WordAlone - Openness, tolerance and love —the new legalism
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Openness, tolerance and love —the new legalism

by Gary R. Jepsen (Pastor, Pilgrim Lutheran Church – Puyallup, WA)

July, 2007

photo of Pastor Jepsen

Pr. Gary Jepsen

One of the major problems with “Journey Together Faithfully-3” (JTF3) is its uncritical use of popular jargon. The entire “Journey Together Faithfully” series is loaded with jargon-like terms without any clear explanation about what those terms mean or why they are valid in the context in which they are used. For example, consider the word “openness” which is featured prominently in the opening paragraph of Session #1. In laying out “the ground rules” for the study, JTF3 says, “such ground rules call for us to listen and speak with humility and openness, recognizing that we come to this study as sinful but redeemed mortals…”

Now, on the one hand, who could possibly be against the call for humility and openness? Are we not called upon to be humble? Did not our Lord say in Matt 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”? Micah 6:8 reminds us “He (God) has showed you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” So, indeed, humility is one of the great virtues of the Bible (c.f. Phil.2:3).

And then there is “openness.” Proverbs 31 talks about the virtue of being open to the poor and advocating for those who have no voice. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 speaks of the poor always being with us and that we should therefore open our hands and hearts in charity to a brother or sister, that is, to the needy and the poor. The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:11, points out how he has opened his heart in honesty and affection to the Corinthian congregation. So, again, who possibly could be against such virtues, properly understood?

However, on the other hand, Scripture itself is not open to everything. It warns against those who open their mouths to utter foolishness (Ps.14; Prov.10:8). In addition, Proverbs 27:5 speaks of the value of an “open rebuke” to those who do foolishness or who speak it. In Deuteronomy 32: 15-29, Jeshurun (Israel) is upbraided not only for its laziness and self-indulgence but also its failure to exercise discernment concerning things that are of God and things that are not. And, of course, the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 lists attitudes and behaviors (i.e., works of the flesh) to which we are not to be open – “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, etc.” In other words, we are not supposed to be open to everything; we are especially not to be open to things God forbids or to what He calls foolish. Instead we are to exercise discernment so that our ways and will are in harmony with God’s revealed will. In short, people of faith are to exercise discernment rather than be “open” to whatever happens to be on the horizon.

It is clear, therefore, that there is a lot of confusion regarding the word “openness,” not to mention how prone the word is to abuse. Consequently, if we are not careful, under the rubric of “openness” we might be tempted to give carte-blanche to just about anything. The same is true for the words “tolerance” and “love,” which can be used almost interchangeably. If we are not careful, these can easily give rise to a new “antinomianism.”i In other words, in the frantic pursuit of “openness” we might end up “tolerating” anything that someone arbitrarily wishes to describe as “love.” That would be a tragic misuse of all three words.

There is no question, therefore, that confusion about “openness, tolerance, and love” is all around us. For example:

1.  The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), in an article published 18 June ’07, reported on an Episcopal priest from Seattle (Rev. Ann Holmes Redding) who recently announced that she is at the same time an Episcopal Priest and a Muslim. This announcement perplexed both Muslim and Christian theologians alike who wonder how she can reconcile the conflicting theologies, especially with regard to their respective and contrary views of Christ and the Trinity. Some theologians call these differences “irreconcilable.” Nevertheless, the local Episcopal Bishop for Rev. Redding is open to her new and revolutionary synthesis of Christianity and Islam and, he says, he accepts her both as a Priest and a Muslim. He finds the interfaith possibilities “exciting”!ii Hmmm.

In justifying her amalgamation of these two traditions Rev. Redding notes that people within even one of these religious traditions can’t agree on all the details, “So why should I spend time to try to reconcile all of the Christian beliefs with all of Islam?” It would be nice to know to what specifically she is referring in that statement. Perhaps she is referring to denominational disagreements about Holy Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. However, if that is what she means, she is already revealing her lack of discernment. Orthodox Christians of whatever stripe, whether Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, or whatever, agree on the incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ via His cross and resurrection.iii Squabbles over secondary issues are quite different from denial of core beliefs. Whatever the case, Rev. Redding feels this is what she is led to do – be both Episcopal Priest and Muslim convert – and we are expected to be “open” to and to go along with whatever she feels like doing.

