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Dealing with a Pauline Message

by Charles F. Cooley

This is the message I have sent to all the bishops for whom I have email addresses....

The sermon by Bishop Tuell, printed in The United Methodist Reporter, offers a very different perspective than the one I have, though we both claim to be arguring from a quadrilateral stance. The truly avant garde thing I pray for is a denomination with both compassion and backbone:

In his impassioned plea to the band of Christians living in Rome, Paul paints word pictures of sins and punishments that consume those who know God but fail to honor or express sincere gratitude:

"Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense and their empty minds are filled with darkness. They say they are wise, but they are fools. . . . Because men are such fools, God has given them over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other. They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever! Amen. Because of what men do, God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other, and as a result they receive in themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing. (Romans I:11b-12a, 24-28, NEV)

I have no problem questioning dire admonitions and warnings, but am totally mystified by the rash of radicals who, uncomfortable with the mind of Paul regarding sodomy, no longer think we should take him seriously.

A leading method for theological reasoning is called "the quadrilateral," which gives consideration to: 1. scripture, 2. tradition,

3. experience and 4. reason.

The more I reflect on the issue, the more I conclude Paul was providing Godly wisdom. Hence I find no justification for dismissing the scriptural passage. And recognizing that centuries of Christian tradition have agreed with scripture in forbidding the practice, half of the quadrilateral clearly make its prohibition something we should take quite seriously.

Yet, were I to reject both scripture and tradition, I would find the practice of sodomy unhealthy for an optimum society. Much suffering befalls any civilization that relaxes its sexual mores. Our culture, deeply mired, needs a giant rescue mission which today's church seems quite unwilling to provide.

(I do not say the world is getting worse. The end of racially motivated slavery, the emancipation of women, the increased use of non-violence to solve massive inequality, the advancement in medical science, the increase in life expectancy: these are pluses that strengthen society and, I believe, bring happiness to our Maker. But the sexual revolution has provided so many minuses, of which the call for statutory relief for sodomy is but an end game. The church; with its pitiful record of dealing with the increase in pornography, pre-marital and extra-marital immorality, and children born out of wedlock; is on the brink of capitulating to additional ersatz relationships that fly in the face of ordered family life and community. It's like saying, "We haven't slowed down other vices, why bother trying to halt this one.")

So a word about my experience:

Because nothing has daunted my life-long conviction that Jesus can transform persons with the most ingrained habits, I am a believer.

Because numerous friends and associates have shared living arrangements for decades with members of the same sex, without ever a suggestion their togetherness involved genital stimulation, I am a believer.

Because priests and nuns have preached and practiced celibacy, I am a believer.

Because some of the happiest, most outgoing and helpful persons I have known are single, and to all appearances, celibate, I am a believer.

Because my own college roommate, the school's 175 pound wrestler, was also the one with whom I shared a double bed, I am believer.

Because I lived for three years, far from home, in camps of 150 men, and barracks housing 40 each, and never received the slightest hint that anyone was "sweet" on another man, I am a believer.

Because guest housing has been furnished many of the week-end conference or traveling groups I have been with -- two to a bed -- I am a believer. (Serious question: Given the dramatically changed atmosphere, do we dare do this any more? Pathetic answer: It may be very unwise.)

Because rescue groups like Homosexuals Anonymous and Exodus report on former sodomites who have overcome their "locked in" habits, even to the point of marriage and successful family life, I am a believer. (The same basic assists have been employed as are used by Alcoholics Anonymous.)

But when the assertion is made that someone's behavior is pre-determined by a peculiarity of creation, nothing in my experience gives credence to such a claim.

And when three ministerial colleagues walked out on their families with the declaration that they have discovered they are "homosexual," I was skeptical to the core.

So much for experience. How about reason?

Philosophical reasoning: From my youth till the present, a sincere desire to seek optimum benefits for persons and for society has been a motivating factor. A primary reason for becoming a minister was the belief that mature adulthood comes from the determination not to allow short-term pleasures result in long-term losses.

I do not doubt many sodomites have had unhappy childhood experiences, or been victims of abuse, but believe there is no scientific proof God has created them with an unusual gene formulation making them unable to control their appetites or aspire to holy living. Rather, out of their discomfort, or in their impatience, they have cheated themselves and short-changed society. They have given up something very precious, an essential part of their manhood or womanhood, and the opportunity to enter into a wholesome partnership with a member of the opposite sex. They have sought for themselves certain privileges of married life without their attendant obligations. Approval of such behavior places new stresses on family life, for it calls into question the very gift of sex itself, the joys of courtship, the ideal life-long commitment of husband and wife, parent and child.

While many sodomites have called out for help and, finding it, changed their behavior, the vast majority want the rest of the world to do all the adjusting.

Such reasoning as I am able to accomplish causes me to resist, just as I resist agreeing with an alcoholic that he should continue drinking, or with a kleptomaniac that she should continue stealing.

Reasoning about Anatomy: One does not have to be a genius to discern each of our bodily organs are provided for specific purposes. I find it quite preposterous that anyone is willing to substitute an anus for a vagina, a dildo for a penis, or for humans to engage in acts few beasts would opt for. Such substitutions are counterfeit in the extreme.

Psychological reasoning: I sense it is lonely and heart-breaking for anyone to think self unattractive to, or unattracted by, members of the opposite sex. Yet how often during my years in campus ministry the accepting group has helped students improve their "social amenities" to the place where they have become newly attracted and attractive. The struggle for a sense of masculinity or femininity can be devastating, but relief can come when in a group where no one is keeping track. I sometimes tell about that beautiful family with its tomboy wife and mother, and almost delicate husband and father, whose love and commitment make it work.

It is easy to understand how some sodomites must feel very uncomfortable about their secret activity, and experience relief once they have openly confessed. But it is often disheartening to notice newly succumbed individuals withdrawing from previous social contacts, unless they are confident there will be no disagreement on this issue.

Sociological reasoning: A long standing sociological principal is that "culture breeds culture." Once a code of right and wrong gains a foothold, it produces more of the same, growing from mild recognition to dominant acceptance. The modern demand that sodomy be regarded as normal is barely 30 years old, beginning as it did with the closing days of the 1960's. Only during the last 10 years has the demand been seriously directed at organized religion, aided and abetted by a growing number of church leaders who have begun to practice sodomy, with some of their numbers making open declarations. It is one thing to be concerned about those who are presently practicing sodomy. But as advancing pressure is placed on each succeeding generation to enter into sodomous relationships, the magnitude of the problem will be enormous and, correspondingly, more serious. (Already some parents are quite leery about sending their children to conferences and camps where they may meet leaders who teach "that's the way some persons are born.")

Reasoning based on history: Immorality within has proved the undoing of earlier civilizations almost more than threats from without. (For me, it is another example that God will not be mocked.)

Reasoning based on religion: As I understand it:

  • Jesus came into the world to show us we can be transformed.

  • The church encourages individuals and the community to place our reliance on God which, among other things, should help us deal with our temptations.

  • The capacity to confront enticements head on is a pretty fair barometer of our faith.

  • The church is called to extend genuine love, accepting all persons as we are, then encouraging us to new plateaus of sacrifice and righteousness.

  • We serve Christ through rescue missions, but we serve him best with preventive ministries aimed at keeping persons from falling.

  • The Jesus we worship and honor has shown us the way. If we are truly His church we will follow.

My conclusion: Paul was "speaking the truth in love," as important today as when he first took pains to help those early converts. Whoever thinks the matter it is "no big deal," or "just an issue of fairness" needs to think again. I pray for leaders and delegates who may yet save us from the slippery slopes that have already claimed too many

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