Liberty Just in Case

A Dialogue for the September 12th World

A Response to a Comment: GOF, Gays and the Episcopal Church

Posted by Mark on March 16, 2006

This post was written on 3/13/06. Because of the importance of the ongoing dialogue, I moved it up.
This post has been a long time coming. A big thanks to GOF for goading me in to finally doing a post I should have done months ago. A huge thank you and hat-tip to RSP for his marvelous email list and links used in this post.
Last week, I wrote a post on the continuing conflict in the Episcopal Church. I recieved a comment that was deeply offensive on many levels. So offensive personally, in fact, that I decided to make it a main post. Here’s the comment, from GOF:

Collapse of ECUSA? Dude, the gay bashers breaking away are going without a brick of ECUSA property. What they leave behind are actual landed Episcopalians….

For the life of me, I don’t know why they don’t join the Southern Baptists and be done with it.

I wish, just once, you’d think before you comment, GOF. Or, at the very least, read something on the topic before putting your fingers to keyboard.

For a long time, my partner here at Liberty Just in Case was Jon. He was a great blogger, and a great friend. He remains a frequent reader, and an infrequent commenter. His posts were always thoughtful, and always deep.

Jon is also very left-wing, gay with a life partner, and has an adopted child. He represents the best of the gay lifestyle, as does Robbie over at Beyond the Mall. Both are friends of mine, as are other members of the gay community. I’ve watched some of them die of AIDS, and grieved with their life-partners and families. I’m curious if you can say the same, GOF?

I’ve helped some of them come out of the gay lifestyle through a relationship with Christ. Politically incorrect to say, I know. But true nonetheless. Groups such as Exodus International perform a great service to both the gay community, and to the Christian community as well.

To seek to place the debate within the ECUSA under the heading of “gay-bashing” is a personal insult to me, to my gay friends, and to my ex-gay friends. I’ve never, ever been involved in any thing like “gay-bashing.” I accept my gay friends for where they are, as they accept me for where I am. They know where I stand on the “gay issue.” Knowing my stance has allowed us to have some wonderful dialogue. We don’t always agree, but we leave understanding the other.

I stand firmly against the current trends within the ECUSA. I used to be Southern Baptist. I joined the Anglican Communion because I found a balance between the liturgical tradition of Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation of which Baptists are a part. The “gay issue” is but the logical conclusion of the ECUSA leaving it’s doctrinal moorings long ago. Here is an excelent presentation on the sad history of the ECUSA over the past few decades.

Few have described the current conflict better than J.I. Packer in his peice Why I Walked. There is simply too much in each word to try to pull an excerpt. It should be required reading to anyone before they comment on the conflict threatening this once great denomination.

Another wonderful example of the deep thought and struggle on this issue is from the Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen. Here is his peice, complete and unedited:

Is the issue of human sexuality as significant as we are saying?

Archbishop Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney

There is a strong case made suggesting that we may be mistaken. Critics urge the following:

* You are obsessed with sex. The gospel is not about who we sleep with, it is about God. You are confusing the issues.
* You are turning opinion into dogma. The interpretation of biblical material is unclear and only part of a welter of possible views. You are making what is a matter of opinion into absolute truth.
* You are breaching the comprehensive understanding of the church. In this broad Anglican church there is tolerance for a diversity of views. You are trying to establish a “pure” church which is not possible nor our tradition.
* You are resisting the inevitable future. Just as Galileo was resisted by the church, but shown to be the future in arguing that the world was round, so you are resisting the clear progress of truth in understanding human sexuality.
* You are wasting gospel time on elevating a second order issue on which there may be legitimate disagreement into a first order issue.
* You are making evangelism on the ground difficult to those who are committed to including everyone within society or any human community.

These are strong points, but I believe that there are stronger answers to each of them.

The issue before us is the concrete form of the question of God’s authority. It is the sharp point of the secularist attack on the gospel in the Western world. It is therefore about the authority and clarity of scripture which is the way God exercises his authority over His church.

Human sexuality is so constitutive of who we are and so central to culture that we are dealing with a major issue. Obsessed with sex? Yes, and so is everyone else. Our culture is obsessed with sex so we should not be embarrassed with engaging with this issue. If we did not engage we would be divorced from our culture.

