By Mark Azzara
My Dear Friend,
I had some thinking to do about my statement last week that the church has placed itself in an uncomfortable, even dangerous, position. It led to a challenging question: If institutional churches must refocus on loving rather than judging then how do they teach and preserve doctrine?
There are three ways of answering that, two of which were demonstrated recently.
Two Christian colleges announced they will hereafter offer the same benefits to same-sex married employees that they offer to all other employees, even though it will cause a big stir in their Mennonite Church hierarchy. The Christianity Today story did not say whether the colleges’ decision means they approve of gay marriage or merely accept the reality of it.
Compare that to San Francisco’s Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who got all kinds of reaction, from applause to X-rated criticism, when he declared that Catholic high schools overseen by his archdiocese would only employ straights. He explained that teachers are really ministers, and ministers must believe and adhere to the doctrines they teach lest they confuse their students.
Cordileone’s decision is based on Catholic teaching. Mennonite teaching rejects gay marriage but an Eastern Mennonite University statement said the denomination “has never had, nor demanded, complete agreement on every article in the Confession of Faith.”
Initially I wondered which of these two sides was correct. But then I remembered what else I wrote last week and realized that neither of them is right because there is a third option.
The news articles that reported these disparate decisions contained no statement by the decision-makers that they had agonized over God’s intent, begging him to reveal his will. For Cordileone, a fixed theology was god; for the colleges, a fixed theology was irrelevant. The result? Two totally contradictory ways of conveying and exemplifying the Christian faith in an educational setting.
The fact that neither of these decisions reflects a quest to hear God reveal truth in a critical down-to-earth situation means that both sides are teaching their students (and believers in general) to do likewise – to make decisions without God’s input, thus ignoring Jesus’ words, “You have only one teacher” (Matthew 23:8,10) and once again putting the church between a rock and a hard place – i.e., an uncomfortable, even dangerous, position.
Such godless decision-making proves to non-Christians that Christians are idiots. It also gives legislators and jurists the justification they need to disregard Christian input. They all look at the contradictions in doctrine and practice and conclude that Christians don’t really know what they believe. They ask, for example: Does Christian teaching oppose or support gay marriage? The above examples suggest that you can find denominations where the answer is whatever you want it to be.
I confess that I also have taken unbending and self-satisfying theological stances. Cordileone and those two colleges simply haven’t learned yet that we need Jesus’ love, grace and presence to affect how we live our everyday lives. Without relying on the God who is close to us to teach us we are left with only one certainty: That we will misunderstand him, ourselves and our purpose, and thus ridicule the God we say we believe in.
Even with an abundance of God’s grace, faith is messy and difficult because we are imperfect listeners who will never get it completely right. But to not even try to surrender? Why would we do that? Because, for all of us at times, beliefs become our god. At such moments we wouldn’t dare approach God, who, out of his great love and mercy for us, might tell us we’re wrong. Would you?
All God’s blessings – Mark
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