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Irene Elizabeth Stroud, an associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, was accused of flouting the church's ban on homosexual clergy.
December 3, 2004 1:03 AM   Subscribe

In the first open trial for the Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodist Church Council in more than 50 years, the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud was accused of violating church law by openly living with her partner in a committed relationship. Jurors were instructed that they had a duty to "hold a good pastor accountable to the standard with which we all live'' under the Methodist Book of Discipline. The jury voted 7-6 to withdraw Stroud's ministerial credentials at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. She was defrocked, so to speak. Laicized. Ostracized. Demonized.
posted by three blind mice (58 comments total)

more from the Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodist Church Council here.
posted by three blind mice at 1:07 AM on December 3, 2004

'Burn! Burn! Burn!' - United Moral Values at work ...
posted by homodigitalis at 1:11 AM on December 3, 2004

"I feel a lot of sadness but I also feel hope for the future of the church," Stroud said.

this is the sort of warm, thoughtful, optimistic, and forgiving statement one should be able to expect from a christian - but so rarely hears.

this woman has class.
posted by three blind mice at 1:24 AM on December 3, 2004

A jury of 13 clergy from the United Methodist Church voted 12-1 that Irene Elizabeth Stroud had violated the church's Book of Discipline that says homosexuality is incompatible with being a minister.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:30 AM on December 3, 2004

12, 1, 7, 6... they're all numbers, right?

Or we could read the next sentence.

I respect Stroud, but I do not feel pity for her. She's clearly in the wrong denomination, if this is the sort of thing Methodists get up to.
posted by mek at 2:16 AM on December 3, 2004

Dear 'Lizbeth, now that you realize that they hate you for being gay, now that you suspect that they hate everything that smells of freedom, intimacy, sensuality, and happiness, consider a life of curious inquiry and wonder rather than dogma and sermon. Sincerely, me.
posted by ori at 2:21 AM on December 3, 2004

12, 1, 7, 6... they're all numbers, right?

12-1 that she violated the church's book of discipline.

7-6 to defrock her.

they didn't give the results on the vote to burn her at the stake, but presumably that one fell in her favor.
posted by three blind mice at 3:51 AM on December 3, 2004


I have a feeling that she knows they hate her for being gay already. I have a feeling that she also doesn't leap to the connection that they hate everything that smells of freedom, intimacy, sensuality, and happiness.... because that seems unlikely.

I don't think ministry is about dogma and sermon, not at its best anyway - only when it is being twisted to serve individual means or to articulate a dominant social philosophy. Many such philosophies require dogma and dominance just to be fulfilled, and there is such an undertone of patriarchy and male dominance in most denominations that it seems directly connected to sexism and male privileged power dynamics. (There's a reason why many denominations fear giving control of the podium to people who also happen to have been oppressed by society at large.)

Ministry is about leadership, community, spirituality, and preserving trusting relationships at its best, in my opinion - regardless of denomination. (This view is no doubt colored, however, by my Unitarian Universalist allegiance, having come from a religious community that values those aspects of ministry over the more "traditional" values of proselytization, evangelism, and preserving social order in the interest of trusting people with as small a piece of their own destinies as possible.)

It sounds like Elizabeth Stroud is exactly the type of person who should be involved in ministry - courageous, classy, and interested in the health of her community even over her own personal oppression. Imagine if all of us held up our principles in every community we are a part of - I'm not sure we would be treated any better, but we'd be moving our communities forward and we would be asking people to expect more of themselves.

Is that ministry? I'm not sure, but I think it is. But it certainly seems a hell of a lot more useful and valuable than a life of curious inquiry and wonder.
posted by Embryo at 4:00 AM on December 3, 2004

Burn the witch!
posted by bap98189 at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2004

"We've found a lesbian, may we burn her?"
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2004

Is it so much to ask that a church leader actually obey the Bible?

That is like saying someone should be able to be a Buddhist monk regardless of whether he has a steak three times a week.

Or that someone should be an Orthodox Rabbi and not keep kosher.

Life is full of choices, and some choices are incompatible with other choices.
posted by konolia at 4:22 AM on December 3, 2004

Laicized. Ostracized. Demonized.

And stupid for going into that field when she's gay. It would be like a catholic complaining about rude treatment at a Klan rally-- what the hell do you expect? Christianity isn't exactly known for its tolerance.

(Yes, I know about all the liberal denominations that have adherents in guatemalan sweaters and know the words to "We Shall Not Be Moved.")
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:34 AM on December 3, 2004


Is it so much to ask that a church leader actually obey the Bible?

Your point might've been stronger if any church leader actually followed the Bible verbatim -- or, for that matter, if to follow the Bible verbatim was at all possible. Churches openly operate on the level of interpretation and exegesis. The Bible has never in effect been an absolute document, and the proliferation of different denominations proves it. The Church is conscious of this, and could've legislated otherwise, but they here they chose to be petty and ugly.

