My brain made an interesting and (since I am a Protestant) non-heretical connection while reading ECT’s new joint declaration on Mary: I see an unwarranted emphasis in many corners (albeit different corners!) of the Church on the Virgin Mary and on the issue of homosexuality.
Bear with me here (if you know what Theotokos means, that’s a wordplay). First off, I greatly appreciate the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. To be sure, part of this is because it is an ecumenical group that shares my convictions on matters theological and political, especially abortion. But in particular I enjoyed this new statement on Mary. Marian devotion is something I learned little about in seminary, and probably the biggest dogmatic issue I have with the Roman Catholic Church. I felt that the Evangelicals did much to right the Protestant ship, which has steered away from the Catholic position on Mary (which was shared by Luther and Calvin) since the 16th century. As well done as this was, they also held firm on Protestant convictions: Mary as eternal virgin, as sinless, as a dispenser of grace, are all concepts we do not find warranted from Scripture. Through perhaps not harmful beliefs, it seems strange to require them of the faithful.
In other words, Scripture’s witness does not support the emphasis on Mary that Catholic piety and theology have sometimes shown. It was noteworthy that in this joint declaration, the Catholic signatories acknowledge that “the determination to draw a clear line against Protestantism sometimes led to exaggerations and distortions in Marian devotion.” Of course they would not agree that doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception represent such exaggerations, but the acknowledgment of a downside is helpful. (And to be sure, the Protestant authors were right to lament the almost total loss of Mary from the Protestant sphere – although I confess I don’t know what recovery looks like for myself and my church.)
I am also firmly convinced that the Church’s overwhelming preoccupation with homosexuality is a focus without biblical or theological warrant. Certainly I believe that Holy Scripture has clear teaching to offer, but it’s also the case that one can count the number of references to homosexual behavior in the Bible on two hands (and perhaps one). While Jesus has a great deal to say on poverty, love, healing, and other aspects of life, he never once mentions homosexuality. Outside of that, reverences in the Mosaic covenant and Paul’s letters offer the clearest guidance. But such meager Biblical emphasis has given way to what can only be described as political clash that has spilled over into the Church.
We have let the (unfortunately) so-called “culture wars” become normative for our own business. While wars rage and poverty and disease plague people across the globe, we are splitting churches over gay ordination. Episcopalians, now with an engraved invitation to Rome, are bleeding members over the issue of ordaining gay bishops. The largest Lutheran body, the ELCA, recently voted to accept gay ordinands, with many parishes threatening to leave and/or divided amongst themselves. The United Methodist Church has been embroiled over this for two decades, and if (when) that change does occur it will threaten the moniker ‘United’. Why are we breaking under an issue that the Bible cares so little about?
Let Scripture guide us (not Scripture alone, but Scripture primarily). Being faithful to the witness of Scripture, living under God’s Word, does not consist in a simplistic biblicism that seeks fidelity only through quotations and out-out-of-context references; we must make the Bible our world, make it’s stories our stories, and make its priorities our priorities. If this is done, I find it highly unlikely that our priorities will include the Blessed Virgin Mary and the quagmire that is the human sexuality debate.