May 082009
 

Warning: (some) sarcasm/irony ahead – read with discernment.

I’m wondering if Lochcarron and Skye didn’t miss a trick with their overture. Or indeed, if those in Aberdeen presbytery didn’t miss the same trick. Rather than re-ignite the homosexuality debate, perhaps it would have been much safer ground to oppose Rev Scott Rennie’s appointment on the much plainer Biblical (and indeed, plainly dominical) stance on divorce. After all, Jesus had nothing specific to say on homosexuality, but he did condemn, most strongly, divorce.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. Matthew 19:9 (NRSV)

Actually, on second thoughts, maybe that wouldn’t have worked in their favour. After all, Scott Rennie hasn’t remarried (arguably), so his lawyers would have a field day with that one. But then again, he did divorce for reasons other than ‘unchastity’ or ‘marital unfaithfulness’ so there may still be good grounds here.

OK. Time to switch off the sarcam/irony.

It seems to me that when some base their argument on the ‘plain reading of scripture’, what they really mean is a ‘selective reading of scripture’. No-one would deny that the Bible has passages in it that appear to condemn homosexual practice. But they contain so much cultural baggage that it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that they mean what they say on the surface – unless, of course, you come from the perspective if divine dictation; but even then it’s a struggle to maintain a ‘plain-reading’ position (and, indeed, a selective position).

And so we need to take a step back from proof texts and consider bigger themes. Again, I doubt that anyone would deny that the Bible has an emphasis on male-female partnership, stemming from the earliest creation stories. And before anyone jumps on these as being ‘myths’, that’s not the issue and serves only as a distraction. Regardless of your stance on creation(ism) or intelligent design or evolution or whatever, male-female partnerships are ‘natural’ (and I use the term guardedly) and prioritised, otherwise none of us would be here at all.

But the thing is, male-female partnership is far from being a major theme in scripture. Covenant (with God), justice, love – these are all far greater themes in the Bible and, to be honest, I think it’s pretty clear which side of this debate is exhibiting a closer walk with these.

But what of Jesus’ teaching on divorce? Surely the ‘plain reading’ of it, if that’s how we approach scripture, would preclude a number (and I don’t have the statistics) of ministers from holding office or individuals being considered for training? Yet there does not seem to be any large outcry about this issue! Why not? Could there be an element of selective application of scripture?

But, of course, there have been arguments in the past about the church’s stance on divorce, but has it ever brought the church as close to a split as this issue? It would seem not. So why is homosexuality such an emotive issue? I really don’t know and would hesitate to answer on behalf of anyone who finds it to be such an anathema. But it does seem to me that there is a disproportionate response to it.

I can’t deny being torn on the issue. Part of me shrinks back from the ‘unnaturalness’ of homosexual relationships. Part of me sympathises with the scriptural edicts against it. But another part of me holds to mind the grace of God and His concern for justice and mercy, selflessness and love and the simple fact that no words can ever contain His intentions.

If we want to be selective in our application of proof texts, then we need to be consistent on all issues. But that takes us down the road of legalism, in my opinion. If we want to argue from ‘big picture’ ideas, then we also need to acknowledge that there are specifics to be found in scripture. but, above all, we need to hold in mind that ‘we see through a glass darkly’, and erring on the side of grace seems to be a Biblical imperative.

  11 Responses to “More petition thoughts”

  1. […] Orr has posted some interesting thoughts on Biblical interpretation to follow up his initial […]

  2. “Part of me shrinks back from the ‘unnaturalness’ of homosexual relationships.”

    Just thinking about the term ‘unnaturalness’ – is  something ‘not natura’l when it’s only a minority who happen to be involved… so, historically, left-handed people have been villified for not being ‘natural’ [even of the devil] because of not being right-handed?  So, if folks are a wee bit different, or don’t quite fit the majority ‘norm’… they can be termed ‘unnatural’?  Folks were burnt as witches on those grounds….  Maybe the term ‘different’ is better used in this context, rather than ‘unnatural’?  If one is in the majority/ normative position, then something/ particular ways of being seem to be, I guess, ‘unnatural’ on the basis that it would not be natural/ thought would not even occur to for that group?
    But what if you’re born left-handed/ or you’re gay [and I can’t think you’d actively ‘choose’ to be gay, generally speaking]?  It would be unnatural for a left-hander or a gay person to try to be right-handed or heterosexual, don’t you think?  Guess it just depends whether you’re looking at it from a majority or minority position.
    And I’m a bag, because I’m bandying semantics, in a sense… but who determines what is/ is not natural or unnatural… normative or different?  Historically, humans have generally tended to exclude those who just don’t quite conform to the bigger group….
    Just some random thoughts as I task distract from my ‘excommunication’ research, lol!! [bizarrely apt, no?!]   🙂

  3. More than just a touch of semantics I think… It seems to me to be a false comparison between left handed-ness and the sheer physicality of same sex relationships. In terms of ‘natural’, it’s a loaded word, but on a pedantic procreation level it’s obvious what the meaning of natural is.
    I took the issue to my Session last night and there was surprisingly little fire in the discussion. There was much grace in the disagreeing that took place.
    There is no doubt about selective reading of Scripture. That’s the problem with a living text. Different parts will seem more prophetic and confrontational than others, and there will be a lot of misreading and eisegesis going on. As I said to my session, there is a need to try to find the ‘big picture’ in all this, but that’s difficult when there are also instances, as John rightly says, of specifics. Sometimes things are simply wrong. As soon as I say that, there will be those who will bracket me with the extremists who say similar things, but, like John, I am torn in the argument. At the end of the day, I find myself feeling bound by what I think Scripture is saying to me, and, to the best of my knowledge, it does not support Scott’s position.
    I am, however, willing to be proved wrong myself.

