Questioning biblical authority, radical feminism, inclusive language, values clarification....all become part of the package as mainline churches buy into homosexuality. Where is this leading the body of Christ?
It was fall 1993. Classes at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, had been in session for only a few weeks, and new students were just getting immersed in their study of the foundations of Christian faith at this preeminent institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). An eclectic group were these scholars: some young, many middle-aged, some married with families. There were a number of women, most there on the divinity track, eager to pastor a church one day in this new era of women's equality.
I was a new student, not pursuing an M.Div., but a masters in theology. I had trouble with the idea of a woman pastoring a church, but I couldn't put my finger on why. I don't believe that the apostle Paul really meant for women never to teach, just that women should not, in most cases, lead congregations. But since I fancy myself something of a modern woman, I thought that perhaps there was a perspective I had yet to learn. I did not, therefore, disapprove of these women initially. They were just different than I.
Nor did I feel biased against the two female professors who taught my courses. My theology professor was a quiet woman, married to a minister. The professor of Old Testament studies was more difficult initially to get a fix on. Gradually over the weeks, however, my suspicions began to grow-- she wore a wedding ring, but was single and lived with another woman (I visited her home once with a group of students). She wore her hair very short except for one long strand down the back. And her "spin" on biblical matters was less than traditional. I soon became convinced that she was, in violation of the ELCA regulations for ordained ministers, a practicing lesbian.
Nor was she alone, according to the seminary grapevine. And the schoolwide sympathy for homosexuality quickly became apparent.
In my introductory theology course, one class period early in the quarter convened in the cafeteria. As all the students stood, the professor read statements about current moral problems, and we were to "respond" by moving to the right wall if we agreed, or to the left if we disagreed. "Health care is a basic right," was one issue, and "Capital punishment is never justified" was another. Then came the zinger.
"Homosexuality is a sin," she read. Out of the forty students in class, I and three others moved to the right wall, indicating that we agreed. The rest of the class moved quickly to the left, some flattening themselves against the wall for emphasis!
"But Scripture Doesn't Say That!"
From that day on, I never felt like I was in step with the seminary. It was as if my eyes had been opened, and what I saw and heard in this "Christian" institution was hard at times to believe.
One day I met several other students for lunch in the cafeteria, and one of them chose to sit at a large table with the professor of my Old Testament course. She was sitting with an older student whom I recognized, a fellow who, with his effeminate mannerisms and flamboyant dress, had always appeared as if he might be homosexual. She and he greeted us, but returned to a hushed,very engrossed conversation. He was plainly agitated. It seems he had been on a visitation of some sort with a local congregation, who had evidently voiced their opposition to homosexuality. He was very upset by comments that had been made.
"And one guy said,' God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,' " the student was telling my professor, who was shaking her head and clucking in sympathy. I just looked down and ate my lunch--I was clearly alone in my beliefs in this place.
In October, the Old Testament course covered Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. As she lectured about the events, our professor made it clear that "this passage is not an indictment of homosexuality, but of rape." The problem here could be compared to the incident in Judges 19 and 20, she claimed, and was related to the poor treatment of strangers, which was a great sin in early cultures. Even though there are obvious differences in the two tales, I did not have the courage, I am ashamed to say, to contradict her. No one else in my class did either, of the few who may have disagreed.
In complete inner turmoil over the events that were taking place, I asked around about the sympathies of the other faculty. Were they all willing to accept homosexuality this easily? Oh, no, I was told--there were still a number of faculty who held to biblical truth, who believed Scripture is clearly in opposition to acts of homosexuality. It was at about this time that the national ELCA report on human sexuality surfaced, making national headlines with its recommendation that the Lutheran Church reconsider its position on homosexuality and premarital sex. It was all the talk at the school--mostly in support of the recommendations.
I had heard of one Trinity faculty member who had written in opposition to the ELCA sexuality report, a nationally-renowned professor of New Testament studies. I made an appointment with him, and asked him to explain where the seminary, the Lutheran Church and he stood on this matter.
The professor told me that the faculty were divided on the issue of ordination of practicing homosexuals. I told him of my suspicions about several faculty. He didn't confirm or deny the rumors, but he explained that if a minister confessed to homosexual temptation, but had officially sworn to be celibate, there was really little the church could do except take the pastor's word.
He also outlined some of the other major Scriptural disputes surrounding the issue. One is the "new view" of Sodom and Gomorrah, which basically looks at the context of the time, sees similarities between that and the Judges' passage, and comes to the conclusions that the "sins" were those of extremely "inhospitable" behavior, including rape!
"But that's not what Scripture says!" I was quick to respond.The traditional understanding of the Sodom account has been that it involved forbidden sexual acts, namely homosexuality--hence the root of the word "sodomy," among other indicators. He explained how undaunted new interpreters of Scripture are by protests that appeal to biblical tradition and apparent meaning.
God, Our "Father-Mother"?
But the sexuality debate was only the tip of the revisionist iceberg at Trinity, as I was quick to discover. For under the clear leadership of ordained lesbians, most mainline churches are reconfiguring traditional references to God as Father toward a more "inclusive" image that includes, or does not seem to exclude, women. And at Trinity, these forces were influential and formidable.
Required reading in both my theology and Old Testament courses was the book Inclusive Language in the Church by Nancy A.Hardesty. An inclusive language policy had been enacted several years before at Trinity, which I read upon entering, but didn't grasp until I saw it in action. Evidently, reading this book was supposed to sufficiently indoctrinate students into what turned out to be a radical departure from orthodoxy.
