Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Look for the New Year

I've switched over to the new version of blogger. I like it a lot, because it's easier to make changes and add do-dads and what-nots. But it has come at a price. I have lost access to all those wonderful Haloscan comments that you, the readers, have made over the years. I can get to them through haloscan, but readers will not be able to go back and look at the comments left over the last four years. Hey, don't blame me, blame Marvin; he's the one who set up this blog using Haloscan for comments!

Over at Levellers Michael has a thoughtful series of posts about the full inclusion of GLBT folks in the church. (His first two posts are here and here). I am going to be writing about this topic as well, because I am too impatient and keep "jumping ahead" of Michael's argument! Michael is an excellent theologian, and I hope he finds his way back into the academy. I do, however, disagree with him about this subject, and I wish to differentiate my views from his so that I can understand Michael and myself more clearly. So, I am doing this for my own sake as much as anyone else's.

For starters, here is a newsletter article I wrote about a year and a half ago. It is the only time I have ever expressed my views to my congregation about this subject. I will be saying more in the coming days, but I share this just as "preliminaries."

Jonathan’s Journals

Wow. I bet that headline got your attention. Everyone wants to read what the pastor is going to say about homosexuality. Or do they?

Suppose the headline had said, “Twenty-four thousand peopled died yesterday from hunger.” Or “Thirty-two died yesterday in Iraq.” Or “One Million People died yesterday who never accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Would those headlines have caught our attention? They should have. Instead, our attention has been captured by a narrow focus on homosexuality. That is wrong. We need to focus on feeding the hungry, offering compassion to the vulnerable, and making disciples for Jesus Christ. We do not need to focus on homosexuality.

Which is why you have never heard me preach about the subject. I thought surely this summer when I was taking requests for sermon topics, that someone would ask for a sermon about homosexuality. But no one did. And I’m glad. However, since the subject is a prevalent issue in our culture today, it should be addressed by the church.

I am in full agreement with the teaching of the United Methodist Church on this subject. If you want to know my views, simply read the Discipline. The Discipline states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and prohibits any sort of marriage or religious blessing for persons of the same sex. The United Methodist Church does not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.

The Discipline also affirms, “homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

The United Methodist position may seem complex to some, but the situation is complex. I try to avoid overly simplistic answers. One simplistic answer is “discriminating against gays is just as bad as discriminating against blacks or other minorities.” It is not that simple. Homosexual practice is an act which is subject to moral discernment. One’s race is not an act, which is why it is obviously not immoral to be black, white, red, or yellow.

Another overly simplistic position is to say that “the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, so it is.” Proof-texting (or quoting certain isolated verses of Scripture without reference to how they fit in the overall message of the Bible) does not necessarily lead to a biblical point of view. If it did, we would not be allowed to eat pork, wear certain fabrics, worship on Sunday, keep both of our eyes, allow women to sing in the choir or appear in church without a hat, keep any of our money, emancipate slaves, or do any business with the bank. Rather, what it means to have a biblical point of view is to consider the “whole tenor of the Scriptures.” And the overall message of the Bible concerning our sexuality is that God’s gift of sexuality is meant to be fully expressed only within the lifelong monogamous covenant between one man and one woman. So the church has taught consistently for two thousand years, and so it will continue to teach. It is this theological understanding of marriage that is the basis for the United Methodist opposition to same-sex marriages.

The issue of homosexuality is not likely to go away soon. Remember that Jesus said we would be known as his disciples by our love, not by our views on homosexuality.

In summation:
  • avoid simplistic answers
  • love everybody
  • remain faithful to the Scriptures
  • don't lose focus on making disciples and helping those in need



Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ten Propositions on Religion and Television

Ken Carter, of Bear Witness to the love of God in this world, has an interesting piece about a recent television interview with Franklin Graham. Ken was at the Y exercising and listening to his ipod, but as he notes, the media is so predictable, he didn't need to listen. The images told him everything he needed to know about the interview. Marshall McLuhan would have a field day with this.

As Ken points out, the media has certain templates that they use to cover Christianity, and they hardly ever change. Ken concludes: "The media is mildly interested in the good works of Christians. The media is somewhat more interested in conflict and division among Christians, especially prominent Christians. The media is very interested in hypocrisy among Christian leaders. The media's interest is 'off the charts' about the interface of sexuality, televangelism, and the megachurch."

Adding Ken's insight to the insights of Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman, would lead me to the following conclusions:

1. It is very difficult to proclaim the gospel message of death and resurrection through the medium of television, which is designed to entertain us.

2. Television always oversimplifies complex issues such as religion.

3. Whenever we use television, we surrender the meaning of what we say to the all-encompassing "power / principality" that is the mass media.

4. The media is capable of using us for its own ends.

5. The incarnation means that God's message is the medium of flesh and blood, Jesus Christ.

6. Television has tendency towards gnosticism, because it is inherently anti-incarnational -- disembodied bits of information completely separated from context.

