Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And another thing ...

This may be slightly off-topic, but what the heck! I just bugged out of a Presbytery meeting in which an overture from the session of the church I serve was swallowed up in parliamentary manuevering. The overture concerned removing the section (G-6.106b) in the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that stands in the way of ordaining gays and lesbians to church office.
The case for removing G-6.0106b from the Book of Order is the same today as it has been each time National Capital Presbytery has voted to seek its removal. All that is different is the final report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church.
Nevertheless, no matter how many good faith efforts at relationship building we pursue, no matter how many practices of discernment we engage, no matter how many alternative means of decision making we use, there comes a time to confront this issue. G-6.0106b is a failed piece of legislation that for a decade has undermined the peace, unity and purity of the church.
The whole church was watching today as this Presbytery, which has for a long time made plain its desire to see a church whose hospitality, grace, love and justice are as wide and as deep as God's. Alas, the clarity of that desire was blurred by a vote that endorsed the Task Force's report and only provisionally endorsed removing G-6.0106b.
I believe that, as Dr. King said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. I trust God's grace, and pray that it will work its way with us to further the peace, unity and purity of the church we serve.
What has this to do with scripture? Well, nothing and everything, as it is, of course, the narrow interpretation of a handful of verses that holds together the house of cards that is homophobia. If that suggest of rank bigotry is too strong, perhaps it would be better to call it a house of cards of heterosexual privilege. I live in that house -- and I use the resources of scripture to tear it down.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why Scripture?

One of the watch words of Luther's Reformation was sola scriptura, or "by scripture alone." For Luther and for those inheritors of the Reformed tradition, scripture was to be understood as the "sole sufficient rule of conduct and belief for the Christian," as Peter Gomes puts it in The Good Book.
But what are we to make of the collection of texts we know as the Bible? After all, writing centuries before the advent of historical criticism, John Calvin himself wrote, "We know that the Evangelists were not very exact as to the order of dates or even in detailing minutely everything Christ said or did."
It is incumbent upon those of us who stand in the tradition of the Reformers to take the Bible seriously, but how do we do so in a cultural context that continuously uses scripture as a weapon in culture wars? Even more critically, how do we read a hopeful word when scripture itself has been a stumbling block to the hope of faith for so many modern readers? One of my favorite Old Testament scholars, Walter Brueggemann, offers a compelling point of departure in Hopeful Imagination. Commenting on the literature of the exile, he says, "we study the themes, metaphors, and dynamics which give new life to the tradition, which summon to faith in a fresh way, and which create hope for a community so deeply in crisis that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith."
On the other hand, we might prefer to abandon the enterprise ourselves rather than accept the radical challenges the scripture poses. As Hall remarks in Why Christian? "It has been the happy fate of Protestantism, which insisted on the 'sole authority' of Scripture, to have to live with these writings, like it or not. Nothing has been more subversive of human 'religious' tendencies than this book, because the truth is ... that 'the Bible hates religion.'"
At which point, he quotes Amos: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings I will not accept them. ... Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
So, as you consider your own faith and the future of the church, what role does scripture play? How has it been a help? A hindrance? A comfort? A challenge? What is its authority for you?