Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (1)

My project for the new year has been to make an attempt at a theology dealing with mental health. While the church has gotten better at recognizing mental disorders and being a healthy part of their treatment, what has stuck me is how there really is not a whole lot of theological statement or reflections about it. My hope is to perhaps, in some small way, fill that void, in the hopes that those much more wise will improve upon what I will be writing here, and in numerous more postings, over the next bit. When beginning this, I thought that the idea of a theological exploration of mental health and wholeness  would be a fairly simple thing, but as I read, and delved deeper, I realized that not only was it not very simple, there were no new answers (not a surprise to me), but there were a lot of very old ones taking us back to the time of creation itself. This is not a medical offering, though I will, on occasion, use medical findings and treatments as examples, so it should in no way be read as a replacement for professional care. I hope that, if you are willing, you will continue to read this, and following posts, and share them with those you know who might think upon such things sharing with me their thoughts and opinions that I may ponder them.  So, without any further disclaimers, let us begin this journey from the place where all good journeys start: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven’s and the Earth”.

Fundamental to my exploration has been the creation narrative. To follow along here, you are not required to believe in a particular method of creation, be it young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, or what have you, but to simply hold on to and believe the eternal truth, that God is creator. In this simple truth, Saint Irenaeus (you will hear from him a lot in these pieces, so some background on him may help) begins his defense of the Christian faith against the Gnostic beliefs of his day, as well as establishing a beautiful trinitarian theology that has some fairly serious ramifications to us as the pinnacle of creation. Irenaeus describes the very act of creation as being trinitarian in origin. “In this way, then, it is demonstrated [that there is] One God, [the] Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit”. Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.” (Irenaeus “The Apostolic Preaching”) In this small paragraph, beautifully worded (I am a little jealous of its simple beauty if I am being honest), the establishment of the trinity as present, and responsible, for creation, in three parts, equal in power, each performing an essential duty. Irenaeus separates these duties into the source of all creation, The Father, that which brings creation into existence, The Son (The Word), and the ordering of creation into a cogent whole possessing meaning, The Spirit. Irenaeus would also describe The Son and The Spirit as the hands of God to illustrate a point, and also to speak to us today. We use the same language and idea when we describe ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ. As an interesting note, this idea is rendered in 2 Enoch from the Pseudepigrapha and the language has similar meaning and structure to Genesis 1:27 as well as to Wisdom of Solomon 6:7.  As the work of 2 Enoch is used by Irenaeus in other areas, it has been a speculation of mine that it influenced him here as well, but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day.

Humans however, after this referred to as “man” as a generic term and not a term to denote gender, have a special place in creation. Man is created possessing the Imago Dei. We all talk a lot about the Image of God, but few of us, it seems to me, have any sort of understanding of what that is and what that means. Part of that is simply that we have lost, or tossed aside, the wisdom of the ancients. A brief exploration at thoughts regarding this becomes necessary. Ancient Jewish scholars such as Saadia Gaon and Philo would argue that being made in the image of God had no physical aspect, instead meaning simply that it meant the God had bestowed special honor upon man as the pinnacle of creation. To them, the image of God was not a tangible idea other than man was different, and above, all of creation. It was more of an idea to be accepted instead of a mystery to be explored and understood.  A Platonic understanding made the body  a transitory vessel of no real importance, the Gnostic understanding was that matter was evil, but that Spirit was good, thus the image of God was spirit and only spirit was good, others would claim the Image of God was the whole person, leading to a type of anthropomorphism of God binding Him to one form of matter alone. Enter Irenaeus, and a very new understanding of the Image of God.

Irenaeus, understanding and knowing the flaws of the various interpretation of the Imago Dei, would speak of the Imago Dei as the image and likeness of God in the same way as Genesis did. Irenaeus speaks of the image and likeness of God in this way: “Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to [EDITED to add a ‘space’] be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.” (Against Heresies) Saint Paul would support this assertion, though before Irenaeus, when he, in the epistles to the Corinthians and Colossians, would write that Christ is indeed the image of God. (Second Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). We are, in effect, the image of the image. For Irenaeus, this was the physical image. Our bodies and human form as designed after the eternally begotten and eternally incarnate Son of God. This understanding allows us to avoid the trap of binding God to our form, thus avoiding the anthropomorphic tendency.  Adam, being the first crated human, becomes not the archetype of humanity as many of us think him, but rather the first created image of The Image.

