A Response to Michael Brown (Part 3)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

Part Three

Dr Brown writes:

You may take them [my questions] as adversarial, but in reality, I ask these questions in the love of God and the fear of God, being jealous for your well-being in the Lord.[1]

[1] In-text brackets are mine. It seems to me—and please take this as a joyful affirmation of you, Dr Brown!—that you speak as a teacher of the Faith, someone who is conscious of being “in the Lord, ”with all the forgiveness and glory that entails. But how does “in the Lord” function in this sentence? Are you saying, “Because of Jesus, I am jealous for your wellbeing” (which might imply that you do not consider me a Christian)? Are you saying, “I desire your wellbeing, and this is a conversation between Christians, those who are ‘in the Lord’?”

I hope you can appreciate why I ask this question as graciously as I can muster. If you mean the first, I suspect you are setting us up for an impossible exercise, because it would be an attempted justification of a position that you believe already excludes us from citizenship in the Kingdom of God. (Non-Christians are not truly capable of doing Christian theology in its deepest and most existential sense, so why should you listen?) It strikes me that you may be asking us in order to listen deeply, to understand, but also to counter and dismantle our viewpoints, presumably so that we are free(r) to believe the real Gospel.

Please don’t hear me as mocking you, here—I have realised in a new way, recently, that I am only in ‘listening mode’ on a crucial subject: the bodily resurrection of Jesus. You see, I hang out with a broad spectrum of the friends of Jesus—some of whom, in the language of the ancient post-apostolic Church, would be called “heretics.” (Where I think the ancient church made a mistake is by proclaiming, with what she thought was 100% percent certainty, that Jesus himself does not consider heretics his friends. I think this is a bad move. Surely the Ancient of Days is a big boy who can choose his own friends?)

Christians like you and me, brother, affirm without reservation the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and take Paul in 1 Cor 15 dead seriously–if the dead are not physically raised to life again, we are above all people most to be pitied. There is a second group of people who truly want to follow Jesus; they affirm that Jesus truly lives and reigns, but feel unable to wrap their heads around bodily resurrection from the dead. They are heretics in the technical sense, and I don’t think people who say “the bodily resurrection doesn’t matter” should ever be pastors in God’s Church, but I have no doubt that in God’s faithfulness and sense of humour, they can be (and in a great many cases, are saved, are citizens of the Kingdom of God. There is (to my shock!) a third group of people: they want to follow Jesus, but resurrection seems is merely (!) a metaphor. (CS Lewis says that ‘merely’ is a dangerous word!) There are two types that I can discern within this group: the first honestly believes this is the best application of the story, so that it affirms a truth like “death doesn’t win” or “love wins,” but admits that bodily resurrection is a long-standing interpretation. The second disbelieves the bodily resurrection, and will not entertain its possibility. I do not believe this last group of people are Christians in any historically meaningful sense of the term, and I believe it is profoundly dangerous to teach that the “metaphorical view” is a legitimate Christian way to believe. Still, I am not Jesus…their salvation is not mine to grant. Jesus chooses his own friends.

When I am in a room full of people who don’t affirm the bodily resurrection (it happens, sometimes), I will listen, but I am unwilling to change my mind. Why not?

  1. I think disbelief in the bodily resurrection flies in the face of the words of the New Testament and the best historical reconstructions of why the earliest Church lived and spoke the way it did (I find NT Wright on this score tremendously helpful).
  2. Disbelief in God’s Kingdom establishing deeds of power cuts the nerve of a great deal of contemporary Christian pastoral care. If we disbelieve the bodily resurrection, what do we say about the goodness of bodies? Do we pray for the sick, feed the poor, expel demons, or do we just make sure that God has “saved our souls”? Do we expect God to speak to us, to give gifts of tongues and interpretation, to do signs and wonders that point to the reality of Christ’s reign? I suspect that the kind of Christianity on offer if most of the answers were negative to these sorts of questions would feel quite anemic to Pentecostal boys like ourselves.
  3. Very personally, I need the resurrection of Jesus. You see, I live with Cerebral Palsy, a medically incurable neurological condition. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, my own physically glorified and healed body seems a negligible possibility. The afterlife might be absolutely wonderful, but quite frankly, if I’m never going to have a healed body, that is emotionally devastating. But I know by experience and good report that God heals the sick and raises the dead today, so I have every reason in my own life to pray for my own healing, to pray for the sick, and to preach the bodily resurrection at my grandfather’s funeral. “You are going to see Ernie again, in the flesh,” I said, “and he’ll be even better than before!” I am looking forward to my body straightening up and the curse of sin and CP fading out of existence as God fills all in all. Hallelujah!

I will not change my view about bodily resurrection, but I will listen to people in order to fully understand and answer their objections (in the hope of clearing away space for the Holy Spirit’s love and power to convict and persuade.

I hope fervently that you, in fact, choose something closer to the second option: this is a serious conversation, between acknowledged Christians, about how to most faithful live out our calling as Easter Gospel people. I hope that you do consider us Christians, and that good answers, back-and-forth, can help the whole body of Christ realise our maturity in Him. Are you willing to consider very strongly that many LGBT peoples’ testimonies of God’s goodness in our loves and lives are good and right and holy? Or, even if we never agree, do you have it within yourself to include us in your camp, as Spirit-filled followers of Jesus who disagree about something we feel is really important?

I’ve had experience of this freedom to disagree with other Christians because our centre is Jesus.

  1. I speak in tongues, but I cannot in good conscience insist that all Christians must do so in order to demonstrate the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Why not? Because I think such a view is exegetically unwarranted, is destructive to the witness of the Gospel, and does not allow the Holy Spirit to mess with our doctrinal schemes–in other words, we ignore testimony in order to maintain our interpretive, religious tradition. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. But we both go to Communion together because Jesus is the one who teaches us, forgives us, transforms us. The ground at the Cross is flat.
  2. I also affirm physical non-violence as basic to the Gospel–taught by Mennonites, I am, I hope, a biblical pacifist. I do not think that Christians should serve the State in any job where ‘killing’ is part of the job description. I cannot conceive of a situation in which “Love your neighbour” is compatible with “shoot to kill.” Perhaps you disagree with me. Even if you do, can we come to Communion together, knowing that we rely on Jesus alone for forgiveness of sin?

I will explain below why I feel this sense of allowing difference of conviction even when I believe something is a sin is appropriate. I hope that you, too, can enter a dialogue that could transform all of us–and I’m sure from your perspective, make you more “liberal” about gay loves and lives and Christians. If you are not willing to have the second kind of dialogue, please at least be direct about that. If you want a heart-changing dialogue, if you want to listen, I am sure that many LGBT Christians would offer their stories as a sort of “evidence to the contrary” of your position. Please, Dr Brown: don’t just read about us–seek us out.

 

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