‘Fellowship’ Within the Body of Christ

Several members of the Covenant Network Board and staff participated in the gathering in Minneapolis, August 25-26, of the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

The tone established at the outset was one of warmth, kindness, and respect, and the articulated values included an appreciation for PC(USA) denominational staff, avoidance of stone-throwing, and a commitment not to speak or act out of anger.  For this we are thankful.

We are grieved, however, at the premise underlying the gathering  –  that in order for some Presbyterians to engage in faithful ministry, they must “differentiate” themselves from the rest of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

To a Corinthian church rife with factions, the Apostle Paul insisted that no part of the Body of Christ can claim that it has no need of another part, as if the right hand could dissociate itself from the rest of the Body and remain faithful to its Head.

We do not believe that when Paul urged the Philippian church to be of “like mind,” he intended that they huddle exclusively with those who share one opinion, but instead that they all strive together to share the mind of Christ.  We are convinced that no one group or individual has a corner on God’s Truth, and that we are more likely to discern the mind of Christ when we are engaging intentionally and consistently with Christians whose assumptions, experiences, and commitments challenge, sharpen, and strengthen ours.

We urge the brothers and sisters of the “Fellowship” who are looking for “a place to stand” to join the rest of the PC(USA) in seeking to stand humbly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (G-2.0104b).  When our differing interpretations of Scripture lead us to divergent understandings of what faithfulness to Christ entails, may we bear with one another in love, firm in the conviction that nothing in all creation can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

David A. Van Dyke
Mary Lynn Tobin
Co-Moderators, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Comments

  1. Kyle Walker says:

    Great response. The Fellowship needs to give community a chance and we have to be ready to honor the kind of community outlined here.

  2. Joanna M. Adams says:

    Thank you, Mary Lynn and David, for this helpful, faithful statement in which I hear echoes of the Covenant Network’s original Call to Community: “The Good News of the gospel is that all . . . are members of the household of God and citizens of the realm of God.”

  3. Sherrie Lavelle says:

    It seems to me that the Covenant Network is one example of like-minded folks seeking “a place to stand” and differentiating from the rest of the PC(USA), yet remaining within the PC(USA). I’m not sure why a Covenant Network of Presbyterians is somehow less offensive than a Fellowship of Presbyterians. Both are seeking to stand humbly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ..

  4. Michael Garrett says:

    It must also be said that while the Apostle Paul called the Corinthians to account for their factional behavior, he also called them to repentance for sins tolerated and even celebrated in their common life. If our understanding of scripture is so divergent that we can neither know or agree to what sin is, are factions any great surprise?

  5. Mark Downs says:

    Well said. Short and straight forward. Thank you for helping me understand and work my way through this. Mary Lynn and David, you along with the whole of the Covenant Network are good people.

  6. Brian Jacobson says:

    As one of the attendees looking for some direction from my time there, I want to thank you for your tone here; your kind appraisal of the Fellowship gathering is appreciated. I appreciate as well the impulse to lift up community, forbearance, and faithfulness, no doubt we can all agree on these as virtuous (and biblical) ideals to be pursued.

    The problem, of course, is that we would not be able to agree on the appropriate boundaries for them. The fact is, the more I read and think about the language on both sides (pro/con 10-A in particular, though the amendment seems more symptom than cause to me), the less I am able to see how even cohabitation, let alone genuine community, is possible.

    The gap is simply too wide.

    To call it an issue of interpretation is to misunderstand its nature, because for most of the “conservative” people I know, the debate over interpretation is a dead one. The debate is rather about whether or not those who would tolerate (and celebrate) intercourse between people of the same gender, and then champion their unrepentant participation in an ordained office, deserve to claim the title “Christian”.

    And please, before you excoriate me for saying so, consider that what I am attempting to do is articulate the stakes of the debate as I understand them. The best we could hope for now (and I am not speaking in any official capacity here, this is personal opinion) is mutual forbearance in gracious separation (to what and where is for each person and church to decide). I simply do not see another way.

  7. Brian, thank you for your clarifying and informative comment. I do want to disagree with, but not excoriate, you.

    When you say we are not dealing with a matter of interpretation, I am confused. The interpretation of scripture you identify as conservative excludes the possibility of faithfulness in same gender intimacy (sexual, as you state, but I presume also relational in a sense that includes the non-sexual aspects of, for instance, marriage). I completely acknowledge and accept that this is your interpretation of scripture.

