Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Celebrating the Givenness of It All
On June 26, 2005, Dr. James A. Forbes, senior minister of The Riverside Church in the City of New York, gave a sermon, “When the Liberated Become the Liberators,” a sermon delivered on Gay Pride Sunday. Thanks to the posting by the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, we have some excerpts of his message.
"I want to say thank you to the Gay Pride movement ... somewhere, you got the courage to say, 'We know that we are God's children. We will stand up and thank God.' Now when you march, you are marching a march that says, 'Once we were paralyzed, but no more.’
The goal of every human being must be to say 'amen' to the givenness of the uniqueness of their own personalities. ... I want the whole world to be able to do that, no matter whether you are gay or straight, black or white, male or female, traditional or untraditional; to be able to look genuinely at the givenness of who you are, and to be able to say, 'Thank you God, for the gift of a person like me!’
God is so infinite that there are many different ways for people to look, to speak, to think, to love. ... Whether one is heterosexual or homosexual, whether one is transgender, whether one is bisexual. ... And yet all of us are called to be faithful and to live with integrity and with responsibility within the framework of what God has made us.
The worldview animating Dr. Forbes’ message overflows with tolerance, affirmation, inclusion, and acceptance. One thing it lacks, however, is the sense of a normative value to the Christian Scriptures. If the Bible “means” what it meant to the original authors, then Forbes’ comments would be incomprehensible. However, if we view the Christian Scriptures and tradition through the lenses of 20th Century theological liberalism or employ some of the “reader response” hermeneutics emerging during the past few decades, then it sounds perfectly sensible. This dually aligned UCC/ABCUSA congregation has been at the forefront of advocacy in a number of social and political arenas for decades.
One of the major differences separating the left and right on the issue of homosexuality has to do with hermeneutics. Those of us hailing from the traditional side have no problem with a loving message involving an incarnational ministry to all people. However, the formal principle of the Reformation tradition, "sola scriptura" (Scripture alone), does not easily permit the types of revisionistic interpretations popular in the past three decades vis a vis the issue of homosexuality. To "affirm" or celebrate the "givenness" of what the Bible declares to be sinful behavior as Dr. Forbes does, represents an impossible feat of hermeneutical gymnastics for the evangelical.
One of the reasons why Dr. Medley has such a difficult task constructing a bridge over our troubled ABC waters is that on one side we have a theological tradition emphasizing sola scriptura and "biblical authority" and on the other side we have an emphasis upon Christian experience and individualistic views of "soul competency." As can be seen in Dr. Forbes' comments, this will remain an intractable dispute precisely because it is not rooted in political expediency, but in deeply held moral principles on both sides. This issue does not lend itself to compromises and back-room deals. Neither side has any significant maneuvering room.
[These are my own observations and opinions. I did not discuss this posting with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]