A Plea for Better Questions, Part 3: To the Liberals

God loves Black people, and so should the Church.

God loves heroin addicts, and so should the Church.

God loves Capitalists, and so should the Church.

God loves those who bully the weak, and so should the Church.

God loves LGBTQIAW* people, and so should the Church.

God loves women, and so should the Church.

God loves people with cancer, and so should the Church.

God loves consumers of child pornography, and so should the Church.

I imagine that some, upon reading that list, would probably be screaming that I’m making false analogies, and that’s precisely the point. Any of those statements stands true in isolation, but because human beings are analogy-making critters, any two of those placed next to each other could inspire one person to point to the pair and say, “Exactly!” and another to scream that I’ve demonized, trivialized, relativized, dogmatized, or in many other ways abused that particular Greek suffix.

The fact of the matter is that analogy is necessary when one attempts to live faithfully within a historical tradition.  The Bible’s central questions, as best as I can get to them by means of historical reading, have changed shape in the centuries between my lifetime and the composition of the Bible: modern biology has reduced the grand theological separation between Jews and Gentiles to a matter of simple “racism,” and the fall of centered empires like Rome and Babylon and the rise of grand mercantile and Capitalist systems in the last couple centuries means that whatever it means to be a barbarian or a Scythian is likely going to boil down to a Schwarzenegger movie. So we make analogies, and not only when we talk about local congregations.  (My own Stone-Campbell background won’t let my poor fingers pluralize the word “church.”)  Martin Luther King, Jr. famously linked “black and white” to “Jew and Gentile,” and the analogy between Galatian congregations and American cities lay before the American people. Because most people thought it a valid analogy, King’s imagination has largely become the American imagination. Ward Churchill called for people to realize that, for many people in the world, the people working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011 were “little Eichmanns,” and the general public did not take the analogy as valid. Analogously (you get that?), when one moves back and forth between the Bible and early Christianity on one hand and the twenty-first century’s evangelical congregations on the other, the questions that face both liberals and conservatives tend to be questions of analogies.

Unfortunately, analogies examined in the heat of battle become occasions for offense.  When there are only two “sides,” and when the conversation has become a “struggle” (two more analogies, but I’ll try to restrain myself here), to propose an analogy that adjusts the relationships between the realities involved is going to offend people.  And offended people, far too often, call for a cessation of examination in favor of swift, decisive action.  No analogy has popped up more frequently in the last couple months, at least among my circle of contacts, than the analogy of college admissions.  If that analogy seems unfamiliar, perhaps that’s because the analogical character of the move has become obscured.  In this analogy, as I’ve seen it used, a college or a congregation or an ordination agency can only do two things, both derived from the world of college admissions: they can either “accept” or “reject” LGBTQIAW* people.

(I realize that the actual work of college admissions is probably more complex than this, and I apologize to any college admissions workers whom I’ve insulted here.)

Without even looking at a Bible, I can think of times when Jesus insisted on fellowship with, insulted, embraced, instructed, corrected, rebuked, and healed people.  That’s without looking.  The problem with the accept/reject paradigm for thinking about the question is not that it’s an invalid analogy in itself; it’s that accept/reject does not do justice to the broad spectrum of human possibilities (not to mention those that come into play when one is dealing with Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah) open when we encounter another person.  Any of these, if we take Jesus to be an exemplar of love, can be the means by which Jesus loves a mortal, and to assume that there are only two choices, to equate “love” with “accept” and to put every other possible human response in the category of “reject,” is to refuse to answer the complex and difficult questions of what constitutes love, what constitutes total exclusion, and what constitutes apathetic disregard when a neighbor who needs healing.  None of these is a settled question at the outset, and ethical deliberation on the shape of love does not mean that love is absent; it means that the ones deliberating want to make sure that love, which takes different shapes for different folks, is actually what’s being proposed.

