Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Craving for Bread" Delivered Aug 12, 2012, Broadway United Church of Christ


  1. Here is a post from Danny Mann:


    Thanks for your invitation to hear your sermon. I’ve always admired your willingness to reach across the aisle, especially to someone like me. And of course, it remains the prayer of both of us that someday we will be sharing the same pew.

    Let me just address what I think is your main point of contention against “conservatives.” You are somewhat dismissive of us because of the flaws that you perceive in us – this includes Luther and Calvin – namely, our need for certainty and “simple answers.”

    To this, I must plead “guilty as charged.” Consequently, my prayer is that He would constrain me from construing His Gospel according to my needs and proclivities. I experience the internal demands of my own agendas and this troubles me as it should.

    However, we can turn the tables on this score. Aren’t we ALL driven by these needs and desires? Couldn’t I say this also about your entire sermon? Wasn’t it an attempt to justify YOUR lifestyle? We might even take this a bit further and ask why is it that homosexuals are preoccupied by this one issue?

    Of course, the answer is very apparent. Your lifestyle is in conflict with not only your conscience but also with Scripture. Therefore, you are coerced to endlessly and futilely try to resolve this ever-present tension.

    We all do this in one way or another. I certainly did! In this regards, I have to thank God because of my decades struggle with depression that had so humbled me, so that all I want now is His truth:

    • He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:3)

    I therefore thank God as King David had:

    • It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)

    1. Danny, many thanks for your kind words, as well as for the other ones (smile). We know each other well enough to know that those other, less kindly framed words must be spoken because of the nature of the topic we are dealing with, where feelings and rhetoric run so high.

      Yes of course we are all prone to self-justification, being driven by our own agendas. Some aspects of one’s agenda may be better than others, and hopefully we each grow in recognizing which is which. But the underlying point in the sermon is not that we have an agenda, each of us, but whether some aspects of our agendas are better than others and how we know which those are (including where we look to find out). I think you’d agree on this, though you might find it odd that a liberal would make this same claim, since it works against the convenient straw man of liberalism as purely subjectivist. But then is not a true evangelical a subjectivist, at least insofar as the relation to Jesus is personally felt?

      All this points to more than one deep question, some of which I think we have never well addressed in all our years of discussion. Again you’d agree. Where we disagree is the extent to which the simple (I think: “simplistic”) answers you propose are as much as anything a reaction to the psychopathology we are all prone to. To what extent is the conservative craving for doctrinal certainty (based on biblical certainty) a creature of the very insecurity that the gospel seeks to move us out of? To what extent is conservative reliance on reiterating the same assurances, over and over and over again, more like obsessive handwashing than spiritual wisdom? And to what extent is the conservative resistance to the loving relations others happen to have little more than an avoidance of personal issues that taint the conservative’s own judgment?

      (to be continued)

    2. (continued from previous comment)

      And, by the by, the liberal must also ask the same question of his own frequently defensive posture –- and so at least we can return to agreement. But this is exactly what we’d expect, where all believers prayerfully plumb the depths of our inward experience, which is really the place where God shows up. Scripture and theology only provide the categories that such experience takes on. If we deny our experience in the service of abstract argument, we risk becoming eventually soulless.

      I notice that after your irenic comment -- that it’s best not to be “construing His Gospel according to my needs and proclivities” according to “the internal demands of my own agendas” -- you then go right back and do that very thing, reverting to the very simplistic approach that troubled me in my sermon. You already know that I deny that being gay “is in conflict with not only [my] conscience but also with Scripture.” It’s clear at least to me that your vision is stunted on this, and your way of dealing with it is to cling to black and white categories that place what is most uncomfortable to you out of play, apriori.

      You, Danny, may simply have no way of experiencing the truths many gay people know about the love they have, and the fact that you revert to abstract theological doctrines and contextually ambiguous biblical references, as if God spoke directly through you and not to other readers of scripture, seems to me a major complication in this entire issue. Instead, why don’t you take in more fully what it’s like for your gay friends who have a loving relationship, and if you have no data for this, then before you preach about it, shouldn't you be doing some extensive field work? Treat us as an anthropological challenge! Better than treating your friends like a condemned herd of goats.