(Embryo: response forthcoming)
posted by ori at 4:44 AM on December 3, 2004

konolia: I think simply "obeying the Bible" is not quite so simple, what with all the contradictory stuff in there. So what's really happening is that she needs to obey the way the Bible is interpreted by her superiors (or face the consequences like she did). Fortunately, interpretation is not quite so immutable; thus the more Irene Strouds there are, the greater the chances that the (EPUM) church will come to its senses. It's just a matter of time before churches in the U.S. will come around to this, like many churches in Europe already have (embracing openly gay ministers).
posted by sour cream at 4:48 AM on December 3, 2004

Whatever happened to "Open hearts, open minds, open doors?"

Shame on you, leadership of the UMC!

Where's the inclusiveness?
posted by nofundy at 4:49 AM on December 3, 2004

Also, more important than whether she obeyed some obscure passages on lesbianism (if there are any, not sure about this) should be the question whether she obeyed the spirit of the book, and I haven't seen any evidence that she didn't.
posted by sour cream at 4:54 AM on December 3, 2004


Thank-you for your response. I would like to challenge, however, your representation of ministry:

Ministry is about leadership, community, spirituality, and preserving trusting relationships at its best, in my opinion - regardless of denomination.

It seems to me that you are deliberately obscuring the degree to which ministry is informed by an ideology. Your characterization presents ministry to be a medium of freethinking dialogue. In my opinion, the elements of leadership, community, etc. are always secondary to the dissemination and fortification of doctrine. This is done so effectively that people submersed in the Church mentality are often almost oblivious to it. Church doctrine is worked into everything so thoroughly that it becomes entirely transparent.

As for whether or not a life of curious inquiry and wonder is 'useful' -- I'm not sure I want to reduce life to utility. I think we have some sort of commitment to authentic selves. But at any rate, my experience shows that people who do lead this type of life are generally much kinder and gentler with those around them.

At any rate, I appreciate your thoughtful reply and certainly take your points to heart.
posted by ori at 4:57 AM on December 3, 2004

> She was defrocked, so to speak. Laicized. Ostracized. Demonized.

(So to speak.) Witch-burned. Lynched. (So to speak.) Welcome to the world of mefi spiral-eyed, frothing, hysterical overstatement.

Anyway, WTF is the problem with this? If you won't keep the tribe's taboos the tribe won't want you as shaman. Also, sky is blue, bears shit in woods, for any of you who haven't quite cottoned to these three facts of life.
posted by jfuller at 5:12 AM on December 3, 2004

I attended a Methodist church during my formative years. When I was a teenager, my pastor was run out of the church for daring to assert that committed, non-promiscuous homosexual relationships might be ok in the eyes of God. The irony of my fellow Christians publicly denouncing a man for claiming that we are all equal in Christ's love was not lost on me even as a teenager. It was also the first time I experienced the cognitive dissonance that eventually led to my leaving the church. I figured that since nobody'd really believed all that "love your neighbor" BS they'd been pushing, it wasn't worth wasting my time to hang around.

I'm still bitter about that. He didn't deserve what happened to him, and this woman didn't, either.

I'm schadenfroh, though, because that particular church is slowly dying out thanks to a lack of new membership. Time to evolve, motherfuckers!
posted by ruddhist at 5:27 AM on December 3, 2004

jfuller, this 'tribe' isn't homogenous, you know, and doesn't exist in a static vacuum. other methodists were outside demonstrating in support of stroud, and nearly half of the jury thought she could keep her position. your whole analysis reeks of crass, colonial anthropology. there was clearly a strong current within this community to tolerate this -- she isn't a lone pervert.
posted by ori at 5:28 AM on December 3, 2004

Does the bible actually refer to lesbianism at all, or just "[men] who lay with another man as he would a woman?" If you want to get all strict interpretation and stuff, and there's no reference to lesbians in the book, your point is moot, konolia.
posted by notsnot at 5:29 AM on December 3, 2004

There's the book of Ruth, which has been interpreted by some as a love story between Ruth and Naomi. That's the nearest mention of lesbianism in the bible, and it's presented in a tender and positive light.
posted by jennyb at 5:46 AM on December 3, 2004

If this all sounds terribly familiar, it should.

Before you continue, you might want to reacquaint yourselves with the particulars of a very similar case from 2003 involving Rev Karen Dammann. Mixed in with the dates and statements, you will find opinions from both sides of the issue.

The United Methodist Church is much like the United States, actually. There are times like these that make the "United" part seem to exist in name-only. Our own policies on the subject of homosexuality run contrary to one another, presenting inclusivity with one hand and exclusivity with the other. But the church is more than just policy and at the end of the day it comes down to the individuals that make up the body of the church. Some of us lean to the left while others veer to the right. As such, it is folly to denounce all of us as a collective of hate -- even when the actions of a governing church body can be construed as intolerant.

