Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meditations on a Bible Study

Yesterday evening we had a wonderful conversation at the bible study I lead each week. Since the beginning of December we have been working our way through Paul's Letter to the Romans and have just got to the tail end of Chapter One where Paul is talking about the whole raft of sins that separate us from God, with a particularly strong reference to sexual sins -- especially those of a same sex nature.

The group of thirteen or fourteen people was well-educated and made up of folks like a printer and a psychiatrist, a retired school superintendent and a college professor. This is not one of those hop, skip, and a jump studies through Paul's magnum opus, but is an attempt to take the text seriously within its original context so that we can then work out what it is saying to us today. It is a joy for me to be leading such a group as it is a long time since I have had the opportunity to work with the Greek text of Romans in this detailed way.

Within the context of studying a particular passage of Scripture must always come the business of application. Last night this happened toward the end of our study after we had worked hard at dissecting precisely what the Apostle was saying. At first the conversation was slow to develop, but after a few minutes it took on a life of its own, full of sensitivity and fluency that I had not expected.

This was a pretty orthodox bunch of people, some of them deeply distressed by the actions taken by the Episcopal Church in recent years, the kind often represented as hard and inflexible when it comes to dealing with such issues as these, but there was none of that. Yes, there were expressions of distress at the positions taken by the likes of the General Convention, but there was also a genuine desire to reach out in love to those who have a particular struggle with their sexuality.

Stories were told that were intensely moving. While there was no attempt to walk away from the clarity with which Paul deals with the issue of same sex relationships, there was also a yearning to work out how to be pastoral and caring without any desire to walk away from what the Scriptures say in their plainest sense.

Little has been gained as we have polarized during the last few years and at times shouted at each other until we are hoarse. Yes, theology, values, ethics, and morality are vitally important, but equally as important is the manner in which we talk with one another about such things.

As we move into 2007 I guess I find myself asking is there are ways that we can discover how to handle the crisis that has burst over us graciously and gracefully. I don't think I am even seeking agreement and I am certainly not asking that we try to find some way of finessing away what Scripture says, but to ask if there is a way beyond our present pouting polarization so that we can start demonstrating in the debate attitudes with which the Sermon on the Mount might feel at home.

We didn't get very far in our conversation last night, but the mood and the comments led me to believe that perhaps there are a goodly number of folks out there who passionately yearn to move beyond our present destructive stuck-ness.

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