace I Leave Unto You

As long as I am trying to remember why I got into blogging by reorganizing this site and indexing good series (and finishing series), etc., I should highlight the great times I have had participating as a guest blogger in others’ series.  One of those was the 6 part series, My Peace I Leave Unto You. This was a series of guest posts on Christian pacifism in different church traditions hosted by Halden at the blog, Inhabitatio Dei (Latin for “Living in God,” or “Inhabiting God.”) The six posts, all autobiographical, covered Christian pacifism in the Restoration or Stone-Campbell movement; a Reformed/Congregationalist pacifism; an Anabaptist-leaning Baptist pacifism (mine); Christian pacifism from a non-denominational, U.S. evangelical (Wheaton College) perspective; a Free Church pacifism; and an Eastern Orthodox pacifism.  You can find all six posts here.  I reprint mine below.  I enjoyed all of them and hope Halden will restart the series, recruiting authors who are (a)female, (b) from outside the Anglo-American world, (c) Catholic, etc.

Gospel Nonviolence: An Anabaptist-Baptist Approach

A guest-post by M. L. Westmoreland-White

When Halden asked me to contribute to this series, I suddenly felt as if I was failing to heed the Petrine command to “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting of the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15b).” Do I really know what “my tradition” of Christian pacifism looks like?

The problem is that I was not raised in a peace church tradition, and my denomination, the Baptists, have never been a “peace church,” though we have always had a pacifist minority. That minority has been larger or smaller, less influential or more, in various times and places–but always a minority. (For a survey of this tradition see Paul R. DeKar, For the Healing of the Nations: Baptist Peacemakers[Smyth & Helwys, 1993.]) I came to gospel nonviolence from the U.S. military, so my “pacifism” may be a reaction, a rebellion, as much as a theological tradition. I was not formed in nonviolent virtues like a Mennonite, Quaker, or member of the Church of the Brethren would have been. So, I feel unworthy to participate in this series. But here goes, anyway.

Baptists began as radical Puritans who were influenced at key points by Dutch Anabaptists. The General, or more Arminian/Free Will, Baptists began earlier (1609-1611) with John Smyth and Thomas Helwys and were influenced by Waterlander Mennonites from Amsterdam. The Particular, or more Calvinist, Baptists (who were to become the dominant strand) began a generation later (1638-1644) and were influenced by Collegiant Mennonites (and a translation of Menno Simons’ Foundation-Book) from Leiden. From the Anabaptists, we Baptists took a radically Christocentric orientation and an emphasis on a visible church and active discipleship. From the Reformed/Puritan heritage, we took a strong emphasis on God’s Sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship over all of life (thus rejecting either Lutheran or Anabaptist “two-kingdoms” thinking).

Both those strands inform my pacifism. Because Christianity is “following after” Jesus Christ, I must love my enemies and be an active peacemaker. The Anabaptist heritage (mediated to me especially, but not only, via John Howard Yoder) keeps my pacifism centered in the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of Jesus’ teachings. It means that my refusal to kill is part of a larger pattern of non-conformity to “the world.” That pattern includes simplicity of living (striving against materialist consumerism), radical egalitarianism in home, church, and society (resisting the heirarchies of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation), mutual servanthood, economic sharing. The Anabaptist orientation means that I cannot separate my love of God (my “spiritual life” or piety) from my love of neighbors–and that I must continually recognize personal, communal, or national enemies as tests of the seriousness of that neighbor love.

Because God is Sovereign and Christ is Lord over ALL of life (not just Lord of the Church or of some “inner realm”), then my nonviolent witness cannot be apolitical. The Baptist defense of “separation of church and state” is not out of any Lutheran “two-kingdoms” theology in which God works through the state with a radically different ethic (the Left hand of God, as Luther put it) from the ethic of personal relations in which the Gospel is to be followed. The idea that “religion and politics have nothing to do with each other” is heresy. Rather, we Baptists (at our best) defend the institutional separation of church and state precisely so that the church is free to give prophetic witness to the state.

Baptists, at least, non-fundamentalist Baptists, are fond of self-descriptions that use a set of principles, axioms, or “identity markers,” rather than by reference to a formal “creed” of confession of faith. Though, unlike our “cousins” in the Stone-Campbell movement, we Baptists have often written confessions of faith, we have seldom treated them as creedal “tests of orthodoxy,” but as guides to biblical interpretation and witnesses to outsiders of our faith. We have often given these statements elaborate “preambles” that deny their creedal status and explicitly claim that they are not to be used as substitutes for simple faith in Christ and that they are always subordinate to biblical authority. Many Baptists have identified with the Restorationist motto of “No Creed but the Bible,” whatever other disagreements we have with those we often term “Campbellites.”

