Power of the Bible transcends inconsistencies in scriptures


By Mark McLain
Guest Columnist 

Garry Ruff’s letter to the Advocate (July 4) cites “several messages” he says he’s recently received expressing concern that the actions of some “organizations (within Tthe United Methodist Church) are creating division within the church.” Cryptically and patronizingly, Ruff counsels in reply, “Truth often causes division (Jesus said that he came not to bring peace but a sword).”   

Well, yes, but, inconveniently for Ruff and others who share his views, the scripture Ruff cites is sandwiched between the Beatitudes, where Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” and the arrest of Jesus when Peter wields his sword in Jesus’ defense and Jesus rebukes him for doing it.  

Clearly there is a well-organized group of folks in the UMC who are downright eager to use their swords against things they claim to believe threaten the viability of The United Methodist Church.  As best I can tell these things are mainly: 

• The growing realization that literalism is a flawed and demeaning approach to the Bible which doesn’t clarify but instead obscures the Gospel message 

• Unrepentant sinners who want to join us or are already among us (the scapegoats here are, of course, homosexual Christians). 

Ironically, the biggest threat to the viability of the UMC is actually these pious pugilists themselves and their relentless urge to purge the UMC of those of us who won’t stop publicly professing an understanding of the Gospel which differs meaningfully from their own. 

I figure we wouldn’t know the hope of Christ or have the church we all love were it not for scripture. We shouldn’t be troubled by or try to deny the reality that scripture contains numerous significant irreconcilable inconsistencies. If we insist that these inconsistencies don’t exist, when clearly they do, we risk becoming a stumbling block to (new Christians) developing faith. Far from exalting scripture, we end up making a mockery of it. The power of the Bible isn’t diminished by its literal imperfections. Rather, the message of the Bible transcends the inconsistencies in its text. Just as Jesus didn’t need Peter to defend Him by the sword, neither Jesus nor scripture needs anyone now to defend them with swords of any kind. 

What makes these people who are so filled with a lust for judgment think the UMC can succeed in the same futile un-Chrislike endeavor for which Jesus consistently and vehemently rebuked the Pharisees? And practically speaking, the UMC doesn’t have the vast means necessary to determine whether our current and prospective members are unrepentantly sinning in any way. If we’re really serious about purging unrepentant sin from the UMC, we’re going to need something akin to our own version of The Patriot Act to first detect and then root out unrepentant sinners. 

I don’t know about Ruff and those who think like he does, but I suspect most United Methodists don’t actually believe the UMC is called by God to morally micromanage their lives. Too, my guess is that for the folks who are so eager to use their swords, it’s not really about unrepentant sin anyway, it’s just all about homosexual Christians and how to get them out and keep them out of the UMC. I believe Jesus wouldn’t act that way nor would most United Methodists, if they were aware of all of these considerations. 

Homosexual human beings are conceived and born just like the rest of us. Some are our children, brothers, sisters, friends and parents. Some have joined the UMC as children, some as adults, and there will continue to be some who are born into our church. Most of them live in abiding dread of the consequences for themselves and for their loved ones of being openly identified, not because they don’t own their identities but because they know — and the behavior of many in the UMC verifies — their lives and their loved ones’ lives will be impacted in ways that are painful, sometimes devastating, and in some cases tragic. 

With our state’s history of institutionally supported racist terrorism, shouldn’t we of all people tread with particular care when it comes to our treatment of yet another minority? Each homosexual person is loved by God no less than any of the rest of us.  

 I suspect most of those clamoring to ban homosexual Christians from the UMC have never had a relationship with any of them close enough to really see them as Christ might. Yet they confidently and self-righteously press on with judgment — may God forgive those who are acting in this way. 

To those who are willing, please pray and then think for yourselves. Please do not put your name to or vote for anything that would close the UMC’s doors in a way that I just cannot imagine Jesus doing.  

Please don’t generalize or stoop to stereotyping when it comes to homosexual Christians. Loving a person does not require that we be able to understand their experience as if it were our own. Just because we can’t relate to another’s experience doesn’t mean we should judge them or exclude them from our churches. 

Please don’t be duped into drawing your sword in defense of the Bible or insist upon literalism as doctrine. Doing so will diminish the authenticity and credibility of the Gospel message, and many who could benefit so greatly from reading the Bible seriously, thoughtfully, critically and freely — never will.  

McLain lives in Madison and attends Parkway Hills UMC.