The likeness of God then becomes our spiritual self. At the time of creation, this was simply the way it was intended, but today we recognize this as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the faithful, but more on that later. Now the temptation is to divide the body and spirit (image and likeness of God) into two separate things that are independent of each other, but that is not  what Irenaeus does at all as this was central to the heresy of the Gnostic faith. To Irenaeus, Adam, as the first image bearer, has these two parts, body and spirit (image and likeness), of the same whole both contained in harmony. In God’s plan of creation, the two are never intended to be separated. This is key to the nature of man, as God intended, and we must, at all costs, resist the temptation of artificially trying to separate the two as it relates to God’s intent in creation.  The image and likeness of God are reflected in God’s two hands, as Irenaeus described them (The Son, and The Spirit), and tied intimately to our creation as God intended at creation.

There is a third aspect of our creation that should be mentioned, the ability to reason. This too separates us from the rest of creation. We can form complex thoughts and ideas. We can rationalize and use logic to come to greater understanding of the world around us.  I think that you get the point. This third aspect of our creation completes the trinity of human creation, not to be confused with The Trinity. Just as the Creator God is only properly understood and explained through The Trinity, for mankind to be properly understood, as the created being at the time of creation, the trinity of this creation must also be understood. The very idea and structure of the Trinity is found through out all of creation. For Irenaeus this is even reflected in the natural world as there is indeed the realm of the physical, that which we can touch, the realm of the spiritual (God, the Holy Spirit, the adversary, etc.), and finally the very nature of God in the form of the natural law that governs the function of the universe. For us, as humans, the three parts of our created selves, the physical, the spiritual, the rational, must be in harmony for us to be as God intended us from the beginning.

This wraps up the first part of moving toward a proper theology of mental health and wholeness. I realize that it may seem basic as it is a reflection upon creation, before the fall, but to understand the very nature of humanity from that time as God intended, and thus to be able to understand what proper mental health and wholeness is, and how we can work toward it, we must start with the blueprint (Christ) and proceed from the first creation (Adam). We find then that, for us to be able to exist as God intended, and indeed as we will exist upon the return of Christ to usher in the Kingdom in full, there must be a harmony of image and likeness of God as well as our ability to reason.  From a theological stand point then, we must conclude that a theology of mental health and wholeness involves bringing, to the best of our ability, those three parts of our essential nature back into harmony with one another, and with God. Next we will explore the fall from grace, the effect that this has upon us, original sin and what it is and isn’t, and how all of that comes together as it relates to mental health and wholeness.

 

 

Methodists and Mission

I spent Saturday with a group of United Methodists from across my jurisdiction. The event brought together a diverse group of clergy and laity to discuss the pending effects of the Special Session of General Conference in February about human sexuality. By now, those who pay attention to the issues within the UMC on sexuality have not only opinions on the subject, but those opinions have hardened into positions. This was certainly true of this group.

The larger body divided down into smaller groups of 8-10 at round tables for a moderated discussion in the “Circles of Grace” format. We considered 8 questions in a increasing level of depth. It was hard to imagine what the point of these discussions was supposed to be. My best guess was that because the UMC institution and leadership has sold its soul to the “One Church Plan,” with scant perception that it has little chance of passing, they were trying to foster conversations to help us realize that even though we had different opinions across the entire church, we could all sit in a circle together, talk about our feelings, sing Kum Ba Yah together and go home and continue to be united. Unfortunately, we all go home to a church just as dysfunctional and divided theologically, no matter how nice we were to each other.

In fact, it was one of the questions we considered which brought into clear focus for me an issue on which we are painfully divided, which hasn’t received as much attention as others (e.g. Authority of Scripture, Lordship of Christ, etc.): that of mission of the Church. This issue, along with the others, cuts right to the heart of our presenting problems with human sexuality. The question asked was, “What is your sense of the mission/purpose of the Church?” Aside from the obvious mission statement adopted by the General Conference, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we were to each articulate our personal understandings of church and mission, i.e. ecclesiology.

