Opinion: Scripture overrules experience

Mar 27, 2017 by

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Many in our church are sure we should fully include those in same-sex marriages, blessing their covenants and credentialing their pastoral gifts. I would like to join them. Life is simpler when we move with society around us.

Of all the lines of reasoning in support of full inclusion, I observe one that is foundational. Proponents draw the most certainty from the argument from experience. We discern what is right and good through what we see and hear in our relationships.

For instance, a retired Eastern Mennonite University professor, Ted Grimsrud, reviewed “one of the very best books” affirming same-sex marriage. The author, Mark Achtemeier, an evangelical pastor, unabashedly builds his argument on what he calls “good sense.” He begins The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage with this chapter: “The Harvest of Despair: Why Traditional Condemnations of Gay Relationships Can’t Be Right.”

Most Anabaptist supporters of full inclusion hasten to add that Scripture is also foundational. But what happens when we realize that Genesis 1 and 2 present male-female unions as central to God’s creative purposes, as divinely designed? And when we read texts like Rom. 1:18-32 where the strongest and most natural reading is that Paul includes consensual (“for one another”) same-sex intimacy on his list of sins?

When faced with the prospect that biblical interpretation leans toward the church’s historic stance, again and again I hear people cite the godly, healthy same-sex marriages they know or point to the trauma and pain that sexual minorities encounter in churches with a traditional view on sexuality.

Is an argument from experience able to bear the weight of overturning a longstanding teaching of the church? Are we comfortable with the idea that support of same-sex marriage finally rests not on Scripture but on our sense of what seems to work best?

Consider these cautions:

  • None of our Confessions of Faith describes experience as our foremost authority for faith and life. Experience helps us as we interpret Scripture; it can give us eyes to see what a biblical author might be intending to say. But it is not reliable when placed above Scripture. As author and pastor Greg Boyd recently said to Anabaptists: “The minute a movement cuts the tether with biblical authority, it becomes something that just Christianizes the latest fad.”
  • When we observe something, our pre-existing ideas and assumptions affect what we observe. We see what we expect to see. Also, there’s a huge amount of data that needs to be observed over decades.
  • Our culture can skew our perception. Media in Western culture imply sexual expression is essential to human flourishing, though the lives of Jesus and many of his followers through the centuries bear witness that “lives of freedom, joy and service are possible without sexual relations,” writes the biblical scholar Richard Hays.

There is one more difficulty when our discernment on same-sex marriage rests on experience. Progressives observe churches causing grievous harm to those with same-sex attraction, stigmatizing and isolating them. But maybe the harm does not lie in the traditional view but in the way that view is implemented.

What if those churches would act like Christ when interacting with those whom they see going against the wisdom of God? What if they began conversations without reprimand or judgment and even let the other change the subject (John 4:7-26)? What if they, like Christ, made clear that they are a safe presence before speaking about a need to change one’s behavior (John 8:2-11)?

Further, what if those churches would show pastoral accommodation to, for instance, two lesbians who have children and who desire to follow Christ? Accommodation is godly; we see God displaying it throughout the Bible. God blessed David in many ways, though he was a man of violence. God allowed divorce, which falls short of creation’s intent, in order to limit the damage of the sin that flows from hardened hearts (Matt. 19:3-9). We see examples of accommodation in the church today. The Mese­rete Kristos Church in Ethiopia has chosen to receive converts who live in polygamy as members, though not as leaders.

As we see the trauma and pain that sexual minorities have experienced at the hands of traditional churches, some of us diagnose it as the bad fruit of a bad belief. But perhaps the bad fruit does not stem from the belief that opposite-sex relations are God’s wisdom but from our frequent failure to embody God’s patient love as we apply that wisdom.

My prayer is that our stance on same-sex marriage will not finally rest on arguments from experience. Instead, may we be the people whom the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective describes: ones who let “culture, experience, reason” and other sources of discernment “be tested and corrected by the light of Holy Scripture.”

Harold N. Miller is pastor of Trissels Mennonite Church in Broadway, Va.

