On Tuesday a 30-something journalist from Redskins country, Danica Roem, defeated, soon-to-be-octogenarian, Robert Marshall for a seat in the Virginia General Assembly. Marshall has served as a Delegate for decades and has done so, in his own self-indicting words, as “Virginia’s Chief Homophobe.”
As with male pattern baldness- apparently there’s a club of which he’s not only a member but it’s president.
Marshall represents a district of the Northern Virginia exurbs sufficiently conservative as to make the Ayatollah seem middle of the road; nonetheless, on Tuesday they handed Marshall an embarrassing drubbing at the hands of Danica Roem who, it’s not incidental, is transgender.
Take it from me, Gainesville, Va is not San Francisco.
Turns out, regardless of their views on sexuality and identity most ordinary voters don’t care all that much about issues of sexuality and identity. They care more about the concrete, literally; as in, tolls and transportation.
As Gainesville, Virginia goes likely so will go the Church of Jesus Christ in all but the flyover states.
My United Methodist tradition stands at a clenched-teeth, fingers-crossed, butt-cheeks-tight- and-nervous impasse over the issue of sexuality, awaiting a recommendation from a special 30-person commission on a “way forward” that will inaugurate what may be the United Methodist Church’s final debate over the issue. The result will either be peace amidst difference, agreeing to unity generally amidst our disunity particularly on this topic, or the result will be for us to contribute (at least) two new denominations to the carnage created by the Reformation’s rupture with Rome (40K+ denominations since Martin Luther’s 95 Theses).
The election of Danica Roem, I suspect and fear, reveals how the very fact we’re even having this all-consuming argument is evidence that we’ve already wandered too far down the mineshaft holding hands with the likes of Robert Marshall.
Look- I get it.
I really do.
I understand those Christians who advocate for a traditional view of sexuality and marriage. I empathize with those who critique the nihilistic sexual ethics of our culture, worry about its cheapening of sex and the objectification of bodies, and its devaluing of tradition, especially the traditional authority of scripture in the life of the Church.
Such traditionalists are correct to insist that the male-female union is the normative relationship espoused by the Church’s scripture and confession. They’re right to remind us that neither scripture nor tradition in any way condones homosexual relationships.
I don’t disagree with them that in a Church which took centuries to codify what we meant by ‘Trinity’ or ‘Jesus as the God-Man,’ it’s a bit narcissistic to insist the Church rush headlong into upending millennia of teaching on sexuality and personhood. I sympathize with their critique that, in many ways and places, the Church has substituted the mantra of inclusivity for the kerygma about Christ and him crucified. And I concur with them that if, as progressives like to say, “God is still speaking…,” then whatever God is saying must conform to what God has already said to us in the One Word of God, Jesus Christ.
On the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, I too want to hold onto sola scriptura and secure the Bible’s role as sole arbiter in matters of belief.
I’m just aware- and if I wasn’t already, the election of Danica Roem grabbed me by the collar and shook me awake- that a growing number of people (read: potential converts to Christ) see such conservatism not as a reverence for scripture but as a rejection of them.
Like those NOVA voters who cared more about public works than Danica Roem’s privates, as much as I empathize with my friends on the “traditional” side of the debate, I find other issues more urgent.
Namely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news that Jesus Christ has done for you what you were unable to do for yourself: live a righteous life before a holy God who demands perfection.
In all our arguing about getting it right on this issue-
I worry that we’ve obscured the Gospel good news:
everything has already been done in Jesus Christ.
I know what scripture (ie, the Law) says about sex; however, the Gospel frees us from the Law.
The Gospel frees us from the burden of living a sinless, perfect-score sex life. Having a “pure” sex life justifies us before God not at all.
The Gospel also frees us, interestingly enough, from finding the perfect interpretation of what scripture says about sex.
Having the right reading of scripture on sex doesn’t improve our standing before God nor does having the wrong reading jeopardize our justification. The Gospel, as Jesus freaking says, is good news. It’s for sinners not saints. It’s for the sick not the show-offs. As with any family on the brink of divorce, I worry that the family’s core story has gotten muddled in the midst of our fighting.
