February 16, 2015 Robert Frost wrote of evening rather than morning. But it is morning here in Asbury Park, New Jersey, as it is throughout the northeast, the woods, cities, streets, etc., which are "filled up with snow". I first really became acquainted with snow when I arrived in Boston in 1955 to attend Boston University School of Theology. I remember owning a small Hillman Californian car, and as I was driving on the bridge nearest the School of Theology one evening, the snow was beginning to fall and I pressed the brake in order to avoid running into the car in front of me. I learned a snow-taught lesson: Bridges are especially icy in cold and snowy weather, and pressing one's brakes suddenly while driving on a bridge could cause your car to slide into the car in front of you. Fortunately, the damage was slight, and the Bostonian whom I ran into was gentle. (Some of you know Countee Cullen's poem that has the words, "Once riding in old Baltimore.....he stuck out his tongue and called me n....r, and that's all that I remember".) This was not my experience on that bridge in Boston.
I write this morning of a revelation of mine that is shaped by the comments, some not so positive and a few positive, that I received in response to a commentary I wrote about same-sex marriage in Alabama and the United Methodist Church that appeared in the United Methodist Reporter. Last time I checked, there were over 100 comments, some of them my replies to the comments of others.
My Revelation! Those who lambast me because I do not believe the words about "man and woman" representing the only biblically valid kind of marriage seem to ignore or dismiss O.T. biblical accounts of one man marrying many women. This morning I find myself fascinated that my critics are adamant about only one kind of faith-based "traditional marriage", but they accept, uncritically, the diversity that is present in the ecclesiological expressions of the Christian Church! The book of Acts and the Epistles address the beginnings of the Church and give hints of how and what the Church should be in form and function, but there is no agreed upon uniformity of Church ecclesiology. Thus for my critics, the Church can be un-uniform in its diversity of expressions, but marriage dare not be?
Ecclesiology is the word used to describe the authority, polity, discipline, leadership, and relationship to Jesus of the Church. The Church around the world is not uniform in its polity/organization! Some Churches have Bishops; others do not. Some do not yet have women as Bishops, and the Church of England has just allowed that to happen. My Mormon brothers, until the late 1970’s, felt that "Noah's Curse" made me ineligible for their priesthood because I am black. Noah’s response to the world finding out that he was drunk in his nakedness (naked while drunk, or was it drunk while naked?) was to issue his Curse, described by some as "the blackest of curses". Thus you know why the Curse was directed at me and those like me.
Excuse me for spending more time on race and the Mormons than I should have. Churches vary in when, how, and who can be baptized. Babies in some churches can be, and in other churches cannot. I have discovered, through living in Asbury Park and developing a relationship with a nearby black Baptist Church, that there are “Walking Deacons" and some that are not. I will never forget that when I became Pastor of St. Daniels United Methodist Church in Chester, Pennsylvania, I was introduced to the rhythmic marching of Ushers, Choirs, and Congregants as they came forward to contribute. I rejoiced in marching with them at times, as a way of making up for the fact that I never learned the dance called the "Electric Slide". (I became what I think was a fairly good disco dancer when I "let go" in a bar in Tanzania in 1971. Not because I was under the influence of alcohol, but because I felt a kind of "freedom" in Motherland Africa that I had never felt before).
I think I should begin to end this epistle. I have heard of "snow blindness”: when one is dazzled and blinded for a time by the snow. I may be experiencing “snow drunkenness" as I look beyond my computer and out through the window at the snow, and as a result, have gone afield in what I have written. Thus, what have I sought to say about definitions of what marriage should be and definitions of what Church should be?
Those who are adamant in the name of "Biblical Authority", as they define what marriage should and should not be, have more certainty about the form of marriage than they do about the form of the Church. They are suspicious of persons who “Challenge Authority” — Biblical or otherwise. (Some describe these persons as having “control needs" and they therefore "use" the Bible and their view of its authority to meet their control needs. I disagree, because, “Some of my best friends are in this category, and they remain my best friends”).
I, on this snowy morning, "have come by to tell you" (preacher talk), that if Biblical Authority allows for diversity and differentness in how we "Do Church", then it ought allow for diversity and differentness in how we, "Do Marriage".
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
My prayer is that the miles the United Methodist Church has to go to recognize the faith-based legitimacy of same sex marriages and of the right of UM clergy to perform those marriages are miles much fewer than they have ever been.