7. The sacraments are a good antidote to the gnostic, entertainment orientation of our current media-saturated culture.

8. The internet is also somewhat anti-incarnational, but it is better than television because it allows for more interaction and participation.

9. Televangelists sometimes unintentionally broadcast the message that God can be known gnostic-style without the church.

10. We should all turn off our computers now, and go love someone, a real flesh-and-blood human being.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On Orthodoxy and Liberalism

This helps explain the subtitle of my blog:

Like Yoder and O'Donovan, Hauerwas affirms orthodoxy. In fact, he argues that change can occur only in the church, where there is orthodoxy. Orthodoxy provides a direction, which is 'uncontrolled' and "radically unpredictable' in a way that liberalism is not. Precisely because orthodoxy seeks fidelity to historical enactments it must, of necessity, engage other historical enactments and incorporate them into its ongoing narrative. Orthodoxy is continuously performed. Of necessity it changes because it is not a path a priori scripted, but it nevertheless has a clear direction from incarnation to eschaton. Between these times it negotiates this path, discovering more profoundly what orthodoxy itself is.

Orthodoxy requires traditioning, which entails receiving gifts from the past to live in the present. Only something with profound roots could be capable of incorporating something truly new. But liberalism 'renders the past impotent for the ongoing determination of our lives.' It assumes the inevitability of progress and the incessant need to be relevant to the new such that it becomes thoroughly predictable and thoroughly controlled. It knows only the new, and thus the new becomes the norm. It cannot then ever be truly new. There is no path, no direction, only the point of the now. Orthodoxy, like a a river, is capable of springing forth new movements precisely because it has a direction. Liberalism, like backwater, can only remain stagnant. It loses the ability to discover genuine difference and forces all of history into its homogeneous mold of the 'new and improved,' which becomes our fate.

-- D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God, pp 100-101.

"Liberalism has now become a dogmatic form of orthodoxy incapable of change, and Reinhard Hutter has persuasively argued that theological change cannot occur without a theological attentiveness to the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. If there is no such distinction, then theology can only be indifferent toward its historical representations. That liberalism assumes that dogma is at most symbolic, reflecting an underlying experience, discloses that change is not possible for it. Only orthodoxy, which assumes that dogmas matter, can incorporate change." ibid. p. 95

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christian Century launches new blog

Well worth reading is the new blog of the Christian Century. Authors include Jason Byassee, David Heim, and Debra Bendis. The blog allows for follow-up conversation on many of the articles that have appeared in the publication. If you've been impressed (as I have been) over the last few years at the quality of writing coming from The Christian Century, you will probably enjoy their blog as well. I have added it to my blogroll, and made a few other updates to my sidebar.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is N. T. Wright Supersessionist?

To the above question, my answer would be No.

Douglas Harink's answer would be Yes.

Richard Hays doesn't think Harink's being fair to Wright.

I like the way N. T. Wright compares the church and the synagogue to the relationship between the younger brother and older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. (In For All God's Worth):

Once upon a time, there was a man with five children. The oldest stayed at home and worked hard, while the other four went off with as much loot as they could, lived it up, went bust, and came home with their tails between their legs. The father welcomed them all back with amazing generosity, and gave them a party, while the older brother sulked outside.

The morning after, the four younger ones got together over a pot of coffee to talk it through.

"What are we going to do about Judah?" asked Constantine. "He made me so mad last night! Let's all get together and beat him up, that'll teach him!"

"Steady on," said the second, whose name was Portia, "He is our brother after all. I've got a better idea. Let's have another wild party tonight, and this time, we'll pick him up by force and drag him to the party and make him enjoy himself!"

"Oh, I don't know," said the third one whose name was Enlightenment, "I think he's so different from us that we would be better off if we leave him alone entirely. It would be very arrogant of us to attempt to say anything to him or even about him. If we just ignore him...."

"Ignore him?" said the fourth, whose name was Pauline, "Look, I couldn't sleep last night. I was so sad when Judah went out (and I can quite understand why he did); it was as though a part of me went with him. I don't think we'll feel like a proper family again until he comes back. But he'll have to come back in his own way and at his own time. We certainly can't put pressure on him. We mustn't project our own guilt on him. But what we can do, perhaps, is to try and live here in such a way that he'll want to come back. We can hold the sort of party he would enjoy. We can let him know how sorry we are, and let him know he's really welcome, that we really do want him back. And I'll tell you something else, perhaps we should ask Father to have another go at persuading him. That's probably the best way of all."

