Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why Barbara Wheeler is WRONG

Just received my copy of The Presbyterian Outlook in the mail. I was disappointed to read an article by Dr. Barbara Wheeler, Why Not Replace (or Retain) G-6.0106b? Wheeler is an ally to the cause of lgbtq justice in the church. She writes:
I still think that G-6.0106b must be removed. It is a blot on the Constitution. It was tortuously worded to create the appearance of fairness — the same standard for gay and straight officers — as cover for its discriminatory intent, the exclusion of gays and lesbians. It promotes misuse of the church’s great confessions of faith as catalogs of sins. By specifying only one kind of behavior that “demonstrates the Christian gospel in the church and the world” (G-6.0106a), it elevates the sexual dimensions of the Christian life over those that receive equal or greater emphasis in Scripture.
She has that right. Then she makes a 180 degree turn. Not this year, she says:
A yes-no vote on Amendment 08-B will not accomplish what remains to be done: reaching a theological consensus about norms for human sexual behavior.
It is hard to get a grasp on privilege. Here is a seminary president, a straight person, a well-meaning liberal, bright and articulate, who has been blessed with the privilege to earn the title, elder. I don't know if it is a matter of caving under pressure or fear of success, but it seems at the moment when significant change can happen, liberals get scared. They are scared of losing the institution. Scared that conservatives will leave. Scared that demands for justice do not sound nice.

It is offensive, frankly, after all the work that has gone into bringing people thus far, that a straight would have the temerity to say it's not time yet for you gay people to get your rights.

What is this about the need to reach "theological consensus about norms for sexual behavior?" Are we supposed to wait for justice until every Presbyterian realizes that discrimination is not what Jesus would do? Theological consensus never occurs prior to major change. Theology follows politics. It always has. We only think it happens before. Change comes from the hard work of politicking and voting. Justice is not granted. It is taken.

Did the church need to wait until no one was racist before working for civil rights? Did the Presbyterian Church reach "theological consensus" before ordaining women? No. People are still racist and sexist in the church. Those who wish to keep the status quo have no motivation for conversation unless they are pushed to change.

Dr. Wheeler writes:

The goal of full acceptance for LGBT persons in the church and wider society will be furthered only by searching Biblical study and loving theological conversation in which Presbyterians feel free to explore views different from those the majority now holds.
This is where Dr. Wheeler is fundamentally wrong. Obviously conversation about these matters is a good thing and it will help in some cases. But conversation is not enough. We are dealing with deep-seated issues that will not ever change for many people.

We do not live in a friendly world. We do not serve in a friendly church. Discrimination is ugly. It hurts. It is most insidious when it is within the church and covered over with theological language. There are large numbers of people in the church
who will not get it. Justice is not about waiting for them to get it before making needed changes.

However, there are more and more people who do get it. They get it because they have been forced to deal with it. There is never discernment, discussion, or chatting over tea and Cheetos unless we force the conversation.

This business about conversation and discernment and theological consensus before change is a stalling tactic. The only people who are for this are the conservatives who do not want change and straight liberals with privilege who only want change if it doesn't upset their apple cart.

The revised amendment may not pass. It will be disappointing if that happens. But we have barely begun the voting and the privileged liberals are already throwing in the towel. I believe it can happen.

Make the change. Vote yes on the new G-6.0106b and talk it up!!!


16 comments:

  1. I made an error in the original post. I thought Dr. Wheeler was a clergyperson. She is an elder in the PCUSA.

    This is from her bio on the Auburn Seminary website:

    "Barbara Wheeler has been president of Auburn Seminary for twenty-two years. She was one of the first women to be elected to such a position. She also serves as director of Auburn's Center for the Study of Theological Education, founded in 1991. Ms. Wheeler is recognized as an authority on theological education and consults widely with seminaries, denominations, and congregations concerned about the future of religious leadership and religious institutions. She is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an ordained elder in Peniel Presbyterian Church in Granville, NY, a member of the board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and a member of the Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Presbyterian Church."

