Monday, November 14, 2005

The Theological Task Force's Humongous Dilemma

Does anyone else remember the Chippendales-tryout skit with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live? In the classic comedy sketch, the suave hunk Patrick Swayze and the rotund slob Chris Farley are the final two auditioners left in a tryout for a job as a Chippendales dancer (masculine cheesecake, if you’re not familiar with Chippendales). Swayze has all the moves, the look, the build. Farley has sweaty rolls of fat and a clueless but chipper earnestness.

The running joke is that the producer just can’t decide which guy to go with. Wow! It’s SUCH a tough decision. With Swayze’s charm and Farley’s fearless physical humor, the skit is a hoot.

So why do I keep picturing that skit when I think of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church?

Well, the Task Force just CAN’T decide about the big ordination question. It is SUCH a tough decision. I mean, think about it:

On the one hand, in opposition to homosexual practice being okay for Christians, you have:
· The clear text of the Bible, whose plain disapproval of homosexual practice Christians have always understood.
· The uniform moral belief and practice of the Christian church as long as there has been a church.
· Confirmation by what our Confessions teach.
· An express provision in our Constitution that turned into explicit law what had always been practiced implicitly.
· A definitive guidance, authoritative interpretations, and advisory opinions that also point out the incompatibility of homosexual practice with God’s will, Christian discipleship, and church leadership.
· Decisions by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission that further reinforce the Constitutional standard.
· Progressively more lopsided victories in churchwide constitutional votes that upheld standards opposed to homosexual practice.
· The magisterial exegetical work of Robert Gagnon that makes a biblical case against homosexual practice that no other scholar has successfully disputed.
· The witness of faithful Christian churches around the world who beg Presbyterians not to trifle with the faith by embracing homosexual practice.
· The stories of former homosexual persons who have found release and transformation in Jesus Christ.

Wow! That’s pretty awesome!

But, wait. We’d better see what’s lined up on the other hand. After all, in favor of homosexual ordination, you have, uh– Well, you’ve got some … hmmm … Well, there’s, um, there’s some:
· Sad stories about people who feel oppressed because they can’t freely practice forbidden sex.
· Yeah, and you’ve got some pretty darn strong personal opinion, too!
· And you’ve got the way the sexual-liberation tide is sweeping through a degenerate Western society. You’ve definitely got that.
· And, to top that off, you’ve got some really imaginative, uh, “interpretation” of some spare parts of the Bible that their commentators haven’t tossed out altogether quite yet.

So, line them up: biblical faithfulness on the one hand, and worldly wish fulfillment on the other. With a massive dilemma like this, golly! How’s a Theological Task Force to decide?

Well, they couldn’t. Discernment was not their strong suit. And that’s why I think of Farley and Swayze when the Theological Task Force comes to mind.

And that’s why the Task Force report fails Presbyterians. It neither directs us toward peace, unity, and purity nor corrects our moral failure of will. At General Assembly next summer, the report must be replaced, amended, or simply defeated.

(For a clear-eyed, much more serious analysis of the subject, take a look at the essay by Thomas Warren, pastor of Deltona (FL) Presbyterian Church, in The Layman Online’s letters to the editor on November 14, 2005.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:35 PM, November 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, anonymous(what courage!),
Jim is simply stating what is biblical, reasonable based on what is biblical and what is the truth.

Affirming what is true is NOT angry or hurtful. It is necessary to stand for what the Bible calls us to believe and do!

I'm sorry that you cannot see that.

12:51 PM, November 15, 2005  
Blogger Jim said...

Two comments above this, I deleted a comment by an anonymous commenter. It added nothing to the discussion, merely expressing mock sadness that I, the blogger, was so full of anger. Had it been a signed comment from someone willing to own up to it, I would have retained it.

After the original comment was posted and while I was deleting it, a reader jumped to my defense in the comment immediately above. I am sorry that now you cannot see the original comment he was commenting on. But once a comment has been deleted in Blogspot, it's gone. Poof!

Please be sure you sign in so that your comments can be posted with a name attached. I have a thing about anonymity! This blogger program should now accept comments only from those who have signed on, so it will not allow anonymous comments anymore. I'm learning as I go with this apparatus!

Jim Berkley

2:22 PM, November 15, 2005  
Blogger Mainline Protestant said...

There is a long history of the church moving away from stances that have the firm support of scripture.

Slavery is one obvious example. Divorce is another.

The issue is not whether scripture condemns homosexuality. The issue is not a long-standing stance of the church - the issue is how much authority we will give those scriptural passages and those church traditions.

We have regularly turned our backs on scriptural authority and church tradition on a wide range of issues. Why is this issue any different?

7:00 AM, November 17, 2005  
Blogger Jim said...

Mr. Mainline Protestant: I see that you don't see fit to include your real name with your comment. What's with the anonymity?

I can't see how it is ever a splendid idea to "turn our backs on scriptural authority." That is exactly the genesis of heresy. What authority do you propose replacing scriptural authority with--the personal opinion or preferences of Mr. Mainline Protestant? Do you plan on acting as god for the time being?