Consider one widely popular such list of “Baptist identity markers”:

  • Biblicism, understood not as preference for one or another theory of inspiration (or “inerrancy”), but as the humble acceptance of the authority of Scripture for both faith and practice and accompanied by a Christocentric hermeneutic. (This is related to the Baptist “primitivism” which desires to replicate “New Testament churches.”)
  • Liberty, understood not as the overthrow of all authority for an anarchic individualism, but as the church’s God-given freedom to respond to God without the intervention of the state or other Powers. (Related themes are intentional community, voluntarism, “soul competency,” and separation of church and state.)
  • Discipleship as normative for all Christians and so understood neither as a vocation for the few nor an esoteric discipline for adepts, but as life transformed into service by the lordship of Jesus Christ. (Signified by believers’ baptism–usually by immersion to signify the believer’s identification with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to new life; related themes are “the rule of Christ,” and “the rule of Paul.”)
  • Community, understood not as some group’s privileged access to God or to sacred status, but as sharing together in a storied life of witness to Christ exercised in mutual aid and in service to others. (Signified by Communion or Holy Eucharist, most often called by Baptists the Table or Supper of the Lord; a related theme is the regenerate or believers’ church, i.e., the concern for churches of “visible saints.”)
  • Mission or evangelism, understood not as an attempt to control history for the ends we believe to be good, but as the responsibility of all Christians to bear witness to Christ–and to accept the suffering that such witness often entails. (The deep missionary impulse is connected to claim that all true faith is voluntary and uncoerced and thus leads back again to the defense of liberty of conscience for all–including for those whose views we deem wrong or even wrongheaded.)

Now, I do not claim that pacifism or gospel nonviolence is entailed or demanded by any vision formed by such identity markers. That claim is too strong considering how many non-pacifist Baptists there are! Rather, my (slightly more humble) claim is simply that gospel nonviolence fits such a vision and that each of these “identity markers” are strengthened and their unity more apparent in pacifist perspective. If space permitted, I could run through each marker and spell out the pacifist implications, but I leave that to the reader’s own reflections. It is my rather audacious claim that the pacifist minority among Baptists for our 400 years have had it right: That gospel nonviolence makes us more authentically Baptist, as well, of course, as more authentically Christian.

So “my” pacifism has a deeply “Baptist” shape as well as ecumenical influences. It is informed by the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (both Baptists), as well as from the nonviolent strands of liberation theologies. I deeply adhere to a saying from Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Biblical peace, shalom, is a product of justice–of right relationships throughout society. So, “my” pacifism, must always be an activist peacemaking: Engaging in nonviolent struggle for a better world–not in a vain attempt to “bring in the Kingdom,” (God does that–although God may use us as instruments), but to bear witness of God’s character and actions for redemption–and, to prepare the way for the Ultimate realization of God’s Reign by penultimate actions for a relatively just and peaceful world. (See Bonhoeffer’s Ethics).

It has been said that Baptists are “practical idealists.” Insofar as I belong to a tradition of Christian pacifism, it is one informed by the practical idealism of the Anabaptists of the 16th C., the “democratic” impulses of early Baptists like Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Bunyan, and Richard Overton; the Levellers of the 17th C., 19th C. abolitionists and evangelical feminists, of Social Gospel and Civil Rights radicals, and of nonviolent struggles for justice globally. With such “practical idealism” I try to bear witness to the nonviolent Christ who is my Lord.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, human rights., peacemaking | 1 Comment

Peace Blogger Interviews

Remember the Peace Blogger interviews? I got to 9 of them before I had to take a break. Well, I have placed those 9 in a new page at the top of this blog.  The Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring has grown so large since I founded it that I haven’t been able to keep up or visit a fraction of the blogs now available. However, I do have several interviews that I never published in this series and I’ll try to see about publishing them in the not too distant future future.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | blog-ring, peacemaking | 2 Comments

GLBT Persons in the Church: A Positive Word from Jesus?

It is commonly said by those on all sides of this debate that Jesus said nothing whatsoever pertaining to “homosexuality.”  Traditionalists conclude that Jesus simply accepted the Levitical prohibitions (and the negative view of 1st C. Judaism) without question.  Revisionists conclude that Jesus was unconcerned about same-sex issues and that contemporary Christians are free to take Jesus’ overall liberating views on the dignity and equality of all persons as our guide.

