Thursday, March 09, 2006

two evils - a final post on the code of ethics

I've continued to think about the Code of Ethics as it relates to the unfolding events in my denomination's region of the Pacific Southwest. I'm struck by a few things.

Many of those on the right are having a great deal of difficulty with this critique. Some refuse to allow that what they are doing is in conflict with a commitment/covenant that they signed in the Code of Ethics. To do so allows for shades of gray that cannot exist in much of evangelical thought. Things are right or wrong, moral or immoral... allowing for shades of gray or times when one must choose to do something that is "wrong" is not possible, therefore the Code cannot apply to this situation.

Some seem to be moving towards seeing the grays but in reality are not. Glenn Layne compares his situation to that of a military person being ordered to do something that is wrong and refusing... still, he overlooks the reality that the refusal is a breach of an oath taken. Any soldier refusing an order would expect to be taken to military court at the least and in current times would realistically expect court martial and jail. Refusal to follow an order may be justified, but it is still a broken promise and there are consequences. If I'm understanding Glenn correctly, he doesn't see any consequences for acts of "disobedience."

To deny that the code applies seems to me to be very much a matter of ignoring the log in one's own eye while complaining about the speck in another's. There may indeed be a speck, or even a log in the other's eye, but you better be able to see your own as well.

We see this same selective vision in the use of scripture. Those arguing for separation often quote scriptures regarding separation from sin but neglect those that speak of maintaining unity in the Body of Christ.

It also includes what is seen in the documents and history of the denomination.

The roots of the current controversy go back to a resolution by our General Board that said simply - We believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and was passed in October '92. The resolution was unusual in that it had no prescribed steps for implementation as do all other resolutions. From the very beginning that lack of implementation was problematic. Conservatives wanted teeth in the resolution.

But there is a second resolution that I have never heard cited by these same leaders. In early '93, a second resolution was passed. It followed the "normal" format of a resolution and included directions for implementation. Here's an excerpt from it:

Since our founding days, we American Baptists have heralded the Bible as central to our lives. Individuals have the right and responsibility to interpret Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the community of faith. We have also come together to seek the mind of Christ on contemporary issues, knowing that none of our corporate statements claims to speak for all of us. The time has come for our churches, Regions, National Boards, and the General Board of the American Baptist Churches, USA to consider prayerfully the mind of Christ regarding human sexuality.

Therefore, we call on American Baptists to:

1. Testify that Jesus Christ is the unifying presence in our denomination.

2. Explore the biblical and theological issues of human sexuality.

3. Consider using the resources identified and gathered by the ABC Commission on Resources on Human Sexuality.

4. Acknowledge that there exists a variety of understandings throughout our denomination on issues of human sexuality such as homosexuality and engage in dialogue concerning these issues.

5. Respect and defend the individual integrity of all persons within our denomination and their Christian commitment as we engage the issue of human sexuality.

6. Pray fervently that as we honestly address these concerns we may seek unity and avoid divisiveness as we grow in our common mission for Jesus Christ.

I have argued that this second resolution provided the implementation to the first - yes, the majority of American Baptists do believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching but we are not unanimous and our tradition leaves room for that diversity of thought, therefore we will... Even if my read is incorrect, the 2nd resolution still provides an additional perspective on the issue that calls for working together in spite of differences on substantive issues. Ignoring it is selective vision at best.

So what do I hope for with all of this? I guess I want to hear some conservatives say that their actions are in violation of the Code of Ethics but their conscience and sense of call compels them (and actually a few including Dennis McFadden have made similar statements) and that perhaps they should suffer the consequences of their actions whatever that might be. I want them to acknowledge their selective readings with a shrug that says, "yes, but the differences are so great that we still can't make it work." I want to see tears and broken hearts rather than feelings of victory. I want indications that these folk are feeling the same grief that I am as I look at this impending separation in the family I love.

1 comment:

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Thanks for your thoughtful post. Yes, many of us DO realize that our actions are "anomalous" at best and a formal violation of the Code of Ethics at worst. I, for one, do believe in civil disobedience and that includes a willingness to bear the consequences of actions taken. Do otherwise is to live "on the cheat." I also find myself in a great deal of grief these days. It is painful to step away from a family that has been my family for more than half a century.

Thanks for continuing to be a voice of conscience from the left. You do a great job!


BTW - I'm not so convinced that we evangelicals are as blind to grays as you seem to think we are. I may be temperamentally allergic to nuance, but that does not mean that my theology slides over it.