Apparently, this has been a rather natural progression for Rev. Redding. She says she has long had difficulties with some core Christian teachings, such as original sin, and has had questions about the divinity of Jesus.iv One suspects that these questions about Jesus make Islam’s rejection both of the Trinity and of the divinity of Christ all the more palatable for Redding. After all, practitioners of Islam will tell Christians that they (Muslims) have the only true perspective on Jesus, a perspective that is free of Christian distortions. Add to that the fact that Rev. Redding does not accept the biblical teaching that Jesus was/is the only-begotten Son of God but is instead merely divine as we all are. So, a Jesus without His unique status is much more acceptable to Rev. Redding and Islam – and who are we Christians to complain?

As an aside, it is interesting that Rev. Redding has been a director of faith development at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Episcopal) in Seattle and this fall will also be a visiting professor at Seattle U (Jesuit). One wonders what sort of faith she has been developing among the faithful at St. Mark’s Cathedral, as well as what sort of perspective she will be promoting among those Jesuit “defenders of the faith” at Seattle U. But, not to worry; she has master’s degrees from two seminaries and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York. So, with all those degrees, she must know what she’s talking about, right?

Be that as it may, the point is that, although we ought to be open to her and her faith struggle/journey, and although we ought to defend her right to believe whatever she wants or feels drawn to (apart for advocating hatred & violence), we also at the same time can legitimately question how she can claim to be both a Christian and a Muslim, especially when Islam rejects the deity of Christ and the Trinity, two fundamental cornerstones of orthodox Christianity.v Not only that, Islam denies that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.vi Thus, questioning her claim is based not on a lack of “openness” to her right to believe whatever she wants. Our question is based on the conviction that words, definitions, and commitments mean something. And, if they do in fact mean something, then we can legitimately conclude that her profession of faith as a Christian does not resemble any recognizable definition of orthodoxy based on biblical witness (to which the Episcopal church claims to assent).vii Thus, without any coherent resemblance to orthodoxy, we can legitimately conclude she is no longer qualified to be a priest in a Christian denomination. In addition, we can do this while respecting or being open to her right to think or believe whatever she pleases. In fact, we might feel compelled to say to her,

“Go and do what you feel you must do. We pray that God bless and guide you in your search. However, at this point, you have so drifted from the criteria that has been set (and to which you agreed) for being a priest that we must part ways. We honor your words but we also honor ours. Therefore, because we do, we must at this time part company.”

That, however, will never be said because in this milieu of political correctness run amuck, too many people believe in “openness” without boundaries. Too many do not want to take a stand on orthodoxy but prefer to align themselves with what ever way a person “really feels.” And, as for Rev. Redding, she says she has not, in her estimation, violated her ordination vows, and so we are simply supposed to accept her assessment of the situation without question. She’s happy; her local bishop is happy. In the words of Rodney King, her supporters are singing, “Can’t we all just get along?” to the tune of “Kum-Bay yah.” All that is left is for the rest of us to wonder, what’s next? An atheist Christian? Why not, if we are in fact truly open?

2.  We turn now to the retired Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong. Spong sees himself as a sort of modern (albeit more radical) Martin Luther, who questions many orthodox Christian teachings. While legitimately saying, al la Bultmann, that Christianity must leave behind the three-tiered universe that was the worldview of the ancients, Spong goes even further by denying such core doctrines as the divinity and bodily resurrection of Christ.viii In light of the witness of the Gospels, 1Cor. 15, and the historic Creeds, one wonders how he can say this and still remain an Episcopal Priest, much less a Bishop.ix But, not to worry, Spong believes he has recovered a more real and authentic Christianity, so who are we to question him or his sincerity.x

Again, as with Rev. Redding, one might be open to Bp. Spong as a person and even to defend his right to believe whatever he wants. Nonetheless, one might also legitimately question whether he can be called a “Christian” in any meaningful sense. Indeed, because he rejects core biblical/Christian doctrines, he would certainly by definition be disqualified to be a bishop insofar as a bishop has the responsibility to oversee the faith of his flock in harmony with biblical witness. But, of course, just as Bill Clinton redefined “having sex,” so has John Spong and the Episcopal Church redefined the words “bishop,” “faith” and “Christianity” to the point where these words are now, in his context, meaningless.