As we went around the table, the diversity of answers astounded me. Not that they were necessarily bad or wrong answers to the question, but further that they seemed to all miss the mark in some shape or form. In seminary, I had a course on this exact topic: Church and Mission, with this description: Studies the work of the Holy Spirit as continuing the work of Christ. Focal points include the effects of redemption in the life of the believer,

in the creation and sustaining of the church and its ministry, and in the eschatological hope for the world through the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

In this course, we discussed the various ideas and purposes for the church, with a special emphasis on the “Great Commission” as articulated in Scripture. Interestingly enough, only a few folks at the table used any of the language within the Scriptural mandates. Now, I make mandate plural because it could be argued that there are five versions of the “Great Commission” found in Scripture. There is one in each Gospel, and then one in Acts. Even so, those who did use Commission language used only the word “disciple,” which comes only out of the Matthean account. The other ideas had more to do with missions of mercy, compassion and hope, which one could argue was implicit in the Johaninne “feed my sheep/love” language, but in our own day and age, this tends to express itself in social justice apart from any proclamation activity.

It was here where their conceptions of mission were most lacking. No one articulated a proclamation part of mission. No one said anything like Mark’s, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” There is a gospel to proclaim, but our people don’t even connsider that as a part of the mission of the church.

Evangelion, evangel, the idea that there is “good news” in Jesus Christ, which the world needs to hear, is so part and parcel to the mission of the church and the accounts of Scripture, that to not have it articulated by any of the folks in my group, all of whom would have a “progressive” understanding of the faith, reminded me about how divided we really are theologically.

Church in the “progressive” stream seems to completely ignore the gospel that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation,” and that “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This is GOOD NEWS! The world is broken, but in the atonement of Christ, the world is being redeemed from death and sin. God is saving a sin-sick world. It is the mission of the church to proclaim this good news to the wider world.

Is there discipleship to follow? Certainly. Are there missions of mercy, compassion, justice and healing to be done? Most definitely. However, these are to be part and parcel with the hope of forgiveness for sin found only in Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the good E. Stanley Jones quote, “An individual gospel without a social gospel is a soul without a body and a social gospel without an individual gospel is a body without a soul. One is a ghost, the other a corpse.” Jesus came into the world to bring more than good teaching and show us how to love. He came to bring us back to God despite the depth and filth of our sinful condition.

Why didn’t these folks have a fuller perspective on the gospel? For way too long the progressive stream of our church has had an incomplete picture of sin. Spending too much time neutering its power in the individual life and poo-pooing its consequences, liberal/progressive Christianity has conceived of a faith that looks more like a social movement. Niebuhr’s famous quote says it well, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

What is the mission of the church? It is multifaceted, but it must include the preaching of the gospel. In order to do so, it must preach that sin has corrupted the world both individually and institutionally. Redemption from sin comes because Jesus Christ has died for us. We may be the hands and feet of that redemption into the broken world through ministries of Discipleship and mercy, but both of those make no sense without the full proclamation of the gospel. The Kingdom of God has indeed come near, and we do bring it, but our message must include salvation from sin and the hope of Life in Jesus Christ. The rest, Discipleship, compassion, love and mercy are what St. Paul would call the “therefores.”

What does this say about where we are in the United Methodist Church today? It tells me that there is a substantial portion of our body that has an inadequate vision of the mission of the church, the nature of the fallen world around, and the power contained in the Gospel of Christ. Are there some folks who go to the other extreme? Are there people who emphasize too highly Jones’ individual gospel over a social one? Certainly, but I wonder if its easier for a classic evangelical (like myself), who tries to hold all of it in tension, to work with the one who knows to preach salvation in Christ, or the progressive who eschews gospel proclamation altogether.

In this case, I’ll stand with Paul, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

