In conversation with a new friend I made recently (I hope), we are heading for a major turning point as I express a fundamental disagreement that I have with him. This man is my elder, a venerable and respectable man who does good works in the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson. However, our point of disagreement revolves around our differing opinions on the Church and theology.
He describes himself as a "gay theologian," and last week he gave me one of his handouts. It is a study of the Biblical relationship between David (second King of Israel) and his close friend Jonathan. Put together, the string of scripture quotes show clearly that there was a sexual relationship between the two, even though David's ruthless attitude towards a woman that he desired, Bathsheba, rules out the possibility that King David was gay.
Last week I took one step in the direction of expressing my opinion of his intellectual stance, and tomorrow I intend to go further. As much as it pains me to take this stand, I will be quoting the Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.
Bishop Spong is a world-class biblical scholar; don't attempt to disagree with him on Church scholarship, for you will lose the argument. But some years ago, in a rise that parallels the growth of the Religious Right, something emerged that was referred to at the time as Conservative Theology.
As you might guess, this system of thought depends on literal interpretation of the Bible plus the commitment to rationalize any apparent contradiction. So when the Book of Genesis mentions that the young Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to Ishmaelites, actual rabbinic tradition holds that it may have been to Midianite traders, and the Jewish scholarship goes on to postulate that the Midianites sold Joseph to Medanites, who sold him to Egyptians, who sold him to a man named Potiphar to be a slave in his house. (Wikipedia.org)
In fact, the story is just not as simple as it is usually thought. Biblical literalism doesn't work. In fact, Scripture is so contradictory that people always resort to choosing what they want to believe and what they ignore.
This situation led Bishop Spong to declare, on his authority as one of the world's leading Scriptural authorities, that there are only two kinds of theology: good and bad. We have no time for bad theology no matter who preaches it: the Pope, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention or the African Bishops.
So I intend to tell my friend (whom I hope remains my friend after this conversation) that I feel the same as Bishop Spong and in my personal opinion there is no such thing as gay theology. But I have another reason to believe this besides Bishop Spong's conviction.
Have you ever considered the term, "a case-by-case basis?" I believe with all my heart and soul that Christianity is a religion that does not deal with classes of people: Protestant, Catholic, male, female, denominations. We are all, in a very important sense, alone with God and alone before God. We will never be called upon to account for anyone besides ourselves.
I believe that after we die, we will be given the great gift of understanding the complete meaning of our lives. The often-used phrase, "My whole life passed before my eyes" is one that seems to be used with utter seriousness by many of those who have near-death experiences. Many of them say that it happened to them. In that sense I no longer believe in a "Last Judgment" in which uncounted millions of people will be separated into sheep and goats, or anything else.
I believe that when we leave our earthly lives in the final, complete sense, we will look back and understand the meaning of our lives clearly, and also the impact that we have had on others, for good or ill. That is actually the only judgment that matters.
I know that it is not fair, even to our fallible human standards, for God to judge us on trivial things such as whether we attended church on Sunday or Saturday, or only once a week, or whether we went to the "correct" denomination. Such things are said by human beings, but God must be above it.
Therefore, there can be no such thing as "gay theology," because God has no particular attitude towards gay or straight people as two groups. God's only concern is with YOU, as you are. Our gender identity will be of no further use to us when we leave our physical bodies behind us and assume spiritual bodies (whatever they are). We depend on God to love and understand us AS WE ARE, never IN COMPARISON TO anyone else.
If we cannot believe that, then God is no better than any fallible human being, no matter how good s/he may be. And if God is no better than Zeus, he is no Creator God and our faith is in vain. This has nothing to do with an Empty Tomb or a Resurrection; we are concerned with the nature of God as unconditional, absolute lawful good. We have seen part of it with the life and death of Jesus. But as St. Paul said, the day will come when we see no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face (as it were).
Christianity is the only belief system that even theorizes that every single individual is so important to God that he descended to earth, to be born and die, individually for each of us, as though you or I were the only person who ever lived. Take a moment to look at a crucifix the next time you come across one: that is how much God loves you, no matter who you are.
Back in the Postwar period it was politically incorrect to suggest that the Nazis had as much standing before God as the "good guys" who put a stop to them. But C. S. Lewis relates a story about meeting a priest who had survived the War in Germany and had known Adolf Hitler.
"What did Hitler look like?" Lewis asked him.
"Like any man; that is, like Christ."