Let me again be clear, if Bp. Spong or Rev. Redding feel compelled to pursue their new doctrines, I would not stand in their way. They are free to start their own congregations or even their own sects any time they feel so inclined – Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith along with Brigham Young did. In fact, they are free to worship whatever they desire. However, the point is that in so doing they disqualify themselves for ministry in the Christian church. It would seem they ought to be disqualified as Episcopalians, but that is for the Episcopal Church to decide. Nevertheless, words have meaning. Confessions, commitments, and vows have meaning. That being the case, the pronouncements of Bp. Spong and Rev. Redding make it clear that they have so departed from historical Christian teaching that they are no longer “Christian” in any meaningful sense of the word.

That verdict, by the way, should not be interpreted as being closed, narrow-minded, or “judgmental.” Being open to others should not mean one cannot have definitions, commitments, affirmations, or boundaries. One can be a pluralist but still recognize differences. In fact, it is only a distortion of the true meaning of pluralism to harmonize and homogenize all faiths to make it appear that they are all saying the same thing. It is naïve to assert, as some people do, that all faiths are just different paths up the same mountain. For example, what a Christian means by “heaven” (in which s/he finds his/her true identity) is quite different from “Nirvana” (in which blessedness comes from the extinction of self). To recognize the differences need not mean one condemns one side or the other, but it is to discern not only the differences but also the implications of those differences. Likewise, to say that Rev. Redding and Bp. Spong are not Christian in any recognizable way is not being narrow so much as it is to recognize the implications of their statements vis-à-vis the Bible and the traditional confessions of the church. If that is the direction in which they feel drawn, fine, but they should then take off the collar and quit pretending to be something they are not.

Let us here reiterate, those who are dissatisfied with traditional, confessional, and biblical Christianity and who want a new church are free to start their own. If their new version of Christianity thrives and the traditional Christianity fails, so be it. At least we have not, borrowing the old saying, tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear or vice versa.

3.  Let me now turn to an ELCA congregation, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, in San Francisco, CA (at www.HerChurch.org). This congregation seems to have been taken over by a radical feminist element and is led by a pastor who apparently is living in an active lesbian relationship (contrary to present ELCA policy – see “Visions and Expectations”). More importantly, they have redefined the Trinity in terms of Goddess worship. They refer to God as “Mother,” Jesus has been lost in favor of “Christ-Sophia,” and they pray “the Goddess Rosary” (i.e. rather than having a traditional Roman Catholic rosary with a cross on it, which would itself be strange in a Lutheran context, there is an image of “the Goddess” which closely resembles the fertility images of Astarte in the Old Testament Baal cults – see their website).

To reiterate, regardless of how much I disagree with their doctrine, I would defend their right to believe what they want (unless, of course, they were advocating hate and violence). That, by the way, is true openness. Similarly, I defend their right to believe and teach what they want, even though I would argue against their assertion that they fall within the parameters of either orthodox Lutheranism or Christianity.

Consequently, because I challenge whether they are Christian, or more particularly Lutheran, in any meaningful sense, I would also argue that they are no longer qualified to be considered members of the ELCA as they no longer meet the constitutional requirements of membership. For example, where in the Scriptures or in the constitutions of the ELCA is Jesus ever referred to as “Christ-Sophia”? How can that be a legitimate title? Where in said documents is God the Father ever referred to as “Goddess”? These and other assertions by Ebenezer are absurd in the context of the ELCA’s founding documents.

To be sure, Ebenezer Church in San Francisco can petition the ELCA to go through a defined and deliberate process to change its statement of faith and its founding documents. That would at least have the integrity of letting people know where it (the ELCA) stands. However, this practice of saying one thing in one’s founding documents and allowing practices that are alien and antithetical to those documents is at best weak-kneed and at worst underhanded.

In addition, the pastor, when she was ordained and installed, promised to preach and teach in a way that is in accord with the Scriptures and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. Those promises are in the standard service for ordination. Obviously, she and the congregation have departed from those vows and constitutional requirements. They are now more of a New Age fertility cult with Christ being presented as a sort of Gnostic redeemer. Again, it’s a free country; they can believe and teach that if they wish. However, such New Age, Gnostic proclivities, by definition, disqualify them from being considered Christian and most definitely from being Lutheran.

Therefore, we can only conclude that this congregation and its property have been hijacked by this radical group which professes a doctrine that is foreign and even hostile to Lutheran doctrine and confession. In truth, one cannot help but wonder: if they wanted to go in that direction, why didn’t they have the integrity and the courage to start their own congregation/ church/sect rather than hijack a congregation founded and funded by and for Lutherans? But, no, they had neither the courage nor the integrity to do that, perhaps because that would have required the personal and financial risk demanded by their convictions. Instead they wanted the security of an already existing facility and institution – including its pension and health benefits – without any commitment to that institution’s core beliefs. That is unconscionable.

