I had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue reading
This week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading
Thomas Frank, the guy who wrote our textbook on United Methodist polity, has made a plea for UMC bishops not to put pastors on trial who conduct same-sex marriages (like the 50 who did so last weekend). I had been trying to lay low on this issue for a while. My position has been to honor what the Discipline says for me to do while being obediently prophetic regarding God’s truth as I have encountered it. I was actually going to write a post stating that if pastors engage in civil disobedience, then the consequences are part of the witness. However, I realized as I read Frank’s plea that the paradigm I was applying to our gay wedding crisis is to presume that United Methodism is appropriately analogous to our broken secular democracy: a two party majoritarian system with lobbyists, caucuses, and hyperventilating pundits.
In the American justice system, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt. Defense attorneys do not have to prove their client’s innocence; they just have to find enough holes in the prosecution’s argument to establish that they have not been proven guilty. But in the debate over Biblical interpretation on homosexuality, the burden of proof falls entirely on the defendants to prove their innocence. What if my fellow Methodists who are anti-gay had to provide not only isolated proof-texts and speculative translations of obscure Greek words but a coherent Biblical ethical explanation of why chaste monogamous homosexual partnerships are “incompatible with Christian teaching”? I think that would be a much more just and legitimate burden of proof. Continue reading
In seminary, I learned to think of truth as a symphony rather than a single voice or instrument. The goal is not to get everyone to play the exact same note with the exact same instrument; the goal is to enter into harmony with each others’ instruments so that we can become God’s song. It’s not the absolute relativism of playing our own autonomous songs; that would be a disastrous cacophony of sound. Rather, we are all playing our own particular improvisational variations on God’s melody. God designs the harmonic that we have been created to inhabit by helping us appropriate a particular set of experiences of His grace and by tattooing certain verses in His word onto our hearts over the course of our lives. Though there are tons of scripture passages that have touched me, five in particular define the gospel I was given to proclaim. The first I’m going to cover is 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” Continue reading
Jesus’ woes against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 should be mandatory daily devotional reading for American evangelicals. It’s incredible how much we resemble the religious insiders who crucified Jesus. One of the things that Jesus says about the Pharisees in verse 4 is that “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.” We are living through a time in which many Christians measure their “faithfulness” to God according to the weight of the burdens that they tie up for others to carry, the prime example of course being the homosexuality issue. What’s farcical is when Christians act as though they are making some great sacrifice and bearing some great cross on account of how strict they are in their consideration of what other people do. Continue reading
If there ever comes a time when evangelical Christians are known for something other than their opposition to homosexuality, maybe today’s Supreme Court ruling will help. We have been living through an era in which Christian morality has been almost exclusively focused on sexuality. Within the Christian community, the gay marriage debate has helped to delineate two entirely different visions for Christian holiness. Do we understand holiness primarily in terms of correctness, or fidelity to a set of commandments? Or is holiness primarily a state of the heart in which we have been emptied of all obstacles to loving God and our neighbor? How you understand holiness determines how you will read scripture and how you think about homosexuality as a Christian.
I was recently made aware of a debate going on in the neo-reformed Gospel Coalition corner of the world that I tend to avoid. Doug Wilson, a megachurch pastor from Idaho, argued in his book Black and Tan that the abolitionist movement was wrong and the Civil War should never happened, because if Southern slave-owners had been allowed to implement the Bible’s teachings on slavery, then a more humane transition would have taken place through “gospel gradualism.” So a Caribbean neo-reformed pastor Thabiti Anyabwile who writes for the Gospel Coalition decided this March to engage him in charitable conversation (summarized by the Wartburg Watch here) about his assertions (which I guess would be the equivalent of a Jewish person sitting down to have a civil discussion with a Holocaust denier). Continue reading
Amos Yong at the Missio Alliance talked today about “the phenemonology of interruption” in Pentecost. Interruption is how God expresses His sovereignty. Humanity muddles along in our reality that we can’t imagine being any other way, and events happen that do not fit “the way things are.” Our paradigms are shattered, and we are forced to grapple with the terror that Somebody greater than the projected Geist of our civilization has tinkered with us. Pentecost is the eternal event of the Spirit’s interruption. The opposite of Pentecost is ideology, the stasis of homogenized idolatrous “truth” that tries to substitute itself for God, what Slavoj Zizek calls “the big Other” and what Christians with a perspicuous (idolatrous) account of Biblical truth would call the “owner’s manual.”