I was re-reading an old post I wrote on my birthday in 2007 (trust me, I don't usually go back and read old posts, I am not THAT Narcissistic). The post was called Scripture vs. Ethics. Basically what I was dealing with in that post was the dilemma that sometimes arises when we read ethical passages in the scriptures. In this case it was the question of women in ministry. It seems that many people find themselves having to choose between what is ethical and what is scriptural. For example, do we keep women out of the pulpit (despite the fact that they have a much needed voice in the church and many women feel as real a call to ministry as any male pastor you'd ever meet) thereby resorting to nothing less than a form of oppression or do we obey Paul when he says "women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says" (1 Cor 14:34).
Now for me this is not a controversial subject. When we frame this passage in it's context it reveals that Paul's command applies to a very specific situation in ancient Corinth (Paul was apparently OK with women speaking in 1 Cor. 11:5... of course he had other specific issues to deal with in that passage) and that it should not be applied as a blanket command for all churches. But for those who have come to a different conclusion, the conclusion that this and other passages (perhaps especially 1 Timothy 2:12) should be "taken seriously" and applied today, this remains what seems like a decision between ethics and scripture. These friends often do not even want to consider re-thinking their perspective... If I were to point out how few verses they were basing their theological ethics on they would no doubt respond, "how many times does Paul have to say it for it to be true? Once is enough."
But I contend that when a small sampling of passages seems to go contrary to the ethics of the whole biblical narrative we should indeed re-think our conclusions. We need to always look at the Scripture from the big picture perspective. The general message of Paul is that “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink,” “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Keeping women outside the pulpit is contrary to this larger overall message of Paul. So when we allow very short, very specific passages to overshadow the bigger message we should re-think our reading especially if it leads, or could lead to oppression. We should conform, rather, to the larger message of scripture before even dealing with small samples. Whenever you’re dealing with scripture, it is important to take care and obey it. But if ever you are faced with the choice to oppress or obey scripture, to uphold your reading above your ethics, to do good or evil, remember that the big picture is more important than any small sampling of Scripture, and re-think how you are reading the Scriptures. I would take it a step farther and say that when you find yourself faced with that choice, you'll eventually find that the choice was an illusion all along.
What I am wondering now is this: are we faced with the same choice in the homosexuality debate? Are we choosing between scripture and ethics when it comes to questions about gay marriage and even the ordination of gay men or women?
The church has indeed become an oppressive force. We have denied particular rights to the gay community based on our reading of scripture. So of course we must be facing the same question of scripture vs. ethics. But I think this one is more complicated (either that or we simply haven't discovered the illusion of the choice yet). In the question of homosexuality, at least for most evangelicals, it's not just the two way road of scripture vs. ethics as it is in the women in ministry question, rather, it's a triangle. two ethics are clashing with each other and with the scriptures. It's not just an ethical question of rights vs. our reading of scripture but it's also a question of rights vs. "sexual immorality" which is another ethic altogether. Add one more component and the whole equation becomes much more complex than the women in ministry question. It's not as simple as saying that people deserve rights, we actually have to face the question of sexual morality as well...
Thinking through this has helped me understand, a bit better, the complexity of the whole thing and it has helped me understand my brothers and sisters for whom this remains a heated issue. Good conclusions are harder to come by in this one.