Posts Tagged ‘Wade Griffith’

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 7: God save us from the “red-letter Christians”

June 25, 2015

This is the seventh part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” For links to previous posts on this topic, click here.

Continuing with his post, Rev. Purdue writes:

I wonder can we generally agree that:

  1. Christ frees us from the Old Testament Law. Pork Barbeque is from God! Stoning is evil.
  2. We see some of Paul’s teaching on issues of slavery and women in a new non-literal light. Women are called to preach, despite what the Apostle Paul sometimes says! Slavery is evil.
  3. We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice. Christians follow Christ, and the essential elements of Christianity are found in Christ’s teachings and practice.”

My response: I reject all three points. Let me take them one by one.

1. Purdue asks us to buy into the heretical idea that the Old Testament Law, with its dietary laws and civil penalties, was wrong. But as I argued in my previous post, the Law was exactly right for its time, and as Paul says in Romans, the Law accomplished the purpose for which it was given. Because Christ fulfilled the Law, we Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial and civil aspects of it. Its ethical imperatives are perfectly good, however, and they remain in effect.

2. He’s confused about the meaning of “literal,” as I’ve said before. We do take Paul’s teaching on women and slavery literally. That’s a question of good exegesis. How these passages apply to us today is a question of good hermeneutics. See this post for more. Why does Purdue think we Christians today are morally superior to St. Paul? Can we have some humility?

3. God save us from the “red-letter Christians”! I don’t use the word heresy lightly. But as with Point 1, Purdue veers closely to antinomian Marcionism, which really is one of the Big Ones.

Purdue writes: “We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice.” How to respond?

First, Jesus doesn’t mention lots of things! Not a direct word from him about incest, bestiality, polygamy, slavery, polyamory, or pederasty, for instance. Does that mean these sins are open to discussion, too? On what basis wouldn’t they be? I’m guessing Purdue would argue against at least some of these practices by citing the principles underlying Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. But as I’ve already argued, here and here, it’s on the basis of these same principles that Jesus rules out homosexual practice.

Second, if Purdue really follows this “red-letter” standard, on what basis does he affirm gay marriage? As I pointed out earlier, he agrees with me that Jesus’ words about marriage in Matthew 19/Mark 10 affirm only heterosexual marriage, yet gay marriage is still on the table for him because, after all, Jesus and the Bible don’t mention it. In other words, because the Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, Purdue can say, “The Bible doesn’t condemn it.” Pure sophistry, as I said earlier. The Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, because the definition of marriage rules it out.

No… if Purdue is right that we can only practice what is “mentioned directly by Jesus Christ,” then we can’t affirm gay marriage. Jesus’ “silence” on gay marriage rules out gay marriage. (I’m not endorsing Purdue’s argument, I’m only showing that he’s contradicting himself.)

Third, as I’ve said in response to Rev. Wade Griffith’s sermon, it’s theologically troubling to assert that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual practice. Why? Because within 20 or 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ—inspired the apostle Paul to write what he wrote about it in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Moreover, this same Spirit guided the authors of the Old Testament.

Or didn’t he? This is why the debate in the United Methodist Church about LGBT issues always comes back to the authority of scripture. The orthodox understanding of the inspiration of scripture rules out the privileging of Jesus’ “red letter” words over other parts of scripture.

I’ll say more on Purdue’s blog post later.

Sermon 05-17-15: “Honor God with Your Bodies, Part 1”

May 27, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

This is the first of two sermons in which I look at the issue that threatens to split our denomination in two: homosexuality, or same-sex sexual behavior. In this sermon I begin examining some popular, though tragically misguided, arguments for changing our church’s doctrine in light of Paul’s words on the subject in 1 Corinthians 6.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

No video this week, but click the playhead below to listen to the audio. To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

“Deflate-gate” was back in the news last week. An NFL commission determined that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady knew that the footballs he used in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts last January were inflated below the league minimum for air pressure: he knew they were under-inflated. So, the commission determined, Brady cheated—and he lied about about cheating. For one thing, in his smartphone contacts, the assistant equipment manager who deflated the footballs was nicknamed the “Deflator.” The NFL didn’t buy Brady’s explanation that he nicknamed him that because the man was trying to lose weight!

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In the minds of many, however, the NFL came down with a surprisingly steep penalty: a four game suspension of Brady without pay; a fine; and a loss of future draft picks for the team.

Was this penalty too harsh? Many people thought so, including Donald Trump, who tweeted: “People are so jealous of Tom Brady and the Patriots… They can’t beat him on the field, so this!”

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A few, like basketball commentator Dick Vitale, however, thought the penalty was too lenient. Vitale said that since Brady flat-out cheated, he should get a six-game suspension. And besides, if being suspended means spending more time with his supermodel wife Gisele, how bad can the punishment be? Read the rest of this entry »

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Don’t pin a medal on the “affirming” Methodist pastor just yet

February 6, 2015

Owen Strachan writes in the most recent First Things about a species of pastor with whom I—as an ordained elder in the last mainline Protestant denomination to adhere to orthodox Christian doctrine on human sexuality—am well-acquainted: the “affirming pastor.”

Strachan has noticed their tendency to trumpet their own heroism:

The affirming pastor traveled through fire and wind to get where he’s landed. Long did he wrestle with Stubborn Paul, with Unbending Church History, with Steely-Eyed Jesus. Heroically did he (or she) weep over the Unmoved Apostles, pleading with Peter to soften his tone—to lower his pitch, and use an inside voice—against false teachers and their compromised sexual practices, their correspondingly corrupted sexual ethics. Again and again the affirming pastor threw himself against the wall of Christian witness, imploring it to fall, to fall, and to fall, but it would not.

