Monday, April 24, 2006

IT'S ALL IN THE WORDS


HERE'S HOW THE DIALOG WENT IN RESPONSE TO MY POST:

J. L&H: John, you're right that we spend too much time fighting over homosexuality. The Left could do the church a huge favor by dropping the subject so that we can move forward with the work of the Kingdom of God.

J. W. : I agree. If the Left would only drop it, we could get on with other things. But we on the right cannot control the left. We can only control ourselves. And until we conservatives clean up our own house, we're powerless.

This is a given: The issue of homosexuality is complex. Of course it's not complex for some- the discipline forbids "practicing" homosexuals to be ordained and does not perfrom same sex marriage or unions- PERIOD. That's pretty easy.

But THERE ARE OTHER ISSUES GOING ON HERE. I have never found myself fitting nice and neatly in a doctrinal, theological or political camp so I always try to see all sides but I confess that I'm not objective. In fact I doubt if anyone is actually objective. You've grown up with learned behaviors, tendencies, and life experiences that have shaped your outlook on life, just as I have. So any sense of true objectivity really goes out the door. So although I have strong ideas, I value others; even when I think they fly south of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I do see some heavy issues going on here that makes this a complex issue.

ISSUE 1: The conversation between J. and J. really characterizes our desire to "control" and have "power". In this case, neither J. nor J., as "self proclaimed" conservative Christians are desiring power, but are participants in a particular group (who happen to be conservative, and heterosexual) who have enjoyed a strong and long reign within the American church.

I would argue that within our Methodist denomination much of our national leadership has been quite liberal (secular may be a better word here) in it's language and overall direction. I say this because in a lot of ways it seems that we as a Methodist church have taken our ques from what secular society has been promoting. Well over the last few years our secular society has swung right. So who's voice do we hear more from now in our denomination? With authority- definitely the right.

So my liberal brothers and sisters (who I tend to sympathize with in some areas) have felt the loss of conrol and loss of their role within the church- wanting to be everything to everybody (that's my opinion).

But my brothers and sisters on the right (who I can often find some common ground) are scared of losing power, of losing cotrol of their role in the church- gatekeeprs of doctrine.

But both have done harm. One has helped shape a denomination that has lost its identity and have no "practices" to sustain it. The other has created a language of exclusion and fear and hid it within words such as: Orthodox, Doctrinally Pure, Holiness, Scritptural Authority. All of these are wonderful words but have been marginalized by the religious right in much the same way that the left has used secular vocabulary to promote an AGENDA.

ISSUE 2: "Practicing" as a way of distinguishing a "moral" homosexual from an "immoral" homosexual is going to run its season at some point. I think it's a weak argument, myself. I could argue that a person who is a member of a congregation but only attends once on Christmas and once on Easter is not a "practicing" Christian.

But then I could also argue that in the more "orthodox" thought of John Wesley- a congregation who does not partake of the sacrament of eucharist, as often as can be done, and other means of grace such as fasting are running the risk of falling from grace.

All this to say that of the friends and people that I know or have known who are gay- I would have a hard time using language such as "practicing" in speaking of them. It is an embodiment- a part of who they are. There is more to who they are than who they do or don't have intercorse with. So when our language excludes by placing them into camps- practicing and nonpracticing we are basically putting "yellow stars" on a group.

ISSUE 3: For the most part the argument from the left has come from very politically charged groups such as reconciling ministries network or other very political groups. The language they use, the political rhetoric and agenda is definitely borrowed from secularism. Why is this bad? Well it robs the church from making this an ecclesial issue. We now have no language out of which to talk to one another.

We now have those who live with a need to control and use the language of fear pitted against those who have no ecclesial langugae but take their ques from the politics of the world.

SOLUTIONS: I have none, but I do have thoughts and ideas for steps in a different direction. We need an ecclesial language out of which to struggle together where POWER AND CONTROL is not at the center but Eucharist- all are welcomed to the table as brother and sister who desire a reconciling relationship with God.

If one looks in the book of Acts and the marginalization of the gentiles in the newly established Jewish/Christian movement then one will find a narrative of struggle- one group feeling marginalized and one group trying to maintain doctrine and control. I think the biblical narratives are a wonderful springboard for discussion and IDEAS. Getting away from the tired arguments using scripture to back your agenda is a MUST- it's a postmodern stalemate. Instead maybe we need to focus on the narratives of scripture, our catholic tradition, and the liturgies that have sustained us for the last 2000 years and then allow the Spirit to guide our church in a new direction and imagine a little more and see what fresh possibilities are there.

8 comments:

Andy B. said...

I'm with you, J. I like the idea of creating a new way to talk about the issue. There is something radical about the eucharist that has a lot of power from which we might draw strength for the conversation.

Scott said...

Great post, Jonathan. What a great day when we can move beyond the tired debates of the left and right and actually return to something that looks like Christianity.

Peace,
Scott

Wayne Bowerman said...

Jonathon,

I really like how you deal with this subject. I think your first and third points (issues) are right on. And I love what you say about "getting away from the tired arguments using scripture to back your agenda is a MUST- it's a postmodern stalemate. Instead maybe we need to focus on the narratives of scripture, our catholic tradition, and the liturgies that have sustained us for the last 2000 years" Well said man, Amen!