Still Fixing What Scares Me About The UMC

Continuing with the idea that the plans for the future of the UMC have been presented in mostly practical convenience and not grounded, by most, in theological discussion, I want to continue what I began earlier. Having established earlier that, by our standards of faith, the UMC is bound to the moral law, that the moral law is a part of the divine nature of God, and that God wove said moral law into creation itself, we are ready to progress to the next point. The moral law of God, as a part of His nature, and woven into creation, is a nexus between the Creator and His creation. Because of this, it is vitally important that we consider God’s moral law while properly discerning the future of the UMC.
Consider the following snippets from sermon 34 as they reveal to us traits of the moral law.
” Now, this law is an incorruptible picture of the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity. It is he whom, in his essence, no man hath seen, or can see, made visible to men and angels. It is the face of God unveiled; God manifested to his creatures as they are able to bear it; manifested to give, and not to destroy, life — that they may see God and live. It is the heart of God disclosed to man. ”
“The law of God is all virtues in one, in such a shape as to be beheld with open face by all those whose eyes God hath enlightened. What is the law but divine virtue and wisdom assuming a visible form? What is it but the original ideas of truth and good, which were lodged in the uncreated mind from eternity, now drawn forth and clothed with such a vehicle as to appear even to human understanding?”
“The law of God (speaking after the manner of men) is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature: Yea, it is the fairest offspring of the everlasting Father, the brightest efflux of his essential wisdom, the visible beauty of the Most High. It is the delight and wonder of cherubim and seraphim, and all the company of heaven, and the glory and joy of every wise believer, every well-instructed child of God upon earth.”
 

These traits which we are bound to by our standards of faith, are demonstrated here to be far more than a simple list of rules that we must follow, but rather they are a reflection of the divine radiance and majesty of God laid forth before us in a form which we can observe, lest we be overwhelmed in our frailty by the magnificence that is God. Not only that, the moral law is a copy of the very mind of God (in so far as we can understand it), and as such, should not so easily be dismissed. If indeed the moral law is all virtues in one, divine wisdom, the beauty of the Creator, and the joy and wisdom of the well instructed children of God on earth, then surely it needs to be the basis of our decision making going forward.

Much of this may sound very high brow, or theologically heavy such as to be resigned to scholarly debate alone, but we must remember that Wesley was a man rooted in practical theology, that is a theology that is not only to be discussed in the ivory towers of the academics, but also a theology that is to be used in day to day life by the faithful. While it is good and right to apply this to our decision making about the future of the UMC, we must also understand that said decisions will affect our day to day living within the community of the faithful. The wrong choice here has the very real consequence of taking the moral law, as a basis for our practical day to day lives, and twisting and perverting it to something that is barely recognizable as “the visible beauty of the Most high”. The wrong decision does not only affect the future of the UMC, and it’s followers, but runs the real risk of warping the message of the very nature of God that He has woven into all of creation. In trying to discern this, at first glance it seems we are left with the Euthyphro dilemma which asks us if something is morally good because it is commanded by God, or is it commanded by God because it is morally good. It is a question with no real answer and it seems then that we are left only to confusion of the matter, but we are lucky to have our rich Wesleyan theological heritage which rejects the entire premise by showing us truth by the moral law. Wesley says,  “It seems, then, that the whole difficulty arises from considering God’s will as distinct from God. Otherwise it vanishes away. For none can doubt but God is the cause of the law of God. But the will of God is God himself.”  It is not only the will of God we are trying to discern here, but rather God Himself, His very nature, in applying the moral law to the decisions regarding the future of the church. As a tenet of Wesleyan theology, if we get the moral law of God wrong in our decision moving forward, it is not merely a mistake, or a wrong decision, it is getting God Himself wrong. It will mean that we have not just improperly discerned God’s will for the UMC, but we have improperly discerned God period. That is what is at stake, according to our Wesleyan theological heritage and standards of faith. While the stakes are high for the church, they are even higher for us, the laity who are ministered to by the church, as the practical way that we live out our lives might indeed become tainted by the church improperly discerning God.

So, to the plans. Which of the plans then best reflects the moral law, and as such best reflects the nature and attributes of God? Which provides for the practical theology that Wesley endorsed and called for as a guide to our day to day living? Which plan best provides for a reflection, however imperfect, “the incoruptable picture of the High And Holy One”? As human beings, creatures who were created if you will, we are subject to the created order of things in which God wove the moral law into. Which plan reflects that? Which plan allows for the moral law to, as Wesley said it must in sermon 25“remain in force, upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other.” That is the question we should be asking looking forward.

Satan the Christian?

