March 7, 2014
In an arresting piece about his denomination's struggles in dealing with homosexuality, United Methodist Pastor Talbot Davis writes:
When therapy turns into theology ... our experience and our empathy determine our doctrine. I've been in those counseling sessions. Asked to officiate a same-gender wedding. Invited to bless a same-gender union. And the pastor in me longs to tell folks what they want to hear, yearns to affirm the narrative I'm privileged to be part of. And yet over against that personal, pastoral desire, I hear another question: have we become so good at empathetic listening that we have lost the capacity for critical thinking?
Because it seems to me that the role of the Scripture has been precisely to guard against what so many of us now do in elevating personal experience to the level of revealed truth. Theologically, then, Scripture protects us from ourselves. Which is why Paul tells Timothy: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (and) why Jeremiah declares: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"
Personal experience and individual feelings -- even when others share those experiences and feel those feelings -- are among the weakest of rationales for shifting theology and changing doctrine. The reason the church does theology and arrives at doctrine is to protect us from our natural tendency to turn what we feel into what we believe.
Feelings of warmth and acceptance are natural with respect to people we love, like, and respect. To lack them is virtual sociopathy. Yet the Bible calls Christians to stand for truth - not with rancor or anger, but with the right balance of kindness and firmness.
Not to uphold the Bible's teaching on human sexuality is to show a lack of love. Sexual intimacy as God intended it - within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman - is beautiful, life-affirming, and life-giving. Sexual intimacy outside these parameters, however enjoyable transiently, leads to the withering of the soul and the erosion of society.
Pastor Davis is right: We cannot derive our theology from our emotions. Theological doctrine stems from another source, the unchanging Word of God, and is as it is because a loving Designer enables us to realize our sexuality best in the context of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.