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  • Ryan Harker

    Thanks, Harold.

  • James Foxvog

    I think your basic premise that Scripture overrules experience is vital to a faithful church. I appreciate your insights into applying this to same-sex relationships in a loving way.

  • Larry W. Jones

    Even if all Christians and Christian churches believed your whacked-out view of religion-over-civil law, which they do not, what makes you think civil law will ever pay any attention to anything religion says? Your religion means nothing to me and has no power over me, my city, my state, or my federal government. Your whole foundation is built on the writings of Paul, a married man who deserted his own wife and children, who believed that Christ would reappear magically within his lifetime, and who believed that no one, gay or straight, should marry. If he had his way, mankind would have died out 2000 years ago. Fortunately, mankind ignored him, as I ignore you.

    • Ken Fellenbaum

      Larry, you are incorrect in your assertion that Apostle Paul “deserted his own wife and children”. No Scriptural evidence for that. Equally in error by stating that “no one,..should marry” – see 1 Cor. 7. Civil laws differ & change, God’s Word is eternal. You have the freedom to ignore what you choose but not miss state what others have said and believe.

      • Larry W. Jones

        Saul/Paul considered himself a good Jew, therefore he was married and had children–whom he clearly abandoned to go around persecuting Christians full-time and then himself being a full-time Christian leader and writer–all without ever meeting Jesus. He grudgingly admitted that it was better to marry than to burn (as with lust) but it was much better to never marry and prepare oneself and others for the imminent return of Jesus Christ–which we’re still waiting for 2017 years later. Of course, no one paid any attention to him, or the human race would have died out thousands of years ago. Your God’s eternal word must compete in the marketplace with the teachings of all the other gods Man has created; in the long run, none of them have fared well over time. I have not misstated what others (unnamed) have said and I am not bound by what others believe.

        • Rachel Stella

          Larry, you’re incorrect when you say “no one paid any attention to him.” In the second-century work “Octavius” by Mark Minucius Felix, the character Octavius says, describing Christians, “In fact, many of us remain virgins our entire lives. We enjoy our virginity rather than boasting about it.” Another second-century work, the “First Apology of Justin Martyr,” says this: “Many men and women who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood are still chaste virgins at the age of 60 or 70. In fact, I can produce examples of such Christians from every race of mankind. Not only that, but there are countless multitudes of those who used to live in debauchery but have now changed their lustful habits and accepted these teachings.”

          Reclaiming and normalizing this tradition in the church would go a long way toward countering the idea that “sexual expression is essential to human flourishing,” as Harold put it. Can we get a “Make Celibacy Great Again” movement going?

          I see nowhere in Harold’s piece an argument for changing or maintaining civil laws — his argument concerns the teaching of the church. If you are not part of the church, this does not apply to you (1 Corinthians 5), and you are certainly free to ignore it, as you have said. But that begs the question: What is your purpose in commenting here?

          • Linda Rosenblum

            Well said Stella. I thought much the same thing about comments that appear to be from folks who are not Christians or connected to Anabaptism in any way. Linda Rosenblum

        • Ken Fellenbaum

          Larry, your reasoning (first sentence) about Paul’s marital status is not born out in Scripture and your “logic” would not be accepted in academic fields or judicial courts. And you did misstate what Paul taught about marriage – which you attempted to walk back in sentence two. According to Paul’s testimony, he did encounter/met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4-6). And yes, Rachel is correct that many people did follow Paul’s example & teaching. Awaiting your response to her last question.

