Following the Living God in Society

A world map showing the Provinces of the Angli...Image via Wikipedia
Following up on the previous entry on the "Living God" where we talked about the biblical justification for an understanding of God that allows for continuing growth on what we believe God desires from us, here's a story that is painful to hear and even more painful to oppose. 

As a caveat, it is hard from a position of privilege to respond to the following story.  Here I am, middle-class educated American where it is at least against the law to kill those who are sexual minorities...and I'm commenting on the opinion of a lower-class African bishop from a war-torn country where it is socially acceptable to kill Christians!  I am aware of the inequality of ability to respond and of my privilege.

That all said, the Anglican bishop of Juba (who is also the primate of the church in Sudan), represents some of the most persecuted Christian minorities in the world.  And given his flock's persecution, he is opposing any leeway on gay clergy or marriage equality in the Anglican Communion on the basis that it would put Christians further into the "infidel" camp and make them riper targets to be killed.

In other words, by accepting (or at least not condemning) gay clergy and marriage equality, Christians will die.

The quote is reported in two forms.  Here's one form:

In a separate written statement to his fellow Lambeth attendees, the Archbishop wrote, "We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church's witness in Africa and elsewhere [sic], opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment."

Virtue Online asked Archbishop Bul about the relationship of Anglicans in Africa to Muslims on account of sexual politics. The Archbishop replied, "That's why I'm here, because we are called infidels when they hear the Christian world" affirming homosexuality, adding, "It will give them an upper hand to kill our people."
The slightly edited (but easier to read) version is here:

Because of the actions of the American church, “we are called infidels in the Islamic world when they hear of the same-sex blessings,” he said. “It will give [Islamist militants] reason to kill” Sudanese Christians he said.
Further coverage can be found here.

I believe that to some people, if you aren't with us, you are against us.  To those of the fundamentalist fringe of any religion (Islam and Christianity included), it really doesn't matter what the other side believes because they are the "others" whom are irreconcilable.  Accepting the basic human rights of those who are really won't change the mainline's status with the fundamentalist fringe.

Will it give them another weapon, another accusation?  Yes, and that's what the Bishop fears.  But at the risk of sounding dismissive, there will always be something to accuse Christians of and there always has been.  If you believe in God's call to ministry and in God's call to equality, then shouldn't you follow God, even to the ends of the earth, even to higher persecution?  Shouldn't it be better to live in fidelity to God's call than to not because it will give others reason to persecute you?

Again, I realize I'm writing without fear of dying or persecution, and with that comes blinders to the very real predicament of persons on the cutting edge of Christianity.  But when it comes to a prophetic stance against injustice, shouldn't we choose justice over our own livelihood?

Of course, to those in opposition to gay clergy or marriage equality, it's not "justice" they are choosing!  But even then, if the Spirit is evident and it is shown to be moving through people who are kept at the margins, even if it goes against our every being...couldn't it be from God demanding that we respond?

ultraguy asked on the last post the following hard question:
It raises the question of what forms and through what avenues the Holy Spirit may travel to reveal truth, and the proper processes for discernment of divine truth when scripture and alleged movements of the Holy Spirit appear to be in conflict. Hard questions!
Using that as a starting point, I guess the question is "Should the possibility of further persecution be part of the "proper process" for discernment?"  Is it a consideration when seeking the Holy Spirit?

This is a continuation of what the Living God conversation started, and one that is fascinating to see its elements reflected through our Anglican brothers and sisters Lambeth conference this past week.


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Anonymous,  July 25, 2008 at 7:56 AM  

Lots of material here, Jeremy. Such posts take time and passion, and you're to be lauded for that! I suspect neither of us has enough context (nor the standing) to properly judge the Anglican Bishop of Juba. That said...

You write: "I believe that to some people, if you aren't with us, you are against us."

True, however, one of those people is Jesus! (Matt 12:30 and Luke 11:23 are identical: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."). So it's not so easy to dismiss the idea that God, for reasons we may not fully appreciate or accept, will separate people based on the choices they make, unless we also start picking and choosing which words of Jesus we prefer... and that is a slippery slope indeed. I.e., leading to a problematic and ungrounded Universalist doctrine that doesn't need Jesus at all!

