A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. James A. Creasy
Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Today’s Epistle along with Galatians 3:26-29, provide a scriptural basis for dealing with the current controversy facing the church at this time.
In Galatians Chapter Three we read, [B]efore faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Many Christians interpret Paul’s body organ analogy and the Galatians passage (which speaks of the New Covenant superseding the Old Testament purity codes [codes of exclusion]), as pertaining directly to the current controversy.
A good case, using these scriptures, can be made to support full inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and transgendered peoples – the members of the sexual minorities of the human race. But one must first be open to seeing this line of reasoning in order to accept it, otherwise the misunderstandings and negative stereotypes many of us hold regarding homosexuals, cause one to see only the negative passages as pertaining to the issue. If we accept Jesus and his law of Love and Grace as our guiding light, we will find no reason to exclude them. For Jesus said absolutely nothing about them – pro or con. Apparently he didn’t think it was an issue worth bringing up as he went about proclaiming the Reign of God.
The Old Testament, the covenant in which the Jews understood their relationship with God, was one of many laws, rules, & regulations. Many of these were good and valid for the ordering of life in the day and age in which they were written. But the society and culture of the ancient world was quite different from ours. Principally it was a culture which gave little recognition to the rights and value of individuals.
Many of the codes and regulations had to do with the survival of people in a hostile environment. For example, the survival and advancement of the Hebrew race depended upon every person contributing to the growth of the population. Love & Romance were insignificant in their struggle to survive & grow.
Also, women were recognized as little more than possessions of the male members of society.
And thirdly, there was absolutely no understanding or recognition of any thing other than a heterosexual orientation. Engaging in homosexual behavior was seen as a choice and not as a result of the persons psychological and physiological make up.
In marked contrast to that understanding, modern psychology and scientific observation of human sexuality reveals quite a spectrum of human beings in term of sexual orientation. And this has led to the conclusion that homosexuality is simply another of the neutral variations found in the human population (and as a matter of fact, prevalent in most species of living creatures). Homosexuality has no more moral significance than left handedness, eye color, or skin color. And this should be kept in mind as we examine the very few passages found in the New Testament that appear to condemn homosexuals.
In Romans St. Paul speaks of men giving up their natural inclinations toward relationships with women and committing “unspeakable” acts with other men.
But two things should be pointed out regarding this passage in the First Chapter of Romans. First, the situation he describes is in the social/cultural context of the pagan ritual practices of the ancient world. Many ancient religious practices of that day involved the use of temple prostitutes – both male and female.
(Elaborate on this ….)
The Jews, as do most modern religions, found such ritual practices to be contrary to their understanding of the nature of God. And they saw the people involved in these rituals as breaking the first Commandment:
“You shall have no other god before you and You shall not worship foreign gods.”
A second observation of Paul’s teaching regarding same-sex relationships has to do with the word he uses for “natural.” He says “they gave up their natural inclinations.” From our understanding of sexual orientation, he could only be speaking of heterosexual people – those who are naturally drawn to members of the opposite sex. If we follow Paul’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, it would be un-natural for a homosexual person to have an intimate relationship with someone of the opposite sex. (Of course this is only one interpretation of the passage. Most of us are well acquainted with the traditional interpretation, and many of us have difficulty seeing it any other way.)
So, what do we do when individual Christians hold varied interpretation of a biblical passage?
Traditionally, Anglicanism has tolerated a wide variety of interpretations on many issues, especially those which are non-essentials to our understanding of God & humankind’s relationship with God.
I and many other Anglicans would suggest that sexuality is not a critical or essential issue in the living out of the Gospel Of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus said nothing and Paul said very little about it speaks volumes.
There are more important things for Christians to concern themselves with or get bent out of shape over.
So let us return to today’s Epistle. Paul’s imagery of the body being made up of many organs and appendages, is his way of reminding us that God creates all of us individually for a specific purposes and roles in the Kingdom. Our acceptance and valuing of each other is the central point of the passage. And I would contend that this is as true of members of various sexual orientations as it is of genders (male and female) and races (Caucasian, Oriental, or Negro).
I once saw a wall poster that said said, “God Don’t create no Junk”
Each of us is created by God (in God’s image) with special characteristics, talents, and gifts. Paul said “All things work for the good for those who wait upon the Lord.”
The Valuing and Worth of each and every member of the Church is the Good News that we celebrate today. As we ask in the vows of our Baptismal Liturgy
“Do you respect the Dignity of every human being?”
The Answer is “I will with God’s help.”
Father Creasy, who is non-stipendiary in the Diocese of Alabama, was serving as supply priest on a regular basis to the congregation for which he delivered the above sermon. In the week following this sermon he was told “We have no need of you.” Another preacher, more to their liking, was asked to supply.
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