  • Kate O’Hanlan

    When the scriptures were written, there was no consciousness about the existence of God’s children who were born with a rare expression of their innate, immutable sexual orientation. All the medical evidence today points to the simple fact that gays and lesbians were born with brains that received a variant hormonal mixture during the first 12 weeks of gestation (there are lots of variations on this theme, but the scientists know that orientation is set before birth and cannot change) that makes them gay. Gay people, who are otherwise really boring and normal people, should not be excluded from God’s plan to find a soulmate, settle down with a legal commitment, perhaps make a family, and care for each other into perpetuity. The scriptures did not reveal these details, because gay folks were not part of the discussion back then. They were isolated, repressed, hidden, and leading quiet lives alone. God made the miraculous pattern of biochemistry of pregnancy and made not one color but a spectrum of many, and not one orientation, but a spectrum of many. Let us respect and love all God’s children and support everyone’s dream for a happy, legally recognized and secure future.
    If one faith should choose to reject this small innocent subset of God’s children, and I wish they would not, (please don’t) vote against the civil right for gays to have these legal benefits. And bless the children born into these faiths who find themselves to be gay—these children must then learn all by themselves that they are good and innocent and among God’s greatest gifts to our world. They soon enough realize that they are not respected by that faith, and typically leave it. But what a hard row to hoe for these innocent children.

    • Linda Rosenblum

      First, even if there is a biological cause for homosexual preference, that doesn’t mean that acting out on that desire is not a sin. All of us are naturally inclined to pride, anger, and a host of other sins that are part of our human personality. We are instructed by Scripture to suppress those inclinations because they are not what God intends for us. Second, since your post only relates to your medical opinion and not your religious views, it would be hard for me to judge whether you believe Scripture to be true. However, it seems to me that “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” pretty much means that one can be changed through the work of the Holy Spirit. How small one’s view of God must be of a god who couldn’t change a person’s heart? Can the God that created the universe from nothingness not change a person’s desire for sin? Just my two cents. Linda Rosenblum

    • Berry Friesen

      Your approach is sound in many ways, Dr. O’Hanlan; it can and should be integrated with the the approach of Scripture. But what is the approach of Scripture, exactly?

      One of the earliest formulations is found in Exodus 19:5-6: “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

      Scripture is fully aware of human diversity, yet insists we are a highly malleable species. And it seeks through story and exhortation to bring forth a particular people–a culture, a way of life–that reflects shalom and is sustainable, coherent and world-saving. (Apparently some manifestations of human diversity lead to other, far less desirable ends!) We call this the wisdom of YHWH.

      Between that wisdom and yours, Dr. O’Hanlan, there is common ground if only we can wiggle free of the individualism that has seized our minds.

    • Matthew Froese

      Dr. O’Hanlan you might find Peterson Toscano’s work “Transfigurations” interesting. It’s an exploration of the notion that scripture does indeed reflect some of the diversity of gender and orientation that we see today, but that we’ve tended to read and interpret scripture to minimize, hide, or eliminate those aspects. https://petersontoscano.com/portfolio/transfigurations/

    • Harold Miller

      Kate, your friendly tone is a joy! I hear your plea about rights and will never deny that to gays. I should note, though, that there’s a difference between giving persons the right to do something and affirming what they are doing (eg. just because persons should have the right to follow Buddha does not mean that the church affirms following Buddha.)

      You write of “innate, immutable sexual orientation” and say that “scientists know that orientation is set before birth and cannot change.” You are saying what has been the consensus. However, I heard Willard Swartley speak on this last Fall, and he said that it is now becoming clear that sexual desire is more fluid than the notion of orientation allows. He pointed out that this new understanding of “fluidity” is being affirmed by voices of influence in the LGBT community (eg. Lisa Diamond in her talk at Cornell on sexual fluidity). He also referred to an article with this title: “The American Psychological Association Says Born-That-Way-And-Can’t-Change Is Not True of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” referring the 2014 APA Handbook. Is it possible that we’re moving toward a new consensus? I’d be open to your thoughts on this.

      A side note on our struggles over the Bible: we don’t jettison science just because there are disagreements on the data. Rather, we keep pressing for some new consensus. May we also do that when we disagree on the movements or themes of Scripture!