    I also have an interpretation of scripture. In my interpretation, scripture has only rarely commented on certain specific sexual acts involving same gendered people, and these acts in their context have typically also been condemned in scripture when they’ve involved parties of different genders. Also, in my interpretation, there is no place where scripture discusses whether or not one can be in a fully intimate, enduring, monogamous relationship with a same gendered person AND be faithful to Christ and at the same time. These, and some other readings and observations, have led me to accept that same gendered marriage, including sexual activity, deserve to be honored as much as different gendered marriage and sexual activity.

    So since you have an interpretation and I have a conflicting interpretation, how can this not be, at least in part, a matter of interpretation? The only way it could not be a matter of interpretation would be if you were able to make my interpretation non-existent.

    If you want to go someplace where you can assert without objection that my interpretation does not exist, that’s your prerogative, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t. It would just mean you’ve closed your mind and denied the existence of part of God’s universe (the part that includes me and my interpretation). I haven’t heard a biblical interpretation for the faithfullness, or even the possibility, of that.

  8. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Christy,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response and question, allow me to clarify.

    What I meant to communicate was not that there don’t exist (how’s that for double-negatives) alternate interpretations and divergent interpretive methods with respect to the texts, but rather, that for most of the people I know who take issue with 10-A and its broader connections/implications, the alternative means of interpreting the texts are deemed illegitimate, and therefore are unworthy of serious consideration.

    Furthermore, as I understand it, the illegitimacy of such viewpoints is considered by many to be an a priori illegitimacy. That is, there are disagreements and concerns that supersede (or, to stay with the idea of an a priori argument–precede) the divergent interpretations.

    The simplest way of saying this, while at the same time somewhat addressing your interpretation, would be to say: before one could ever get to talking about “fully intimate, enduring, monogamous relationship(s) with a same gendered person” that person would have to somehow gloss over the consistent witness of scripture that intercourse between 2 persons of the same gender is an act of sinful disobedience and contrary to God’s law and design.

    Therefore, any interpretive arguments that end where you do find their genesis in non-starters for those on the “conservative” side of the spectrum. The two sides can’t end up where you do, even as a place of agreeable disagreement, because the premises are different.

    Either intercourse of the nature we are discussing is always sinful, or its not, the divergence from there is inconsequential.

    You know…I should have just written that last sentence all by itself, it would have been a shorter, simpler, and much less wordy way of answering!

    I will conclude by saying that these are the stakes and the nature of the argument as I perceive them, and may not indeed reflect as much of the debate as I think, though I do like to think I’m seeing relatively clearly here.

    In Christ,
    Brian

  9. Okay, Brian, this sort of helps and sort of doesn’t, in terms of my trying to understand what you mean to say. You seem not to be sure whether or not your argument is, on the one hand, that there are considerations that “precede” a conversation about interpretation or that, on the other hand, the important considerations “supersede” such a conversation.

    If you’re asserting a position that a biblically based interpretation allowing for faithfulness in same sex relations cannot exist, that would of course precede any discussion of interpretation. You can’t discuss an interpretation that isn’t even there to discuss. This would be what I described in my former note.

    But if you’re saying that though there can be one interpretation that construes scripture to deny that any conceivable same sex relation could be faithful and another interpretation affirming as much, then I’m not clear on what argument would “supersede” interpretation.

    What you have said in your most recent note is that the interpretation for acceptance must be wrong, because only the interpretation for prohibition can be correct. But that would be to assert a privilege for yourself of infallibility on the question, for you have not argued your case based on the merits of your interpretation measured against the merits of the opposing interpretation but on the position that your interpretation cannot be challenged.

    It’s possible that you have reasons for considering your ability to declare the validity of your interpretive process to be absolute and unassailable to the extent that “alternative means of interpreting the texts are deemed illegitimate, and therefore . . . unworthy of serious consideration,” but you have not communicated those reasons here, so far.

    So I’m still listening.

    Faithfully,
    Christy

  10. Mary Lynn Tobin says:

    Brian – jumping in but not excoriating…are you saying that – from the perspective you are trying to articulate – the texts that refer to same gender sexual acts are simply not open to interpretation? Is it as simple as that?

