Saturday, November 30, 2013

From Buddhist meditation to C.S. Lewis' The Hideous Strength: Advent 1

The wonderful time of thankfulness celebrated by families and friends feasting together has ended. Reading the Presbyterian News Service during this Thanksgiving I was troubled by an article, “Food Justice Meditation, placed in the side box by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. It is an article about thanking others for what we have received.

It wasn't that I did not want to thank anyone, rather I was troubled over the author's push towards Buddhist meditation, even offering a link to her Buddhist meditation teacher's site. I felt sad that the author was not lifting up meditation on God's word as a means of loving others including God's creation. Listening to his word is after all what Jesus calls the “good part,” and the only “necessary” act for his followers.(Luke 10:42)

Now it is the season of Advent. As we sit at his feet waiting and listening may we be open and worshipful, receiving with grateful welcome his first coming—his incarnation. And may we be eagerly waiting for Jesus' second coming when he shall bring to the fulness the business of his kingdom welcoming his children.

Thinking of Christ's coming, C.S. Lewis also uses a Chinese philosophical and religious idea, he looks back to the French revolution with its goddess Reason and he reminds his readers of the myths of King Arthur—but he is pointing the reader toward Jesus Christ who fulfills all righteous metaphors in ways that the subjects, not even Arthur, can fulfill. Lewis does not offer religious technology but faithful metaphor.

 He writes, “When Logres [Arthur’s kingdom] really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China—why, then it will be spring.”  This is the Christian's hope which is centered in Christ and his word. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ...”

The quote is from Lewis' The Hideous Strength, which also, in a wonderful way, depicts a conversion pointedly placing a new member in the house of Ransom. June who has found joy because of Ransom who is a metaphor of Christ expresses her joy:
She saw from the windows of the train the outlined beams of sunlight pouring over stubble or burnished woods and felt that they were like the notes of a trumpet. Her eyes rested on the rabbits and cows as they flitted by and she embraced them in heart with merry, holiday love. She delighted in the occasional speech of the one wizened old man who shared her compartment and saw, as never before, the beauty of his shrewd and sunny old mind, sweet as a nut and English as a chalk down. She reflected with surprise how long it had been since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. Or else—perhaps—she would read a great many Shakespeare sonnets. She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea—a great deal of buttered toast.

 It is because of Jesus that we love all that we are given and have the hope of his coming. Not a Christmas song for this but a reminder that as sinners we need Jesus:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two different faiths in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is certainly divided despite calls for unity. Some of the division can be seen in a commentary that Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Layman wrote and her detractors counter arguments. LaBerge's article, "Commentary on a Comment: People are going to hell while you're playing at Presbyterianism,” was supposedly answered by teaching elder, John Vest, with his article, “Playing at Presbyterianism,” and teaching elder Marci Glass' article “More Lines in the Sand.”

Evidently the troubling thought in LaBerge's article was this, “You cannot reach people with a love you have not experienced and you cannot invite people into a relationship with a God you do not really know.”

LaBerge suggests the problem with the divisions is not that there are two different focuses but two different faiths. Of course, both Vest and Glass resent the implications. But is this so, are there two different faiths operating under the name PC (U.S.A.)? I think the answer is yes and no. The division is not complete. But last night as I was reading a historical biography of pastor Paul Schneider, the first martyr of the Confessing Churches during the Nazi era, I couldn't help thinking of some of the similarities surrounding that question in Schneider's time.  

The early ideological bent of the German Christians was not apparent to many in the German church in the early years after 1933. Even Paul Schneider, at the very first, aligned himself with the movement. However many moderates within the German church movement clung to the hope that there could be unity in the German church if the political infighting would cease. For them compromises were possible. They believed that all sides in the 'church struggle,' as it was called, were orthodox in their faith. And then the famous Berlin Sports Palace rally of German Christians occurred. 20, 000 German Christians listened as Dr. Reinhold Krause spoke. [1]

Not only did Krause insist that the Old Testament should not be included in Christian scripture, he also wished to do away with some of the New Testament. Of Paul and various passages and doctrines of the New Testament, Krause stated:

It also will be necessary that our National Church proceed to remove all plainly distorted and superstitious passages from the New Testament and that a firm renunciation of the scapegoat doctrine and inferiority-complex teaching of the Rabbi Paul be announced, for Rabbi Paul distorted the happy and simple good news of “Love your neighbor as yourself:” Regard your neighbor as brother and God as your Father.[2]

This was a renunciation of original sin and the need for Jesus' redemptive death. Krause, defaming Paul and Barth in one breath, went on to proclaim what he and the more radical German Christians believed was the proper connection between God and humanity:

It is indeed correct that the entire development of dialectical theology, from Paul to Barth has made a cerebral game out of our God and Father. Theology has always sought to segregate God and man, to justify its existence by proving the curse of original sin and the role of the Church in redemption from the fall. We know of no segregation between God and man, if man by his own decision, does not segregate himself from God. The Savior demonstrated this truth to us in the parable of the lost son. We are fallen only when we depart from God, and if we have the will to say, “I will return to my Father,” then we are saved. Kant is correct; each person is responsible for himself. No one can release me from my sins.[3]
As for Jesus, he was simply a heroic example. “We must return to the heroic Jesus whose life serves as an example for us and whose death was the seal to that life, the conclusion of a life lived in heroic struggle in fulfilling the task assigned to him by his Father.” Krause goes on to warn the German Christians against “an exaggerated preaching of the crucified one” and suggests that they needed , not a leader in heaven, but one on the earth.

