Stories of churches denying your call to ministry because you fall outside the parameters of which gender is allowed to be ordained and stories of churches denying you the Eucharist because you fall outside the parameters of what kind of sexual orientation is allowed to receive the means of grace, and stories of churches denying you a place in community because you just weren’t sure if you believed in God and that falls outside the parameters of doctrinal purity – well, these kind of stories are sadly bordering on cliché around here. We hear them all the time.
So I’m really grateful that Jesus has always tended to disregard people’s preferred parameters for how he should do things, and that he always just seems to keep seeing people, touching them, healing them and then thumbing his nose at anyone who says he really should be more discerning about his cliental and his tactics.
Tag Archives: Christianity
Now that you are our elected Bishop, there are a few things we expect of you.
We expect you to love God.
We expect you to love the church, and this small part of it, the LCA.
We expect you to know that we are deeply flawed, and deeply deeply loved and forgiven.
We expect you to stay grounded in your faith, your family, your friends, so that you can weather the difficult times we will cause, and know when you need time out, so you do not lose perspective.
We expect you to pray.
We expect you to know that we are praying for you.
Alongside these things we are also hopeful.
We hope you will know (usually) when it’s time to listen and when it’s time to speak.
We hope you will know (usually) when it’s time to wait and when it’s time to act.
We hope you will know much joy in your work with us, enough that when it’s time to leave the work aside, you will be glad you took on this challenge.
We would not worship a God who is misogynist. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter what verses anyone may provide as proof – it just doesn’t make sense that God is misogynist.
We are not interested in arriving in heaven to find that women somehow have a different role. We would refuse to participate with cliques, patriarchs, theocracies, boys’ or girls’ clubs or tradition.
We are interested in equality before God.
But, you insist, the Bible doesn’t allow leadership from women. While we disagree, we do concede that there are verses that can be used to sustain an argument to support your thesis. So, how do we arrive at consensus on this divisive issue? We don’t, for the time being – we should just live with each other, despite the tension. Agree to disagree. Grow together, over the generations.
This issue need not divide us, like the many other issues that we rarely highlight, but on which we disagree. For instance, we rarely talk about or expect miracle healing, speaking in tongues, the handling of scorpions (Luke.10.19), the drinking of poison and the handling of snakes (Mark 16:18)… and so on. They are contentious and too strange, too divisive or too confusing.
Then there’s the ‘texts of terror’ in the Old Testament that we can’t attribute to the will of God. We just don’t believe that God condoned the terror in the Old Testament: the slavery, the abuse, the rape, the murder, the racism … We don’t name the violence for what it is. We avoid the issue. It need not divide us.
We have a God who is much larger than we imagine: more loving, more compassionate, more gifting, more affirming, more justice-centred than we might ever imagine. Let’s not bicker on our understanding, for, by any measure, our understanding will presumably be sadly incomplete.
Whatever the reason, the LCA, in its youthful almost adolescent years, has clung to simplistic Biblical understandings and literal translations. Increasingly over the years, many of us have confessed certain things but experienced a growing unease with the position of the Church. It is time to bring our beliefs and theology into harmony. It is time to embrace a larger theology, a larger view of God and a larger view of each other.
It is with thanks that we celebrate the installation of Bishop John Henderson, who has declared that his ministry will be one of listening. Only in allowing space for voices to be heard is there any possibility that the LCA will be able to respond faithfully to the issues of today, and the concerns of those who come its doors.
Reference and inspiration Bishop Desmond Tutu
We confess that we are driven to distraction when engaging in conversation with those who claim that they interpret Scripture literally. A literal interpretation of Scripture demands that every text is interpreted in the same manner. The following quote highlights the difficulties of this approach:
Over the last several years I have wrestled extensively with what Phyllis Trible memorably called the “texts of terror” in the Bible. Texts that narrate slavery, genocide, assassination, beheading, cannibalism, rape, and many other heinous acts. Some of these texts depict Yahweh commanding, commending, or himself committing violent acts. In other texts the actions are of humans alone but the narrator develops an infuriating neutrality in his narration of them. (Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter [Judges 11:32, 34-40] is perhaps the paradigm case of problematic narratival neutrality.)
