Sunday, March 21, 2004
An exercise in contrasts: On Saturday, thirteen Methodist clergy declared came to the conclusion that the Bible is merely a list of suggestions that you don't really have to follow if you don't feel like it.
Following in the footsteps of the Episcopal Church, which recently made a practicing homosexual a bishop, the Methodists have said there's nothing wrong with being a practicing lesbian.
I confess that I'm one of those benighted neanderthals who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. When God directs Paul to write Romans or lays down all of the rules in Leviticus, I'm predisposed to believe that God means it.
I was listening briefly to the Michael Medved show last week and he had on a clergyman (of which denomination I didn't catch) who was a homosexual. When Medved asked him to identify Biblical verses that said homosexuality was acceptable behavior, the clergyman said something about having a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and that he didn't want to get into quoting verses -- so he didn't.
Regarding Karen T. Dammann, the lesbian Methodist "reverend," I found a couple of quotes in the story that I felt needed some comment.
Ms. Dammann did not testify. But at the news conference on Thursday, she said, "God called me into ordained ministry and I just can't believe that God would make a mistake."
There's another alternative: maybe God didn't call you into ordained ministry? When conservatives like Pat Robertson claim "God has told me George W. Bush will win in a landslide," he's derided as some sort of kook. (And in this case, the liberal media may be right.) But when Ms. Dammann makes a similar claim, well that's just more evidence that God is on her side.
Not in the New York Times story, but in an earlier AP dispatch, was a brief excerpt of the defense's closing argument.
In closing arguments Friday, her church counsel, the Rev. Robert C. Ward, asked jurors to adhere to church principles on inclusiveness and justice, not to the letter of church rules.
"We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people," Ward said. "You are faced with a choice to make love practical, to make love plain, and to do what is right."
Translation: "That Bible thing, not important. We don't want you to come back here and say that anything anyone wants to do is wrong. That would be bad. God's not about right and wrong. He's all about you being happy doing whatever you want to do."
If you want that to be your theological basis, fine, but don't call your church Christian. Oh, and you need to use an abridged version of that Bible-thing.
This entire issue about dealing with sin in church leadership really got me this week because earlier in the week I'd received a letter from my church. (Names have been redacted because they're irrelevant)
If you've ever taken my Pastor's Class, you know our commitment to being a church without "secrets." So today I'm writing to share with you some sad news that came to light last week that you need to hear from me firsthand and not through the rumor mill.
[Blank], our pastor to [blank group] and [blank group], has been involved in an ongoing emotional and physically inappropriate relationship with a woman from the San Francisco Bay area. Prior to that revelation, [Blank's] wife, [Mrs. Blank] had moved out over the previous weekend and informed him of her intention to file for divorce.
[Blank] has obviously been relieved from his pastoral duties here at [name of church]. He has expressed great sorrow for his choices and the pain that this has caused the body. We are in daily contact with [Blank] as we seek God's healing in this situation.
Please pray for [Blank], [Mrs. Blank], and their boys.
The letter continues, but note the difference in the way the churches handle sinful conduct. In the Episcopal Church, a man who left his wife and children to shack up with another man was recently made a bishop. Here, a man who's (apparently) cheated on his wife has been relieved of his duties and his behavior has been judged as incompatible with Christian ministry.
It's possible that someday [Blank] will return to pastoral duties, but there's a recognition that his behavior was wrong. There's no whitewashing going on.
No Christian is perfect. But it's wrong to ignore or justify sinful behavior. A church that says nothing is wrong isn't a church at all.