Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

Some readers may recall that one of my brothers responded during the family discussion by mention of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.  In the next preceding post, His Spirit Is Crying Out and Yearning, the reader will hopefully recognize that the issues of homosexuality and transsexuality, when considered in the light of actual lives, aren’t so easily identified or judged.

Why do I juxtapose these two statements?   Because Niebuhr understood that one cannot do theology in the abstract.  His prayer, known as the Serenity Prayer, has been an inspiration for those confronting addictions based upon 12 Step programs.   It recognizes that when one “does theology” in the flesh, one must struggle “to know the difference” between what we can change and what we cannot change.  He has been cited by both extremes of the political and religious spectrum and all points between.  In the 2008 presidential election, he was quoted by both President Obama and Senator McCain.

For an excellent discussion of Niebuhr’s teaching and influence, particularly as relating to his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society , see http://www.onbeing.org/program/moral-man-and-immoral-society-rediscovering-reinhold-niebuhr/feature/five-conversations/2253.  That National Public Radio website describes Niebuhr’s contribution: “We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term “Christian realism:” a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance.”

Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

It’s a Matter of Choice

It’s a Matter of Choice

We often hear of objections to the GLBT community: “It’s a matter of choice – to sin or not to sin.”  I believe the resolution of the conflict in the various Christian churches over full inclusion in the life of the church is a matter of choice, not of gender or sexual orientation, but of where we put our faith.

I note in the article concerning Rev. Amy DeLong , http://www.rmnetwork.org/trial-of-rev-amy-delong-approaches/, that it concludes that the trial is “incompatible with scripture . . . [and] with our larger Church Tradition . . .”  I do support Rev. DeLong in this matter.  But I think it is as mistaken to quote scripture as though it is definitive on loving inclusion of the GLBT community within our own  as are the various biblical arguments for judgment and exclusion.

To some degree faith is a gift; but it also involves choice.  I am reminded of Hans Kung’s book Does God Exist?  He proceeds through the proofs of God and concludes that there is no ironclad proof of God’s existence.  He then traces the proofs that there is no God to its ultimate conclusion of nihilism. He likewise concludes that it cannot be proven that there is no God, or that there is no purpose in life.  As I interpret my recollection of the book, one is left with a choice: choose God or no God and take the consequences: meaning in life or no meaning.

Eric Fromm, in Psychoanalysis and Religion asserts that a healthy religion is necessary to mental health.  Interesting coming from a person popularly categorized as an atheist and a humanist. He defines religion as that which gives us an object of devotion and a sense of orientation.  Rev. Bruggeman says that the command not to worship idols also means not to reduce God to our private purposes, as in church fund-raising.  Have we idolized God into the form of our image, our prejudices or our purposes?  That would certainly be contrary to the Jewish (Christian Old Testament) notion of the nameless God and the living God.

How does this apply to my view of GLBT issues?  We must accept that the Bible can be used to support almost any position, no matter how disparate.   We find the same of Jewish, Muslim and other sacred scriptures.  We like things to be black and white, right or wrong.  But, as our world is a mixture, from our individual point of view, of good and bad, so is our scripture.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral recognizes this.  In this blog, I have attempted to set out the various biblical arguments used by some Christians to judge GLBT issues (sometimes politely distinguished as “discernment”) and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, I set out a homosexual’s biblical argument justifying his sexual orientation.

I suggest here and in the blog that we will not find clear, consistent answers in the Bible on the issues of gender, sexuality or sexual orientation.  We are in the same position Hans Kung found himself on the issue of whether God exists:  we must make a choice, and that choice will have practical effects: ranging from “life has meaning” to “it has no meaning;” or from, “I am the center and condition of all existence”  to “life is bigger than I am;” or “I am the author  of my fate” to “life is something that happens to me.”  My father, Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler, once put it to me this way, “People think Christianity is all about dying and going to heaven.  I say, ‘No.  It is about living a life of eternal significance.’”

For my part I choose for my object of devotion and sense of orientation Matthew’s quotes of Jesus: “Inasmuch as you did or didn’t do it unto others, you did or didn’t do it unto me;” “By their fruits you will know them.”  To paraphrase a great figure in another day and situation, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”  Life involves choice.  It just does.  Make your choice and see what kind of fruit it bears.  Does it bear hatred and exclusion or love, respect and inclusion?

In this blog, I note the biblical contradictions and I suggest that if you can find an honest way to both judge and to love unconditionally, to both judge the act and love the “sinner,” and if it bears good fruit, do it.  As for me, I must make a choice between the two.  I can’t hold onto judgment of another’s gender or sexual orientation, whether by choice or circumstance, and still love the person.  I choose to love unconditionally and share in the rich give-and-take of community.

It’s a Matter of Choice

United Methodist Groups and Positions on Homosexuality

See http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_umc3.htm for an excellent article examining different churches and groups in the United Methodist denomination, both positive and negative on the issue of homosexuality.

Discussion

What if Rev. Juillart were a Methodist clergywoman?  What should she have done when she met the woman and discovered that she had “feelings” for her?

What should she have done when the relationship developed into a lesbian relationship (whatever that means?)

