In her book, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard compares writing to mining. When we write, she says, our words are a miner’s pick. Our words probe into our thinking, and we follow where they lead. Sometimes our words lead us to a dead end, other times our words lead us to new territory, and we discover the real subject of our thoughts and find ourselves mining something completely different than what we set out for. The latter is what happened in my writing this post. This post was originally inspired by a brief online conversation I had with Bruce Reyes-Chow via comments made on Chris’s post about Bruce. If you don’t know him, Bruce is one of four PC(USA) pastors/elders who are standing for moderator of our General Assembly. I was originally going to write a post about stereotypical categories (like ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’) and how Bruce doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Then all of a sudden I found myself writing about something completely different, and I found myself coming to conclusions I hadn’t come to before. So all that being said, here are some of my thoughts about the PC(USA)’s decades-long debate about homosexuality.
First, a parable: Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting at a poker table with three others to play a game of five card stud. The cards have been dealt, and being the shrewd, methodical poker player that you are, you look at your cards slowly, one at a time. First you see a ten of diamonds, then a Jack of diamonds… then the Queen of diamonds… your interest is perked. You uncover your next card and see that it’s a King of diamonds. Your heart begins to race. Then you look at your fifth card. Yep. It’s the Ace of diamonds. Somehow, you’ve managed to be dealt a royal flush, the greatest poker hand you can possibly have. You get excited knowing that you’re going to win the hand, and you begin to strategize your betting, so that your opponents don’t catch on. The person across from you is about to begin the betting. He says, “Got any threes?” And the person to your right says, “No. Go fish.” Your heart sinks, and you grow angry. You thought you had the perfect hand, and you did… if you were playing the right game. To your dismay, the game is Go Fish, and your royal flush suddenly has no value to the rest of the table.
Such is the problem, I would argue, with the homosexuality debate in the PC(USA) (and probably in most other mainline protestant denominations). The two sides are playing two completely different games. For example, those who support traditional ordination standards and consider homosexual practice a sin base their argument on about 4000+ years of Judeo-Christian tradition and on the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to Scripture, this side of the debate has a “royal flush.” The problem is those on the other side are playing a completely different game. Consider, for example, the remarks of Walter Wink, one of the leading scholars supporting ordination of homosexuals. In his article, entitled “Homosexuality and the Bible,” Wink says: “Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct.”
It’s greatly significant that one of the leaders in the debate on the pro-homosex side admits that the Bible consistently identifies homosexual behavior as sin. The issue then is not a matter of “what does the Bible say?,” but rather “should we listen?”. For those supporting ordination of homosexuals, they’re much more likely (from what I’ve seen) to begin their arguments by talking about the experience of homosexuals (or their families and friends) in the church. They’ll tell stories of those who have been hurt and jaded by the policies of the church, and will conclude that their argument is a ‘royal flush.’ Of course, those on the other side think otherwise.
The homosexuality debate, then, is iconic of a larger, even more important issue surrounding theological method and authority of Scripture (and authority of our own experience). As less scandalous (and frankly less interesting) as it is, I don’t think the church is going to solve the homosexuality debate until it first takes time to determine what game it is we’re playing; we need to discuss theological method. We need to discuss the authority of Scripture and the authority of our personal experience (and while we’re at it, the authority of church tradition, reason, and science). Until we do, I think we’ll just keep arguing our points not realizing that the other side is playing a completely different game.