But there is one ambiguous passage in the Gospels in which Jesus MAY have indicated an openess to same-sex covenantal love.  I want to be very cautious here.  I have been told about a Norwegian woman (a Baptist pastor, actually) who completed a Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Manchester in the U.K.  She investigated this pericope rather thoroughly. But the dissertation has not yet been published and so I have not seen the evidence for her conclusions. So, what follows, is a possibility that bears further investigation–but without that further investigation would be (in Lee’s words about how Richard Hays treats Rom. 1 on the other side of this debate) “too thin a reed on which to build a case one way or the other.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus condemns divorce (except for porneia, indicating some kind of sexual sin, usually thought to be adultery), using God’s created intentions to overturn Mosaic law (which allowed men to seek divorce). The disciples, blown away by the idea that they may have learn conflict resolution with their wives, mutter that it may be better not to marry at all.

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; others have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The one who can accept this word, should do so.” Matt. 19:11-12.

Now, traditionally, this passage has been interpreted to mean that Jesus was advocating celibacy, but that is not clear.

  • The word “eunuchs” is not really an English translation of the Greek ενουκοι. Rather, it is simply a transliteration. 
  • Because of the influence of the KJV, modern English uses the term “eunuch” to mean a castrated male. But did the term have that meaning in the ancient world?
  • In the dissertation to which I have referred (but I have seen only a summary, not the evidence),  a broad range of materials is consulted and it seems that “eunuch” had a much wider meaning in the 1st C. Mediterranean world–referring to any male who deviated from the cultural norm of marrying and begetting children. It was even used to refer to men who married and did not beget children. It was also used, I am given to understand, to refer to men who had longterm male lovers–NOT to pederasts or to temple prostitutes, etc.
  • Now, traditionally, this passage has been used to endorse celibacy, but the topic under discussion is marriage.
  • Jesus says that some are eunuchs (that is, men who do not marry and beget children) because they were made that way by men. These are probably castrated males such as many cultures used for herem guards.
  • Jesus says that some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the early church, Origen took this to mean that some should castrate themselves and he did so.  Fortunately, most of the church did not follow this pattern.  Those who would be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom” have been voluntarily celibate–as apparently Jesus and Paul were. (In light of his belief that Jesus would return any minute, Paul wished all Christians were “as I am”–apparently meaning celibate, but recognized that it took a special gift of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 7:7–a chapter in which Paul also indicates that an acceptable basis for Christian (heterosexual) marriage is to control one’s otherwise uncontrollable lust! Nice.)
  • Jesus says some eunuchs “were born that way.” Is he talking only of males born with some genital defect? Or is referring also to men who do not marry and have children because they were born with desires for their own sex?

Caution: Even if Jesus has people we would call “gay” or “lesbian,” those with homosexual orientation, in mind as part of the category of “born eunuchs,” the passage does not indicate what Jesus would have them do–except that it is clear that, contrary to his own Jewish culture, he does not order them to marry or condemn them for not marrying.  “Family” takes on broader than biological meaning in Christianity.  But Jesus does not say, “all born eunuchs must remain celibate,” either.

Is this a veiled positive word for gay and lesbian Christians?  I don’t think it is clear, but I do think it is a possibility worth further investigation.

Let those accept this who can.

Next, I will wind up this series by moving beyond reading of the few texts in Scripture relating to this topic to giving a theological rationale for welcoming and affirming GLBT Christians fully into the life of the church, including blessing same-sex unions analagous to heterosexual marriage.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | discipleship, ethics, GLBT issues, homosexuality | 8 Comments

Repost: Theological Confessions

Jonathan Marlowe reminds me that I had let the series on GLBT persons in the church slide for 18 long months. I truly apologize, Gentle Readers. I stopped blogging altogether because of depression for awhile and got sidetracked to other things. Also, I found that I had loaned out my copy of Hays’ book and could not give my reply to him entirely from memory.  I hope to finish the biblical exegesis today and give final arguments this weekend.

In the meantime, I have decided to turn some of these series into separate pages of posts–reorganizing this blog some.  And, for your early a.m. reading pleasure, let me remind you that over a year ago (June ’07) I participated in a “meme” known as “Out of the Closet: Theological Confessions.” The series was revealing and funny. You can find the entire list at Australian theologian Ben Myers’ great blog, Faith and Theology.  My contribution is repeated below and if new people participate, send the link and I’ll keep track and let Ben know–because it was great fun and a break of the super-serious discussions.

