Friday, February 27, 2009
Got a call from a young friend this week looking for a bit of guidance for responding to a church person who went on a public rant about gays in the church. I pointed him in all the usual directions (More Light Presbyterians, Covenant Network, Walter Wink, and so forth), and then I sent him this article by a preacher who has changed his mind on these issues. In the article linked above, the writer details how a rereading of scripture in an emerging context of shifting attitudes about faithful gay and lesbian persons led him the rethink and, ultimately, revise his position.
As I read his reflections, I was reminded once again that religion, to be faithful, must always look two directions at once: backward and forward. The word, itself, hints at this. The Latin roots of religion are tangled up in two distinct meanings and trajectories. Lige, from which we get our word ligament, means to tie our bind, and thus suggests a meaning of religion pointing backward -- binding us back to a tradition or story that we have inherited. Lege, from which we get legible, means to read again or reread, and thus suggests a meaning of religion point forward to new readings of tradition or text.
Jesus seemed to grasp this intuitively. In the Sermon on the Mount he tells his listeners, "you have heard it said ..., but I say ..." and thus rereads his own tradition.
For example, when he says, "you have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say 'if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.'"
While I love Walter Wink's reading of this as a profoundly subversive and tactical text, I think it is first, clearly, a rereading. We tend to miss the power of the rereading of those words because we don't think too highly of the notion of trading one eye for another. But when that ancient Israeli law was codified in scripture it represented a great advance in the cause of justice from a social setting in which an injury inflicted by a member of one tribe on a member of another -- even accidental -- could result in wholesale slaughter.
Jesus had a new mind for a new time. He understood that changed social circumstances and attitudes created space for rereading the tradition and its foundational texts in ways that would advance peace and underscore the power of nonviolence. As the picture here (taken last month in DC) suggests, the threat of violence remains quite real in the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
As the church struggles to hear the Spirit's voice through its traditions and texts in a radically new social context, I keep thinking, "if rereading was good enough for Jesus, then it might be good for us, too."