Saturday, August 16, 2003

Who's Right?

The following is excerpted from an Associated Press report posted on the web:

“Until very recently, all Christian branches agreed that same-sex activity was immoral because of their age-old understanding of God's will taught in the Scriptures.
Most of the world's Christian bodies maintain that belief. But in the last quarter-century, liberal scholars from some so-called "mainline" Protestant denominations in Europe and North America have argued against traditional Bible interpretations, often in books from church publishing houses. They say the Bible's overwhelming overall message is loving acceptance and justice for all people.
This has gradually influenced leadership circles in the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and United Methodist Church. Yet the new biblical theories have failed to convince legions of rank and file American churchgoers.
To go to the source of the argument, two biblical passages are crucial:
- "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22, an Old Testament law repeated with the death penalty in Leviticus 20:13).
- "God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error" (the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:26-27).
Conservatives say God fixed the sexual pattern in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." Jesus repeated that teaching twice in the Gospels: Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9.
At the Episcopal convention, the Rev. Kendall Harmon of South Carolina said that the Old and New Testaments send the same message that sex is limited to a woman and a man. "There is no tension, no qualification, no development and no equivocation," he said.
Another conservative point: No biblical verse hints at approval for same-sex activity.
Liberal authors commonly say Leviticus 18 was part of a Jewish purity code that barred practices associated with paganism, including many laws Christianity eliminated, for instance the kosher rules in Leviticus 17. Conservatives reply that the gay ban is embedded alongside laws against adultery, incest, bestiality and child sacrifice that Christianity kept.
Regarding Romans 1 and other New Testament passages, liberals often say these were merely meant to oppose same-sex activity that was exploitative (using slaves or boys). A related argument: Paul thought men were heterosexual in nature and should shun homosexual acts, but some today believe people are born with a disposition toward being gay.
In the heftiest conservative book on the subject in recent years, "The Bible and Homosexual Practice" (Abingdon), Robert A. J. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary argues in detail that all same-sex variants were well known in the ancient world - so it's obvious the Bible opposed same-sex activity across the board, not just certain types.
But the Rev. Walter Wink of New York's Auburn Theological Seminary, a United Methodist clergyman, disagrees with Presbyterian Gagnon's reading of Scripture.
"The Bible has no sex ethic," Wink says. "It only knows a communal love ethic" exemplified by Jesus' command to love your neighbor as yourself, which requires Christians to understand gays' experiences.
Societies' changing codes of sexual conduct should be assessed against that standard and in light of modern knowledge, he says.
Wink acknowledges that "a lot of churches are not going to change" for the present, but he's convinced they will eventually shed old Bible interpretations that are "life-denying and intellectually dishonest."
"In 50 years most of us will look back and say, 'Why were we so slow? Why was this so difficult?'" he said.
Bishop-elect Robinson believes biblical conservatives will "come to know that they are wrong, in this life or the next one."
Gagnon agrees that the traditional view is not popular in universities or the media. But he insists that the Bible's entire authority is under threat. If people can deny such a clear and specific scriptural teaching, he says, it raises questions about the point of adhering to the faith in the first place.
Says Gagnon: "When we reach the point where it is no longer the word of God for us in any meaningful sense, there is no more reason to be part of organized Christianity."”

There are several interesting points that this story brings to mind.

First, the story points out the central problem faced by our Protestant brothers and sisters – no final teaching authority, no way to define doctrine. Here we have folks on two very different sides of an issue, and both claiming to rest their views on the authority of Scripture. It should be clear that the idea of sola scriptura is flawed. Obviously both sides to the debate on human sexual conduct can’t be right; Scripture does not contradict itself. But where can Protestants turn for a final authority? It seems that without the authority of a teaching Magisterium it is almost impossible not to slip into the fog of error.
A second point comes to mind and is found in the quote: “They say the Bible's overwhelming overall message is loving acceptance and justice for all people.” Our liberal friends seem to think that it is God’s nature to accept whatever we happen to want to do, whenever we want to do it. They appear to believe that God is just sitting around in heaven loving us and approving of everything we do. They also seem to think that God’s nature is capable of changing with the times. The problem with this idea, of course, is that is defines away the problem of sin; if whatever we do is “okay” then no mode of human conduct can be considered sinful. Of course, if there is no sin there is little need for redemption, or for God for that matter. God does love us, but as the above quote points out, God is also just. As Paul wrote in the book of Romans, he gives us what we deserve. He also measures what we deserve by an absolute standard – truth and good do not change with the times. There is nothing is Scripture that would lead us to think otherwise.
It is also interesting that it appears to be the goal of the “liberals” here to simply wait out those more orthodox Christians. It seems clear that the majority of folks in the pew do not wish to sanction “same-sex” marriage. It doesn’t matter to those leading their churches though. Their strategy is not to appeal to truth but finally to simply wear down the opposition. This has been the strategy of “liberals” for a long time. It began with the 1930s Lambeth Conference that sanctioned divorce among Christians, and continues to this day. We are allowing the erosion, perhaps the destruction, of a Christian civilization bit by bit, one brick at a time. It’s like the apocryphal frog placed in a pan of cold water on top of a stove. As the heat is turned on he is oblivious to his predicament until he is boiled alive. I believe we Catholics are called to try to oppose this effort wherever and whenever we can. It seems clear that most of the mainline Protestant denominations are being slowly dismantled from within and will not long be around to help us. I believe that, in the long run, it won’t work because the liberals are forgetting one thing, the victory against evil has already been won and there is one Church that will not be worn down. I think this is one thing that Catholics can give thanks for at all times.

