Tighten up, now

I would like to call attention to the Religion News Service report that was posted with this headline: “Employees quit American Bible Society over sex and marriage rules.” The overture is quite strong:

(RNS) — One of the oldest nonprofit organizations dedicated to distributing Bibles around the world will soon require all employees to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and heed a conservative code of sexual ethics.

Employees are resigning in protest of the new policy, which will effectively prohibit sexually active LGBT people and couples in cohabitating relationships from working for the American Bible Society. But the organization stands by it as a measure intended to bring “unity and clarity.”

The key word in that lede is “orthodox,” with a small “o.” It would have been possible, I guess, to have used phrases such as “ancient Christian beliefs” or even “traditional Christian beliefs.” Both would have been accurate in terms of history. In this context, the use of “conservative” is fine, since there are “liberal” churches that have modernized their doctrines on these subjects.

However, strange things start happening soon after that strong, factual opening, Note, for example, the end of this paragraph:

The American Bible Society, founded 202 years ago to publish, distribute and translate the Bible, presented its “Affirmation of Biblical Community” to employees in December. It requires employees to “refrain from sexual contact outside the marriage covenant,” which it defined as man and wife.

Now, let’s be clear. It is accurate to state that the American Bible Society document defines “marriage covenant” in this manner. However, the implication is that there is something unique or controversial about that doctrine – as opposed to it being a restatement of 2,000 years of basic Christian moral theology

It is … crucial to note why the American Bible Society, and many other religious groups, are putting these kinds of doctrinal specifics into print. They aren’t doing this because they want to do so, they are taking this step because of emerging legal realities.

The roots of these decisions can be found in recent government actions and court decisions (think HHS mandates) requiring religious nonprofits to be much more specific about the doctrines that define their voluntary associations. In other words, there are now solid legal reasons for being more candid, as a defense strategy when being sued by those who oppose these doctrines.This story isn’t going away. So be careful out there.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added)

Let me put this another way: When organizations like the American Bible Society find that an employee is cohabiting or sexually active with members of the same sex, if they dismiss or otherwise discipline them, they don’t want the employee, sincerely or disingenuously, claiming that they had no idea that doing so violated a general rule that employees are to conduct their lives outside of work “consistently with Biblical morality” or some such general, umbrella standard.

There’s nothing new about this. For twenty centuries now, the Church has defined its teachings more rigorously when some sort of challenge arose to what previously had been, if not universally understood, at least not openly defied and disputed. From Arian heresy through iconoclastic heresy, that’s the background of the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided church.

The only thing that’s changed, it seems to me, is that tens of thousands of denominations and parachurch groups are going to have to do this one-by-one now, the clear and visible unity of the church having been blurred and obscured beyond possibility of an ecumenical council that all would recognize as binding.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

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