People should be allowed to believe what they wish, however, there’s a certain piety of fundamentalism that’s hard to live with. It’s a piety that insists we all should all hold the same simple, folksy interpretations that refute scholarly research and confirm church beliefs and customs. I understand that fundamentalists feel the same frustrations with those of us who long for reform, but the difference is that we are calling for our Church to live with diversity of theology.
This post is largely a re-post of an excerpt of a webpage on the history of how Scripture has been interpreted. We found the origins of Fundamentalism interesting. Certainly the Copernican theory of the planets orbiting the Sun (which Luther considered idiocy), Darwin’s theory of evolution and Higher Criticism presented major hurdles for the church. It looks like the ripples from these understandings are still impacting us today.
Should the Bible be interpreted literally?
The Middle Ages and earlier
Throughout most of the Christian era, Bible reading and Bible interpretation were confined to religious professionals. Until the fifteenth century, the Bible was available only in Latin. Even when the Bible was translated into other languages, the scarcity and high cost of Bibles kept them out of the hands of ordinary people. Availability of Bibles was also restricted by church officials1.
During this era, the Bible was interpreted according to church beliefs and traditions. There was little or no attempt made to determine the original meanings of the Scripture. Difficult passages “were interpreted as having a figurative meaning, so that they convey, through a kind of code, deeper truths about God, the spiritual life, or the church2.”
Sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
Galileo. Christians have always believed the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative on spiritual, moral and ethical matters. It wasn’t until science began to develop in the 16th century that questions and arguments arose about whether the Bible is also authoritative on scientific and historical matters.
The first major conflict was between the ancient view of the earth, as reflected in the Bible, and the Copernican theory, which held that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. The astronomer Galileo, using his telescope, found evidence to support the Copernican theory and began publishing his results in 1611. Church officials were alarmed because the Copernican theory seemed to contradict the Bible, and in 1616 Pope Paul V ordered Galileo to abandon the Copernican theory3.
Nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Darwin. By the nineteenth century, most Christians had come to accept the Copernican theory of the universe because of overwhelming scientific evidence. But a new crisis arose with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin proposed that species of plants and animals evolved through a process of natural selection. Darwin observed that there were variations among individual plants and animals. He proposed that, in the struggle to survive, the better adapted individuals would be more likely to survive and reproduce their characteristics in succeeding generations. Thus, over many generations, species would change by a process of evolution. Further, the process was said to work automatically, seemingly leaving little room for Divine guidance or design.
Darwin’s theory was seen by some Christians as a direct attack on the story of creation in the Bible book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-31). It also spawned a number of atheistic movements both within the natural sciences and the social sciences that saw the universe as created and ruled simply by the impersonal forces of nature. “Darwinism” became associated with atheism in the minds of many Christians, and rejection of all of Darwin’s theories became almost a creed for some Christians.
Higher Criticism. In the late eighteenth century, scholars began studying the Bible as literature rather than as divine revelation. New techniques of literary analysis, archaeology and linguistics were used to study the Bible. Some in this “Higher Criticism” movement asserted that the Bible stories were little more than mythology, and by the end of the nineteenth century these ideas had become quite popular4.
Fundamentalism. In 1910, in reaction to Higher Criticism and Darwinism, a group of Presbyterian theologians proposed five essential beliefs of Christianity:
- the inerrancy of Scripture,
- the virgin birth of Christ,
- Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross,
- His bodily resurrection,
- the objective reality of His miracles.
These became known as the The Fundamentals. They were widely distributed and formed the basis of the Fundamentalist movement within Christianity5.Literal Bible interpretation. Many fundamentalists believed the Holy Spirit dictated the Bible to its human authors word-for-word. They reasoned that “inerrancy of Scripture” meant that everything in the Bible must be absolutely, literally, scientifically and historically true. Anything less would be unworthy of God. According to this view, the Bible, in all its detail, is inerrant on matters of history and science, as well as doctrine. Any apparent conflict between the Bible and another source (science, history, etc.) should be resolved in favor of the Bible because of its Divine origin.
Bible verses such as these are often quoted to support the literal view:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (KJV, 2nd Timothy 3:16)
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NAS, 2nd Peter 1:20-21)
However, interpreting the entire Bible as literal divine revelation poses severe problems for serious Bible study. Besides the apparent conflicts with science and history, there is evidence within the Bible itself that it has both human and divine origins. Luke attributed his Gospel to his own research:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (NIV, Luke 1:1-4)
Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, etc.) were originally written as letters to churches he had founded, not as part of Scripture. They dealt not only with divine revelation but also with many mundane matters like disputes among church factions. Paul often stated his own personal opinions:
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 7:12)
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, pp. 166-176.