To make this clearer, imagine a situation in which engagement with conservative evangelicals, in the fullness of their identity, boiled down only to “accept” and “reject.”  One could either “accept” evangelicals, granting that every one of their (our) political-party loyalties, anxieties, bigotries, and moments of self-righteousness is inherently good; or one could “reject” them (us), saying that nothing that they (we) do can ever be any good simply because we are evangelicals.  Now most folks, I hope, recognize that such an approach oversimplifies, that there are overlapping commitments and natures involved in the life of every evangelical, that one can appeal to a person’s sense of justice as a member of a biological family; to one’s sense that to be an American citizen means something; or to troubling moments in the synoptic gospels in the pursuit of changing someone’s mind without insisting that the person stop being an evangelical.  To come back to the question at hand, many current approaches to things put the conservative evangelicals on one side of a line and LGBTQIAW* people on the other, point to the folks on one side, and say, “You must give up entirely on the core of who you are so that the people on the other side of the line have to give up nothing of who they are.”  If these are the terms of engagement, it’s no great feat to imagine why the “struggle” seems intractable.

Perhaps only my circle of contacts uses this rhetorical device, but I’ve seen more than once the rejection of deliberation because it’s too slow, because every day spent deliberating on better analogies than the college-admission analogy means another gay teen is going to commit suicide.  But as I did in my message to conservatives, here as well I must take a stand in favor of genuine ethical deliberation: to neglect such deliberation in favor of unilateral legislative action or of rejecting those who disagree as un-Jesus-like does little but to establish the liberal credentials of the “hardliners” (you know who you are) and to throw the fates of those same teen suicides to the majority rather than trying to change the minds of people in particular places, something that may turn out better in terms of public policy points but will not do much at all to bring reconciliation between these people and the communities from which they feel alienated in the first place.  If anything such moves will only add resentment of heavy-handed political maneuvers into an already-difficult sphere of relationships.

I’ve often said that having someone who stands against one’s personal ideology in the White House is good for one’s soul, and if someone asks me to defend that statement, I need only to point to conservatives’ strong interest in truth and the accountability of elected officials while the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in the center of the news and the subsequent strong interest in truth on the part of liberals during the lead-up to and aftermath of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  I’ll leave our good readers to note what happened to this strong concern for the truth in both camps when their own dude was at 1600 Pennsylvania.  I bring this strange set of relationships to truth and government accountability to the table because a similar thing happens when one must read the Bible alongside people whose ideology differs.  I’ve been in more than one conversation in which a conservative has told me that the folks in the Bible would not have said what they did about the wealthy if they knew what sorts of good Capitalism would do for the global population, and I’ve had more than one liberal tell me that the Biblical writers could not have had any idea what a devoted romantic relationship between two consenting adult homosexual partners meant given the strange sexual norms of their day.

Again, why do people wonder why ideologues tend to talk past one another?

My point here is not that I’m some sort of Biblical purist (I do, after all, have money in a retirement account managed by my college’s sponsoring denomination, so my own savings are implicated in the global market system), much less that nobody “really” takes the Bible seriously.  What I am saying is that, if the struggle for a better life for LGBTQIAW* persons means, on some level, reconciling them with the communities from which they’re alienated rather than simply mandating, by means of government or economic force, their incorporation in Christian communities in official capacities, then part of the work of reconciliation has to involve living humbly with the Holy Scriptures which do claim the allegiance of all involved.  And that is going to mean the hard rhetorical work of convincing folks that your own readings of the Bible are valid readings.

What makes me think that some liberals are not all that serious about actual reconciliation with the conservative evangelical communities from which LGBTQIAW* people are alienated is that, when the text of the Bible comes up, too many times I see them brush off the exegetical questions with non-engagements like “I’m not a literalist” or “the Bible has nothing to say to this” or “it’s allegorical.”  I’ll put this as plainly as I currently see it: to pretend that the Bible has nothing to do with people’s sex lives indicates an utter lack of respect for people trying to live the whole of their lives by the same Bible.  To say “it’s an allegory” is the beginning of the discussion, no the end of it.  And being “not a literalist” is not the same as being “not a Cubs fan”–it requires of the one self-labeling some sort of account for this or that reading.  Those sort of maneuvers no doubt have the effect of ingratiating the movers with certain cultured despisers of religion, but they also indicate no desire to bring the communities who currently seek to do something other than simple “acceptance” into the deliberation.

Ultimately, then, the analogies that govern speech and writing about LGBTQIAW* people and the ways that participants engage with the Bible are going to tell everyone involved which people are serious about reconciliation and which would just as soon throw the “other” in front of a truck and have done with it.  In the meantime, as I did with the conservatives, I will ask, as gently as I can, that certain talking points undergo some revision:

  • Yes, pederasty was far more common in Roman-era cities than was consensual sexual relationships between grown men. But please stop writing that early Christians would have had no concept of such things. Everyone who’s read Homer knows of Achilles and Partroklos, and most people who teach Virgil know of Nisus and Euryalus. Early Christians had paradigms at their disposal, and they rejected them. To reject that rejection is to take a stand against informed precedent, not against uneducated primitives.
  • I know I said I wouldn’t address the Sojo controversy directly, but please try to approach this with some historical perspective.  A non-profit advocacy group’s asking that questions of sexuality undergo deliberation in the editorial section rather than being part of the advertising on the website is no doubt less than full and enthusiastic support of the LGBTQIAW* cause, but think carefully before comparing it to Martin Luther’s call for the peasant rebellion to be put down murderously, the refusal of white ministers to support Martin Luther King’s efforts in Alabama, or other well-known historical phenomena.  Bad historical analogies are just as damaging to a cause as any other sorts of bad analogies.
  • Teen suicide, for whatever reason, is an awful thing.  But to say that teen suicide is a reason to stop deliberating about questions of moral import is to put the fates of those teens in the hands of the majority, and that doesn’t strike me at least as particularly morally responsible.  Give the families of teens the dignity to treat their suicides as complex human acts rather than mechanistic byproducts of policies that you don’t like.
  • Not everyone who does not vocally lobby for “acceptance” is “homophobic.”  To deny good-faith intellectual differences and to attribute any difference to psychological disorders in your opponent no doubt feels good in the moment, but it does little to convince the other people that there’s something worth considering in your actual ideas.  If your ideas are good ones, contend for them on the level of ideas and leave the confession to the priests.

I think that this series will end here for now.  Certainly I might write follow-up posts in the weeks to come, but for now, to everyone discussing these things, I humbly ask, as someone who’s been called both a Communist and a Fundamentalist in Facebook interactions (sometimes only days apart from each other), for a bit of linguistic awareness in these disputes.  The central questions that I never see answered, namely the adequacy of analogies deployed in these conversations and the most adequate articulation of love in the conduct of the Church, strike me as places where people could at least articulate the strong differences that motivate the policies of the communities in question and perhaps, if there be grace, open up some space for people to change their minds as the truth becomes clearer.

Until then, I do thank our regular readers and anyone else who’s come along for reading, and once again I invite feedback, criticisms, and questions better than the ones I’ve proposed in the comments sections of all three posts.

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Interested, Allies, and Whatever letters they’ve added since I started typing this list.

 

17 thoughts on “A Plea for Better Questions, Part 3: To the Liberals

  1. I think you’re dead on here. I’ve been criticized for saying that I can love (insert group here)while not accepting thought patterns or behaviors full stop, and that kind of thinking worries me. Glad (but not at all surprised) to see you taking the middle way.

  2. Well, considering the fact that I’m a liberal gay man who also happens to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ and an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, I suppose I should respond to this post.

    Yes, the ancients were aware of affection between two men, but they did not view love and marriage in the same way that we do and to read our understandings into their words or to attempt to extrapolate their understandings and make them normative in our world is anachronistic at best and spiritual violence at the worst.

    There is NO sense, however, in which Greek or Roman culture, and certainly not Hebrew culture had a paradigm of a loving, committed, consensual relationship of mutuality between two men. If you read the ancients, you’ll see quite clearly that what was accepted was a sexual component to a friendship between an older man and a younger man. The older man was always the “top” and the young man was always the “bottom” in sexual relations, though, as it was not permissible for a mature, adult male to be penetrated as that would be to “feminize” or “soften” the male (which is the definition of arsenokotai). It was acceptable for a younger man to “play” this role in a “relationship” while still developing and maturing, but once the younger man reached an age of maturity and became a citizen, it was no longer acceptable for the male to be the receiver in the sexual act. It was considered an abomination. Why? Women weren’t viewed as full human beings in that culture. To “feminize” a man was to make him less than fully human which was a disgrace to both the man and the gods.

