10 March 2008

Gagnon & The Word - Romans 8:6-11 & Psalm 130

-By Rachel Landers

This week, Robert Gagnon came to my school, Princeton Theological Seminary--although some could argue that he showed up a month ago when tensions began to intensify, and conversations were whispered in the lunch room.

There were many who decided not to go to the Gagnon Lectures on Homosexuality and the Bible. There were many who lauded this event as finally getting an equal voice at the institution. Both sides have admitted that there was probably not one person going to the lectures with an open mind.

I went to two of the lectures. Gagnon, though he has the pastoral presence of an angry duck, has done a good deal of thoughtful, academically rigorous, and scripturally-based exegesis on the Old and New Testament, focusing not only on specific verses, but on the general themes upheld and condemned in the entirety of Scripture.

After one of the talks, I even got the opportunity (though most of my fellow-LGBT supporters thought I was just downright masochistic) to speak to Gagnon at length about how he understood gender norms.

The conclusion that I came to is this: Gagnon is in the body of Christ. I don’t think he is an evil man trying to use Scripture to validate his world view … any more than the rest of us do. And whether or not he’s ultimately right or wrong (I happen to think he’s coming to some gravely misguided conclusions), I think he’s done his bible homework. And I even think (I think) that he sees himself as coming from a place of Love. Heck, I’ll say that he is coming from a place of Love. The presuppositions he begins with—that Scriptural witness is clear about the eternal damnation of those who engage in (or encourage people towards) homosexual relationships—necessitate his desperate, fanatical ministry.

I am writing this devotional (and I promise, it is a devotional!) late in the week, because I have spent these last few intense days trying to save the seminary by single-handedly maintaining dialogue between the conservative conservatives and the conservative liberals. I have seen some success, and some good conversations have been started, but what I’ve realized the most is the extreme brokenness of all of us as individuals and as a community. So when I looked at the lectionary texts for this Sunday I came to them broken open. And I read Romans 8:6-11 like this:

Romans 8:6-11

(6) To set the mind on the flesh is death,
Oh no. It’s a flesh/death passage.

but to set to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

(7) For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, (8) and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Gagnon talks about death to the self. Surely he has passages like this in mind. If we continue to act in a way that some see as sinful, then they think we have set our mind of the flesh.

(9) But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,
What? Well, I’m pretty sure that many would say that I am in the flesh, based on my “unrepentant sinful behavior.” How can I be in the Spirit? What criteria have I fulfilled? What have I done?

since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
I’m in the Spirit, because the Spirit is in me. What does that have to do with what I’m doing for my own salvation? What sort of criteria is that? It’s God who determines who is in the Spirit?

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Oh good. Back to sinful me.

(10) But if Christ is in you,
Which he is, says verse nine

though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

(11) If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
which he does
he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.


Now, I know many people who would read that passage very differently from me, and that’s okay. What is important to realize from this passage is that there is nothing we can do, no exegesis we can muster, no impassioned speeches we can deliver, no heartfelt private conversations we can open ourselves up to that will save or damn ourselves or anyone. We are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in us. Not because of our denomination, or our orientation, or our interpretation. We are God’s people—all of us—wonderfully and gloriously and thankfully only because God has elected us to be so.

In Psalm 130 the psalmist cries “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” We are all death. We are all dead in the flesh. “But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” That is our proper stance. Recognition of forgiveness of our debts, and our proper response of a life lived in reverence.

The psalm continues, crying “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope … O Israel, hope in the Lord! … It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.”

In these trying times of the PJC rulings, threats of church split, and our communities being stripped down to ugly bones, we need to remember the promise of the good news.

It may be discouraging. Every side sees death and division. But we are all children of a living God. What this means is we need to recognize what it means to be in the body of Christ. In all of our organizations, all our lectures, our testimonies, our arguments, we cannot breathe the life and truth that we see into others. It’s just not our job. Our will cannot defeat God’s will. Gagnon’s will cannot defeat God’s will.

Trust and hope in the Lord. And if we really trust, and really hope, then we will be able to understand more clearly how God has been working and breathing life into us, and everyone, even when we couldn’t see it. See it today, in your lives, and respond to it in reverence with your whole life.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Hey, I forgot to put my name on this entry, so I'll do it now. I hope you enjoyed the devotional!

Rachel Landers
Princeton Theological Seminary