Compromising our Standards

In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Equinox” the crew of the Voyager meets another Federation star ship in the Delta Quadrant. However, the crew of the Equinox has basically turned their backs on anything that resembles normal Federation moral standards. They still have standards, but the standards have changed. For the crew of the Equinox, the basis of morality was the speed of getting the crew home. Anything that sped up that process was viewed to be acceptable. The crew of Voyager kept the existing moral standards and worked to do no harm to others even if that slowed up the trip. Voyager held to standards. Equinox gave up on standards when the situation became difficult. I see many similarities to the Apostle Peter in this situation.

The story of Peter’s denial is read on all four Gospels. In these retellings, Peter assures Jesus that he will never deny Jesus. However, we know that Peter denied Jesus three times. As soon as it became difficult to stand by Jesus, Peter denied him. In many ways, sadly, I see things like this in modern America.

It’s become difficult to hold to many of the things that have defined America in the past. There is no justice for many people. As a whole, Americans feel fine about the idea that petty crimes warrant death sentences applied immediately on the streets. America is fine with the idea that blacks during the time of King fought against terrible odds, having dogs attack them and being beaten in the streets, to get unlimited ballot access to black individuals, yet we pass laws now that take those rights away. There is talk, again, at restricting immigration access to people of certain nationalities or religious groups, continuing a long, sad history of our great nation doing that. It is deemed acceptable by large portion of the population that citizens carrying on with daily activities should be potentially subject to detention and search by a law enforcement officer.

We take the easy road, as a nation. It is easier to send flocks of police officers into neighborhoods than to send flocks of teachers. It’s easier to attempt to ban whole categories of people rather than fix the system. Just like Peter denied Jesus, we deny the things that defined what is good about America.

Sodomy or the Sin of Sodom

So I read THIS article in the LA Times, it was reported elsewhere as well, that the Alabama Supreme Court effectively ended any potential challenges to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in the State of Alabama. However, that is not what this post is about.  This is about a specific comment made by Chief Justice Roy Moore in his opinion on the case. The Times article notes that Moore wrote “Sodomy has never been and never will be an act by which a marriage can be consummated.” I have to quote from there because I cannot find the original decision. Now, I find this interesting because it shows how individuals pick up on words that are attributed to some writing, in this case the Bible and the Book of Genesis in particular, and we use them in a way that is completely different from the original context. So, what does “sodomy” mean or what is the Sin of Sodom?

The traditional definition of sodomy is seen in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary and reads “Historically, the English term sodomy (derived from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 18-19) has referred to any kind of nonprocreative sexual act, although it is usually applied to homosexuality. (Citation) However, most modern commentaries do not agree with this assessment of what was sinful about Sodom. The current religious and legal definition of “sodomy” is likely rooted in Jude 1:5-7 that reads “Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomor′rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”  However, modern commentators on the text are generally against the idea that the Sin of Sodom was some kind of deviant sexual behavior. 

The modern view is that the Sin of Sodom was the lack of hospitality for one’s neighbor or visitors. Terence E. Fretheim, writing in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary published in 1994, writes “This text (assigned to J [for definition of J, see Four-Source Hypothesis for the Torah]) is the most frequently cited Genesis passage in the rest of the Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah become a conventional image for heinous sins and severe disaster. Apparently these cities symbolize the worst that can be imagined. The nature of Sodom’s sins may vary, but the mistreatment of other human beings tops the list;  inhospitality lends itself to diverse development [emphasis mine] (Jer 23:14). Later texts recall Sodom’s judgment, even its specific form (see Ps 11:6Ezek 38:22Rev 21:8).” (Citation, subscription only. The quote is from Vol. 1 of the NIB) Fretheim goes on to write “So 19:1-11 develops an illustration of Sodom’s character; in view of this, readers should have little difficulty agreeing with the verdict—even Lot comes off as one whose righteous behavior we might question. The author develops this illustration in relationship to 18:1-15. Both chapters share the basic thematic link of hospitality, which should not be narrowly conceived, as if it were a matter of putting out a welcome mat. Hospitality involves a wide-ranging image, revealing fundamental relationships of well-being for individuals and society. Abraham shows hospitality in exemplary fashion. Lot follows suit to some extent, but he fails at a key juncture. The people of Sodom show no sign of what hospitality entails at all.” So, he clearly notes that the sin of sodom is not deviant sexual activity but that it is the lack of hospitality. This opinion is noted elsewhere as well.