  11. Bud Woodling says:

    Brian,
    I’m curious, what means of interpreting the texts would be deemed legitimate by those you refer to as taking issue with 10-A?

    I’m wondering if you and others are ignoring the possibility that time honored, Reformed Confessions respecting means could lead some to take the position that fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman, as a standard requirement for ordination, is a nonessential of the faith. Such a requirement is found nowhere in a constitutionally binding manner in the writings of our more conservative EPC brethren. The EPC may open their doors for an influx of former PC(USA) congregations, but I doubt we will ever see them place a statement in their constitution that looks like the Fidelity and Chastity statement the PC(USA) just removed.

  12. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Mary (and Bud),

    Part of the difficulty here, I think, is that I am attempting to aggregate the various statements, messages, attitudes, etc. that I’ve heard espoused over the years from many on the conservative end of the spectrum. If you are asking what my personal approach is, then I would need to leave the generalities behind. One could probably argue that it was unfair of me to try and speak for a group anyway, but what I’ve been attempting to do is articulate what I perceive to be the predominant attitude/perspective of those (perhaps especially lay-people) who consider homosexual intercourse to be sinful.

    So, instead of trying to maintain a somewhat detached sense of objectivity (and surely failing on some accounts in that endeavor anyway), allow me to respond more personally.

    As I understand these things, the texts in question, both in the Old and New are indeed open to interpretation. There is a sense in which it would only be fair to say that the entire Bible is open to interpretation, or that all we do when we engage the text is interpret. The question, to my mind, is how to best (properly?) interpret.

    You have not asked, but my short answer to the question of where I come down would be to say that while I am willing to concede that there alternate means of interpreting the texts in question, that both the interpretive methods employed and the conclusions drawn from them do not represent the best of the former nor the most faithful of the latter.

    On the question (from Bud) about the possibility of arriving at a place where fidelity/chastity is a non-essential of the faith, I would probably point (at least in part) to my answer above, which would largely mitigate the biblical rationale for such a conclusion. That is, I have a hard time seeing how to get there without first employing what I deem to be second-tier interpretive methods to arrive at an understanding of the texts that allows for that conclusion.

    As for why the EPC doesn’t have such a statement, I can only speculate–I have not studied the EPC very much. There is part of me that wonders at the possibility that the reason could be related to the way in which Arkansas is one of a few states with laws on the books making it illegal to marry a close relative. The argument, of course, is that such a law was necessary there, whereas states with no such law have no intention that it would happen, merely that it is so unexpected or so little practiced that a law was deemed unnecessary. But as I say, that’s merely speculation, and perhaps I should be asking you since you probably know more about the EPC than I do 🙂

    That is, by the way, a sincere smiley-face and not passive-aggressive internet sarcasm.

    Blessings to you both, and thanks for the repartee,
    Brian

  13. Brian Jacobson says:

    Also, I see in looking back over my statement that I left a couple words and verbs out accidentally. Sorry about that…

  14. Bud Woodling says:

    Brian,
    Thanks for the response.
    Since I consider the closer understanding of your response to my second question to be tightly reliant upon your answer to my first question, let me rephrase my primary question, since you don’t want to speak for others. What means of interpreting the texts would be deemed legitimate by you?

  15. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Bud,

    I almost went on to answer your question in my previous post, but it started to get so lengthy that I erased a few paragraphs and posted what was left 🙂

    To begin, allow me to re-frame your question a bit. I would not choose to use the word “illegitimate” for those interpretive methods and interpretations that lead to the kinds of conclusions you named. Having said that, there isn’t really a good word to use. I chose “second-tier” in my previous post as an attempt at refraining from the more pejorative options like “illegitimate”, and in the end, what I mean to communicate is that based on my studies of the methods and relevant texts, I think that the best available methods and data lead conclusively to the interpretation that sexual intercourse between same-gendered persons is both sinful and contrary to God’s design for human sexuality.

    So now the questions: to what methods do I ascribe? (I will attempt to be brief)

    First and foremost, of course, we must begin with the text itself and with good, critical exegesis (just in case…exegesis, simply put, would mean asking “what did this text mean to its original hearers/readers?”).

    To that end, we ask questions about language, grammar, historical context, etc. This process sometimes yields a very clear understanding, and there are some texts where we can virtually close the gap between the way we hear/read it and the way it was originally heard/read. There are times, however, where the best we can do with this critical analysis is rule out particular interpretations and narrow the interpretive field surrounding a text; i.e. It could mean “this”, or it could mean “this”, but it can’t mean “that” or “that”. From there, we make choices based on preference.

