Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts Prior to Presbytery Meeting

My decision to support ordination for gays and lesbians came over a period of years with a variety of conversations and experiences, conjoined with study, thought and prayer.

I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ and a faithful student of the Bible – that is not in question, nor should it ever be questioned; nor will I ever question the faith or faithfulness of those who see this matter differently than I do. 

All theology is autobiographical – more so, I think, then we prefer to admit, because we want to believe that our take on things is somehow closer to the truth, more faithful to Christ, and more purely founded  – the proverbial game of one upsmanship – my Bible verse is bigger and better than your Bible verse – my theology is more faithful to the traditions than your theology, or my theology is more relevant than yours – we all like to trump one another.

I was ordained in January, 1970, and I read my first GA study on the question before us in 1976, and from that moment to now, we have engaged in a pretty thoughtful process – sometimes marred by rancor and the typical ad hominem arguments wherein we discredit the person rather than dealing with their convictions. Accusation and condemnation have sometimes been hurled thoughtlessly; the threat of leaving, of course, has been used by everyone. In our worst moments, we all believe that the eye can say to the hand, I have no need of you.

Western Christianity tends to think in either/or categories, which mean there has to be victors and the vanquished, or the orthodox and the heretical, the faithful and the apostate. It’s difficult for us to think and live in both/and categories, which is likely closer to the reality and wonder of God than our typical linear thinking.

Our own history has been less than sterling … since 1893, when C. Augusus Briggs was suspended from the ministry and Union Theological Seminary subsequently severed its ties with the Presbyterian Church, and then in 1929, when J. Gresham Machen founded Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and who was later suspended in 1935, we’ve been locked in a see-saw battle for the church.  Machen went on to form the “Orthodox” Presbyterian Church, which, of course, means that the remaining body wasn’t orthodox. We’ve seen the formation of the “Evangelical” Presbyterian Church, which also implies that the remaining body isn’t evangelical. I’ve always been grateful for the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America – they’ve never used their name to trump other Presbyterians.

But this only reflects what I call a near-fatal flaw in Reformed thought – we believe we can nail the truth down in our confessions and our rulings, and if only we can quote the right verses of Scripture, and do the needed exegesis, and then shout them loudly enough to one another, and failing that, to cite statistics and the latest findings of sociology and psychology. From the heady days of the Reformation in Geneva through Old School and New School, New Light and Old Light, it’s been a running gun battle, and I wonder about the long-term implications – the casualties have been high on both sides, and I believe our witness to the world has been compromised.

I give thanks for so many who have conducted this debate with respect and humility … no one here can out-Christian the other … no one can claim the high moral ground or hurl one more Scripture grenade – since the mid-70s, we’ve said it all, we’ve done it all, we’ve hurt and been hurt by one another – meanwhile the casualty list continues to grow and the world questions our integrity and value all the more.

I am not a reprobate, though some have said so.
Nor am I a heretic, though some have labeled me as such.
Nor am I apostate, those some have called me so.

I love the LORD Jesus – he is my Savior.
God has been with all my life, and some of my earliest childhood recollections are of God’s presence, in whom I have always found comfort and safety.
I was reared in a Christian family and enjoyed the influence of faithful pastors and strong congregations.

To Christ I belong in faith and practice, in body and soul, in life and in death.
He is my only comfort.
I am faithful to the Bible and it’s chorus of voices.
I am a sinner saved by grace.
I am a pastor of the Presbyterian Church, and I have sought throughout the years to honor the church of my ordination with the best I can give.
I have sought to honor my colleagues … to engage in debate and restrain my worst impulses … I have sought to understand myself and how my life has unfolded, and how the values I hold and the faith that holds me has emerged over the years.

So where do we go from here?
It’s not likely that I’ll forgo my commitment to opening the door of ordination for my friends in the GLBT community … and I will continue to strive for an open door policy in our state and our nation.

Some of my sisters and brothers will continue their stance, too – to honor ordination as they see it – that practicing gays and lesbians cannot be ordained, but only those who practice celibacy.

So where do we go from here?

The only course left to us, the only thing we have beyond what the world might offer, is love – agape – the highest ethical commitment to one another, above and beyond specific loyalties and faith-stances.

