Worldview Conflict

Jack Rogers, San Francisco Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

Prepared for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

September 15, 1997


Many of those who oppose Amendment A have tried to argue for their position on the basis of"morality."

The issue is not morality. It is worldview. Our conflict is not over differing values. It is over differing sets of what people believe are facts. Good and intelligent and devout Presbyterians are talking past each other because they are proceeding from radically different assumptions. Yet there are values which the majority of Presbyterians could share if genuine dialogue permitted them to surface.

Let us examine a few of these decidedly different assumptions. For example, some view Western Civilization, America, and the Presbyterian Church as in imminent danger of being taken over by liberal to radical forces that would subvert all traditional morality. Others view our society and church as dominated by narrow-minded, homophobic forces that are generally also racist and anti-women. What are the facts, based on opinion surveys, legislation, and the consequences in our daily lives? Surely for most thoughtful Presbyterians reality lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Some view homosexuality as a sin, willfully committed, of which people must repent and from which they must abstain. Others view homosexuality as simply another among many variant forms of sexual behavior to which no moral judgment need be applied. Surely the majority of Presbyterians in the middle are concerned to maintain individual and societal moral standards. We need a serious discussion of what constitutes sin for all persons and the issues of both volition and consequences.

Some contend that the Bible is clear and unequivocal in its condemnation of homosexual practice. Others assert that the Bible is ambiguous in its testimony and that some biblical passages show homosexuality in a favorable light. The majority of Presbyterians need to be honest about the way in which we interpret the Bible. For long periods in history, the majority of Christians would have said that the Bible clearly and unequivocally supported: monarchy, slavery, the subordination of women to men, and the segregation of the races. We have changed our minds on all of those issues. The Bible has not changed. Our interpretations have changed. We need to have serious discussion about our methods of biblical interpretation and be sure that we are applying them consistently.

Some argue that the marriage of one man and one woman is mandated by the order of nature and is biblical ordained. Others view heterosexual marriage as at best one expression of human relatedness, and at worst as an oppressive and sexist institution. Presbyterians in the middle need honestly to reflect on the reality that we have continually redefined our understanding of fidelity and integrity in the realm of sexuality. In the Middle Ages, truly spiritual people (priests, monks and nuns) could not have sexual relations. The only legitimate reason for sex was the procreation of children. The Protestant Reformers rejected that and urged marriage for both love and family life. When I was first ordained divorce was grounds for automatic dismissal from the ministry. We accepted an interpretation of Scripture which made any remarriage after divorce adultery. We no longer accept that interpretation. Many leading Presbyterian ministers, including Proponents of last year's Amendment B, have been divorced and are remarried. Their ordination is not in question. We need serious and honest discussion about what fidelity and integrity in sexual relationships means.

Amendment A will not answer the above questions. It will. however. allow us to ask them and to seek answers. Last year's Amendment B, now in the Book of Order, was a premature attempt to stop the discussion. It assumed, as fact, a whole set of assumptions which many thoughtful Presbyterians have cause to question. There are some persons on the extremes at both ends of the spectrum in this discussion. The majority of Presbyterians, by contrast, recognize the complexity of controversial issues and want to find honest and adequate answers. Amendment A will allow us to have the serious discussions we need in order to remain a biblically grounded church in the Reformed tradition.


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