So saith Paul Newman in The Verdict, and I have to say I agree.
You know, I am so very, very tired of conservatives telling me what I,as a liberal Christian, think; the latest example is Rod Dreher quoting Rev. John Azumah, a a Presbyterian pastor from Ghana, who teaches at a PC(USA) seminary in the United States, describing his students' reaction to an imam's guest-lecturing:
They were agitated by what the imam said about homosexuality, but seemed wholly at ease with his negation of fundamental Christian beliefs. If this were a seminary in Ghana, my home country, the reverse would have been the case.Oh, please. the Bible has many precepts that the neither we liberals nor the conservatives here or in the Global South don't follow. Usury has wreaked incalculable damage on the poor and has helped core out the middle class (subprime mortgage crisis, anyone), but I don't hear the SoCons railing against usury, despite its being the subject of 3 times the number of biblical prohibitions as is homosexuality. (For my overview on both usury and same-sex marriage see here). So please spare me the notion that the Bible is living and vital for conservatives but isn't for liberals. I'm just not buying.
I have come to the conclusion that the doctrinal differences between American liberals and African traditionalists originate in deeper conflicts. We may argue about what the Bible says about sexuality, but there is a broader, unstated disagreement over the Bible itself. For mainstream Western society, the Bible is an ancient text that might arouse intellectual curiosity or become the subject of historical analysis, but it is hardly a sacred book. It has no more authority in American culture than the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King’s speeches, and other notable historic statements. Dropping the language of “obedience to Scripture” and “conformity to the historic confessional standards” from the PC(USA) Ordination Standards underscores this point.
The Bible has a very different status in African societies. Where Christianity has become dominant in the last century, the Bible remains a sacred text, relevant and living. The Bible is more than a compilation of historical documents.
But the effect of the Bible overall in my life has been immense. And I take this seriously. I was ordained a vocational deacon in May, after more than 7 years of discernment and training. That means that I have made a commitment. I hope that, with God's help, my ministry will be of service to those who hunger and thirst, who are prisoners and need encouragement, to the sick, the widows and orphans, and that I may, again with God's help and through His grace, bring the light of Christ into dark places. Trust me, I need to more than just believe in God to even try to do that; I need to rely n God. My hospital training taught me that. It ain't about me.
So I don't like to hear my faith being written off as Dreher and Azumah as if they knew me. I believe in the Creed, quite simply, including the Resurrection and the Trinity. Period. This makes me somewhat traditionalist in my theology (I'm in accord with the so-called Second Anglo-Catholic movement, as ably described by Charles Gore, but those whom I know in the Church who take more modern approaches--well, we're all reaching to describe the same experience, the experience W.R. Inge described in 1899 as the "raw material of all religion"--the experience of transcendence and of immanence. Of course we describe it differently; it's experience we're discussing, not mathematical theorems, and experience is filtered through our unique personal sensitivities and perceptions.
Why weren't the students pressing the Imam on his lack of belief in Christian doctrines such as the resurrection and the Trinity? Possibly, oh, let's have a wild stab at this--because they know he's not a Christian, but rather a Muslim, and therefore that part of his talk was neither new nor shocking? And maybe they were being polite?
I don't know; he was there and I wasn't. But the plural of anecdotes isn't data, as they say, and more to the point, if you're going to frame my argument for me, at least try to look at it as I experience and live it. If you're going to try my case for me, don't throw it.