Monday, March 05, 2007

Scriptural Gymnastics: Follow-Up

I've been thinking about "scriptural gymnastics" ever since Joseph included it in a comment on my last post. What a great term! I suppose that I infer it's meaning to be basically creating an interpretation of scripture that supports one's own perspective. The metaphor indicates that you would have to do some intricate exegetical backflips in order to get the Bible to say what you want it to say.

The opposite, I suppose, is to come to the Bible with a completely unbiased perspective - a tabula rasa that is unblemished by any smudge of experience or previous teaching. Hmm, what's the opposite of gymnastics? Maybe a scriptural 100 yard dash: straight to the finish line, stay in your lane, fast as you can. My claim would be that I had full access to the Truth of Holy Scripture as God really meant it, revealed to me.

Problem with that is, none of us can claim to come to God's word without smudges on our tabulas. We are all prone to error, temptation, and sin. Or, as Mitch said in our last bit of conversation, all we can do is peek at the thing, and from our own limited perspective. So there must be a middle somewhere in between backflipping and somersaulting to make the Bible support my opinion and sprinting ahead unswervingly claiming that my own lane is all that counts in this race.

We all know the various scriptural interpretations around the issue of acceptance of homosexual people in the Church. In no particular order,
- you've got your "burn in hell" people,
- you've got your "it's the behavior that's sinful, not the orientation" people, - you've got your "if they would only repent" people,
- you've got your "hate the sin, love the sinner" people,
- you've got your "accept everybody because we are all sinners" people,
- you've got your "I don't know for sure, but I err on the side of grace" people,
- you've got your "the Bible doesn't say anything about sexual orientation" people,
- you've got your "oh forget it, let's just start our own denomination" people,
- you've got your "I'll protest: anywhere, anytime, anyhow" people,
- you've got your "accept gay people or I'll kick your a**" people,
- and there are probably a few that I've forgotten about.

We have heard them all, we know them all.

Now, which one of these interpretations is guilty of "scriptural gymnastics?" Chances are, if you answer that question, you will choose one of the myriad of perspectives that is not yours. No matter where you are personally, everyone else must be wrong, right? That is where we have been for decades, and that is why the bitter, hateful, angry fighting has got to stop.

As I wrote previously, I am not advocating ending the conversation, I am advocating transforming it. I want to talk with passion and conviction about my belief that a person with the gifts and graces for ordained ministry should be ordained, regardless of sexual orientation. I want to talk with passion and conviction about my belief that gender ought to play no role in determining whom one is allowed to marry.

I have come to this belief, not by doing any "scriptural gymnastics," nor have I come to this belief as the finish line to my own little "100 yard dash" with Jesus. Or said another way, I have neither bent the Bible to my own perspective nor had the full Truth of the Lord revealed to me exclusively. I have worked faithfully, prayerfully, and diligently to arrive at this interpretation.

And furthermore ...

So has Mitch. I know Mitch, and I know he's peeking at things differently than me. But I would no sooner accuse him of being unfaithful as I would call the sky pink. He is not simply bending the Bible to his own perspective, nor would he ever dare to claim exclusive, full knowledge of the Truth of God (I don't think). He, like me, has come to his beliefs faithfully, prayerfully, and with all due diligence.

(Thanks, Mitch, for letting me use you as a case study!)

So how to we transform the conversation? The first step, which I kind of poked fun at in my last post, is to remove those for whom this whole thing is some kind of a hateful battle to be waged. Next, the remaining conversation partners have to understand how each person has come to her or his belief, so everything can be out on the table, and as transparent as possible. That means not only understanding a perspective different from your own, but also understanding how that perspective came to be. Only then can the conversation proceed.

I don't think we are there yet. We're pretty much still just fighting with each other. We haven't let go of the rancor, hatred, and bitterness. Until that happens, things will not get better for any gymnasts, sprinters, or anyone in between.


Willie said...

I love your perspective here, and your commitment to transforming the conversation.

Too many attempts at dialogue end up as excuses to vent hostility and animosity, and "this is MY church, you get out."

I fear that these days I have become almost afraid of expressing my true feelings and opinions, and I admire your courage.

Mitch said...

I'm honored to be used as a case study.

I also feel more than a bit uncomfortable sharing my less-than-liberal perspective (I'm a student on a campus where I feel my opinion is not particularly welcome.)

It's important to realize that we hear a lot of rhetoric from the far right/left and little conversation from us in the majority...and we are people of the middle way after all.

Where I suppose I'd have to be categorized as "conservative" on this subject, that is not a label I'd attach to myself. As I said to my friend Hipchickmamma: you see it your way, I see it mine, but we really both want the same thing...faithfulness, healing and wholeness.

Blessings to my sisters and brothers in Christ (all of em').

CARYL said...

It seems much easier to discuss issues in theoretically and theologically than it is to make concrete decisions about them. How do we not choose one side or the other if we want to decide - "Do we or do we not ordain homosexuals?" - "Do we or do we not marry same sex couples?" Where is the middle ground in deciding issues like this and writing them into UM Book of Discipline? cb

Andy B. said...