Even if we go deeper into the text, as Fretheim does, the Biblical explanation still does not match Moore’s usage of the word as it is commonly used today. He writes “The author makes the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality immediately evident. Verse 4 (cf. v. 11) shows that every man (!) in the city was caught up in this threat of violence through homosexual activity (they even threaten Lot himself, v. 9). If the assault had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act…Lot’s reply (v. 8) borders on the incredible. Interestingly, he thinks that the men of Sodom would be satisfied with heterosexual abuse…Threatened sexual abuse and violence, both homosexual and heterosexual, constitutes sufficient evidence to move forward with judgment.” This would define the deviant sexual behavior as abuse/rape. Certainly this is something we still view as criminal today. What this passage does not mention is sexual relations taking place in committed, married relationships. Now, this does not necessarily change the validity of Moore’s argument. Homosexual relations might well be a sin. I do not agree with that definition and the reasoning for that is partially spelled out in my seven part series on Theology of Inclusion, but not fully spelled out in writing. However, if we read the text that we have, we see clearly that consensual sexual relations, whether they diverge from the “standard” or not, is not the topic of this passage. No, this passage is about hospitality and abuse. The Sin of Sodom is not two men who choose to have a sexual relationship. The Sin of Sodom is when someone decides to be inhospitable and throw the lesbian couple out of Jesus Christ’s church.

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Trump, Evangelicals, and the Road Ahead

A very interesting and very truthful Christian view on one of our current political candidates and how he stacks up with traditional Christian views. This writing and a number of other things should prompt Christians to ask the hard question of whether or not Trump and his speech really represents the Christian qualities that folks claim to want in a candidate?

David F. Watson

In 1934, at the age of 28, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a friend about an upcoming conference that would involve members of churches from several countries and denominations. In this letter, he wrote, “We must make it clear—fearful as it is—that the time is very near when we shall have to decide between National Socialism and Christianity. It may be fearfully hard and difficult for us all, but we must get right to the root of things, with open Christian speaking and no diplomacy. And in prayer together we will find the way.”[1] This was before the Holocaust began, before WWII began. But Bonhoeffer saw that one could not embrace the Christian faith and embrace the political tide of his nation that was so enamored with the Nazi party. The two simply were not compatible. On April 9th, 1945, he was executed for his part in the…

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A Queer Theology of Inclusion Part 2

Today, we continue with the study of an Inclusion Theology. This will look at how Tradition impacts theology and how that tradition can be applied and/or rewritten for the Queer individual.

Also, as a note as I write out “LGBT” I realize that this term has become a bit exclusive in itself. Recent discussions and research in human sexuality show that there are a large number of sexual and gender orientations beyond those four. Wesleyan University in Connecticut began using the acronym “LBTTQQFAGPBDSM” early in 2015 with the letters meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexual, asexual, genderfu-k, polyamourous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.” Even using fourteen letters to describe the community, there are still orientations left out, pansexual and intersex come to mind, so in this context, rather than continuing down the rabbit hole of letters to which there seems to be no end, I am simply choosing to stop the acronym at “LGBT” with the hope that anyone who reads this would see that as a way of saying “all are included.”

The first source that will be evaluated here is Tradition. Patrick Cheng writes “Queer theology draws upon tradition—that is, church history as well as the teachings of the church over the last two millennia—in creative ways. As is the case of scripture, Christian tradition usually has been seen as being uniformly anti-queer.”1 Indeed, if an LGBT person wishes to draw theology from the traditions of the church, it most certainly be done in creative and different ways. As Cheng notes, the traditional view of the church has been anti-LGBT, especially prior to the 1960’s. The traditional church view of binary gender relationships and male-female compatibility can be seen in the writings of Karl Barth. Barth writes:
“He cannot wish to liberate himself from the differentiation and exist beyond his sexual determination as mere men; for in everything that is commonly human he will always be in fact either the human male or the human female. Nor can he wish to liberate himself from the relationship and be man without woman or woman apart from man; for in all that characterises him as man he will be thrown back upon woman, or as woman upon man, both man and woman being referred to this encounter and co-existence.”2
Based on this, it is clear that Barth supports the standard view of gender relations and sexuality within the context of the Christian Church. Given this as the “gold standard” for church tradition, the issue of how LGBT persons and theologians can use tradition in forming theology is significant.
Cheng notes that many Queer Theologians are writing about church tradition not from a point of view that changes existing tradition but that restores tradition to what is was in the ancient church. Cheng notes extensive work by LGBT historian John Boswell. He writes “Boswell argued that Christianity was not uniformly homophobic throughout its early history and that it only became significantly homophobic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries….Prior to his death in 1994, Boswell published Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which argued that same-sex blessing rites existed in the Christian church for centuries.”3 Based on this, the queer theologians are not trying to create a completely new church tradition or cast aside the present one in favor of some hedonic form of Christianity, rather they are attempting to recapture Ancient Christianity and bring it to life today in the LGBT community. Cheng writes “By reclaiming the Christian tradition, these queer scholars have located the LGBT experience squarely within the history and teachings of the church. As such, we are able to draw upon this work as a source for constructing our own theologies.”4 With all this being noted, however, I consider tradition to be the least important of the four sources in crafting a Queer Theology.
For me, Tradition as a source is an absolute necessity for the high level theological thinker. James Cone, certainly someone critical of the church tradition, especially that tradition in America, wrote “It is impossible for any student of Christianity to ignore tradition; the New Testament itself is a result of it.”5 However, for the average member of a congregation, I do not see tradition as being tremendously important. My reasoning is that so much of what the normal church member sees as “tradition” is the modern manifestation of the church rather than the ancient traditions. So, while the ancient tradition might be the same for most all traditions, it is the modern tradition that concerns individuals. If there is something about this modern tradition that a person finds objectionable, then it is not unreasonable for them to change church congregations or denominations to find a modern tradition that is suited to their particular theological view. Certainly a case could be made as to whether or not that is a good thing, but that is not the purpose here. Given this, it is my view that Tradition is an interchangeable piece for a great many individuals, even pastors (Patrick Cheng himself was ordained in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches before becoming a priest in The Episcopal Church after a change in church doctrine towards LGBT invididuals), and is not a huge factor in crafting Queer Theology.