(pp. 122-123)


There's been some discussion lately in the blogosphere about N. T. Wright. (Lee links to a great review of Wright.) I've made it clear that I think he is one of the most brilliant theologians around (although I was disappointed to read that he did not throw his support behind Rowan Williams when he was opposing the Trident program) What do you think? Is N. T. Wright a supersessionist or not? Again, my vote is NO!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Top Theologians at Levellers

Michael has a fun post about the top theologians in the world, and the top theologians in one's home country. Why don't you go check it out and add your nominees?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

They let me do these things at my job

Readers of this blog may not know much about the particular church where I serve as pastor, Shiloh United Methodist Church in Granite Quarry, NC (unless you've checked out some of the stuff on my sidebar). I send out emails to my congregation a few times a week. Several days ago, I started writing another email that was going to have some announcements and prayer concerns in it, but when I started writing, this is what came out. I thought I would share it here so that you might get a sense out of what life is like for me as a pastor:

Dear Friends in Christ,

I don't know how I got it, but for some reason, I have the best job in the world. I got to attend Ladies Night Out last night, which was a wonderful time of eating, fellowship, entertainment, music, and inspiration. They let me do these things in my job.

Wednesday night, I get to host a group of Youth at the parsonage at 6:00. All youth are invited. We will eat, drink, celebrate, and make some plans for the future. It will be loads of fun. They let me do these things in my job.

I get to go to the Boy Scout Banquet tonight (Tuesday night at 7). I'll eat (again), and enjoy the company of some fine young men, and the adults who work with them. They let me do these things in my job.

Friday night, I get to go to the Granite Quarry Christmas dinner, for all the employees and volunteers of the town (127 of them!). Our church is hosting the event, and I get to come. They let me do these things in my job.

On Saturday morning at 10, I get to run the sound system (along with Aaron Cameron) for the Youth Christmas play practice. We have 18 young people participating in the Christmas play this year. On the sound system, there are all sorts of fun buttons and slides and things that light up and other gadgets and gizmos to play with. It is sort of like a video game. They let me do these things in my job. On Sunday afternoon at 4, we'll have the performance (you don't want to miss it!) and then there will be another Christmas party with treat bags. They let me do these things in my job.

On Sunday morning, we will have the Hanging of the Greens at 11:00. It is so beautiful. People sing, pray, and worship God. We talk about the symbols of God's love. I get to do one of the readings in this service. I get to lift my hands and share a blessing with everyone at the end. They let me do these things in my job.

I get to walk around from person to person, group to group, as they are doing ministry on behalf of the church, and say "thank you." I get to visit with older members and listen to them tell me the stories of the past. Sometimes, I just stand in wonder at the beauty of the body of Christ. They let me do these things in my job.

I'll tell you what else they let me do: be with people as they experience all the highs and lows of life; be with them at weddings and funerals, at the hospital when a baby is born, or at the bedside when a loved-one dies. In times of great joy and great sadness, I am invited into people's lives -- the holy places where God meets us, and the everyday ordinary places where God also meets us. What a privilege to be a part of that sacred intersection of God and God's people. I feel like I should take off my shoes because I know I am standing on holy ground. Sometimes the Spirit of God moves in such a powerful way that I feel like I am holding power lines and I feel the current flowing through me, leaving me breathless and speechless. I get to lead worship for the people of God, to offer my own words in conjunction with God's word, to preside at the celebration of the Sacraments, to look people in the eyes and say, "This is the body of Christ, broken for you!" It's challenging, frightening, joyful, exhausting, exhilarating work; I can't imagine doing anything else. I can't believe y'all actually pay me to do this. I should pay you. But they let me do all these things and more at my job.


Mendy Gaither tells me they will be putting treat bags together at the church on Saturday at 1:30. If anyone wants to help, or just plain enjoys doing things like this (as Mendy does!) please come!

Also Mendy (who is working on behalf of our church at the Soup Kitchen on Dec. 23) needs two people to contribute a spiral ham each. They can bring them to the fellowship hall kitchen that Saturday morning or to Rowan Helping Ministries. Just let Mendy know, or let me know, and I'll pass it on to her.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

United Methodist Doctrinal Standards and Pacifism

I have managed to create quite a discussion over at Locusts and Honey. (ok, maybe most of the conversation came from me). The topic is United Methodist Doctrinal Standards and pacifism. Anything I know about this subject is taken from D. Stephen Long.

The orignal thread is here.

Joel offers some very thoughtful reflections here.

And John of Locusts and Honey has a follow up here.

Sources for futher research and study would include:

Living the Discipline: United Methodist Theological Reflections on War, Civilization, and Holiness by D. Stephen Long (Eedmans, 1992)

"At Full Liberty: Doctrinal Standards in Early American Methodism" by Richard Heitzenrater, in Doctrine and Theology in the United Methodist Church, edited by Thomas A. Langford (Kingswood Books, 1991)

"What Are 'Established Standards of Doctrine'? A Response to Richard Heitzenrater," by Thomas C. Oden in Doctrine and Theology in the United Methodist Church.

Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition by Thomas C. Oden. (Zondervan, 1988)