As started here, there is now a theological confessions meme. I confess that I hesitated to play because, just as some of the others have phrased their “confessions” in ways that might make some folk angry, so my own contribution is likely to ruffle feathers–and I do that enough anyway.  But, here goes anyway.

I confess that Dispensationalists in general, and “Christian Zionists” in particular, get on my LAST nerve! In the interests of fraternal correction and Middle East peacemaking, I should strive gently to show disciples of Hagee & Co. where they have misunderstood the Election of Israel in God’s economy. Instead,  what I want to do is throw something at them–and I have to restrain myself with great exertion! [I wrote this before the current election year–not knowing that Sen. John McCain would seek and win Hagee’s endorsement for his presidential campaign, nor that they would later mutually repudiate each other.  Everything I wrote is still true.]

I confess, despite the above, that I believe the “parting of the ways” (James D. G. Dunn’s phrase) between synagogue and church was the greatest tragedy in church history, dwarfing even the Constantinian warping of the church into the chaplain of imperial power.  Any theology, and any ecclesiology, which fails to reckon thoroughly with God’s continued covenant loyalty to the Jewish people is deeply, deeply, flawed.

I confess, though I have learned many things from the late Hans Frei (1922-1988), I find him to have one of the most turgid writing styles in late modern theology. He constantly puts me to sleep.

I confess that before last year, I never heard of John Piper, Rick Warren, or Max Lucado.  Now that I have, I don’t think I was missing anything.

 I confess that if double predestination turns out to be true, and some people have been “elected to damnation” from eternity, I will be very, very angry with God.

I confess that I often prefer to read science fiction and detective novels when I should be reading biblical studies, ethics, and theology.

I confess I think my aesthetic sensitivities are underdeveloped (my eyes glaze over when someone mentions “theology and the arts”) and this is one of the reasons I find it difficult to grasp people like Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988).

I confess that, after wrestling with the issues and my own homophobia for over a decade and a half, I stand with the revisionists on the church’s sexual theology, vis-a-vis sexual minorities.  Although I am still strongly committed to an ethic of either celibacy or monogamy, I now(for several years, actually) support monogamous marriages for same-sex couples, too. Lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and I see no evidence that it is automatically granted to all gay or lesbian Christians and LESS evidence that sexual orientation can be “cured.”  If this leads to charges of “depravity” charges of defection from biblical authority, and if it leads (as I have evidence it already has) to lost job opportunities in church-related posts–so be it. My gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers have to endure far more just to be given permission to live without hiding.

I confess to being extremely tired of hearing Christian theologians (usually male; often, but not always, evangelical) dismiss all feminist theology by flippantly referring to the post-Christian Mary Daly or the radical Catholic Rosemary Radford Reuther (and I have learned from the latter), without ever seriously wrestling with or even reading the likes of Letty Russell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Sarah Coakely, Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Phyllis Trible, Mercy Amba Odoyuye, Elsa Tamez, etc.  No one of either gender is beyond critique, but the major currents of feminist (womanist, mujerista, etc.) theologies should be important dialogue partners to all serious theologians, today.

I confess that I find it very disheartening that so many theological bloggers, often with excellent theological educations, are so dismissive of, or even ignorant of, the thought of major liberation theologians–from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and from marginalized populations in Europe and North America. 

I confess that although I know that correcting heresy is an important task of theology, I fear authoritarian heretic hunters far more than I fear liberals and heretics.

I confess that I have weak electronic skills. I never owned a computer until it was time to write my Ph.D. dissertation (making do on an electric typewriter before then) and used it only as a glorified wordprocessor until the dissertation was finished. I have never owned a cell phone, blackberry, video game, etc.  I don’t know what a “podcast” is.  But the new i-phone looks so cool, it may awaken the long-buried techno-geek within.

Many of the people I love and trust the most from my church are enamored of communal living on a subsistence farm.  People I admire like Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, and Clarence Jordan, shared this utopian dream of small farms as ideal church communities.  I confess that this sounds like hell to me. I am a confirmed urbanite.[NOTE: This is not to disrespect either farmers or my friends with dreams of communal farming. I worked my grandparents’ farm in summers. I have great respect for farmers–I just don’t want to BE one.  I do think that peak oil and global warming will spell the end of SUBURBS–and good riddance.]

