Monday, July 13, 2015

C.S. Lewis on Unfaithful Ministers & Homosexuality

When I read this piece about a PCA church treating sin as if it’s a matter of opinion I couldn’t keep the Episcopal ghost from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce out of my head. In an attempt to put into yours what’s stuck in mine, I’ve taken the speech and altered it slightly, pushing the ideas into the present day.

A trim, bald man who sat on the seat in front of me leaned back and addressed me in a soft-spoken voice. “Excuse me,” he said in a very agreeable fashion, “but I couldn’t help overhearing parts of your conversation. I’m the senior pastor at Intown PCA church in Portland Oregon and we’ve been approving of gay marriage for awhile, which makes me something of an expert on the recent SCOTUS decision. Doomed are we? Hardly. Honestly, it’s astonishing how these primitive prejudices linger on. There is not a shred of evidence that this twilight is ever going to turn into a night. There has been a revolution of opinion on that in educated circles. I am surprised that you haven’t heard of it. All the nightmare fantasies of our ancestors are being swept away. What we now see in this subdued and delicate half-light is the promise of the dawn: the slow turning of a whole nation towards the light. Slow and imperceptible, of course. But the arc of history is doubtlessly bent toward justice, and unless we find ourselves on the right side of history the name of Christ might be forgotten. The foolish notion of an endless homosexual agenda that seeks to strip God from the public dialogue is quite ridiculous.”
His words were magnetic, his countenance attractive, so I informed him I was a reporter and asked if I could hear more from him on this topic. “Certainly. But I must meet with an old friend first. You’re welcome to sit in if you like.”
No sooner had I told him I’d like that a great deal than the bus came to a stop. The man carefully brushed the crumbs of the croissant from his shirt and checked his iphone6 to be sure he was not going to be late. He wasn’t. We exited together and went inside the posh coffee shop as the smoggy bus rumbled off. We sat at a table near the door; I took the chair further back, toward the counter. The laptop booted up just as the guest appeared.
“Ah, Dick,” he stood up and began with obvious pleasure, “it’s been too long. Too long since we’ve had one of our talks. I expect you’ve changed your views a bit since we spoke last, seeing as how you’d become a bit narrow minded for a while there. No doubt in light of recent events you’ve broadened out again?”
Richard smiled as they shook hands and took the empty seat.
“How do you mean Brian?”
“Well, it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that you weren’t quite right. Why, my dear boy, last we talked you were considering that homosexuality wasn’t an unqualified good! As if you were some kind of regressive fundamentalist!”
“And that’s not right?”
“Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure, it isn’t always entirely good. I myself still believe there may be some sin in there if the couple isn’t at least professing monogamy. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom after all. But to think that homosexuality in and of itself is wrong is hidebound superstition or backwards mythological--”
“Excuse me Brian but have you no regard for the welfare of gay people themselves? Do you not care about their eternal destiny?”
“Ah, I see, you’re asking if I have any notion of where the whole thing’s going. You’re saying their movement with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea.”
“I didn’t mean that at all. I was asking if you’d considered their condition.”
“What condition is that?”
“We call it sin.”
“There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. These matters ought to be discussed simply, seriously, and most of all lovingly.”
“Discuss sin lovingly? No, you can either love sin or love people. If you care about your congregation you’ll get serious or they might be lost forever. Call sin what it is.”
“Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you’ll tell me why, on your view, my church is in this ‘sinful mess’ that’s caused the Northwestern Presbytery to send you to meet with me.”
“Don’t you know? We’re discussing if you’re an apostate. I volunteered because I thought to meet with you and bring you back.”
“Are you serious, Dick?”
“This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken? Are you willing to assert there’s no such chapter in the Bible as Romans 14? Were you unaware they’ll know we are Christians by our love?”
“Do you really think there are no sins Brian?”
‘There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. All sins which you fundamentalists exhibit. But honest opinions fearlessly followed or love wonderfully expressed—that is not sin. God is love.”
“I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions. Take your most recent blog post for example.”
“Yes, now that is certainly true. My blog is not only honest but heroic. Fearless. When the doctrine of orthodox sexuality ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”
“What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came—popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and soon a bishopric with the Episcopalians?”
“Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?”
“Brian, I am not suggesting at all. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At college, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives up until that point, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: what if sin is real? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of reality?”
“If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like—”
“I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but you and me. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn’t want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes.”
“I’m far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it’s not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed. Homosexuality is not a sin. That’s an honest opinion and it’s also true.”