Earlier in his speech, Krause had suggested that Martin Luther followed Meister Eckhart in his mysticism and had freed himself from the bondage of monasticism by arriving at “a subjective inner experience of God,” and that he had achieved “union with the Deity which has been achieved by the Nordic seekers after God.”[4] 

Finally, many moderates in the German Christian movement understood that this was not Christianity and fled the movement. They did not all join the Confessing movement that was developing but they all kept a wary eye on the German Christians. And some who never became Confessing Church members used their positions to aid their brothers and sisters in the Confessing Church. [5]

Intertwined in all of the heresy was a dark racism, nationalism and a particularly vile and aggressive anti-Semitism. But it was the heresy that finally reached the hearts of some of the moderates. They finally understood that another faith was operating in their midst. So one can ask is that kind of heresy evident in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But lets point out the precise heresies first.  
  1. The rejection of some scripture; the loss of scriptural authority.
  2. The rejection of the doctrine of original sin.
  3. The rejection of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
  4. The pelagian heresy that one can accomplish one's own salvation.
  5. Unity with God is acquired by seeking for an experience rather than through Jesus Christ.
  6. The demoting of Jesus from redeemer to simply a heroic example.
  7. Although not predominate in this speech the German Christians also promoted a second and new revelation-supposedly given by the “Spirit”

Have any of these heresies been advocated in the PC (U.S.A.)? And I am not here asking if any of the confessions of the church teach any of these heresies; the three denominations which formed the protestant church in Germany during the time of Hitler also held Reformation confessions as well as the ecumenical confessions. Nonetheless, the German Christians existed and espoused doctrines which belonged to another faith. And for awhile they became the political leaders and theological leaders in the church. In fact many of the professors in the seminaries backed them and their theology, ideology and anti-Semitism.

We wait. Not nationalism, but a desire to be relevant to the culture under girds the heresy that is in the PC (U.S.A.). Not racism, but a disregard for the moral sensibilities of many of our various immigrant communities is connected to the heresy. Not anti-Semitism, and yet its odor drifts through some of the heresy. We wait and pray for salvation.

Picture by Penny Juncker

[1] Claude R. Foster, Jr., Paul Schneider: The Buchenwald Apostle, A Christian Martyr in Nazi Germany, A Sourcebook on the German Church Struggle, (West Chester, PA: SSI Bookstore, West Chester University 1995) 299.

[2]Ibid, 302.


[4]Ibid, 300.

[5] Kyle Jantzen, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler's Germany, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2008).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Time for family: our seventh great granddaughter and so much more ...

Because I have a new great granddaughter, Maxine June Tregilgas, (she is my seventh great granddaughter) I thought it was time to post some family pictures. Here is our newest who was delivered by her father since no one else was there. And after all he had already delivered two calves while interning as a farmer in Maryland: )

Maxine lives with her Mom & Dad and two sisters Molly and Adele, close to a dairy where he works as a milker. It is about an hour away from Hollister California. Here is a picture of Molly sitting in what she calls her castle:
And here is Adele playing in front of their home:
 Living close to home, actually just down stairs are three more beautiful great grandchildren. Here is Luna holding one of the last flowers of fall:
And Liberty contemplating some important idea:
And our sixth great granddaughter Jade Sequoia with her mama and Liberty in the corner. Jade is dressed for Halloween: 

And then there is our beautiful fifth great granddaughter Rosalie who we all think is going to be a great musician like her mother Katie:

I must do another posting with pictures of grandchildren but I will end this with a picture of the area while Maxine's parent's Melissa & Spencer are now living since some have followed Melissa's blog while they traveled on their many adventures. I think it is ruggedly beautiful, a term I have used too often in this post--but they are all beautiful and wonderful gifts from God.

The picture is taken from Claravale Dairy where Spencer works. Their raw milk is the best!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stephen Sizer, Mitri Raheb, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network & the legitimacy of contemporary Jews

The idea that the Jewish people today have no connection to the ancient Israelites is a type of anti-Semitism and it has been used in both the 20th and 21st century to tear the Jews away from their history and their sacred texts. It is an idea meant to destroy the very identity of the contemporary Jewish community. Using that idea in advocacy negates any attempt by any person or organization to promote the Boycott, Divestment or Sanction movement against Israel since it uses a classical anti-Semitic argument to discredit not Israel but contemporary Jewish people. As a matter of fact it  negates any serious discussion about problems in the Middle East. 

I am writing about two people and one organization who are advocating for the BDS movement and who use the “not Abraham’s physical descendants” idea. They all move in the same circles and promote the same lie. All of their other advocacy is discredited by their use of this kind of anti-Semitism. 

The first person is Stephen Sizer who I have written about before. Sizer is a British Anglican priest who blogs, and speaks at various conferences and churches. He has also spoken on Iran's Press TV. Just recently Sizer debated Dr. Michael Brown a messianic Jew and a Christian Zionist. Here are the two statements he made which show that he holds the idea that contemporary Jews are not connected to ancient Israel.

“Dr Brown is equating Israel in the Old Testament, with a racial group that we would identify today as the Jewish people and I think that this is incorrect.”

In another section of the debate, Sizer states:

“The term Jew in the Old Testament does not mean racially descended from Abraham; just give you one example, Esther 8 verse 17. After the glorious deliverance of God's people out of the hands of those who want to destroy the Jewish people verse 17 says many other nations became Jews out of fear of the Jews; recognizing what God was doing. So at the time of Esther the Jewish people were made up of many nationalities and I would suggest from that verse that those who could trace heir physical descent back to Abraham were already minority within the Jewish people so its not surprising when we get to the New Testament in Romans chapter two and Romans chapter 9 that Paul defines Jew in spiritual terms and he defines Israel in spiritual terms.”

First, Sizer has exaggerated the actions in the Esther text; it does not state that many nations became Jewish, rather it states that “many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them.” Furthermore, although it is doubtful that gentiles who converted to Judaism out numbered those who were Jewish by birth, nonetheless, they joined the people of Israel and would them be considered Israelites so one can say they belong to those who are the descendants of Abraham.

Referring to chapter 2 and 9 of Romans, Sizer is attempting to change the subject. When he speaks of the Israelites in Esther's time he attempts to use physical events to prove that most of those called Jews or Israelites during that time were not descendents of Abraham. When he moves to Romans he tries to use his conjured up ideas about a Jewish minority to fit with Paul's statement that “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, ...” (Romans 2:28) and Paul's statement that “...they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendents ...” (6b-7a) The truth is, in Romans, Paul is doing two things, as far as the Israelites are concerned.

Paul is describing the actual physical people, the Jews, writing of his desire for their salvation and then he is including the gentiles among that greater spiritual Israel (made up of both Jews and gentiles) that the New Testament sees as the church. But in doing this he has not made some historical notation that suggests that most of the ethnic group, the Jewish people, were at that time not physical descendents of Abraham. If one reads the first five verses of chapter nine it is very clear that Paul recognizes a real people called the Jews who are his kinsman.