Friday, August 15, 2003

The Assumption

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are celebrating today the fact that the Blessed Virgin was assumed into heaven, body and soul. I think the importance of today for me is that it is a reminder of what we all have to look forward to.

Today's first reading for Mass is from Revelation:

God's temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One."

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

A Miscellany

Since my trip to Alaska my whole routine has been disrupted and I've been reading other blogs and not getting much posted on my own. To get back into the routine I offer a few thoughts on a couple of different topics.


Christine over at Christus Victor has done a couple of posts on Luther and the difficulties one encounters when delving very deeply into both his personal life and his theology. Coming from a Protestant background Luther has been a figure of interest to me but I must confess that he remains an enigma.

Luther was an Augustinian priest - he studied and taught theology at the university level, and yet it seems he was unable to understand the most basic of the Church's teaching on justification. The source of his difficulties seem to lie more in personal and psychological problems rather than theological differences with the Church. He seems, in fact, to have been somewhat ignorant of theology. Here lies the enigma: what drove Luther to do what he did? I have never read a satisfactory explanation of Luther's motivation in tacking in 95 theses on the door. I wonder of anyone out there can "splain me, Lucy?"


We are confronted every day with those who wish us to water down our faith. The ECUSA has just elected a bishop who is living in an openly homosexual relationship and has voted to bless gay unions. A US senator, a practicing Catholic I believe, has stated publically that he thinks there are many "good" Catholics who practice contraception and support abortion. But, I believe it is intellectually and morally impossible to proclaim oneself a Christian and live a life contrary to God's expressed will.

To proclaim that one is a Christian and yet deny central teachings of the Christian faith is to proclaim a contradiction, it's nonsense. This is the issue that brought about my conversion to the Church. The pastor of my church was preaching something totally contradictory to what I understood Scripture to be clearly saying. I knew we couldn't both be right while at the same time basing our understanding only on Scripture. There are many who support homosexual clergy who would also say sucth things as, for example, that we shouldn't take Jesus' miracles quite so seriously. Many people today seem to accept it as truth when someone says "Well, you know, when Jesus fed the 5,000 he didn't do a miracle, everyone had fish sandwiches with them and he just encouraged them to bring them out and share." It never occurs to them that, one, if that were indeed what happened, it would hardly be remarkable and no one writing of the event later would have even bother to write down a brief description, much less the detailed account of the event we find in Scripture. They also seem to have little idea what damage they are doing to their faith. Fr. Thomas DuBay writes:

". . . we need to bear in mind that the virtue of faith is total. According to St. Thomas the person who embraces heresy regarding one article of faith has regarding the other articles not faith but only 'an opinion according to his own will.'" What is going on with the Episcopal bishops and the U.S. senator is an acceptance of personal opinion regarding human sexuality, not traditional Christian teaching and practice. For a Catholic this is morally impossible - you can't have just a piece of the pie, the one you like, you have to have the whole pie. To say one part is wrong is to say the whole thing is false.

Steven (at Flos Carmeli) has been writing about seeking the truth lately and I agree with him on the importance of doing so. Without truth we are lost in a fog of unreality - we are insane. The problem our ECUSA friends have is that they have become accustomed, even sought, to live without a teaching authority, a Magisterium. They deny the very validity of such a thing. It seems the only refuge for those who wish to sincerely seek the truth is Rome.