Thursday, October 14, 2010

Controversies in the church: frame of mind

Tonight I very nearly finished the next installment in the "controversies" series. I had started work on it this summer, but then busy season hit. Here I'll post some background that I think is as important as the write-up itself. I hope to have that write-up finished for my weekend post this week.

When I write on this series, I try very much to argue both sides in their strongest position. If I do well, people should have trouble telling what my own actual views are, at least so long as I work on the project of mapping out the different views. The exercise of switching views so often does leave me a little dizzy.

The whole project requires that I get in the right frame of mind before I start. So I wanted to post a little background on the night I picked to start and do most of the meditative / reflective work on the next entry in the series, which (according to my original plan) is the controversy over homosexuality.

Below is the notes I kept from the night I did most of the reflection, contemplation and meditation on the subject. (Yes, that's part of how I write on this type of thing.) The notes are fairly raw, and in reality were filled with many pauses where I would stop and think.

I wanted to write the next part of the series on a night when my frame of mind was right for the job. I've long since learned that clarity and sensitivity have to be carefully cultivated before I write. Maybe that's just because my own stock of those is short. But tonight is definitely the night when I'm in the right frame of mind to tackle this topic.

What put me into just the right frame of mind? I was at the Wal-Mart picking up a few things. I had checked out at the self-serve checkout lane, trading jokes with people nearby about how that used to be the faster option with shorter lines. And I was on my way out with my bag of things when I recognized a checker at another lane.

The frilly blouse, long hair, and earrings - and a name tag reading "Janet" - didn't fool me. I knew the man.

I still did consider him a man, despite his obvious change of feelings on the subject himself, both because of the male pattern baldness and because we had grown up in the same neighborhood. I knew him as Jim. His father's name is (was?) Ed. He plays the flute. I walked past his home on the way to the neighborhood park. I wanted to go say hi and tell him I wished him well. I had no idea if he would have welcomed someone from his old life. I had no idea if he remembered me (I am several years younger, and older kids don't always deign to notice younger ones.)

At any rate, he was busy helping a customer so I settled for making a mental note that next time I'm at Wal-Mart I will look twice at the checkers before I choose a lane, and maybe have a chance to say hi to an old neighbor.

He looked unhappy. I don't know if that was from the big picture of his life, or for working on a Friday night, or for being probably 50 years old and working as a checker at Wal-Mart. At least it's employment and an honest job. These days not everybody has those.

But tonight, I think I can keep the best frame of mind that I'm likely to get in remembering the essentially human nature of this debate.


If human sexuality at its deepest foundations is heterosexual, then accepting homosexuality actually degrades and lessens the person instead of helping. The goal is to restore someone to their full humanity.

If human sexuality at its deepest foundations has more than one natural and healthy fulfillment that reaches the height and fullness of goodness, then on what basis would someone call it wrong?

There isn't much common ground the two groups have as a basis for discussion.

Conservatives are likely to view the ancient Jewish laws, on the whole, as wholesome, even if most agree that they are not part of the New Covenant.

Liberals are likely to view the ancient Jewish laws as outdated, occasionally barbaric, once in awhile just plain ludicrous.

Conservatives are likely to view Paul's canonical writings as authoritative, perhaps even infallible. They certainly see him as having strong insights into the eternal and unchanging mind of God, transcending our human limitations.

Liberals are likely to think he was wrong about women too. They certainly see him as limited by the views of his time, and are worried about those limitations being projected into the future through his writings.

I know an openly homosexual minister. We've interacted a few times, but mostly I know him through his writings. And in those writings, I get the very uncomfortable feeling that the main point of his religion is to justify himself. I don't say this to be snide or condescending or demeaning. I say this because if you look at the content of his writings and the points they develop, you can make a very objective case that his ultimate point is to justify and legitimize himself, to gain acceptance for himself and recognition for the good in him. Not for the good in God.

Is he using Jesus to justify himself? Is he using Jesus to gain acceptance for himself despite his sins?

And did Jesus come to justify us? Didn't Jesus come to win us acceptance despite our sins?

What about the difference between confessing a sin and justifying it?

What about the difference between trying to prove we're religious in order to merit acceptance, and coming to God humbly for cleansing and healing because it is God whose love makes us whole?

And what about the undoubted number of religious people who are heterosexual, that still use God as a means to acceptance, respect, or fame?

But in all the controversy, there is still Jim. He's the bottom line.


Howard said...

For Jim, like all of us, what no doubt matters most is what would transpire for this man if he came face to face with Jesus? What impact would it have upon Jim if Jesus came to his town, His neighborhood, His home? We can talk at length regarding doctrine,but it is when we encounter the Jesus of the Gospels that life is truly defined and, hopefully, renewed.
One person reaching out to another, with a smile, a kindly word, can be the beginning of that reconciling, and such care - lives which genuinely speak the truth in love - must be where we begin.

Craig said...

It is hard to understate the lasting impact of the debates we as a society are having re: homosexuality and marriage and everything else bound up in this. We are examining who God is, ourselves, what it means to be human, and how we fundamentally order our societies for the foreseeable future. As you note, there is not much in common between the two positions and where you end up is dependent on what you believe and understand about God and humanity.

I recently wrote on the topic from a political perspective on my Governance Imperative blog. I don't bring the religious angle up in this context, so I look forward to seeing your words on the matter.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Howard

The encounter with Jesus is very much underrated in a lot of the official talk. (I sometimes get the feeling that officialdom is trying to impress someone by its studious avoidance of anything that sounds low-brow, or has ever been mocked as low-brow.) When the Jesus of the Gospels meets people, anything can happen.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Craig

Yes, it seems to me like a high-stakes game of Jenga.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF