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« Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling | Home | Can We, Can We All Get Along? Section 2 »

Can We, Can We All Get Along? Section 1

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, July 14, 2008

Part 5 of series: The End of the Presbyterian Church USA? Revisited
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

On March 3, 1991, in Lake View Terrace, California, only about seven miles where I lived at the time, an African-American motorist named Rodney King was pulled over by Los Angeles police officers. What exactly happened in the next moments is disputed, but, before long, the officers were savagely beating King. The bulk of this beating was caught on video by a spectator, and his footage was subsequently shown endlessly on television.

On April 29, 1992, when three of the four officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted by a jury that included no African-Americans, catastrophic riots broke out in Los Angeles. By the end of the riots, 55 people had been killed and there were over $1 billion in property damages. In the midst of the riots, Rodney King himself made a televised plea for peace. “Can we, can we all get along?” he asked, plaintively. “Can we, can we get along?” (Photo: Rodney King makes his plea.)

If you’re a faithful member of a PCUSA church, but one who hasn’t been active in the thirty-year PCUSA fight over homosexuality, you may want to ask, “Can we, can we all get along? Why not simply admit our differences and get on with our mission? Why do we have to keep on fighting? Why can’t we just live and let live? Why can’t those who have been fighting for gay ordination just drop it? Or, conversely, why can’t those who have been resisting gay ordination let individuals, churches, and presbyteries make up their own minds about the matter. Why must we keep fighting for a uniform Presbyterian standard on the ordination of homosexuals? Can we, can we all get along?”

These questions gain force when you consider the sad history of the PCUSA since we started arguing about homosexuality. That debate began in 1978, when the churches that would soon merge to form the PCUSA (UPCUSA and PCUS) had well over 3,000,000 members. Thirty years later, total membership in the PCUSA has declined by a net of over 30%. Though we’ve gained new members along the way, our losses have been staggering, and are increasing.*

I’m not claiming that our membership loss is related only to our endless argument about homosexuality. But when you consider how this debate has looked to potential PCUSA members, and when you consider the vast resources we have poured into it, and when you think of those who have left the denomination because of our various and confusing positions on homosexuality, surely this debate has contributed to our numerical decline. Though our argument about homosexuality hasn’t come with the billion dollar price tag of the L.A. riots, I’m quite sure it has cost the PCUSA millions of dollars in salaries, informational material, travel to meetings, and so forth, not to mention lost revenue. And when you consider the time we Presbyterians have devoted to this issue for the past three decades, the loss for actual ministry is staggering.

So, then, can we, can we all get along?

Yes. And no. There is no simple answer to this question. It all depends on what you mean by “get along.” We can get along when we worship and pray together. We can get along when we participate in common mission, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or reaching out to victims of a natural disaster. We can get along in our common confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and in the fellowship of his table. We can learn from each other and share our victories and struggles together. In these ways and many more we who support the ordination of homosexuals and we who oppose it can get along.

But what I’ve just described is exactly the kind of getting along that Presbyterians enjoy with Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. It’s the getting along that bridges denominational barriers. Yet we who believe in the presbyterian form of church government (rule by elders) would not be able to be in the same denomination as Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists, who affirm an episcopal form of church government (rule by bishops). Though we share a fundamental oneness in our faith, and though we share much in common from a missional point of view, our differences are substantial enough to keep us in separate denominations.

I have come to believe that, in the end, Presbyterians who support the ordination of gays and lesbians, and Presbyterians who oppose is, will not be able to get along in the sense of being in the same denomination, unless that denomination has very loose ties. The only compromise I can possibly imagine would involve a massive reorganization of the PCUSA into governing bodies divided according to their views and practices in a number of areas, including homosexuality. But this sort of union would be very little union at all, and, in all likelihood, would be at most a temporary measure.

Okay, okay, let me acknowledge one other genuine compromise, which really would be no compromise at all. It’s always possible that the Spirit of God could sweep through the PCUSA in such a way that minds and hearts were changed, with the result being genuine unity on many theological issues by the vast majority of Presbyterians, including the moral character of homosexual activity. You’ll notice that I haven’t prejudged which way the Spirit might blow, though I’d surely expect this to be in a biblical direction, away from gay ordination, given my beliefs about homosexual activity. Folks on the other side would expect the Spirit to blow in the opposite direction. I do believe that such major renewal of the PCUSA is possible, but only because I believe in the God of the impossible. The past thirty years of PCUSA infighting, as well as my understanding of the issues, do not suggest that God is engaged in such spiritual renewal in the PCUSA. History suggests that we PCUSA folk will never get along as members of the same denomination when it comes to the issue of gay ordination.