I confess that despite my love for the liturgical richness of Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican worship, my abhorrence for authoritarian heirarchies would keep from ever joining those communions even if I did not feel the commitment I do toward Free Church ecclesiology.

I confess that although I agree with Barth in preferring Mozart to Bach, I love jazz, blues, and Southern rock even more.  The Kingdom of God had better have some place to get funky.

I confess that one reason I am so very adamant in insisting on a BODILY resurrection (for both Christ and believers) is that I find it quite impossible to believe in disembodied souls.  The Christian Hope is not for “spiritual afterlife” or “heaven when we die,” but for Resurrection, for the New/Renewed heavens and earth in the fullness of God’s Revolution. One reason I simply cannot get behind “spiritual resurrection” views (Bultmann’s or Willie Marxen’s, Crossan’s or Borg’s, etc.) is that I find that HARDER to believe than bodily resurrection (though the latter is also a difficult conviction to sustain in a world where “what’s dead stays that way”). If all I were offered was a spiritual resurrection, I couldn’t be a Christian at all.

I confess that I am a personalist and existentialist (but preferring Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Camus to Sartre or Heidegger or Tillich). If there is any major heresy to which I am constantly tempted, it is humanism. (I do try to resist.)
 

I confess I find Cornel West more helpful than John Milbank, Jeff Stout more helpful (at least at times)  than Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Ricoeur more helpful than Hans Frei or George Lindbeck, Seyla Benhabib, Iris Marion Young, and Michael Walzer, more helpful than John Rawls on the one hand or Mary Ann Glendon (who became U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican under Bush–one of his better picks) or Jean Bethke Elshtain on the other.

I confess I hope the universalists are right and eventually all are saved and all is redeemed.  (See here for the best defense by a theology blogger.) But I cannot bring myself to actually commit to such a view because my sense of impending JUDGMENT is so real. Thomas Jefferson once remarked (thinking of slavery–including his own inability to free his own slaves) that he trembled for his nation when he remembered that God is just.  I feel that way not only about my nation, but about the Church, especially the evangelical churches of the U.S.–many of whom are still cheerleading war and torture, have rejected the Sermon on the Mount, could care less about the poor, neglect God’s good Creation, foster hatred for Muslims, etc.  I think on these things and I hear God saying in the voice of Amos, “the Day of the Lord will be for you darkness and not light.”

I confess that I have heard Carl F. H. Henry preach twice and both times I was “underwhelmed.”

I confess to being clueless as to what the “Emerging Church” movement is about.  Every time I read an explanation, it seems fuzzier than before.  I fear that it is “rootless,” but I don’t want to pass judgment without understanding.  But the “Friends of Emerging” take the prize for vague descriptions.

I confess I am sometimes envious of the success of other theologians when my own “career” has only resulted in a few small publications and the loss of teaching posts.  This envy is sinful, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t exist.

I confess that I think far too many people read John Howard Yoder through the lenses provided by Stanley Hauerwas and I believe this to be a mistake.  Hauerwas is important, but he differs with Yoder on many points and, at each of those points, I think Yoder was right and Hauerwas is wrong.

I confess that, despite my commitment to pacifism, I love martial arts movies and the James Bond films–despite their thorough participation in the “myth of redemptive violence.”

Well, this could go on forever, so I’ll stop now.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | autobiography, convictions, theology | 5 Comments

GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (B)

Okay, when Hays gets to Romans 1, he argues on the exegetical level for a very similar reading of the text that I give: Paul is describing first the state of fallen Gentile humanity and then the state of fallen Jewish humanity in order to get to his conclusion that “there is no excuse,” all have sinned, Christ’s redemption is the only remedy, and there is no cause for boasting for either Jews or Gentiles.

Hays, “The unrighteous behavior catalogued in Romans 1:26-31 is a list of symptoms [italics in original]: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Greeks alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the power of sin (cf. Rom. 3:9).”  From here he goes on to make what he calls several important observations about Romans 1 and “homosexuality.”:

