Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Dragging Fosdick Into the Present

While preparing for an upcoming sermon series that deals with the cultural polarization that has infected our churches, I reread Harry Emerson Fosdick’s famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  I found the following sentences as applicable today, in our current controversies, as they were in the 1920’s.

Here in the Christian churches are these two groups of people and the question which the Fundamentalists raise is this – shall one of them throw the other out? Has intolerance any contribution to make to this situation? Will it persuade anybody of anything? Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested?  The Fundamentalists say not.  They say the liberals must go.  Well, if the fundamentalists should succeed, then out of the Christian Church would go some of the best Christian life and consecration of this generation – multitudes of men and women, devout and reverent Christians, who need the church and whom the church needs.

Within my own denomination, all inclinations are that we are becoming incapable of staying at the table with those with whom we disagree.  We are talking, but at one another and past one another, not to one another.  We have fallen into camps that are little more than a sad mime of cable news.  As Adam Hamilton asks in Seeing Gray, “Are Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong our only options?”

…With One Stone: The Blessed Virgin Mary and Homosexuality

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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, references 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.