18 July 2007

Biblical morality -- are we certain?

Writing for Ekklesia, Savi Hensman reflects on the Dallas Statement and its aftermath. Remember the Dallas Statement from 1997, with its focus on Christian moral reasoning and sexual morality? It was a strong statement. Here's the bottom line: "It is not acceptable for a pro-gay agenda to be smuggled into the church's programme or foisted upon our people and we will not permit it."

Hensman wonders if perhaps the Dallas Statement (and conservatives since then) might be filled with "false certainty." Might it be that the Bible itself is more nuanced that some have allowed? Here's a sample:

But where in Genesis are the generational families which set an example of how healthy human relationships are formed? Presumably Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel do not fit the bill? Indeed, how many such family units are there? Is not care of the widow, orphan and stranger – those outside the protection of the usual family structures – repeatedly emphasised?

While men and women both contribute to society, does this imply that everyone should be in a heterosexual relationship, and if so why? Does this apply to Jesus? What of those who are ‘eunuchs’ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.10-12)?

Indeed, I would have thought the Gospels would be shocking to anyone who puts too much value on advancing the interests of their family (nuclear or extended). Might it not seem irresponsible to abandon home, family and fields (Mark 10.28-31)? Does not following Christ involve ‘hating’ one’s family and taking up the cross (Luke 14.25-27)? Presumable Jesus’ own crucifixion did not exactly advance his nieces’ and nephews’ prospects of socially and economically advantageous marriage!

What may seem obvious to some Christians may seem far from obvious to others. Difficult though I may sometimes find it to be in a church with people whose views are very different from mine on a number of matters, I can benefit from having to think more deeply; likewise they may gain something too.

There are grave risks in imposing a framework for discipline based on the ‘clear’ teaching of the Bible which may not be so clear to many people! Uncertainty may be hard for some to bear, but a false certainty may be worse.

This is a good exercise, and we progressives need to open our Bibles more frequently as we're talking with conservatives. Too often we've retreated to the safe ground of "justice" and "rights" and "the Holy Spirit." I think those grounds are well and good, but we should also be willing to engage in a scriptural conversation.

Who among us will admit to the possibility of false certainty? Before we progressives demand this relaxation from conservatives, are we ourselves ready to enter the conversation openly -- also prepared to admit the possibility that we might be wrong on dearly held principles?

(Thanks to not too much for the link.)

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