And, speaking for myself, I am more than willing to step out on a limb and say that I've got nothing at all against "everything that smells of freedom, intimacy, sensuality, and happiness."
posted by grabbingsand at 6:01 AM on December 3, 2004

She was defrocked, so to speak. Laicized. Ostracized. Demonized. (So to speak.) Witch-burned. Lynched. (So to speak.) Welcome to the world of mefi spiral-eyed, frothing, hysterical overstatement.

hysterical overstatement? please jfullah.

defrock means " to take priestly dress or church position from." it's literally what happened to her. i thought the term seemed a bit sleazy used in the context of a lesbian minister. so to speak.

laicized is a synonom for defrocked.

i agree that "ostracized" and "demonized" might be a bit inflammatory, but i think it's far from "spiral-eyed, frothing, and hysterical."

It sounds like Elizabeth Stroud is exactly the type of person who should be involved in ministry - courageous, classy, and interested in the health of her community even over her own personal oppression. Imagine if all of us held up our principles in every community we are a part of - I'm not sure we would be treated any better, but we'd be moving our communities forward and we would be asking people to expect more of themselves.

exactly my view embryo. she might be a naughtly lesbian, but she seems to embody the true spirit of jesus in a way that puts most christians to shame.

and that's what makes her condemnation by fellow christians such a sad irony.
posted by three blind mice at 6:02 AM on December 3, 2004

Kudos, to Irene Elizabeth Stroud !!! By her coming out she is challenging the protestant church in line with the reformation ideals. The church reformed and always to be reformed, i.e. reformed from Catholicism, and NEVER done with the process. We (the church) can only change the church from within, not running when we get disillusioned by some members, we are the church exactly because we are imperfect. Stay and effect change!
posted by brolloks at 6:14 AM on December 3, 2004

We need to stay out of this issue. The only people who should be involved are Methodists. People get kicked out of groups all the time for not following guidelines. Scouts get kicked out for being naughty. Ballet dancers lose their jobs when they get fat. American Idol contestants get kicked off for having posed nude. College professors lose their jobs when they don't publish. Priests get defrocked for having affairs.

If this were a private sector job, or a government job, I would be outraged, too, because then her sexuality would be none of her employer's business. But unfortunately she chose a job in which she is held to exacting standards. I say we should let members of the Methodist church figure out this one for themselves.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2004

That is like saying someone should be able to be a Buddhist monk regardless of whether he has a steak three times a week.

Just so you know konolia, Buddhists can mindfully eat meat- the Dalai Lama does- they just can't be butchers. Beyond that, I generally agree with you. I'm awed and inspired by the Catholic faith, but so diametrically opposed to parts of its dogma that I just have to be awed and inspired from a distance.

However, if I had been born into a Catholic family and raised in the faith, I would feel honorbound to try to change the dogma, because that's merely man's interpretation of God's will. God may be infallible, but mankind certainly isn't.

Since the UMC itself has a church regulation that states "homosexuals are of equal worth to people of other orientations," the fault I find here is in mankind who think, dogmatically, it's appropriate for a minister to lie every single day but not to expect to be treated by dogmatic regulations that state she is of equal worth, and thus, should expect equal treatment.
posted by headspace at 6:36 AM on December 3, 2004

What do you think these guys would do to Jesus if he ever dared walk and preach again?
posted by acrobat at 6:42 AM on December 3, 2004

konolia, yes we should absolutely follow all of the commandments in the Bible. Remember, God hates Shrimp.
posted by bshort at 6:46 AM on December 3, 2004

From what I heard on NPR's All Things Considered, it sounded like the people who actually went to the church where she was the Reverend were open to her staying on as a Lay Pastor (or whatever they call it.) The story didn't implicitly say it, but it sounded like the people in her church pretty much knew, and what she did was to come out to the hierarchy of the church.

To me this story is less about things like witch burning, etc and more about her taking a principled stand.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:51 AM on December 3, 2004

Dalai Lama: "I always say that people should not rush to change religions. There is real value in finding the spiritual resources you need in your home religion. Even secular humanism has great spiritual resources; it is almost like a religion to me. All religions try to benefit people, with the same basic message of the need for love and compassion, for justice and honesty, for contentment. So merely changing formal religious affiliations will often not help much. On the other hand, in pluralistic, democratic societies, there is the freedom to adopt the religion of your choice. This is good. This lets curious people like you run around on the loose!"

To those who claim that she got what she had coming and she should abandon her denomination, do you similarly turn your back on a friend who wrongs you once and resfuse to ever speak to them again? In other words do you side with Back to Africa or Civil Rights?
posted by Endymion at 6:58 AM on December 3, 2004

Is it so much to ask that a church leader actually obey the Bible?

Not at all. Please point out where Jesus mentions homosexuality. Anywhere. A single line will do.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2004

civil_disobedient, i'm no bible scholar, but i believe the passage most commonly referred to comes from
the Book of Romans is generally attributed to the Apostle Paul and probably written in 56 or 57 AD.