If you’re not close to this debate, what I’ve just said about the unlikelihood of compromise may seem unduly negative. Surely there must be some way to get us together. Of course if you look at the history of the PCUSA for the last thirty years, you’d have to admit that I’m just being realistic. But let me explain further why I believe ultimate compromise on this issue is unlikely. It has to do with what the folks on either side believe about it, and the strength of these beliefs.

*Note: in 1983 the PCUSA had 3,121,339 members. In 2007 it had 2,209,546 members. That’s a net loss of 911,792 members, or 29%. Though I don’t have the figures, I’m quite sure the combined totals of the UPCUSA and PCUS were higher in 1978. Thus my conclusion of a 30% loss in that last 30 years.

Topics: PCUSA: End of? |

42 Responses to “Can We, Can We All Get Along? Section 1”

  1. RevK Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 3:16 am

    ‘Everyone gets along when they want to build Babel!’ Thanks for this great documentation.

  2. Michael W. Kruse Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 8:09 am

    “But what I’ve just described is exactly the kind of getting along that Presbyterians enjoy with Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. …”

    Great analogy. And I agree that two governing structures under one roof is probably not workable.

  3. David Lenz Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Mark, thanks for being irenic and bold in that order.

    “I have come to believe that, in the end, Presbyterians who support the ordination of gays and lesbians, and Presbyterians who oppose it, will not be able to get along in the sense of being in the same denomination…”

    Someone of your stature needed to say that, and those of us who read your posts in 2006 know that you have not come to this decision lightly. Many evangelicals like me share with you in the sorrow of this moment. Though it is a time of seeming “victory” for the progressives, I suspect there is a kind of sorrow there as well.

    May the Holy Spirit show us all, evangelicals and progressives alike, a way forward that gives glory to God and allows us to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

  4. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 10:54 am

    So, if you belive this, what are you prepared to do about it?

    Are you finally willing to urge churches, starting with your own, to withhold ALL per capita?

    Are you willing to denounce the so-called evangelicals on the PuP Task Force that sold us down the river?

    Are you willing to donate to defray the legal costs of PCUSA congregations fighting the deonominational apostasy in court, particularly in light of the $2 million warchest approved by the GA?

    Or are you just going to bloviate?

    James 2:20

  5. Mark Roberts Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Rev K, Michael, David: Thanks for your comments.

    Sam: Thanks for your comments too. Yes, I do expect to get to specific recommendations. But before I do, I think it’s only fair to examine the issues carefully. If this is bloviating, well, then, yes, I’ll keep on bloviating.

    But I have a request for you. I’d like very much to know your reasons for supporting: 1) withholding of per capita; 2) denouncing evangelicals on the PUP Task force; 3) donating to defray legal costs. I’m not saying all of these aren’t good recommendations. But I would like to know your reasons for each. Why these? Why are they right, in light of Scripture? Thanks.

  6. Bill Goff Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Here is my bloviating for the day: I would hate to see the PCUSA or any denomination split over the issue of ordaining homosexuals, because at root I think the issue is one of interpretation of the Bible not authority of the Bible. And that interpretation focuses on a handful of disputed passages of Scripture.
    Although I don’t much like labels, I am comfortable being known as an evangelical and uncomfortable being labled as a progressive or so-called evangelical. Full disclosure: I am an honorably retired teaching elder of the PCUSA, age 65 - an elderly elder. I am also a member of a Southern Baptist Church - Saddleback Church in Southern California (the one where Rick Warren is pastor).
    If the PCUSA split into the Gay PCUSA and Straight PCUSA I don’t think I could identify with either side. I hope such a split doesn’t happen, but without a serious and widespread study of Scripture and reflection on how captive we can all be to our culture, my hunch is that a split is inevitable. Prophecy: in 30 - 40 years the gay and straight Presbyterians will re-unite as the Inclusive PCUSA.

  7. Bruce Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    With all due respect, I think Bill Goff just doesn’t “get it”. This problem began in the early 1900’s and had it’s root back in the 1830’s, almost 180 years ago! If he really thinks this is a passing thing that will result in reunification in 40 years, he doesn’t understand history or scripture very well at all, despite his credentials. It’s nice that he felt personally able to flee the PCUSA, and having done so, who cares what his position is!

  8. Jennie Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    There’s nothing really new about this idea, right? Is this not exactly what the denomination did when some chose to interpret the bible as saying women should be ordained and others chose to interpret that women should not be ordained? Is this not the PCA and PCUSA? I don’t think PCNA has been used yet (Presbyterian Church North America). Let’s just get on with it so we can get back to the business of figuring out how to save our dying denomination.

