Let No One Tear Asunder

Jason Micheli —  February 3, 2014 — 14 Comments

1391011150566.cachedThis weekend I concluded our marriage sermon series by reflecting on how the issue of marriage, in particular homosexuality, threatens to split the United Methodist Church.

In it, I tried to survey the four broad perspectives that exist within the larger Church and within my own congregation, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each view. Ephesians 2.13-22 was my text.

Here’s the audio. You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app.

 

      1. Let No One Tear Asunder

Jason Micheli

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14 responses to Let No One Tear Asunder

  1. The sensitivity and kindness with which you addressed this issue was amazing. Obviously, most people who consider themselves Christians believe that their position on the topic is justified and often based on scripture, whatever the position is. You described the four positions with respect. The message that I took away was that everyone is entitled to hold their opinion and be treated with kindness, right or wrong from another’s perspective, and our goal as a congregation should be to love one another in spite of occasional differences and continue to work as a whole to live by Christ’s example. While that isn’t always easy, that is the goal……to love our neighbors. In this case they may sit in the pew beside us.

  2. So let’s get this straight: You have rigged your Wesleyan quadrilateral argument in such a way that tradition itself speaks against the church’s traditional view? Does anyone else see the irony there?

    • The Quadrilateral was just a way for me to organize what I think are the four rough perspectives. I needed somewhere to stick the ‘let’s just focus on Jesus’ people. The ‘traditional marriage’ perspective would’ve been redundant with the first perspective. And here I thought I was fairly fair in it.

      • “Fairly fair”? By your score, it was 3.5 to 0.5 against the traditional position. That’s a laugh. You wrote as if the only reason we have our traditional position is because of a few stray verses here in there, mostly in Leviticus (as if just because it’s in Leviticus it no longer applies). Isn’t the Great Commandment also in Leviticus? Is that no longer binding?

        What about Genesis 2 and Paul’s echo of that in Romans 1? What about Jesus’ affirmation of marriage between man and woman in Matthew 19? Reason itself seems to affirm that given complementary nature of our sex organs, God intends for sex to be a gift shared between man and woman only. (And before you bring it up, anal sex is physiologically harmful.)

        It’s unlikely (and science certainly doesn’t prove) that people are “born gay,” but what of it? People are born with all sorts of congenital illnesses, many of which are fatal. You hardly prove your point that because people are born a certain way, that that’s the way God intends.

        Regardless, you don’t contend with the New Testament’s affirmation of celibacy as a viable and blessed way to live.

        You’ve surely heard or read people like N.T. Wright demolish the idea that “Paul couldn’t have imagined lifelong, monogamous homosexual relationships.” In fact, they existed in Paul’s day, philosophers wrote about them, and Paul was a smart guy.

        But not just Paul… What about every other Christian thinker until about 1971? See, that’s the weight of tradition that you haven’t contended with. Why did all these otherwise smart, compassionate Christian saints fail to imagine that homosexuals could live together in lifelong, monogamous relationships? Why did none of them question the biblical teaching?

        And would you really have us believe that prior to the 20th century, no one imagined that some people had a relatively fixed same-sex sexual orientation—even if they didn’t use the word “homosexual”? That seems incomprehensible to me.

        You know that arguments from silence (“Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.”) are spurious. First, we have no idea what Jesus did or didn’t say about it. It’s not recorded in the Gospels. Second, given that we know for sure that first-century Judaism outlawed homosexual behavior, we could as easily interpret Jesus’ “silence” as a tacit endorsement of the status quo.

        You also know that while Jesus loved and accepted the marginalized, he didn’t do so without the demand for repentance of sin.

        You talk a lot about love, but you never concede that if homosexual behavior is a sin, it would be unloving not to warn people against it—to recommend change (which is possible in many cases, especially with lesbians) or celibacy.

        All that to say, you haven’t been close to “fairly fair.”

        • I agree basically with Brent, although I might have structured the argument a little more sensitively. In my best judgment, we shouldn’t behave in a postmodern way as if we are morally more advanced than the authors of the Bible or that certain scriptural morals or ethics are now optional.

          I am a UM and might be considered progressive may some because I do see the possibility of progressive revelation in scripture. That being said, I don’t see any evidence in scripture that we could get to condoning a same sex lifestyle through a hermeneutic of progressive revelation in scripture.

          I do personally believe that many same-sex attracted people (my anecdotal experience is more with males than females) do possess a natural trait towards this disposition. This places a burden on the individual, but does not trump scripture. I also understand from anecdotal experience that some people possess a natural trait towards addiction or alcoholism. Does that mean we should ordain practicing alcoholics? I think not.

          If we’re honest, we all have (or are called to have ) a cross to bear. We are all imperfect and are corrupted in different ways. God can use all of us and can be glorified through our imperfections and weaknesses. However, we can’t of our own authority convert our fallen state (whatever that may be) into the image of God. Thus, we shouldn’t exclude people on the basis that their sin is worse than ours, but we can’t convert sin into moral behavior because we are not God. Amen.

  3. I am sorry that we missed this on Sunday – would have loved to hear it in person. I found your explanation of the varied Christian positions so incredibly insightful (and dead on) that i listened to it twice so I could let it all sink in.

