Saturday, April 30, 2005

On Failing to Make the Case from Scripture
Even the majority of the Task Force that put forward this disastrous proposal has to admit “that the biblical-theological case for wholesale change in this church’s current standards has not been made to the satisfaction of the majority of the participants in the study” (p. 10). This is an understatement of monumental proportions. Based on their own tabulation (however inexact), and even with the advocacy bent for change present in their study guides, they were able to convince only 22% of those who responded. That means that 78% of respondents were not convinced—nearly four out of every five set of responses. Clearly this is not just “the majority” but a massive supermajority. And the vast majority of these were completely unconvinced.

As we noted above, the real number is likely to be much higher. Why? I can think of at least four reasons for drawing this conclusion. (1) Those who were seeking change of the current policy would be more likely to recognize the Task Force as their main hope for change and thus more likely to be motivated to respond. (2) Those seeking change would, in the nature of things, be persons more inclined to engage in an activism of response. (3) Those who preferred no change or were undecided would more likely be persons disinclined by nature toward the kind of activism that required response. (4) Those who preferred no change would more likely be skeptical about the effectiveness of responding to the Task Force since a common perception is that the members of the Task Force had already been selected to achieve the desired result of change while giving the appearance of hearing all the voices. From the start the majority of persons put on the Task Force did not come with convictions that homosexual practice was always wrong, including most of the “big guns” academically and professionally. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the only biblical scholar put on the Task Force had already written strongly in favor of homosexual blessing and rostering (Terence Fretheim).

Had the Task Force produced study guides that were more balanced and that unleashed the overwhelming array of arguments for demonstrating both Scripture’s unequivocal opposition to homosexual practice and the utter weakness of arguments to the contrary, the 78% figure would have been significantly higher. The Report assures readers that all the task force members “accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life” (p. 10). In the addendum to the Report, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Report and Recommendations,” readers are told:

People of differing convictions on these issues each in their own way rely on the Word of God as the basis for their views. Thus, there are sincere differences of interpretation among people in this church who share a common commitment to the authority of Scripture. (p. 2)

The above two observations are irrelevant. What people claim Scripture says or allows, as well as their level of sincerity in making such claims, has to be tested against the evidence of Scripture itself. People can be sincere in their beliefs about what Scripture supports or allows and be sincerely wrong. The church is under no obligation to validate such beliefs, particularly since almost any conceivable belief, no matter how wrongheaded, has adherents making sincere appeals to Scripture. The church could make very little determination about issues of doctrinal or moral import if it allowed leaders with a contrary conscience to teach whatever they sincerely believed and to violate whatever standards of behavior they sincerely regarded as wrong. (Sadly, the church has already allowed much of this to happen, but this new proposal makes a bad situation significantly worse.)

To be sure, the Report points to the material in Background Essay as evidence that people can have valid differences over “what the text meant originally” and “the precise way it speaks to the present-situation” (ibid.). However, as I shall show in this document, had Background Essay fairly and competently presented the full evidence for reading Scripture as holding firmly to an other-sex prerequisite and utterly opposed to homosexual activity of all sorts, it would have been evident how bad attempts are to try to make Scripture in any way open to homosexual unions. Even the Report has to now admit, in the light of research by myself and others not taken into account by Journey Two and Background Essay, that: “It is hard to maintain with certainty, even though the language of sexual orientation is recent, that the biblical writers who condemned certain same-sex acts knew nothing of people who were constitutively homosexual in orientation” (p. 23). And yet both Journey Two and Background Essay over and over repeat the mantra that the very concept of sexual orientation was unknown in the ancient world.

If “the biblical-theological case for wholesale change in this church’s current standards has not been made to the satisfaction of the majority of the participants in the study,” and it obviously hasn’t, then there are no grounds for gutting the current policy by eliminating mandatory enforcement and allowing unlimited flagrant violation of that policy.

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