    The second step would be, having done that same work in other relevant biblical passages (should there be any), to compare the relative meanings, contexts, etc. between the passages. In the case of issues regarding sexuality and homosexuality, this would mean focusing primarily on Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 and asking questions like: do these texts all treat the subject similarly or is there disagreement? is it condoned in one place but condemned in another? Either way, what emerges as the overall witness of the Scripture with respect to the topic at hand (this will obviously mean more or less work and more or less unanimity depending on the subject and the frequency of its mention).

    The next step is to ask: how have these passages been interpreted historically? Answers to this question must account for the fact that we currently have access to more historical, contextual, linguistic, and textual data than almost every other generation of believers and interested observers in history. Just because a well known church leader interpreted a text a certain way in 1244 A.D. (a made up date, btw), doesn’t mean it should stand as being more authoritative than the interpretation(s) we might come to now. But we should take it seriously, and in essence do the same work we did in comparing the biblical texts. We must look at the history of interpretation with respect to particular texts and their relationship one to another, asking: what has been the witness of the church in most places and at most times regarding particular texts, their relationship(s), and their interpretation(s).

    It would, after all, be hubris to assume that just because we have access to more data, that we are necessarily better interpreters. We may have potential to be better, though such is debatable as we move farther and farther from the kind of worldview and cultural context inherent in the texts, but we must temper our approach with respect for both our increasing knowledge and the intellectual capacities of our ancestors in the faith.

    The final step (and these steps could all be broken down even more, but for the sake of keeping this under 10 pages, I’m generalizing a bit) would be to ask: based on the exegesis, on what we’ve ruled out, on what we’ve discovered, on what’s been said about it before, what interpretation makes the most sense of the original? As I said earlier, with some texts this will be fairly conclusive, while with others there will be more or less wiggle-room.

    From there, of course, we begin the work of application, but I’ll leave that for another day.

    Having said all that by way of method (which may or may not come as any surprise or new information to you), I do not personally think there is a faithful way to conclude anything other than that sexual intercourse between same-gendered persons is prohibited by scripture.

    Now, having said that, I would not personally be content to assert that conclusion without properly contextualizing it within the broader scope of the Bible’s boundaries around the whole of human sexuality, but perhaps that too is for another day.

    I hope all that helps. Feel free to ask for more clarity, conclusions, opinion, etc. I am grateful for your questions and tone and appreciate the opportunity to articulate my thoughts.

    In Christ,
    Brian

  16. Tim Reynolds says:

    Does anyone find it the least bit ironic that there is an appeal to Pauline Scripture for unity? In the same letter Paul urges Christians not to associate with other Christians who are engaged in sexual immorality and are not repentant. We can’t affirm some parts of Scripture and ignore others. Although I am not part of the Fellowship and do not intend to be part of the new Reformed body, or whatever they are calling it, I also get very frustrated at the lack of consistency by my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. The More Light gathering excluded someone from their gathering that disagrees with them. Haven’t they been sounding the bell of inclusivity for some time? I guess one can only be included if they agree with them. The group that runs this site has “differentiated” themselves within the PCUSA for a while now. I appreciate that the Covenant Network is committed to change from within and that the feel is that the Fellowship folks didn’t get their way and so they are now “taking their toys and going home.” But at least no one was excluded from their Gathering and anyone who wanted to attend was welcome. While I may not agree with them on everything, I do admire them for being consistent.

  17. Hey Tim! We’d love to have you join us at the Covenant Network Conference, November 3-5, at First Presbyterian in Durham, NC.
    http://covnetpres.org/conferences/2011-conference-information-2/