Without love, we’re just another bunch of ideologues … no different than a squabbling PTA or a condo association.

We may have all kinds of faith and knowledge, but without love, they are nothing.
For knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

I don’t know how it’ll go …
What does grace mean here and now for us?
What does it mean to walk humbly with our God and to think of others as better than ourselves?

I don’t know …

May God have mercy upon us … upon our beloved Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of the Pacific, and may the Holy Spirit give us good eyes – eyes to see one another in a kindly light – that we are all sisters and brothers of one another through our LORD Jesus Christ, saved by grace, and not of works, lest anyone should boast, all for the glory of God and the wellbeing of God’s world.

So help me God – here I stand … I can do no other.

Thomas P. Eggebeen
May 12, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Homosexuality, Christians and Some Thoughts

The following was written May 1 for a Facebook discussion.

Fascinating discussion on all fronts … It’s always helpful when Christians recognize one another in their self-affirmation. If I say “I’m an advocate for the GLBT community” and “I’m a Christian, “no one else can judge that, because that is precisely the kind of judging against which Jesus warns us.

Thus, the conversation is shifted from any effort to discredit one another at the faith-level of life; rather, we have to admit the complexity of the Christian family – people of good faith read the Text differently, and given the wide latitude of the last 2000 years of interpretation and living, we have to back off a bit and give each other the benefit of the doubt, while refusing to claim the high moral ground for our own views. It’s a matter of humility.

As for sexual surgery, why not? Should we then not fix cleft palettes? Or remove an infected appendix? A case can be made that cleft palettes are God’s will, for they were determined in the womb,  maybe even genetically. And why remove the appendix; it may just be God’s will.

Lots of laws in the Bible – in the Jewish Bible, 613 of them – commandments, including prohibitions on eating shellfish and wearing garments made of two types of cloth.

In addition, unruly children should be stoned, along with all sorts of guidelines for sacrifice and incense.

In the NT, the specific intent of Paul’s few passages are not entirely clear. And one has to note, with some degree of appreciation, homosexual practice is never mentioned by Jesus. Fortunately, there’s been some great work done by a very respectable theologian, the Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers (see his book, now in a brand new edition, “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality). Jack comes from an evangelical background and through careful studies and prayer, he came to his present position of advocacy.

The few Bible passages under  consideration are not a clear-cut case by any stretch. Overall, it’s very difficult to build an ethic of exclusion on such a limited number of passages that are genuinely open to varying interpretations. On the other hand, the overwhelming numbers of passages that speak of welcome and mercy, kindness and love, must surely have the greater voice.

Marriage is not the be-all and the end-all of life. In heaven, there will be no marriage. Paul wasn’t married and actively encouraged others to forgo it, unless, of course, they couldn’t contain their desires. Neither was Jesus married, and he went so far as to redefine his own family as those who hear and do the will of God.

As for Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s all about their lack of hospitality, and their desire to use sexual humiliation for the strangers in their midst – think of prison and how sex is used as domination. And nowhere else in the Bible is Sodom used as illustration of sexual perversity.

All the fuss that was made about those who couldn’t be priests – physical imperfections and sexual damage – Isaiah and Jesus both say, “enough of this!”

Surely to be a Christian is believe in Jesus Christ and follow his commandments – and what is that, but to love God deeply and with the same kind of love, to love their neighbor. It’s love that stands at the heart of Jesus’ vision for the new community, and vast is the number of those who seek and live his love, albeit imperfectly, and in a thousand different ways.

It’s so hard to admit our commonality in Christ; it is the human instinct, it is sin, that compels us to draw boundaries and divide one from the other, claiming the high moral ground – “My Bible verse is bigger and better than yours.” “My love of Jesus is bigger and better than yours.” “My sense of social justice is bigger and better than yours.” When will this madness stop?

It’s easy to divide and love those of our own kind, but Jesus questions that kind of love – anyone can do that. Rather, real love is to love “the enemy” – real or perceived – the one who doesn’t belong to our circle.

I’ve written way too much … this and $4 gets me a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

Blessing and Joy, and let us be kind and welcoming to one another, and unlike the folks of Sodom, let’s not humiliate the stranger in our midst.

Enough of our fixation on sexual orientation. There’s a real place for everyone at the Table of the LORD.