Friday, April 02, 2010

All Hail Caesar!

A group of United Methodist clergy, including the appointed pastor, announced recently they will be conducting same-sex unions at Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Washington DC in clear defiance of United Methodist Church principles (splitting hairs over whether it is church “law”) and – in my humble opinion – what is clearly written in Scripture. The Church’s prohibition seems clear enough, but the DC city council voted to issue licenses to same-sex couples. It seems Dumbarton is responding more to Caesar’s call and lead and is, in effect, separating itself from union with the United Methodist Church by its clearly defiant, in-your-face act of … what? Civil disobedience? Can’t be that because the civil authorities have issued their own “ok”; hence, perhaps, the unfortunate clergy decision at Dumbarton.

Many would hope we can have a calm, reasonable discussion about such church and social matters, but it seems to have been made clear more than once over many a General Conference that such discourse is not possible and will not be possible because liberals clearly have a curious understanding of what it means to be “set apart” as a people of faith. There is too much name-calling, finger-pointing, slander, and downright blasphemy for there to be anything among so-called “united” Methodists to come close to “holy conferencing”.

So I sit here wondering where that leaves me as a United Methodist clergy. Should I waste time writing further objections that non-biblical, social Christians will dismiss as “antiquated” and narrow-minded anyway (acknowledging the certain death of “holy conferencing”), should I resolve to simply ignore it in the vain hope that it will pass soon enough, or shall I continue to march in faith AND in love in helping my own congregation deal with it?

It will be a little of all three. There are numerous biblical arguments against such worldly religion that speak not only to the disobedience but also speak as clearly to my chosen responses. Antiquated though the Scripture may be in terms of when they were written, the eternal lessons coming from the Eternal Father are still His – that is, IF the Holy Bible is the inspired word of the Lord and if the Lord has not somehow changed His mind. Ignoring something has never made it go away, and the Dumbarton decision is just one in a long line of several similar decisions all of which clearly indicate this is no isolated incident and that the battle for the soul of the United Methodist Church is raging still and will get worse. Finally, I serve a rather conservative congregation, most of whom have expressed concern over the direction of the United Methodist Church and continue to wonder about their own place within the Methodist Body of Christ. For these and for many others it is not a matter of who will be asked – or forced – to leave but, rather, when the departure must take place. Nothing seems clearer.

In more than one instance Jesus seems clear to His disciples that the world will hate us, beat us, persecute us for His name’s sake. Why? Because we must not be like them. This separation, this being “set apart” surely has its roots in the Exodus and in the Law. We must identify ourselves not by mere affiliation to an institution and certainly not a culture that is here today but will be gone tomorrow but by unmistakable submission to the Word of the Lord. He promises salvation to all who endure to the very end. So who is being hated and persecuted and beaten? The homosexuals? Because the Church does not – cannot - recognize a union between persons of the same gender without making up new ideas that are clearly not consistent with Scripture? Are these the persecuted ones? To hear our liberal brethren tell it, I and those who agree with me are the ones casting stones, passing judgment, and contributing to the hateful atmosphere that has done substantial physical harm to homosexuals. And these accusations come even as Scripture is being quoted with no commentary. Just plain words that seem abundantly clear but apparently only to some.

So where to start? Since direct scriptural quotes have made no dents and since very nearly all Christians can be accurately accused of “cafeteria” Christianity, quoting from Leviticus or St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has become redundant. Besides, what is really at stake here? I and countless others have long maintained that homosexuality is not the “mother of all sins” but is merely a symptom of a much greater spiritual sickness. The issue at stake goes much deeper than homosexual conduct. Truly, the matter at hand is much more sinister than many would like to believe. Indeed, the Church is under direct attack - from within.

In the very beginning, according to Christian tradition and as it is written, humanity was created by God for God – not the other way around. And in the very beginning man was created to commune with God. Along the natural course of events, that communion was violated by man’s willful act of disobedience. As a result of that willful disobedience, man could no longer exist in the same company as God. Since Paradise was God’s domain with humanity living there at God’s leisure, disobedient humanity had to go. Overly simplified, of course, but this is the so-called Fall.

Skip ahead to ancient Egypt. Israel has been overtaken and enslaved by the Pharaoh, and in their captivity they cry out. The Lord heard their cries and called Moses to shepherd His people out of the bonds of slavery, out of Egypt, out of that culture, out of that society. A key element of the story of the Exodus is the substantial component of leaving Egypt rather than staying, being called out and set apart as a “holy” and “priestly” nation. This component is not unlike what the scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests relative to the contemporary Church: The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or to act (The Prophetic Imagination, pg 1).

From the very beginning there has been a clear dividing line between holiness and worldliness. Now the United Methodist Church as well as the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are trying to have their cake and eat it by dismissing whole centuries of theological reality by flippantly suggesting, by human intellect rather than spiritual wisdom, that “it’s not really what it means”.

Once we cross that line and finally and utterly dismiss Holy Scripture as “irrelevant” or “antiquated” and decide for ourselves what is and is not “relevant” as we strive to be popular with the dominant culture, our base and foundation will have been lost and we will be as far separated from the Father – rather than “set apart” from the world – as we could possibly be.

The Church must still be a voice but a Divine Voice rather than a cultural one. I just hope it’s not too late.

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