Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Study confirms pastor's mind on same-sex issues

Published as "Same-sex claims contradict Bible" in the Post and Courier here:

Like Jack Rogers [“Study changes pastor’s mind on same-sex marriage”, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006], I have been an evangelical all my life, and I too, have dedicated my career to serving the Church: first as a volunteer, then as a youth pastor, as an Episcopal priest, and finally as an Orthodox Priest. Pastor Rogers has written a book on homosexuality, and so have I, for what it is worth—in the form of a thesis for my MTh.

Like Pastor Rogers, I too have reflexively opposed same-sex issues of all sorts. He noted, “It is just what I thought good Christians were supposed to do.” (That is, be opposed to these relationships and their extrapolations.) He changed his mind after serving on an investigative committee; but my studies have led me to embrace what Christians have always believed—in this case, that marriage is divinely ordained only between one man and one woman, and that any sexual activity outside of the bonds of marriage is sinful.

In fact, I learned that the whole task of a Christian is to believe what has always been believed. This is true about each facet of the faith, everything from who Jesus is to how a Christian is to act and behave in response to that claim. And not statically or in some dusty, stuffy, doctrinaire, or fundamentalist way, but rather by submitting myself to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”. What I believe is consistent with 2000 years of Christian teaching and is therefore congruent with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever.”

After studying the Scriptures in his committee, Pastor Rogers ‘discovered’ that there is more than one way to interpret them. We must say that the battle over any topic can never be left to bowshots of proof-texting from one book of the Bible or another. Even Martin Luther, probably with reference to the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, said, “Even the devil can quote scriptures to his advantage.” We must read the Bible with the whole in view.

While there have been differing levels of interpretation (literal, allegorical, spiritual, etc.) since the beginning, his ‘discovery’ is only possible if the task of Christianity is not as I have described it above. But since the task of the Christian is to pass on what has always been the faith, then any investigation into any topic must start with, “What has the Church always taught about this?” and “In light of the whole Biblical corpus, what do we believe?” In fact, there are teachings on homosexual activity from the earliest days of Christianity as well as sermons from 1600 years ago, available in English on the shelves of the Charleston County Library (not to mention online).

Christians also profess that the whole canon of Scripture is about Jesus Christ. Writing about the so-called “eight passages which speak about homosexuality”, Rogers notes, “None of these texts is about Jesus, nor do they include any of his words.” How could it be that the ‘proper way’ (as he describes it) to interpret the Bible, does not take for granted that the whole Bible is about Jesus? St. Augustine is credited with this little bumper sticker: “The New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained.” To be sure, we must be very careful in our interpretations of the Old Testament, but even Jesus himself, when on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Christians from the beginning have never believed that the only “Scriptures” are those words attributed directly to the lips of our Lord.

As a side note, Pastor Rogers made the following false claim: “A focus on the supposed homosexual aspect of the Sodom story only comes later in nonbiblical literature.” In addition to 2 Peter 2, Jude speaks directly to this aspect in his epistle in the canonical New Testament. “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Again, this needs to be interpreted, and carefully, but the suggestion that the sins of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were solely acts of inhospitality—and not mentioned in any other way in the Bible—is not accurate—and let’s not forget the very ancient (back through Latin and Greek to Hebrew) cognate, “sodomy”, which does not mean “inhospitable.”

When he says that the lens through which we interpret the Bible is the lens of Jesus, he shares the Orthodox approach to the Scriptures. But his own clarification of this simple point betrays a deeply flawed presupposition. He says, in other words, “we are to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus' redeeming life and ministry”. This is misleading. We, rather, are to read the Bible through the lens of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no Christianity without the Cross and Resurrection.

To talk about the ‘redeeming life and ministry of Jesus’ is to talk about ‘love’ without defining it. The Biblical definition of love is humble, self-denying crucifixion, and not a warm fuzzy feeling I get when you walk into the room. To talk about a “redeeming life and ministry” is to talk about life as if there is no sin. It is to quote Jesus speaking to the woman caught in adultery saying, “Nor do I condemn you;” without completing the quotation, “Go and sin no more.”

Having (at least attempted to) address Pastor Rogers’ claims point by point, does my demonstration of the Orthodox Christian Faith matter? No and yes.

No, if we have predetermined that gay marriage is the illumined way. That is, no, if we bring the answer to the question before the question is asked. No, if as Christians, we bring “my experience” to the table and demand that “my experience” somehow counts more than God’s own self-revelation to mankind and more than the collective experience of millennia of Christians. In short, no, if we are self-centered and prideful.

But yes if, first of all, we want to evaluate ‘all the evidence’ in clarity and in truth. Yes, in fact, if we are interested not in ‘my wants and desires’ but rather in what is ‘good, right, true, and holy,’ none of which, we believe as Christians, can be defined apart from the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, yes, if we are willing to be humble and humbled, and to be seekers of the Truth rather than demanders of a way.

To top it all off, we must put into context this incredible struggle. Not everyone who is ‘in favor’ of legitimizing gay relationships is militant about it. In fact, there are surely countless scores of folks who wrestle with this at a deeply profound and personal level which neither you, dear reader, nor I may ever know or comprehend. This does not ‘excuse the sin’ but it roots the matter in Gospel terms. Remember, the same Lord Jesus who said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” also said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” and was foreshadowed in Isaiah as one who would neither snuff out a dimly burning wick nor break a damaged reed.

