Heidi Husted Armstrong wrote me a letter and I don’t even know her. She wrote a letter to those “considering leaving” the denomination. I have not done so yet, but I would be dishonest if I said I don’t think (and pray) about it often. My heart is heavy with the weight of it. But the burden is not lightened when I read something like Rev. Armstrong’s letter. It is a shallow rebuke in the guise of a letter to a “friend.” I am left with the opinion that Rev. Armstrong has not really listened to her “friend.”
She says she wonders if we might be considering leaving based on a “tidy and false dichotomy” between social justice and personal holiness. I would suggest it is not an either/or but a both/and. Those of us struggling with the direction of the denomination are concerned with the direction of both. Our positions are often more nuanced than she acknowledges. Welcoming same-sex couples into the congregation does not compromise our view of biblical teaching. We welcome all sinners (including me, the chief sinner) into the congregation because it is the place for sinners. What violates our view of Biblical teaching is calling good that which Scripture unequivocally calls sin and unrighteousness. Surely you have heard this from your friends before?
She goes on to suggest that holiness is bigger than one thing. Yes, of course it is. And yes, the church struggles with heterosexual holiness too. In fact, I would argue it is a bigger problem. But then she asks why other holiness issues are not “deal breakers” too. Things like gossip, stinginess, addiction to pornography, the refusal to love our enemies and environment-degrading lifestyle are also holiness issues aren’t they? Well, yes they are. But the comparison breaks down.
As a friend, maybe I can help. How would you feel if we said gossip and stinginess are now good things? What if we said addiction to pornography was really a gift from God? Or how about we say that thing about “loving your enemies” was an ancient idea that no modern thinking person can really take seriously. That sounds utterly ridiculous doesn’t it? It sounds absurd.
Well that is how many of us feel when we are told homosexuality and same-sex marriage are consistent with Scripture. We find that claim absurd and ridiculous with what we read. Then Rev. Armstrong suggests we might be selectively choosing how we read Leviticus? Well that tired old argument does make us sound like theological simpletons. But maybe we read the Old Covenant in light of the New. Maybe we see some ethical principles reaffirmed in the New Testament and we take note of those occurrences. Maybe some of us have thought deeply about the analogies between homosexuality and issues like slavery, civil rights, divorce and remarriage. In good faith we have considered those analogies and found them broken and unconvincing.
But I do share Rev. Armstrong’s angst over losing friends to other denominations. It is personally hard and it does make our work even harder. But maybe God is up to something new. Maybe God can be honored in those decisions because he transcends institutional lines. Maybe those people who have left can still be our friends.
Rev. Dr. Doug Hucke
Albuquerque, New Mexico