Romans 1:24-32 says.

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies.

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural,

And the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.

They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents.

They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

one assumes the kind paul ran out space before he ran out of invectives. this is the sort of hyperbolic abuse you'd expect to find on mefi.
posted by three blind mice at 7:34 AM on December 3, 2004

konalia: That is like saying someone should be able to be a Buddhist monk regardless of whether he has a steak three times a week.

Just to be pedantic, buddhist conceptions of vegetarianism are complex and situational. For example, it would be very improper for a monk to refuse any charity offered.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark, and I'm a Methodist, a gay man, and a former fundamentalist minister.

("Hi, Mark!")

I noted with interest several comments along the lines of "Oh, well, people get kicked out of groups all the time for not following guidelines." Please consider:

Unlike those churches which articulate a creed and expect members to embrace it with slack-jawed fervor, the Methodist tradition encourages critical thinking. Members are taught to read and study and draw their own conclusions about the Scriptures. Rather than ask our members to merely accept "the guidelines," we teach them to test and challenge them.

In fact, that's why I'm a Methodist today. I haven't always been. I grew up in a suppressive, abusive spiritual tradition. (When working for one of their seminaries, I was warned, "Mark, we're not here to teach our students how to think ... we're here to teach them what to think." Those words, from the Dean of Religious Education, still make me shudder.)

So, the first time I heard a Methodist minister tell his congregation, "I'm not here to make up your minds for you. I can offer evidence and share my conclusions, but it's ultimately up to you to make up your own minds ... and it's okay for some of us to think one thing while the others think another," I literally broke down in tears. The freedom, the bravery, the wisdom of that approach still stuns me.

That's precisely why this decision is so deeply disturbing: it represents a departure from tradition and a subtle shift in approach ... and power. Rather than allow members to make up their own minds about Ms. Stroud's situation, the church has chosen to step in and enforce "official" conclusions through a sort of spiritual police action.

Others in the MetaFilter community rightly ask, "If she wants to be a lesbian, and the Methodist church says no, then why doesn't she just leave the Methodist church?"

Certainly, departure is a valid form of spiritual protest (just ask Martin Luther) ... but, especially within Methodism, it's not the only option available. It's equally valid to work for change within an organization -- especially when that organization is a church. A church, after all, is a human institution.

The "Discipline," the document Ms. Stroud is supposedly in violation of, was drafted and written by people, not by God. It can (and should be) criticized, reviewed, and examined in the light of common sense and compassion and contemporary information. It has been and can be amended.

Finally, anyone who responses to this news by saying, "Oh, well! The Bible says gay people are wrong, and this church is just doing what the Bible says!" is engaged in rather elaborate and disturbing self-deception.

(MetaFilter: Elaborate and disturbing self-deception)

The Bible is a document, and any document must be interpreted by those who read it. Saying, "Oh, well! We're just doing what the Bible says," ignores the fact that interpretation has taken place ... and rather conveniently substitutes personal conclusions (often rooted in gross misconception or ignorance) for the Word of God.

Our personal interpretation of the Bible's message will always be colored by our culture, language, education, personal agendas, politics, and millions of other factors. We're imperfect; we should be willing, as Christians, to admit our grasp of the Bible's truths is also imperfect.

When we realize this, we are less likely to spend time making up laws and rendering verdicts concerning the spiritual fitness of others ... and more likely to live lives guided by compassion and common sense.
posted by MadeByMark at 7:50 AM on December 3, 2004

Thank you MadebyMark. Well said.
posted by nofundy at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2004

Well, this decision and the split vote is not suprising to me because I grew up in a Methodist church, and I'm quite aware of how hot the debate is regarding gay rights. It seems to me that there are large pluralities on both sides of the issue, and no clear consensus about the status of gay clergy in the church.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2004

Thank goodness someone is doing something about the lesbian threat.

I was raised in a Methodist church too, and maybe everyone's right that people like me are driven out by the church's failure to live up to its ideals this way.

But it seems strange to me to hear other people saying, "if you can't follow the tribe's rules, leave the tribe." Why shouldn't we be able to criticize other tribe's rules?

Religious right-wingers criticize secular humanism all the time; I don't see why we can't criticize their values too. In fact, if we don't criticize other tribes' values on this and other urgent moral questions, I think we'll look back fifty years from now and feel ashamed.

Respect their right to believe as they do. But--respectfully-- tell them why they're wrong.
posted by Polonius at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2004

I think the Methodists are looking at the Episcopalians, who have moved relatively quickly to ordain homosexual priests and a bishop, and are wary to suffer the same fate. The bottom line is that churches rely on their membership to pay the bills. When people start walking out the door, that hurts the bottom line. The Episcopal Church is hemorrhaging members. It only makes sense that churches exist for people that like to follow rules. Once you start getting rid of those rules, you lose the core membership. I think that some Methodists realize that.

