Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Controversy surrounding FBC

The following is an expression of my own personal, fallible feelings on this issue. In no way should it be taken to reflect the opinions of FBC or any of its staff or members. Especially if, as may be the case, it turns out to be too judgmental or not loving enough toward the parties involved (in which case, apologies to those concerned):

There's a big controversy going on right now about our church here in Davis (FBC - First Baptist Church). One of our members, an elected official named Freddie Oakley, has spoken out against the illegality of gay marriage. Apparently she thinks it is unjust/unfair/politically wrong to limit marriage or people's choice of marriage partners. As far as I know, she has not said anything at all to indicate that she thinks that gay marriage is morally permissible - for all she's said, she may very well think it is wrong or sinful, just that it is a matter of political justice that the state has no right to interfere when it comes to marriage. In other words, it may be wrong, but it is unjust for the state to force someone to accept that it is wrong or act as though it were. Everything she's said publicly has been perfectly compatible with such a combination of views (and, indeed, such a combination of views is not entirely uncommon, especially among people with more of a politically liberal or libertarian bent). After all, plenty of people think JW's are wrong in what they believe but most of the same think it'd be unjust to block them from attaining a place of worship. All this is just to say that though Oakley may be politically in favor of allowing gay marriage, that doesn't directly translate into moral approval or a moral condoning of it (and indeed, some of her comments might seem to support this particular interpretation of her views - look at what she says about how religion ought to be kept out of the law - presumably she has in mind her own religion, Christianity, which is morally against homosexual relationships).
The past two weeks, a group from Placerville called the Church of the Divide (an unintentionally apt name!) has been protesting at FBC because they feel that the church in general, and the staff in particular, have been lax in publicly disciplining Oakley for her "sinfulness". Apparently, they are unaware of the possibility of the combination of views described above. Or maybe they just think that anyone who disagrees with their political stance must thereby be sinning! The former seems pretty likely to me - people quite often confuse moral and legal matters (which is not to say that there is no connection - just that they are not the same). This group has taken FBC's refusal to bar Oakley from worship as moral approval of gay relationships, as evidenced by the sorts of signs they brought to the protest and many of the things they have said. This is, of course, ridiculous, as FBC, in line with the Bible, is against homosexual practices and the pastor has explicitly said as much.
The group sent a letter to FBC, the following being an excerpt:

Due to your apparent refusal to speak with us privately about this issue dealing with the purity of the bride of Christ, His church, we will be following Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 and will publicly expose your inaction in exercising proper church discipline on a member’s open, public sin. (“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, TELL IT UNTO THE CHURCH.” Matt 18:15-17)

This is quite the wacky application of these verses, to put it mildly. Jesus is here speaking about the goings on within a particular group of believers (probably originally the local synagogue - its a bit misleading, though hermeneutically still appropriate, to translate the Greek word ekklesia (meaning "assembly") here as "church", though since the local church is just a continuation of the local synagogue the principles still apply). Specifically, this is about interpersonal relationships between members of the same local assembly. More specifically, it's about one individual member personally wronging another individual member - such as through fraud, exploitation, gossip, abuse, etc. Clearly this does not support the Church of the Divide's actions. No one in that group, as far as I know, is a member or even an occasional attendee of FBC nor has any of them been personally wronged by any member of FBC. So there is no Scriptural basis in this passage for them to bring this matter up with our church.
Check out their article on the controversy and the protest here: http://www.churchofthedivide.org/FBCOakleyProtest.htm

If you read what is written on both websites and watch their video, they are hardly loving - they seem to be taunting FBC staff and volunteers and acting in general in a rather immature manner (notice how the cameraman takes up the issue of setting foot on the property in a rather childish way, reminding me a little of a bratty kid talking back to its parents). They seem to be completely belligerent, arrogant, and uncharitable. They twist everything and interpret everything into the worst possible light without even considering more charitable (and more plausible) interpretations of what is being done and said by FBC staff or members.
It's highly ironic that their website's motto is "Expressing God's Love in a Whole New Kind of Way". This new way seems to be the old "Pharisaic" way of judgment, condemnation, and self-righteousness. Notice how they even describe someone as an "aged, obese bicyclist" - if that's not deliberate malevolence, I don't know what is!
Here's a quote from their site:

Upon arrival, Church of the Divide was met with a hostile crowd of "First Baptist Church" (FBC) personel

I highly doubt it was really hostile. As far as I know, they told the group to leave and endured the group's taunting without uttering any hostile words and in general keeping quiet - how is that hostile? As an aside, it's funny that they talk about "FBC bodyguards" as if we had big, burly tough guys of questionable character and violent tendencies standing about. It's hilarious to think of Jon ("Papa Jon" to his grandkids) as an official "FBC Bodyguard". Maybe they should get an official t-shirt.
Notice the following quote from a man from the group who was asked to leave the property:

"Not very 'welcoming' if you ask me," he added. "I guess only Freddie Oakley gets welcomed here - Bible-believing Christians apparently are not."