  18. Tom Eggebeen says:

    As much as I’d like to see “fellowship” amongst the various factions, I think, in the long run, it will be impossible. Perhaps we’ll just cohabitate together in some kind of uneasy arrangement for awhile, but in reality, it’s how we read Scripture, or at least portions of it. For those who read the Text and decide that it unambiguously teaches homosexual behavior to be “an abomination,” well, what can they do? How in the world can they “live” with someone who reads Scripture faithfully and prayerfully and comes to a different conclusion about Scripture’s intent on the few contested verses in question (and, yes, they are contested, even in conservative circles). While I deeply disagree with how the conservatives read the Text, I’m sympathetic with their plight. Yet our present situation reflects our story – we Presbyterians have always been a less than genial bunch, spending much of our time figuring out who’s in and who’s out, communion tokens and all. Our history of heresy trials and full-out cat-fights belies our claims of faith, hope and love. Our fatal flaw, if you will, is the undying (to date at least) hope that we can craft a theological framework in which all can agree; but such has never been the case, nor will it ever be the case. As for me, I’m in a similar boat – I see the pain we’ve caused the LGBTQ community – the harm we’ve done in Jesus’ name, and the foolishness of our debate. What can I do? I suppose I can live with “them,” but just barely. I resent their rejection of LGBTQ persons and their effort to exclude them from the fellowship of the church, both in terms of ordination and marriage equality. As for me, my LGBTQ friends don’t need conversion, restorative therapy or rehab; they don’t need anything beyond what we all need – and that’s the mercy and grace of God.

  19. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Tom,

    I must admit up front that I do not engage a very wide social or religious circle at this point in my life, my context simply does not provide it. That said, I have worked in my life to cultivate both breadth and depth of conversation across ideological and theological lines and am willing to assert with a fair degree of certainty that your statement about the contested nature within conservative circles of the texts in question is erroneous. Much more simply put, I suppose, would be to say: I just don’t see the contention over the texts within conservative circles.

    What I DO see, is plenty of contention over the application of these texts within our modern context–and this kind of contention is alive and well within conservative and liberal circles.

    Now, I draw the distinction because, for all such statements made here to the contrary (none so far with any substantive address of methodology), the single most faithful way to interpret the texts is the one that boundaries human sexuality in the context of marriage between a man and woman. To be sure, there are those within liberal circles who attempt both methodologically and (therefore) interpretively to arrive at different conclusions, but their arguments tend to rely more heavily on personal experience and a (good but not altogether biblical) desire for inclusion and acceptance.

    In the end, I would assert, it is not in the area of methodology and interpretation where the real diversion takes place (especially not in most conservative circles). It is rather in the area of application, where there are those who are content to say things like: “I know the text says ‘x’ about sexuality, but in today’s day and age we must allow for ‘y'”. Or, “I understand that the Bible says honoring God with our sexuality means ‘x’, but that is simply too difficult, or unrealistic, or mitigated by culture and context, or it would mean that my good friends who are LBGTQQ can’t have what I have, or…”

    Those issues, of course, are an entirely different animal, and one of the great sins of the Church is that we have treated sex, sexuality, and sexually broken/questioning/struggling people (especially those with same-sex attraction) in ways that were unloving, un-Christian, unreasonable, un-fill in the negative adjective. I firmly believe, in fact, that one of the things the Church will have to answer for in eternity is our treatment of the LGBT community.

    This admission is not, however, reason to leave behind scriptural boundaries and adopt a laissez-faire approach to the issues. It is rather a clarion call for the Church to embrace in love those among us who are struggling to understand what a faithful expression of human sexuality looks like within the context of a broken/sinful world and with respect to God’s gracious and lovingly-established boundaries.

    The big question, it seems, is the same as it’s always been: does God have our best interest at heart? Has God commanded that we boundary human sexuality within the context of man-woman marriage for our good or not? And if so, what graces are we unwittingly denying ourselves and others by throwing open the gates and claiming to know better?

    Pardon the length, such substantive issues are not served by imprecise language.

    written with care,
    Brian

  20. Mary Lynn Tobin says:

    Tim – every Christian lifts up some parts of scripture and downplays others. I do. You do. We are challenged, therefore, to look to the life of Christ, the whole of the Biblical witness and the community of faith as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit to guide us in our understanding of scripture. We are called to be prayerful and care-ful in our discernment before taking action based on any particular text. And still we will get it wrong. We just will. Because none of us is God.

    When we disagree about which texts seem to reflect the mind of Christ and the will of God, we might “differentiate” ourselves by stating our disagreement and seeking to not only be understood but to understand. To the extent we are able to do that while staying in relationship with others, we are differentiating.