That being said, I don't think there's any problem with a church being the arbiter of its own doctrine. After all, that's why there are so many religions, because each claims it knows that God wants us to do. Methodists look at the Bible and come to one conclusion. Catholics might come to another. Jews to another. You might think they are wrong (and they very well may be wrong) but they have the right to draw those boundaries and set up some barriers to entry. If you didn't have to believe anything to join the Methodist (or Catholic or Baptist, etc.) church, then what's the point?

I'm sure that if the Rev. Stroud were to leave the UMC, she'd be welcomed into any number of more liberal denominations that read the Bible differently.
posted by marcusb at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2004

think the Methodists are looking at the Episcopalians, who have moved relatively quickly to ordain homosexual priests and a bishop, and are wary to suffer the same fate.

I agree here. I would love to see them live up to the ideals Mark described so eloquently, but this was a decision based on politics and public relations, not religion.

The Methodists looked at what happened last year and wanted to avoid that. I have crazy religious family that left their church over the decision and started their own copy of Episcopalian sans gayness in their garage which I hear about 40 other like minded folks from their church attend.
posted by mathowie at 8:56 AM on December 3, 2004

Thank goodness someone is doing something about the lesbian threat.

Well, you have to remember, priests are only allowed to fuck boys without getting defrocked.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2004

We're imperfect; we should be willing, as Christians, to admit our grasp of the Bible's truths is also imperfect.

Well said MadeByMark. Your comments alone made posting this worth the effort.

I'll take that one further: even of the Bible is perfect, it takes a fair amount of hubris for any man (or woman) to assume they understand it.

Maxwell described the interaction of electric and magnetic fields in four concise equations which can reasonably be assumed to be perfect - yet throw these into a sufficiently complex geometric stucture and no one can find a closed form solution.

Why should understanding the Bible be any easier? As the Crash Test Dummies said unto the Lord, "is that a parable, or a very subtle joke?"

In reply, God gives us only her Mona Lisa smile.
posted by three blind mice at 9:22 AM on December 3, 2004

I have crazy religious family that left their church over the decision and started their own copy of Episcopalian sans gayness in their garage which I hear about 40 other like minded folks from their church attend.

Mefi - 19530 members

mathowie, forming bizarre cults seems to be in your family's blood. let's hope, however, that your relatives are a bit less successful than you.
posted by three blind mice at 9:27 AM on December 3, 2004

And stupid for going into that field when she's gay. It would be like a catholic complaining about rude treatment at a Klan rally-- what the hell do you expect? Christianity isn't exactly known for its tolerance.

When one belongs to an organization and disagrees its policies, there are two options: One can leave the organization in what is essentially a personal boycott, or one can remain with the organization and try to reform it from within. As was mentioned earlier: Reformed and Always Reforming. By coming out of the closet as a Methodist minister, she was, in essence, performing an act of civil disobedience. This, in my eyes, was an act of courage. I think Stroud knew what she was doing and recognized the risks, but felt that despite the risk of defrocking she felt it was a battle worth fighting. Along with all the backward stuff St. Paul said about gender, I think he also said, "Fight the good fight." This is what Stroud did.

It's easy to condemn her as stupid for being both gay and a minister, especially when she loses. If the vote had gone 7-6 the other way, it would have been a great victory for gay rights. People ridiculed Gandhi, but history sees him as a heroic revolutionary for his people as well as all those who fight oppression through non-violent means. This is, I hope, is ultimately the way history views Stroud.

And for the record.... I'm straight and a Christian. I see this as a matter of justice, not of gay vs. straight or religious vs. non-religious.
posted by Doohickie at 10:12 AM on December 3, 2004

Um correct me if I'm wrong here.

I don't think that the Methodist church really considers excommunication. In other words, your status as a member of the church is largely between the person and god. I believe that the Methodist church is officially supportive of lesbigay members.

However, the Methodist church does have different standards for ministry as opposed to laity. Is this correct?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:26 AM on December 3, 2004

That is correct KJS. Weird, huh?
posted by nofundy at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2004

nofundy: this is the same as any government. The standards (written and conventional/customary) for who can hold public office are different from those for who can vote. This makes perfect sense to me. It takes special devotion to public interest to be a good politican, and it takes special devotion to ministry and exemplary behavior to be a good minister.

That said, I agree with everyone about how sad and disappointing this decision is.
posted by rustcellar at 12:04 PM on December 3, 2004

three blind mice, thanks for the response. Looking at that, however, I see no mention of Jesus. I see some "God said" stuff, but no "Jesus said" stuff.

If we're just concerned with the "God said" stuff, we'd have to include the Old Testament, too. And that's some pretty ugly stuff in there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:10 PM on December 3, 2004

Very well said, MadeByMark.

Is it so much to ask that a church leader actually obey the Bible?