That's about as uncharitable as you can get. There's no notion here that perhaps the staff thought that this person was really here to protest and disrupt the service or accost the pastors or parishioners or film what was going on in order to edit and twist the words and actions of the people in the church (which was pretty likely what would have happened - notice on the video that one man who was kicked out of the service had a camera in his hand and kept talking about having gone into the service to speak to the pastor). Instead, if they aren't allowed on the property it must, of course, be because they are Christians and, of course, FBC doesn't want Christians on its property! All this, of course, is getting things almost completely backwards. Any group which is about respect for its members and being welcoming and having an uninterrupted service without its members being molested would precisely not want to welcome such protesters. They are not welcome precisely because they are, in an extremely confrontational and public way, not acting as Christians.

As already mentioned, their use of Scripture in support of their position is piecemeal and not very well executed to say the least. Take some of their signs: "I have this against you - "You tolerate that woman Jezebel (Freddie)" Revelation 2:20". Anyone who knows anything about Revelation or its context should find this laughable - last time I checked, FBC is not located in Thyatira in the first century AD nor is Freddie Oakley a leader at our church attempting to lead the rest of the church into pagan/proto-Gnostic practices. Another quote from them: "I told him [Pastor Glen] homosexuality is a sin of great consequence stemming from the destruction by God of Sodom and was brought up in the Bible, including by Jesus, over 30 times; the judgment of homosexuality is not just individual but societal." Now, I don't remember Jesus ever explicitly bringing up homosexuality, but it's important to remember that the Bible never says that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of gay relationships. That undoubtedly added to their guilt, but Scripture indicates that they were generally very depraved, not just in wanting to have sex with other people of the same gender but in all sorts of ways. They tried to rape some angels, violate norms of hospitality and justice, etc. Scripture indicates that it was because of their wickedness that they were destroyed - it never pinpoints that wickedness as solely or even mostly to be found in gay relationships. So it is hard to say, as they seem to think, that homosexual activity is somehow a greater sin than all others - Scripture just does not support that. If any sins are held in greater contempt at all (which may be disputed), Scripture sees injustice and idolatry as the greatest sins - not homosexual activity. Scripture does see such activity as a grievous sin, just not something somehow at the top of the list. In any case, Oakley wasn't even engaging in such activity nor was she explicitly condoning or supporting it - so the seriousness of homosexual activity as a sin isn't relevant in any case.

Anyway, Scripture is not altogether clear on what all of our political views should be - moral views yes, political views no. In such a gray area, we should be charitable and allow people to differ in their opinions so long as they hold true to the faith and affirm what the Bible is indeed clear about. Even if Oakley were to publicly speak out in favor of the moral permissibility of homosexual relationships, it still is not clear that she should be kicked out of the church - Paul in 1 Corinthians speaks of removing the people who are committing public sexual sins and remain unrepentant, not removing the people he condemns for merely approving of it.

The ultimate problem seems to be that these people think that sinners shouldn't be let into the church. This of course is connected to an ancient heresy opposed by the rest of the church (the Church Father Augustine prominent among those who opposed the heresy). The Church of the Divide apparently believes that Christians can and should be completely sinless. One member told a curious FBC-goer that he personally had been without sin for 28 years or something like that. Of course, this contradicts 1 John "He who says he is without sin is a liar". And so since they think Oakley is a sinner, they think she should go - only the sinless should be allowed in church! But, as Pastor Glen has said, in that case none of us (Dividers included) would be allowed inside!


Anonymous said...

These morons are not from Placerville. Say it three times, "These morons are from Garden Valley". They are locally known as the "Garden Valley Taliban"

Ian said...

"These morons are from Garden Valley".
"These morons are from Garden Valley".
"These morons are from Garden Valley".
Apologies - I was under a mistaken impression as to their location.

stanford said...

I think the exegetical key to the sodom narrative is in Ezekiel 16:49
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

Ian said...

That's a great point, Stan. I think I had something like this passage in mind, among other things, when I wrote this entry but I didn't remember any exact verses. Good to have an exact biblical quote here!

Jon said...