Scripture declares this to be a matter of life and death. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, not thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (ESV) We would be cowards if we do not make clear this is an issue of life and death.

The world’s view is bad for the physical and mental health of men and women. If this is so, the medical profession is at grave fault for failing to speak out on this.

The holiness of the church is being compromised. The gospel message is “Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. ” (Acts 2.38). The acceptance by the church of homosexual practice would be to call holy what God calls sin to be repented from.

The churches in the Global South need our support on this. They are taking a strong stand now, but their cultures are being increasingly invaded by Western values. The orthodox Christians, along with orthodox Muslims and Jews, are the last bastion in western culture who stand for the truth of God on this matter. If we fail then the work of the Church throughout the world is touched.

We are on a slippery slope. Sin is being redefined through this issue of human sexuality. Resiling on the uniqueness of Christ is next on the list since western culture cannot tolerate unique and exclusive claims in its search for harmony between different tribes in a world without God. If we weaken on the nature of sin, we weaken on the nature of the identity of the saviour from sin.

In short, the efforts of liberal theology to gain control of the church have now gone too far and in human terms is endangering the whole gospel enterprise of the Church. If we do not stand here, we will not be able to stand anywhere.

There is no “gay-bashing” involved in this debate that threatens to tear apart the ECUSA. There is instead deep thinking, struggle, and weeping on both sides. Perhaps we will find our way to stay together. I don’t know. What I do know is that comments like GOF’s don’t help. Such comments are bricks being thrown by those who are ignorant of the issues, and quite likely will choose to remain that way.

An Update:
LaShawn Barber has an excellent look at gay politics, and Christian Universities.

Also, she links to a post from Randy at Exodus. Very good reads.

12 Responses to “A Response to a Comment: GOF, Gays and the Episcopal Church”

  1. grumpy old fart said

    I’m so sorry to have deeply offended you. Not.

    For what it’s worth, I was an Episcopalian. My wife still is. I’m still involved in the church. My kids go to an Episcopal school. I understand the controversy. Our Bishop voted against Robinson. Our priests firmly supported Robinson.

    I have several gay friends.

    You said all you needed to say in your post by repeatedly referring to the “gay lifestyle”. Like it’s some kind of fashion statement.

    This week, I think I’ll try out that cool “gay lifestyle”. It’s all the rage”!

    Don’t get me started about the “conversions” of gays. The damage inflicted on teens by these fundamentalist guilt camps is appalling.

    For all the “deep thought” offered for breaking from the church, it really comes down to a desire by some to narrowly interpret scripture to justify their prejudices.

    Like I said in my original comment, If you want to suddenly get all literal in your scripture reading, join some evangelical outfit.

  2. Mark said

    You WERE an Episcopalian? What changed? Why are you no longer one?

    If you look at the Prayer Book, you will find that it is the change from the literal that is “sudden.” For the vast majority of the Anglican world today, scripture is taken literally. It is the United States, Canada, and parts of Great Britain that are the anomaly.

    And, yes, I use the phrase “gay lifestyle” intentionally. Unlike you, there are many of us who have not bought the “gay gene” kool-aid you have been drinking, GOF.

  3. Robbie said

    I will only chime in once, as my $.02 doesn’t go far these days and I really don’t feel like arguing this point with anyone any more. My comments will come in the form of questions.

    If “scripture is taken literally”, as almost all believers of faith I know believe, why are certain passages of Scripture followed to the letter and others are tossed out the window?

    Why are certain passages of Leviticus taken “as Scripture” (Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13) but other passages are dismissed as pertaining to that moment in history (Lev. 11 and Lev. 15)?

    Why do believers not demand that women be quiet, home-bound and subordinate to man (1 Cor. 11, 14:33-35, Eph. 5:22-24, and Titus 2:3-5) instead of holding that these are outdated teachings?

    Why are so many Old Testament teachings ignored, with the explaination that Jesus excused us from following them?

    If we were to actually follow the teachings of Christ, as the church tells us we should, we would know that Jesus did no such thing (Matt. 5:17-19). As I understand Biblical teachings, all things will not be fulfilled until He returns again.