  9. Kurt Norlin Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Mark, why can’t the PCUSA let each presbytery decide for itself whether to ordain gay persons or not? That’s how the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) handles the ordination of women, and it doesn’t involve “massive reorganization.” I’m not lobbying for this solution, but if you’re systematically sifting through the alternatives, it’s an obvious one to look at. Of course there will be practical challenges in implementation, but presumably the EPC model is in effect a template for dealing with them.

  10. Bill Goff Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Bruce is probably right that I just don’t “get it”; I’m not even sure what it is. Perhaps “this problem” began 180 years ago although it may have begun a few years prior to that - in the Garden of Eden when our first parents decided to be like God. We have all had our problems getting along since then.
    I’m happy to let all blog readers decide if it worth considering the views of a retired Presbyterian minsiter who “fled” to a Southern Baptist Church. I hope my ideas as well as others’ ideas expressed on Mark Roberts blog will be judged on their merits, rather by the age or denominational affiliation of the contributor.

  11. Mark Roberts Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Bill and others: You’re right, though, and this is the deeper problem. It isn’t just a question of the ordination of gays and lesbians, but a deeper question of the authority and interpretation of Scripture. For some, Scripture is the ultimate authority, not just in the big ideas of love and justice, but also in defining in detail what love and justice mean. For others, Scripture is a major authority, but one that can be qualified in light of human experience and compassion. Practically speaking, though, if we as a denomination can’t agree on matters of ordination, if some presbyteries ordain people whom other presbyteries believe should not be ordained because of what they believe to be their sinful behaviors, then we aren’t much of denomination at all. Because we’re not just talking about a disagreement over the interpretation of a few biblical texts, but rather a more profound disagreement about how God speaks to us and guides us, I can’t see how any division of the house (by presbyteries, or otherwise) is more than a temporary move. Maybe it’s the right temporary move. But it’s hard to see this as lasting for a long time. And I’m not exactly sure why we’d want to make it last, other than to maintain certain legal and economic ties. Our difference in interpreting Scripture would lead to a wide difference in missional vision . . . indeed, it already has.

  12. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    In response to your request for reasons to 1)withhold per capita, 2)denounce the so-called evangelicals on the PuP Task Force that sold us down the river, and 3)donate to defray the legal costs of congregations fighting the PCUSA apostasy in court, if you don’t already know, nothing I say is going to enlighten you. Have you eyes, and yet not see? Have you ears and yet not hear?

  13. Chris Enoch Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    >>I would hate to see the PCUSA or any denomination split over the issue of ordaining homosexuals, because at root I think the issue is one of interpretation of the Bible not authority of the Bible.

  14. Chris Enoch Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Bill wrote: I would hate to see the PCUSA or any denomination split over the issue of ordaining homosexuals, because at root I think the issue is one of interpretation of the Bible not authority of the Bible.


    I would like to gently disagree with this statement. While what you say may very well be true in your case, my experience, especially while attending a PCUSA seminary, was that the authority of the Bible was fairly much gutted. Scholarship (using the word rather loosely) was valued over faithfulness, humanism raised above biblical theology, social justice over a saving relationship with Christ. The roots of the problem here run very deep; the issue of ordaining people engaged in homosexual behavior is a symptom of a much deeper difficulty. As a symptom, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but the deeper causes of the symptom are destroying the PCUSA…. I don’t even pretend that the issue is just homosexual behavior. Far from it.


    I don’t even know what bloviate means. Not sure if I want to know either. Sounds painful.

  15. Mark Roberts Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Sam: I’m sorry you’re not willing to explain your position so others can learn from you. In my view, it’s through the interchange of ideas that we learn, change, and refine our ideas.

  16. Bill Goff Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    As an English major I want to make a little contribution regarding the word BLOVIATE. According to “” bloviate is a pseudo-Latin term popularized by W.G. Harding. The American Heritage Dictionary defines bloviate: “to discourse at length in a pompous and boastful manner.” So for us who enjoy converstaions on blogs, we will may avoid bloviation by keeping our entries brief.
    William Shakespeare said it well: “Brief let me be.”

  17. Jesse Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Sam: I’ve not been following this fight very long. My only excuse is youth. While I’m hardly ready to abandon ship, I suspect we mainly agree on the issues, and I’d appreciate it if you clued me in on what exactly you mean, at least for items 1 & 3. Finally, I’m not trying to be a jerk - and I know he can take up for himself - but I respectfully think you were out of line attacking Dr. Roberts so. Mercy!

  18. Dale Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    I am not so sure I believe it is a difference as simple as a Gay and Straight Presbyterian Church. It is obvious that some Presbyterians do not believe in Biblical authority when they would okay sex outside of marriage. That is the real issue. Biblical authority.