The next person is Rev. Mitri Raheb of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

I have also written about him and my posting included his statements made at what is called the Checkpoint Conference. That is a Christian Palestinian conference which mainly attempts to draw in American Evangelical Christians to speak for Palestinians. While there have been some good speakers at the conference, it seems that Sizer is always a speaker. And Raheb spoke, at least, at the first conference. This is where he stated:
I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
 As I pointed out in the posting on Raheb:

“Raheb is referring to the Khazars when he writes of an East European tribe that converted to Judaism in the middle ages. And there was such a tribe that did convert. In fact the European Jews were proud that a whole tribe had converted to Judaism. But that does not make every Jew living in Diaspora a member of the Khazars.

All anti-Semites use the Khazars as a means of insisting that the Jews are not the Jews. Some white Americans who belong to anti-Semitic groups related to the KKK use the Khazars to insist that the supposedly 10 lost tribes of Israel are the Caucasian peoples of Europe and the United States. Those groups are referred to as “Christian Identity.” Raheb uses the Khazars to insist the Palestinians are the only peoples, plus a few Jews, who have a legal right to the Holy Land.”

The organization which uses the idea that contemporary Jews are not connected to the ancient Israelites is the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

I wrote about this several years ago. The IPMN published a booklet entitled Steadfast Hope which contained the idea. The booklet is always advertized on their front web page. Here is the quote:
“The founding narrative of the State of Israel links the modern-day Jews’ claim to the land of Israel/Palestine to their direct genealogical descent from the ancient Israelites. Recent anthropological scholarship shows that this widespread belief is very likely a myth, not historical fact. Shlomo Sand an expert on European history at the university of Tel Aviv, and author of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? posits that the Jews were never exiled en masse from the Holy Land and that many European Jewish populations converted to the faith centuries later. Thus, he argues, many of today’s Israelis who emigrated from Europe after World War II have little or no genealogical connection to the ancient land of Israel.”

Sand has been discredited by other historians, but the point here is that all three of these entities, two persons and a PC (U.S.A.) organization have used this anti-Semitic idea to discredit Israel and in doing so they are actually attacking the Jewish community. As I stated above they are tearing away the Jewish identity and disconnecting them from their sacred text.

To listen to any information Sizer, Rehab or IPMN provide concerning the BDS movement is foolish. The IPMN will attend the next P C (U.S.A.) General Assembly in Detroit, they will fill the committee room that debates the Middle East issues. And they will do this with their preconceived idea that the European Jews that escaped Hitler and made a new home in Israel have no connection to that land or its ancient people. They will not tell the commissioners that is what they believe but it is written in their material. And it is one of their reasons for pushing divestment overtures.

There is a better way. Ignore Stephen Sizer, ignore Mitri Rehab, ignore the IPMN. Recognize the history of the Jews and their sacred text. Care for both the Palestinians and the Israelis—love them as peoples and bless them with positive investment and hopefully with peace.

Picture Wikipedia Commons

Monday, November 18, 2013

Assistant Stated Clerk, Laurie Griffith's response to my question about the Tecumseh AC Commission Report

Toward the end of October I posted an article, The Polity Conference, the Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report & a sign, about the handout given out at the Polity Conference for leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I wrote this:

"One of the workshops was entitled “Workshop A4 - Dismissing Congregations to a Reformed Denomination - A Panel Discussion” It was led by Laurie Griffith, Manager of Judicial Process and Social Witness of the Office of the General Assembly. One of the handouts was The Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report from the Maumee Valley Presbytery.

The report is written by those who participated in an AC which oversaw the dismissal of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, Michigan. The outcome of that process was that the larger body of First Presbyterian was required to leave without the church property. While there are always problems and sin on all sides in such disputes, I found the report troubling and wondered why this particular report was used for such a workshop. The implications are many, and for that reason I have written an e-mail to Ms. Griffith asking her why the paper was used, and will report on her answer if I receive one."
 I sent this e-mail:

"Laurie Griffith

Manager of Judicial Process And Social Witness
Office of the General Assembly

 Dear Ms. Griffith,

 I have read the two handouts for the panel discussion/workshop you facilitated for the Presbyterian Polity Conference, "Workshop A4 - Dismissing Congregations to a Reformed Denomination - A Panel Discussion.' I am interested in the second handout "Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report," and am wondering why that was chosen as a handout and how it was used. Was it considered a good model?  I am very interested in the report because it reminds me of how the case for my former church Fremont Presbyterian in Sacramento was first approached. (I now attend Journey Church in Folsom, a PCUSA church.) The approach to Fremont was changed and they are now EPC with a small PCUSA church nested in their campus.

 I write about many Presbyterian issues on my blog Naming the Grace and will be writing about the handout; because of that I hope you can provide me with relevant information.

 Sincerely in Christ Jesus,

Viola Larson

Ruling Elder, Sacramento"

I waited a week and then once again wrote to Griffith. She returned my e-mail stating she had not seen my earlier e-mail, and asked if I could resend it. I did so providing her with a link to my article. I waited until today, November the 18th, and once again e-mailed her. Griffith has finally answered and here is her e-mail.

“Hello Viola,

 This was a conversation, not a how-to workshop,  among persons from Presbyteries that are or have been discerning their mission regarding whether or not to dismiss a congregation to another reformed denomination.  The conversation was begun by short presentations from three presbyteries in different stages of their discernment with particular congregations.   This was an example of a presbytery that had concluded a discernment of mission that resulted in a dismissal.   

 Thank you for your interest in the process that presbyteries take when discerning their mission for organizing, merging, dividing, dissolving or dismissing congregations.