Let me suggest this to you, Mr. bashful Mainline Protestant with the weakest of shallow arguments: Perhaps it would be worthwhile to actually INFORM your viewpoint with some reading. I would suggest an article by Rob Gagnon as a start:

Go to page 6 of the PDF file, and Rob pretty well annihilates your argument about slavery and divorce before your eyes. This kind of elementary information has been around for at least four years now. It would be good for you not to act as if your baseless argument hadn't been previously destroyed.

You really ought to attach your name to your blog. Writing anonymously displays an appaling lack of guts. But, I suppose I'd be reticent to sign my name to such uninformed and faithless material, too.

Jim Berkley

10:57 AM, November 17, 2005  
Blogger Mainline Protestant said...

I am not writing anonymously - I am writing under a pseudonym - that is, a pen name. There is a long and fabled history of folks writing under pen names and I see no reason for you to take offense.

I also can't help but notice that you didn't take Classical Presbyterian to task for using a pseudonym. Why the inconsistency? Is a pseudonym acceptable if the writer is defending you? Do you only attack those who debate you?

Is this blog merely a vehicle for your personal aggrandizement or do you wish to discuss the issues? Besides, you already know more about me and where I’m coming from through my pseudonym and blog than you would if you knew my real name so what’s your beef?

In terms of the issues, you ignored the entire point of my original post. I was not making an argument nor was I calling for anyone to turn his or her back on scriptural authority. I was citing situations in which the church has already turned its back on scriptural authority and tradition and changed its stance - and citing those situations, I posed a question: what makes the homosexual issue different in terms of authority – scriptural and tradition?

You did not really respond to the question other than to send me to one of your buddy's writings in which he does his own hermeneutical gymnastics in parsing the slavery issue and then in terms of divorce he pretty much takes the position that the church should renew its condemnation and punishment of divorcees.

I admire his stand on divorce and I’m curious if you agree - should the Presbyterian Church once again condemn and punish divorcees? Like Gagnon, do you think divorcees should live as eunuchs for the Kingdom of God?

But I don’t think you get off the slavery issue so easily. Scripture is pretty clear and it took a war to settle that particular theological debate here in America. Gagnon claims that the movement of scripture is away from slavery but offers no real citations to back that up – we have to take his word for it. As well, he contextualizes scripture, claiming the anti-homosexuality texts are a response to the surrounding culture. But where does contextualizing end? Where do we draw our model for marriage? From the earliest pages of the Hebrew Scriptures or the latest pages of the Christian Scriptures?

Indeed, the subject of heterosexual marriage is another case of the church changing with the cultural times. No longer are women considered property – no longer is marriage thought of as a business contract between two families. The Bible supports those notions of marriage yet offers little support for the contemporary understanding of marriage based on mutual love.

So we’re back to my original question. What makes the homosexual issue so different? Why should I rely solely on scriptural authority and church tradition to make a decision in this particular instance?

7:46 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Jim said...

Mr. Mainline:

Let me know who you are--name, church, town--and I would be happy to reply. Hide convenienly behind a nom de plume, and I don't care to bother with a reply. If you cannot attach your name to what you write, I don't see much integrity there. You can sign no name, or you can sign a phony name, and neither one allows your statements to be attributed to you; neither one attaches your words to your character.

Again I ask, why not be known? Why say things that you're not willing to be held personally accountable for?

You failed to notice that "Classical Presbyterian" has a profile ( that isn't elusive, like yours.

Jim Berkley

8:29 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Mainline Protestant said...

"Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind." Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960). Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names. [n.4] Despite readers' curiosity and the public's interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose her true identity.

The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. [n.5]

Accordingly, an author's decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

The freedom to publish anonymously extends beyond the literary realm. In Talley, the Court held that the First Amendment protects the distribution of unsigned handbills urging readers to boycott certain Los Angeles merchants who were allegedly engaging in discriminatory employment practices. 362 U.S. 60.

Writing for the Court, Justice Black noted that "[p]ersecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all." Id., at 64. Justice Black recalled England's abusive press licensing laws and seditious libel prosecutions, and he reminded us that even the arguments favoring the ratification of the Constitution advanced in the Federalist Papers were published under fictitious names. Id., at 64-65.

On occasion, quite apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her message simply because they do not like its proponent.

Thus, even in the field of political rhetoric, where "the identity of the speaker is an important component of many attempts to persuade," City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. ___, ___ (1994) (slip op., at 13), the most effective advocates have sometimes opted for anonymity. The specific holding in Talley related to advocacy of an economic boycott, but the Court's reasoning embraced a respected tradition of anonymity in the advocacy of political causes. [n.6]

This tradition is perhaps best exemplified by the secret ballot, the hard won right to vote one's conscience without fear of retaliation.

Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. See generally J. S. Mill, On Liberty, in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government 1, 3-4 (R. McCallum ed.1947).

It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation--and their ideas from suppression--at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct.

But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse. See Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630-31 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting).

10:43 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Jim said...

Mr. Fearful Mainliner,

Whatever your fears are, this is your last anonymous posting on this blog. Without a name, you don't get to play in this sandbox.

Jim Berkley

4:15 PM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger jkhgikjhg said...

Dear Jim,
I love you. You're awesome.
Jim Miller
FPC, Honolulu

12:20 AM, November 21, 2005  

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