**Footnotes available upon request**

A Queer Theology of Inclusion Part 1

This will be a seven part series that will first introduce Queer Theology as a concept and then systematically work through the four sources of theology in order to craft a basic theological statement for the inclusion of LGBT(QIAP), really all individuals, into the church community.

For a basic introduction to Queer Theology, Patrick Cheng’s “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology” is a great place to start. The book is cited in this work and is an easy read. Also, this article written by Greg Daly of the Toronto School of Theology provides a good introduction to the topic:

With that, let us begin.

The question of whether or not to accept, fully, partially, or not at all, LGBT persons into congregations is one of the biggest questions facing the church today. Many of the more conservative churches tend to say that LGBT persons are, for all intents and purposes, not welcome at all and if they are only under conditions of absolute celibacy. The most liberal of churches are already to the point of full inclusion where there are LGBT pastors and all rituals and ordinances of the church are available to all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Moderate churches fall in the middle to various degrees and this has led to some high level discussions and disagreements within the denominations. For the time being, there will almost certainly be no consensus of views between various denominations, perhaps not even within congregations. The purpose here will be to look at the four sources of theology, scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, and determine how, and in what form, those combine to form a Queer Theology of Inclusiveness for the church today.

**Citations available upon request**

Martin Luther King

So I wonder how many folks who posted quotes from King today really understand his theological/sociological views? How many are willing to go to jail or die to support them? Did you go do “service” today just to feel good about yourself or did you do it to establish a relationship with an organization and really try to change the community?

LGBT Issues in the Anglican Communion

As you might have read this past week, the Episcopal Church was sanctioned by the wider Anglican Communion due to its recent changes in acceptance and ordination of LGBT individuals. A report can be read here (New York Times) or you can do a search to find one of the hundreds of other reports. I think this is a highly telling event in the history of the Anglican Church and the wider Christian Church in general.

First, I do not believe this has come as a result of some kind of big lobby from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This has come from lobbying from the Anglican Churches in the Global South. In the NYT piece, it’s noted that the Bishop of Uganda walked out of the meetings. Given the general acceptance of LGBT individuals in the Church of England, there are reports about a transgender priest, it makes no sense that this comes from the Church of England. No, I believe this is coming from the large body of churches in Africa, Asia, and South America. In these places, having attended school with some African students, my general impression is that those who would be considered “conservative” on LGBT issues in America would be “liberal” in the extreme in many of these nations. This has significant implications for the global church.

There has been concern expressed, though maybe not publicly, in the United Methodist Church about this upcoming General Conference and how the African Conferences will react to potential changes on the UMC’s position on LGBT issues; this beyond issues that will be faced in America. While there can be no crystal ball for us to glance upon in order to try to get answers on all these issues, the conservatism seen in the Global South will likely complicate issues and proposed changes for global churches. It will also have an impact on those inclusive churches who would want to grow out into more global denominations.

This is a big issue for the various churches. American and European churches are expanding into the Global South and now those churches are finding themselves often at odds with the political, moral, and theological positions of those southern Churches. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the historical Church of England is still numerically superior in numbers to the rest of the church (when adding in churches in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, and the USA even more superior) yet if one looks at the make-up of the Anglican Communion, the politics seem dominated by those churches in the Global South based on the number of voting Bishops. This should be something for other global churches to view with care. It will be interesting to see this summer how the Global South conferences work within the UMC General Conference.

The Global South is a huge power in the modern church. I’m not sure if the English, Western European, and American institutions are ready to truly acknowledge that fact.

Grace and Reconciliation

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.
The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.
The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.
Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.
Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in Intro to Theology was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is as unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.

Comments: It’s interesting reading back through these. Talking about Warrior and forgiveness, I have come to see that forgiveness can mean many things and will not look the same for all people. As we see with this story, forgiveness also might not come quickly; in this case it took 17+ years. Also, I see my writing as being different now. I try to rarely refer to Jesus Christ as simply “Christ” because that’s not his name, but rather a title. So my preference now is to always call Jesus by his given name. Not that it’s wrong either way, I don’t suppose, just something that I have done.