What’s Your Paradigm?

There are two versions of Christianity on the American landscape according to Marcus Borg in his book,  The Heart of Christianity. One he calls “earlier paradigm” and the other “emerging paradigm” (not to be confused with the label “emergent church” which is a sociological phenomenon of ad hoc community). “Earlier” Christianity “views the Bible as the unique revelation of God, emphasizes its literal meaning, and sees the Christian life as centered in believing now for the sake of salvation later…it has also seen Christianity as the only true religion..”Emerging Christianity is the product of Christianity’s encounter with the modern and postmodern world, including science, historical scholarship, religious pluralism and cultural diversity. It is also the product of our awareness of how Christianity has contributed to racism, sexism, nationalism, exclusivism and other harmful ideologies.” (xii)

First Christian Church Pomona is part of the emerging paradigm of Christianity, part of what many are calling the new reformation. We are among thousands of congregations where people are finding a home because the earlier paradigm is too far out of step with the realities they’ve come to know. Most of the people who have left church have left the earlier paradigm, unaware there are faith communities like ours where they can think and use the intellect God gave them. They do not know there are churches that do not bad mouth Gay and Lesbian people under the guise and doublespeak  of “loving the sinner and hating the sin”.

I recently followed a facebook conversation of one of our members about homosexuality and Christian faith. The conversation was a clear representation of both these paradigms. Marc Roark, an elder in our congregation, gave his permission for me to share his response to what had been an ongoing conversation throughout the course of a day.

“It is clear that some people choose to read the text of the bible literally. That is not my stance. Literal interpretation of things we call scripture is fraught with problems beyond culture — largely that as a literary text, certain stories we read were not intended by their author’s to be taken literally. For example, Genesis records at least two different accounts of creation (the “In the beginning account” and the “Adam and Eve Account”) — neither of which necessarily account for literal accounts of first beginnings. (Obviously, not everyone will agree with this, I am just explaining why I do not accept literal descriptions in text).

A second, unrelated problem of literal interpretation is the over-extension of the meaning of a text. For example, Prof. Samuels (Poli Sci, not theology 🙂 ) raises the issue of Sodom and Gomorra. Well, Sodom and Gomorra was not a problem of Homosexual conduct of itself, but rather the perverse nature of forced sex upon two visiting men (which happened to be homosexual sex). It is quite the slippery slope to argue on the basis of S&G that a monogamous homosexual relationship should be treated the same way as forced sex. Again, the danger of extending literalism too far. Let me be clear: I am not saying that the Old Testament approved of homosexual conduct (albeit David and Jonathan did have a little thing going besides friendship — joke). What I am saying is that we cannot just conclude that God must apologize to Sodom for destroying the city.

At the core, I think the questions we should ask about scriptural interpretation are the same questions we ask about any good book. Do we believe the writer and why? What concerns me about this conversation as it moves forward is our tendency to evaluate people’s faithful beliefs by the way they choose to understand an issue such as this. Frankly, this is the problem that this type of discussion brings out. Do we make a person’s view on scripture or the conclusions that their view produces a referendum on their spiritual health? Frankly, this is the problem the church has suffered under for many years, and I pray, that as a church we can reach a place where we disagree not only on the outcomes of scripture, but on the ways we got there in the first place.

For me, an open and inclusive church requires one that recognizes gay marriage. I believe that doing otherwise treats a significant population of our society as second class citizens (much akin to the civil rights conflicts of the early twentieth century — you can be a partner, but you can’t marry; you can share a life together, but you can’t be with your loved one at the end of their life). These are human issues that I think the Gospels confirm a stance of standing for the weak. And if I am asked whether I am willing to “sacrifice my soul” for the right of gay people to marry, I say yes I am, in the example of Jesus, who gave all he had to bring equality and compassion to a world where class, race, and wealth defined people’s status, rather than love, grace, and compassion.”  Marc Roark

I thank Marc for allowing me to post his work which I find instructive and encouraging as I endeavor to be part of the emerging paradigm. Being part of something that is emerging can be exciting. It can also be a bit frightening because it seems to be uncharted territory. Think of the unchartered territory faced by the earliest Christians. Just as God’s Spirit led them through controversy and confusion, God’s Spirit is faithful to us.

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