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  3. John

    This doesn’t surprise me. Barbara Wheeler did the same thing when it came to the 2006 Israeli resolutions. She is more concerned with her inter-faith relationships than for Palestinian concerns. In this case it is probably her relationship with Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary.

    She writes: “The goal of full acceptance for LGBT persons in the church and wider society will be furthered only by searching Biblical study and loving theological conversation in which Presbyterians feel free to explore views different from those the majority now holds.” In the words of Col. Potter – Horse Hockey!

    Scripture study and loving theological (what is that?) conversation will not move this forward. There is precious little in scripture to support homosexual relationships. There is little in scripture to support the abolition of slavery or the full equality of men and women in church and society. Paul’s words that in Christ there are no male or female, Greek or Jew, no slave or free were eloquent. However these words were not intended to change the social constructions of his time.

    What changes all of this is the life, works and resurrection of Jesus. This trumps it all. Our consciences, moved by the Spirit, will no longer tolerate slavery, the subjugation of women (at least in this church) and soon no longer tolerate the discrimination against of GLBT folks.

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  4. "“The goal of full acceptance for LGBT persons in the church and wider society will be furthered only by searching Biblical study and loving theological conversation ..."

    I'm surprised that such an apparent neophyte is president of Auburn Seminary. I would have guessed that they would have hired someone who had been around for say, oh I don't know ... the last THIRTY years.

    We've had these studies and conversations. Class was dismissed about 20 years ago. It sounds like it's time for Dr. Wheeler to go back and get the Cliffs Notes to see what she missed.

    In the meantime the rest of us, those who have actually been paying attention, will continue to move forward. We'll leave a trail of bread crumbs so they can find their way home when they decide to get a move on.

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  5. John:

    This is excellent. Thank you for your thoughtful writing!

    What's strange about Wheeler's argument is how un-Biblical it is. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) I don't recall Jesus saying we had to wait for theological consensus before working for justice. Wheeler's argument appears to make an idol out of consensus -- which is troubling to say the least.

    For more ways to get involved in the movement to approve Amendment 08-B in the presbyteries please check out:
    http://www.mlp.org/answeringgodscall

    Again thanks for your thoughtful post!

    All the best,
    Toby Rogers
    Associate Director
    More Light Presbyterians

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  6. Toby,

    Thank you for that and for commenting! Congrats on your position at MLP. I am excited to have you there!!

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  7. John, thanks for this powerful and true post. Barbara Wheeler's piece is a disappointment. You nailed it: social change never comes by consensus. Rights are given (won) and over time people say, Hey, maybe we could vote for a black man to be president. Hey, that pastor is a lesbian... and she's a good pastor!

    Thank you again.

    Pax, C.

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  8. Hey, that pastor is a lesbian... and she's a good pastor!

    Amen!!

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  9. Once more, John, this is as clear and true as it gets. It is also true that there are many who support Barbara and follow her lead. Whatever her reasons, I, too, respect her right to her opinions. However, I believe her to be wrong, as well, and am personally offended by her position and those who support it. Hey, I still love them, but this is personal. This is not an issue that we can objectify and debate at arm's length from our desks or classrooms. This is about living breathing people who are marginalized and impacted daily by the position and teachings of this church. Teachings that add to the violence of exclusion in life-altering and threatening ways.

    At this point, intellectual arguments are over. This is about the heart and how we will take action based on its call. "No action" is not acceptable to me. I would rather have you tell me to leave than to even suggest that we should wait another day.

    Maybe, they are trying to tell us to go or lie our way through. On one hand we open the door and with the other we block the way. Is it any wonder so many people have a hard time understanding the role of the church and how it follows the teachings of Jesus?

    Peace,
    Ray

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  10. At this point, intellectual arguments are over. This is about the heart and how we will take action based on its call. "No action" is not acceptable to me. I would rather have you tell me to leave than to even suggest that we should wait another day.

