Accountancy, if you think about it, is a very straight-forward discipline, in that for every debit, there must be a credit. Without this, the double-entry system simply doesn't work. "Where did the money come from (credit)?", and "What did you do with it (debit)?", will provide the answer to virtually all accounting transactions.
Life, on the other hand, is far less straight-forward - especially when the issues become emotional.
A topic we've been discussing quite vigorously on our internal electronic forum at seminary stems from the ongoing debate around same-sex relationships. (Before you exclaim "Oh no - not THAT old drum again" and click the little red X, please bear with me for a bit). The main issue in my mind at the moment is not so much about whether such relationships are "right" or "wrong", but rather around how we formulate and apply "rules".
We were discussing this matter as a family during a drive to Greytown yesterday. I particularly enjoy these Saturday drives, because even though petrol is expensive (and going up again by 29c per litre on Wednesday ... grrrr), a tank of juice is still cheaper (and far more enjoyable) than an hour on a shrink's couch.
But getting back to our discussion, which was prompted by a sign alongside the R33 just outside Pietermaritzburg. It was one of those "camera" signboards indicating that the local authority is doing speed trapping by camera, but there was no sign indicating what speed limit was being enforced. Since we were already 20km outside an urban area, one couldn't take it for granted that the applicable limit was 60 (and certainly the taxi that was driving up my jersey had a difference of opinion in this regard!), but what speed then were we allowed to drive at? 70? 80? 100? 40? How can one seek to prosecute when the rules themselves are ambiguous?
Bringing this into the realm of the same-sex debate, former colleague Ecclesia de Lange has been disciplined (and subsequently discontinued from ministry) for entering into a civil union (the South African legal framework for same-sex unions). Now on one level it can be argued that "the Bible is clear", but the problem is that the Methodist Church of SA has, starting with the initial discussion document sent to Circuits in 2003, created a degree of ambiguity. This has resulted in those on the "anti" side seeing the discussions as being contrary to what has historically been seen as a clear prohibition in Scripture, while the "pro" brigade are seeing the discussions as a willingness to exercise grace to those who have struggled with their sexuality for many years and are now seeing the possibility of the doors being opened. And it's probably fair to recognise that while there may well be those who are "pushing an agenda", one cannot say that this is only coming from one or other side. Likewise, I believe that there are sincere Christians on both sides of the debate who are seeking an outcome that is consistent with the Gospel message as contained in Scripture.
The Church authorities are understandably wanting to promote debate and hear the views of all sides, while at the same time they are being reluctant to make a clear decision on which way to go, for fear of a split in the Church. And such fears are well-founded - I have no doubt that if the MCSA decides that same-sex relationships are not acceptable, the "pro" brigade will up and leave, while if the doors are opened to same-sex relationships, the "anti" brigade will go. So, for the moment, the "safe option" is to make no decision at all.
My concern, however, is that the MCSA is currently in a situation similar to the one I faced on the R33 yesterday - the threat of prosecution (from the camera) is clearly stated, but the underlying rule is ambiguous. Similarly, while the impression is being created that the doors are being slowly opened for those who are of same-sex orientation, it is now clear - as Ecclesia recently found out - that as soon as a foot is put through the door, it is quickly slammed shut.
I don't want to get into the debate of the merits (or otherwise) of Ecclesia's actions and the MCSA's response in this particular post - I've certainly written many a word of debate on the SMMS forum as well as on the MCSA Ministers' Yahoo forum - but when all the dust is settled and the debates have died down, the real issues are not as clear or straight-forward as an accounting journal entry, and trying to understand them is not quite as easy as falling off a 1300 Kawasaki motorcycle.
The following question was posed to me this afternoon: "How will my son James discover who he is?" (referring to sexual orientation). And the honest answer is: I don't know. In fact, I don't even know how I discovered who I am. It's not like I woke up one morning and said to myself, "Okay, I'm now 14, all my friends have girlfriends, so I need to choose whether I like girls or boys". I didn't read a passage of Scripture (granted, I wasn't a Christian then); nor did I flip a coin or use some other means to decide. All I remember is that a point came in my life where girls started looking interesting. Nature basically took its course. I would therefore imagine that the same would happen with James.
But what would my response be if James came home one day, age 18, and said that he was going out on a date with Chris - and the "Chris" in question turned out to be "Christopher" rather than "Christine"? To be honest, I cannot really say. I have no doubt it will be quite a shock to the system. Certainly we've spoken about homosexuality (insofar as the level one at which one can have those discussions with a 12-year-old) - we've been through the various Scriptural accounts of homosexuality (both prohibitions and events in which homosexual acts are depicted), but we've also had a chat about the inappropriateness of "moffie" jokes and the like.
And I make no bones about the fact that while I would be ecstatic about having a daughter-in-law some day, I'd be less wild about the prospect of a son-in-law (seeing as I have no daughters). Yet I think of someone with whom I was good friends with a number of years ago before he relocated, who is quite a radical Christian, having spent the lion's share of his Christian walk attending Pentecostal / Charismatic churches and being intensely involved in the life of the Church since he first accepted Jesus as Lord. He studies the Bible diligently, has spent two years at a Bible school, and would in all likelihood follow a traditional interpretation of the Scriptural stance on homosexuality. And his daughter recently got married - to a woman.
I cannot begin to think what sort of emotions must have gone through him and his wife. Undoubtedly they must have been torn between their love for their daughter, and everything they've ever been taught and come to believe as Christians. Unfortunately we lost contact some years ago, so I cannot purport to speak on his behalf. But all indications (as related to me by a mutual friend) are that when all is said and done, his daughter remains his daughter and he doesn't love her any less because of the choice she has made to enter into a civil union.
This is where I struggle most of all as someone who is training for the ministry. My calling is to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. This means that I am called to teach and preach the Gospel to my congregation, and draw them together as the Body of Christ through the administration of the sacraments. Pastoral care and the like goes hand in hand with this calling. But I believe that this calling also includes the responsibility to love - my congregation, my colleagues, and my family. And while you don't necessarily love what those closest to you may do, true love means that your love for the person must remain undimished.
There will of course be times when loving a person means the removal of such person, especially in cases where their continued actions would cause harm to others. But this would be an extreme measure. The default position should be to keep the person within the fold wherever possible. This is why I regard Ecclesia's discontinuance as being particularly sad - not because we have made a stand either way on same-sex relationships, but because we have chosen to exclude her rather than to journey with her.
If only life followed the rules of accountancy...
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