Well, konolia, your continued bigotry is showing. Christianity is bigger than your own interpretation of it as the most vocal Xian on MetaFilter.

I certainly hope you don't eat pork or shellfish, are submissive to your husband, avoid wearing clothes with fabric blends, refuse to teach men in your Sunday School class, don't wear gold or pearls (or braid your hair), and agree that people who re-married after divorce (such as Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, and Newt Gingrich) should be stoned to death.

See, we're talking about reasonable interpretations here. And I'm rapidly becoming tired of your blanket assertions that Christianity is x and isn't y. Because other Christians can believe very different things, and still be good people who are sincere in their faith.
posted by Vidiot at 4:28 PM on December 3, 2004

New member here - I've been reading for about nine months.

First off, I love mefi and appreciate all the interesting, intellectually stimulating, and funny stuff I find here. What I write truly comes from a desire to be a respectful contributor to the community.

I'm a Christian and feel like I ought to respond to a couple comments that have been made in the comments on this thread.

It's frequently asserted that Jesus never mentions homosexuality in the Bible. As far as I know, this is true. But in fact, the entire Bible is regarded as "Scripture" and orthodox Christian doctrine holds that all parts of the Scripture hold the same authority - authority which is given not by men, but by God, who inspired all parts of the Bible, though the text of the Scripture was written down by many different authors.

Therefore, Paul's writings in Romans and elsewhere in the New Testament bear the same weight as the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. II Timothy 3:16 says that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. The Greek word used here for "Scripture" is 'graphae', the word that is used in reference to the documents that make up the canon of Scripture - our Old and New Testament. Other Scriptures that have been written here (Romans 1:26-17, I Corinthians 6:9, etc) deal with the common assertion that homosexuality (whether it be between two men or two women) is a sin according to the Bible.

I'm aware of all the arguments that people will raise about the requirements of the Old Testament (like the ones in the previous comment), and will address them as best I can in another post if asked to do so. But that's a much longer post than I intend to write this evening (and this is going to be long enough as it is).

So here goes: many people talk about the love that Christ preached, but leave out a central part of the gospel, which is the fact that the essence of salvation is not loving others but in committing to let Christ be the Lord of my life (Romans 10:9). This means that I agree to obey his commands, even when I don't want to, because he is my king and master. If I am obeying his commands, I will love others because that's one of them. But my first responsibility as a Christian is to obey my Lord.

As a Christian, I do not expect non-Christians to adhere to the standards that are laid out in the Bible, because they have not committed to let Christ be the Lord of their lives. In fact, Christianity holds that only by relying on the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can anyone succeed in living a life that is not wholly in bondage to sin (Romans 6, Ephesians 2, Galatians 5:16). But the issue here is whether a leader in the church should be held to the standards of the church. And on this point, the Bible is also clear. All members of the church are expected to repent of sin (meaning that they turn away from it and renounce it). If any member of the church refuses to repent and continues to live in a lifestyle of continued and ongoing deliberate sin, after multiple steps taken to give him / her a chance to do so, the leaders of the church are charged with expelling that member (commonly referred to as excommunication). An example of this is found in I Corinthians 5.

Notice, though, that the purpose of excommunication is that the member may eventually be restored. I Corinthians 5:4-5 says "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD." (emphasis mine). Sounds pretty harsh, but keep in mind that this is ONLY being applied to someone who refused to repent, and therefore should leave the church. The hope is that this person will later repent.

The attitude here is one of concern for the member. Living in any lifestyle of sin and refusing to repent is behavior that is repeatedly deemed unacceptable (I John 3:6 is another example). This is not talking about "messing up", but about living in an attitude that refuses to repent for a lifestyle that is continuous and ongoing. Therefore, any church denomination that claims to follow Biblical law has an obligation to remove members (or leaders) who are unwilling to repent and leave a lifestyle that is sinful.

Note that this also applies to other lifestyles that are wrong: "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed" (Colossians 3:5). A church leader who is living in infidelity is just as culpable as one living in homosexuality. Likewise, a church leader who is committing other sexual sins (e.g. molestation, etc). The church shouldn't pick on gays for the sake of condemning a lifestyle that most straights do not appreciate, but we should have higher standards so that all ungodly lifestyles are treated equally: loving those who make mistakes and encouraging them to repent, but maintaining the standards of holiness that God requires.

More comments welcome, and I'll be happy to elaborate more if there are questions, as much as I am able (although I'm an engineer by trade, not a theologian =). I'm not an expert on church discipline, but it does seem that Ms. Stroud's defrocking was exactly how the Bible would have us handle a situation where someone is living openly in sin. (Sorry for the length, I wanted to try to be thorough).
posted by Micah at 5:39 PM on December 3, 2004

Doesn't the Bible condemn divorce much more strongly than homosexuality?
posted by Vidiot at 6:50 PM on December 3, 2004

Doesn't the Bible condemn divorce much more strongly than homosexuality?