I think I must respectfully disagree with you though, about the distinction between non-practicing and practicing being a "weak argument" And, if you were to argue that a person who is a member of a congregation but only attends once on Christmas and once on Easter is not a "practicing" Christian - I think you would be correct. I consider myself a non-practicing polygamist (and I think a lot of heterosexual Christian men if honest can identify).

What I mean to say is this. I do not believe our sexual desires are something we choose. I believe they are something we have little control over. However, I also believe how we act upon those desires is in our control especially to the Christian who is informed by scripture and church tradition and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life consistent with that tradition. So in that case I see non-practicing to make a big difference.

That said, I readily admit that the term non-practicing (be it non-practicing: homosexual, alcoholic, liar, [insert favorite sinful disposition here]) is a bit of a misnomer, because it begins by defining a person by the desires of their old nature and not by the desire of the new creation to please Christ no matter how difficult and straining the task.

If you are at all interested in a much longer refection I have done on the subject, I have an essay that to you can download from the essays page on my blog: http://commonblue.wordpress.com/papers/

Anyway sorry to leave such a long comment on your blog.
Shalom,
Wayne

Jonathan said...

Thanks for these thoughts, Jonathon. It strikes me that both the left and the right are tied to secular ideologies (powers) that they do not know how to recognize, much less resist.

St.Phransus said...

thank you all for the generous dialog. wayne i'm wrestling with what you have said. thank you for stretching me. this is the kind of honest dialog that i hope moves our church forward.

shalom y'all
jonathon

SLY said...

I must admit that at this point I am in way over my head. I feel like a 6th grader in a class of college seniors!! I have no problem opening the doors to all, for we all have fallen short of the glory of God. I just struggle with the thought that we are somehow making the lifestyle OK through our language. I may be off topic, as I admit I am in way over my head!

SLY said...

Oh, forgot to say...Hermitage is a great place...glad you guys have landed there... be sure to tell Diane and Kitty hey for me! And the Money Chic!!

John Wilks said...

Well, my friend, I must admit that while my roots in the faith are in the "Christian right," I tend to use that identity when advantageous to speak to those who share the same background. In actuality, I fit the bill for the "right" rather poorly these days. I have no desire to retain great political and cultural currency for I fear that such influence, from the days of Constantine onward, has utterly corrupted the Church.

Really, that power seems at the heart of issues 1 and 3 which you raise. The Evangelical and Progressive schools of thought are too entangled with the political camps with which they loosely correspond, thus bending various expressions of our common faith into polarized factions which wind up looking very little like the sort of ideology reflected in the teachings of Our Lord.

My aim in responding to John was to show that both the left and right are at fault for creating a left and a right. Our job should be to pursue holiness in ourselves and not to nit-pick the others to death. So while I can clearly see John's criticism of one camp, I want John to see the equal failure of the other camp- the one from which he and I have emerged.

In other words, my goal is not to "revitalize" the Religious Right, but to end our identity as participants in this culture war by turning our eyes off of idealogical combat and onto the pursuit of holiness. That is what I mean by "why cannot control them, we can only control ourselves." In other words, there is no victory in fighting a culture war- when each side attacks the sinfulness of the other, we succeed only in burning the few bridges we have left to one another.

But when folks choose to look within and confront our own sinfulness and seek to purify ourselves by living holy lives, there is much ground to be made.

The failure is not in lifting high Scriptural Authority and holiness and other such issues. The failure is in not applying those high ideals more broadly and honestly and personally. The right uses them as a weapon and not as sustenance for our own souls. That failure is rather easily remedied, if we're not too proud to confess our own sins.

To your second point, I don't think this is an issue of morality, but one of understanding the power of God.

Anyone who practices any sin is denying the power of God because they remain in the very state Christ came to free them from.

But anyone who struggles against sin, even if the struggle is often unsuccessful, will discover the power of God to liberate us from the labels and categories and glorified helplessness of human existence as we've known it.

Christ fought with Sin to the grave and rose victorious.

So each of us are called to struggle against our sins, even if those sins hound us until we die, so that in Resurrection we will find purity.

All sinners are called to confess and struggle against their sin. We break bread and share a cup as a sign of that common struggle and as holy remembrance to the one who brings victory. The power of the Eucharist comes from our ability to confess our brokennesss at the cross and draw strength from the truth that Christ is broken with us and for us- and that in His healing and His life, we shall be made new and pure.

Wesley's urgent call to the Table stemmed from his passionate conviction of Christian Perfection- that in sharing life together, in confessing sin together, in struggling against sin together, we shall find maturity and renewal through Christ, who breaks the bonds of even the most deeply rooted sinful inclinations of the human soul.

For Wesley, to continue in unrepentant sin while coming again and again to the Table is to miss the point. The Table is where we can lay down what we are so that we might receive what we shall become. To leave the feast of communion unchanged, to walk away still seeing ourselves as we always have, is indeed a tragedy of the highest order.

And in our current theological environment, my greatest fear is that neither the gay nor the straight, neither the RMN heavyweight nor the IRD cheer-leader, desires and embraces change of the body, mind, and soul.