Part Two of The Becoming Christ: Is The Church Wrong?

APOSTATE, n. A leech who, having penetrated the shell of a turtle only to find that the creature has long been dead, deems it expedient to form a new attachment to a fresh turtle.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

The Church Is Wrong, is the title of a short but devastating article over at First Things (posted 5.16.2014) that I came across in the facebook feed of the only Christian professor who has told me a joke about Jesus Christ’s penis. The article begins as such:

So charge many of our fellow young Christians, most recently amidst the controversy over Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian, which argues that the Bible and the Church are alike wrong on sexuality. Let us be clear, according to Vines, the tradition and reliability of the Church’s teaching throughout the ages on sexuality are both wrong. Not only are the Scriptures and the historic interpretation wrong, they are both active purveyors of injustice meted out towards homosexuals.

So begins the hermeneutical spiral one has to deal with when when trying to reconcile the modern context of Gay Identity (or feminism or gender) with the Biblical text. While I have not read Matthew Vines’s book, I am familiar with the general argument employed which in its shortest form goes something like this: The writers of the New Testament and Old Testament were not talking about gay Identity in the context of a life long monogamous relationship, they were talking about gay acts--with the possibility that gay acts only refer to heathen religious practices which can be contrasted with Judaism and Christianity.

That sounds confusing and I’m trying to figure out the most direct way to articulate what this argument implies. To do so, I will have to take a quick aside and talk about an essay I read a few years ago by a writer named Edmund White (who is now in light of Gore Vidal’s words and death, king fag. Though, now that I reflect on my previous post about the spectrum of gender, I should have, here, reference Gore Vidal’s writing since he advocated for pansexualism. Now I must admit to writing this lengthy meta-parenthetical aside to show you the literary name dropping I am capable of. Nonsense as it is, quite a few people are impressed by it).

Edmund White’s essay, The Political Vocabulary of Homosexuality, which first appeared in a book titled, The State of the Language (1980), of which I came across in Cameron's Used Books and Magazines in 2005 documents the development of vocabulary among gays from 1969 to 1980, but the following excerpt shows how revolutionary Gay Identity was in America:

…In June 1969 a group of lesbian and gay men resisted a routine police raid on the Stonewall, a popular dance bar in Greenwich Village. Opposition to police harassment was unusual enough to signal a quickening sense of solidarity. Soon after the Stonewall Resistance gay organizations and publications were springing up across the country and, by now, gay liberation has become both national and international movement.

I was present at the original even and can recall how the participants cast about for political and linguistic models. Black power, feminism, resistance to the war in Vietnam, and the New Left were all available, and each contributed to the emerging gay style and vocabulary. Discussing the beginning of the movement in this way, however, makes it sound too solemn and deliberate.  Our recognition that we formed an oppressed minority struck us as humorous at first; only later did we come to take ourselves seriously.

...someone in the defiant crowd outside called out, “Gay Power,” which caused us all to laugh. The notion that gays might become militant after the manner of blacks seemed amusing for two reasons--first because we gay men were used to thinking of ourselves as too effeminate to protest anything and secondly because most of us did not consider ourselves to be a legitimate minority.

At that time we perceived ourselves as separate individuals at odds with society because we were “sick” (the medical model), “sinful” (the religious model), ”deviant” (the sociological model), or “criminal” (the legal model). Some of these words we might have said lightly, satirically, but no amount of wit could convince us that our grievances should be remedied or our status defended. We might ask for compassion but we could not demand justice. Many gays either were in therapy or felt they should be, and the words gay liberation would have seemed as preposterous to us as neurotic liberation ….

What I want to stress is that before 1969 only a small (though courageous and articulate) number of gays had much pride in their homosexuality or a conviction that their predilections were legitimate. The rest of us defined our homosexuality in negative terms,...

Although this essay is dated, it shows the development of gay identity, or, if you will, the awakening of a gay identity. You see, prior to the stonewall riots there was no such thing as a gay person. Prior to 1969 there was only one sexual orientation, and that was straight, and a small number of people who were straight deviated from their natural straight orientation and did gay things.

