Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Debate Debrief!

Long time no blog!

Let’s see—updates. Strong Heart was approved for ordination! I ended up traveling with her, through a complicated series of events… It was all for the good, because then I got to be there to celebrate with her.

Pride went very well here in River City. We had some rain on Saturday, and early Sunday morning, which may have pulled the numbers for the worship service down. Still, we had the service, with the chair of the Pride Board in attendance…trying to get the community here to be supportive, and we’re making some progress.

But I barely had time to recover from Pride when I had to finish preparing for my debate on the next Sunday—this past Sunday, as those of you who attended the Preacher’s Party know!

What happened was this—the pastor of a local Presbyterian church contacted Pride about someone willing to debate the topic of homosexuality in a church setting. Monsieur passed it on to me, and I contacted the pastor. Now, the Presbyterian church in Canada is more conservative, historically, than its US counterpart, because the more progressive congregations tended to join up with the United Church when that merger took place in the 40s or 50s, not sure—I know one of my United Church colleagues out there will correct me on the date—Gord?

Of course, over time, many of those congregations have shifted a bit. Also, don’t forget that this is Canada, after all…

So I read Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, by Jack Rogers, who is a former Moderator (head) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Great book, addresses the evangelical audience, and is very readable. I also got some talking points from my “bishop,” and talked things over with United Church colleagues and, of course, Strong Heart.

Saturday night I had dinner with Presby Pastor, his wife, an elder from the church and her husband, and my opponent. He’s a layperson from Large Canadian City, who believes that while he is gay and indeed made that way, he must remain celibate—in other words, it’s acting on his desires that he feels is sinful. We had some conversation, got to know each other a bit better, and had a good dinner.

I felt much relieved—I had feared that he would be someone who had been active for a long time, who was practised at this sort of debate, who had soundbites at his fingertips…but he wasn’t.

I don’t mean to disparage his belief—it’s what works for him, apparently (although I have my doubts). But he simply wasn’t prepared, and it showed.

We had two debates, one at the early service and one at the later service. The structure was that after an introduction and set up by Presby Pastor, we each had ten minutes to make our statement. Then we each had five minutes for rebuttal, and five more for a final summary. Not a lot of time to make complicated arguments about how we read the Bible or dissecting 1st century Greek!

My basic points were these:

  • Christ is the centre of Christianity, not the Bible; to whom do we give ultimate authority?
  • Christ never turned anyone away, in fact when people were dissuaded from coming to him, he insisted they be allowed to come (the children, the woman who wiped his feet with her hair, etc.)
  • God and the Bible do not change, but our understanding and interpretation of them do; over time, the circle of inclusion has enlarged to bring in Gentiles, slaves, women, people of colour, divorced persons, and so on, as we have changed our understanding of what the Bible is saying to us
  • I asked two questions (really the same one): “What would Jesus do?” and “Would Jesus discriminate?”
  • For you United Church of Christ pastors, I borrowed your denomination’s wonderful phrase: “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

I didn’t try to address the individual verses (the “clobber passages) partly for lack of time and partly because I didn’t want to get too technical and complicated. I did talk about them briefly but in the larger context of not being able to examine modern relationships in 1st century terms—context, in other words.

It was curious for me—I did not feel nervous. I was keyed up, but not scared or nervous. I could actually feel the prayers and positive thoughts and feelings of so many of you surrounding me, I knew it would be OK. No matter what the end result was, I knew it was in God’s hands.

There was no declared winner or loser; Presby Pastor told his congregation that they were responsible for their own consciences, their own opinions—he wasn’t going to tell them how to think. It was their duty to do the reading and research and make up their own minds, and then hold to that opinion with commitment and compassion.

All in all, a better experience than I had thought it might be. Wonderful conversations with members afterwards too, mostly supportive.

So what’s up in your world?

1 comment:

Sue said...

Many congrats to Strong Heart! It sounds like a really fruitful discussion/debate. I'm glad you could be a part of it.

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