    That is the “differentiation” that is at the core of the Covenant Network’s values and mission. We do welcome all to come to our gatherings – and this year’s conference in particular is a perfect opportunity to explore together how we the church might actually have a positive effect on our country’s (and our world’s) current tone of discourse – if we, even in our disagreements, are able to be well-differentiated. (One place to read about differentiation online may be found here: http://www.thebowencenter.org/pages/conceptds.html).

    Differentiation as it has been defined by “The Fellowship” appears to be about separating due to disagreement. This is what I hear: “We must not be affiliated with you because you and your understandings differ from ours. If we do not separate, we fear we will be tainted by your impurity of thought.”

    Covenant Network does not subscribe to that sort of “differentiation” (and I would say that is not differentiation at all). Fundamental to our covenant is this statement: “We seek the gift of unity among all who confess the name of Jesus Christ as Lord. Unity is Christ’s prayer for those who would follow him, “so that the world might believe.” We hope to maintain communion fellowship with all whose lives are guided by the Christian creeds and by the confessions of Reformed faith. We pledge to strengthen our ties to those who are at risk of being excluded by recent legislative actions of our church. We also want to live in unity with those whose views are different from ours. Because nothing in life or death can separate us from God’s love, we pray that the issues before us will not separate us from one another.”

    It’s interesting to me that you seem to want to lift up “The Gathering” as a model of openness and inclusivity when the invitation to The Gathering in the letter to the PCUSA dated February 2 stated:
    • “We call others of *like mind* to envision a new future for congregations that share our Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical heritage.”
    • “We invite *like-minded* pastors and elders to a gathering on August 25-27 in Minneapolis to explore joining this movement and help shape its character.”
    • “It [the Fellowship] is an intermediate tool to bring together *like-minded* congregations and pastors, to enable us to build a future different than our fractured present.”

    While it’s true that most (but not all) people attending Covenant Network conferences share our goals of inclusivity and unity, we there is a big difference between holding a gathering that will primarily be attended by people who share one perspective, and holding a gathering specifically to discuss how to separate from those of another perspective.

    You don’t need to be “like-minded” to join us in Durham. We hope you will be “like-hearted” in a desire to learn and grow that we, the church, full of Christians who differ with each other, may be a witness to the world of how to engage in a loving, healthy way.

  21. Bud Woodling says:

    Brian,
    Thanks for the detailed response.
    Happily, we seem to be in good agreement as far as methodology goes. Where we disagree are in the conclusions we draw using that methodology relating to Homosexual relationships. I don’t see how one can come to the conclusion you do without relying on “traditions of men” input frowned upon in the Westminster Confession (6.006, Book of Confessions, PC(USA), 2004). Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 in my view do not speak negatively with regard to the kinds of same sex relationships I have concluded might be acceptable in the eyes of God. In my opinion, you must be adding to those passages what wasn’t originally there, and must be basing it on tradition, culture, etc, rather than compelling scriptural evidence. I would accept correction on that count if I have unfairly characterized you.

  22. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Bud,

    Your gracious response is very much appreciated.

    I would say you have fairly characterized my stance, and the information I import that you do not is information related to the sexual practices and mores of our biblical counterparts. To that end, I have read eminently reputable scholars (N.T. Wright among them) who state that first century Roman culture contained within it an understanding (and practice, if not so openly) of all the same kinds of same-sex relationships practiced and understood now, so when Paul (in particular) addresses same-sex intercourse, he does so with a cultural milieu in mind that comfortably translates to ours.

    That said, the most powerful texts on these issues are those contained in Genesis 1 and 2 and Romans 1, which are clearly much more universal in scope than the more specific homosexual texts of Leviticus and Corinthians. In both Genesis and Romans, the precedent and appeal is to intent for humanity within the created order, and in this, we see man/woman marriage and man/woman sexuality lifted up as the standards of God’s design.

    This is why, while I regard the Leviticus and Corinthians texts (and Genesis 19, to some extent) as supports for an argument against same-gender intercourse, I rely most heavily on the broader contexts of those passages that establish the boundaries of biblical human sexuality. Without them, we would have to make room not only for loving and committed same-gender intercourse, but loving and committed extra-marital heterosexual intercourse, loving and committed adulterous intercourse, etc.

    I would add, by the way, that the biblical prohibition, as I understand it, boundaries intercourse and not the relationship itself. Meaning, if a same-gender couple came to my church, but endeavored to obey God through celibacy (pursuing companionship with one another without intercourse/sexual activity), one or both would be welcomed into leadership if they desired. In fact, any person with same-sex attractions would be welcome to join and welcomed into leadership if they pursued celibacy as a means of putting boundaries around their desires.