 Here are the guiding principles around this process as found within the Book of Order the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

 A Presbytery has the power to establish plans and rules for the worship, mission, government and discipline of the church and to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity and progress of the church under the will of Christ.  G-3.0102.   Mission determines the forms and structures needed for the church to do its work.  Administration is the process by which a council implements its decisions.  Administration enables the church to give effective witness in the world to God’s new creation in Jesus Christ and strengthens the church’s witness to the mission of the triune god. G-3.0106. A presbytery has the responsibility to coordinate, guide, encourage, support, and resource the work of its congregations for the most effective witness to the broader community.  In order to accomplish this responsibility, the presbytery has authority to a. develop strategy for the mission of the church in its district; b. control the location of new congregations and of congregations desiring to move as well as to divide, dismiss, or dissolve congregations in consultation with their members.  G-3.0303, G-3.0303a and b.

 I hope that this is helpful to you.

 Laurie Griffith

Assistant Stated Clerk

Coordinator of Judicial Process and Social Witness

Office of the General Assembly

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

100 Witherspoon Street

Louisville, KY 40205

First, I will have to confess, I did not know that Laurie Griffith was the Assistant Stated Clerk. In a sense, Griffith, without stating it, has given me a yes to my question, “Was it considered a good model?” because if this was an example of a presbytery that had reached the end of the dismissal process it would be a model—the only model described in a handout. I do not believe that the Office of the Stated Clerk is working toward peace among Christians. If anyone was a part of the process and would care to expand and/or contradict my statement I would be happy to hear from them in the comment section.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The ACSWP, physician-assisted suicide, and leaving the individual to their own value system

The Presbyterian News Service in their article, ACSWP continues work on reports to GA 221, reported that the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), was preparing, among other reports, a paper on “End of Life” issues for the P C (U.S.A.)'s General Assembly. Some of the reports were mandated by previous GAs, however, the “End of Life” paper was not a mandate but a paper the committee felt was necessary.

As PNS reported, Christian Iosso, coordinator of ACSWP, stated that, “The church has said nothing since physician-assisted suicide was legalized by several states and countries.” So this will undoubtedly address that troubling issue. PNS also reported that, “ACSWP member Gloria Albrecht of Detroit, said the drafting team “is looking for a pastoral, not academic, paper because pastors and families are dealing with this every day. Our goal is to give counsel about what’s at stake and to help people faced with these excruciating personal issues make informed decisions based on their values systems.” (Italics mine)

Although it is important for people to be aware of all the facts surrounding end of life decisions, biblically, leaders in the church must point God's people to Scripture rather than letting them flounder in their own value systems. Giving out factual information about physician-assisted suicide, (which could possibly be nonfactual given the values of today’s postmodern society) and then turning away as God's people function within their own private value systems is reminiscent of ancient Israel when she ignored God's laws.

Two times in the book of Judges the text clarifies the atrocities committed by the people with the words, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The first of these verses (17:6) comes in the midst of a tale of apostate Israelites creating their own god, their own religious system and their own religious leaders; the story contains theft and murder. The second text, (21:25), comes at the end of a long sordid tale of rape and inter-tribal war But there is a King over the church, the Lord has given the word to his people, therefore no one has the right to live by their own personal standards, which no matter how virtuous, in the end, will undoubtedly evolve into sin.

Another Old Testament text, among many, reverses the people's movement toward greater and greater sin. In 2 Chronicles one of the good kings of Judah, Jehoshaphat, send both levites and kingdom officials to teach the people from the book of the law. “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.” Always it is the leadership of the people of God proclaiming God's word that shapes and molds their lives. Without God's word they are forsaken and left to their own brokenness.

The truth is physician-assisted suicide includes two people—maybe more—the person who kills herself and the other who assists in the killing. So in reality there is the one who commits suicide (who truly needs help but not help to die) and the one who helps—the killer. The commandment is simple, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

There are, of course, other end of life issues that are important, but physician-assisted suicide trumps all because without its rejection society slides deeper into a dark maze as it has in the Netherlands and Belgium. [1] (There disabled babies who have no say can be killed.) When the church becomes infected because individual human centered values are honored over the word of God it is a dark world indeed.

The members of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy are preparing to open one more ghastly door in all that troubles the PC (U.S.A.).

[1] See New European coalition formed to fight euthanasia laws

picture by Penny Juncker

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The "Ordination Guidelines" of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians: changed? Update

On November 9th, 2011, I wrote about the Covenant Network of Presbyterian's new ordination guidelines in a posting, “The Covenant Network: disqualifying orthodox candidates.” I followed that posting with an analysis of the Guidelines: “Contradictions aplenty: an analysis of the Covenant Network's “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.” I was concerned about many problems with the document but basically it was this paragraph that was the biggest concern:

“ … a person who wishes to engage in ordered ministry must be prepared to carry out the functions of office. General Assembly has affirmed that an examining body “cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).”28 Consistent with this, a series of judicial cases has made clear that a presbytery may not ordain or install someone who declares that he will not participate in the ordination of women.29 Indeed, it is fundamental to our polity that the responsibility for assessing the fitness of officers-elect is vested in councils (sessions and presbyteries), not in individuals. Accordingly, the pastor who officiates at an ordination thereby performs a ministerial act that is required by the Constitution (not a discretionary one), and the act of officiating indicates neither approval nor disapproval of the congregation’s choice of leaders and council’s approval of them.30 This point pertains primarily to pastors, who must officiate at child baptisms, ordination and installation of church leaders, and the like. While candidates who cannot agree to perform such functions in conformity with Presbyterian polity may be fine Christians, they may not be ordained or installed in the PC(USA).” [1]

I believed that the Covenant Network felt they had found a way (or a polity) to eventually purge the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of all of its orthodox members since few would stay if they knew that other orthodox members would not be ordained if they felt they must refuse, on scriptural grounds, to ordain practicing homosexuals or those who were committing fornication. Anyone who will not ordain a woman cannot be ordained in the PC (U.S.A.), and because most of the Guidelines were focused on the right of practicing homosexuals to be ordained the paragraph above pointed to those who could not do so.

Ever since writing both of the postings I have asked, either on the CN's site, or by e-mail, how they could press for unity and still have their guidelines. I have not received an answer until today. I posted the usual question on the comment section of Tricia Dykers Koenig's article, “General Assembly Preview.” I once again quoted the paragraph having stated, “I have asked this question many times without receiving an answer, and once again you are speaking about concern for the unity of the church. How can you speak of unity with this in your guidelines.” My comment is still awaiting moderation but today I got an e-mail from Koenig:


I assure you that your assumption is incorrect. 