Vidiot, that depends on what you mean by condemning of divorce.

Back then, divorce meant tossing a married woman out on the street with no money or possessions in a strict, male-dominated society with no prospect for employment other than slavery or prostitution.

So, the scriptures talking negatively about divorce may be interpreted as being against the breakup of marriages or against the ruining of womens' lives, depending on how the reader chooses to interpret that part of the scripture.

FWIW, my "Intro to New Testament" professor from college thinks it means the latter. But there are plenty of people who will argue for the former.

I have heard even in conservative congregations that abused Christian women use the "Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" scripture to justify a divorce. Not enough preachers talk about this, in my opinion, because too many Christian women who are abused (by Christian and non-Christian husbands) feel like they can't get out of the marriage because divorce is a sin.
posted by bugmuncher at 7:32 PM on December 3, 2004

This shit has got to stop. From churches to media to government....enough. I'd like to know the last time they defrocked a straight minister for violating church law.
posted by amberglow at 7:58 PM on December 3, 2004

orthodox Christian doctrine holds that all parts of the Scripture hold the same authority

Actually this is a conservative Christian hermeneutic and the rest of your post is a particular Conservative Christian take on things (you seem to be coming at it from a Conservative Protestant angle). There was not even a recognised canon at the time when II Timothy was written. Outside of conservative Christian circles, the most common interpretation is that II Timothy refers to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament books then in use, not to the entire bible as accepted by Protestant denominations today.

The problem with posting this sort of thing is that for most people here I would guess that it falls at the first hurdle because they have met your view of scripture before and don't share it. (Most Christians I know wouldn't agree with you). Thus as everything else you say follows on from the way you see the Bible, I don't think you're going to impress anyone other than the few other Conservative Christians with your interpretation. When you throw around phrases like 'The Bible is clear' or 'orthodox Christian doctrine holds' that says more about the way you read the Bible than about the Bible itself and it implies that your view of it is somehow privileged. It isn't - it's one view amongst many and many Christians don't share it.

Paul's views, from what I know of his historical context, are based on assumptions his society made about men and women and their place and correct sexual roles in a hierarchical scheme of things - hence his horror of same sex relationships which upset his ideal hierarchy. To those of us who no longer accept the idea of gendered hierarchy as a basis for society, they're written for his place and his time and no longer relevant in a world where we don't think of women as one rung beneath men and don't by extension think that taking the 'passive' role in sex is an abomination for any man. Nor do we any longer associate same sex practices with 'idolatry' or 'unnatural lust' as Paul does.

We live in a completely different historical context where instead of creating good things, his views on same-sex relationships end up causing suffering and harm and the hounding of harmless ordinary people. In my opinion, once practicing one's religion starts causing the opposite of the fruits of the spirit, inflicting harm and oppression on others and attempting to destroy and inhibit love and commitment between others, it's time to go re-examine how you are interpreting it before you do any more damage.
posted by Flitcraft at 8:15 PM on December 3, 2004

It's a church: a private religious organization.

Until such time as it breaks criminal laws, it can do what it wants.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:04 AM on December 4, 2004

Flitcraft, thanks for your well-written post.

I recognize your point about my particular perspective on the Scripture, but I think that your description of the canonization process is overlooking some things.

You're correct in saying that the canon did not exist (not at least in the same form as we know it today) when II Timothy was written. But when, in roughly the fourth century AD, the early church felt the need to establish which writings were and were not Scripture (because heresy was infiltrating the church), one of the criteria they used was the terminology used in the known writings as they referred to other writings.

In many contexts, the word 'graphae' was used to refer to many of the books that we commonly know today as the New Testament, and other words (I'm sorry, I can't remember them offhand, I'm writing this without a reference and my knowledge of Greek is really limited to only a few specific things) were used to refer to other writings (such as some books of the Apocrypha and works by other of the early Church Fathers).

This, along with many other tests for canonicity (e.g. was the book written by an Apostle or by someone who had been with Christ? Does it reference other trusted sources and is it referenced by such?) were used to establish the canon, which has stood in virtually uncontested form (save the Apocrypha, which is the subject of argument between Roman Catholics and Protestants) for the past 1500+ years.

You're correct that Paul often wrote to people who lived in a certain cultural context, but most of those instances are clearly laid out, such as when Paul talks to the Corinthians about the role of women in the church, a passage which has been frequently misinterpreted but can be understood in the light of what was happening in Corinth (basically, disorderly standards of worship, for which Paul was blaming the women who were taking part in and leading them).

In this instance (Romans 1) Paul was writing a book that is not directly targeting any heresy or practice, nor do we have much cultural background explicitly laid out for us in the passage, unlike in Corinthians. Romans is much more of a theological treatise and explanation of the basics of the faith; as such, I think Paul's explanations at the beginning of the book are typically interpreted in a more general way than those in Corinthians or Colossians, books which were written to correct certain incorrect practices or doctrines in the church. The point stands. Paul plainly condemned homosexuality - along with many other equally egregious practices which were then common - as sin, and gave an explanation of how the church was to rid itself of such sin.

