A bad argument (and why Twitter isn’t good for my soul)

November 19, 2013

Last week, I got many hits on a post related to the Council of Bishops’ meeting. The most controversial thing I said was in response to an open letter to the bishops from UMC polity expert Dr. Tom Frank (who was my faculty adviser at Emory, by the way). He wrote,

I am not asking you to change the church’s statements on homosexuality. Clearly that is not within the powers of the Council. I am asking you to acknowledge that a large number of faithful United Methodist ministers in good standing cannot in conscience restrict their pastoral duties to accord with these statements.

Then I said,

I’m sorry: Cry me a river! This “large number of faithful United Methodist ministers” knew what they signed up for when they were ordained. Many of them had other ministry options available to them if they couldn’t live with our church’s doctrine. I don’t believe that all or even most of them experienced some dramatic change of heart on the subject after they were ordained.

No, many of them probably winked and nodded when they were asked questions related to sexuality. It’s a game of “how to answer a question without being completely forthright.” I’m ashamed to say I played it myself back in 2007 when I was commissioned. Let’s not be naive.

I tweeted a link to this blog post on Twitter and was soon reminded why Twitter isn’t good for my soul. Sarcasm is Twitter’s stock-in-trade: let’s see how clever we can be in 140 characters or less. The “conversation” began like this and got much snarkier as it went along (click to expand):


I went on to say that I was interested in moving the conversation “backwards” anyway! I know, pretty snarky. But I only gave as good as I got.

Joy said that God is still speaking to us. To which I replied, “Yes, God still speaks, but not in a way that contradicts what he’s already said in scripture.” After which my opponents pointed out that the Bible has contradictions.

Now… For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s true. (I don’t think the Bible has meaningful contradictions.) What’s the point of saying that the Bible has contradictions? After all, my opponents on this issue believe that scripture has authority. They believe that scripture reveals that God is gracious, loving, and merciful, just as I do, but also that God’s commitment to inclusivity of the “marginalized” (how I detest that word) overrides whatever the Bible might also say about homosexual practice. Right?

They have proof-texts for their position, and I have mine.

My point is, it’s not a good argument to say that because the Bible has contradictions, we can’t therefore believe what it says about homosexuality. After all, in spite of all these contradictions, even my opponents trust what the Bible says about—well—the issues over which we disagree. If the Bible’s contradictions make it untrustworthy, why do they get to appeal to its authority at all? Maybe it’s equally wrong about their understanding of God’s love, or the marginalized, or liberation of the oppressed, or whatever else.

Appealing to the Bible’s contradictions is a red herring, since, despite these contradictions, they believe the Bible can be clearly understood on the issue of homosexuality. Both sides apparently think so—whether there are contradictions elsewhere or not.

Granted, some of my opponents might respond that if I interpreted the Bible properly, I would see that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexual practice. To which I would respond, who cares what the Bible says? If they’re right, the Bible is too filled with contradictions to trust what it says in the first place.

Anyway… Returning to my point in last week’s blog post, this gentleman over at IRD went much further than I did in complaining about oath-breaking United Methodist clergy.

… United Methodists are facing a crisis of integrity at this very historic moment. Their clergy are openly and flamboyantly defying the 10 Commandments of God. Perhaps they weren’t lying when they first took their vows; we might quibble over the idolatry of contemporary sexual mores. We will let those parts of the Decalogue pass. Today, I refer to the fourth commandment, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

“They’re not swearing,” you may contest. But they have sworn! They haven’t cussed, but they swore an oath. In their typical insight, classical manuals of moral theology associated oath-breaking with blasphemy, not just lying. This is because an oath is a commitment to something in the name of God. His name is on the line, from the juridical “So help me God” to the lengthy ordination liturgies.

United Methodist pastors promised to God that they would uphold the covenant of the Discipline. God’s not some insensible force or fickle character who can be coaxed to ignore a broken covenant before Him. He has mercy for the repentant, but this open, almost giddy defiance is a blight to the pastoral office and shows no hint of turning back. For the spiritual well-being of clergy and laity alike, the revisionist activists need to be held accountable for their broken promises.

6 Responses to “A bad argument (and why Twitter isn’t good for my soul)”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I have one caveat. That is, do any two Christians actually agree with each other on all points? I doubt there is any Baptist Church at which I have been a member (and those are several) where I agreed with all the positions of the pastor. So, what to do? Simply forego going to church? Or keep my mouth shut on all points of disagreement? What I think is, you go to where you can mostly agree, and then you agreeably disagree on those “sticking points,” recognizing and accepting the fact that you may (perhaps properly) be asked to leave if the conflict is too great.

    For example, I was essentially ushered out of one church on my expressed stance that not all drinking of alcohol was violative of scriptural constraints. In fact, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention holds to proscription of alcohol consumption as one of its doctrinal statements. Should I “escape” over to the “liberal” Baptist General Convention of Texas? Isn’t that worse? If my pastor felt the same way on the issue as I do, is he obliged to “switch”? Or just “go solo”?

    I guess what is more important to me than a “toeing the line” on all points of the “fellowship” (were that even really possible) is simply, ARE WE BEING TRUE TO SCRIPTURE HERE? “We must obey God, and not man.” And how important is the point? (Wrong to escort me out over a “debatable point” like alcohol, per Paul, I think.)

    I recognize the force of “keeping covenant,” and it is a strong point. However, I believe that when there are 14 of the 15 points of doctrine that you agree with, and only 1 not, and there is no other place you can go to minister where you agree with all 15, should you just refrain from being a minister altogether? You see the difficulty?

    • brentwhite Says:

      My beef is with clergy who willingly disobey the Discipline without remorse or repentance. If, as a matter of conscience, they disagree with the Discipline yet can continue to abide by it, then that doesn’t bother me so much (although it’s hard to see how they can live with the cognitive dissonance for very long). They made a promise to God to uphold it.

      The standard to which clergy are held is much higher than the standard to which church members are held, so I don’t think your analogy to the Texas Baptists holds. Unless…

      Since Baptists have a congregational polity, they could make it clear to potential members that drinking alcohol under any circumstances is a disciplinary offense, in which case they might be justified to usher you out the door if you drink alcohol, right? I agree that sounds harsh, but you know what I mean.

      Unless Baptists are no longer congregationalist, I don’t see how the Texas State Convention’s proscription can apply to a local church, or be the basis on which a church can kick you out. If the church’s bylaws say otherwise, then that’s a different story.

      But you’re the lawyer! I hope you made that case to the pastor or deacons before you left!

  2. Joe Says:

    Hear, hear. And Twitter’s depressing me beyond belief, too.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’m trying to work on my anger issues, and Twitter doesn’t help. When you’re on Twitter, there is no “high road” when it comes to arguing. The medium is the message. And the medium doesn’t facilitate what my opponents on this issue say they want: “conversation.” It only facilitates snarky comments and put-downs. And that goes for both sides, myself included.

  3. d Says:

    I agree with your twitter comment.
    It is not the right media to use unless you have little to say.

    Try the link provided to answer the first supposed 101 contradictions. It is a start and there are answers to the so called contradictions. Most people that make that comment just haven’t taken the time to look.

    Good Luck

    • brentwhite Says:

      Oh, sure… Most of these alleged contradictions are trivial beyond belief, and all of them can be easily reconciled. Skeptics who use these discrepancies as an argument against Christianity are missing the point, to say the least.

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