    While these “relationships” existed among men of both Greece and Rome, the boundaries and roles were very clearly defined. Seldom, if ever, were these relationships truly consensual and taking into account the age differences and the clearly defined roles, they lacked any sense of mutuality. These relationships existed for the purpose of gratifying the older male and confirming his position in society while confirming the immaturity of the young male involved. It is THESE relationships that the writers of the Second Testament condemn. I continue to assert, along with MOST Biblical scholars (I can provide a LONG list, if you’d like), that the Biblical writers were completely unaware of a loving, committed, consensual relationship of mutuality between two men. If you can point me to contradictory evidence, I’ll be GLAD to read it.

    If you want to have a conversation about a Christ-centered relationship ethic then I’m more than willing to do so. In my book, such an ethic is marked by a recognition that all people are beloved children of God, fully and completely created in God’s image, with each and every part of personhood reflecting the divine image, including gender and sexual identity. All that we have and all that we are is a GOOD gift from God. Our role as Christians is to seek to be good stewards of the gifts that have been entrusted to us while utilizing them in God’s ongoing work of reconciliation and creation. To deny that a God-given desire to love someone of the same gender is a good gift from God is to do what the poor steward did when given a talent by the manager before the manager left on a trip–it is to bury the talent out of fear of the manager’s anger if the talent is misused. We are children of God, freed from all fear of death and punishment by Jesus, the one who has reconciled divinity and humanity, God and creation, in the flesh. We are freed by Jesus to live with reckless abandon for the sake of God’s reign, we are freed to enter into the covenant of marriage with another child of God in order that together we might experience the deep delight and satisfaction experienced by God in creation as we seek to honor the image of God in our beloved and ourselves. In Jesus Christ, we are freed to recognize our limitations and to reach out in loving embrace of another who will strengthen us in our witness as part of the Body of Christ. When one joins one’s life to another in the covenant of Christian marriage, one is saying to God and to the world that one has found in another a companion who will strengthen one in one’s faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Such a relationship is marked by loving, grace, humility, and openness and bears the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, etc.) in the life of both the lover and the beloved.

    If you’d like examples of such relationships among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, or questioning Christians, I’ll be more than happy to point you toward some couples I know who have been together for decades and daily challenge me to be a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

  3. Hard to follow Rev. Jamison, but I’ve been reading the past couple day’s posts with interest and will take a stab at saying something meaningful.

    1. To use the language that you’ve been playing with, I think it’s an important question to ask wherein lies the analogy between modern (20th/21st century) homoesexual relationships and the idea of homosexuality in the 1st century. Most often, those who want to condemn homosexuals find the analogy in the sex act itself; there’s a clear analogy (man having sex with man), and it thus leads to an interpretation of the Bible that allows for the condemnation of homosexuals. Most often, those who want to justify homosexuality find the analogy in the relationship of which the sex act is only a small part. Here there isn’t a clear analogy – see Rev. Jamison’s post above. Thus we have to look for something beyond a relatively few verses that speak of “homosexuality” to figure out what the Christian answer is.

    2. The wording of my post above was intentional. I think that nearly everyone asking these sorts of questions begins with a “what I want to find in Scripture” and then finds it. On a question this central to who we are as humans, I’m not sure there’s a way around that – part of our fallen nature, perhaps. It’s also worth noting that very often, the “what I want to find” falls out along political lines, and I think that both liberals and conservatives frequently use scripture to justify a political position rather than coming to scripture openly and honestly to see what it says.