  19. Bill Goff Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Dale: Your reasoning seems to be that if anyone has a different interpretation of the Bible, they do not believe in biblical authority. Along with Dr. Jack Rogers, former Moderator of the General Assembly, I interpret the Bible to advocate the full inclusion of “gay” Christians in the Church. In the comments I have read in this blog there is a blurring if not confusion between the authority of the Bible and the authority of interpretations of the Bible. Just because I do not believe in your interpretation of the Bible, does not mean I do not believe the Bible. The Bible does contain references in the New Testament that are critical of some sorts of same sex behavior. There is no biblical passage I am aware of that deals with a monogomous relationship of same-sex believers. So to declare that all homosexual activities are sinful, it seems to me takes a lot of extrapolation. I, for one, do not believe such extrapolations are warranted.

  20. Bruce Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    I believe you are 100% correct on this issue. To say that it doesn’t matter is deny the fact that our representatives in Washington and Louisville are supposedly speaking on behalf of those of us who don’t at all agree with their positions. In addition, this latest action by the GA threatens to cut us off from our brothers and sisters in the 3rd world who don’t take the liberties with scripture that our “progressive” brothers and sisters in this country and Europe seem oh so ready to take. Fuerbach was right. If there is no absolute truth, there can be no God. Our brothers and sisters in the third world get it. Scripture is to be understood, and cherished, not twisted to bless the worlds values.

  21. Scott Williams Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    I hesitate to jump into the fray, but I humbly add my contribution for what it’s worth (take it or leave it).
    I agree that the issue is much, much bigger than just the homosexual issue. It really does come down to how one reads the Bible (I won’t jumpt into authority vs. interpretation just yet).

    Bill: First, the issue is not about “inclusion of ‘gay’ Christians in the Church.” We certainly are not debating whether or not they should be included. I don’t know of many, if anyone, who would argue that they should not be part of the church (though I guess I could be wrong).

    I ask you to please read Romans 1:24-32. While Paul doesn’t specifically say “within a monogomous same-sex relationship”, he certainly doesn’t imply that there is a situation in which these actions are okay. I would be interested in your interpretation of this passage. Really (not being sarcastic here).
    Regardless, I bring to your attention that by striking the fidelity language the issue is not just about ordination of a homosexual in some sort of monogomous, comitted relationship. If marriage had been redefined to include same-sex relationships, we would be debating what you refer to. But that is not the case.

  22. Tim Woolsey Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    You say that you interpret the Bible to say there is nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality? Then please tell me how you interpret Leviticus18:22 which says “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable” (NIV)? Or please interpret Romans 1:18-32 where Paul talks about God’s wrath against mankind. In this passage, he explains some of the reasons for God’s wrath against us, and homosexuality is in this passage as being wicked. So for a “newbie” like me, explain your interpretations. And please, use biblical references so I can look them up. Thank you

  23. Jim Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    #11 Pastor Mark–While I agree with you on this being a question of the authority and interpretation of Scripture, my concerns go much deeper than that. I believe the Scriptures call us as Christians to lead a life that is radically different than the world’s. A big part of that is trying to follow God’s standards for us, including trying to lead a sexually pure life.

    Jesus’ promise was that as believers the Holy Spirit would come to guide us and live within us, so that what God wants of us would be written in our hearts, not on tablets of stone. (E.g., John 16.) Having God’s Spirit live within us is incompatible with practicing sexual immorality. See, e.g., I Cor. 6:13-20. I don’t just include homosexuality here, but any sexual relations outside of marriage. Even impure thoughts grieve the Spirit. (I know that as humans we will always stumble in this area, but we need to rely on God’s grace to keep on trying.)

    If we bless what God has called sin, we destroy the ability of Christians to lead a life that is pleasing to God, we deprive them of His Spirit, and we deceive people into following a false path that is not what God wants for us. How can we do that and be able to face the Lord on the final day?

    So it’s not just Scripture and that “God said so,” but our whole relationship with Him. Not following and teaching his Word in this respect will have consequences for all those around us, not only now but eternally.

  24. Dale Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I am referring to the fact that the PCUSA took out all fidelity within marriage. It is a bigger issue than gay/straight. Do you refute that the bible is very clear about sex outside of marriage? I do not believe that is an interpretation issue.

  25. Ann J Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 7:19 am


    Very well said. You are so correct. Thank you for expressing the heart of the matter - living a life the pleases and respects Him. He loves man. Created man. Died to redeem man. At the heart of His commandments are for the good of mankind. You said it best - “If we bless what God has called sin - we destroy the ability of Christians to lead a life that is pleasing to God…” Isn’t that what it is all about?

