For the love of God is broader
than the measures of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify His strictness
with a zeal He will not own.
popular hymn by Fr Faber (1814-1863)
As an arch-conservative and traditionalist in the church, I have always considered it important to pass the faith on as I have received it. While not considering the Bible as inerrant, I have nonetheless regarded it as God's word and have tried to be faithful to it. The bible for me is a record of God's way of acting in the world. For me, its inspired writings are authoritative.
One day recently I read Genesis 1:7 "And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so."
I tried to imagine ancient man who thought it natural to think of water undergirding the earth because water from springs emanated from the earth; when he dug his wells he found water. When he looked upward, again he found water in the form or rain. Water above and water below.
Then I realized how culture-imbedded Holy Scripture must be because the God of the universe surely saw that same man on a tiny spherical planet spinning through the void of space somewhere in the milky way galaxy. God was allowing His word to be told through the insight, comprehension and experiences of his creature. That realization made all the difference to me.
I began to appreciate how difficult it must have been to try to translate the words of this ancient man across culture, time, and quickly evolving language so as to faithfully render his intentions. The faith - or should I say faith package - that I have today had its origins in this antiquity. For many years much of the text had been carried by word of mouth. How surprised should I be that there are divergent understandings?
That faith package that had been revealed to me by my forefathers, had it been innerrantly carried through the centuries? If so then why do my Roman Catholic brothers think that there are sins which immediately destine one for hell when I perceive that faith always leads to salvation? Why did I think that women cannot be priests when some of my other Catholic leaning Episcopalian brethren are sure that they can? Why would the faith that I received be so different from that of other clerics? If one part of my faith package is incorrect, then why not others?
Why had I not been humbled by those thoughts before today? Why have I been so arrogant; what is there about me that I should have the corner on all truth? Well, I can tell you today brothers in Christ, today I do feel the humility of Christ.
I thought it only natural that homosexuals were intrinsically disordered individuals. There were those several passages in Holy Scripture. Law, psychology, common sense, religion they all agreed. I felt sorry for those unfortunates but could never bring myself to reprimand the children who would tease and ridicule them because, after all, perhaps the social pressure might wake them up. Surely God turned them over to a reprobate mind for choosing such evil ways.
But then it all began to unravel. The Psychologists changed their minds, the Behavioral Scientists found homosexual activities in the animal world. I began to wonder: "How can an activity be unnatural if found in nature?" "Isn't that a non sequitur?" In the secular world things changed. The law changed. Homosexual acts became legal; homosexuals became protected from discrimination; were allowed to serve openly in many of the armed services of the world and even were allowed to form holy unions and marry in some places. So many claimed that they did not choose their orientation - that they found themselves gay as early as they could remember.
I began to think that if God had not forbidden the loathsome practice, it wouldn't have been that bad. Loathsome yes! But then I find oral sex disgusting yet my brother swears by it. Those two Lesbians living down the block from me had raised a couple of kids and they weren't half bad. My barber was a nice enough guy and he was gay. I began to ask myself, "If homosexuals were pretty much like real people why did God come down on them so strongly?"
My barber told me that the Biblical story about Sodom did not condemn homosexuality but rather condemned the violation of the hospitality protection in ancient times. At first I thought he was nuts; wasn't this the story that gave rise to the very word Sodomy? I reread that story and it was a real eye opener. I had always assumed that the story was about the evils of homosexuality. It clearly was not.
In the New Testament Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, whose field of study was theology, said that Paul was condemning the attempt of heterosexuals to go against their natural inclinations to indulge in homosexual acts. [I had always thought this passage to be more clever in its phraseology than informative.] Just who am I to question the good archbishop's interpretation? I reread the passage and sure enough his interpretation is quite plausible; it seems to better fit the facts if one assumes the practices of homosexuals are normal to their orientation.
In desperation, I turned to the words of Jesus but alas, he had nothing to say.
The more I think it over, across all the denominations, Christian Folks are not reevaluating murder or asking whether stealing is a sin. They are asking if homosexuality is always wrong; and after one puts all the emotion and preconception and cultural baggage aside, what does scripture say about it?
We Christians have managed to exempt ourselves from most of the provisions of the "Holiness Code" of the Old Testament. It's OK to touch footballs, to plant carrots and radishes together in the garden and to wear cotton-polyester shirts to Holy Eucharist. Perhaps the proscriptions of gay sexuality were as ritual as the other provisions.
I am beginning to think that I should worry less about passing on my faith package to future generations and more about passing on what is true. I am beginning to wonder why I have always assumed that I happen to have the only corner on truth.
John Q. Traditionalist