Because of the Christian faith and the way it is handed down, we simply cannot call homosexual acts anything other than sin. Same-sex attractions, as one of my professors puts it, “are a cross to be borne, and not a gift to be celebrated”. And still, Christians are obliged to show mercy and compassion to everyone, which, as this same priest has taught me, “would certainly include defending the civil rights --- like equality before the law, equal housing opportunities, visitation rights and privileges to people in hospitals and institutions, loving care for children, and unconditional condemnations of ‘gay-bashing’ in any form.”

Finally, as Christians, we cannot agree with the questionable conclusions of the various medical associations which report that “gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide healthy and supportive environments for their children”. But how many of us in this debate squash the rebellion as twice or thrice married men or women? And if not, then as adulterers or as fornicators—sleeping around outside of marriage? Again, the same Lord who said, “go and sin no more” also said,” first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Lord, have mercy.

Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt. Pleasant. He can be reached at 843-881-5010 or at

Christian life is not maintenance-free

Published in somewhat edited format in the Post and Courier here:

“Virtually maintenance free.” This is the claim on so many products these days—everything from the newest automobiles—promising “no tune up for 100,000 miles”—to building material for decks and fences. One retailer promises this: “…[N]ow the allure of a wood fence can be attained with virtually no upkeep”. The routine life of caring for everything from cars to clapboard has been reduced perhaps to a once in a lifetime purchase or touch up.

Not long ago, it was common routine to set aside once or twice a year for painting, cleaning, and general maintenance of house and home. The glazing on the window panes would grow old and crack and need replacing. Now many would ask, “What is glazing?” The blinds would get covered in dust and need to be vacuumed. Now they are sandwiched between pieces of glass in doors and windows. Boards on the dock or the deck would age, arch, splinter, and disintegrate. Now they are just as shiny 10 years later as they day they were screwed down.

Is it possible that these advanced technologies have crept into our understanding of the Christian faith? Do I operate on the assumption that no “spiritual tune-up” is ever necessary?

The Christian life is not reduced simply to the moment one is baptized. Yes, the Christian life begins there, but just like that last day of high school or college, it is but a commencement, the ‘first day of the rest of your life’. And this life consists in doing basically one thing: repenting.

Repentance is to love God with all your soul, mind, and strength. How? By turning back to Him. By begging His forgiveness (which He freely offers). By telling Him, “I recognize that I have abandoned you and your ways.” And by asking Him to receive me back (which He quickly does). The most striking biblical portrayal of this is the parable of the Prodigal Son—who wished his father dead, took his inheritance and squandered it in ‘loose and riotous living’ (sound familiar?), could only get a job feeding animals his religion forbade him even to touch, realized he was far from his true home, and returned—repented in both senses of the term (change his mind and reorient himself). His father wasn’t sitting in a chair at home pretending his son wasn’t gone; nor was his welcome one offered with an “I told you so” wagging of the finger. Rather, the son’s return was celebrated with all the joy of discovering that “My son who was dead is alive again. He was lost, and now he is found.” Who among us squanders his inheritance just once in a lifetime? Repentance is the maintenance of the Christian life.

Repentance is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. How? By offering to my neighbor no less than God Himself offers to me. By humbling myself to say, “Forgive me for stealing from you…or lying to you…or slandering you…or gossiping about you.” By correcting the correctible when I have transgressed. Or by doing the right thing even to my enemy—remembering Jesus’ words, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” This repentance—change of mind—is seen best in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, a man was beaten and left in the street for dead by robbers. Two of the man’s fellow countrymen—and the most religious—passed by on the other side, apparently too busy or self-interested to assist him. A foreigner, and relative enemy, happened upon the beaten man, saw only a suffering and dying human being, dressed and bound his wounds, and took him to a place of healing. To top it off, he paid for the man’s lodging in advance and promised to return to pay for whatever extra expenses might have arisen. This is an act of extreme humility and return to living the Godly life. Who among us passes by such a suffering person but a single time in 74.5 years? Repentance is the maintenance of the Christian life.

This maintenance takes two forms: confession and amendment of life. According to the Scriptures and the life of the Church, every Christian is obliged to confess his or her sins to another person—and not ‘just to God’. And there is a practical reason in addition to the spiritual ones: naming our darkest sins to another takes the power out of them. It is a movement from darkness to light, from death to life!

Amendment of life is this: Cooperating with the grace of God to turn from the sinful, evil, wicked ways to holy, good, just ways. It is the living out of Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

We human beings are not the newest automobiles, nor are we composite building materials. Rather, we are the pinnacle of God’s creation—even though we have squandered our inheritance. To assume that I am ‘maintenance free’ once baptized is to live in darkness and un-confessed sin. To trust that ‘God will forgive me’ without cooperating with God to change my ways is to make a mockery of the Cross. Perhaps our best tactic ought to be to take the time we have saved in not having to paint the house, clean the blinds, and tune the car, and spend it on spiritual maintenance. It is never too late to have a new beginning. As St. Paul says, “Now is the day of salvation.”

Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in the I’On community in Mt. Pleasant. He can be reached at or 881-5010.