I consider myself an orthodox progressive Christian. The first part of that definition refers to my beliefs about doctrine, the second to how I believe I should live my life. Though the two terms pertain to different things, I see no logical conflict between them. People keep telling me that “America” disagrees, but can offer me no intelligent reason why.
Now, I used to work with a woman named America, and she was beautiful. I sort of had a crush on her. I don’t think they’re talking about her, because for all I know, she might agree with me. I don’t work with her anymore, so I can’t ask her.
I suspect “America” is being used as a synonym for “everyone in the universe,” though I don’t think that’s correct, either. Nor do I see any reason why my views must magically be invalidated because a majority of people — however huge — disagrees with me. I hear this nonsense most often concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the Christian faith.
Those who oppose full LGBT inclusion in the Church have largely given up appealing to “everyone in the universe,” or even “America,” when citing the multitudes who supposedly agree with them, because as poll after poll now shows, that just isn’t true. The one cardboard-cutout majority they still claim to have on their side is “orthodox Christianity.” We kept hearing appeals to this during the recent Duck Dynasty publicity stunt — excuse me, controversy. “Orthodox Christianity” disapproves of “homosexuality,” we were told, again and again and again and again.
When the delegation from our local chapter of Dignity, the LGBT Catholic organization, was disinvited from a workshop on pastoral care, the excuse given was that our theology did not meet the standard of “orthodox Christianity.” People always say this with a slightly-hysterical edge to their voices, as if they’re afraid we’re going to argue.
And we should. Because — contrary to what they imply — there simply is, no longer, any consensus against “homosexuality” even in orthodox Christianity. An increasing number of quite conservative Christians are actually reading what the Bible has to say that (supposedly) deals with the subject, and discovering that about committed relationships between same-sex couples, it says exactly nothing. That’s right — nothing at all.
I doubt we can convince every conservative Christian of that, because the way many of them interpret the Bible makes reasoning with them next to impossible. Though I’m doctrinally orthodox, and believe every word of the traditional creeds, I’m an Episcopalian who was raised Lutheran, so I don’t interpret Scripture the same way they do. At the risk of sounding intolerant, my way makes sense to me, while theirs strikes me as, well, wacky.
They seem to see the Bible as sort of an epic comic book. The major characters had superhero powers. Jesus was sort of like Clark Kent: God hiding inside a man-suit. Even though twenty-one centuries ago, when He walked the earth, human civilization handled relationships very differently than they do today, and not only gay marriage but anything remotely approaching the modern conception of heterosexual marriage was unheard of, they’re sure Jesus disapproved of “homosexuality.” That He peered ahead into the future — with His Superman sight — foretold what society would be like in the Twenty-first Century, and definitively pronounced all same-sex unions anathema.
Now, if the orthodox theology in which they claim to believe is correct, then Jesus was both God and Man. That means He was not only totally God, but one hundred percent human. Though God knows everything there is to know and ever will be, Jesus — while He walked this earth — did not. Not if he was, indeed, fully human, and not just God in costume, because an essential aspect of our humanity is that we don’t know everything. Which means that He had nothing to say about committed relationships between people of the same sex, lived out in the open, because in His days as an earthly Man, they did not exist.
Jesus spoke, in the Gospels, about things with which He was familiar, and that His hearers would understand. We don’t know if He would have been a Republican, or a Democrat, or a capitalist, or a socialist, because none of those existed at the time He lived among humankind. To put words into His mouth about all sorts of Twenty-first Century stuff — no matter who does it, or in service to which cause — is idiotic. It is, moreover, unorthodox.
What Jesus did do and at this, He was indisputably a genius — was teach His hearers everything they would need to know, in a way that they could transmit to future generations. He did this in such a manner that nothing essential would ever be lost in translation. Thus did He teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That should be easy enough for everybody to understand — even the most hardcore fundamentalists. If it isn’t, that says a lot more about them than it does about Jesus.
God meets human beings wherever they are. He doesn’t reveal more to them than they, in their particular time and place, can handle. There is no sensible reason to think “He” would have revealed anything to people two thousand years ago about committed same-sex love, because at the time such a thing, though it surely did exist, was millennia away from being understood even by the people who took part in it. In my opinion, anyone who attempts to tell me that Jesus, First Century Man of Steel, spoke through the wall of temporal Kryptonite to warn us about the evils of “homosexuality” cannot be taken seriously. It is impossible even to have an adult conversation with people who think like that, much less an intelligent one.
The entire universe may not be coming around to accepting us as human beings yet, but America definitely is. As more and more people recognize that taking the Christian creeds seriously actually requires that all people — including LGBT’s — be treated with equal respect, the term “orthodox progressive” will no longer be seen as disagreeable.