Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pragmatism

When I started writing this series of posts I thought that through a pragmatic approach we might find enough common ground that people could agree about 'what to do with the homosexual debate'. From what I have seen (mostly outside of this blog) I now think that this is unlikely!
We approach the debate from the ideological aspect, the pastoral and also in addition (thanks to commentators) the personal. We are aware of militance and sensationalism. The pragmatic approach needs to take all of this into account as well as issues that are purely pragmatic.

From a pragmatic point of view the church has had to deal with the issue of divorce and remarriage. Whatever the ideological point of view, there were and are many hurting people trapped in marriages that one just couldn't blame them for ending. The church doesn't help by closing its eyes and saying 'divorce is wrong'. It is like a doctor refusing to treat an accident patient by saying 'you shouldn't have been driving so fast'. Society has delivered the church a problem in terms of its inability to keep people in happy marriages. There are similarities in this to the homosexual debate. Society has presented the church with a problem. There are people in homosexual relationships. Does it help to just say 'homosexual acts are wrong'? Or for that matter to just say 'homosexual acts are ok'?
Secondly, there are clearly people that are more disposed towards homosexuality than others. This needs to be acknowledged.
Thirdly, there are many 'sorts' of homosexuals as has been pointed out in the comments. Some homosexual (as heterosexual) behaviour is 'not ok' (even if you accept homosexual sex as ok). Sleeping around, brutality, concomitant use of drugs and so on. Some homosexual behaviour is due to past pain and hurts and can be 'healed' - the person becomes heterosexual.

I am struggling at this point to keep myself as a sort of neutral party. I want to present things in a neutral way - a bit because I am scared - but mostly so that we can have a facilitated discussion, rather than a war (and thank you to all who have contributed). But let me open myself to fire by saying that I believe the Methodist Church in SA has reached a fairly pragmatic position, where it is now. To the ideologist who wants things tied to the Bible it is too wishy-washy. To the one who feels passionately for the rights of homosexual people it is limiting and offensive. The position, however, takes both the Bible and homosexual issues seriously and recognises that they should not be treated simplistically.
I would like to see a thought out theology/praxis position in favour of allowing homosexual clergy to enter civil unions that deals with all the issues raised in this series of posts. Simply because it would take the argument out of the ideology realm (I'm right and you're wrong). But I will leave that for those who feel strongly about this position!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Ideologically, even though I can't fully understand how it fits together I need to accept the Bible as a sound source of wisdom, when read in an intelligent straight-forward way."

"To the ideologist who wants things tied to the Bible it is too wishy-washy."

Steven Jones said...

Hi Jen

I've been waiting with bated breath for the next instalment - thanks for this.

Ome of the things I've struggled with a bit throughout this whole debate is the fact that there are so many points of view, many of which are sincerely held as well as theologically and Biblically justified (at least, according to the persons holding the view concerned). The problem is that we all disagree on which view is "correct", which causes us to retreat into our own laager whereby
we are right and everyone else is wrong.

So my question is (and here's where I struggle) - would it make sense for the MCSA to allow each minister to act according to their own convictions with regard to same-sex unions (this would include those who want to conduct such unions for others, as well as those who wish to enter into such unions themselves)? I say this purely because there is a far greater likelihood of the various camps agreeing to disagree, rather than all of us trying to come to a common (and unlikely) consensus.

I know that as I write this there would be some practical issues (which I will more than likely upload a post on), but could this be a healthy starting-point? Or is it the top of a slippery slope to "anything goes"?

I guess the journey, as always, continues...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,

I agree with Steven, you, him, John and Pete in your postings as well as the other contributors in their comments have really done a good job of raising this issue.

My philosophy of ministry is informed by Scripture rather than pragmatics (let's call that truth). The execution of that philosophy is done with people and is relational (let's call that love).

If you were to extrapolate the discussion we had around ideologies I think we'd be left with two possible paths to walk down in a counselling environment: Love (John and others) or truth (Me and others). I hope I'm not over simplifying things. I’m thinking: What wins over a sinner, truth or love? And the answer I’m contemplating is: Are love and truth not so intertwined that one without the other is like a Big Mac without soda and fries? The verses that govern my thoughts are 2 John 1 – 7, "1 The elder
to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:

3 Grace, mercy {and} peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

4 I was very glad to find {some} of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment {to do} from the Father. 5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though {I were} writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it."


Well that's my thinking on pragmatics. Keeping these notes short is a major feat!

John van de Laar said...

A courageous and insightful post, Jenny - thanks.

Unfortunately there are those within our church who believe that allowing anyone to live by their own convictions is to damn the church to a slippery slope that will only end in hell. It is seen as compromise and therefore sinful.

I grieve at this, because, in my human pessimism, I can't see any other result than schism coming out of it. God save us from that fate!

Unknown said...