Recognizing that the wording that appeared briefly in the Guidelines contributed to misunderstanding of our commitments, we changed it long ago:

Tricia Dykers Koenig”

This is the new paragraph:

“ … a person who wishes to engage in ordered ministry must be prepared to carry out the functions of office. General Assembly has affirmed that an examining body “cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).” 28 Consistent with this, a series of judicial cases has made clear that a presbytery may not ordain or install someone who declares that he will not participate in the ordination of women.29 Indeed, it is fundamental to our polity that the responsibility for assessing the fitness of officers-elect is vested in councils (sessions and presbyteries), not in individuals. Accordingly, the pastor who officiates at an ordination thereby performs a ministerial act that is required by the Constitution (not a discretionary one), and the act of officiating indicates neither approval nor disapproval of the congregation’s choice of leaders and council’s approval of them. 30 This point pertains primarily to pastors, who must officiate at child baptisms, ordination and installation of church leaders, and the like, and are not permitted to substitute their own judgment for that of the council.”

The difference is that the last sentence, “While candidates who cannot agree to perform such functions in conformity with Presbyterian polity may be fine Christians, they may not be ordained or installed in the PC(USA).” has been removed. The guidelines have not really changed, instead a sarcastic sentence has been removed.

Update: A friend has pointed out that I missed the addition to the last sentence "are not permitted to substitute their own judgment for that of the council" which definitely "retains the prohibition."

[1] The numbers in the quote are for footnotes in the original paper.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brian Ellison: a reason for same gender marriage with no connection to Scripture

Brian D. Ellison, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Covenant Network, in his sermon, Marriage Matters ... Why?, at the Network's “Marriage Matters Conference” uses as his text, 1 Corinthians 7-11, 25-38. Ellison uses Scripture in a totally unacceptable way as he make his case for same sex marriage. He first caricatures the author and then the text. He then lifts up one truth about the text; the only part which post-modern progressives would find acceptable. Ellison then uses the text, not as the word of God but as a model of how to deal with new ideas arising in a culture. And finally he pulls out a reason for same gender marriage that has no connection to Scripture or confession.

Rather sarcastically, calling Paul a romantic, and then putting several verses into bumper sticker type phrases, Ellison subjects the word to himself rather than subjecting himself to the word. He then pulls out the one thing he and his listeners can bear to hear. That is, Paul's egalitarianism in his words about marriage. Ellison does not elaborate but I will.

Neither the wife nor the husband are to deprive the other of sex which scripture considers an honorable part of marriage. Both husbands and wives must understand that through their faith and commitment to their marriage, their unbelieving spouse may come to know Christ. Both husband and wife will experience the tension that occurs between pleasing their spouse and pleasing the Lord.

Next Ellison uses the text as a model for how the church in the 21st century should carve out new ethics to meet a new cultural viewpoint. Ellison states:
“And it might also be easy to let our views on same-sex marriage overpower our honest reading of this text and the context it addressed: Opponents citing these gender-specific words as though Paul were writing a position paper for a 21st-century debate, have missed the mark. But so, too, have supporters who in laughing off the apostle as hopelessly out of touch with reality might forget that the faith community of Corinth—like another faith community we know—was one where sexual ethics and family arrangements were but one battleground in a rapidly evolving new world, where the church had no choice but to make up its answers on the fly because the questions were changing so fast. (italics mine)
Biblical authority, for Ellison, resides only in modeling not in the commandment of the word. God's commands in this particular chapter, when speaking of marriage, always emphasis the husband and the wife. These are not generalized statements that allow 'same sex couple' to be substituted for husband and wife. And in fact, although there was same sex marriage in the ancient world, God's word does not recognize such coupling as marriage but rather as sin. Therefore, as a matter of obedience to God's word one cannot define husband and wife in any other way than as man and woman.

Finally Ellison sees the main reason for marriage (or singleness) or same gender coupling to be a means to glorify God. Referencing The Westminster Shorter Catechism, He writes:
"Sisters and brothers, why does marriage matter? What is marriage for? There can be but one answer: To glorify God.
The reason we marry is to glorify God. And that may also be the reason we don’t.
The reason we open the doors of marriage to all to enjoy its blessings is to glorify God, not daring to keep any away from what God might do—will do. (italics author's)"
 But the question must be asked, “How can disobedience to God's word glorify God?” In the case of same gender sex, only the repentance of the sinner and the forgiveness of God will glorify God. Ellison has so ignored the biblical text that he finds it easy to simply slip any progressive viewpoint into the wording whether it is there or not. He cares so little for the integrity of the text that his sermon has no integrity.

Still, how is the text used with integrity? First one understands the importance of marriage as it is explained here. Leon Morris in his Tyndale Commentary on I Corinthians stresses that Paul is not giving recommendations but rather a commandment. And the text definitely speaks not only to Paul's 1st century audience but also to us in the 21st century as we face so much temptation:
"The general rule is that people should be married and the expressions his own wife and her own husband point to monogamy. Paul is agreeing that celibacy is good, but he is also pointing out that temptation abounded: there is so much immorality (the word is plural, pointing to many acts.) In the face of such temptation each should be married. Should have is an imperative, a command, not a permission. There will be exceptions (v.7), but Paul leaves no doubt as to what is normal. Since fornication was so common at Corinth it was hard for the unmarried to remain chaste and hard for them to persuade others that they were, in fact, chaste." (Italics author's)
Morris goes on to point out that this is not Paul's “only reason” for marriage. He is simply addressing a need as Christians live in an unregenerate immoral community. And there is absolutely nothing in the text that allows for same gender marriage which would be a part of the unregenerate community's immorality. 