  26. Matt Ferguson Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Bill wrote, “Bill wrote: I would hate to see the PCUSA or any denomination split over the issue of ordaining homosexuals, because at root I think the issue is one of interpretation of the Bible not authority of the Bible.”

    The two are not separate issues. The methods used for interpretation by progressives in such groups as the Jesus Seminar and Liberation Theology directly undermine any authority of the Bible for those methods allow the interpreter to stand in judgment over the Bible—it is a modern day Marcion thing.

    Mark asked Sam about Per Capita, denouncing evangelical members of TPUP, and contributing to a fund to help churches caught in a court case with the PCUSA but Same refused to answer. I will attempt to do so.
    Why withhold Per Capita? Why not? It is an optional contribution. The question every Session should be asking is “Is paying Per Capita a faithful use of the funds we are charged to oversee?” Per Capita payment should not be seen as automatic by anyone but decided upon as a church decides to support other area.
    Why denounce evangelical members of TPUP? Having been at The Coalition’s meeting in Chicago with that group I would say they misrepresented what they were attempting to do through their recommendations (a nice way of saying, “They lied.”)
    Why contribute to a fund to help other churches caught up in a court battle with the PCUSA? Why not? I am not saying anyone should or shouldn’t but they could seek the Lord’s will in the matter and may be led to do so, or may not.

  27. Jason Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    “The past thirty years of PCUSA infighting, as well as my understanding of the issues, do not suggest that God is engaged in such spiritual renewal in the PCUSA. ”

    So where is God in the PCUSA then?

  28. Bill Goff Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    I want to respond briefly to Tim and others who have inquired about how one could possibly interpret the Bible to allow same sex intimacy. I don’t want to take up space in Mark Roberts fine blog to go into great detail. Let me just outline how I deal with Leviticus 18:22 and recommend three books. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a a male as with a woman: it is an abomination” (NRSV) I understand that as a clear directive against same sex intimacy. But reading the rest of the Hebrew Bible I see many other clear directives that we ignore today such as kosher rules and the admonition to put to death adulterers as well as children who curse their parents. We obviously pick and choose what parts of the Hebrew Bible we believe are applicable to us today. This does not mean we don’t believe the Bible if we don’t stone to death teenagers who disrespect their parents or if we eat pork. So how to we decide what to use from the Hebrew Scriptures and what to ignore? I believe we have to look at the context of a given passage and also the teaching of Jesus. Leviticus 18:22 is part of a holiness code: rules for the people of Israel to maintain holiness before God. The root meaning of holy is “set apart” or distinctive. Actions that fail to follow this code are abmominations. Not eating all of an offering by the third day is an abmomnation (Lev. 19:7). Following the Holiness Code was what made the people of Israel distinct from the Canaanites. Can these admonitions which served a clear purpose in the history of God’s people all be made into moral guidelines for Christians? I don’t think so. I think Jesus statements about what mades a person unclean are normative for us. Jesus said, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matt. 15:10-11). I do not believe it is a responsible interpretation of the Bible to take a verse out of context and apply it to our lives today. Those who want to use Leviticus 18:22 as a proof text to show that same sex activity is always universally a sin need to explain their methodology for sorting out from the Hebrew Bible what is applicable and non- applicable for Christians today.
    Since I am on the verge of bloviating, let me suggest three books for further study:
    What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak,
    The New Testament and Homosexuality by Robin Scroggs, and
    Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers.
    If you are only going to read one of these books, Jack Roger’s is the best choice.

  29. Sam Huffman Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Mark you are disappointed why I won’t share the reasons for my views. I decline to answer for the same reason our Lord declined to answer the elders of the people in Matthew 21:24.

    Furthermore, I fundamentally and TOTALLY disagree with you that this is a time for discourse and dialogue. IT IS A TIME FOR ACTION. When the house is burning down, it is inappropriate to debate what caused the fire or how hot the flames are; it is a time for drastic measures. So too with the PCUSA today.

  30. Evan Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Disclaimer: These comments are a poor way to communicate without sounding harsh and/or combative, which is not what I intend. I want to address Bill’s comment, “We obviously pick and choose what parts of the Hebrew Bible we believe are applicable to us today.”

    I cannot vouch for what is preached from every pulpit, but there is ample guidance from the New Testament to show what we ought to be doing without bogging down in a theological mire over the Old. We should all be able to agree that Christians certainly need to follow what is in the New Testament.