    3. “I struggle with this question…” is a powerful phrase. I witnessed a couple years ago an openly gay writer speaking at a relatively conservative university campus in a relatively conservative town. In the Q & A session, several local pastors stood up to tell the speaker that he was unequivocally wrong and condemned to hell. A fourth pastor stood up and said “I have struggled with this question for a long time. I have concluded that I disagree with your argument that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity.” This was the only part of the Q & A that led to constructive discussion. The need to struggle should extend to all believers. There is language in scripture about sexuality that can’t just be ignored; we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Approaching scripture in an intelligent way, however, suggests that the questions are too complex simply to say “the Bible says homosexuality is wrong and that’s it.”

  4. In my book, such an ethic is marked by a recognition that all people are beloved children of God, fully and completely created in God’s image, with each and every part of personhood reflecting the divine image, including gender and sexual identity.

    Every sexual identity of all people? Wow, one would think you would want to put at least some provisos or caveats there.

  5. Rev’d Jamison: in his post above, Nathan argues that it is a far better strategy to engage the rhetoric of those whom you disagree in order that LGBT folks might be reconciled with the various communities in which they come from. Nathan’s particular argument was largely about biblical readings and about convincing folks about particular interpretations.

    I’m wondering, though, whether your post doesn’t do that very same thing with regard to Nathan’s reading of various homosexual relationships in the Greco-Roman literary tradition. It does not really matter to me that “a LONG list” of biblical scholars don’t believe that these relationships were mutual in nature, as your post doesn’t inform me who these scholars are or why I should trust them. But it would be much more effective for you to say why these specific relationships (e.g. in Virgil and Homer) could not have been mutual.

  6. I will approach this from a different directon, and that of the CULTURAL PASSAGE. A prime example, besides those pertaining to homosexuality, are those of the relationship of master and slave.

    It should not surprize us at all that the black church see the master/slave passages in a slightly different light than many white conservative churches. I attended a major Church of Christ university in the 1970s and I can recall a conversation with two other preacher students who actually believed that if a nation found itself as a slave holding society, whether because of war or other upheavals, then this would not in itself be an evil. The evil would exist because of evil masters. Also, if a person became a slave the New Testement was clear regarding the necessity of their obedience and good manner. What I found interesting is how they could jump the gulf and say that is acceptable to fight in a war to keep from being enslaved; and, these gentlemen were white.

    All this has been said to stress that hard passages exist, and the only way to approach them is through the mind, and ways, of Jesus Christ. Peter Gomes, once commenting on the popular question “What would Jesus do?”, said, rather, we should be asking “What would Jesus have me do?” To answer that question, if I see Christ in a gay man or woman, which I have in my many adult years, then treat as Christ is what I do.

  7. Thanks to all for reading and responding.

    I’m in the middle of drafting my report to the faculty for Emmanuel College’s QEP (I’m the director, you see), so I’m going to hold off on writing individual responses right now. That said, I do intend to jump in as I can over the next several days.

    What I will say now is that I appreciate the effort I see in the posts so far to take my plea seriously–so far, I’ve seen some really interesting engagements with the language that too often goes unreflectively along, and I really do think that such engagements ought to be helpful to those involved.

    I will say that I’m a little disappointed that I’ve not gotten many at all responses from conservatives on the second post. Perhaps they’re just writing really detailed responses, and I’ll see them in the next few days as well. 🙂

  8. At one time I thought it would be fun to be in the HM. I just didn’t ever take the steps to be a “made man.” Thanks be to God. I still think much of Hauerwas’ critique on liberal protestant theology is valid. Nonetheless, I still choose to identify as a liberal. I think that it is too difficult to stay in the middle. The middle is too muddy. Not having an ideology is an ideology. I support full inclusion of GLBT folks in the life of the Church. Ordination, marriage, you name it.

    There isn’t much I disagree with in this little plea to liberals. I think you point out some of the pitfalls of both sides. However, I think that Nathan Gilmour has an ideology. I think it is a little arrogant to act like you can do exegesis and a historical reading of the text from a nowhere place. A place on top of the mountain where only the Hauerwasians can go.