As examples, he cites the words of affirming megachurch pastors like Ryan Meeks of EastLake Church in Seatttle and Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Strachan quotes Mitchell and writes the following:

“Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?,” Mitchell queries rhetorically. “I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.” Those lonely few pastors who embrace what Scripture abominates are in Mitchell’s mind just like the civil-rights activists who suffered, bled, and died to advance racial equality. Never mind that few of those righteous activists called for personal attention. Never mind that their own activism called the church to own Scripture, not abuse it. Never mind that they are in many cases unknown. Today, we have many heroes, but so little heroism.

Let me cite the words of the United Methodist pastor Wade Griffith, whom I wrote about on Monday, as one more example for Strachan. At the end of his “coming-out-as-an-affirming-pastor” sermon in 2013, he said the following:

When I was in high school I had to take a class in Alabama history. I don’t know if they do that anymore. But part of the curriculum was the civil rights movement, and we studied about the water fountains, “colored” and white. Did anybody ever see one of those? I never saw one of those. So I went home that day and Mom was cooking supper. And I said to her just totally out of the blue, I said to her, “Mom, did you ever drink out of the white water fountain?” She said, “I did.”

I couldn’t believe it. Your parents are like, they can do no wrong. Until you get to a certain age, they can do no wrong. They define what’s right. I was like, “Mom, how’d you do that? How could you do that? That’s so evil.”

She said, “Wade, I didn’t know any better. That’s all I knew.”

One day, my sons will ask me if I drank out of the “colored” water fountains. [Long pause.] And I plan on being able to say “no.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

I think he meant to say “white water fountains” that last time, but never mind…

His point is that “non-affirming” pastors like me—who, like him, stood before God, our bishop, and our fellow Methodists and promised that we believed in our church’s doctrines—are now no better than racists in the Deep South during Jim Crow, except worse, because what excuse do we have? Aside from—you know—the Bible and not to mention the unanimous consensus of nearly two millennia of Christian interpretation of it.

As I said on Monday, these words give the lie to Griffith’s earlier, conciliatory words about how our view of homosexual practice is a “non-essential” about which Christians of good faith are free to “agree to disagree.”

Agree to disagree, nothing! Not if we’re no better than Bull Connor with his fire hoses and attack dogs! Are you kidding me?

But before we go pinning a medal on Griffith for being able to say he never “drank from the white water fountain” of bigotry and oppression, remind me again what exactly he’s done that’s so heroic? Preached a sermon? 

Big deal!

Meanwhile, he continues to give his money—and his church’s money—to support an institution that practices widespread discrimination, which causes such harm, as he insinuated earlier in his sermon, that kids are committing suicide because of it. He continues to refuse to perform LGBT weddings. He continues to support a system in which “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are unable to get ordained.

Honestly, while we’re on the subject, did he not read MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? All those white clergymen to whom King addressed his letter—some of them southern Methodist bishops—already opposed racial discrimination. That wasn’t the issue. The issue for King was that the time for passively waiting for change was over: it was time for action!

But no, says Griffith, we will continue to support our Discipline. We will continue to “agree to disagree” because this is, after all, a non-essential of our faith.

Good heavens, man! Don’t you see you’re still drinking from the white water fountain, whether you admit it or not?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m happy that he continues to do so. But just how strongly does this affirming pastor believe what he affirms?

Jesus didn’t care about homosexual practice, says UMC pastor, so why should we?

February 2, 2015
UMC pastor Wade Griffith (photo courtesy AL.com)

UMC pastor Wade Griffith (photo courtesy AL.com)

Please note: Whenever I write about the divisive issue of the UMC’s doctrine on sexuality, I do so as a sinner who stands in solidarity with my fellow sinners, regardless of the sins with which they struggle. As for me, I struggle with any number of misdirected desires that tempt me to sin. As I become aware of sin in my life, I confess, repent, and do my best—by the power of the Spirit—to change. And when I do, I’m deeply grateful that our Lord is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”—a promise that holds for all penitent sinners. 

My point is, like every other human being, I’m a sinner who needs God’s grace and mercy at every moment. And like all who seek to be faithful to Jesus, I am a work in progress.

A sermon in 2013 by a United Methodist pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, named Wade Griffith has received much publicity recently and was the basis of a lengthy thread on Facebook last weekend, of which I was part.

In the sermon, Griffith argues, contrary to the unanimous consensus of almost two millennia’s worth of Christian reflection on the subject, that homosexual practice isn’t sinful. He spends most of his sermon arguing that our church’s traditional doctrine regarding human sexuality is the case of arbitrarily picking-and-choosing what we follow in scripture. For example, he cites a number of seemingly strange-sounding laws, found mostly in Leviticus, and wonders aloud why we Christians don’t follow these today.

He’s making, in other words, the classic “shellfish” argument: We Christians eat shellfish today (or do any number of things that contradict Mosaic law), therefore we’re being inconsistent in upholding the Bible’s prohibition against homosexual practice.

But he goes further: It isn’t only Old Testament laws we disregard. What about all those weird instructions that Paul gives, for example, about women covering their heads and remaining silent in church or men worshiping by “lifting up holy hands”? Or what about Paul’s acceptance of slavery?

Why do we reject the Bible’s clear instructions or commands in these areas, yet continue to believe that homosexual practice is wrong? As he says, “What is it in you that makes you want to make this [i.e., the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual practice] the whole Bible, or these verses, but you get to ignore the things that relate to you and your lifestyle?” Read the rest of this entry »