By the way it sort of makes one wonder how they took over this congregation and made it into what it is without at least the tacit approval of the local bishop and the ELCA.

I wrote the ELCA Presiding Bishop about this matter. I received a response from his assistant who took pains to remind me, as if I didn’t already know, that the ELCA is organized in local synods and that the local bishop of Sierra Pacific Synod has responsibility and oversight for that congregation, not the ELCA Presiding Bishop. It seems this response was intended to absolve Bp. Hanson of any responsibility for the fiasco taking place at Ebenezer (One can only conclude that Bishop Hanson does not consider oversight of an ELCA member congregation, or its bishop, to be on his radar screen – to be his responsibility. So, tell me again, why did we need “the historic episcopacy”?).xi

Rumor has it that when the local Bishop was asked about Ebenezer Church, he said that the ELCA is an “inclusive church.” That seems to suggest that he wants the ELCA to be known as an open church where almost anything goes.

Again, reflecting on our confessions, constitutional statements of faith, ordination vows and so on, I thought it was the local bishop’s responsibility to oversee the congregations under his stewardship in a way that is in accord with the Scriptures and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church! If this rumor is true (and that is a big “if”), his response is clearly a breach of his fiduciary responsibility for the oversight and stewardship of the synod and that congregation. Disciplinary actions ought to be initiated against Ebenezer and its bishop, although they probably won’t be.

But again, the point of this digression about Ebenezer Church in San Francisco is that one can be open to them as a congregation and as individuals and say, “Go and do what seems best to you,” without caving into their twisting of Scripture, doctrine, and tradition.

“Go and do what seems best to you. We hold no ill-will or animosity towards you. We will pray for you that the Spirit guide you into all truth (Jn.16:13). However, because you have strayed so far from the teachings and confessions that define us, we can no longer consider you as Lutheran or continue to walk the journey of faith with you. Therefore, you must go your own way. And by the way, leave the church building and the property where and as you found it.”

Such a statement may not be politically correct. It may even offend some popular contemporary sensibilities. However, the statement does recognize that there are such things as legitimate boundaries and definitions. It recognizes the true state of things at Ebenezer. As such, the statement has integrity, whereas the present situation does not.

4.  Lastly, consider the case of the openly gay pastor, Bradley Schmeling, of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia (The News Tribune – Tacoma, WA – Monday 25 June 2007, p.A4). At the time of his call to St. John’s Church, Pr. Schmeling was single and not in any relationship. However, since coming to St. John’s he has entered into a same-sex relationship with a man who himself had been a pastor but is no longer on the clergy roster. Pr. Schmeling’s entrance into this relationship is a violation of the “Visions and Expectations” policy for clergy. However, there are a number of complicating factors, two of which are as follows:

  1. the membership of St. John’s Church is very supportive of Pr. Schmeling, and they want him to stay on as pastor.
  2. Pr. Schmeling reports, “When I came to St. John’s [six years ago], I told the bishop I wouldn’t agree to the guidelines of the church. I was single at the time, and told him that, should that change, I would come and tell him… So when that did change, I called him and told him. For me it was an issue of integrity and honesty. I’ve never been willing to hide or be in the closet.” (The foregoing is referenced by the website at this link.)  (http://www.sovo.com/2006/8-18/news/localnews/minister.cfm)

Some parishioners have even demonstrated in support for Pr. Schmeling. Expressions of support have included those that say, “God is with you; make fire in Atlanta,” whatever that means; and “All love is holy” (one wonders what the person who wrote that inane comment would say about bestiality, necrophilia and, pedophilia).

Pr. Schmeling admits to being embarrassed by all the attention. Nevertheless, he says,

“I feel like it’s a chance for me to witness for a church that’s open, accepting and loving to everyone. So many churches have only harsh and negative words for gay and lesbian people.” (TNT article 25June’07)

There they are, the three formula words – “open, accepting (read tolerant), and loving” – that carry such weight but also bring such confusion and disorientation in their wake. Who could possibly not want to be “open, accepting and loving” to anyone for whom Jesus died? However, there is a problem here. Love and acceptance of persons does not necessarily translate to love and acceptance of behavior. It is doubtful that Pr. Schmeling himself would be entirely “open, accepting and loving to everyone.” One hopes that there are lifestyles and behaviors that even he would not accept – such as those of Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, the distinctive culinary habits of Jeffrey Dahmer, or the sexual preferences of a pedophile or sadist. Remember, he specifically said “everyone;” yet it’s probably safe to assume that Pr. Schmeling would draw the line somewhere.

