The Rev. Janet Edwards, co-moderator of gay advocacy group More Light Presbyterians, has a column in the Washington Post today that illustrates why it is difficult for evangelicals to engage in meaningful discussion of the biblical basis for the church to revise its view of homosexuality. In speaking of the impending defeat of PCUSA Book of Order Amendment 08-B, she cites two examples from the gospels that are supposed to demonstrate that formerly outcast groups can be accepted in ministry:
Scripture tells us over and over again that God calls to service those whom society has named undesirable or less than. One who comes to mind is Matthew, the tax collector, whose labor for the Romans made him unclean and an abomination by the norms of society in Biblical times (Mt. 9.9-13, Mk. 2.13-17, Lk. 5.27-32). When the Pharisees, the religious leaders and power brokers of the times, objected to Jesus calling Matthew to dine with him, Jesus replied that he came to be with people like Matthew, the outcasts. Matthew went on to become one of the twelve disciples and wrote the first book of the New Testament.
This is correct as far as it goes, but clearly avoids the obvious: Matthew, upon following Jesus, left behind his tax collector’s booth, and gave up his career of oppression and theft (Luke 5:28). Is Edwards’ suggesting that thieves who come to Christ and enter the ministry should be allowed to continue to steal from people while preaching the gospel?
Another example is the women who found the tomb empty after Jesus’ crucifixion and ran to tell the disciples (Mt. 28.1, Mk. 16.1, Lk. 24.10, Jn. 20.1). Women in Biblical times were the very last people anyone would have expected to deliver the news upon which our whole faith rests! And yet this story provided the Scriptural evidence that helped the Presbyterian Church (USA) affirm God’s call to women to ordained leadership 50 years ago.
Once again, she evades the obvious: being a woman was not sinful per se. Yes, women occupied an inferior position in the first century world, and yes, the testimony of women regarding the empty tomb is surprising (in fact, it’s one of the best arguments for the truthfulness of the empty tomb story, since it runs so counter to what one would expect). But women don’t have to repent of being female in order to become Christian, much less being ordained.
Each of these leaders gives me hope – [Martin Luther] King, Matthew and the women at the tomb. As history has proven time and again, when God calls the faithful to ministry, eventually our society and our church respond.
I’m not sure what she means here. Maybe she thinks no one black was ever ordained before Martin Luther King. She does say that “King himself is an example of those God has called to ministry throughout the ages despite marginalization by society at the time.,” but again the maginalization of African-Americans was not because their skin color was considered sinful–indeed, it was for far less rational reasons.
To sum up: these biblical examples actually have nothing to do with the argument over ordaining sexually active homosexuals, unless one makes the a priori assumption that homosexual behavior is not sinful. That’s an argument one can make, and Edwards no doubt thinks it’s a settled issue. But the reason that gay ordination continues to be controversial in the PCUSA is because a majority are still unconvinced that homosexual behavior is not sinful. Until that happens, a majority isn’t going to change its mind on the ordination issue.