Although Ezekiel picks up on some other reasons for Sodom's destruction, the New Testament reference back to Sodom is in Jude 1:7 which mentions the sexual immorality of the city (which according to Gen. 19 was sodomy, or 'strange flesh'):
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."

maranatha said...

Beware Ian, your friend Stanford did not finish the verse, which you all too readily accepted.In Ezekiel 16:49-50, the prophet addresses the sins of Israel by pointing to the sins of Sodom: “Behold,this was the guilt of your sister Sodom:she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Ezekiel clearly links Sodom’s judgment– at least in part – to the city’s pride and luxurious lifestyle, and the inhabitants’
refusal to help those in need.

Do we have two conflicting accounts
of Sodom’s guilt in Scripture? Does Genesis focus on homosexuality, while the prophet Ezekiel accuses the city’s inhabitants of pride and inhospitality?
The two passages are actually in agreement,for Ezekiel does not ignore the issue of homosexuality at all. The prophet’s reference to the fact that Sodom “committed
abominations” before God is no doubt a reference to the inhabitants’ homosexual
proclivities – especially with the Genesis story in the minds of Ezekiel’s hearers.After all, the Jews understood “abomination”
as a common way of referring to grotesque sexual sin like homosexuality (Lev. 18:22).

Therefore, rather than being an unexpected revision of Scriptural history,Ezekiel’s reference to Sodom is a clear explanation of it, adding to the Genesis account,
rather than contradicting it. The “arrogant self-indulgence” of Sodom’s citizens contributed to the sexual perversion.

In fact, this supposition fits more reasonably within the context of Ezekiel’s denunciation of Israel – who, after all, is the real subject of the prophet’s preaching. Israel’s harlotries and abominations,clearly laid out in the earlier portions of Ezekiel 16, are tied to the unfaithful
nation’s own wealth and material blessings (v. 10-14). Such luxury and arrogance, therefore, can lead to sexual perversion,and that would be the precise impact of Ezekiel’s reference to Sodom. However, the attempt to deflect away from homosexuality the horror of the
judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah
receives its fatal blow from the New Testament.

The epistles of both 2 Peter
and Jude link Sodom’s guilt to carnality and sexual perversion.
In 2 Peter 2, the apostle said the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
should serve as an example to the wicked of every generation (vs. 6). Lott, he said,continually witnessed “the sensual conduct of unprincipled men,” who, among
other things, “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires” (v. 7, 10).
Jude 7 makes the sin of Sodom and
Gomorrah even more explicit: the inhabitants “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh,” and what could be stranger than men fornicating with other men?

While the two cursed cities may have been judged for more than their homosexuality,there is no legitimate way to remove
homosexuality from the list of sins that doomed them.

Ian said...

I'll answer jon and maranatha together (thanks for commenting on my blog by the way and finding more relevant verses!):

As to the statement, "Beware Ian, your friend Stanford did not finish the verse, which you all too readily accepted," I must concede that I will readily accept just about any verse of Scripture (which, technically, Stan did finish, though he did stop there and not continue on to the next verse) and all I said in response was that it was a good verse - I'm not sure what the trouble is supposed to be, so I've probably misunderstood you here.

As for the Ezekiel passage, no one was suggesting that there was any contradiction in Scripture - actually, I'm not sure how anyone would see any contradiction here either. I agree that homosexual activity is almost certainly among the "abominations" (or "detestable things" in other translations). These phrases, "abominations" or "detestable things", of course, can refer in Scripture to a lot of other sins than just homosexual (or sexual) ones, though homosexual ones are definitely included. Assuming the same Hebrew word is being used, you can verify this by looking in any concordance. No one's denying (I think) that homosexual sin contributed to the judgment on them. But there's no evidence in this passage that it was THE sin that they were punished for - it was just one among many. Neither Israel nor Sodom are being condemned exclusively or even mainly for homosexual or even sexual sin. Also, while it does mention sexual immorality, it would be a mistake to infer from the predominantly sexual imagery of the passage that Israel was being condemned primarily for sexual or homosexual sin - it is the nation itself that is being pictured as licentious, a common picture in Scripture for its unfaithfulness to God and spiritual wantonness.

I'm a bit confused about the reference to II Peter since homosexual sin is not explicitly mentioned in the passage. Verse 10 isn't even referring directly to Sodom and Gomorrah but rather to Peter's then-current adversaries, though perhaps he is here applying sins from his previous examples and applying them to these false teachers. For one thing, neither the Greek word 'sarx' (in the translation quoted translated there as 'flesh') nor the Greek word 'epithumia' (translated as 'desire') necessarily have sexual connotations - both can be used for human nature or any old desire generally or more negatively for human fallen nature or sinful desire, not just human fallen sexual nature or sexual desire.

