Letters: Interpretation of ‘prodigal’ parable faces challenges

8/26/2009

 Editor,
Many of us Mississippi United Methodists are unhappy with the Annual Conference presentation in which two women celebrated their intimate same-sex relationship.

This is simply grossly inaccurate exegesis. In verses 17-19, we find "When (the son) came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’” (NIV) 

That, in essence, is the message that we heard at Annual Conference. One of the women said, "We have no doubt that God embraces who we are and blesses our relationship, that God's doors are open even when the churches' doors sometimes aren't."

No doubt, the older son in the parable was wrong; he was wrong for refusing to celebrate the contrite repentance of his broken younger brother. However, he was never asked to celebrate the return of a younger brother who refused to acknowledge his errors and his failures. Neither are we.  

Repentance is a sincere desire to turn from our sinful natures and to have God’s nature restored within us. The headline to Price’s column read: “When does the hired hand become long lost son?” The answer from the Scriptures is clear, both in Luke’s Gospel account and elsewhere: It happens when he approaches the Father with a desire to be changed, and God’s justifying grace is applied. The psalmist said it clearly: “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)

Rev. Garry Ruff
Cedar Lake UMC, Biloxi
Editor, 
The incident of the lesbian couple speaking in a worship service at Annual Conference caused much concern within my church. In our services we dealt frankly with their sincere, justified concerns over the incident and the questions it raised about the spiritual integrity of our bishop and influential clergy, their faithfulness to God’s word and to our Book of Discipline. We had reached a point of guarded reassurance – until the column by my friend and former district superintendent, the Rev. David Price, appeared in the Advocate.
 
While I consider Price my brother in Christ, I take strong issue with his tone and interpretation of Christ’s parable of the lost son. The parable is not to be isolated from the context of Jesus’ teaching God’s truth found in Luke from the command to fear God, not man; the example of the foolish rich man; the servants waiting for their master’s return; Christ’s warning that earthly human peace is no substitute for eternal peace with God; the narrow door and the “active, faithful” who ate and drank with Christ, yet were rejected; the hard requirements given for becoming Jesus’ disciple; the lost sheep, lost coin and the lost son. Jesus’ ministry was and remains God’s call to repentance and his offer of redemption, rebirth and new life through the sacrifice of Christ.
 
To say God accepts us as we are when we come to him is correct. It is not correct to imply God will allow us to stay that way. The father in this parable did not give a “prodigal acceptance” to the son, and Price misses it entirely when he claims there was no evidence the boy was willing to change. He came home in defeat and shame did he not? He turned around, returned to his father and that is the classic definition of repentance. The father cleansing the son and dressing him in royal robes sounds to me like what God does for the repentant sinner.
 
Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost. As did John the Baptist, Jesus called for repentance and rebirth. If this were not true, why would Jesus have come in the first place?
 
Reading that (Price) applies the definition of “wasteful” and “ridiculously abundant” to God’s mercy and grace is alarming. It is also intellectually and spiritually wrong. God is neither wasteful nor ridiculous.
 
To call God “prodigal” is just as erroneous and harmful. God is not prodigal. He loves all his born-again children and all others to whom he offers the opportunity to become his born-again children but his love is not wasted ridiculously. Some people don’t accept God’s love and the new life that comes with it. The way the lesbian couple was presented and the wording of Price’s article imply a non-repentant person can accept salvation, yet refuse to take up the cross. Our bishop and involved clergy must recognize the eternal harm such error, left uncorrected, can do.
 
My love for and confidence in the heart of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward remains strong and my prayers for her and our church are the same. Likewise I feel no differently toward gays and lesbians than I do any other person in need of the same redemption as Nickodemus (John 3:1-21).
 
As far as missing God’s party, consider Luke 15:7 and the use of the word “repent.” We who have been born-again (Christ’s words) are but sinners saved by grace, being made new creations in Christ. However, those who have no intention of repenting and allowing God to redeem and change them, well, they must explain what we are to do with John 3 or 1 John 3:1-3. So must those who are not narrow enough to stay on the way Christ said was the only path to God.
 
This letter should not have to be written but, as noted in God’s word, “Better the rebuke of a friend than the kiss of an enemy.”  
Rev. Steve Tillman
Gitano UMC, Soso
 
Editor,
I am appalled and embarrassed by the outcry regarding the testimony (at Annual Conference) of two female members of Parkway Hills United Methodist Church.
 
I was not present on that Friday night but have read everything published in the Advocate and now The Clarion-Ledger.
 
My impression is that these two women were testifying to the outpouring of Christian love by members of their church. The apparently had been warmly received by many of Parkway’s membership. I do believe their testimony was regarding the love they received rather than promoting their “lifestyle.”
 
A small number of ministers and lay people recently published a “petition” to absolve Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the “horrible lapse of lapse of judgment.” Ward is dedicated to the United Methodist Church and did nothing inappropriate.
 
I feel pity for the woman with five children who feels she is exposed to “sinners.”
 
I feel sorry for the handful of ministers who are having difficulty “explaining” this to their membership. This is a reflection of their ministry. The Bible teaches “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”
 
If all the sinners were thrown out of the church, those ministers would have no one to minister to.
 
As a Methodist, I am proud of Parkway Hills UMC for its Christian love. As a United Methodist I am proud of the committee which allowed all participants to testify to our “Open Doors” policy.
Those who continue to promote this worthless controversy should feel shame.
H. Coy Fletcher
Jackson
 
Editor,
Hooray for the intelligent, sensitive and right on theology of Lamar Massingill (August Advocate). A theology that drives an ethic that sometimes gets him into righteous controversy – but then the cross itself was the result of considerable controversy, wasn’t it? Such might lead us to pray with Ted Loder:
 
“What can I believe,
“Except that beyond the limits
“Of my little prayers and careful creeds,
“I am not meant for dust and darkness,
“But for dancing life and silver starlight.
 
“Help my unbelief
“That I might have courage
“To dare to love the enemies
“I have the integrity to make…”

Don Manning-Miller
Holly Springs