My family and I are incredibly lucky that a pastor sought us out. Out faith was solid, we had been attending church, but not any one in particular with regularity. A pastor extended us an invitation, no strings attached, and was never pushy, but remained persistent. It was wonderful. Since being involved in this church, we have been blessed by friendly and faithful people, Wesleyan preaching, and a family that we do not otherwise have for the most part. Most recently, the sermons have been inspired by a fairly famous quote from John Wesley. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”  Imagine that, pastors who are not only committed to trying to do this, but is not trying to do this second hand, or as a result of something else, but is challenging and leading his congregation to become those 100 preachers. It is amazing. I know that other pastors do this, but it seems less and less are trying and that to often those who do try are sort of attempting it on the sly and not as the primary goal. To be fair, that may just be my impression however. I certainly mean no offense to pastors and their individual styles of course, I am simply trying to explain how much I appreciate my pastors and their willingness to take this head on. As always, my opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the church that I attend, or the source material that inspired these thoughts.
So on Sunday, in a service where baptisms were performed, and the special music was amazing (my wife sang, so of course it was), an incredibly profound sentence was spoken by the pastor during the sermon. I do not remember the quote directly, but it went something like this. If the only thing that you need to do to be a Christian is believe that Jesus is the son of God, then even Satan can be called a Christian. There is a trend toward the belief that one does not need to go to church to be a Christian, yet scripture, the book of Hebrews specifically, seems to disagree fairly strongly. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),  and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) 
Looking at verse 23, we find the instruction to hold fast to our baptism. I am not going to reprint my thoughts on that here, but I encourage you to take a moment to read them. Wesley would comment in his New Testament notes, “The profession of our hope – The hope which we professed at our baptism.” An important part of our Christian faith is then rooted in baptism, but not simply the act of baptism, the profession of what we believe that called for baptism in the first place. Yes, all should be baptized of course, but yes, all should know what they are professing at baptism either as the one being baptized, or as those entrusted with raising the child being baptized. By the way, the congregation participates too, so you have a part in this. The congregation needs to remember these things and live up to their vows made at baptism as well.
Verse 24 is pretty straight forward on the surface of it. Provoke one another to love. Seems easy enough all in all, save that we rarely seem to understand or agree on what ‘love’ means these days. We have lost the understanding that the audience of Hebrews had about love. (More on love here. ) Consistently throughout both the Old and New testaments, love is tethered to obedience to ordinances and commands of God. We should provoke each other to follow the commands of God, to communion, to baptism, to the instructions of Christ (which are the commands of God of course), etc. Also, we should provoke each other to good works. This is also the message of James, though I dare say James puts it more bluntly. “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,   and if one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them those things which are needful to the body, what good is it?  Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by itself.   But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.  You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:14-20) No, this is not works based salvation, but that is a different discussion for a different day. Here James makes very clear that good works are a vital part of the Christian faith.
Finally we come to verse 25, and really the crux of all of this I do believe. Wesley would say: “Not forsaking the assembling ourselves – In public or private worship. As the manner of some is – Either through fear of persecution, or from a vain imagination that they were above external ordinances. But exhorting one another – To faith, love, and good works. And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching – The great day is ever in your eye.” Yes, Christians assemble together for public and/or private worship. It isn’t an option.
Christianity is not always easy. If someone told you it was, I am sorry. It’s easy to know what to believe above Christianity really, but it is not easy to live the life of faith that we are called to. We are called to a faith that is better than that of the demons and Satan, their master. We are called to the faith of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Simple logic says that we can not wait upon Christ, the Bridegroom, if we are not a part of the Bride. In truth, if we are not devoting our time to the Bride, then we are in effect guilty of the same adultery that God divorced himself from Israel for. (see Jeremiah chapter 3) Brothers and sisters, I would have us all live the faith the God, through Christ, has called us to, and not the faith of the adversary. It may not be a pleasant truth, but it is a truth none the less: If we are not living the faith of Christ, through the church, then we are serving the faith of Satan.