“Of course you think that. Having allowed yourself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, you’ve reached a point where you no longer believe the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.”
“You’ll be justifying homophobic hate speech in a moment!”
“Why? Because we err in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?”
“Well, this is extremely interesting,” he said with a frown. “It’s a point of view. Certainly, it’s a point of view. In the meantime...”
“There is no meantime,” replied the other. “All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past, of your past and mine only in order that you may turn from it forever. Only someone who isn’t a believer says what you say and compromises where you have. But there’s hope Brian. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as white as snow if you will admit there’s such a thing as sin. And I have come to meet you for this very thing. You are sliding into Hell but you are yet in sight of Heaven. Will you now repent and believe?”
“I’m not sure that I’ve got the exact point you are trying to make.”
“I am not trying to make any point,’ said Brian. “I am telling you to repent and believe.” It was obvious he was trying to get his friend to turn in hopes of having the effect trickle down to the congregation. And indeed for a moment Brian seemed to be bending. But the inward struggle ceased and the moment of consideration died, the frown being replaced by a smile.
“But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me.”
“Very well,” said the other, as if changing his plan. “Will you admit that gay marriage is no marriage at all?”
“In what sense?”
“That it’s inherently unfruitful. Will you accept they can’t have children as a biological impossibility? That it goes against the created order? Accepting this will hurt at first, until your conscience is restored. Reality is a bit harsh. But will you try?” His voice was full of tenderness.
“Well, I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances first. I should want a guarantee that this theory opens doors to the gay community, not closes them. I seek to find a wider sphere of connection by building an atmosphere of free inquiry in the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the other. ‘I can promise you none of these things. I can only promise that as you were once blind so you will see. My promise is for grace to the man who admits he’s a sinner.”
“Ah, but we must all those beautiful words of Amazing Grace in our own way mustn’t we! For me there is no such thing as a final answer on sin. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind to keep us humble, must it not? To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”
“If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.”
“But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of sin? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?”
“You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.”
“Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to what I know to be love in the way you seem to be describing. Will embracing your understanding of sin leave me the free play of mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.”
“Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry.”
Brian seemed to think for a moment. “I can make nothing of that idea,” he said finally.  
“Listen!” Richard said hitting the table with his palm, “once you were a child. Once you knew what sin was. There was a time when you accepted the reality that only with a light bulb and socket together did you get light.”
“Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”
“Sin isn’t a childish thing! This isn’t a matter of opinion Brian, this is life or death. It’s real! Believe and you will meet face to face with the Father who made us male and female and sent His son to pay for our sins. You will be changed by the facts if you but believe.”
“I should object very strongly to describing God as a “fact” Dick. The Supreme Value would surely be a less inadequate description. It is hardly—”
“Do you not even believe that He exists?”
“Exists?” He snorted, his normally calm and unperturbable manner disrupted. “What does Existence mean? You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, ‘there’, and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing—there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy—quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is love. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance—and, er, service, Dick, service to good works. We mustn’t forget that, you know.”
“If the thirst of the Reason is really dead…” Richard paused. “Can you, at least, still desire happiness? If not for the people trapped in the abuse of the gay lifestyle, then for yourself?”
“Happiness, my dear Dick,” he said placidly, his smooth composure returning, “happiness, as you will come to see when you are more mature, lies in the path of duty. And being the voice of Christ to the gay community has given me such a happiness as you can’t understand. Oh Dick, if you could only see the people who need love! One notices a certain lack of grip—a certain confusion of mind among them. That’s where I can be of some use to them. That’s my passion. There regrettable jealousies. I don’t know why honestly, but tempers seem less controlled than they used to be. Still, one mustn’t expect too much of human nature. I feel I can do a great work among them. I’m even writing another blog post—submission and resistance. We must submit to the world but fight those like you who’d claim the name of Christ falsely. Just as Jesus did with the Pharisees. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, good-bye, goodbye.”
He followed Richard out the door and I was forgotten. But I’d heard it all, and it had left a deep impact on my soul. I logged into my Christianity Today account to post the article that had practically written itself—‘Religious Haters kick out church and Pastor for showing love to gay community.’

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