A friend and fellow pastor has critiqued my post Slavery’s Last Stand as follows:
Well written, heart felt, compassionate but your conclusions are your own, not the clear and consistent word of scripture. You build your argument through two stories that do not relate to the third. If you go to the first chapters of Genesis, slavery is clearly wrong because people are all created as beloved children of God never possessions. Also men and women were created to be co-rulers, caretakers of the earth and all its inhabitants. Women were designed to lead as much as men were designed to lead.
However, Genesis describes marriage as designed by God for one man and one woman. Every other sexual, romantic relationship, just like the subjection of women or the enslavement of a human being, is not God’s intention. It’s sin.
What I find missing from your argument is the cross. Jesus challenges us to pick up our cross and follow him. Our cross is designed to kill us, so the new creation created in the image of Christ, can be revealed. Self-fulfillment is the gospel of the enlightenment as well as the devil.
If the word of Scripture is as clear and consistent as he claims, how is it that devoted Christians who are committed to its authority still debate and have confusion about exactly what it means and how to live it out faithfully? There are numerous doctrinal issues that have not been resolved by centuries of debate. For example, it is possible to find biblical support for predestination as well as for free will. While my friend seems to think that the case supporting women in ministry is closed, I can assure him from my own experience that there are still many in the body of Christ who will vigorously debate him on biblical grounds. He says that my conclusions are my own as though that is not the case with his own conclusions. Each of us must reach our own understandings of the revelation of Scripture, and the tools we have for doing so are reason, experience, and community. This does not mean that there is no truth. It does mean that if we want to search for it, we must have the humility to listen to each other’s stories and convictions while holding lightly to our own conclusions. God gives the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good of the body (I Cor. 12:7). We need each other because each member of the body receives individually gifts that are necessary for the good of the entire body. They are not good in isolation, but in community. Their very effectiveness depends on being situated and used in community. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (I Cor. 12:21) We must be open to input from all the members of the body and listen especially to the experiences and conclusions of its members who are different from ourselves. Scripture does clearly say that the members of the body must accept each other and work cooperatively together.
Sadly, church history is filled with instances of exactly the opposite. Any textbook can supply numerous examples of Christians who saw themselves as following Christ while they killed people whose beliefs did not align with their own doctrine. Christians not only killed non-Christians, as in the Crusades. Believers in Christ also killed each other, as happened (for just one example) during the Anabaptist conflicts in sixteenth century Switzerland. Imagine the depth of Christ’s grief over one of his followers murdering another because they disagreed over infant versus adult baptism! Thank God we have at least learned to live with disagreement and tensions in the body of Christ without resorting to physical slaughter. Sadly, though, the emotional, psychological, and spiritual carnage continues in the body of Christ over homosexuality (and even yet results in bloodshed on occasion as some have been driven to suicide by rejection from their Christian families and communities).
Some reading this may think I am too swayed by emotion to appreciate the principles at stake here. I readily admit that my heart is one of the faculties at play in reaching my conclusions, but I have not left out my mind, my spirit, or my will. I have looked in a rational way at the evidence, both scientific and biblical, and I cannot resolve the conflict that way. I have prayed for wisdom and insight. I have listened to and walked with those who suffer because their lives don’t fit into the categories provided by the dominant evangelical Christian narrative. My heart, my head, and my spirit agree that I must choose how to respond. They tell me that the way of love chooses the humility of acknowledging that my conclusions may be wrong and of accepting others as I want to be accepted.
This way of living does not leave out the cross of Christ as my friend believes. It is not a triumphal denial of suffering as a necessary part of Christian experience; instead it embraces suffering and identifies with it. This is the essence of Christ’s love and sacrifice on our behalf. He willingly chose to lay down his sovereign status to take on flesh and become subject to human suffering. The one person who deserved no suffering chose it for all those who did. I am not taking the easy way out through a worldly “gospel of self-fulfillment.” It would be much easier to stick with a sense of certainty that what the Bible says is clear and plain and to reassure myself that I am on the right side of any conflict. I have many dear friends that I expect will disagree with these views, and I do not want to lose their approval and acceptance. It would be much more comfortable to hold myself aloof from the suffering of people I could categorize as “them” – different from myself, wrong, and condemned in their unfortunate experience (from which I am relieved to be exempt). But gay Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ, people made in the image of God just as much as I am. Authentic, Christ-like love gives itself on behalf of others, supporting and encouraging them so that they might fulfill all their God-given potential. Is it not much better to accept them into Christian community, encourage them in their faith, and let Jesus speak to us all together? Surely what he has to say to us carries more weight than any argument we could possibly mount. My friend sees the suffering of death as the transforming process that reveals the new creation in each of us as the cross works redemptively to produce what God intends for us to become. I agree. It is a kind of death to self to swallow our pride and the comfort of moral and spiritual certainty in order to live in community with those whose stories are so different from our own and to give ourselves on behalf of others so that they may live and thrive. Yes, that’s it exactly.