One can and should glorify God both in singleness and marriage, but the glorifying occurs as one is directed by the word of God to the right knowledge and relationship with God. The word of God gives humanity both the right knowledge of God and how to enjoy and glorify Him. (see the first part of the Shorter Catechism-7.001 -7.003) There is no confession or biblical text that suggests that either singleness or marriage glorifies God. Rather we glorify God when we enjoy him, love him and obey him. And this is only accomplished through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Picture by David Larson

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sharon Youngs' "A More Perfect Union:" My thoughts

Sharon K. Youngs speaking at the Presbyterian Covenant Network's Conference, Marriage Matters, focused on the story of Ruth and Naomi. In her speech, “A More Perfect Union,” Youngs told their story adding some extra details that could be considered clever, fun and silly. But, there is a problem with the story told by Youngs; not only does Boaz get short shrifted the Lord is also missing in the details. Beyond that is the hinted assertion that Ruth and Naomi are just the right image of marriage, And of course, sexuality is missing from this picture of marriage. So everything is messed up.

Friendship between two women loses its beauty as it is twisted to picture something else. The man and woman relationship seen by the various meetings of Boaz and Ruth is horribly distorted. She is the woman with integrity who takes care of her mother-in-law and claims the God of Israel as her own; he is the man who provides protection and sustenance to both Ruth and Naomi and in the end images the great Redeemer to come. And God's gift of a child to heal the hurt of past years is turned, somehow, into a gift by Ruth to Naomi.

Leon Morris in his part of the Tyndale Commentary on Judges & Ruth offers a much clearer picture of the book of Ruth. After pointing out the various suggestions for themes of the book, and evaluating them, he writes:
It is better to see it as a tale told because it is true and because it shows something of the relationship between God and man. There is a good deal to be said for the view that the key verse is 2:12, 'The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust' (AV). That is what the book is about. It is not without its interest that the initiative is with Ruth in chapter 2, with Naomi in chapter 3 and with Boaz in chapter 4. None of them can be said to be the person about whom the book is written. But the implication throughout is that God is watching over His people, and that He brings to pass what is good. The book is a book about God. He rules over all and brings blessing to those who trust Him.

As far as sexuality goes, as in the movie “Mostly Martha” where one of the most sensual scenes found in any movie, is an attempt to guess the ingredients in a pan of soup with her eyes covered, the scene of Ruth lying at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his mantle, is both romantic and sensual. That scene implies and points to the eventual sexual relationship they will experience in marriage. Leaving out this part of the story aids Youngs in telling the tale of marriage, in reference to same sex, as a possibility, but that is not a truthful narrative. 

And Youngs, who, probably unintentionally, makes a mockery of both marriage and friendship, with her speech, misses so completely a beautiful picture of the redeeming God that I have alluded to above. The author of the commentary on Ruth quotes G A F. Knight who asks this question about the author of Ruth as he writes of Boaz and his actions as a redeemer kinsman:

Did he realize that if a mere man, a creature of God, could behave in the manner described, and had indeed by his action exhibited the power to redeem an outcast and bring her into fellowship with the living God, than two things could be said of the Creator of Boaz? - (1) God must feel at least as compassionate towards all the Ruths of Moab and of Babylon and of every other land as his creature Boaz felt towards Ruth: (2) God must actually be a God of redemption, with the desire and the power to redeem all outcasts into fellowship with himself.”

In looking at the book of Ruth and pushing toward same gender marriage Youngs has missed two faith themes found in the book, the sovereignty of God and the redeeming purposes of God. Both marriage and singleness must, for the Christian, be nestled within those two themes. From this follows two importance aspects of the Christian walk, both obedience and trust. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Amy Plantinga Pauw's "It's Time:" my thoughts

Having read Amy Plantinga Pauw's thoughts about marriage in her sermon given at the Covenant Network Conference, Marriage Matters, I was amazed at some of the scenarios she set up because they had little to do with sexuality or even marriage in general. Little to do with Scripture either. But, perhaps I could put that a different way, the scenarios Pauw sets up do a better job of affirming same gender friendships than affirming same gender marriage.

Having quickly dismissed the Old Testament views of marriage, we can't accept them, because they have to do with polygamy, brothers marrying their dead brother's wives and hierarchical roles in marriage, Pauw turns to the New Testament and finds little help there either.

She brings out several points, Jesus wasn't married and created a community which had nothing to do with marriage. Jesus called people away from their families as an act of following him. Marriage is not permanent; it does not belong to the kingdom of God but to the earthly realm. This is the way she begins: “At the center of the gospels is Jesus, an unmarried man creating around himself an alternative to the traditional household: an itinerant group of men and women mostly unrelated to each other by blood or marriage, called away from their own households to follow him.”

The wording is loaded here. Pauw is wrong, Jesus was not creating “an alternative to the traditional household.” The traditional household as well as the single person, who were generally included in the household, were meant to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was simply asking individuals and groups to put him first. Jesus has priority in all things.

And Jesus did have some things to say about marriage and isn't that what the conversation is about—marriage. Jesus never stated that people should not marry, nor did he affirm same sex marriage. But, in his discussion of divorce he, by going back to the beginning, affirmed several things. He affirmed that the original marriage was between a man and a woman. He affirmed that the husband would leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. He, and this is important, affirmed that it was God who joined a man and a woman together.

Pauw asks who is a model for marriage in the NT. Perhaps we should see Priscilla and Aquila as a model of Christian marriage. They worked together making tents; they also taught together. And they both risked their lives for the sake of Paul and the gospel. There is no doubt, Jesus Christ came first in their marriage.

And then Pauw asks some interesting questions that I believe highlights a problem that the LGBTQ community has created. She states:

“The principle of complementarity sees a man and a woman as two halves of a whole. Some theologians have even read Gen. 1:27 that way. When Genesis says that God created all humankind in God’s image, and created them male and female, some theologians have concluded that only male and female together are in the image of God. Man without woman or woman without man are incomplete images of God. It is a short step to concluding that the bond of heterosexual marriage is the clearest image of what it looks like to be created in God’s image. Does this mean that people who for whatever reason are not part of a heterosexual couple–Jesus for example–are somehow less in God’s image?”

It is a shame that the LGBTQ community has so twisted the biblical understanding of friendship in general, which includes same gender friendship, friendship between a man and a woman as well as community friendship, that they must, even negatively, apply an erotic connotation to all relationships. The emphasis in the complementary, as I understand it, has to do with the complementary of being, not just with sexual organs. The single person in her friendships and in her community is modeling the image of God in humanity. How could it be any other way when we worship a triune God.