    The questions of how can we live faithfully to the core of what we see as the gospel and still live in community is a difficult one. My feeling is that those of us who are working for GLBT inclusion are really just tired of talking about the Clobber passages. Likewise, many conservative folks really just don’t want to begin the discussion. My feeling is that better questions are a start, but learning how to listen, how to want to listen, is the most important thing we can all do.

  9. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to this, folks. Between VBS (which wrapped Friday) and getting ready to travel to see family, I’ve not had much Internet time.

    Wes, to start with your comment (and to nod to Dave’s good response to your comment), I’ll point to the comments on part 2 of the series. What David Grubbs has noted before I could get to it (because I’ve been less than diligent lately, as I’ve already confessed) is that Plato’s Symposium and Virgil’s Aeneid, two well-known texts from antiquity, seem to point precisely to the relationships of mutuality that you seem to demand. My point here is not to say “gotcha” but to note that, although I’ve read New Testament scholars as well that would hermetically seal off modern gay relationships from whatever the ancients might have known as eros among men, two relatively well-known texts seem to point in other directions. As Dave (not Grubbs) notes, an assertion that the phenomena are entirely incommensurable ought at least to start with a reading of those two commonly read (for ancient texts) texts. Moreover, your account of what was universally held as sexual ideology in the ancient world could at least cite a couple texts from the ancient world–otherwise it looks like raw modern assertion without any real contact with antiquity.

    With regards to the other part of your comment, I appreciate that you lead off with an analogy to the parable of the talents. My overarching point in the original series of posts is that such analogies do fine work in galvanizing those who already agree with the analogy-crafter. What’s more difficult, and what I’d like to see more of, is the second-order work of exploring relationships between analogies. So for instance, I’m inclined to imagine that some folks would regard certain sexual desires not as hidden coins but as high places to be abandoned in favor of the true Temple (to go to the monarchical period for a parallel) or a species of “fruits of the flesh” that Paul outlines in Galatians and echoes in other vice-lists (to go to New Testament narratives). Both analogies have their own internal logic, but too seldom do I see people taking the time to slow down from spinning new analogies to take a strong look at the ones already out in the public.

    To address what Devon has added, I agree that acknowledging struggle is a healthy part of such exchanges; what I’m trying to offer here is a vocabulary for naming such struggles in ways that admit of discourse rather than impasse. I might have failed in doing so, but that’s what I was aimin’ fer. 🙂

    With regards to your point about Scripture, Devon, I grant that often folks abuse the text of the Bible, and my original post was trying to note that some of these abuses that don’t get named as often come from the “liberal” side of things. I tried to name analogous abuses over in part 2 of the series, but again, perhaps I failed in doing so. I don’t claim to have escaped the possibility of such abuses myself (Heaven protect me from such arrogance), but I do think that naming some of the more common patterns of abuse at least gives us a better chance of mutual submission to the Scripture as a moment of revelation.

  10. Victoria, thanks for the compliment. I prefer to think of this little essay as representing a third way rather than a middle way, though, partly because I don’t see the possibilities for ethics as a one-dimensional line that allows only movement in two possible directions; and partly because I hope that someone comes along with a fourth way that’s better than the two positions I outlined and more adequate than my own, third way. 🙂

    On that same note, Phil, you and I know that there’s a long list of good reasons to call me arrogant, perhaps even an arrogant jerk. That’s why I’m surprised to see you cite such a bad reason to call me arrogant here. Certainly I have an ideology, and certainly anyone who’s read my weekly Bible posts (I miss some weeks, but I reckon I’m averaging two or three a month over the last year and a half at the very least) can see my ideology clearly enough. You’re right that I find the schema of “left and right” somewhat impoverished in terms of imagination: I used the conventional terms “conservative” and “liberal” in order to avoid the unwieldy job of establishing an idiosyncratic lexicon for my brief essay (perhaps that was a bad move), but I hope the shape of my little essay indicates that I imagine those two “places” as occupying not the only two possible “places” in the intellectual “world” but as two that happen at the moment to be popular ones.