      • Bruce Leichty

        Harold, can I infer from what are you saying in your second sentence that you regard marriage as a “civil right” and then further that you would not object to court rulings that supposedly confirm the right of a man to wed a man or a woman the right to wed a woman? or legislation establishing such “rights?” As a lawyer and constitutional lawyer, I would urge a more cautious approach, that there is no basis in jurisprudence for the extension of any such right; and as a Christian I would deplore such rogue court rulings (there have now been many of them, by a corrupted judiciary) and all laws purporting to normalize relationships that morally ought not to be normalized. By the way, I personally try not to use the word “gay” to refer to a person with same sex attraction since that is also a concession to the coopting of culture, in much the same way as the courts (and a few legislatures) have been coopted but in this instance just as a matter of language.

        I would also want to be much more cautious about this so-called new consensus on the fluidity of gender identification than some, because this too may be part of the agenda for a genderless world which is antithetical to the world created and ordained by God. In the arena of marriage and family, we would do well to focus on anatomical distinctions rather than psycho-social or hormonal distinctions, particularly in an era where the engineering of and possible manipulation of / alteration of those latter factors is still so little understood.

    • Conrad Martin

      Your first sentence seems to imply that our all-knowing God had nothing to do with the writing of the scriptures.

  • Matthew Froese

    Harold, I appreciate your thoughtful approach, even though we differ greatly in our views. I also appreciate your effort to find a path for greater pastoral accommodation where that is within reach for for a congregation. I hope you will read the following in the half-kidding tone I intend: I wonder how a Pentecost sermon might go with this sort of theme?

    I’d suggest that scripture itself broadly points us to holding scripture and experience together rather than to deny one for the other. I think there are quite a few examples, but John 5:39-47 and Luke 16:29-31 come to mind.

    I’d also suggest that our Anabaptist tradition also calls us to hold scripture and our experience together with the movement of the Spirit. The following is found in the Confession’s commentary on Scripture: “All other claims to represent an authoritative word on matters of faith and life must be measured and corrected by Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the community of faith.” I read that to mean that the testing within community both invites our shared experiences and is itself an experience – not something that happens abstractly within the words of Scripture on the page, and something that holds the potential to change over time.

  • Harold Miller

    Duane, you imply that the Jewish leaders in John 9 were opposed to Jesus because they were holding too tightly to “the clear teaching of Scripture” and should have, like Nicodemus, valued their “experiences and observations” more.

    That’s not what Jesus would say. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Mt 5), that Scripture cannot be broken (Jn 10). Jesus did not see himself going against Scripture when he healed on the Sabbath. He sensed the “spirit” of the law, its movement or trajectory. The Pharisees in John 9 were not catching that God was more interested in whether people showed justice and compassion than whether they kept the ritual laws (Ps 51, Isa 1, Jer 7, Hos 6, Amos 5, Micah 6, Heb 10). They missed, as Jesus pointed out one time, that the law let one pull one’s ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath. Same with the early church welcoming ones such as Cornelius. In Acts 15 when the church decided to welcome uncircumcised Gentiles, James was seeing the trajectory of God’s purposes encompassing all peoples; that’s why he quoted the prophecy of Amos about God calling the Gentiles.

    As I said the other week on this site, “experiences often can help us see something in the text that we have previously been blind to. So we need to talk about our experiences…” But here’s where we go against the view of Scripture held by our Confession of Faith (and Jesus!): when we allow these experiences to contradict the text and overrule it. If they help us perceive some meaning and movement in Scripture that we had previously missed but was there all along, that is good. But if we let them lead us to say that the Bible is wrong, then we are on tenuous ground (going against our Confession and against Jesus). Thus many of us are troubled by a policy of forbearance on same-sex marriage. That stance seems to flow out of our “experiences and observations” and not from the Bible. In fact, that stance seems in clear contradiction to the spirit and trajectory of Scripture, for as I wrote last Fall, “with sexual mores, the movement is always toward deeper obedience.”

  • Melissa Florer-Bixler

    I recently saw a documentary on school integration. The year was 1963 and a white man stared into the camera. With all sincerity he declared, “I believe in segregation because it’s Biblical.” As I left I hummed the tune to my favorite Bob Dylan song – “With God On Our Side.”