In fact, I am surprised that although Pauw tries to say that the story of a man and a woman being joined in Genesis is a only a “foundational instance” and not a “limiting instance” she does not see complementarity and the image of God in the same way. (And I want to be quick here to say that I see the principle of the complementarity in marriage simply meaning that each, husband and wife, have their gifts that they offer to each as well as to their children, I do not see it as hierarchical relationship. But it is a marriage of difference and not of sameness. The “other” is healthily honored and welcomed in marriage. )

And then I want to come to that part of Pauw's sermon where she speaks of marriage as fruitful and suggests that there are other ways of being fruitful then procreation. That is true, but all that she accomplishes with this is to gird up my argument that friendships in their fruitfulness display the image of God in our humanity and do not call for sexual union. Pauw has not made a case for same gender marriage. She has made a case for Christian friendship.

And I believe that if Pauw had really attended to Scripture and had talked about marriage as sexual union she could not have found any words to fulfill her task. It matters not whether marriage is a covenant or an ordinance one cannot leave out that part which is sexual and therein lies the sin. Scripture, both the NT and the OT, prohibits a woman having sexual relationships with a woman or a man with a man. The authority of Scripture still stands.

Toward the end of her sermon Pauw quotes from Bonhoeffer's letter to his fiance Maria, “Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth.” She uses the quote to assure the listener that all kinds of marriages can say yes to God's earth. But this is not so. And Bonhoeffer would have none of it. He would love Pauw in her mistaken theology; he would love the homosexual that she is advocating for; but he would confess the sins of our denomination as he confessed the sins of the church of Germany. [1] Unrepentant sin will not cause us to flourish but rather to whither and stand in sorrow before our Savior. We say yes to God's earth by obedience and trust in Jesus Christ.

[1] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Unity and the coming General Assembly of the (PC (U.S.A.)

"We have tolerated the teachings of Balak, of liberalism that praises the goodness and freedom of men and women while minimizing the honor of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze." (Pastor Paul Schneider first Confessing church martyr)

The next Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly is now looming before us in the summer of 2014. Remembering attempts by some in leadership at the last GA to move the denomination toward a vote of yes for same gender marriage with overt actions such as draping the liturgical dancers, communion table and cross in rainbow colors and inviting a gay man to be the main speaker on the day of voting gives one little hope for the future GA. And yet the cry for unity and warning against schism continues to be put forward by many who are participating in the discussions on same gender marriage. And unity is a call that all faithful Christians must embrace—but what kind of unity? What is its source?

In the recently published book, Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich, edited by Dean G. Stroud, one finds two sermons by Paul Schneider the first Confessing pastor to die in a concentration camp. In one of the sermons I found the paradox that too often hovers over the idea of Christian unity. One must sort through a maze of insistence that despite differences that involve heresy and gross immorality there must be unity. That is coupled with the knowledge by most who love Jesus and hold to the authority of his Scripture that they must be in unity. Schneider in his sermon, “Christ crossing the stormy lake and Jesus' Glory,” using the text of Luke 8:22-25 and Matthew 14:22-32, while focused on Jesus' care for his church reaches deeply into the paradox that too often strangles the postmodern church.

There is a detail about Schneider that feeds into his sermon. Schneider began ministry as a liberal but, somewhat like Bonhoeffer, after ministering to those living in poverty and noting their deep faith in Jesus Christ he laid aside his liberalism. Christ and Scripture became his reality and shaped his ministry.

Another important detail is about the immorality troubling the church during the Nazi era. Racism was the dominating theme, which mostly manifested itself as anti-Semitism. There was a sexual immorality also which encouraged German women to have sexual relationships, with or without marriage, with German men in order to bolster the supposed Aryan population. This was coupled with an effort to get rid of those people considered “unworthy of life,” such as the mentally ill or the disabled. But all of this immorality was bolstered by a paganism that insisted on a different revelation than that given by God in Jesus Christ and the written word. The German Christians were implicit in the idea of two revelations; one concerning Jesus Christ and one that saw Hitler and national socialism as a revelation given by God.

The bitter fight, the church struggle, was over the two revelations. The church that upheld a revelation of nature, blood and soil, would also uphold all of the other immoralities. Any church organization or denomination that upholds a new revelation other than that which has been given by God through Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture will in the end, using their heresy, uphold various kinds of immorality. In mainline church culture today, among those who proclaim new revelation, the immoralities include advocacy for the killing of unborn babies (those unworthy of life?), greed and advocacy for sexual immorality. In some cases anti-Semitism has also raised its ugly head.

In that place where the German Christians were calling for unity in the nation and the church, Schneider stated:

“Insofar as they place “blood and race” alongside of the Word of God as authentic sources of revelation, alongside the will of God revealed alone in the words of Scripture, alongside Jesus as the only mediator between God and men, they, in truth, fall away from the living God and his living Christ. In our church a blazing fire has broken out over these matters, and there can be no peace until those who have betrayed the pure teaching and those wolves who have come into the sheepfold in sheep's clothing have vacated their bishop's chairs and their seats as our representatives—or at least until the Confessing Christians have abandoned this falsified church of Christ.
Schneider, in his sermon gives a reason for the imploding German Church. Because of his background he was very aware of the problems with liberal theology in Germany. And he blames the whole church, as did Bonhoeffer, for what happened:
“All of this has not come upon us out of nowhere, nor has it come upon us overnight and without our own guilt. Disorder and lack of church discipline have been widespread now for a long time in the Evangelical Church. There is no longer a fence between saints and pagans who adamantly want nothing whatever to do with God's word and who want to hear nothing at all of God. We have tolerated the teachings of Balak, of liberalism that praises the goodness and freedom of men and women while minimizing the honor of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze. We do not despise enough the deeds of the Nicolaitans of which the letters to the churches of Revelation warn us, these who mock morality, these who are mean and tight fisted, these who scorn Sundays and who go to Holy Communion as obvious sinners who refuse to repent. ..”
 Schneider then goes on to encourage the church with the care of the Lord. He uses the text of Jesus in the boat asleep and speaks of how Jesus calms the storm. (I have written about that part of the sermon before I had access to the whole sermon in, The little ship of Christ’s church is sailing in a storm.” Lessons from the book, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald.”) But as I stated above, Schneider ends with a sweet call to unity. It is nestled in the church's relationship to her Lord.

