Wrestling with the Bible

Essay by Rev. Irene Monroe on 25 October 2018 13 Comments

Interpreting scripture as the “ ord of God" is always subjective and suspect in intent, whether it is being done in the ivy towers of seminaries or within the holy walls of sanctuaries. Interpreting scripture with menacing messages - and with litanies of dos and don'ts - is not about embracing and empowering all people, but about authority and power over certain groups of people. The authority of scripture does not lie in what God said. It lies in the hands of those in power who determine what God ought to say.

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Question

Is there some hidden reason why you treat the issue of homosexuality so frequently? Are you gay?

Answer

Dear Reader,

I am amazed that prejudice against homosexual persons is so deep that people like you think there must be some hidden agenda that would motivate a person to take up the battle for justice and full acceptance in both Church and society for gay and lesbian people. "He must have an angle," they say. "Perhaps he is a closeted homosexual." Actually, the surprising thing that we discover over and over is that some of the most vigorous religious opponents of homosexuality, including some who are bishops are in fact covering their own closeted homosexuality in their frequent attacks on homosexual persons.

No David, my sexual orientation is heterosexual and is not my agenda. My agenda comes out of my understanding of the Gospel. If we take seriously the words attributed to Jesus in the 4th Gospel, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly," then the enhancement of life is at the center of Christian ministry. The reverse of that is true also. Anything that diminishes the life of any child of God is a violation of both the Gospel and its mission.

When the Church discriminated against people of color, defining them as less than fully human and deserving of something less than equal opportunity, the Gospel was violated. So I joined in the civil rights movement and worked in my church to put an end to every vestige of racism in my church. I rejoice that today the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, where I grew up in a segregated church, has as its elected Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, an African American.

When the Church discriminated against women, defining them as lesser creatures, unworthy to serve the Church except in secondary roles, which specifically excluded being bishops, priests and deacons, I joined the crusade to rid the Church of its sexist and patriarchal sin. I rejoice today that my church now has 12 female bishops and, in the diocese I served for 24 years, women constitute more than 40% of its clergy. Some other parts of the Christian Church, including Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox traditions and various branches of conservative Protestantism like the Southern Baptist Convention still wallow in this prejudice of the ages, but increasingly these bodies look like apparitions from another century.

When the Church, out of its own lack of understanding of sexual orientation, expresses a profound ignorance about homosexuality, it is, in my opinion, not worthy of serious attention. When church leaders violate what we now know about the Bible to employ proof texts to bolster their prejudices, they violate what it means to be "the Body of Christ." Discrimination on the part of the Christian Church against any child of God on the basis of any external difference is not a matter of a simple disagreement about which we ought to be tolerant, it is rather a dagger aimed at the very heart of the Gospel. The Church tolerates that prejudice at the peril of its own soul.

The battle that goes on today in the churches of the world over this enormous moral issue regarding justice and the full acceptance for homosexual persons in both the Church and the society is a battle for the future of Christianity. I would be derelict in response to my baptismal vows "to seek Christ in every person" if I did not engage this battle until the last vestiges of homophobia have been rooted out of the Christian faith. I intend to do just that. I commend this same course of action to you.

~ Bishop John Shelby Spong

July 2, 2003

 

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