CB - When you put it in those terms, yes you must choose "one side or the other." Will we ordain gay people? is a yes or no question.
The "middle way" idea is more about transforming the conversation itself, than about the outcome. Generations before have gone round and round doing battle with one another, my hope is that our generation will forego that option in favor of Christian conversation marked by civility and grace.

hipchickmamma said...

first of all, i think scriptural gymnastics could apply to all of us! andy b. you have some wonderful summeries of the stances!;)

i think you are absolutely correct that the conversation has to be transformed--the conversation needs to be filled with "Christian" spirit.

mitch--i think it's really meaningful to hear that you don't feel welcome to express your opinion on campus. i think you are a person that could be heard in the conversation. and you are absolutely correct, we do want the same things!

i fully admit to falling short in my part of the conversation. my "excuse" is that i feel called and do much "pastoral" work with folks who happen to be in relationships with people of the same sex, both kids and adults.

i find it difficult not to get angry when working with a 16 year old who is being cut off from his family because they say God doesn't love him and they can't either. or a worship leader who despite her dedication to God and the faithfilled way she lives her life still believes that God doesn't love her, she wants to feel God's presence but cuts herself short. hearing stories of suicide attempts and turning to drugs because someone's mom said, "i'd rather you be a drug addict than gay."

i am now "seeing" how my anger during the conversation hurts others and i don't want to simply reverse the hurt and oppression.

count me in for changing my voice in the conversation. thanks andy b!

Larry B said...

Well, even though you caution us about scriptural gymanstics, I do much like Isaiah 58:9-10 in the context of what you are talking about here.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

However, and here comes the gymnastics part, I think what this points more to is not merely transforming the conversation, but perhaps ceasing it all together as it has very little to do with pouring out our souls on behalf of the hungry and satisfying the needs of the oppressed.

So while I too would like to speak passionately on why I think the church should be allowed to keep it's position on the oridnation of homosexuals and why marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman - I've come to my own conclusion that investing any time for or against these two issues surrounding homosexuals in the church doesn't do anything to help the poor or oppressed. I'm weary of it and would like to forget it. So much so that if it does continue I have decided that leaving the denomination to find a community that at least agrees with my own stance on these points will provide a better opportunity to get on with serving as I won't be so distracted by the chaos of the argument within the church. It has become too consuming for me and I'm not particularly excited about any approach whether it be keeping up the fighting and nagging or transforming the conversation.

Andy B. said...

Larry B.,
Thank you for sharing your perspective. Can you see why I am not weary of it precisely because I see this conversation as vitally important to "satisfying the needs of the oppressed"?

Kansas Bob said...

Netting it out (your post and folks' comments) I have to say that I am with Larry on this one. It saddens me that there is no middle ground on this issue.

As a result of this 'no middle ground' phenomena denominations have to take positions on issues like these (like the Episcopal Church did) and let the chips fall where they may ... people will align with a theology that they agree with ... it is just the way it is ... and probably the way that it should be.

I echo the sentiment that the way it is done is very important ... love should be preeminent in the process and people should be made to feel that they are welcome to stay or leave ... they will be loved in their coming and going.

That said I have to ask this question of you all in the UMC:

Should the beliefs of the leadership of a denom reflect the beliefs of the people in that denom or should the beliefs of the people of a denom reflect the beliefs of the leadership of a denom?

Inquiring Kansans want to know :)

Schowie said...

Care to talk about the candidates our district has who can't be recognized as candidates, even though they are recommended by their church? I understand Trinity alone has four.

Larry B said...

" Can you see why I am not weary of it precisely because I see this conversation as vitally important to "satisfying the needs of the oppressed"?"

I can understand from your perspective and your description that you are working to satisfy the needs of the oppressed. However, in the context, the definition of oppressed becomes yet another point of contention.

My own personal opinion is that a homosexual person not being able to be ordained inside the Methodist church is not an example of oppression. Becoming an ordained minister in a human designed and administered organization may be and is a great personal accomplishment, however it certainly in no way impacts our relationship with God in regards to receiving or rejecting his Love for us as I understand it. It seems that the few people who are seeking to serve and serve as openly active homosexuals are looking more for self actualization through the affirmation of the human designed and administered church rather than emptying themselves before God and serving humbly. I believe that Jesus didn't counsel us to offer our services and gifts to achieve self actualization. It was the opposite in that denying oneself was first required before one could be fully present in the offer of ones gifts and services.

And while one may not agree with our Catholic brethren here (I was raised Catholic), that is the model they follow - vows of poverty and chastity. The obvious missteps by some of the followers doesn't necessarily invalidate the model.

It seems to me that somehow it has crept into the mainline denominational churches that serving God while achieving a high state of self actualization are somehow rights bestowed upon us.

Just some thoughts.

Sorry to sound so cantakerous - but I'm with Kansas Bob here to - I don't see the middle ground anymore.

Kyle in KC said...