  • Paul is not describing the individual life histories of pagan sinners; not every pagan has first known the true God of Israel and then chosen to turn away into idolatry. When Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” he is giving a global account of the universal fally of humanity.  This fall  is manifested continually in the various ungodly behaviors listed in vv. 24-31.  [But what if, I ask, a different understanding of sexual orientation means that some same-sex behavior, namely that in covenant relationship between two people for whom this is their natural expression of sexuality, is NOT an “ungodly behavior”–even if it bears surface resemblance to the same–but a variation in God’s creation like left handedness?]
  • Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order.  God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings “exchange” these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.”  [I agree that this is how Paul sees things. It assumes that all sex is for procreation.]
  • Homosexual acts are not, however, specially reprehensible sins; they are no worse than any of the other manifestations of human unrighteousness listed in this passage (vv. 29-31)–no worse in principle than covetousness or gossip or disrespect for parents.
  • Homosexual activity will not incur [emphasis in original] God’s punishment: it is its own punishment, an “antireward.” Paul here simply echoes a traditional Jewish idea. The Wisdom of Solomon, an intertestamental writing that has surely informed Paul’s thinking in Romans 1, puts it like this, “Therefore those who lived unrighteously in a life of folly, [God] tormented through their own abominations” (Wisdom of Solomon 12:23). [Here I agree completely with this exegetical reading. Paul understands gay sex as a result of human fallenness and idolatry.

Hays concludes that the contemporary church should welcome GLBT persons the way it welcomes all sinners, but should continue to teach that all same-sex acts are always sinful signs of human idolatry/fallenness. He concludes that the church should not bless same-sex unions analagous to heterosexual marriage and should ordain gay and lesbian ministers only if they are celibate (as it would single heterosexual ministers).

He reaches this conclusion for several reasons–and it is here at the hermeneutical level that I think Hays’ argument fails.:

  1. The Bible speaks sparingly about homosexual acts (contrary to the impression from many preachers), but it speaks with one voice. The canon is unanimous in condemnation.  (I think there is a possible text he has overlooked–subject of my next post in this series–but it is ambiguous. Hays could be right. But, his conclusion need not follow. The Bible is also unanimous in never explicitly condemning slavery, but Hays would not conclude that slavery that followed biblical patterns, was not race-based, etc. could be legitimate.  In the case of slavery, the general direction of biblical message as a whole undermines the commands/permissions of specific texts.  The relevant question for our discussion is whether or not this is also true for same-sex covenantal love.  This is the metaphor making act of interpretation that Hays has emphasized–the embodiment of the Word in churches as communities of moral discernment.
  2. Hays points out that the Christian tradition is even more condemnatory than the Scripture. He’s right. But the tradition is also almost entirely supercessionist in its treatment of Judaism–and Hays conclusion on that issue is that the tradition gets it completely wrong.
  3. Hays is worried that revisionists like myself are simply substituting personal experience for the authority of Scripture.  There is always that danger. I share Hays’ concern here–he and I are equally critical of the way that, since Constantine, the churches have blessed war and militarism in direct opposition to the witness of Jesus and the New Testament writers.  He and I share a loyalty to biblical faithfulness against faddish trends.  But Hays’ misses the way that his own experience is shaping his interpretation, especially at the hermeneutical level: He begins the chapter on “homosexuality,” with a story about a friend of his, a gay Christian named Gary, who died of AIDS. Hays has personal loyalty to this friend–a friend who saw his inability to remain celibate as an addiction and who rejected as “cheap,” the revisionist welcoming and affirming line that I am taking.  (It is even more obvious in the original article in Sojourners from which this chapter comes that Gary’s story, including his interpretation that God had cured him of same-sex desires before his death, drives Hays’ interpretation throughout.) Likewise, it is Hays’ experience with Jews in a post-Holocaust world that directs his re-reading of the NT and rejection supercessionist readings–as he admitted personally at a meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics under questioning from a former student. Thus, without the Holocaust, Hays would probably have drawn different conclusions–more in line with the supercessionism of the church through the centuries–on Israel and the Church.  So, experience and contemporary new insights affect ALL our readings of Scripture–Hays’ included.
  4. Hays’ normative conclusions turns Romans 1 into a set of rules: Do not ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians; do not sanction same-sex marriages or “Holy Unions.”  But Hays has said that we should not transform Scripture from one mode of ethical discourse to another (see previous post).

I think it makes a difference in our normative Christian ethics not only how we read Scripture, but with whom.  If black and white North American Christians had read the Bible together in the same church buildings, could white Christians have continued to justify slavery or segregation?  Likewise, the catalyst for many of us in re-reading Scripture on “homosexuality” was our experience of reading these texts in the company of gay and lesbian Christians–and the testimony of their lives of holiness.