So this is going around again…

This piece, written by Luke Timothy Johnson, is going around in the (so called) centrist United Methodist Circles. It was first put out in 2007. Mt. Johnson is a New Testament scholar of some note as well as a former Roman Catholic Priest. Because this is going around again, I think it appropriate to make some brief reflections on what he wrote a decade ago, what it has to do with United Methodist theology, and to point out some fundamental flaw in his reasoning. I bring it up only because it is being offered as evidence that many faith traditions are wrestling with scripture regarding these questions. This piece does not wrestle with scripture however, it replaces scripture as God’s revelation to us with human experience as God’s revelation to us. That is not wrestling with scripture, it is replacing it. If this serves as a justification for various Methodist groups, and it is being presented as just that, then they have only affirmed what many of us have said. Scripture as the authority by which all the truths of faith are measured has been replaced by personal experiences as the measure of truth.  Worth noting is that his opinions are also not in line with Roman Catholic teaching on the matter, so he is speaking from his own understanding and not the understanding of the Roman Catholic church. I encourage you to read the piece linked above in it’s entirety. I will use the style of quoting relevant sections and commenting on them below the quote.
“Is the present crisis in Christian denominations over homosexuality really about sex? I don’t think so.”
Here is the first problem with his piece, and it is the very first line. He begins with the presupposition that this is not about sexual morality, but about something else entirely. This of course only serves to change the conversation away from sexual ethics and into an entirely different realm.
“The church could devote its energies to resisting the widespread commodification of sex in our culture, the manipulation of sexual attraction in order to sell products. It could fight the exploitation of women and children caught in a vast web of international prostitution and pornography. It could correct the perceptions that enabled pedophilia to be practiced and protected among clergy. It could name the many ways that straight males enable such distorted and diseased forms of sexuality.”
Now he has created a false dichotomy saying that if the church is concerned about “A” it is therefor not doing anything about “B”. This is simply not true in the least. The church has taught about a wide variety of subjects over it’s history, often at the same time. If your pastor were to give a sermon about the necessity of feeding the poor, would you automatically assume that he did not care about providing them clothes or shelter? Of course not because we recognize that people, just like the church, can have a variety of concerns.  It also puts the church on the defensive for continuing in the same understanding of sexual ethics over the history of Christianity on the matter, not to mention the same understanding of our Jewish forerunners as well. It gives the perception that somehow the church has just now started to care and nothing could be further from the truth. There are centuries of consistent teachings on sexual morality that can be referenced.
“And accepting covenanted love between persons of the same sex represents the same downward spiral with regard to Scripture, since the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love (glossing over the relationship of Jonathan and David, see 1 Samuel 18–2 Samuel 1).”
So yes, David and Johnathan loved each other. I will go so far as to say that there was a covenant involved in their love. I love other men also, and share covenants with them. This is not the issue. Here he is trying to go down the path that if two men love each other and have chosen to make a covenant with each other, it must be a homosexual relationship. This is not only false and a dangerous reading into scripture, if we follow that example into the New Testament, we see a deeply close and conventional relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Should we then believe that Jesus was a homosexual as well based upon the same evidence (really, the lack of evidence)? Don’t laugh, many have. The idea that David and Johnathan were somehow romantically involved was popularized by John Bozwell whose primary academic purpose was to show that homosexuality has always existed and been accepted in history going so far as to claim that there were homosexual weddings of Catholic monks. He is one of the forerunners of “queer (so called) theology”. His ideas are distinctly modern, have been panned by his academic peers as inaccurate, based upon assumption and confirmation bias, and are not largely respected in the academic or theological communities. Others have caught on to the claim and tried to provide their own evidences from scripture, but all such evidence requires you to read more into the story than is present in the text, and to assume that you know the motivation of two men who lived thousands of years ago.
“Of course, Christianity as actually practiced has never lived in precise accord with the Scriptures. War stands in tension with Jesus’ command of nonviolence, while divorce, even under another name (annulment), defies Jesus’ clear prohibition.”
Except by Jesus of course, who wasn’t a Christian, but a Jew. That is another rant entirely. Just War is a commonly accepted understanding of violence between nations and when it is acceptable and when it is not. It is certainly a part of Catholic theology. Jesus did not forbid divorce, but He did put some restrictions upon it. There is some pretty heavy theology about the keys to the kingdom passed to the Apostles involving divorce as well links between idolatry and adultery, but let’s be clear about this. This is not new in the least and the theology surrounding marriage and divorce in the Catholic tradition is robust. It is also robust in the Orthodox tradition and even in the Wesleyan tradition, but it is rather hard to find in the UMC. The point here about divorce however is that Jesus did not forbid it, he restricted it. A priest should know such things.
