Letters to the Editor Department
Wesleyan Christian Advocate
United Methodist Center, Atlanta
The current debate over same-sex marriages (and I can remember when it was over mixed-race marriages) reminds many Christians of the debate in the New Testament church over such things as eating blood (Acts 15) and circumcision (Galatians). As a member of St. Mark UMC (Atlanta) I add the following six theses as my contribution to this current debate.
1. It is the clear teaching of Paul that if any man refrain from (or engage in) some activity solely because he thinks it be prohibited (or required) by scriptural law, then that man is a Jew (in a technical sense) and must conform to the entire law of scripture.
2. This doctrine of Paul is thoroughly consistent with the characterization of the God-pleasing person on the part of our Lord himself (Matthew 7:12), namely: that we are to treat our neighbor--not as Paul or Jesus or even God might want--but as each of us would want to be treated in that person's place. [It was this teaching, by the way, that prompted Immanuel Kant to declare the Christian faith to be the only truly moral faith in the history of the world. (see also Luke 12:13-14)]
3. Now while it might be doubted as to the human's capacity to actually engage in such Golden-Rule behavior vis-à-vis others (and see 5 below), there can be no question that we posses the capacity to make such judgments concerning our own conduct, for this is the observation of God Himself [Genesis 3:22]). [It is worth noting that any two Christians might disagree with regard to the understanding of the effects of some action, and therefore engage in different actions in the same situation, but need not for that reason be thought to differ with regard to the sincere intention to love their neighbor (see Romans 14:14-23). The assumption is clear: the two would unify their actions, per the same Golden Rule, once they had unified their grasp of causes, i.e., in the area of understanding and science (which is a function of experience and experimentation, e.g., the differentiation of medicine and poison, which varies from patient to patient).]
4. It is only an apparent conflict with this principle that Paul often makes a (personally Golden-Rule-based) derivation of action which is so plain to him and to his readers that he dispenses with the logic, and simply pronounces the action as though it were original, e.g., murderers have no place in the kingdom of God. But this is mere brevity, for he could supply the actual derivation upon demand at anytime, e.g., would you want some one to murder you? etc. Thus the universality of the Lord's requirement in Matthew 7:12 is thoroughly honored by Paul, i.e., each person must make his/her own derivation (from the Golden Rule) and indeed in conscience (Romans 2:14-16, and 14:22). [ Paul may have honestly felt that it were wrong for two males to come together in a committed relationship akin to a marriage between a man and a woman, and this may have been prompted by his sighting of the excesses of homosexual love in the unfettered arena of seamy and uncommitted Roman life (and which may be very similar to what we witness today), but this can no more be binding on the Christian of Romans 14 and Matthew 7:12 than can his apparent recommendation for slaves to remain in their subservient ways, which was doubtlessly also meant conscientiously on the part of Paul.]
5. Now (as a committed Wesleyan) I assert that even though we have this divinely (Genesis 3:22) asserted capacity to judge right and wrong (at least with regard to our own intentions), we do not naturally have the capacity to conform to our own derived and self-demanded actions of love cheerfully and willingly (for a cost is always involved). But since it is impossible to please God (or anyone else for that matter) with a reluctant heart, and since the love-with-abandon that characterizes and is required by the Spirit of Christ (to be pleasing to God) cannot arise naturally, we would be lost except for the fact that Christ died for us as sinners. For if we will simply believe that God loves us [as he showed us with Jesus taking the place of Barabbas, the McVeigh of his day] and be willing voluntarily to open ourselves to his grace (as did Abraham, our spiritual father and model) then God will provide us (albeit perhaps only gradually) with the required, eager and willing heart (via a possession by the Holy Spirit), and we will actually become new creatures not only in mind, but also in the flesh such that we will find it progressively easier to love all persons as we love ourselves, i.e., in conformity with the requirements of the Christian faith; that is: we shall begin to love naturally as is required to please God (and which John Wesley, under the spiritual pounding of Luther, finally realized at Aldersgate).
6. And thus we Wesleyans can easily understand that once we find that we are in fact becoming new creatures through our faith, i.e., as we progress toward this greater and easier love of neighbor (which is called sanctification and is a gift of our heavenly Father through Christ), we will find ourselves also loving God in responsive and spontaneous conformity with the first of the Two Great Commandments, i.e., loving God as the one who first loved us, and indeed as the One who pursues us down the ways and byways of our lives, the One who is never willing to let us go; and whereby (and only) then we are able to
Yours in Christ
/s/ Philip McPherson Rudisill