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Letters
October 25, 2001

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Dear Editor:

Grace upon grace. Thanks to Craig Tenke for correcting the gross misrepresentations of Dr. Spitzer's work by Mr Crawford, Pastor Leggett and others, but dishonest propaganda seems to be the name of the game. Dr. Tilford has now called me a dog, accused me of self-idolatry, and consigned me to eternal hellfire with all Muslims (and all nonchristians, I assume), while Pastor Leggett has compared me to the Nazis (although I think Barth would be offended by the use of his name in such an offensive way). Glad to know that such loving folks are pastoring churches and teaching our young.

However, while I understand that those who continually declare that they alone are the arbiters of God's word and will are accustomed to being able to bully others into silence, it does not take away from the historical and theological emptiness of their argument. Perhaps God might speak to them a continual word if she were able to get a word in over their rigid screeching.

For an example of how this morally bankrupt use of scripture never changes and is historically and universally predictable, let me quote from a sermon entitled "Mutual Relation of Master and Slave as Taught in the Bible" preached by Rev. Joseph Wilson at the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia on January 6, 1861 on the text Ephesians 6:5-9:

"The time has fully come when all who are interested personally in the subject of Southern institutions--whether masters or servants--should comprehend their scriptural relation to them--should know whether or not the holiness of God receives or rejects them--and whether in all our possible contentions for their maintenance we are to have only men for our enemies or, in addition, our Sovereign Ruler also. Now, we have already seen that the Holy Spirit employs words which He has intended to be understood as distinctly enunciating the existence of domestic servitude--that He has sent to all the world a volume of truth, which is indisputably addressed to men who hold slaves and to the slaves who possess masters--and that, from the connections in which these highly suggestive words occur, He has included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State. A study of such words is, therefore, a first and an important step in ascertaining the will of God with respect to an institution which short sighted men have indiscriminately and violently denounced, and which wicked men have declared unworthy of the countenance of a Christianity whose peaceful and conservative spirit, as applied to society, they neither respect nor understand."

Sound familiar? Seems like those who would be the arbiters of God's mind have not developed any new thoughts or rhetoric since 1861 -- only the targets have changed. I bet some of the folks reading this have preached this same sermon, only substituting homosexuality for slavery. Of course, according to Dr. Tilford the morality of slavery was not the issue, the only issue who had the most or "heaviest battalions".

Or perhaps we should look for the "literal" "fundamental" "revealed" word of God in these words of Charles Wynn Kenyon on scripture's stance toward the ordination of women to positions of leadership in the church: "I would just simply cite the I Corinthians 14 passage. And I Timothy 2:12 says, 'Let not a woman usurp authority nor teach.' And I feel that the 'teach' there - the word didaskein - is used in the Greek in the pastoral letters as authoritative ordained preaching, and I feel that a woman is not allowed to be an ordained preacher, to usurp authority in the Church; and that's what the Scriptures teach."

Anybody want to rise and defend the truth or correctness of the "literal" "fundamentalist" reading of scripture articulated by Rev. Wilson or Mr. Kenyon? Or is that "literal" "fundamental" reading of scripture simply to be abandoned as an historical anachronism? If so, then these "literal" "fundamental" truths of the scripture appear to be the product of historical relativism and collapse in the face of history and modernity. Or perhaps, rather than defending the "truth" of the scripture readings of Wilson and Kenyon, you would simply defend their right to hold such positions? But, then you would have to make room for those who have and will continue to ordain gay and lesbian persons.

Or perhaps these words from J. Gresham Machen from 1932 would be more appropriate for a rallying cry for those who would control the mind of God and exclude all in their path:

"A true Christianity is radically intolerant... The Church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths... A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all."

This seems to sum up the theology of those who have continued to bully all who disagree with their words of "tough love". As horrifying as it may be for Dr. Tilford and others to believe, I trust that I will be just fine or, if you prefer, saved, in the arms of a loving God on those last days, should they ever come. I also trust that Dr. Tilford will be there as well.

I will pitch my tent with Charles Briggs who wrote in 1883: "Experience shows us that no body of divinity can answer more than its generation. Every catechism and confession of faith will in time become obsolete and powerless, remaining as historical monuments and symbols. . . . It is sufficient that the Bible gives us the material for all ages, and leaves to man [humanity] the noble task of shaping the material so as to suit the wants of his own time." A humbling mission and charge indeed.

Jack B. Harrison
Elder
Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio


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