As much as I worry with my conservative friends about the status of sola scriptura in the Church and as much as I concur with them that any culture that produces Snapchat and Tinder shouldn’t be trusted in matters of sex, I worry more that in fighting so much over the “right” position on sexuality we’ve turned having the right position (either on the issue or in the bedroom) into a work of righteousness by which (we think) we merit God’s favor.
In fighting over who has the righteous position, I worry our positions about sexuality have become the very sort of works righteousness that prompted Luther’s protest 500 years ago.
Like those voters this Tuesday who cared more about the tolls and transportation of their daily lives than transgenderism, I care about the proclamation of the Gospel more than I do protecting the Law.
And let’s be clear, all those stipulations in scripture- they’re the Law.
The Law, which the Apostle Paul says, was given by God as a placeholder for Jesus Christ, who is the End of the Law.
The point of the Law, for St. Paul, is to convict of us our sin, making us realize how far we ALL fall short such that we throw ourselves on God’s mercy in Christ.
I don’t get the sense that’s how the Law functions for us in these sex debates. Instead the Law functions for us to do the pointing out of how far the other has fallen short.
I care about scripture and tradition, sure.
But I care more about ordinary sin-sick people, gay and straight, knowing that God loves them so much as to die for them.
I care more about them knowing the only access they require to this eternal get of jail free card is not their pretense of ‘righteousness’ but their trust in his perfect righteousness.
I care more about them knowing that any of us measuring our vice and virtue relative to each other is to miss the freaking huge point that our collective situation is such that God had to get down from his throne, throw off his robe, put on skin, and come down to rescue us on a cursed tree.
Every last one of us.
More than the ‘right’ position on sex, I care more about people knowing that God gave himself for them in spite of them; therefore, God literally doesn’t give a @#$ about the content or the character of their lives. God’s grace, as Robert Capon said, isn’t cheap. It isn’t even expensive. It’s free.
I fear our fighting over sexuality conveys that God’s grace isn’t costly. It’s expensive, paid in the tender of your right-living and right-believing.
If our ongoing, intractable fights over sexuality convey to even one person that God condescended in Christ for someone unlike them, then the fighting isn’t worth it.
If our leveraged-future brinkmanship over sexuality implies to even one person that our having the right position on sexuality in any way effects our justification, then the debate isn’t worth it.
And if the election of Danica Roem is any indication, to say nothing of the confused look on my 15 year old son’s face that I’m even writing this post, then the risk to the Gospel grows every day we waste with this debate.
Like it or not, Will and Grace first aired 20 years ago. Daphne was TV’s first lesbian 50 years ago. The culture has moved on whether we like it or not. This isn’t a hill the Apostle Paul would die on- especially not a hill on which he’d euthanize the Gospel.
So, given the missional context of the culture in which we find ourselves, I offer this modest proposal for the Way Forward.
I’ve read reports that the UMC’s Special Worldwide Sex Conference (my name for it) in 2019 will cost the UMC approximately $11 million dollars.
Given that this issue of sexuality was already settled for most potential converts to Jesus Christ back in 1996 when Robin Williams starred in the Bird Cage, I propose:
We, the United Methodist Church, instead invest that $11 MILLION DOLLARS until the day, say, when my son is my age, 2050.
On that day, sex will be even less the issue for his children as it is for his peers, but- I’m betting, broken world as this is- they’ll still be hungry for grace.
And- unless the Donald or Skynet screws things up-
At 3% interest that $11,000,000 will be worth close to $24 MILLION DOLLARS.
I know, like Solomon and the baby, it’s an incredibly difficult choice to weigh.
Do we spend $11M now for the same people who couldn’t reach a decision 2 years ago to argue it again and hope for different results?
Or, do we invest for the future so that we have 24 million dollars to proclaim the good news that God in Jesus Christ is for sinners?