Saturday, April 5, 2008


"Several U.S. mainline Protestant denominations are about to face their latest showdowns on one of the most vexing issues since slavery: whether to break from biblical morality as traditionally understood to allow clergy with homosexual partners and to sanction blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

"'Mainline' groups (predominantly white, with early American roots, and affiliated with the National Council of Churches) contain vocal, well-organized liberal and evangelical combatants. The resulting dispute 'certainly has taken a big toll,' says Jack Haberer of Presbyterian Outlook, an independent magazine that airs varied views. 'For some, it's the total compromise of all things moral. For others, it's the compromise of all things just,' and these "polar positions" dominate discussions while many yearn for compromise.

"The disagreement could be one factor in mainline shrinkage. Current memberships of major groups affected, with their declines since 1970 (including predecessor bodies):

"Episcopal Church: 2.15 million members; down 34 percent
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.77 million; down 16 percent
Presbyterian Church (USA): 3.03 million; down 25 percent
United Church of Christ: 1.22 million; down 38 percent
United Methodist Church: 8 million; down 25 percent"

[For the full article, see here.]

For convenience, people talking about the institutional Church differentiate between "liberals" and "conservatives," the former primarily being concerned with "justice" and the latter primarily being concerned with "morality." The fact is that each Christian, just as each church and denomination, must see that both "justice" and "morality" are two sides of the same coin of the Gospel that each is charged with preaching and living out.

Mainline denominations have lost ground as measured by membership and attendance over the years, and such disputes over same-sex love have gone a long way in highlighting the political aspects of most of the institutional Church that has been seen by many intelligent, sensitive people as having trumped the passion for "justice" and "morality," as defined and required by the Gospel.

The only Gospel to be found in Christianity is: grace (God's unmerited favor to us); faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances); love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness. There is no other Gospel!

So, "morality" in the context of the Gospel requires that justice be affirmed, yokes of bondage removed, love to be the measure of all things, grace and compassion to be extended to others.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines "morality" as follows: "The relation of conformity or nonconformity to the moral standard or rule; quality of an intention, a character, an action, a principle, or a sentiment, when tried by the standard of right."

In the context of the Gospel, the very heartbeat and outworking of Christianity itself, the "moral standard or rule," the "principle" and "sentiment" that is to "tried by the standard of right," is that of grace, compassion, and love.

To elevate tradition to the point that it makes void the Word of God (Matthew 15:3) so that "justification" can be made to tenaciously adhere to the status quo, elevating the political over the moral, subordinating the Gospel message to mere fallible human beings' interpretation of certain selected parts of Scripture, makes a mockery of the living organism of the Church which is to be a vehicle of God to spread the "good news" of the fact that Christ has set us free.

To further entangle others in yokes of bondage to be in accord with one's mind-set, allowing tradition to trump the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian and in the life of the Church, not only does a tremendous disservice to others (as historically seen in professing Christians' and the institutional Church's treatment of Native Americans, women, African-Americans, and LGBT people), but may well also be seen to be a contributing factor to the downward spiral virtually all of the mainline denominations are experiencing.

And, to the degree that these denominations continue to dispute the dignity and civil and sacramental rights that are to accrue to all of God's children, that downward spiral is very well deserved!
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