    I fully agree. Thanks, Ray!

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  11. John Shuck writes..."Theological consensus never occurs prior to major change. Theology follows politics. It always has. We only think it happens before." As one who considers himself a theologian, solid biblical and reformed theology should preceed change. Theology should help shape culture. However, when it comes to the homosexual debate politics, not good theology, comes before change. This is wrong. Politics have shaped the homosexual enterprise in this country. This has given rise to bad theology and biblical exegesis that supports homosexuality. Generally speaking, people who support homosexuality are folks who have bought in to bad theology.

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  12. Thanks Jeff and welcome.

    What I am saying in my post is that our theology changes as our political situation changes. It always has. For a long time much of the church advocated on biblical and theological grounds for slavery and for men being masters of the house.

    When these things changed, the theological consensus changed.

    However, individuals who advocated for these changes advocated on theological grounds. But none of these changes required theological consensus. They simply needed enough people to make the change a reality. Then, the rest of the church adjusted its theology.

    Those, like myself, advocate for freedom and rights for lgbt people from theological conviction.

    I am simply arguing that the church doesn't need to wait until everyone is on board theologically.

    After the church experiences lgbt people in the pulpit and realize that it isn't so awful as they thought it would be will adjust their theology.

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  13. I have been involved as a lawyer and ordained elder in the PCUSA for more than a decade. My congregation is 30-40% LGBT. I first heard Barbara Wheeler speak (powerfully) at the 1999 Covenant Network Conference. I hope people will actually read her Outlook article. I also sit on Presbytery AC in a very conservative Presbytery that is after 30 years of battle, really starting to listen and the "tea and Cheetos" style of conversations (and Bible study) are what is working. Tabling the Amendment 08-B won't make any practical difference to my fellow LGBT congregants, but having a functioning healthy tolerant Presbytery would be a real change, and might open up greater arenas for service, not currently open. Think about this for the Ordained Elders . . . and it's not just about whether Pastors can be ordained (it's also about where they might be able to be called in the future . . . can they transfer membership from one Presbytery to another). Currently we CAN ordain now that the AIs are rescinded. We need to think long term, and not short term gratification. I would encourage to reconsider the "no action" option, and most especially in Presbyteries like mine where there is little to be gained by having my dear friends told once again that they are beyond Grace.

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  14. Michele,

    Thanks for your comment. I am not sure I understand the logic. No action means no. That is not better than yes and in my opinion, it is not better than an honest no.

    Barbara Wheeler made the argument and you seemed to echo it that a no vote will signal to the gays of the world that the PCUSA is discriminatory.

    Well, no kidding. It is. We serve an oppressive, discriminatory denomination. It would do us all well to admit it. And then to change it. You wrote:

    I would encourage to reconsider the "no action" option, and most especially in Presbyteries like mine where there is little to be gained by having my dear friends told once again that they are beyond Grace.

    So the solution is to cover it with phoniness--"we decided to abstain so our discrimination against you won't look like discrimination."

    Well, vote how you like, I am voting yes on the new B.

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  15. John S. characterized one of the main arguments for "no action" as "we decided to abstain so our discrimination against you won't look like discrimination."

    I have seldom heard a more succinctly put or devastatingly accurate argument against the duplicitous "no action" strategy, not to mention the stunningly flawed theology behind it.

    Though it was the Sabbath, Jesus saw a need, found the will, and acted immediately to heal the suffering. In doing so, he taught that we must the Barbara Wheelers of every age, who eternally argue while they support the cause in principle, the timing isn't quite right yet, or the concerns of those who might take offense must temporarily outweigh the immediate cries of those who would be healed.

    Regardless of the outcome of this particular round of voting, the lesson remains that we are commanded TO ACT always on behalf of the oppressed, even at the cost of offending their oppressors when necessary.

    Thank you, John, for your passion and your eloquence!

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