THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DID WHAT?
George Will, a well known social and political pundit, points out that progressives have a deficient sense of history. He notes, for example, that, when Barack Obama was asked recently why he is so unpopular in Texas, he responded that it "has always been a pretty Republican state. . ." Mr. Obama's choice of this particular adverb displays his tunnel-visioned approach to history. Leave it to Mr. Will to highlight the glaring error in the President's statement, by observing that Texas elected its first Republican Senator, John Tower, in 1961 and did not elect a second, Phil Gramm, until 1984. Is Mr. Obama living exclusively in the moment, or what? Ignorance of history is risky business. George Santayana once reminded us that "[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It is true. But hold this thought for a second.
This past week the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by ratifying a proposal that removes the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, paved the way for the ordination of gays. A person who, in 1970, might have been regarded as a "pervert" or, just as bluntly still, as a "Sodomite," will now be allowed to pastor a Presbyterian church. What a remarkable historical transition, and what merry excitement among those Presbyterians who favored the proposal, as witnessed in the photograph above.
It is not as if our Presbyterian friends are not attuned to the current state of culture on the subject of homosexuality. They are. The American Psychiatric Association decided by majority vote, in 1974, that homosexuality was no longer a mental or emotional disorder, and the American Psychological Association followed suit soon thereafter. Other mainline Protestant groups, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, decided some time ago to welcome practicing homosexuals into their clerical ranks.
This explosive trend in Protestantism deserves attention. Even New Testament scholars, like Prof. Walter Wink, who enthusiastically favor admitting active homosexuals into the order of the ordained, realize that the debate is not about the Bible. Wink, to his credit, allows that "Paul wouldn't accept [a loving homosexual] relationship for a minute." The Apostle clearly and unequivocally condemned same-sex intimacy. The primary issue for Wink and those of his persuasion is whether Christians today should re-interpret homosexual practice by discounting, or even dismissing, Paul's strong denunication of it.
The Church has, for the duration of its existence, been categorically opposed to homosexual relations. The issue is not analogous to those of slavery, women's rights, and divorce, about which there are tensions and competing pronouncements throughout Scripture. Seeking to re-interpret homosexuality, in the manner Wink and other contemporary Protestants have done, is tantamount to waving farewell to the Bible as the "normative witness" for the Church's faith and practice. These new "expositors" of the faith have essentially stepped into a moral and spiritual quagmire that leads only to the placement of a giant question mark over the biblical values that we know and hold dear, and are unwittingly witnessing to the moral bankruptcy of mainline Protestantism.
Don't misunderstand my meaning. Homosexuals are human beings, who have feelings like the rest of us. They ought not to be abused or mistreated, ever. As citizens, they often contribute in productive ways to the good of society. Who can deny this? Yet these realities do not alter the fact that their lifestyle has never been regarded as "Christian." I for one will accept no denominational pronouncement to the contrary, and I suspect that there are many others who have adopted the same point of view.
But let's return again to the matter of history. Jonathan Edwards, Jr., who was the son and namesake of the great Puritan preacher, once in 1794 delivered a sermon to the governor and general assembly of the State of Connecticut. (So much for the absolute separation of church and state, right?) The sermon was entitled, "The Necessity of the Belief of Christianity." Edwards's text was Psalm 144:15, "Yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord." He emphasized to his esteemed audience, as the thoroughgoing Calvinist he was, "[I]f you and the good people of the state in general shall unite to practise virtue and christianity [sic], and to promote the wisest and best men among us, we shall doubtless be that happy people described in the text. . . ." For him, Christian morality was the essential condition of public health and happiness.
In this sermon, Edwards contrasted the profound distinctions between the morals of Christians in America and those of pagans in ancient empires. He drew attention to the fact that homosexuality was countenanced by many legislators and philosophers, in both Greece and Rome. He observed that Xenophon had informed his readers "that the sin of Sodom was encouraged by the public laws of several of the states of Greece." Cicero had likewise explained that "the Greek philosophers not only generally practised, but even gloried in this vice. . . ." In the same vein, Plutarch had observed "that many parents would not suffer their children to keep the company of those philosophers, who pretended to be fond of them." Seneca, moreover, had maintained "that in his time [homosexual acts] were practised 'openly and without shame at Rome.'" The Rev. Edwards was unquestionably convinced that homosexuality was a genuinely destructive and degenerative tendency among the ancients and that adherence to Christian morality had safeguarded America from its destructive effects.
Yet it interests me that the moral chasm between America and ancient pagan societies has closed with alarming speed during the last thirty-five years. Certainly you have noticed this as well. We Americans, with our own legislators and philosophers, appear oblivious to the past – and therefore destined to repeat it. Contrary to Lincoln's assurance in the Gettysburg Address, we have become another nation that definitely "shall perish from the earth."
When America declared her independence from England in 1776, Horace Walpole rose in Parliament to comment on this tumultuous situation. "There is no use crying about it," he insisted, "Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it." No, that is not the end of it. The Presbyterians have framed a historic postscript to Walpole's words: "The parson may now be queer."
May 16, 2011