More Light Presbyterians and Presbyterian Voice for Justice are both trumpeting an interview that Arlo Duba, the dean emeritus of the Princeton Theological Seminary chapel has given to MLP that appeared in the Presbyterian Outlook. In it, he describes his “conversion” from an orthodox position on the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians to the revisionist one:
Would you tell us a little about your process and your conversion on this issue?
To some extent mine was an almost painful story. I was never a gay basher. I had assumed that Christian gays whom I had known were exceptions to a two or three thousand year-old biblical position. I just never questioned that the church might have gotten it wrong. Somehow, in all my years of Bible study I had never found anything in my Bible reading to challenge that assumption. This particular study didn’t convert me easily or quickly. I got the impression that God was simply nudging me bit by bit and taking me where I didn’t want to go. In that sense it was difficult to change, to admit that I had been so unperceptive. I am certain that I am still not to the end of that trajectory of conversion. But at this point in the conversion process I am fully convinced.
I don’t know about you, but I find the use of “conversion” language with regard to this issue just a little creepy. I mean, is Dr. Duba suggesting that the gospel is about inclusiveness rather than Christ, such that one can be “converted” to it rather than to Him? Maybe not, but this just sounds wrong to me.
My study process was to chase down various themes. First, I was finding what would hinder baptism. Then, a study of the Samaritans. Philip was the first one to minister to Samaritans (Acts 8:4-17). And we are all familiar with Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. I knew that Leviticus, 19:17-18 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11 were well etched into the mind of every Jew who knew the Torah. There the neighbor is confined to “your kin,” “your people.” And, most of those people hated Samaritans. Note how eager James and John were to call down fire from heaven on Samaritans (Lk. 9:54). Less than one chapter later Jesus, himself a good Jew, calls a Samaritan Good, and a neighbor (Lk. 10:33-36). In Acts 8:14-16 it appears that the Christians in Jerusalem were concerned with Philip’s preaching in Samaria. They sent the “senior apostles,” Peter and John, to check on Philip. It is even probable that they hoped that that preaching would stop. But, Peter and John found that God had affirmed what Philip was doing. Though it went beyond the Torah, beyond the “plain reading of scripture,” Peter and John on their return “proclaimed the good news to many villages of the Samaritans” (8:25). It came slowly, but people previously rejected were now accepted and were baptized.
Actually, preaching to the Samaritans has nothing to do with going “beyond the plain reading of Scripture,” given that Jesus had told them on the day of His ascension that they would proclaim the good news “to Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It is anything but “probable” that they wanted the preaching to the Samaritans to stop, given that Peter and John prayed and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. In addition, the hostility between Jews and Samaritans had to do with stuff that was overcome by the cross of Christ (religious differences regarding worship and ethnicity, to be specific). The inclusion of the Samaritans in the church had nothing to do with changing moral standards. And since one is not made holy by baptism, but rather embarks upon the process of sanctification when one becomes a Christian, it also has nothing to do with the issue.
Chapters 10 and 11 are a structural center for Luke’s narrative. An angelic messenger spoke to Cornelius, an officer of the occupation army, obviously an outsider, but as a Gentile, he was a double enemy. Then we have Peter’s strange dream of the sheet with all the creepy-crawly creatures. “Take and eat!” Three times! It has to be a metaphor. One cannot take the sheet literally; one has to see “through” the sheet to Peter’s conclusion, “God has shown me that I should not call any person undesirable or unclean” (10:28). “In every ethnos (εθνος), anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (10:35). θνος is any group of outsiders. In the Bible it is often translated as “the nations,” always non-Jews. Anyone, from any identifiable human group, you name the group, is acceptable. And in this case we have the baptism of a whole group of non-Jews! And Peter had to defend his actions again and again. Read through to 11:18 for the sometimes vehement objections he faced!