Before going on, let me be clear. I am not saying that everyone who endorses the normal-ization of homosexuality necessarily endorses pedophilia or any of the other deviant behaviors (I was accused of that very thing in response to my “Critique and Commentary” on JTF2). I am not in anyway trying to engage in some kind of hysteria by speaking of Kaczynski and Dahmer in this context. What I am doing is pointing out that a statement like that of Pastor Schmeling, albeit admittedly probably overstatement and hyperbole, fails to account for the inevitable – the fact that the church must draw the line somewhere regarding what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Yes, we are called to share the Gospel with all people. Nevertheless, not all behaviors are good, acceptable or safe.

In so saying, we are not being narrowly judgmental. We are merely recognizing the fact that that we cannot be “open and accepting to everyone” or to every behavior. In other words, the line inevitably will be drawn somewhere. We need simply to strive to make sure that the line is drawn at the right time and in the right places.

That being said, let us keep in mind that Pr. Schmeling entered the ministry in the ELCA fully aware of its restrictions on homosexual behavior for clergy. The “Visions and Expectations” document and its predecessor statements have been clear in stating that gays and lesbians must remain celibate. So, the ELCA has done Pr. Schmeling and others no disservice by requiring that they remain celibate or, if they depart from that requirement, in asking them to resign.

And by the way, let no one forget, there are processes for changing policy and practice.

In fact, the ELCA has so honored the concerns of Pr. Schmeling and others as to engage in a process of long, hard study (“Journey Together Faithfully”, parts 1, 2 & 3) and debate in order to consider just that – the propriety of normalizing homosexual behavior in the form of ordinations and performing same sex unions. This effort has been excruciatingly difficult for people on both sides of the issue. This is a far more revolutionary endeavor with more far reaching consequences and implications than the debate over the ordination of women back in the 70s. Nevertheless, in spite of the difficulty of this debate and the anguish it has caused, the effort has met with very little appreciation from pro-normalization groups.

In addition, if we haven’t moved fast enough, if there are those, like Barbara Lundblad, who feel the ELCA has not allowed them (i.e., gays) to be totally themselves,xii there are church bodies that do welcome homosexual behavior as normal and thus allow gays and lesbians into ordained ministry – consider for example the Metropolitan churches found in many cities which targets the homosexual community and the United Church of Christ which voted in July of 2005 to affirm Gay marriage.xiii The point is: it is not as if there are no options.

But all of that isn’t enough for Pr. Schmeling, Pr. Lundblad and others. It is not enough that we study; it is not enough that we anguish; it is not enough that we care and welcome, even if we struggle with the idea of normalization. Instead, like spoiled children they stomp their feet and cry that want change… right now!!!

So, please help me to understand how that insistent attitude can in any way be a manifestation of the love as described in 1Corinthians 13 (“love is patient and kind…”). Help me to understand how being so demanding can be reflective of the fruits of the Spirit as enumerated in Galatians 5:22-24 (“love, joy, peace, patience…”).

In fact, where is the reciprocal “openness”? Where is the reciprocal “patience” with those who, like Robert Gagnon, have offered compelling scholarly challenges, from biblical, sociological, genetic, psychological and other perspectives, to the normalization of homo-sexuality?xiv Where is the “openness” in accusations of “homophobe,” “Neanderthal” and “dinosaur” simply because one offers legitimate concerns about normalization from biblical and other perspectives? Where is the “openness” in the accusation that those who question the normalization of homosexuality are the equivalent of Ku Klux Klan members who lynched blacks in the past?xv Do not these and other slurs in fact reflect a total disregard for and lack of openness towards those of differing opinion? These accusations and slurs are not only reflective of a new and oppressive legalism, they are also a bullying tactic.

Conclusion

In each of the four cases cited above, at least part of the argument in favor of these diversions from orthodoxy has been on the basis of openness to something new.xvi Put aside for a moment the fact that “new” does not necessarily equate with “good,” “right” or “better.” Being open to others and tolerant of other perspectives can be a good thing but only insofar as it does not in the process trash legitimate boundaries and throw-out much-needed discernment. Lack of proper boundaries and lack of theological and spiritual discernment are clearly real dangers in both church and society today.

