What Authority?

On Monday, the United Church of Christ voted to affirm same-sex marriage and encouraged local churches to celebrate those marriages.  Unsurprisingly, that bastion of conservatism and America’s moral compass Al Mohler, took it upon himself to tell us that this action “crosses the line“.  According to Brother Al, the UCC “has been moving steadily leftward over the last several decades, and the main trajectory of the denomination has been consistent in rejecting the authority of Scripture”.  This whole “authority of Scripture” thing is a big deal to him, because he goes on about it quite a bit.  Seeing as he’s a Calvinist, that’s to be expected; Calvinists are big on the whole Sola Scriptura thing.  In case you’re wondering what “Sola Scriptura” means and don’t feel like clicking the link, I’ll give you the short version.  Sola Scriptura is one of the five Solas (the basic foundation of the Protestant Reformation back in the 16th century), which states that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, that it is the sole source for Christian doctrine and that is accessible to all.  At one time, Sola Scriptura didn’t just form Christian doctrine, it formed the basis for everything.  It’s taken quit a hit over the years and the argument over homosexuality being a sin or if it’s the way God made you is the last battle in a Texas Death Match that will decide how we understand scripture.  Mohler and people like him represent the Praetorian Guard and all the people on my side of the fence are the barbarians at the gate, waiting to sack Rome.  And, we all know how that turned out.

The idea that the gay issue is a battle to the death that will decide how we view scripture in the future isn’t mine, I’m not smart enough to come up with that.  No, it comes from the lovely Phyllis Tickle and she puts the idea forth in her book, The Great Emergence.  I really struggled with the conservatives intransigence on a lot of things until I read this book.  I’m not going into it all here, because a) she says it much better than I do and b) you really need to buy the book and read the whole thing.  But, one bit is germane to what we’re talking about here.  And that is the question at the center to the current re-formation we’re seeing in the Christian faith, which is “Where now is our authority?”  While I don’t think Sola Scriptura is viable anymore (was it ever?), I’m enough of a Methodist to believe that scripture still has a primary plac e in determining what we do, so I do agree with the good Dr. Mohler…, to a point.  I think scripture provides ONE of the bases for authority, the others being reason, tradition and experience (yes, the venerable Wesleyan Quadrilateral).  And, while I remain enough of a Methodist to believe that scripture is the primary leg of that quadrilateral, I’m pretty sure I read and interpret that scripture in a much different manner than Dr. Mohler does.  He says that scripture condemns homosexuality.  I say that for every passage he can find that condemns it, I can find an exegesis that contradicts his claim.  And, since I’m working with more tools than he is, I’ve got more to pull from.  One of those is that reason and experience tell me these people are made the way they are and the God that I worship would never make someone a certain way and then damn them.  Any God that would do that just plain sucks.