Friday, March 28, 2014

The World Vision and Marriage Equality Kerfuffle

I have a variety of reactions and emotions to the recent World Vision decision to begin hiring gay Christians in same-sex marriages and then rescinding of that decision.  And thus this is a bit rambling and  more a record of impressions and reactions to the events of this past week.

Shortly after I was aware of the decision and the evangelical backlash, World Vision was already rescinding the decision.  Part of me is surprised World Vision wasn't more prepared for the resistance, but to another part of me it made perfect sense.  As a well respected organization with a very specific focus with a long track record, it makes sense that they might have expected being given the benefit of the doubt when it came to making a change in their internal policy.  It was a miscalculation though for them to not see that the apparatus of the Religious Right can and will be used on a well respected evangelical aid organization like World Vision and not just outsiders.  This oversight is odd since I'm lead to understand many prominent evangelicals serve on its board that made the decision and rescinded the decision.  How did the board fail to see and fail to prepare for the backlash from the evangelical Religious Right and its influence upon the average evangelical.

I wondered aloud to my wife that my coming to the whole controversy after it had more or less run its course probably meant I wasn't much of an evangelical.  Here response was to point out that in the course of the the controversy I was reading John Milbank and Jean-Luc Marion and preparing to lead a discussion in mystical and contemplative spirituality as the spirituality of God beyond concept and without being, and was fasting for lent following the Easter Orthodox Christian fast, so no I wasn't an Evangelical.

Thus this whole situation brings up my relationship to Evangelicalism as an Evangelical Covenant Pastor, and what it means for the Covenant to be Evangelical.  As I read and interacted with colleagues on two Covenant Facebook pages I saw that most of my colleagues (no matter on what side of the issue they fell on) all seemed to find being Evangelical a meaningful marker.  Moments like this simply reinforce for me the degree to which the "evangelical" simply isn't a meaningful or useful marker of identity for myself.
I came became aware of World Visions initial policy change and the controversy surrounding it when I happened upon Benjamin Corey's blog post The Day Evangelicalism Died.  In the midst of that post he trots out the Evangelical theological Society's definition of Evangelicalism as which is fairly simple and broad "afirmation of the trinity" (many Christians who aren't evangelical so affirm), inspiration of Scriptures (ditto here) and the kicker affirming that the original autographs of Scripture were inerrant (something I believe Fuller Theological Seminary doesn't affirm, nor does the Evangelical Covenant Church.) Even this broad and to my ear pointless definition of "evangelical" simply heightens for me the problem of the identity.

It simply is to me an astounding claim that somehow affirming that gay Christians may be able to have what heterosexual Christians have in a loving spouse and expressions of sexual intimacy in marriage is somehow simultaneously the denial of the entire Christian faith.  I work with, and pastor gay and transgender Christians.  Like most heterosexual Christians they aren't perfect, but they love Christ, they love the Church and are seeking to follow Christ.  And here there is the cry but what about sin what about sin.

Here we have a breakdown in communication because of worldview and experience, that in part brings us back to the effective propaganda and politics of the Religious Right and it's stranglehold on Christians who identify as Evangelical.  For many on one side of this debate homosexuality is like adultery that is it is an act but for gay Christians and for myself who seek to support them in their faith and living out their sexuality in a Christian maner, homosexuality is constitutive of their being and person.  So, there is a break down in talking about this. when I say homosexuality, i mean an aspect of a person's being for many who disagree with my stance on human sexuality, homosexuality is an act like adultery, or stealing, or getting drunk.  I don't know how to get beyond such a conceptual and linguistic impasse.

 I have to wonder if the Religious Right and its politics had emerged 10 to 15 years earlier then it did if divorced Christians would be in the same boat as LGBTQ (some might disagree and this is less a statement of what I believe would have happened as an explanation of my own emotional response to this).

My father (who died this past November just shy of his 78th birthday) was divorced and remarried.  To some extent following the types of reading and hermeneutic of Scripture that lead so many to see world Visions willingness to hire married gay couples as absolutely objectionable, should by the same hermenuetic see my parents as adulterers.  Jesus' plain words in the Gospels on divorce and remarriage is that it is adultery!  And in fact my Grandmother (my mother's mother) initially told my mom that she would be in sin if she married my father, and initially was quite insistent that the clear teaching of Scripture and Jesus' very words meant that my mom should call of her relationship with the man who would be my dad.  My Grandmother in prayer came to a different conclusion, as did the Covenant Pastors who knew my parents in Chicago, and of my moms home church in California.  Even so, my father who eventually would go to seminary to become a Director ministry to children and families. He never worked in a church holding such a position because at the time evangelical congregations wouldn't consider him for the position because he was divorced and remarried (this was in the early 1970's).

The above proves nothing, but that in the late 1960's early 1970's evangelicals held that divorce and remarriage was a sin, and was a sin that would keep you from being able to serve in a paid leadership position in many congregations.  My father retained his identity as an evangelical until his death, though many of our conversations in that last two to three years of his life indicated revealed he was finding the attitudes and tactics of evangelicals to be troubling and unforgiving and of a rigidity he had difficulty reconciling with his sense of what it meant to be an evangelical: committed to the Gospel, meaning for my father the proclamation of God's love.

I also hear an echo of David Fitch's (David himself has weighed in) book End of Evangelicalism?  we have seen I believe what he criticizes of the dominant politic in evangelicalism, it still remains to be seen if his reconstructed and reformed evangelical politic can take root as evangelicalism in such a toxic soil.  But evangelical soil has long been too toxic for me to be able to use that identity.  but it seems to me that as long as difference in interpretation of Scripture around the issue of human sexuality means apostasy to evangelical gatekeepers and their rank and file I don't see how anyone identifying as evangelical can actually have a productive conversation around human sexuality and Christian faith, nor can I see how evangelical soil can be renewed.

At some point I will probably have a more pastoral and thought out reflection on all this and its ecclesial and spiritual ramifications, if so you'll find it at Priestly Goth.  For the moment I just have these personal ramblings. I welcome your thoughts and responses.