The full theological argument for my revisionist position awaits.  But for Hays’ counterargument(s) to work, he has to modify several of his guidelines for using Scripture in moral discernment–or come to different conclusions on his treatment of the supercessionist texts. As it stands now, his conclusions on “homosexuality” show a use of Scripture that is in tension with the use he gives in Jewish/Christian relations.

Hays is codifying Paul’s presuppositions about the causes of homosexuality–and allowing no new information to challenge those presuppositions. I think that not only fundamentally distorts Paul’s argument in the structure of Romans (Paul could have used another illustration than same-sex acts for Rom. 1), but it turns an illustration in a moral argument into a rule. On every other issue in the book, Richard Hays is a better theologian.

We all have our blind spots and I conclude that this is one of his.

July 18, 2008 Posted by | discipleship, ethics, GLBT issues | 18 Comments

GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (A)

Romans 1 Continued:  The Argument of NT Scholar Richard B. Hays

I have repeatedly hesitated to write this post.  It involves publicly disagreeing with a scholar whom I respect enormously and that is never pleasant.  But, here goes anyway.

Richard B. Hays is a United Methodist minister and the George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament  at Duke University Divinity School–who previously taught at Yale Divinity School.  His book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament:  Community, Cross, New Creation:  A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), is widely agreed to be the best volume of its kind in decades. Christianity Today selected it as one of the 100 most important Christian books of the 20th C., and, for once, I agree with the editors of CT.  It is truly a remarkable book and I have used it my own teaching.  Most NT scholars, if and when they write works on New Testament ethics, confine themselves solely to the descriptive task, surveying the ethical contents of the biblical passages.  A few go on to make contemporary application.  Hays, instead, understakes a 4-fold task, and does it remarkably well:  First, descriptive:  surveying every major strand (and writer) of the New Testament and outlining the major themes in some detail.  Second, the synthetic task, searching for the canonical unity of these disparate moral teachings.  Hays rejects placing all the NT under one overarching theme (e.g., “love,” or “liberation,” etc.) and instead uses three concepts or focal images as guides: community, cross, new creation.  Third, the hermeneutical task, bridging the chasm between the meaning of the texts for their original audience and what they should normatively mean for the contemporary church.  In accomplishing this task, Hays does something few other biblical scholars bother to do: He reads widely in the writings of theologians and Christian ethicists, asking how they actually use Scripture in their work.  From this he develops a series of diagnostic questions about the adequacy of a given theologian/ethicist’s approach–illustrating this for the reader by surveying the use of Scripture in the ethics of Reinhold NiebuhrKarl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.  Hays finds appreciative points about each of these significant voices and things to criticize about each, as well, but he finds Barth, Yoder, and Hauerwas to be more helpful than Niebuhr or Schüssler Fiorenza. (It is significant that none of these figures is a racial or ethnic minority, nor comes from the Two-Thirds World. Still, this is more examination of theological ethics than done by MOST biblical scholars–who usually interact ONLY with specialists in their own field.)  From here, Hays proposes a series of guidelines for using Scripture in contemporary moral reflection in the churches.  Finally, he engages the pragmatic task  (“Living Under the Word”) of presenting case-studies for his proposals: seeking normative guidance from the New Testament on the issues of Violence in the Defense of Justice (Hays argues for Christian pacifism); Divorce and Remarriage (forbidden except in rare cases); Homosexuality (His view is what I have called, following the late Stanley Grenz, “welcoming, but NOT affirming”); Anti-Judaism and Ethnic Conflict; and Abortion (a subject never mentioned directly in Scripture–and so a good test case for using Scripture for other forms of moral discernment).

Now, in Hays’ section on “Homosexuality,” he first examines the biblical texts, as most of my posts have done to this point. I have very little quarrel with his exegesis, including his exegesis of Romans 1. As with many others, Hays’ rejection of the “full inclusion” or “welcoming and affirming” position (i.e., that would have the church bless same-sex unions analagous to marriage as I argue it should) rests most thoroughly on Romans 1.  But what I argue is that, unintentionally, Hays’ conclusion shows him violating his own guidelines for using Scripture in moral discernment–and stands in some tension to the way he handles some of the other test cases.

To argue this carefully, I must conclude this post (which would otherwise be too long) by listing Hays’ hermeneutical guidelines.  Then, in the next post, I shall (a) examine closely Hays’ conclusions about Romans 1, (b)point out where extra-biblical influences are apparent in his conclusions, and (c) contrast this to how Hays handles the texts in two other test-cases.