This, of course, does not mean that there is no sexual sin in the background here. If the parallel in Jude is to be taken seriously, Jude can help us interpret Peter here. What does it mean that the people of Sodom went "after strange flesh"? "what could be stranger than men fornicating with other men?" Well, the passage doesn't exactly say that the behavior is strange, but that the flesh they went after was strange or different. If we go back to the original passage in Genesis we find that the flesh they were after was indeed rather strange - they went after angels. I would say that an angel is decidedly stranger as a sexual object than a man, even if they didn't know they were angels. And they didn't go after them by trying to woo them or entice but, perhaps worse, they actually tried to rape them, not only violating sexual norms but also norms of justice and hospitality in the process (they were visitors and under Lot's roof). This actually accords well with both traditional Jewish and Christian interpretations as well as first century interpretations which would have influenced Peter. Again, that's not to say that homosexual acts have nothing to do with the condemnation, just that they aren't the only or main thing.

So I think we can all agree that part of why Sodom was condemned had to do with sexual immorality (fornication, homosexual activity, rape, etc. - not just homosexuality) but all I was trying to ever say was that that's not all it was being condemned for.

Anonymous said...

Ian, by attacking the messengers (Church of the Divide) you are avoiding the focus of their message. Freddie Oakley, a prominent public figure, while openly professing to be an evangelical Christian to a news reporter on public TV, denies her verbal faith by her actions. She 'believes homosexuality is a sin (just like the Bible says)' but then openly, defiantly encourages sodomites to continue in sin by supporting their 'right to marry?' Her faith is mere words for she denies the Word of God by her hypocritical actions, and causes the name of Christ to be mocked. Glen Snyder, pastor, did not do his job as shepherd, simply allowing her to continue in her willful sin, even continuing to welcome her? Is there no fear of God in that place? It took Church of the Divide to wake people up to the shameless hypocrisy, this very public sin. So is it really more 'unloving' to say "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" or to let someone perish in their sin?

Ian said...

Side note: It's a little weird having discussions with people who use my first name when I have no idea who they are. I'm not sayong it's a bad thing or that people should tell me who they are or that they shouldn't use my name - it just suddenly struck me as weird, that's all.

Ian said...

Response to the most recent Mr./Ms. Anonymous:
"Ian, by attacking the messengers (Church of the Divide) you are avoiding the focus of their message. "
No, actually if you look more carefully I did directly deal with their message. There were two main things I was doing in this blog: arguing that what the Dividers were doing was immoral and arguing that their position on FBC has inadequate Scriptural support or is just plain wrong or misguided. I think that qualifies as dealing with the message.
"Freddie Oakley, a prominent public figure, while openly professing to be an evangelical Christian to a news reporter on public TV, denies her verbal faith by her actions. She 'believes homosexuality is a sin (just like the Bible says)' but then openly, defiantly encourages sodomites to continue in sin by supporting their 'right to marry?' Her faith is mere words for she denies the Word of God by her hypocritical actions, and causes the name of Christ to be mocked. "
These sorts of allegations and question-begging attacks are exactly what I already addressed in my blog. I described how Freddie could politically support gay marriage without denying her faith or being a hypocrite, etc.
"Glen Snyder, pastor, did not do his job as shepherd, simply allowing her to continue in her willful sin, even continuing to welcome her? Is there no fear of God in that place? It took Church of the Divide to wake people up to the shameless hypocrisy, this very public sin."
I already addressed the idea that Oakley's political stance is sinful and the church's role in that.
"So is it really more 'unloving' to say "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" or to let someone perish in their sin? "
Calling people to repentance is often a good thing and very loving - but it matters HOW we do it. Speaking truth does not automatically mean you are being loving - Paul says not merely that we are to speak the truth but to do so in LOVE. And not only is the truth of some of the Dividers' mesage in doubt but the way they have presented the message and behaved themselves has definitely not been loving or Christlike (as I've already argued). So your dichotomy is overly simplistic - the Dividers could have conveyed their message in a loving matter and acted with respect, charity, and good-will but they willfully chose not to do so.
So in sum, anonymous's comments are question-begging, unargued, and fail to deal with the substance of my blog.

Ian said...

Oops, sorry if that last comment sounded a little too harsh - it wasn't meant to be.

Anonymous said...

These MORONS are from Garden Valley. I love it. They shall henceforth be known as the "Garden Valley MORONS".