Boundaries and discernment—how do we discern what are proper boundaries and where those boundaries are to be drawn?

Just as in a dysfunctional family, boundaries can be too rigid and inflexible to the point where family members can’t breathe. That is what we as Lutherans call legalism. Conversely, boundaries in a family can be too loose and too flexible to the point where things are chaotic and family members don’t know what to expect from one another. This is what we as Lutherans call “antinomianism” (Greek: anti = no/against; nomos = law/rules) which in effect means the absence of law. It seems clear at present that some in the ELCA lean heavily towards the latter extreme, antinomianism (see footnote #1 below).

That said, it is also an ironic twist that those in the ELCA (and in society, for that matter), who in effect argue along antinomian lines, appear to want to impose their view on those who represent a more classical and traditional view of Lutheranism. In other words, there is a new legalism afoot that not only runs contrary to Lutheran doctrine and tradition, but also is stifling of real dialogue and debate.

In light of this diagnosis of possible antinomian legalism, let me add an observation that will probably need fuller development in an essay of its own. What I am referring to is the drive towards self-justification that is appearing in some new and unique ways in the present debate.

It is no secret that the urge to justify oneself is as old as humanity itself, ostensibly going back to Adam and Eve. We all do it – I no less than anyone else. Nevertheless, that being said, what is it about the gay normalization movement that is so driven and so “in-your-face” that they demand absolute acquiescence and acceptance from all quarters? What is it about that movement that will not allow others to disagree? What is it that seeks to pass legislation that would label as a “hate-crime” any word from a pulpit that calls homosexuality a “sin”?xvii

It is possible that such strict measures to stifle opposition arise from two interrelated sources: 1) great insecurity about the validity of one’s position, and 2) the desire so to justify oneself that one cannot tolerate dissent; one is so threatened by those who disagree that one must cow them into submission.

Without wanting to psychoanalyze from a distance (which is usually an exercise in futility not to mention bordering on malpractice), the point is that, if anyone can, Lutherans should understand the dangers inherent in self-justification. This is a warning to all parties in the debate but especially to those who are so insistent upon normalization especially in the face of the clear and consistent witness of Scripture. It may be that those who at this time oppose the normalization of homosexuality in the ELCA are not so much “anti-gay” or “homophobes,” but are sincerely trying to uphold the centrality of scripture that is demanded both in ELCA and congregational constitutions as well as in the ordination vows of pastors.

But, again, that is probably a topic on which to elaborate in another essay.

It is attributed to Voltaire to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”xviii While perhaps not so dramatic as Voltaire, that is basically the attitude I have tried to communicate with regard to the examples given above. I let people live their lives (albeit within reason, i.e., sans hate & violence). However, having said that, it also needs to be said that each church or denomination has the right (again within reason) to determine what is normative for that group on the basis of its founding documents. If an individual or a group within a church or denomination concludes it cannot abide by those precepts, that person or group ought to have the integrity to leave, OR, through a deliberate and fair process, work for change (by the way, that does not guarantee that the desired change will necessarily happen in the ELCA or elsewhere). However, the presumption that some have that an organization must change – immediately! – to suit their druthers is unbelievably arrogant; it is the height of hubris. It is the pretense of God-like powers, which is how human beings got in this mess in the first place.

Endnotes

i. See my article on antinomianism - p. seven.)(http://www.wordalone.org/newsletters/2005/MarApr05.pdf)

ii. A complicating factor of this story is that Rev. Redding was actually ordained 20 years ago in Rhode Island and therefore falls under the oversight of the present Bishop of Rhode Island. In an article dated 05 July ’07, the Seattle Times reported the following. “The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a local Episcopal priest who announced she is both Muslim and Christian, will not be able to serve as a priest for a year, according to her bishop. During that year, Redding is expected to ‘reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam,’ the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, wrote in an e-mail to Episcopal Church leaders.” Reference Link.  (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003776789_webredding05m.html)

iii Those who do not agree with the essentials of Christian teaching at best stand on the fringes of Orthodoxy and at worst outside of Christianity. We discern the differences but ultimately we leave God to render judgment.

iv Rev. Redding in a Q & A session printed in the Seattle Times (23 June ’07) says she believes Jesus is divine in the same way that all humans are related to God… Jesus is different in degree, not kind.