    So why do Christians cherry-pick?

  4. Mark said

    Robbie, you’ve asked a tough series of questions. It would require quite a theology lesson to go in to all of it. Instead, what I’ll do is provide some links that illustrate how I do bible study. I don’t know if this will answer all your questions, but it should give you an idea of where I’m coming from.

    Here’s one on Inductive Bible Study.

    The two Chapters in Leviticus you mention were a pivotal struggle in the early church. Should Christians follow all of the law? Or did Christ make us free from the law? And if He made us free, how then should we live? The Church continues to struggle with these questions.

    I think the Archbishop of Sydney explains very succintly why human sexuality is seen by Conservatives the way it is, and why we must take the stand we take. It’s not an easy stand. Frankly, it would be easier to say that all sexual behavior is “sanctified.” But Scripture, Church History and Tradition all say that is not so. Only through ignoring all three of the above can the ECUSA and liberal theologians make any other claim.

  5. R. Scott Purdy said

    Ah yes, the two most frequent, tired, overused responses.

    First, we see an attack in the form of being branded a “homophobe”. This is a method taken directly from After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, by Marshall Kirk, Hunter Madsen. In this case, the word “homophobe? is avoided in favor of the more genteel accusation of “narrowly interpret[ing] scripture to justify their prejudices?.

    Next we have the intellectually vapid “Shellfish Argument?. This conveniently disregards Acts 10, and essentially relies on the argument “there is a statement in Leviticus that the church today ignores, therefore there is no reason for the church to pay serious attention to anything written in Leviticus.?

    Both of these responses have prompted spilling immense amounts of ink, (or at least exciting a considerable number of electrons). Just a smattering are referenced below.

    http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=4350
    http://www.touchstonemag.com/docs/issues/11.4docs/sexwithoutformandvoid.html
    http://titusonenine.blogspot.com/2003_06_29_titusonenine_archive.html#105742154276495228

    Click to access 221915eh.pdf


    http://www.robgagnon.net/homoStacyJohnson6Views.htm

    The first comment has all the intellectual rigor and rhetorical force of an extended middle finger. The second comment (#3) rehashes an ancient argument, (asked and answered many times,) as if it were a new insight. If the author truly wondered about this question, it would have been a simple matter to do some homework. The question is wholly disingenuous.

  6. Robbie said

    I stand by my questions, regardless of how “intellectually vapid” they may appear to you.

    I think I know what point you were trying to make with the Acts 10 reference (verse 15, I’m sure … “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common”). I again point you to the words of Jesus in Matt. 5:17-19. A literal reading of that would tell any believer that the whole law is still valid … “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Christ hasn’t returned so all has not been fulfilled. No?

    The point of my questions was not to thow out the whole Bible. Rather it was to question the statement that Mark made, “For the vast majority of the Anglican world today, scripture is taken literally.”

    So is Scripture taken literally or not? Do you take it all or pick and choose?

    The questions are, of course, posed to same-sex relations because that is what Mark’s post was about. But these questions can apply to any literal reading of Scripture. I’m only curious about how this obvious dichotomy is justified.

    How about a civil discussion without the trivializing comments, Mr. Purdy?

  7. Mark said

    Hey Robbie!
    I don’t think Scott was trying to trivialize the discussion. He’s a “point man” for our local Church on the whole crisis within the ECUSA, and hears your questions frequently, often asked by folks with ulterior motives. I suspect he read your comment in that vein, rather than as a sincere question. Coming right behind GOF, who always has ulterior motives, I can understand Scott’s interpretation.

    What you are doing with the Matthew passage is an example of “cherry picking.” You are taking a statement from Jesus, and not looking at the other things He also said, or how that passage compares, and fits with the rest of Scripture. That’s why I put the link to Inductive bible study in my last comment. Did you read it?

    Here is a commentary on the passage you’re using. And here’s the final paragraph:

    It is possible to agree with everything Jesus taught in this sermon yet fail to live accordingly (23:3). That is why Jesus indicates that the best of human piety is inadequate for salvation-whether it be Pharisaic or Christian. Nothing short of a radical transformation, what other early Christian writers called a new birth (Jn 3:3-6; 1 Pet 1:23), can enable one to live as a disciple (compare Mt 18:3).

