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.

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