    I was reminded again that the powerful have always relied upon the “strongest, most natural” reading of Scripture to defend the status quo. “Strongest and most natural” is a code – there is one reading of Scripture that stands for all time that can never be argued against. If we have the right tools, regardless of who wields them, we can come to the correct conclusion, a claim on the truth that cannot be challenged by something as flimsy as “experience.” By dismissing all other opinions on the basis of “experience” you are able to claim the Bible is on your side, that God is on your side.

    However, the story of the church is being called to return to the cry “Jesus is Lord” through the bodies of the oppressed. Thank God that, while white churches were preaching segregation as a natural, straightforward reading of the Bible, there were black Christians who, out of their experiences of reading the Bible in communities of oppression, of encountering in the experience of their bodies the God who freed the Hebrews from slavery, that we no longer read the Bible this way. Thank God for women who preached and taught, who defied the authorities and proclaimed the Gospel when the “strongest and most natural” reading of the Bible assigned them to silence. Semper reformanda. Thank God.

    Despite this, I seem to read the same op-ed over and over again. Each time I’m perplexed that, despite people of color (particularly women) offering up their communal and liberative hermeneutics, despite the massive amount of publishing by LGBTQ persons and allies on Scriptural interpretation, despite the history of our church as a people always reforming, encountering the Holy Spirit anew in each generation, I am still reading about “experience” and Scripture as dichotomies.

    I am not saying (at least not here) that the same argument for inclusivity stretches across women, slavery/segregation, and LGBTQ people (unlike many of my conservative contemporaries, I have read the frequently quoted literature of those who hold positions counter to my own). What I am saying is that it matters with whom you read the Bible. I am saying that bodies, lives, communities, social context, experience have always, with no exception, been deeply interwoven into methods of interpreting Scripture. To say otherwise is naïve. Even worse, it is a way to shut out the voices of those with whom you disagree, to make a claim on Scripture out of what your experience and your community perceives to be the right interpretation of Scripture, to make the claim that God is on your side.

    • Berry Friesen

      Melissa, so long as Scripture has authority in the lives of people (i.e., so long as people think it important to claim God is on their side), we will encounter both the powerful AND the weak declaring the “strongest, most natural” readings of Scripture. This is simply the way people of faith pay tribute to something that matters (Scripture) in our understanding of life and the world. And yes, these readings will be contested. This is true within Scripture itself; it isn’t going to be different for us.

      Yes, I join you in thanking God for the black churches and for the women that drew on their experiences in declaring the “strongest and most natural” reading of Scripture. Because if either Scripture or experience had been left out, their efforts would have failed to change the church.

      In my experience, a key difference is how we frame our core purpose as we enter this contested dialogue. Is it to strengthen a resilient, counter-cultural community committed to the shalom of Jesus for the generations to come? Or is it to confer a blessing on the lives we as individuals have constructed?

    • Harold Miller

      I think I agree with much that you say, Melissa. Quite often those of us in power have used Scripture to support the status quo. And it took experiences (eg. Uncle Tom’s cabin re: slavery, and women’s lib movement re: exclusion of women in ministry) to make enough of us in the church finally ready to openly look at whether the overall witness of the Bible actually did support slavery, the exclusion of women from ministry, etc. And then the church belatedly began to change its stance.

      But note: though experience had a huge impact (it drove us to re-look at Scripture), it was not decisive; only Scripture is decisive. So of course we are going to be spending a lot of energy and effort seeking and arguing over “the ‘strongest, most natural’ reading of Scripture.” Again, you are right, Melissa, in pointing out the many times that we have used that effort wrongly in the past (and, yes, may be using it wrongly now). But please understand that we cannot drop our pursuit of such a reading. Not as long as we agree with our Confession that all sources of discernment are to “be tested and corrected by the light of Holy Scripture.”

      So please (I’m pleading!), once you think you see something in the text, if it’s really there, you will be able to set forth some historical-grammatical evidence for your reading. When you read the writing of conservatives and you think that we are missing what David Gushee and James Brownson and others are saying about the text, try to help us see it! To my knowledge, no one in MC USA has been willing to sustain such a conversation. It’s true that, as you say, “it matters with whom you read the Bible.” But, though more difficult, surely many constructive conversations about the meaning and application of a text have taken place between two persons who don’t live and walk with each other in their daily lives. Why else do we read commentaries?