      Of course, you might not be eager to do this field work because you are fearful that it would be too seductive. I don’t mean this in any sexual way, but just that the power of love among friends you care about would put the lie to a construal of the gospel that denies the undeniable happiness of the lives you’d be seeing. I know the temptation in this kind of situation. We academic types already have it figured out what we have to say on various matters, and just for that reason professional commitments are a terrible drag on inquiry, because we have an entire lecture agenda based on what we “already know” to be true! So I suspect it would be tempting for you to deny what you would see before your very eyes. But that’s the say sin works: it seduces us into closing off to the power of love (and I’m NOT talking about lust here: someone who can’t tell the difference only knows lust).

      Now, I know your style very well here. I can hear your response. I know you’d make the same point as I just made, and apply it to my own sense of certainty in what I’ve just said – so Danny, I hear you, and making the same point over again will not advance the discussion. Just for this reason, I think we need to get out from under the foundationalist canopy. I see the entire question as a matter of faith- faith that is informed by, but not grounded in (as in “shackled to”) any kind of air-tight, proof-testing demonstration; this faith is certainly not grounded in church decrees or forensic theories of atonement, or any of the other apologetic superstructures of our tradition. Faith and objective foundational certainty are different realms, and I think mutually exclusive. That, I think, is the dirty secret of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are idolaters, mistaking the letter for the spirit of the scripture. And the relief they feel at being “justified” has lots in common with (though I would never say it’s reducible to) the relief of a battered wife when her abusive husband forgives the transgressions for which He is the one and only arbitrary authority.

      I hope to have more to say about this as I work this all through. Thank you for your partnership on this.

  2. David,

    Thanks for your predictably thoughtful response. This was my favorite line:

    • Treat us [gays] as an anthropological challenge! Better than treating your friends like a condemned herd of goats.

    I must say I certainty appreciate that you don’t call me a “bigot” or a “hate-monger” as so many do. I’m glad that we can cut through all of the degrading labels and jargon.

    There is some truth that I treat you as “condemned.” (And, on one level, I deeply regret this!.) But I know that you realize that we are convinced that God regards everyone who refuses to repent of their sins as condemned (John 3:18). And I think that you also understand that, for us, it would represent the supreme cruelty to extend a false hope of salvation to someone who refuses to repent.

    To deal with your first sentence: I am not free to assess the gay lifestyle from strictly a pragmatic assessment - an “anthropological study.” Fundamentally, I am mandated to regard this lifestyle through the lens of Scripture. If I am a disciple of Christ, I have no choice but to submit to His Word – all Scripture. And this unequivocally informs me that gay sex is wrong.

    While we both agree that our interpretations of Scripture are highly vulnerable to our psychological and cultural baggage – and a lot of it we can’t seem to shed – this awareness has warned me to take greater care. Although I may never be perfectly objective, I do think that it is possible to “achieve” a high degree of objectivity (or perhaps I should say, “receive”) and certainty about many of our interpretations.

    In contrast to the Christian understanding of the centrality and authority of Scripture, you exalt “experience” and “faith” in your experience. You write:

    • Scripture and theology only provide the categories that such experience takes on. If we deny our experience in the service of abstract argument, we risk becoming eventually soulless.

    Consequently, you make your experience more authoritative than Scripture. For those who reject Scripture, this is certainly understandable. However, you call yourself a “Christian” and even a pastor – a shepherd. However, Jesus had affirmed the supremacy of His Word in many ways:

    • If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you…If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. (John 15:7, 10)

    In addition to this problem, you face other difficulties. Experience does not speak on its own. It too requires interpretations before it can say anything. You have argued that a fulfilled gay relationship proves that it is a good thing. However, many claim the same thing about their adulterous relationships or even their “Bonnie and Clyde” lifestyle. Are these too therefore good?

    Morality can be difficult to assess using pragmatic measures. Often, sexual relationships start out with a flurry of good feelings. Do these temporary feelings mean that it is the right thing? The adulterer often claims that his lover is the “love of his life,” while his four children are waiting for him at home.

    Even more fundamentally, do good feelings always equate with the right thing to do? Often the right thing to do is to do the emotionally costly thing, like being a whistle-blower. In short, we are easily led astray by our feelings.

    Besides, if you want to evaluate the gay lifestyle on the basis of experience, you also have to look at the frightful stats. They consistently reveal that this lifestyles is fraught with great costs – suicide, depression, substance abuse, STDs, and a greatly shortened life-span. If you want me to do an “anthropological study,” I cannot disregard these costs.

    You conclude that,

    • Fundamentalists [that’s me!] are idolaters, mistaking the letter for the spirit of the scripture.

    If we are making an idol of God’s Word, then aren’t you making an idol of your experience and feelings? It cuts both ways. However, if God is our supreme worship, then His Word must provide the guidance.