  4. Nikki,
    Thanks for the thoughts. You highlight the very reason I put quote marks round ‘unnaturalness’. It was a follow-up reference to the earlier mention of the ‘natural’ male-female relationship when, as David says, it has procreation as its context. I don’t fully buy into the ‘made that way’ argument nor do I fully subscribe to the ‘lifestyle choice’ argument. I think either is too simplistic and, as David is fond of reminding me, we ought to be thinking in terms of a riot of colour rather than black and white. So, contextually, I stand by the word I used.
    As for using it as part of a broader argument on the rights or wrongs of homosexuality, or even simply in speaking to people, I acknowledge its inappropriateness. I’m not even sure that ‘different’ is any better. We are all ‘different’ in some sense, but that is what makes us who we are, whether by nature or choice.
    And yes, I think the dynamics of minority/majority are a factor in the approach to this issue. The very fact that Jesus often sided with the minority should give us pause for thought and ask whether we are approaching the issue in the correct frame of mind.

  5. What’s not ‘physical’ about being left-handed?  The left-handed one is close to home: my mother was born left-handed, but at school was forced to write right-handed… they actually tied her left hand behind her back…. That’s a bit physically oppressive by right-handed majority folks, no?  To be left-handed at some point was to be seen as being ‘of the devil’ and even 60 years ago the residual stuff could be seen in what happened to mum.  Anyhow….

    I think what I’m trying to say is that societies / groups of people throughout history – and this includes the church – have always struggled with those who are different/ don’t conform to the perceived ‘norm’ [the ‘norm’ imposed by the majority] and have marginalised; excluded; dehumanised; exterminated them.  Societies seem to need/ require scapegoats… and currently in the church, it seems to be folks who are gay.  I’ve often wondered, when we as church managed to sort out this one, which group of people will we then target?  We will.  It’s just what groups do and have done since the dawn of time.  It would be great if we could break the cycle.  It would be great if we could also celebrate diversity, not crush it like a butterfly on a wheel.

    The petition thing is driving me nuts, by the way – I don’t want to be ‘forced’ to choose/ feel bullied, nor do I think it’s a good idea as a proceedure in and of itself.  I’m a moderate, I would like to continue being a moderate.  I am trying not to feel like I’m succumbing to the increasing polarisation caused by such a thing as this petition.  I love and appreciate the broadness of our church.

  6. I’m with Nikki on this one, I’m afraid. I firmly believe people are born gay. I mean, who’d choose something that’s going to get you bullied, rejected by society and hated? Not many people.

    Anyway, I think we could pick holes all day in Lochcarron and Skye’s overture. My bottom line in all of this is the undermining of a church’s right to call its own minister and I think some of the agruements batting about the blogsphere are somewhat loosing sight of that.

    I think we need to concentrate on God’s grace. A grace we can’t totally comprehend nor fully grasp. He loves us all, no matter who or what we are. He only loves prefection so, although we are all flawed, we are prefect to Him.

  7. I may jave been misunderstood abotu leftys. First time I’ve been called oppressive ! Sorry if that caused offence (Nikki). My brother was ‘encouraged’ to be right handed but refused, so I know about the lefty bit.
    As for the right to call…. it’s implied in the comments made that congregations have the right to call anyone. That isn’t right. You have to be a duly qualified and designated person to be acceptable. You have to be in one of the ‘categories’ to be ok.
    The big issue is the ‘life and doctrine’, not the right to call and there are real issues there because of the doctrine part.

  8. lol, not calling you oppressive David – was referring to the ‘right-handed’ at my mother’s school!  In no way offended.  Whatever happens with this whole thing, Assembly sure ain’t going to be dull at any rate.  Think I’ve said all I really want to say [possibly ever!!] on this matter, probably should get back to the research and stop the procrastinating  🙂

  9. Thanks for the forgiveness, Nikki. Good luck with the research !

  10. Interesting blog. You ask:

    “Yet there does not seem to be any large outcry about this issue! Why not? Could there be an element of selective application of scripture?”

    Exactly

    These people claim to be trying to uphold biblical orthodoxy. Yet, there are ministers in the CofS who deny much more fundamental “scriptural truths” such as the virgin birth, the resurrection and indeed some who preach universalism. Fair enough.

    But,  becasue of the emotional baggage and the emotive language that goes with “gay minister” it is much much easier to whip up a frenzy  over this issue than it would be say over  the much wider topic of “orthodoxy”. If they are so concerened about orthodoxy, why wait until now?

    The ironic thing is that for people who supposedly take the bible seriously, there are actually ordained women on the homphoce list!!! Selective reading indeed. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy and homophobia.

    No wonder Phelps was happy to have his name added….

    Someone said that this is more like Salem,  Mass. , rather than Aberdeen, Scotland!

  11. You’re undoubtedly right that there are bigger issues in Scripture than this.
    On the other hand, many on the conservative side find this very difficult to accept because this does seem to be playing fast and loose with some pretty plain and strong words of Scripture.
    I’m not sure the analogy with divorce is all that helpful. It may well be the case that there is hypocrisy going on here, but I would have thought that most people recognize the complexity of what Scripture has to say on the subject.  Also, this just isn’t the issue of the day, Gay ’emancipation’ is.  It’s not a bad thing to try and work out what Scripture says on such an issue and to try and put it into practice.
    On the other hand, while we may not understand the reasoning behind it, the Bible is univocal on the presenting issue. The Jewish position and reading of the OT at the time of the NT, which was held in the face of deep emotional and romantic commitment between men in Greek culture, was, if you’ll pardon the expression, ‘marriage or fornication’. The NT doesn’t give a hint of criticism on this that I can see. On other issues of liberation – feminism and slavery – there are biblical resources which  provide foundations for later critiques of what was accepted at the time.

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