    On the other hand, if one of our leaders were having an affair, or engaging in pre-marital intercourse and it was known, they would be removed.

    So. I’ve gone on again. All you suggested is that I’m basing my interpretation on tradition/culture rather than compelling scriptural evidence, to which I would respond that I am basing my interpretation on compelling scriptural evidence that is clarified by a scholarly exposition of the culture in which it was written. The tradition of interpretation certainly plays a role in my own (as, I believe, it should to some extent–I said as much in one of my other posts), but the text takes precedence.

    It is unlikely one of us is going to budge much here, but let me reiterate again how much I appreciate the discussion. Thank you.

    Peace,
    Brian

  23. Bud Woodling says:

    Brian,

    Thanks for the reply.

    There are a few points of what you wrote that I find somewhat problematic, but for the sake of brevity I will only pick out one.

    Let me see if I understand you properly. You wrote: “I would add, by the way, that the biblical prohibition, as I understand it, boundaries intercourse and not the relationship itself. Meaning, if a same-gender couple came to my church, but endeavored to obey God through celibacy (pursuing companionship with one another without intercourse/sexual activity), one or both would be welcomed into leadership if they desired.”

    Does that mean that in the sight of God/Scripture a same sex couple, who might possibly be married in the eyes of government authorities, would be eligible for ordained service on the promise or condition that their physical intimacy stopped short of penetration? For what good purpose would God have for such a thing? Surely reasoning analogous to Mark 2:27 should apply here.

  24. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Bud,

    Thanks for pushing, I appreciate the questions.

    Bringing up same-sex marriage certainly complicates the issue, and I’m not sure I can answer your question. At least, I would draw a distinction that renders the question unanswerable inasmuch as I would say that while we live in a society that is moving toward the national legalization of same-sex marriage, such marriages cannot (based on the boundaries within scripture) be considered God-ordained or God-blessed. That is to say, they may be legally recognized, but they cannot and should not be recognized as Christian marriages (so far, anyway, even the PCUSA holds this line).

    As I understand it, then, God has not purposed such a thing at all (same-sex marriage), and it is therefore unreasonable to consider to what extent such a couple could engage one another sexually and still be considered for ordained leadership.

    Mark 2:27 would not apply on similar grounds.

    Please feel free to ask your other questions, you are unlikely (I would guess) to like my reasoning or answers, but I am glad to provide them and appreciate the chance to test the internal coherency of my positions.

    Blessings,
    Brian

  25. Bud Woodling says:

    Brian,

    I’m somewhat confused by your last response as it appears to contradict your previous response. If there are Biblical prohibitions placing boundaries on same sex intercourse, but not on the relationships themselves, then how could the concept of same sex civil marriage complicate the issue? Surely celibacy within that legal civil contractual institution should be sufficient to satisfy any objection to ordained church office on the basis of inappropriate sexual activity. Should it not?

  26. Brian Jacobson says:

    Dear Bud,

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding the nature of your question.

    If you are asking whether or not members of a same-sex couple united in civil marriage could serve as elders in a church as long as they remained celibate (or have celibacy as a sincere goal), then the answer would be yes.

    I think I answered the way I did because I perceived your question to go beyond the simple query of “wouldn’t this be okay?” and into the realm of “why would God demand such a seemingly arbitrary distinction?” Perhaps I read too much into your question?

    If not, if that truly was the nature of your question, then I think my response appropriate insomuch as it attempts to state that the distinction isn’t arbitrary at all, but rather foundational, even as it relates to the idea of marriage. That is, what the state deems appropriate and worthy of recognition goes beyond what the Bible deems appropriate and worthy of recognition. Civil marriage no more sanctifies same-gender sexual activity than does a pastor or church that teaches its acceptability, and in that sense, the introduction of marriage into the discussion does nothing to mitigate the biblical prohibition.

    now considering himself your friend,
    Brian

  27. I was just checking out the scripture referenced by the Covenant Network and it seems that the context of the church as one body many parts has more to do with spiritual gifts than sexual orientation. A broader look at 1 Corinthians would show that Paul’s aim was to establish some Godly principals by which believers would live by.

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