Once again, I have no idea what this has to do with the matter at hand. Those engaged in homosexual behavior have just one thing in common, which is that they all engage in a particular kind of sexual behavior. They are no more an “identifiable human group” in the sense of Acts 10-11 than are Green Bay Packer fans, drinkers of Makers Mark bourbon, or people who bet on greyhound races. Ethnos refers to “ethnic” groups, those who are united by language, culture, etc., not by a set of particular behaviors.
Why, do you think, has the church understood scripture to exclude LGBT Christians?
The church has always been strongly influenced by its surrounding culture. It has been very slow to perceive that there is always more light to shine forth from Scripture. Take the place of women. Luke in particular emphasized the role of women. But the leadership of women goes back to Miriam, Deborah, Jael and Hulda, and in Luke, to Phoebe, Lydia and Priscilla. The Christian church is still trying to catch up to a three thousand year history. And in some Christian groups we still wait. Gender equality is similar. And the eunuch as a bearer of that inclusivity goes back to Jeremiah 38 & 39 and Isaiah 56. Wherever in a culture you find a “people” identified who are “different,” you find derogatory human labeling. We are dealing with the human proclivity to stigmatize. I have concluded that gender equality has been in the Bible for well over two thousand years. The surrounding culture has kept us from seeing it. The church is finally ready to deal with the LGBT issue, and this study seeks to establish a biblical basis for doing that. So you ask why this cultural exclusion? I believe that it is a mark of sinful humanity to divide people into we – they categories.
Gender equality has nothing to do with the issue at hand, either. While there is disagreement regarding the roles of women in the church, no one suggests that women may be excluded from ordained leadership because they all engage in and demand approval of a particular form of sinful behavior. Another way to say that is that there is nothing intrinsically sinful about being a woman, while there is something intrinsically sinful about engaging in homsexual behavior (not, mind you, in homosexual attraction, which is no different than the sinful inclinations in all of us, and which is not a disqualifier for ordination in the PCUSA as long as it isn’t acted upon). Indeed, if there is any influence by the surrounding culture at work, it’s the pressure exerted by certain segments of Western culture–media, academia, and others–to which revisionists in the mainline churches have caved.
Do you think this is part of what Luke was teaching through Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch?
Yes, I am convinced of it. As I was going over the whole of Luke-Acts in my research on Baptism, I was getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. How could I have missed this? Abba Johannis, a priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, was a student at Princeton Seminary. In conversation with him he stated that the Ethiopian eunuch is considered the founder of that denomination. (This is affirmed by Eusebius in about the year 300.) Only now do I start to realize how the story of the baptism of the eunuch fits this pattern of inclusion. Here was a person of a different gender condition, in the Bible, who exercised leadership in the Christian church, and it was a distinguished leadership! Could it be anyone other than the Holy Spirit who was making me rethink?
The fact that the Ethiopian was a eunuch is given almost revelatory significance by some folks, but here is someone just making stuff up. Let’s grant that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded by the eunuch (though Scripture, of course, says nothing of the kind, and Eusebius could certainly have been making assumptions based on the Acts account). That says nothing about whether he “exercised leadership” in it, only that he was the first convert. The fact that he was a eunuch also says nothing about sexual behavior, given that, as a eunuch, he wouldn’t have engaged in any.
The modern sex lib movement has basically dumped anything other than Ward and June Cleaver into a category called “oppressed sexual minorities,” and demanded equal treatment for all. That would include gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, the questioning, intersex, whatever (the whole LGBTQIW thing). Of course, it doesn’t include a whole slew of behaviors that have not yet found favor with the public: polygamy, polyamory (though some folks are working on this), bestiality, necrophilia, pedophilia (though some folks are working on this one, too), etc. Dr. Duba is all for inclusion, but is careful not to take it too far, just like this allies in the movement.
I don’t know Dr. Duba, had never heard of him before reading this interview, and he says of himself that he is a “life-long conservative Presbyterian.” To me, he sounds at best like a very confused one, and perhaps even one who had decided to change his mind on the issue and then went searching for reasons to support his decision. If so, he didn’t search nearly long enough.