The inclusive language policy stated, among other things, that references to God should not use only the masculine, as this "limits our understanding of God." Instead, "there are many opportunities in worship, classroom, and conversation where feminine and gender-free language can broaden our understanding of God." (Emphasis added)
What did this really mean? When I was called on in the Old Testament class to answer a question, I began by saying, "Well, I think God was trying to teach Abraham something. He was trying..." At which point my instructor, jumped in.
"He WHO?" she quizzed me.
Me, stupidly (not yet getting it): "Uh, God. He was trying to ..."
"He WHO?" said the professor again.
At which point light dawned in my brain. I stopped, and said quietly, "God."
"Thank you," she said. "Don't forget about the inclusive language policy here."
Once again, I had the creepy sensation of being, not in a seminary, but in a concentration camp. This same Orwellian scenario was played out with several other students and with me two other times as well, since in the midst of talking, I would "forget" to speak correctly and need to be reminded. The last time, it came as a warning, that "grades would be affected" unless we students learned to refrain from referring to God as Father, He , Him or using any masculine designation.
At the daily chapel, I began to notice something that hadn't occurred to me earlier--we never heard the masculine reference as part of the liturgy or in any of the Scripture readings. The gospel of John, which is so heavily laden with Jesus' words about God as Father, was never to my recollection used. I soon stopped going to chapel.
There came an opportunity to express my opinion in mid-November. At this point, the Inclusive Language book by Hardesty came up for discussion in the Old Testament class. In a small group format, I expressed my dismay with both the book and the policy.
First, a little background about this book. The author takes a fundamental tenet of Christian faith-- that all are equal in the eyes of God-- and, recalling our human sins through the centuries (mostly, in her view, patriarchal), tries to justify tampering with Scripture as a vehicle to right past and presumed future wrongs. This is like saying that, because the Ku Klux Klan has at times used Scripture to justify its actions, we should take whatever biblical passages they used and toss them aside, or alter them, so this can't happen again. It's the thought and language police in its most virulent form--adhering to a philosophy that utilizes revisionist history as an appropriate tool for solving social problems. These are the same folks who are busy "re-imagining God", deluding themselves that this is not idolatry.
So Hardesty in her book promotes inclusive language in the church by saying, "...An effort to use more inclusive language makes us aware not only of our sexism, but also of our racism, elitism, nationalism, classism,ageism, homophobia,and all our other prejudices." (p. 15--emphasis added) Do we see clearly where the impetus for this, as well as many other destructive trends in the church, is coming from? When I read this book, I felt quite differently about the "effort to use more inclusive language". It immediately made me more aware of the hatred of white males and the paranoid heterophobia that is so plainly at the bottom of this assault on the integrity of Scripture.
I was not this outspoken in our class, but I did say that I felt Hardesty had some personal grudges she was working out. The problem, I said, was that just because some women have felt that the language of Scripture excluded them, this doesn't apply to all women. I have never felt that way, for example. And besides, we can't go changing Scripture just because we feel like it, or because men in this world have not lived up to the example of Christ.
No one's trying to change Scripture, I was told. Yet that's not true. The biblical translation used in most classes at the seminary was the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) or one similar, altered substantially for inclusive language.
And, as I pointed out in class, the practical result of the inclusive language policy is that it causes some passages to be avoided because of their unalterable language. What does one do, for example, with the Lord's prayer-- the words of Christ Himself? "Our Father" are the opening words--how can this be revised by any Christian teacher of conscience? Or what happens to the recurring image of Christ as the bridegroom, and the Church as His bride? One can't get much more "sex-role stereotyped" than this. Yet it is one of the most beautiful, spiritually revealing, and prophetic concepts in the Christian faith.
The other students, and my professor, looked at me as if I just didn't understand--I was so obviously "unenlightened." Yet they either have not thought through the ultimate consequences of the road they are on, or, as is more probable, they don't care-- the agenda is just too important. After this encounter, I feel sure of where this trend is leading. Eventually certain portions of the canon of Scripture will either be altered so as to be unrecognizable, or will be discarded as being too"exclusive."
"Peace, Peace, When There is No Peace"
Under the pretense of being inclusive, loving, peace-seeking, these academics are being self-indulgent, oppressive, and intellectually corrupt. It is apparent, for example, that often these "tolerant" Christians have cared little to do any real research into the homosexual lifestyle-- what it is they are tolerating for fellow human beings. Whatever happened to being one's brother's keeper? But more importantly, whatever happened to the authority of God?
It's not recognizable at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in any consistent form. What is in authority there, as in many mainline seminaries, is clear: they have "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:25 NKJV)
I came to the end of the first quarter and had some big decisions to make. My grades were fine--in fact, the course work was not as difficult as I expected. But would I try to stick it out just to get the degree, knowing that along the way, I might pick up some dangerous untruths? Should I try to change things? Would I ever have a chance of being heard? I prayed and sought God's counsel. I even registered for the second quarter, trying to put a positive face on matters. But just days before the beginning of the next quarter, I felt the answer clearly from the Lord. He has given each of us a precious resource--time--and he does not want us to spend it learning how to construct our own religion, including new gods.
So, in spite of the few faculty who remain there, trying to swim upstream, who will I believe be blessed for their brave efforts-- I withdrew from the seminary. I have since encountered others who did the same. All of us who care about the future of the Church must pray fervently for these institutions, which are training future leaders in doctrines that may lead our faith--and individuals as well--into great spiritual darkness.
"I will praise you with my whole heart;...For You have magnified Your word above Your name."
(Psalm 138:1,2 NKJV)
"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment."
(James 3:1 NKJV)