That is our great hope and joy [that the Lord 'guides the little boat of his church, the little boat of your Christian life.']. Shouldn't we squeeze closer together in the boat of Christ's church, even closer than we are right now in these pews in a unity of faith of our hearts? … 'Oh Jesus hear our pleas, turn to dust the hordes of the foe, let the world behold it—with us is indeed our God. Guide your children always toward the safe harbor, and let your people in unity rejoice in eternal peace!' Amen”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage: A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin Ellison- a review- reposted

Because I have been reading the tweets coming from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Covenant Network's Conference entitled "Marriage Matters" and have seen the book Same-Sex Marriage: a Christian Ethical Analysis" by Marvin M. Ellison mentioned as a reference book I am reposting this review of Ellison's book:

Same-Sex Marriage: A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin Ellison- a review

The apple in the Presbyterian garden is already partially eaten; when the whole apple is consumed marriage will not be marriage and the denomination will certainly not be Christian. More Light Presbyterian’s recently touted author Marvin M. Ellison and his book Same-Sex Marriage: a Christian Ethical Analysis in their posting “Marriage Equality Honors the Humanity of All.” MLP offers the book on their 220 General Assembly resource page. The book calls for changes that will ‘decenter’ marriage allowing for many different types of relationships to share the central position. In fact, no marriage, a plurality of marriage partners and marriage moved from the constraints of civil government are all options lifted up in the book. [1]

Ellison a Christian ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary, an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a gay man does not approach the subject of marriage from the biblical text. He does not use the word of God at all. Rather he looks at marriage from what he calls a justice lens and from the view of feminist liberation theology. Because of his starting point his assumptions are simple and his solutions are essentially pagan. That is, his view of the ideal society as far as sexual relationships are concerned is not about Christ and the Church but about mutual pleasure and humanistic ideals of freedom shackled simply to a poorly defined view of justice.

Ellison’s assumptions include his belief that society constructs the definition of marriage. Another is that the church promotes an understanding that sex is not good, and for this he uses the tired feminist assessment that, “… sex-negativity is pervasive in Western culture, largely influenced by patriarchal Christianity’s discomfort with body, women, and nature.” Ellison’s most overused assumption is that, “Normative heterosexuality as culturally scripted requires male dominance and female subordination.” (53)

Ellison calls for a justice that is based on knowing the experiences of others. Using Karen Lebacqz’s “historical, experimental” approach he posits the LGBT community as those who experience “political disenfranchisement,” “economic disadvantage, and cultural marginality.” And then Ellison explains that what is at “the heart of every justice struggle is conflict over how to interpret the world and whose authority counts in that naming.” (48) In this he is right.

The great battle in the church is over the authority of the word of God. Ellison keeps his arguments from even touching the text of the Bible. Even when explaining the objections of the “religious right” in the chapter, “Marriage Traditionalist” he does not mention their objections that are based on Biblical teaching. He instead keeps pushing the theme that men are afraid they will lose their right to dominate women. In the chapter, “Contested Christian Teaching” he once again ignores the Bible and goes so far as to condemn the Church because, “no Christian saints are revered for attaining the vision of God through disciplined erotic refinement.” (133)

While Ellison does allow those in the LGBT community who advocate for marriage and those who advocate for no marriage to speak, he critiques their thoughts suggesting that at this time marriage rights are probably needed in order to bring LGBT people out of their marginalization. However, in his final conclusions he offers multiple choices with the thought that diversity is important for justice to be real. Calling this justice love he writes of the four things needed for justice love or a reformulation of Christian sexual ethics:

"1. A decentering of marriage as the “exclusive mode of human intimacy.”

2. “A plurality of benign sexualities should be affirmed.”

3. “... mutual pleasure should be seen as a morally worthy pursuit within intimate relationships.” This is based on the feminist idea that there is no mutual pleasure in heterosexual marriage.

4. “... sex also should be decentered as the defining criterion for partnerships, marriage, and families of any sort.” [While this last one may sound right what it does is totally devalue marriage as the only place where sexual union is permitted between a man and a woman. It is not unlike the first idea.]"

In the chapter “Queer Notions,” Ellison speaks of what he feels is the relevant image of God for the issues he is writing about. Although he writes that there are other acceptable versions of God, Ellison believes that the God who is both unmarried and promiscuous is ideal for the time. He writes:
The image of God as unmarried, promiscuous lover, while not the only God image to retain, has relevance in our context as a reminder not to invest overly in marriage as an identity-defining category. From a progressive Christian perspective, far less attention should be given to culturally prescribed identities and far more to socially liberatory practices. What matters most ethically, religiously is not who or what we are, but the quality of our actions toward self and others. (167)
Ellison believes he is standing against injustice; however, he is actually standing against biblical justice. His ethics is grounded not in God but in human desires which are often in conflict with God’s demands. When one looks at Old Testament pronouncements against injustice they not only call for care of the needy and oppressed they also call for a right relationship with God.

Micah 6: 8 if properly contextualized can be placed among a people who not only have rejected kindness and justice but have also worshiped strange gods giving themselves over to a sexualized worship. In chapter six among all the sins God accuses the people of is this, “The statues of Omri and all the works of the house of Ahab are observed; and in their devices you walk.” And this is true of almost every biblical pronouncement against injustice: false gods, sexual worship on the high places and disregard for the needy. Biblical justice includes a sexual union that is confined to a man and woman in marriage.

Moreover, the Christian’s vision of God occurs, not because of any disciplined erotic refinement, but because of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ the living word and the word of God written. The Christian has experienced the kindness, righteousness and justice of God because of the cross. Ellison and those who follow his ethics, standing on the sand of human based morality, will eventually fall before the storms of cultural relativism. Without the biblical text, without the justice of the cross, without the Lord of the cross we dare not talk of justice or love. We are only safe and in true community in the costly grace of Christ.

[1] Ellison does argue rightly that the vulnerable do need civil protection in sexual relationships, but he fails to understand that when the whole concept of marriage is cut loose from its Judeo-Christian heritage—its sacred texts—all  are vulnerable and in need of protection