    For one example, I am not a Jew; I am a Gentile. When the question arose as to whether Gentile Christians had to observe the Mosaic law, the apostles wrote to the Gentiles in Acts 15 and said they did not, however they WERE to “abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from FORNICATION.” I have never seen where this has been rescinded. “Fornication” (”Porneia,” root word in “pornography”) includes all manner of sexual sin, but any way you slice it, it covers sex outside of marriage. It is there that the crayfishing starts to exclude our pet sexual sins from the definition of “fornication,” but the result is an exegesis that would make a Pharisee blush. So right there abandonment of the fidelity and chastity standard flies in the face of New Testament scripture.

    Further, there is no legitimate doubt that Paul is describing homosexual conduct in Romans 1 and stating that it is wrong. Additionally, in 1 Cor 1, Paul lists the various sorts of sinners that will not “inherit the kingdom of God,” and among them are “Malakos” (literally “soft ones,” and in the context of the day it meant “effeminate” and was also used for “male prostitutes”) and “Arsenokoites” (literally “Man-bedders,” and in the context of the day it meant “Men who bed men.”) I want to emphasize that Paul also lists other sexual sins that include heterosexuals, as well as thieves and liars, and notes “Such were some of you”; but that his readers had been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, ie forgiven of their sins. Sin is sin, and it is fatal, but the forgiveness of Christ is needed for ALL sin, and homosexual sins are on equal footing with any other there.

    But again, crayfishing over these New Testament passages is blatant. If you were to tell me, “I just got a raise and a promotion!” and I replied, “Cool!”, it would be very bad faith to translate my response as “Winter weather!” In the context of our speech, it is well-known what “Cool!” means there, and the gyrations I have seen over “Arsenokoites” (”Man-bedders”) somehow NOT having any meaning to do with homosexual conduct are utterly in bad faith. Of course, crayfishing over the meaning of adultery (”I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman!”) is also equally ludicrous, but it isn’t right, either.

    It all boils down to what we first heard in the Garden: “Has God REALLY SAID…?” and the answer is, Yes, He did. Efforts to somehow contravene His explicit instructions end up as badly as it did for Adam and Eve. The New Testament is explicit in calling homosexual conduct a sin, which for me is game, set and match.

  31. Jim Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    #28 Bill Goff — Respectfully, I think the reason your “Holiness Code” argument fails is that this was expressly addressed by the first Council of Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 15), in terms of what lifestyles Gentile believers were expected to live as Christians, and whether they had to follow the entire Jewish “Holiness Code.” The Council decided, expressly stating that it is what the Holy Spirit requires, that the restrictions against sexual immorality still applied to Gentile Christians as well as Jewish Christians: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:28-29)

    Certainly the entire New Testament is uniform in this as well. In fact, Jesus’ statements in Matthew 15 support that the fundamental requirements of God regarding sexual morality have not changed. You only made reference to the first part of what Jesus had to say. Jesus elaborated on his initial statement to the disciples: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:18-20)

    So, I think Acts 15, along with the rest of the Scriptures in the New Testament expressly saying homosexuality as well as other types of sexual immorality are wrong, is what is the “methodology for sorting out from the Hebrew Bible what is applicable and non-applicable for Christians today” in terms of sexual behavior.

  32. Gene Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    RE: Bill Goff’s recommended reading list:

    “What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality” by Daniel A. Helminiak,
    “The New Testament and Homosexuality” by Robin Scroggs, and
    “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality” by Jack Rogers

    Bill, none of these authors are scientists! They assume sexual orientation is genetic and that has never been proven. Check out for scientific studies. The jury is still out.

  33. Mark Daniels Says:
    July 17th, 2008 at 8:28 am

    A small point.

    We Lutherans do not have an episcopal system. We have a congregational system with synodical and churchwide leaders called bishops. But they don’t function as episcopal bishops. Bishops have no power to move clergy from church to church, for example. Their teaching isn’t considered normative, only the Word of God is.

    The title of bishop supplanted the titles of district and synod president in the ELCA’s predecessor bodies back in the late-70s. But functionally, nothing really changed.

    Good series.

    Mark Daniels

  34. Ryan Says:
    July 20th, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    I agree with those who say that you have to do some major gyrations to say that Paul would have approved of any homoerotic activity–I don’t think you can really make that statement with integrity. However, the question is this: does Paul speak for God on this matter? To those who hold to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, the answer would have to be yes. For those of us that don’t, perhaps the jury is still out.

    But here’s an easier question: does Jesus speak for God on any and all matters? I think all Christians would answer yes to this. And Jesus is never recorded speaking about same-sex relations. However, Matthew 19:9 records Jesus saying very clearly that divorce and remarriage is tantamount to adultery, and yet we don’t try to deny ordination to “unrepentant” divorced and remarried candidates. Why the double standard?