Larry B,

Oppressions of Homosexuals in the church is about much more than being ordained as a minister. I would encourage you to talk to your gay friends that attend church and ask them if they feel oppressed. Then talk to your gay friends that use to attend church and no longer do and ask them why they stopped attending. I personally do not know of any gay person who is seeking to be ordained for self actualization. You usually have facts to back up your statements, please supply us with some facts.


Anonymous said...

I believe there IS middle ground. If we show respect to all people, regardless of how they see this issue, we can write our Discipline so that all of us can participate fully in the life of the church. We need to craft a statment that will allow Christians on both sides to live out their personal beliefs without judging others or restricting the involvment of those with whom we disagree. Peace to all, JB

Anonymous said...


To address your central question: "So how to we transform the conversation?"

I don't know. My father is a member of the episcopacy. My mother, father, and two sisters view this issue, politics, and other mundane matters from a polar opposite perspective of my own. My father has been supportive and active in advancing the vision that you and others here advocate. I love, honor, and respect my mother, father, and siblings. We are not shrinking violets and have enjoyed discussing/debating - passionately - this matter as well as many other topics for hours at a time. (LOL, there is no middle ground, unless one of them concedes privately!) In fact, the running joke between my mother and I is that I am old enough to remember when she was the conservative, and I was the liberal. Yes there are those that engage and bait with hate. I can not and do not concern myself with such small people as it does nothing to advance the discussion, and frankly I value my time way too much.

Larry B.

I deliberately waited to respond, not knowing the proper tact to take, and frankly praying about the proper response. Lo and behold you articulated the my sentiments in a eloquent way that I would not have been able to accomplish. Thank you!

Andy and Kyle:
I respectfully ask, am I really to take you two seriously about gays being oppressed by the UMC or in general. I submit that "feeling oppressed" is not evidence that one is being oppressed. I am old enough to remember when homosexuals were people who embraced being outside the mainstream. Now with more awareness, sensitivity and educational initiatives, publicity of homosexuals in entertainment, sports, politics, etc than any other point in our history, we to believe that homosexuals are an oppressed, disenfranchised group? Where is the oppression of homosexuals in the UMC?


ps - I have previously posted under Dark Gable and have decided to let that go by the wayside. Cheers!

Kansas Bob said...

Adam Hamilton of UMC COR ( lost a lot of folks (I think it was over 1000) when he articulated (what I thought was) a middle ground position on homosexuality. The reality is that this is a lightning rod issue that will upset many people regardless of what position you take.

Anonymous said...

Kansas Bob you tangentially hit on another irony from my perspective. If those with the desire and passion to change the Discipline do so, wouldn't the end result be the creation of a disenfranchised group?

In my previous post, I cited the sharp differences within my own family regarding this issue. It was a clumsy way to say that we are able to disagree without being disagreeable. Futhermore, while we may disagree, we are also not attempting to change, convince, or cajole one another to think alike on this matter. That in itself is a sign of mutual respect.


Larry B said...


I tried to make it clear I was formulating an opinion. My statement was mostly conjecture and I'm sorry if it came off as a fact based assertion.

Where I live, the gay people I do know don't feel oppressed because they all attend the reconciling ministry associated UMC church and the mosaic associated UMC church. What's particularly amusing to me is that I'm not welcome there because of my views on homosexuality. I don't however feel oppressed by them. Clearly they can organize however they wish as long as they uphold their respective requirements from the BOD and can still be Methodist.

One of my faith mentors from one of my previous residences was a lesbian who grew up methodist and came out in college. She was at the time very outspoken about how the church should be accepting of her. However she has since undergone a reversal of that position and is now committed to a heterosexual relationship. (no it wasn't a recovery program - it was her own faith journey that caused her to make a change). It's through her unique perspective that I draw many of my conclusions. Incidentally, when she and I became friends and she served as a mentor for me in my faith, I had no idea of her previous background. I was drawn to her because of her joyfulness and fervor for Christian living. It was only after a long time knowing her that I even found out about her journey to where she was now.

So, yes from my standpoint and my experiences and conversations, it does seem to me that demanding that an organization that has expressly taken a position on an issue like this that is counter to what you might want it to be and then being shocked and dismayed when procdural action is taken against you for going against that position, is at the heart of it, a means for seeking personal validation.

Referring to the Catholic Church - whether it be wrong or right, they do not allow women priests. That's at the core of how they operate and it won't change.

Does that somehow oppress women? I don't pretend to be an authority on that answer. However, would one be ready to condemn over 1500 years worth of catholics for being party to an "oppression" simply because they chose to limit the priesthood to males?

While there are some small groups in the catholic church that still argue the issue, the church isn't consumed by the conversation.

Our denomination, however is becoming consumed by the conversation, and like it is in my town - causing people to split up and attend special campuses based on their beliefs with this one issue.

I've already fallen into the trap again and spent too much time on the issue.

Dark Gable aka Joseph:

Thanks for the kind words again and sharing your perspective.

Kyle in KC said...

Larry B:

I doubt you and I will every agree on this subject but I have to tell you that I read all of your comments and you often challenge my thoughts. I appreciate and thank you for that.