I found this interesting article that raises question for us as a Church.
It states: The Church has a history of poor charity to gay men and lesbians
Denial in not a good thing. It's not healthy. Those of us who are, or who have been, same sex attracted need to have a place where they share feelings and experiences, whether it be with a spiritual advisor and/or in a group. Christians need to provide a clean, welcoming, "no-sex" space, where men and women who have had some "same sex" attraction can get explore God's gift of chastity, an environment that is supporting, loving and free of the "yuck!" factor around sexual issues.
However, there is a kind of denial which is even more unhealthy than being "in the closet." It is denial of God's call on all humans to chastity. In the gay community, there is a sentiment that anyone who practices chastity is in denial. I suggest it is the exact opposite. Chastity is total ownership of our human condition, and a total acceptance of our sexuality and God's ability to keep us chaste. He is actually quite good at that and without him it's almost impossible.
http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/why_catholics_against_gay_sex.htm

John van de Laar said...

Hi Hermann - good to connect with you again. Hope you and the family are all well.

If I may challenge you on one thing (although it's not really you I'm challenging, it's the article you were quoting).

You wrote:
"In the gay community, there is a sentiment that anyone who practices chastity is in denial."

This is one of those unfortunate stereotypes that keeps getting repeated until it is accepted as truth without any investigation. The reality (born out by socialogical study) is that heterosexual people are as promiscuous (or more so) in general and on average as gay folk.

Also, remember that gay men and women have no option to make a public commitment in marriage (or haven't had until recently in this country). Marriage is hard enough to maintain (as the divorce rates show) without society refusing to even acknowledge your relationship. So, for some gay folk, the reason they have not made a lifelong commitment is simply that society has worked against them.

Of course there are those in every "group" who are promiscuous, and always will be, but let's not paint an entire segment of the population with just the one, unfortunate, brush.

Grace
John

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Sometimes I wonder how I am presenting my own point of view. And whether by describing as much as I can of the story I seem like a theological chameleon. I really want to find the truth in this issue and to see what God is saying to us here and today. And that requires asking questions, stepping into the unknown.
Let me reaffirm my commitment to the Bible as the basis for my faith (basis for, not object of). For me, if I woke up tomorrow and found that I was gay I would choose not to engage in homosexual sex - just as I now choose not to engage in any sexual or romantic relationship with a man who is not my husband. I could not be ruled by my sexuality or my sexual desires. The easiest thing in the world is for me to then say that this is how it should be for all Christians - especially those in my denomination. Except that there are people whom I value and respect who believe differently. I need to listen to them (and they need to listen to me). As we engage [and I know the engagement has already been long] we will hopefully come to a sense of what the truth is (and I do believe that there is a truth). Debates such as these on blogs help me to clarify my thinking - they also give an insight into the character of those holding different view points, which affects how I hear them.
Steven and John - I'm not crazy about 'let everyone do what they think is right'. The denomination needs a discipline and a theology. But I do like it that we can recognise real world issues and wrestle with them.
I am also grateful for those people in the church who remind us of what the Bible says and what is the 'orthodox' faith. They allow me to venture out, looking for better understanding, knowing that they are there to keep up the engagement. (And Steven will know that there are times when I play that role).
And I am grateful to those who remind me of how much the world is hurting.

Raycol said...

As a pragmatic solution which treats the Bible as correct and allows logic to be used, I offer the following position:

There is no passage in the Bible against homosexuality as an orientation.

While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. Also, the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm.

Further, the Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women.

So sex between men and sex between women is okay if no one is harmed.

Full reasons for all these conclusions are given on the “Gay and Christian” website (www.gaysandslaves.com).

Anonymous said...

I inclination not agree on it. I think nice post. Specially the title-deed attracted me to be familiar with the unscathed story.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Raycol - a pragmatic solution needs to move beyond theory to what you do in practice. How would you deal with teaching about sexuality in your church youth group? How do you feel about experimentation before life commitment to a partner? How does a confused teenager know if he or she is gay or straight? And many, many more questions like that. We have worked out answers to those questions in a purely heterosexual setting (even if they are not perfect) over many years. But now, the ball is in your court.

K. said...

I am an American from the southeast US... very conservative area. We call it "The Bible Belt".

I have found myself, quite by accident or divine appointment (??) in the middle of a very heated discussion on homosexuality.

I appreciate so much your taking the time to think this through and write about it.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Kimber - you are welcome. I got an adults only warning on your first blog - I don't know if I could get thrown out of seminary for accessing it! God bless you, Jenny.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Oh, ok Kimber. I had more time now and risked the warning. I won't get thrown out - you are 'just' discussing homosexuality! Thanks for the link.

Johannes said...

Thanks for your sensitive approach to this tough issue.

It is for too many people simply an academic problem. But as one of my dearest friends is a happily committed lesbian (they've been together for about 20 years, and got married when the opportunity arose), I've been forced to test those beliefs on a day to day basis... and it's not as simple as "the Bible says" (wouldn't that have been wonderful, though).

For instance, atheists can marry. Why is it a religious issue when gays are concerned? I fear that Christians have actually created a bigger problem by not recognising their ability to be in faithful committed relationships. Or is that possibility too threatening?

I have seen that a gay person can experience the same fulfilment in a relationship as a heterosexual couple. They face the same dangers and temptations as anyone.

Could we "give up" our orientation? It's like asking all Christians to become priests and nuns - just imagine the reaction.

And still. It's so much easier to let Paul and Moses make all the hard decisions. Thank goodness the canon is closed. At least this way we know who's allowed in heaven and who isn't.