v The Koran repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus Christ is not the literal Son of God:

  • “They say, ‘God has taken to Him a son’... Say: ‘Those who forge against God falsehood shall not prosper’” (A.J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted - New York: MacMillan, 1976, p.233).
  • “Praise belongs to God [Allah], who has not taken to Him a son....” (ibid., p. 315).
  • “… Warn those who say, ‘God has taken to Himself a son’... a monstrous word it is, issuing out of their mouths; they say nothing but a lie.” (ibid., p. 316)
  • “But who does greater evil than he who forges against God a lie?” (ibid., p. 317).
  • “They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s Son.’” (ibid., p. 130).

vi From – trueislam.tribe.net Lina: "In Islam Isa pbuh (Jesus) was raised to the heavens before he was captured by the Romans."  (http://trueislam.tribe.net/thread/6b8af1cf-633b-4f6c-8690-af14468c0035)

Tajwidi Qur'an 3:55:
"(Remember) when Allah said, "Oh 'Isa! I will gather you to Me and will raise you to Me and purify you from those who cover up (the truth), and I will set those who follow you above those who cover (the truth) until the Day of Standing Forth (from the graves). Then to Me you shall (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that about which you used to disagree."
Lina: "The Romans captured another man thinking he was Jesus, some say this was Judah, others say it was a man fleeing a crime that he had just commited. The interpretation is that Allah SWT blinded the capturers into visually believing that they had captured Jesus. This man by the miracle of Allah was made to appear like Jesus visually to all, and it was he who was crucified. So in Islam a crucification did take place but the man crucified was not Isa pbuh."
Tajwidi Qur'an 4:157:
and because of their saying, "We killed the Messiah, 'Isa son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah." They neither killed him nor did they crucify him, but it (only) appeared so to them, and truly those who differ are filled with doubts. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. And for certain they did not kill him- 4:158:
See also soundvision.com and answers.com  (http://www.soundvision.com/Info/Jesus/inIslam.asp) and (http://www.answers.com/topic/islamic-view-of-jesus-death") respectively

vii For information about the core teachings of the Episcopal church, see Reference link.  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/visitors_11564_ENG_HTM.htm)

viiiThe following are excerpts from some of Spong’s writings:

“Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically. The issues to which I now call the Christians of the world to debate are these:
  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.”
Reference for above.  (http://www.beliefnet.com/author/author_44.html)
In his essay, “Resurrection – Myth or Reality?” Spong writes: “Before we can begin positive speculation about the meaning of Easter, we must clear the debris of literalism and the fanciful claims of pre-modern people. Let me be specific about the following parts of the resurrection story: An angel did not descend from the sky on the wings of an earthquake to roll away the stone from the door of the tomb in order to make the resurrection announcement. A deceased man did not walk out of his grave physically alive three days after his execution by crucifixion. The risen Jesus did not walk, talk, eat, teach or invite the disciples to handle his physical flesh. Jesus did not literally defy gravity and ascend to the top of a three-tiered universe. These legendary aspects of the Easter story are no longer viewed as literally true in the academic world of biblical scholarship. We are not going to make sense out of the meaning of Easter if we have to defend the accuracy of these pre-modern details.”
In an essay titled, “Was the Apostle Paul Gay?” Spong writes: “Others have suggested that epilepsy was the condition from which he was not free. Epilepsy was thought of as demon possession, but it was a periodic sense of being possessed by an alien spirit, not a constant malady. Also, in the biblical narrative the epileptic elicited a sense of pity, or at times fear, but seldom did it elicit despising or loathing. Epilepsy does not appear to me to account for the intensity of the feelings that Paul expressed. The realization that he was a homosexual male does. It is a hypothesis that makes sense of the data and accounts for the tone, the fear, the passion, and the behavior.” Reference for above. (http://www.beliefnet.com/author/author_44.html)
In “Right Man for a New World,” Spong writes: “The Jesus who “died for our sins” has simply got to go in our post-Darwinian world. Christianity must move beyond a rescuing Jesus, who overcame a fall that never happened, even metaphorically, to restore human life to a status it has never had, even mythologically. Williams’ (the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury) task is nothing less than to articulate a new Christianity for a new world.”
Reference for above.  (http://www.beliefnet.com/author/a)