    I believe it is a theologically valid position to say that Paul disapproved of homoerotic activity and that Paul is not infallible. One can affirm the authority of scripture without holding to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

    There is only one human being in all of history who can accurately be described as infallible, and He had nothing to say on this particular matter.

  35. Thomas Buck Says:
    July 21st, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Ryan, I believe that Jesus framed the proper venue for all sexual relations in the previous few verses in Matthew 19, starting in verse 3.

    Sex is reserved for those in a marital relationship with someone of the opposite sex, according to what Jesus said. It was this way “from the beginning.”

    As has been mentioned earlier in this series of posts, Jesus was also silent about rape and some other heinous sins. To view silence on a topic as acceptance or approval is shaky ground indeed.

  36. Evan Says:
    July 22nd, 2008 at 9:41 am

    #34 Ryan

    When one goes down the road that only Jesus was infallible, therefore any other pronouncement by anyone else can be questioned or ignored, everything goes out the window. The Jesus Seminar ups the ante: Since Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not perfect men, their account of what Jesus actually said is flawed, too, ergo, we can never really know what Jesus said or did. Pick and choose what you feel the “real” Jesus would have said and done.

    More to your point, Paul notes a number of times in his letters when he is giving his own opinion and not speaking for the Lord. Further, I do not think that if you assert that Paul and the other writers of scripture were divinely inspired to transmit the true word of the Lord when they were writing scripture that this means they had to be infallible 24/7. Elijah, for example, spoke the word of God and a drought followed, and he also did other clearly miraculous acts, but it is also clear that his later desire to die was not divinely inspired. It is an attractive argument to insist that anything authored by a non-infallible person can be questioned, but it simply leads to the PostModern mush where anything goes. I don’t have to believe that Paul was divinely inspired whenever he ordered a cheeseburger in order to accept his writings as divinely inspired.

    In any event, Jesus said in Mark 7:21 that fornication and adultery, among other sins, defile a man. Jesus also described marriage as between a man and a woman, “from the beginning.” That pretty well torpedoes the entire argument. At that point, the argument shifts from “Well, JESUS didn’t condemn extramarital sex” to “Well, Jesus didn’t really say that.” It all goes back to what we heard in the Garden: “Did God REALLY say ‘Do not eat the fruit?’” Yes, He did, and no, you shouldn’t.

  37. Ryan Says:
    July 22nd, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Hello all, and thanks for your comments!

    Evan wrote: “It is an attractive argument to insist that anything authored by a non-infallible person can be questioned, but it simply leads to the PostModern mush where anything goes.”

    I would respond that yes, anything written by a non-infallible person can be questioned–that’s exactly what it means to be non-infallible! And no, saying that we can question the biblical writers doesn’t mean we have to descend into post-modern mush. It does mean that we have be adults and take responsibility for our own moral decision-making, rather than trying to get a 1st-century text to do our thinking for us.

    And again, I’m still wondering why, if Presbyterian policy is to stick strictly to “biblical” ethics, we’re not denying ordination to divorced and remarried candidates when Jesus was at least as clear on that (probably more so) as he was on homosexuality.

  38. Evan Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 12:52 pm


    As noted before, this is a terrible medium in which to have a discussion, since inflection, facial expression, etc are missing, and it is easy to not fully develop a thought, while thinking that you had. That said, let me clarify what I meant in that sentence.

    Simply “questioning” is not what I meant, although unfortunately, I just used the one word “questioned.” In the context of the “PostModern mush” I mentioned, which I should have made clear and did not, I meant “questioned ad infinitum” so that there can never be enough “proof” to come to a conclusion. If a Secret Service agent comes to your door, you can ask to see ID. You can contact the Secret Service and ask for verification. But for some folks, even talking face-to-face with the President himself would not “prove” anything. “This could be a really good impersonator.” And so on. There has to be some reasonable standard for decision.

    You asked how it would be possible to know if Paul was speaking for God, given that Paul was not infallible. You allowed that Jesus would be authoritative, as he WAS infallible. What I was driving at was that a good number of folks say that we have no authoritative account of what Jesus actually said because the Gospel writers were fallible. The overarching question: Is it possible for a fallible human being to EVER accurately pass along the Word of God? If so, how do you judge if this has happened? If you adjudge the words of Jesus to have authority, it presupposes that the Gospel writers, at least in the instance of the Gospels, accurately passed along the Word of God that they heard. The same standard would apply to determining if Paul accurately passed along the Word of God that he claimed to hear.