    Christians don’t believe it is possible to “live up” to God’s standard. We believe that it is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can be disciples. We believe that when one accepts Christ, a fundamental change occurs within, a new birth.

    Jesus says He is the fulfillment of the Law. Paul’s letters spend significant amounts of time expanding on that.

    One more thing: By literal, I mean that the Bible is not “inspired mythology.” It is not a history book, but the history contained within it is accurate. Does all that help you understand where I’m coming from?

  8. R. Scott Purdy said

    Robbie,

    Are you familiar with the difference between moral law and the code of temple ritual impurity in Levitical law? It may help to look at the prescribed punishments. Eating shellfish makes one “unclean” (i.e. unable to approach the temple altar) until sunset. The punishment for violating the moral code is far more punitive.

    If you are REALLY interested, I could give you a host of references of the development of theological thought on this issue going back centuries.

    The reference to Acts 10 was indeed a reference to “Peter’s vision”. It is instructive also to look at the letter from the Council of Jerusalem:
    Acts 15:28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

    Unfortunately you chose a question favored by those intent on decrying Christians as hypocrites. There are good answers to your questions. Few who ask this question in this context are truly interested in those answers. If i misconstrued your intent I apologize.

  9. Dagnabbit! I missed all the back and forth. As Mark knows, I too am an Episcopalian and am appalled at the present state of the church. So much so, I blogged about it over 9 months ago:

    GOF…If you want a progressive Episcopal church…go somewhere else. The one that’s been in place for 600 years is fine.

  10. R. Scott Purdy said

    Robbie –

    Perhaps I further misconstrued, and your query dealt less with Levitical law than with Mark’s use of the word “literal?.

    The word “literal? as an expression of a hermeneutic is a convenient shorthand expression for something more complex that the single word denotes. Few who are generally labeled “literalists? (by themselves and/or others) read every word of the bible literally. Portions of the bible are clearly poetry. Portions of the bible are clearly prophecy. Neither lends itself to literal reading.

    Let’s take an example from Genesis 3:
    14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
    “Cursed are you above all the livestock
    and all the wild animals!
    You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.

    15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
    he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (NIV)

    Serpents don’t eat dust. We all know that. That is not literal. This doesn’t make God’s curse of Satan any less effective or true.
    Verse 15 is prophetic. The offspring of Eve were Cain, Abel & Seth. None of them crushed Satan’s head – this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

    So, if you are really asking how to exegete Holy Scripture with a hermeneutic which does not expound one passage of Scripture so that it contradicts another passage, let me know. I have a number of references I can direct you to – ranging from simple to quite complex.

  11. Anonymous Libertarian said

    For the vast majority of the Anglican world today, scripture is taken
    literally.

    Nobody takes Scripture literally. People who think they do are deluding themselves. The Bible contains multiple passages which contradict each other quite blatantly, and this includes sections which are clearly primarily historical, not just prophecies or poems. Heck, read Kings and Chronicles. Read the multiple versions of each story in Genesis. Read the four Gospels. Read the multiple versions of the Ten Commandments. Viewed as a whole, essentially none of the Bible lends itself to literal reading. (When you start looking at what we know of actual history from academic and scientific research, it gets even worse.) This includes the moral sections, although in some regards God is actually portrayed quite consistently (usually in ways which make God seem quite evil). See http://www.evilbible.com/ for some.

    Sadly, many Christians resort to intellectually dishonest ways around this. Treating the Bible as inspired mythology is a much more intellectually honest response. Treating it as a historical work written by poorly-informed humans, which may have some inspired portions, but is not accurate as a whole, is even more intellectually honest. Of course, most Christians just haven’t studied the Bible well enough to recognize the problems.

    Then again, most of Christian doctrine doesn’t come from the Bible, either, but that’s another matter.

  12. Matthew said

    Another hit and Run, Anon? and this one more cowardly than the rest. A hit with a suspenseful ending… , and no real point, nice work, you truly represent your ilk quite well.

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