“And which Christians have ever observed the exhortation in Leviticus to stone psychics and put adulterers to death? But make this point to those opposed to same-sex unions, and you’re liable to find it turned back against you.”
The only book of the Bible less understood than Leviticus has got to be The Revelation to Saint John. The Catholic tradition, as well as pretty much every Christian tradition, recognizes that just as we are not obligated to follow the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, we are still very much bound by the moral aspects of it. Frankly, not understanding that is a poor understanding of the image of God we are all created in and poor creation theology. A priest should know better. It’s not turning it back against anyone to say this, it is affirming what the church catholic has taught since it’s founding.
“For them, the authority of Scripture and tradition resides in a set of commands, and loyalty is a matter of obedience. If the church has always taught that same-sex relations are wrong, and the Bible consistently forbids it, then the question is closed.”
It is not loyalty to be obedient to the commands in scripture, it is the love of God. All through out the scriptures, love of God and of Christ is tied to obedience. This is inescapable in even casual readings of scripture. But yes, if the tradition of the church has always said it and the scriptures clearly forbid it, then the question is indeed closed as it has already been answered over and over again through the centuries. That is the whole point of the faith once and for all delivered after all.
“It is not difficult to understand these positions; indeed, they were probably held by many of us at some point until our lives and the lives of those we love made us begin to question them. So we can—and should—understand the mix of fear and anger that fuels the passionate defense of such positions. “
Here is where we get to the seriously dangerous stuff, as well as some of the scripted assumptions that are proven wrong over and over again yet still persist. We all thought it was wrong until it was someone that we love. To translate, when someone that we love is not following the scriptures, we should just change them.
As an aside, I am not angry, nor am I afraid. Not of, or at, this topic at the very least. I am pretty tired of hearing that I am.
“I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”
Did you catch that? The higher authority that the former priest appeals to is the weight of our own experiences. He has set personal experience as an authority higher than the Bible. This should not come as a surprise to many of us who have been saying this is the case for some time, but it is surprising to have someone actually admit it.
By he way, what is rejected as sin is not the attraction, but rather the actions taken regarding the attraction. This is the same for all of us, and extends beyond sexual desire as well. We all have desires. Some are in line with the will of God and some are not. What we do with that desire is the issue. He of course rejects that and makes untruthful claims about what most of those with a traditional sexual ethic actually believe. He also exhibits (again) a very poor understanding of the image of God we are created in as well as how it has become marred and is in need of restoration.
Stick with me here. I do not think that God is a monster. For example, I do not think that a child born with serious cognitive disabilities is God’s ultimate plan, it is a result of sin entering into the world and the world falling and being in need of restoration. I do not think that children born with crippling genetic disorders is God’s ultimate plan. I do not think that children who die within days of birth for any number of health concerns is God’s ultimate plan. If it were, God becomes a hideous monster who actively desires the death of the most innocent and defenseless among us. Are we prepared to think this way of God? I ask because that is what is required if the condition we are born in is the determining factor of what God’s plan entails. How we are born really has no bearing on the topic at hand. What we do with the life we are born into is, and always has been, the issue. We, and indeed the entire world, is in desperate need of God’s promised restoration. Nothing in this world is God’s ultimate end point. The end point is the new heaven and earth when we all get to hang out the way it was intended from the beginning. In short, none of us are born as God originally had intended, but yes, all of us have been lovingly created, marred as we are, to reflect the glory of God.
This has already drug on to long. The piece goes on to talk about slavery, which has nothing to do with anything, as well as the Gentiles being allowed into the faith claiming making some terrible claims about that as well. It’s nothing new, just the repackaged old arguments that require a nearly complete re-imagining of the meaning of scripture from start to finish to justify it.
The end of ll of this is simple. There are two competing views of Christianity at play here. One view says that experience informs what scripture means, and the other says that scripture helps us to better understand the experiences that we have. Both can not be correct. One says that the fallen and marred experiences of humanity define God, and the other says that God, and our identity through Christ He has provided, defines us. In case you are not catching on, one is idolatry of the highest order setting man up to define God and the other is faithful obedience as an expression of love for The Creator. A lot happens to the faiths that are present in scripture that are based in idolatry, and none of it is positive. The question is the same today as it has been through out history and even asked in scripture. Choose you this day whom you will serve. The first competing views answers that question in a way that serves man. The second competing view answers as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So choose you this day…and choose wisely.