You seem to imply that one of the motivations of Anglican Bishop of Juba is to protect his flock from persecution. But you're mixing up two ideas here. In Luke 6:22, Jesus was very specific that we will be blessed if we're reviled because of him: Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man."

That raises the question of whether supporting gay marriage and gay clergy is equivalent to confessing Christ. Let's just say that's a big stretch, even for get-along moderates who believe Jesus wants everyone to come to him. It implies that gay marriage and gay clergy are not just to be tolerated (because we all sin and fall short and should not cast stones) but that such beliefs are essential to being a legitimate follower of Christ. And that then implies that those elements of the church universal that do not accept this are invalid. The logic inexorably leads there. It's a huge leap -- and ultimately just as divisive as the conservative exclusionists!

The other question we need to ask, before rendering judgment on Bishop Juba is: Is what he is saying true? I.e., is it more likely that Muslims (and others) will look at Christianity with disdain (and, often, violence) if it is harder than ever before to differentiate it from the rest of (arbuably libertine) Western culture in the 21st century? Of course they may look on it with disdain and violence anyway, but as I think you legitimately point out, being persecuted is not prima facia evidence of righteousness.

It may well be that Bishop Juba went a step further than he should have in instilling fear where he should not have, or in focusing over-much on this issue versus a thousand others that define orthodox Christianity. But unless we start with that question: "is it true?" then the rest of it is merely a smoke screen.

Rev. Jeremy Smith July 28, 2008 at 1:55 PM  

newine, thank you for your insightful post. Such comments probably take as much time as the blog posts! :)

If we're to be prooftexting Jesus, we should also consider Mark 9:40, where someone was doing ministry in Jesus' name...but not doing it exactly the way the disciple would like. Jesus casts a much wider net than Matthew or Luke by saying "whoever is NOT against us is for us." There's a grace that allows for different incarnations of the ministry of Jesus; further, there is an element of Universal Grace there that resists the temptation to Universal Salvation.

I *don't* think I went as far as to equate confessing Christ with supporting marriage equality. Those are not comparable doctrines, and I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I think that fundamentalists of religions other than your own will oppose simply for the top doctrine (confessing Christ) and that will not change based on lower* doctrines (marriage equality)

I agree that truth-telling should be a part of this process, as asking "is it true" to Archbishop Bul's assertions. To evaluate doctrine based on its effects is a high point of a truly practical theology! However, to me that gives power to those who use violence that they should not have over those within the church. I'm not sure where the middle of the road is in evaluating the practice of ministry while not giving power to violence and coercion. Lots to think about, thanks newine.

* that is not to give them any less value, by the way!

Anonymous,  July 29, 2008 at 9:19 PM  

Jeremy - re. casting a wide net and the contrasting for/against passages, you raise the very good question of what defines each of those states of being (i.e., 'for' and 'against' Christ).

I wholeheartedly agree that some in the church (universal) may have drawn the circle too narrowly. It must also be logically true though, that some have drawn it too widely (unless one is unwilling to admit to any far boundary as to what constitutes an improper 'hack', that is.

Here's the thing: some may say they are for Jesus (and truly believe it as well!) and yet they will then go picking and choosing (or entirely redefining) who he is and what he stands for.

I entirely understand that, having done it myself (and been on your side of this argument just five years ago). It can be based on a variety of motives (e.g., re-making God for one's personal convenience, in one's image, to fit one's own world view, etc).

I'm not saying I have a monopoly on understanding every aspect of what Jesus was about. Nor am I suggesting any particular individual as being guilty perverting it.

But we do know from scripture that folks will come in Jesus' name and not really support what he's about and on that basis be deemed 'against' him (otherwise anything would be permissible in his name).

What troubles me most about your response though, is this: "...lower* doctrines (marriage equality)... *that is not to give them any less value..."

So here's what I don't get: Are you really arguing that a social innovation unprecedented in human history (same sex marriage) now a doctrine of the church (high, medium or low)? On what grounds? In what church, exactly? On whose authority? According to what scripture or church teaching?

When and how did 7X77 times tolerance and love for (by definition fallen/sinful) individuals turn into a requirement that the church change it's doctrine -- rather than Christ transforming individuals when they submit their wills to Him?

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