2James L. Mays, ed., Harper’s Bible Commentary, Harper, 1988, pp. 8-9.
3Encyclopedia Americana, Americana Corporation, 1971, vol. 12, pp. 240-244
4Karen Armstrong, The Battle of God, Ballantine, 2000, pp. 95, 140.
5ibid., p. 171. Source
- A Note on Luther and Copernicus (longstreet.typepad.com)
While it may seem harsh that Jimmy Carter blames religious leaders for mistreatment of women across the world, blame needs to be allocated amongst those who carry the power – blame for complicity, whether it’s active or passive.
Through discerning the times, leadership has the potential for prophetic leadership, to provide new direction guided by compassion and justice, to reflect on the best way to prepare membership for change. If that opportunity is not taken up then leadership becomes part of the problem.
NewsATLANTA — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says religious leaders, including those in Christianity and Islam, share the blame for mistreatment of women across the world.The human rights activist said Friday religious authorities perpetuate misguided doctrines of male superiority, from the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to some African cultures mutilating the genitals of young girls.Carter said the doctrines, which he described as theologically indefensible, contribute to a political, social and economic structure where political leaders passively accept violence against women, a worldwide sex slave trade and inequality in the workplace and classroom.
Half the Sky is a sober reminder of the brutal treatment of women and girls all around the world – a highly recommended read!
Times have changed. Just a few decades ago women in the LCA were treated as children. They could serve in no public way (Sunday School seemed to be acceptable), could take no representative role, nor could they take any role of leadership.
Before 1966 women experienced virtually total inequality in the Church, even though all members presumably would have accepted that “in Christ there is no East nor West.”
Note how recently women were granted various responsibilities in the LCA (a post from this blog)
- 1966 voting at congregational meetings
- 1981 being delegates at Synod
- 1984 being a member of church boards and committees
- 1984 included in the guidelines for reading lessons in worship
- 1989 assisting in the distributing of Holy Communion
- 1990 being lay assistant as an alternative to elder
- 1990 being chairperson of a congregation
- 1998 being synodical chairperson
- 2003 lay-reading
Times have changed but women are still denied full inclusion.
The doctrine of the LCA has contributed to a political and social structure where presidents have passively accepted the inequality of women. This is ironic in a system that values education so deeply and where girls are clearly taught, through Bible study and role-modelling, that they are equal in all ways with boys. One cannot educate the young with values of equality and integrity and honestly expect them to fore-go their equality and calling later in life.
We suggest that religious leaders at all levels carry blame for the decades since union it has taken to recognise women thus far. There will need to be a time of apology to women. The LCA will need to apologise, living emeritus presidents will need to apologise and congregations will need to apologise for having ignored women for so long.
The couple recently disassociated from Southern Baptists, citing its prohibition on ordaining women or allowing them to serve as deacons or in other leadership posts in local congregations. Ref
- Carter blames women’s plight on religion (bigpondnews.com)
- Carter: World religions perpetuate women’s plight (onlineathens.com)
- Jimmy Carter says religion harms women (examiner.com)
Why is it that we value those who are like us and devalue those who are different?
Maybe it’s women or lesbians, maybe it’s aborigines or gays, maybe it’s drug addicts or prostitutes, or maybe it’s another culture. Is it that they don’t sound like us or eat the same food as us. Is it that they see the world differently? Is it that they value different things? Do we read the situation as one where they are criticising us? Is that why we have to circle the wagons?
Richard Rohr has some insights into the practice of excluding people.
The Sin of Exclusion
Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul. You see, therefore, why the church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the “least of the brothers and sisters,” and even to the enemy. Jesus was not just a theological genius, but he was also a psychological and sociological genius. When any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God. (more)
- Rohr on outsiders… (thisfragiletent.com)
- Richard Rohr Re The Profane (literarylew.wordpress.com)
- [Thought] The Sin of Exclusion (davidhulonhood.typepad.com)
- The Power of Now – Thoughts from Richard Rohr (livingasapprentices.com)