If she lived with that woman in a loving, but nonsexual relationship, would that make a difference?

What effect did the much later lesbian relationship have upon Rev. Juillart’s teenage call to the ministry, if any?

What reaction do you have to “the Sacramento 95?”

What is the significance of acts of Civil Disobedience?

Why should the fact that there were so many ministers involved in the service of union performed by the Sacramento 95 make a difference in how the UMC applied its Discipline?

Why should the outcome of that union service be different from that of Rev. Jimmy Creech?

What significance do you see in the act of Rev. Jimmy Creech?  In the UMC’s discipline of him?

What is your opinion of the Reconciling Congregations?  Pros and cons?

What implications do expenditures for reconciliation have concerning the Discipline provision prohibiting expenditures for promotiing the acceptance of homosexuality?

What of the Transforming Congregations?  Pros and cons?

Do you see the conflict over homosexuality in the UMC as different from “ordinary” bias against bi-sexuals or trans-sexuals?

Do you see any way to resolve the conflict other than splitting the church?

United Methodist Groups and Positions on Homosexuality

Is There a Gay Gene? What If . . . ?

See http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2006/05/genetics-and-sexuality-gay-gene.html for studies to determine if there is a genetic basis for homosexuality.  The author, Dr. Deborah Serani, reviews studies on the issue and she finds them inconclusive.  She notes that, “Rev. Mohler was astute with his statement to fellow Southern Baptists that homosexuality might have a biological base.”  And Rev. Mohler asks, “What if?” 

See, also, http://genetics.suite101.com/article.cfm/sexual_behavior_in_mice for an article by Barry Starr entitled “Pheremones Decide Mice Sexuality; Sexual Behaviour and Genetics Study Reveals Causes of Bisexuality”

 

What would it hurt if we suspended judgment on homosexuality until more evidence can be gathered concerning any physical determinants of the orientation?

Discuss

What do we really have to lose by assuming that the answer may be in the affirmative and so we treat it, until proven otherwise, as though it is not a choice but a biologically determined condition?

Is There a Gay Gene? What If . . . ?

A Christian Response: Gays – No Easy Answers

See http://theparson.net/gays.html for the entire sermon.  A portion of the first part of the sermon is set out below.

Gays—No Easy Answers; A Christian Response

Acts 8:26-40
By C. David Hess

American Baptists and other mainline denominations are deeply divided over the question of what is the appropriate stance the church should take toward gays in our midst. I think it important to share with you my interim reflections on the matter.

The first thing, and the main thing, I want to say is that we need to forget about simple answers. There are none. We are fooling ourselves if we think there are. There are certainly no simple answers as to how or why someone becomes a homosexual. The debate still rages as to whether it is caused by genetic or environmental factors. The two are not mutually exclusive. There is evidence that there is a genetic linkage with homosexuality (twins studies), but the same studies indicate that genetic factors alone are insufficient to cause a person to be homosexual. Some theorize that homosexuality is at root heterophobia (essentially the Freudian view). Maybe for some it is. We do not know enough to come up with any one theory or explanation as to why or how a person becomes homosexual.

There is common agreement among psychiatrists that individuals do not choose their sexual orientation. However, human beings are flexible creatures, and there is evidence that the sexual orientation and behavior of some can be modified. It is the general consensus among psychiatrists that most cannot change their sexual orientation. We in the church should keep all this in mind as we wrestle with the issue. We should not be too eager to offer simple solutions. If gays know anything, they know there are no simple answers. If we want to have any credibility with them, we should not offer any. Unfortunately we do, again and again. The answers we offer are different, but usually plagued by the same defect. They are too simple.

. . .

[Visit the above site for the rest of the sermon, which examines the inadequacy of the range of views within the church to confront the homosexuality issue.]

DISCUSSION:

Old Testament scholar, Walter Bruegemann, writes in his book, Countering Pharaoh’s Production-Consumption Society Today,  that the Commandment, “Do not take the Lord God’s name in vain,” means, also, that you shall not glibly claim God’s authority for your pet projects, as, for example, your fund-raiser.

What is your view of Mr. Brugemann’s interpretation of this commandment?

Is invocation of God’s judgment on the homosexual a mis-appropriation of God’s authority?  How is that so, or not so?

Do you have a position among those listed by Mr. Hess?  Conservative? Progressive?  Moderate?

As to each, what are the benefits and the negative consequences?

What would be wrong to simply accept homosexuality, at least in some, perhaps many, cases as just nature’s creation?  What if we saw it as nature’s specific gift?

What role should religion have to inform us of how we should treat people of a sexual orientation other than our own?

What evidence do we have that God loves them as they are, or that God hates the expression of their “alternative” sexual life-style?

A Christian Response: Gays – No Easy Answers

A Gay Man’s Scriptural Defense of Homosexuality

See http://www.jeramyt.org/gay.html for a gay man’s scriptural defense of homosexuality.

Discussion

How different is the approach of this author from those condemning homosexuality?

How convincing is it?

Do both condemnation and justification fall short of convincing?

A Gay Man’s Scriptural Defense of Homosexuality