      • Melissa Florer-Bixler

        Here again I think we’re running into difficulty about hermeneutical method. I happily send you to James Alison’s excellent piece on Romans 1 (“But the Bible says…”) or to Beverly Gaventa or Douglas Campbell or Ellen Davis or Anatheia Portier-Young or Yolanda Pierce or a slew of others who have worked in this area. But maybe it is time to take a step back. Maybe a better place to begin is the methods base communities use to read Scripture in Latin America, to read the Scriptural interpretation of Katie Cannon or Delores Williams. I assure you it wasn’t “historical-grammatical evidence” that challenged the logic of slavery in Philemon or Ephesians. It was human bodies that refused to be slaves any longer. As long as we continue to think that we can read books and apply the scientific method without listening to those who are at the margins, until we are ready to enter into diverse interpretive communities, until we interrogate the ways our own appeal to “historical-grammatical evidence” privileges a particular form of knowledge and is not the only way to enter into biblical interpretation, I’m not sure there’s much to offer you.

        • Matthew Froese

          I think this is a great reason to pursue the proposed approach of accommodation – once you invite LGBTQ people into your community, but offer them accommodation while everyone else is offered grace, you can confront how terrible it is. Then you can go back to read scripture again; it’s not too hard to find the passages that call us to do more than set a generous table and offer some people crumbs.

        • Harold Miller

          I agree with you, Melissa, when you say that it wasn’t “historical-grammatical evidence” that challenged the logic of slavery in Philemon or Ephesians. What passages against slavery could Paul have exegeted? The impetus that challenged slavery and sowed seeds for its elimination was probably experience and the Spirit: Paul being led by the Spirit as he reflected on the slavery and his interactions with slaves.

          If that’s what you were referring to in the paragraph where you talked about black Christians encountering in the experience of their bodies the God who freed the Hebrews from slavery, then, yes, I agree that it has a valid role. The Spirit can use our experience to alert us to some further Semper reformanda that is needed.

          But as we are trying to discern the Spirit, we must note well two things:
          – Our impressions from experience can be off. A lot can skew our perceptions. Those cautions were a main point of my article.

          – If we have trust in Scripture, then we, like our Confession, want to use Scripture to “test and correct” any new sense we are getting from experience and the Spirit. We are wary of any “new sense” that goes against a main theme or movement of Scripture.

          You are sure that same-sex relationships fit into the liberation theme of Scripture. But there are other themes we must let guide us and correct us as well.

          For me, the key interpretive moment comes as I examine the broad theme or movement in Scripture which shows God deepening and tightening the moral law. (Some examples of this trajectory in Scripture: Jesus saying, You’ve heard, ‘don’t commit adultery’ but I say, don’t even look to lust [Matt 5:27-30]; Jesus saying, Though Moses allowed for divorce, I say, what God has joined together, let no one separate [Matt 19:19:4,6].) Sexual morality is part of that theme of deepening moral obedience: every NT list of sins includes immorality. Wouldn’t you say that the use of “historical-grammatical evidence” is proper (and needed) as we examine whether or not instances of consensual same-sex relations are included in that theme? As I study two of those sin lists, I Cor 6 and Rom 1, it strikes me that the ‘strongest, most natural’ reading is that all forms of same-sex relations (even loving, committed ones) are included in these lists. Again I’ll say, “When you read the writing of conservatives and you think that we are missing what David Gushee and James Brownson [and James Alison] and others are saying about the text, try to help us see it!”

          • Matthew Froese

            What passages against slavery could Paul have exegeted? Exodus would have done the job; God’s call to “let my people go” can be read plainly, and Paul was certainly comfortable including gentiles as God’s people.

            The challenge of church history in failing to address slavery and racial discrimination isn’t a lack of anti-slavery scripture, or the need to carefully unearth historical-grammatical evidence. Both scripture and church tradition from the earliest days of the church clearly welcome slaves as equals. The challenge in looking at the history of the church and race is that comfortable people have tended to read and interpret the Bible in ways that reinforce the social order that they are already comfortable with.