Here are Hays’ normative proposals for using Scripture in Christian ethics:

  • Serious exegesis is a basic requirement.  Texts used in ethical arguments should be understood as fully as possible in their historical and literary context. [This is in contrast to “proof-texting” which, surprisingly, is done by theologians and ethicists as often as by laypeople or fundamentalist preachers.]

            a. New Testament texts must be read with careful attention to their Old Testament subtexts.

  • We must seek to listen to the full range of canonical witnesses.
  • Substantive tensions within the canon should be openly acknowledged.
  • Our synthetic reading of the New Testament texts must be kept in balance by the sustained use of three focal images: community, cross, and new creation. [Presenting Hays’ argument for these 3 images, which I largely find persuasive, is beyond the scope of these posts.  Read the book.]
  • New Testament texts must be granted authority (or not) in the mode in which they speak (i.e., rule, principle, paradigm, symbolic world). [This is very important for my argument. Hays argues against taking a paradigmatic narrative, say, and transforming it into a rule.]

               a. All four modes are valid and necessary.

               b. We should not override the witness of the New Testament in one mode by appealing to another mode.

  • The New Testament is fundamentally the story of God’s redemptive action. Thus, the paradigmatic mode [of NT moral discourse] has theological primacy, and narrative texts are fundamental resources for normative ethics.
  • Extrabiblical sources [of moral discernment] stand in a hermeneutical relation to the New Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority. [Here, Hays is reacting primarily to the more liberal wing of his own United Methodist Church which cites a “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Hays will, with some nuancing, also refer to this fourfold process, but wants to subordinate Tradition, Reason, and Experience, to the final authority of Scripture.  He believes that those, like myself, who argue for revising the Church’s teaching to allow for same-sex marriages have violated this guideline. He believes we/I use reason (i.e., recent scientific study on “homosexuality”) and experience (e.g., meeting gay or lesbian Christians whose lives are more holy than our own) to “trump” or counterbalance the Scriptural testimony, instead of merely using such sources hermeneutically, to illuminate the meaning of the biblical texts.  In reply, I will argue three things: A. It is much harder to make sure that Scripture is the final norm in all ethical matters than appears at first glance as the second post in this series argued. B. Hays himself finds it difficult to hold to this principle in the way he handles the test-case of anti-Judaism in the New Testament.  C. Hays’ conclusion on “homosexuality” is far more influenced by his own experience and by his reading of church tradition than he admits.]
  • It is impossible to distinguish “timeless truths” from “culturally conditioned elements” in the New Testament. [I find this the most problematic of his guidelines. While difficult, it is not impossible–and Hays himself does it in at least one test case.]
  • The use of the New Testament in normative ethics requires an integrative act of the imagination; thus, whenever we appeal to the authority of the New Testament, we are necessarily engaged in metaphor-making.  [THIS is one of his best insights and I will return to it in the next post.]
  • Right reading of the New Testament occurs only where the Word is embodied.

July 18, 2008 Posted by | discipleship, ethics, GLBT issues | Comments Off on GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (A)

Index of Posts on the Practices of Just Peacemaking

10 Practices of Just Peacemaking

JPT Practice # 1: Support Nonviolent Direct Action

JPT Practice #2: Take Independent Initiatives to Reduce Threats

JPT Practice # 3: Use Conflict Resolution Methods

JPT Practice #4: Acknowledge Responsibility/Seek Repentance, Forgiveness

JPT Practice #5:  Advance Democracy, Human Rights, Religious Liberty

JPT Practice #6:  Foster Just & Sustainable Economic Development

JPT Practice #7:  Work with Emerging Forces of Cooperation in the International System 

JPT Practice # 8:  Strengthen the United Nations & Other Global Efforts for Human Rights/Cooperation

JPT Practice # 9:  Reduce/Eliminate Offensive Weapons & the Weapons Trade

JPT Practice # 10:  Encourage Grassroots Peacemaking Groups & Voluntary Associations

July 16, 2008 Posted by | just peacemaking, peacemaking, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Index of Posts on “Just War Theory”

Basic Principles of Just War Theory

The JWT Case Against the Invasion/Occupation of Iraq, 1

The JWT Case Against the Invasion/Occupation of Iraq, 2

Internal Weaknesses of Just War Theory

Military Veterans, Peace Groups, and the U.S. Debate on Iraq

Interview with a JWT Peace Blogger

 

The Watada Case and Just War Theory

July 16, 2008 Posted by | just war theory | 2 Comments