The Methodist powers-that-be have just voted against gay rights in their Church. No gay ministers, no gay marriage performed by any minister. People are in tears. Teeth are being gnashed and garments rent. A big step backward, they say. There are protests. Should the progressives go their own way? Will the Methodist Church split up?
Of course they should split up! Why isn’t that obvious? Listen, it all comes down to this:What should a Christian believe?
The most important divisions now in the Christian Churches are not between Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox, they’re between the “I believe Jesus was a supernatural Being and every word in the Bible is true” Christians and the “I believe Jesus was a supernatural Being but some of what is in the Bible can be ignored” Christians. The third important non-Christian group is “I don’t believe the Bible comes to us from a supernatural Being, but it may contain some valuable precepts.”
So if you’re in the first group, you take the Bible and you open it to the passages where homosexuality is condemned and voila! There it is. Argument over. If you’re a picker and chooser, stop complaining about losing your Church and go join the Unitarians who went through all this long ago and decided to welcome gays in their congregations, or maybe you should start your own church after editing out what you see as the nonsense in the Bible.
But what will be your gauge when you start to throw stuff out of the Bible? This is the same dilemma faced by reformist Muslims, or people of good will of any creed. Well, the gauge could be what you feel in your heart, but hearts are different and can be confused with your gut and gut feelings often are tied to the culture you grew up in or what book you read that day, so relying on that will result in thousands of little charismatics who, guru-like, gather followers around their particular brand of faith. This is where we get into cults.
But if you’re going to rely on something more rigorous than your heart, then what will it be? Using the current imbroglio for insights into this question, the losers’ argument would seem to be that Jesus accepted everyone, no matter who they were, and so should we. His message was love, which means compassion. At this point we could have an argument about what Jesus wanted,–yes he was about love, but he also was about sin–and we could cite various chapters and verses, and debate the translation of a particular Greek word from the New Testament, but this would be pointless because the Bible is full of contradictions. The bottom line is, will you throw out verses that you don’t like or not? If you’re going with the compassion argument as your prime command, OK, but then you’re choosing to ignore a lot of what is in the Bible. In fact, you’re now a Unitarian-Universalist.
If you want to go even further in tidying up the Bible, consider joining that third group, throwing out all the supernatural stuff, the miracles, the “parlor tricks” as G.B. Shaw calls them, and look at the Bible as valuable “wisdom literature” and nothing more. Your gauge can now be what I call the Seven Universal Sacraments for starters. We know what is sacred by looking at what we all share as human beings living together on a small planet, and, yes, compassion, is the key, but not because Jesus said it was, but because we know when we’re surrounded by it we feel “Divine”.
Congratulations, you’re now a Humanist!