    So what I wrote turns out to be a tad silly as written; see above disclaimer. :) Of course things can be “questioned.” That is a necessary part of coming to faith. But if there is no framework for ever coming to a dispositive answer, “questioning ad infinitum,” as my professors liked to do, just becomes a dodge– a fun exercise in the Theory of Truth that winds up with no standard for Truth at all.

    I am logically comfortable with the notion that in given instances, fallible humans accurately passed on the Word of God with divine guidance and assistance, much in the same way that fallible humans could work miracles with divine guidance and assistance. I should mention that Mark Roberts’ book, “Can We Trust The Gospels?” elaborates on this in a most readable manner.

  39. Ryan Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 3:15 pm


    Thanks for the clarification. Though this may not be an optimal medium for conversation, I sure am thankful for this technology that allows us to have the conversation at all!

    It seems that the basic difference between “conservatives” and “progressives” in the Church (though I really hate that terminology) is that conservatives use the Bible as their ultimate source of truth, while progressives–as much as some may protest to the contrary–don’t; I think Mark has alluded to this discrepancy in this great series of posts. For progressives, a collection of texts that sanction genocide (Joshua), slavery (Philemon, Peter), and the silencing of women (Corinthians, Peter) to cite a few examples, cannot be used to define justice and love for members of a culture with basic understandings of human equality and civil rights. Had our cultural understandings of justice not evolved since the first century A.D., I believe we’d be in a pretty sorry state.

    I have heard many conservative arguments for why things like slavery and barring female leadership are not okay nowadays and barring gay leadership is, and they all pretty much come down to, “well, you need to understand the cultural context of the Bible”. This is precisely the argument that progressives try to use for the full inclusion of LGBT people in church leadership, but conservatives only seem to accept this kind of argument when it suits them. It’s interesting to note, along these lines, that at one time, abolition of slavery and ordination of women were considered distinctly “liberal” positions.

    Though progressives may not use the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of their ethical decision-making, to accuse them of complete disregard for biblical authority and even apostasy is misguided at best and libelous at worst. There is room within Christainity for a more Pietist reading of the Bible which goes to the scriptural text for Life rather than for Truth, as an authoritative witness to the Word of God rather than the Word of God itself.

    Lastly, my dear brother in Christ, though you speak of your professors dodging questions, I have to say that I have yet to hear a reasonable argument for why we’re ordaining divorced and remarried people and not LGBT people. I’m starting to think that it’s simply because gay folks are an easier target.

  40. Thomas Buck Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Dear Ryan:

    To address the idea in the last paragraph of response #39, I see it like this. Yes, divorce is a sin, and it must be a pretty bad one, or the Lord would not have said He hated it. Homosexuality is also a sin, according to the Bible. But a divorce is a one-time sin, whereas a homosexual relationship is a continual sin,

    I am not a Presbyterian, so I don’t know what is allowed as far as ordination of divorced people in that denomination. Does the Presyterian church allow its ministers one divorce and remarriage? Two? Ten?

    I would liken the ordination of a practicing gay person to the ordination of a serial philanderer or a person with multiple divorces. These behaviors are not good examples for the congregants, and folks with these problems should not be ordained.

  41. Ryan Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Dear Thomas,

    Thank you for your willingness to explain your position to me. I have really appreciated hearing people’s perspectives, even if I don’t always agree with them.

    I’m not sure that Jesus would quite have agreed with you that divorce and remarriage is a one-sin. Perhaps the acts of divorce and remarriage only happen once, but it seems to me that the Lord was saying that every time a man has sex with a woman other than the one he originally promised his life to (or vice versa), he is committing adultery. In this way, remarriage after a divorce is, by Jesus’ logic, as continual a sin as you argue a homosexual relationship is.

  42. Bill Goff Says:
    July 28th, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    I want to respond to Evan, #36 who quoted Genesis 3. The distant sons and daughters of Eve have a habit of making the same mistake that our beloved first mother made. In her dialog with the shrewd serpent, she misquoted God by elaborating on what God had said and making the prohibition against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil more restrictive than God had made it. She said, “You must not eat it or even touch it…” But God had never said anything about touching the tree or the fruit. Eve’s little exageration opened her up to direct disobedience of God’s will.
    So the living sons and daughters of Eve say that not only is God’s word inspired, it’s infallable. And since we can find passages in Scripture which are negative regarding some kinds of homosexual activity, it must mean God is against homosexuals. And so we believe that homosexuality in itself is a sin. And since we found it in the Bible, anyone who disagrees with us must not really believe in the Bible and is a liberal, a sinner, a reprobate - surely someone we cannot ordain or with whom we can maintain fellowship in the same denomination.
    My plea is that in our zeal to obey God we don’t become more restrictive than God.


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