The Divine Within

Column by Rev. Dr. Mark Sandlin on 27 April 2023 0 Comments

Namasté: “The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.” In my way of seeing it, namasté includes the understanding that we all are one.

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[NOTE: To celebrate our 10th anniversary as a welcoming and affirming congregation, The Fountains recently hosted Bishop Karen Oliveto (the first openly LGBTQIA+ Bishop in the United Methodist tradition). So, I wasn’t surprised by this email. I get them all the time. One thing for sure: the authors of these emails don’t really want a response. They just want to let us know of their disapproval (and prove to their homophobic god what good little doobies they are). Predictably, I never heard back from Danielle.]
Hello, I've been reading some of your posts in The Fountain Hills Times. I've been wondering why you talk about Jesus and then don't follow all the principles of the bible. I understand loving everyone but what about the principle of marriage being only between a man and a woman? I'm not trying to be confrontational, I just want to know how the Methodist Church, yours in particular, decides to take or leave from the bible?


Dear Danielle,

Thanks for your questions. But to begin, I have one for you. What exactly are these “Biblical Principles” you speak of? Is there a definitive list somewhere? 
Clearly, you have somehow been convinced that one of these “Biblical Principles” is the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman. While that may be a “principle” promoted by whatever religious tradition you’re a part of, it’s certainly not “Biblical.” This kind of narrow interpretation of scripture completely ignores the complex and diverse history of marriage in the Bible. Yes, there are examples of monogamous relationships in the Bible. But don’t overlook the numerous examples of polygamous and non-monogamous relationships in the Bible that are not only NOT condemned or explicitly prohibited, but celebrated. 
The idea that marriage is a fixed, unchanging concept based solely on examples in the Bible ignores the ways marriage has evolved over time (and continues to do so today). Throughout history, very selective readings of the Bible have been leveraged to defend whatever norms and values the dominant culture has deemed appropriate. As such, the claim that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman is NOT a clear biblical mandate, but a modern cultural construct imposed onto the Bible by those seeking to defend their particular status quo.  
See what I did there? I used the Methodist principle called the “Quadrilateral.” That means, whenever we Methodists consider theological issues or moral questions we do so intentionally considering four elements: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. It’s the Methodist position that anyone who thinks they can make decisions about life and values using scripture alone is not being honest. Everyone brings their understanding of History (tradition), Experience (their personal understanding), and Reason (critical thinking) to bear when considering the meaning of scripture. It is impossible NOT to do so. If you think you are, you’re in denial about how human beings work (and again, not being honest). 
Using the Quadrilateral as a means of decision making has also convinced me that there are plenty of other so-called "biblical principles" that are harmful and should be opposed at every turn. The Bible clearly condones slavery, but I trust you’d agree with me that, without exception, slavery is an abhorrent and unjust practice. Likewise, there are some passages of the Bible that prohibit women from exercising leadership over a man and another that directs parents to stone their children for disobedience.  
If you agree with me that these “Biblical principles” should no longer be accepted or tolerated in modern society, then (not to be confrontational) how did YOU decide what “to take or leave from the Bible”?   
It is important to remember what many Christians are conditioned to forget — that the Bible was written in specific historical and cultural contexts spanning thousands of years and reflect many values and norms that are demonstrably obsolete and should be rejected. The Bible’s teachings have been and must continue to be interpreted and evaluated in ways that reflect our contemporary understandings of morality and justice.
I, of course, have neglected to bring up the one issue that your question is ACTUALLY about – that of the affirmation of LGBTQIA+ people and their right to be included in every aspect of church and society (including marriage). Don’t worry, I’m used to people trying to disguise their prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people as a defense of “traditional” marriage. It’s an old ploy and doesn’t obscure what is, at it’s core, a deeply troubling bigotry and discrimination against more people than you know. 
It gives me hope that you claim to “understand loving everyone”, but why must you add the “but”? What is it about your particular understanding of Christianity that would put conditions on Jesus’ prime directive of loving everyone? Do you just know more than Jesus? Did he just not “get it”? I’d be curious to know what your criteria is for denying God’s free and unmerited grace to one and all.
May you continue asking the tough questions and be led by the Spirit into genuinely “loving everyone” (y’know, like Jesus!). 

~ Rev. David Felten




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