Careful readers will see I am over simplifying. After all, we've had the Kinsey scale since '48, but I need you to feel how important, how new, and how complicating our modern understanding of sexual orientation is. We now know that people are born gay in the same fashion as people are born straight. A person has as much choice in choosing to be gay as a person has in choosing to be straight. There is no such thing as a deviant straight person committing a gay act. There are no gay things. Only gay people, and we've only recently figured this out.

Now here is the problem. If this is a new insight, one that we have only recently adopted, what are we to make of the Bible? If, “Paul did not know committed same-sex relationships between equal, adult persons,” what then was he writing about when he states:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

Here the conversation becomes one of grammar and definitions and so forth and what have you, but essentially those who believe our modern understanding of sexuality was not a consideration that the new testament writers held believe this warrants the conclusion, “he could not have been speaking to [gay people]. What is condemned in the Bible is temple prostitution, and abusive relationships between a grown man and an adolescent boy.”

Or, again, deviant acts, abuses, taboos. Not actual people be they gay or straight.

Now I actually agree with this line of reasoning, and I see how some contextual considerations lend weight to it (especially in Romans One), but there is a deep problem with giving authority over scripture to our modern understanding. If the writers of the Bible lacked the correct understanding on sexual orientation, what other things are they wrong about:

It is a key plank in Vinesian exegesis that the writers of the New Testament lacked a modern comprehension of individuals with a same-sex orientation. But this approach to interpretation defies how the Scripture understands itself and distorts any credible doctrine of inspiration. If the Church—a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim: 3:15)—has been wrong on homosexuality, what else has she been wrong on?

Progressive Millennial Protestants, as First Things calls them, do have an authority problem. They have a history problem too, but that is something all Millennials have an issue with (be they progressive or not), but I digress.

Anyway, the suspension of authority and the possibility of the Church being wrong concerning homosexuality, feminism, and transgender looks something like this.

 

Sexuality and Gender

 

7 B.C. to 381 A.D.

381 A.D. to 1969 A.D.

1969 A.D. to Present

“Jesus—the Incarnate and Risen Lord—is not aware of his own patriarchal biases,” and his apostles have a limited or incorrect understanding of sexuality.  Church forms its sexual ethic, authority structure, central dogmas with the merging of different strands of Christianity with creedal confessions.
Even though the Holy Spirit is an active member in the Triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit does not lead the Church out of its ignorance. The Church is possibly both wrong and active purveyors of injustice meted out towards homosexuals.
A small thing happens outside the walls of the Church. It picks up momentum and starts change the way people see themselves. It starts to change the way people see Christ. People like Matt Vines get accused of being revisionists.
 

Feminism

 

7 B.C. to 415 A.D.

415 A.D. to 1848 A.D

1848 A.D. to Present

Some people see Jesus’ treatment of women as progressive for the time and culture setting of the Bible. They extend this forward tracing a trajectory that the Church is supposed to follow.
Even though there are minor examples of women being exemplified (see Acts of Paul and Thecla, and Then the odd Passion of Eugenia) they are still seen as sexual objects. Hypatia gets flayed. The Church is possibly both wrong and active purveyors of injustice meted out towards women.
A small thing happens outside the walls of the Church. It doesn’t quite pick up the momentum as other causes have. But a small and dedicated line of women thinkers, agitators, and theorists starts change the way people see themselves. It starts to change the way people see Christ. People of the feminist persuasion get accused of subverting the natural and divine order of the sexes as evidenced in the Bible.

 

A number of friends of mine have questioned why I remain a Christian. Some have even worried that my faith has added to my mental and emotional deterioration. Perhaps they are right. I, more than anyone I know, I, in and of myself, know all the really good reasons to reject Christianity and walk away from it. 

It very well might be that I am a juggler of six or seven cognitive dissonances. Or maybe I am just a theological masochist. Maybe I like the smell of dead turtles, or even worse, I think dead turtles can be raised to new life.

In the next post, I will outline the two or three hermeneutical considerations that the New Testament attests to.