    For what it’s worth, I couldn’t say whether Stan Hauerwas even knows that I exist, though I would wager he doesn’t. I do find his theology more interesting than the “conservative” and “liberal” alternatives that I’ve seen, but I don’t think I’m nearly important enough to be a Mafioso myself. Sorry to disappoint, Mich. 🙂

  11. John, I hope I haven’t given the impression that I would want anyone to treat any human being with anything but the agapic love of Christ. My point, in the opening list of analogy-fodder and throughout the third part of the essay, is that the task of treating a person as Christ is not a simple thing and that the arguments here are, more often than not, arguments about what constitutes love rather than whether “love wins” or (to be more serious) whether this or that person “deserves” love.

    To lay out two competing analogies, I’ve seen some folks who would start with the analogy of the addict: it would be convenient but not particularly loving to say to the heroin junkie, “I respect that God has made you a heroin junkie, and I’m not going to take any measures to steer you away from smack or give you any opportunities to escape the addiction.” On the other hand, some folks would start with the analogy of ethnicity: in this analogical schema, it would be less than loving to say, “I want to show you God’s love, and part of that means that I’m going to help you stop being Japanese and become more of an Anglo-American.” To repeat what I’ve been trying to say, neither of these fictional misguided people lacks a self-conception as loving the neighbor; the question at hand is what most adequately constitutes love in this or that moment.

    So to attempt the main point one mo’ time, I think the questions of why the other folks would constitute love differently than I do are more interesting than questions like “Why does my neighbor hate people while I love them?” The former set of questions just gets at the reality of the moment, I think, better than does the latter question.

  12. Nathan, I did not get the impression at all that you desire anything less than the love of Christ toward all. I totally agree with the difficulty of “love within the moment”.

    What I do think I see from you is “Love on the side of caution”. I can understand that. I grew up in the same tradition as yourself; I, in the non-instrumental wing. The message was “Be careful; be cautious; do not stray too far; and there was not a lot of wiggle room there. I believe that message creates and supports much bigotry.

    What I truly believe I see in looking at Jesus is a “reckless” love; more reckless than what is found in the epistles. And while Jesus himself had to live and work within the norms of society to a degree, he shook things up; whereas the early church found itself more bound by social norms for survival.

    I believe each generation has to look to Christ for its own message; yes, there is a core that holds the church together. But, the message that worked in the 1950’s does not work today; and the people in the 1950’s were not ready for what needs to be said today. Again, the question is “What would Jesus have ME do?”.

  13. If I imagined Church as merely another facet of “society,” I could see your point. But I think of the Church’s responses as important precisely because I confess Church as the Body of Christ. So I’ll agree with “reckless” responses if by that you mean without regard for the ways of the current cosmos, but I won’t agree with a “recklessness” that means a neglect of deliberation.

  14. Nate,

    Keep in mind I said “a little arrogant” 🙂

    You talk a lot about analogies, but what about metaphors? You are an English prof. so I’ll let you deal with the differences.

    What if the Church is a train moving towards inclusion of LGBT folks?
    What if the Church is a train moving towards exclusion of LGBT folks?
    “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
    I guess you’d like to stop the train.
    You can tell me whether this is a good metaphor. Nonetheless, I only see two destinations for the train. I guess you see an alternative destination. I’d like to know where else the Church can go.

  15. Actually, Phil, that’s not a bad example of what I’m trying to get at. Your pair of metaphors are working within a very particular analogy: the current test of character facing the Church is like a railroad system. Within that analogy, the train track only leads to two places, and apparently there’s no sense in which one could switch tracks, move the freight or passengers to a boat, or do any number of other things. So yes, I’ll still maintain that thinking hard about the analogies is still worthwhile.

    With regards to “alternative destinations,” I noted in the OP that, if we take Jesus as presented in the synoptics as one potential model, we have a broad range of responses to folks who are “on the margins.” To reduce the whole discussion to what you present as the “train analogy” or what I articulated as the “college admissions analogy” seems like a bad idea when we haven’t even had the discussion about the respective analogies that various Christian groups have attempted. (There are already more than two, in other words.)

    [edit: I’ll add that it’s precisely this sort binary-system analogy that makes attempts to think differently look like presumptions to “views from nowhere.”]

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