            So people interested in carrying on slavery (or segregation) read Paul’s message that material conditions (being a slave/free) could not separate a person from salvation as an excuse to carry on enslaving people, rather than a recognition of our shared need for salvation and our fundamental equality as part of Creation. No need to disrupt the social order here; we already know how to read those passages.

            Similarly, you are comfortable reading Romans 1 as a reason to exclude some people from the church (or at least from aspects of church life) and downplay the call to acknowledge that “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others” (Romans 2:1). No need to upset the apple cart with experience; we have our interpretation sorted out already.

            You continue to invite ongoing conversation, but only if the assumptions, scriptural interpretations, hermeneutics, arguments, types of evidence and the sure conclusions that must follow are the ones that do not disrupt the church life you are already comfortable with. Perhaps this is why you find it’s difficult to have this conversation continue; the conversation may need to continue into a place that is uncomfortable for you if it is to carry on in a meaningful way.

          • Brad Burkholder

            What passages could we exegete in defining what marriage is? Genesis 2:24 would do the job. Jesus words can be read plainly in Matthew 19:4-6 and Paul was certainly comfortable defining marriage with the same reference in Ephesians 5:31-32.

            The challenge of the church today isn’t a lack of a scriptural definition of marriage or the need to carefully unearth historical-grammatical evidence. Both Scripture and the church tradition have taught us we can love and accept one another even if we don’t approve of behavior. The challenge is looking at our own posture as we speak the truth in love. It is more comfortable to read and interpret the Bible in ways that reinforce the world’s perspective.

            So people interested in promoting homosexuality gloss over Paul’s message in Ephesians 5 that the relationship between a man and woman represent the relationship between Christ and the Church. Rather than recognize our equality as genders but diversity in roles as a part of Creation, we adopt our world’s social order; we don’t need to read those passages.

    • John Gingrich

      Have we somewhat entered the “Emergent Church” or McLaren’s view of scripture and the debate in that world of theology. It is above my level of intellectual pursuit but I hear parallels to their belief that meaning is located, not in the text of the Bible, but in the experience of the reader/s. The authority of the Bible is not found in the text but in it’s interaction with the beliefs and experiences of the person or group studying it. The result is a rejection of creeds, dogma, confessions of faith, and certainty. Our disagreements are rooted in two different Christianities. One side sees scripture as a part of the human effort to find the best path to personal and societal justice. The other side criticizes this as not biblical and a heresy. They see scripture as absolute truth, understandable and authoritative. As Melissa implies, “orthodox” groups run the danger of only trying to prove that God is on their side. The other side is in danger of becoming a human effort without any divine component. Is scripture true? Do we trust it enough to submit to it? Do we trust the Holy Spirit to help us understand how to apply it to our daily walk of faith?

  • Berry Friesen

    This conversation too often assumes experience is a value that exclusively supports the “progressive” view and Scripture is a value that exclusively supports the “traditional” view. Often these inaccurate assumptions play out against a background defined by the debate as it formed in the church during the late ’70s and early ’80s: the injustice of excluding from the Body of Christ individuals who desire only a loving relationship with a same-gender partner.

    A lot has changed in the past 35 years. Our experience now includes much greater awareness of bisexuality, of the fluid nature of sexual desire, and of the way the entire debate about sexuality is morphing into a challenge to the entire concept of biologically-based genders. Our experience now includes much greater awareness of the fundamental tension between individualist-based worldviews and communally-based worldviews, of the far-reaching consequences of each, and of the formative social judgments the church cannot avoid as it proceeds. So why do our debates still sound so much like the ’70s and ’80s?

    Experience surely includes all we are learning about the highly malleable nature of human desire and the consequences of the moral judgments we make and the social structures we create. And Scripture surely includes strong teaching against the error of closing our houses of prayer to persons who are outside Scripture’s sexual norms. So can we update our terms of reference?

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