ix On the other hand, in June of 2006 in Columbus, Ohio, the Episcopal House of Deputies refused to even consider a resolution that affirmed Jesus Christ as the “only name by which any person may be saved.” Who knows where the Episcopal Church is headed? Little wonder they were not able to find the will to reign in Spong. See: this reference link.  (http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=4311)

x See: this reference link. As a colleague of mine once rightly commented, “Spong is like a modern-day Marcion (a heretic of the early church).” But that is an issue for another day.  (http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/forum/for_200002_27.shtml)

xi As an aside, in light of the four items mentioned in this essay, one wonders what has been gained from “Call to Common Mission (CCM)” and the adoption of its provision for the Historic Episcopacy (H.E.) in the ELCA.

The word “bishop” (Greek - episcope`) means “overseer”. By implication, bishops are to oversee faithfully the churches under their stewardship and use the scriptures and the historic confessions of the church as their measuring stick. Theologians like Carl Braaten argued that the H.E. would restore authority to the magisterial (teaching) office of bishops and thereby ensure the orthodoxy of the church’s faith and life. However, in fact the very opposite has occurred. Subsequent to CCM’s passage, theologians like Braaten and world-renowned scholar, Wolfhart Pannenberg, have had to write warnings about the ELCA’s departure from orthodox Lutheranism. Nevertheless, their warnings have gone largely ignored. In addition, Episcopal bishops have not done their job of oversight when, on the one hand, one bishop (Spong) clearly teaches heretical doctrine and is neither reprimanded nor removed. Where is the oversight? Then, on the other hand, another bishop tolerates a priest who bastardizes her faith and questions basic Christian doctrine. How does one explain such gross neglect? More importantly for Lutherans, neither the Presiding ELCA Bishop nor the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod has done his job regarding the oversight of Ebenezer Church in San Francisco, not to mention the failure of the bishop of Pastor Bradley Schmeling.

So, we wonder, where is the benefit we were to glean from CCM?

xii See the sermon by Barbara Lundblad titled “A Messy, Loving Anointing” posted at: lcna.org.  (http://www.lcna.org/news.shtm)

xiiiSee:

this link,  and this link.  (http://www.365gay.com/newscon05/07/070405uccVote.htm) and (http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0707-23.htm) respectively.

xiv Robert Gagnon has written probably the definitive book on the Bible and its views on homosexuality titled, The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

xv Prof. David Balch made essentially that accusation during his debate with Prof. Robert Gagnon at Pacific Lutheran University, on October 23, 2004.

xvi A mantra of some from the pro-gay-normalization camp is the phrase “God is doing a new thing.” This is a phrase taken out of context from Isaiah 43 where God speaking through the prophet says, “19Behold, I am doing a new hing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” The implication being, if God was doing a new thing in Isaiah’s time, He can do a new thing in our time, too (namely, the normalization of behavior and doctrine that was formerly forbidden), and who are we to resist it? I have heard this argument put forward by biblical theologians who should know better.

The real point of Isaiah 43 is that “the new thing” God is doing is the restoration of the plan He had from the beginning of creation. In the Bible, God never contradicts Himself – He can’t; it’s not in His nature. Things that might seem confusing or contradictory to us. because of our limited insight, understanding and intelligence, are not ultimately contradictory but fit in the fulness of God’s purposes that we cannot yet fully comprehend. So, when Isaiah speaks of God doing “a new thing,” the text clearly refers to the restoration of the harmony of creation that was in God’s plan where even “The wild beasts will honor me,” says the LORD.

This is echoed in Jeremiah 31:31 where God speaking through the prophet promises “a new covenant.” Again, this is not a contradiction of the old covenant but a fulfilment of the old. No more will people have to teach one another the covenant, neither will they have to encourage or coerce obedience, but this new covenant will be written on their hearts!

So, based on the context of the prophecies, it is folly to argue that God is doing “a new thing” in the sense of reversing or undoing the orders of creation that He established from the beginning. Instead, He is writing His plan, purpose and intention not on tablets of stone but on our hearts and wills.

xvii This has happened in Sweden - see: this However, it needs to be noted that the conviction was later overturned – see: and this.  (http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/jul/04070505.html) and (http://www.cwfa.org/articledisplay.asp?id=7440&department=CWA&categoryid=freedom) respectively.

xviii Supposedly originated in “The Friends of Voltaire”, 1906, by S. G. Tallentyre – an alias of Evelyn Beatrice Hall).