As for fruits of the Spirit... the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22). None of these things preclude the recognition of sin within the body, and in fact verse 24 goes on to say that "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." In fact, love is required to recognize sin and to encourage the member at fault to repent and be fully restored. Love is telling the truth even when it hurts, not changing the rules to avoid making anyone feel bad. We are encouraged to deal with sin in a way that does not create provocation and envy (vs 26), but I think the point stands.

We've got to call spades when we see spades. Your last paragraph reads like a justification of moral relativism, and if we refuse to recognize and deal with sin, we cannot legitimately claim to be under the Lordship of Christ. Then how are we to take his name as Christians?


Re: the question about condemnation of divorce as compared to homosexuality. First of all, it's a separate issue, but secondly, the Bible is clear that there are acceptable grounds for divorce (infidelity, apostasy and an accompanying unwillingness to continuing living with the believing spouse). Divorce is never allowed outside of these circumstances, although I think that in modern circles it is generally accepted that spousal abuse falls into the second category (e.g. one spouse is not following Christ and is expressing his / her unwillingness to live with the believing spouse by abusing her/him). So, divorce is wrong, but Jesus also told us that Moses allowed it simply because of the stubbornness of the Israelites. Was he wrong to do so? I don't know. But I do know that divorce and homosexuality are both labeled as sin in the Bible, and they are totally separate issues.

Thanks for the good discussion, folks.
posted by Micah at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2004

As for fruits of the Spirit... the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22).

Which I see abundantly amongst the gay couples of my acquaintance... why then is there such a campaign against them?

Re: 2 Timothy - in its cultural and historical context the writings it refers to are the Old Testament books. It has no relevance to any book in the New Testament - it's discussed here if that helps.

I also can't see how you could say Romans 1 is not directly targetting any heresy or practice or that there's no cultural background to take into account here. It is most definitely a discussion of idolatrous worship of pagan gods addressed to Christians in Rome. It claims that idolatry - worshipping pagan gods - leads to people ditching straight sex and burning with lust for same sex encounters. Do you think that's relevant to gay people today? Do you believe they become gay or lesbian because they've been worshipping statues of Jupiter or Vesta or Minerva and it's led to God giving them a sudden urge to stop being heterosexual? Because that's exactly what the Apostle is saying to people in his letter. Carefully read the first few verses - that's what it says.

What you are doing is taking a thousand year old letter addressed to a very specific cultural context which no longer pertains and using it as a basis to advocate discriminatory practices against modern gay and lesbian people. You accuse me of moral relativism - in fact I'm making a quite specific moral claim which is that when religious practices are used as an excuse to persecute people who are doing others no harm, that it's time to re-evaluate them. Let me give an example.

My qualifications are in church history and I have researched and published on the European witch hunt. The decline in witch-hunting is often put down to the advance of scientific beliefs but in fact more detailed investigations have shown that what brought it to an end was lawyers and judges. They were faced daily with the harm that religious ideologies of satanic pact were causing to people and started refusing to prosecute - much to the annoyance of the churches. Following on from that, people began to re-examine their interpretation of the bible about witches - the translation of the word rendered as 'witch' in the KJV how the idea that people could be given magical powers by the Devil sat with theories of the sovereignty of God etc etc. It was only then that theological interpretation really moved on, but what happened first was that people who saw the everyday results of this pious cruelty stood up and said 'No - we won't be a part of this. How could a loving God want this?'

Go and meet some gay people, and listen to what they've been put through on the grounds of a particular interpretation of few verses in scripture. Is your interpretation of it really worth the damage being done to the lives of gay and lesbian people? Do you really want to use passages from the bible which give such a bizarre etiology of homosexuality (it's brought on by worshipping pagan deities) as the grounds to persecute ordinary people leading ordinary loving lives who've never made a hecatomb to Jove in their lives? Even if someone did make a sacrifice before a statue of an ancient Roman deity - do you really think it would suddenly change their sexual orientation? If you're going to use this passage to uphold discrimination against gay people then you should think about what it is actually saying.

OK, let's call a spade, a spade, it's wrong, isn't it? That particular chapter really got it wrong about where homosexuality comes from. Let's just admit that it's wrong and stop using it to justify discriminating against other people. The Bible doesn't have to be inerrant to have meaning. Sometimes it's just OK to admit that something is wrong and it's much better to admit that something is wrong than to keep insisting it is right and making other people suffer for it. This too is a Christian view - that there can be mistakes in the Bible.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:53 PM on December 5, 2004

erratum - almost two thousand year old letter not 'thousand year old'!
posted by Flitcraft at 3:58 PM on December 5, 2004

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