Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opening Pandora's Box - Part Two

Though our movement was serious, we had a lot of fun along the way!
With James D. Anderson, editor of our newsletter, and Sandy Brawders, 
a candidate for ordination who came out at the 1978 General Assembly.
In those days, newsletters were the lifeblood of the LGBT Christian movement.
Photo by Mark Sick.

In honor of Pride month, this is the third of four posts adapted from a Meekhof Lecture I gave at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue (WA), January 11, 2014, regarding the meaning of the LGBT movement for the broader church.

When the LGBT movement first blessed the church decades ago, churchgoers feared opening “Pandora’s Box,” which, in Greek mythology, was really a jar that contained all kinds of human evil, which I prefer to call “challenges.” But it also contained Hope with which to face the eight challenges represented by our movement. I wrote of four last Wednesday: xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, and pleasure. Today I write of the final four.

Our fifth challenge: progressive interpretations of scripture. During most of the 20th century the progressive Christian movement was less defined because, I contend, mainstream-established Christianity was itself progressive.

Only as biblical literalists and fundamentalists and evangelicals grew in influence in society and in the church did progressive Christianity appear to be a minority position, I believe.

You can’t read Fosdick, Evelyn Underhill, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, the Niebuhrs, Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy Day, John Robinson, Pope John XXIII, Hans Küng, William Sloan Coffin, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, James Cohn, Letty Russell, Desmond Tutu, Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen—just to give multiple examples, and not recognize them both as progressive and influential in the 20th century church in America.

The problem was, though, that out of compassion or for the sake of job security or simply because of sheer sloth, much of what we learned in seminary did not get communicated from pulpit to pew. I would say that’s why Bishop Spong is such a lightning rod in the broader church: he’s spilling the beans about what most of us learned in seminary!

Our sixth challenge was gender dysphoria. Some of you may know that for a long time those whose understanding of themselves did not match their designated gender were diagnosed as having “gender dysphoria.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “dysphoria” as “a state of unease or discomfort; an unpleasant state of mind marked by malaise, depression, or anxiety.” I would say that now describes much of the church in relation not only to its transgender and intersex members, but to all who do not neatly fit gender expectations, such as lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and ever more contemporary women and men who are shaking up gender roles.

Our seventh challenge revolved around ordination. I used to joke that trials for ordination virtually replaced heresy trials! That was when we often determined what is orthodox in our beliefs and behaviors.  Now of course there are more church trials, and most of them seem to be about our differing views on homosexuality.

But what does ordination mean when all Christians are called to be ministers? Are ordinands to be “holier than thou”? Do the sins of the celebrant affect the sacraments offered? (Calvin said “no.”) When a governing church body discerns that gifts for church leadership are present, shouldn’t that be enough?

Our eighth challenge was marriage, which, as some pointed out, should’ve been discussed before the question of ordination. In the discussions on homosexuality and ordination throughout the church, there would be audible gasps if someone even suggested the possibility of same-gender marriage. We’d be talking about ordination to our spiritual leadership, but marriage was untouchable.

When the 1991 Presbyterian Study on Human Sexuality questioned heterosexual marriage as the paradigm or model for all sexual relations and instead suggested an ethic of justice-love that would govern sexual relations including those of marriage, much of the denomination went ballistic. I was at the Baltimore General Assembly that discussed the report, and the feeling among some delegates seemed to be, “We’ll give you ordination, just give us back marriage”!

So what is the Hope left in “Pandora’s Box”? Find out in next week’s post!

I urge you to make a donation to and/or attend these once-in-a-lifetime ingatherings of LGBT saints and allies:

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2017
St. Louis Airport Marriott

Sept 8-10, 2017
Kirkridge Retreat & Conference Center

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

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