Quite a few friends have been sharing this story about the Presbyterian Church (USA) moving toward the acceptance of gay clergy on a national level. It was in my Facebook inbox today and, just a few minutes ago, it came to Gmail from my wife.
I don’t know enough about the wording of the PC (USA)’s resolution or about the nuances in any arguments for or against it. I do know that I believe gay and lesbian Christians should be able to serve openly in ministry at all levels. I won’t comment on the resolution, because I can’t. But I will say that sexuality should not preclude someone from ministry. Neither should the lack of external genitals.
See, my wife, who probably wouldn’t call herself a feminist if we equate feminism with a limited tableau of monolithic political and social narratives (yeah, you know we do), added an addendum to the link she sent me:
“meanwhile, many denominations across the country [my note: maybe half of US denominations] still don’t ordain women.”
Neither of us mean to equate sexuality with gender, and it has to be true that fewer groups ordain openly homosexual persons than ordain women. But these things are related, aren’t they? In most cases, the refusal to ordain women or to treat homosexuals with fairness, dignity, and grace, stem from a certain kind of biblical hermeneutic that deals with Scripture in very limiting ways. Even if you believe that the Bible is the literal, accurate transcription of what inspired people heard from God, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you must believe that what God said through the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth is the same thing God said to the church, let’s say, in Rome. And, in fact, it isn’t. In Corinth, women were to have precious little to do with church leadership: even as the freedom they found in Christ to speak in a room of men was real, Paul thought its practice would scandalize the accepted gender roles of Corinthian culture at the expense of the Gospel. (This is one of those times where I think Paul erred on the side of caution with devastating results).
But even if you think that Paul’s missive to Corinth came straight from the heart and mind of God, you have to wrangle with the fact that in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he acknowledges and praises the leadership role of the woman Junia, even calling her an apostle. If you believe the letters to Corinth were from God, you probably believe the same about the note to Rome. But if believing such also means you believe that these letters are also meant for all Christian communities for all times, you have something of a problem. Which model is right? Should the Roman apostle Junia really consider herself a complementary (subservient, rather than co-equal) child of God next to her husband simply because Paul told the church in Corinth (and Ephesus) to follow the societal and familial norms of their native cultures? I don’t think so. I don’t think you can hold this view even if you say you think the Bible is the literal word of God.
But what if Scripture is something more than that? What if it’s the testimonies of diverse communities seeking God over time and across cultures? What if, as increasing numbers of Christians suggest, what was good for Corinth wasn’t good for Rome, and what was good for Rome in the first century AD isn’t good for churches in America now? What if Paul was overcautious in Ephesus and Corinth, and what can that tell us about the story we find ourselves in now?
For too long, many Christians have used spot-checks here and there in Scripture to exclude groups from the radical equality and freedom before God that serve as the base of Jesus’ Gospel message: The Kingdom of God is coming, and, in me, and thus, in you, the Kingdom of God is here. This Gospel is for the margins and will be misunderstood and misused by people in high places, Jesus knew. The super-valuation of straight men in church leadership — and church life in general — is an enduring disgrace to our real witness and to the peace we claim in Christ. It fosters sexism, homophobia, domestic violence, and a host of needless, tragic anxieties in men and women who haven’t been raised in contexts where the reconciliation of their doubts about supposedly Biblical gender roles and sexualities on one hand, and their deep longing for a relationship with the radically welcoming God of Jesus on the other, is encouraged or even possible.
People of faith, we must do better than this. Christians, we need to take inventory of the times. Consider the opportunities we have to speak the truth of human dignity to the power of a culture that bullies gay kids to the point of suicide, that even now demonizes gay adults, that in secular and sacred realms says girls should understand their roles are defined by their organs. Consider the witness we have always struggled to bear, and have often borne too late: the proclamation that if we were all dead in sin before our lives touched Christ’s, so too may we all live under his radical care and in his radical kingdom. So too are we equal before God, in whom there is no male nor female, Greek nor Jew, gay nor straight. Please, friends, help us get this right.