    Of the four perspectives, I think i have actually subscribed – at least in part – to all of them at some point. I believe you were quite fair in your support and critique of each position, and I think this is a message that all Christians need to hear.

    Those on the right tend to throw scripture at people demanding that they somehow change, or “reform”, or “convert” – or in other words, live their lives pretending to be something they are not. Those on the left tend to paint the issue with the broad brush of God’s love and pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it says – or at least, it doesn’t really mean what it says…

    For me, this sermon explained a lot of the thought processes behind those beliefs – and of those in the middle – and drove home the point that differing opinions are always going to exist within the church. But if we are all followers of Christ, it should not divide us.

    I Loved it. thanks –

  4. Well done Jason.

    • Thanks Bob. I was actually preaching with you (and a couple others) in mind: thoughtful, middle of the road, no bullshit people.

  5. Some questions:

    How can we discern which issues should be subject to the quadrilateral and which not? Divinity of Jesus? His literal resurrection? Or the corollary, how to discern which 4 versions of views belong in the quadrilateral and which out?

    In what ways did McKnight’s categories shape your thinking in defining the quadrilateral, and why not take the 4 seconds to acknowledge the strong similarities of that influence in your sermon? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2006/02/14/jesus-and-homosexuality-the-end/#comment-1235468475

    Were you speaking about those w same sex attraction, homosexual acts, legality of same sex marriage, or ordination of those identified with at least one of these three? Heard elements of all, seems like each perspective has different strengths to offer for each, but all 4 seem conflated here.

    Within the UMC and PCUSA, which side do you suppose is the one doing the tearing asunder?

    You’ve acknowledged Yoder and Barth as two primary sources of influence. Given what we know about them now, perhaps sexuality is not their strongest topic?

    Agreed we need a stronger theology of marriage to understand the marriage aspect of this issue to replace or at least bolster “God said” type proof-texting. Which writers have done the best job at building this case? Any Protestants you find convincing?

    • The Quadrilateral was just an arbitrary way of grouping 4 of what I take to be the main views on the subject so that listeners could follow what would’ve otherwise been too dense a sermon. I think each of the 4, as I implied in the summary, have strong scriptural roots and each has elements of the other 3 too.

      I hadn’t read McKnight’s post until now, but I’d be hard pressed to think of additional categories or ones where these weren’t the 4 primary ones. It’s the same general grouping that Eugene Rogers uses in his work on the matter as well as Richard Hays and Rowan Williams. It’s the same distinctions I tried to draw in a chapter of a book I wrote with Barry Penn Hollar back in 2005, which I think is in the blog archives here somewhere.

      You’re right they’re all conflated. I couldn’t think of a way of going beyond ‘homosexuality’ that didn’t risk becoming too bogged in parenthetical comments. I can’t speak for the PCUSA any longer but while I was in seminary I can say my sense as an outsider was definitely that the ‘scriptural’ perspective was much more aggressive (with journals putting writers in classes to catch professors in gay affirming-sounding quotes). I think in the UMC both sides to some extent have made this an issue worth divorce.

      I do love Yoder and Barth; however, I fear their own woefully compromised love/sex lives makes them little help as defense or prosecution in such matters.

      Rowan Williams: ‘The Body’s Grace’ best 10 pages of marriage/sex theology there is.

      • Thanks, Jason, for engaging seriously, and for the reading tip. I do wonder if one starting point is to point out that Jesus’ definition of love seems to be different from ours, and often seemingly harsh to us. And to paraphrase Hauerwas, God does have a lot to say about what we do w our genitals.

        In that vein, why does your speaking and writing give me the impression that you readily embrace that God calls people to forego material wealth but unthinkable that God might call people to give up sex and marriage? Does that square w your perception, or am I hearing something other that what you’re saying?

        • I actually have a snippet of Williams scheduled for the blog sometime this week, thanks to you. And thanks for engaging in a charitable way. Really, more so than anything I said, I was just trying to model for my congregation how to have the conversation on this sort of topic. The medium is our message and too often our message sounds like God’s a petulant…
          I think it’s a fair point you raise and I don’t think I disagree with you, just didn’t make it clear in the sermon. If our money is fair game to Jesus then it stands to reason that our sexuality is too. I don’t rule out that God could call someone gay or straight to singleness or celibacy. I think what I resist is the argument that all gay persons are called to renounce what I believe is their God-given identity or be ‘called’ to singleness and celibacy. The former would be for a larger witness while the latter is I think is just a refusal to see an entire category of people as people.

          • Ah, but God in his wisdom calls us to forego many things. Cribbing from NT Wright, what we give up, as well as what we embrace, function to make us more fully human, not less.

            “Entire category of people”. I am surprised to see you embrace sexual identity politics, I’m not sure that has a place in the kingdom. We diverge on what personhood means, if sexual acts are somehow core to your definition. Think about what other types of people are left out if that is true. Start with children and work down the list…

            Perhaps instead of starting with a definition of marriage, we should start with a definition of virtue, and of sin. One call of God for us his people is to work against institutions and norms that entrench people in sin.

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  1. Around the blogosphere | Rev. Brent L. White - February 4, 2014

    […] on the same subject, I listened to last Sunday’s sermon by fellow United Methodist pastor Jason Micheli, who attempts to analyze homosexuality from a Wesleyan Quadrilateral perspective. Micheli supports […]

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