Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Evolution of God's Perceived Intentions

A guest blog by the Rev. Dr. George M. Ricker, Pastor Emeritus of University United Methodist Church, Austin, Texas

In a church periodical some time ago, an author criticizing a progressive view of the homosexual issue wrote: “God’s intentions for sexual behavior are expressed throughout the Bible in a unified voice starting with the creation story.” I had to respond to this obvious misreading of the biblical messages. What follows is my attempt to be clear about what is a non-unified voice about sexuality in the Bible.

As a start, let us ignore polygamy, Levirate marriage, concubinage, divorce, and male sexual freedom which hardly represent a unified voice. Instead, let us look at same-sex relationships from the perspective of the biblical writers limited version of what God intended.

God’s intention is imagined by the Hebrew writers, including Paul. We discover by historical analysis and later revelation that the writers were often wrong about God’s intention. Examples are numerous. The purity/dietary laws of Leviticus (chs.18&19) express what the writer thought was God’s intention: no eating of pork, no interbreeding of cattle, no wearing of clothes of different material, no male acting like a woman, etc. God’s intention suffered from the limited perspective of the writer.

Or, consider the Hebrew treatment of so-called enemies. God’s perceived intention was that all should be killed: men, women, children, cattle, etc. (1 Sam 15:3 ff. & many other passages). Again this perspective of God’s intention came from the limited understanding of a people in a war mode. Even the Psalmist said that God’s intention was to take the enemies children and dash their brains out against the stones.(Ps. 137:9) This is from a writer in Babylonian captivity who hated those who removed them from their homeland.

Think, too, of Paul’s view of women who thought that it was God’s intention that they should keep silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:34) as well as other restrictions. Would anyone affirm that all these represent God’s intention? In the course of time we have learned that God’s intention was not always what was once conceived, as noted above; or in same-sex sexual behavior. All this needs to be brought into the understanding of God clarifying God’s intention through a continuing revelation in the Jewish and Christian communities (and elsewhere) as historical situations change. Jesus saw that: “You have heard that it was said of old ... but I say to you ... .” (Matt 5:21-22)

In addition many writers (including the writer quoted above) play loose with the term “sin” as though this were simply a moral concept. My professor, Paul Tillich, has done more than any other theologian to clarify the meaning of sin. He says in The Shaking of the Foundations that sin is a state before it is an act. What is that state? Separation from self, others, and the Ground of Being (God). Apply that to the homosexual issue.

Is the homosexual separated from self by homosexual acts? Not if the homosexual is created that way. The evidence mounts that this is so. Is the homosexual separated from others? Not in same-sex committed, consensual relationships. Is the homosexual separated from the Ground of Being, from the creative process that brought us all into being? Not if that person is not a predator and is in a loving relationship.

Of course, all of us, heterosexuals and homosexuals, are at times separated in one or more of these ways. That separation may lead to immoral or inhumane acts or, as is common to most of us, we find socially acceptable ways of sinning. That is why “There is no one who is righteous, not even one ; ....” (Rom. 3:10, quoting Psalms 14 & 53) To quote homosexual acts simply as sin is a judgment made by those with a very narrow view of sin.

O that we all could be more loving, more accepting of our differences! Tillich’s word in a sermon, from the volume mentioned above, comes from God’s intention expressed in Jesus of Nazareth: “You are accepted!” I hear that word. I hope the homosexual hears that word. And all my readers! Would that I could sin no more, no more be separated from myself, my brothers and sisters, or from God! I and the rest of us are in constant need of forgiveness and acceptance in spite of.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Good Friday Reflections

Guest Blogger: Rev. Peter Michael Aguilar (Pastor, FUMC Laredo, Texas)

When I meet people and they find out that I live in Laredo, Texas, their concerns are either those of the hot temperature, or of the drug related violence on the border. Unfortunately both are very real concerns; the more pressing is related to drug violence.

As of January 2011, the drug related violence had claimed over 34,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon had taken office and over 15,000 lives in 2010 alone. It is not uncommon to meet people in Laredo who have been affected directly or indirectly by this turmoil. However, very little of the violence trickles into Laredo from our neighbors of Nuevo Laredo, due largely in part to the efforts of Homeland Security and local law enforcement. We share the burden of these struggles with Mexico in that drug sales amount to a $27 billion a year industry, profiting largely from sales in the United States. Besides illegal drugs there is also human trafficking and the sex slave industry.

As a pastor I try to be as the Apostle Paul teaches, “I have become all things to all people…,” which in my context includes those who work in government and law enforcement. They experience some of the worst of humanity. It is a challenge for them to encounter violence and return home to be a loving and caring spouse or parent. Helping them to process unreality through the biblical narrative and prayer nurtures healing and empowers them to live their faith with integrity. Allow me to share a story of how I experienced being all things to all people played out in another venue.

Earth Day 2011 also happened to fall on Good Friday. I was invited to participate in a Kayak Race on the Rio Grande with several other pastors from Laredo. Three pastors, including me, volunteered. The organizer of the event was sympathetic to the fact that Earth Day and Good Friday fell on the same day and asked if we were interested in having a prayer for peace on the Rio Grande before the race. We thought about inviting our fellow pastors from Nuevo Laredo to join us on a pontoon to lift up a prayer for peace. Earth Day/Good Friday arrived. Pastors Mike, Paul and I stood on the pontoon and waited for our colleagues who unfortunately never arrived. We later found out that some did not join us for fear of threats from Drug Cartels. We prayed for them, for those who sell the drugs, the drug consumers, and those under the oppression of violence.

Praying on that pontoon for peace was an act of subversion, much like Jesus’ journey to the cross was an act of subversion. Acts of subversion come in many forms. It can be the church militant that marches to raise awareness of injustice; it can be the Word prophetic that challenges our comfortable assumptions of how we live our faith. And, subversion can be the church incarnate where we labor to bring healing, relieve suffering and model peace in the midst of evil.

Abraham Joshua Heschel refers to prayer as the home for the soul. The greatest act of subversion against the principalities and powers of darkness is prayer. Prayer precludes anything we do in the name of Christ Jesus because it helps us discern the desires of God. It anchors our soul in the certain hope of God’s presence and gives us the confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord as Romans 8:37-39 teaches.

I invite you to do something subversive for Jesus. Let your act of subversion begin with prayer before all else.