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Where I Differ
September 19 and 20, 1998

2 TIMOTHY 3:16-4:8

My current favorite bumper sticker is "The Religious Right is neither." This sermon is not an attempt to malign the Religious Right, but to point out where I differ. The Religious Right is receiving a great deal of media attention. The Religious Right is wielding a great deal of political power. They have brazenly announced it is their goal to take over the Republican Party. What concerns me, and why I preach this sermon today, is that the general public may be confused. Some of you may be confused and think that the Religious Right and Christian are synonymous.

My purpose today is to let you know that there are alternative positions to what the Religious Right is attempting to force on the American public. It is not necessarily my purpose to convince you of my position, but to offer you an alternative. If you agree with the Religious Right in any of their positions, as a United Methodist you are free and privileged to do so. You formulate your own theology. By the Religious Right, I mean the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, and others.

Where I agree with the Religious Right is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and the mandate to preach and teach the gospel in the hope of influencing the behavior, attitudes, and morals of our nation.

Where I differ is: (copies of this sermon will be available next week)

1) The Religious Right with power and lots of money believes that their positions are the only "Christian" views, and are right for the country. Their lobby is very strong, and many Congress people are intimidated by them. The two main political issues of the Religious Right are the school prayer amendment and anti-abortion. Their goal this November is to defeat congress persons who vote against the Religious Right on these issues.

Where I differ is that I believe diversity is prevalent in America, and that diversity is good and acceptable. There must be tolerance and respect for those who differ. I believe in lobbies to teach and influence legislators, but to threaten and abuse political power is going too far.

Under the banner of the lordship of Jesus Christ, there is room for diversity. We learn from people who differ with us, and together, with mutual respect, we have the potential of discovering the truth and the will of God.

2) School Prayer. The Religious Right firmly supports the School Prayer Amendment which was defeated in Congress a few months ago. Those who voted against the amendment are now targeted for defeat this November. The Religious Right believes that a constitutional amendment should be passed to allow organized prayer in public schools.

Where I differ is that an amendment is unnecessary and dangerous. It is unnecessary because students and teachers are already legally allowed to organize prayer groups and Bible study groups on a school campus. What is not allowed, and rightly so, is compulsory prayer. Compulsory prayer is dangerous, and the proposed amendment does not address the question of who will lead the public prayers. Will Baptists be happy when a Buddhist teacher leads the prayer? What is to stop Satanists from leading the prayer? Or, will an innocuous prayer addressed to an unknown god be written? If so, who will write such a prayer? I repeat, what many people do not realize, including some school administrators, is that prayer groups on campus are already legal.

3) Abortion. The Religious Right believes that human life begins at conception and, therefore, abortion is murder, is a sin.

Where I differ is that I'm not sure when human life begins, but there are times when abortion may be the only option; for example, when the mother's life is at stake. The decision should be made by the mother and the doctor, not legislated by law.

4) The Bible. The Religious Right believes that the Bible is without error, where every word is the Word of God.

Where I differ is that I believe the Bible was inspired by God, but the interpretation of the Bible is still being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some parts of the Bible are applicable to the culture of the days in which they were written, and do not apply today. Deciding what is relevant, inspired, authoritative for us today is a matter of study, prayer, using the minds God gave us, and using what we have learned through the ages. The umbrella under which we interpret the Bible is our understanding of Jesus. Jesus is the authority by which we interpret the Bible.

Even the Religious Right who believe every word is inspired for us today, pick and choose.

Leviticus 11:2-8 forbids the eating of rabbits and pigs. I wonder how many of the Religious Right enjoy pork and ham.

Leviticus 12 forbids a woman who has given birth to a son from going to church for 33 days, because she is impure. If she gives birth to a girl, she is impure for 66 days!

Leviticus 14 says nothing about going to a dermatologist when you have a skin disease, but gives detailed instructions on sacrificing various animals to cure your disease.

Leviticus 19:19, "You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials." Would you like to take off your cotton and polyester clothes?

Deuteronomy 21:18, 21, "If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother..Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death." Should that be enforced?

Psalm 15:1, 5, "O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?...Those who do not lend money at interest." Where would America's economy be if the Religious Right took that literally?

Lest you think only the Old Testament has commands that do not apply to us today, how about 1 Timothy 2:9, "Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes." Take off your wedding rings!

My point is this: some parts of the Bible do not apply today. All of us, even the Religious Right, use some kind of yardstick by which the Bible is interpreted.

5) The Rights of Women. The Religious Right believes that women shall submit to their husbands, that women shall not be ordained or serve on church governing boards, and that staying home, being a good wife, and taking care of the children is career enough for a woman-- unless the mother is on welfare, then she should get out and work, a distinction I find inconsistent!

Yes, I differ! Paul was moving beyond the cultural restrictions on women. Paul appointed women to head some of his newly founded churches. Paul names women in leadership positions. Paul addressed marriage and family relationships in Ephesians 5. The Religious Right emphasizes 5:22, "Wives, be subject to your husbands," forgetting or intentionally ignoring the preceding verse, verse 21, which serves as the over-arching principle: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." Christian marriage is built on mutual respect and mutual subjection. Marriage is a partnership, not a head and foot hierarchy.

Furthermore, I believe a woman should pursue the vocation to which she has been called. A successful career and motherhood are not incompatible.

Regarding ordination, I believe God calls people into the ministry. Anyone, male or female, who is called by God may be ordained.

6) Homosexuals. The Religious Right believes that homosexuality is a sin, and that homosexuals are not entitled to equal rights under the law. The Religious Right campaigns vigorously to deny homosexuals their rights, as individuals and as partners. And, most definitely, the Religious Right believes that homosexuals may not be ordained as ministers.

Where I differ is that I believe all of us, including homosexuals, are born with our sexuality. It is not a matter of choice. When did you, for example, choose to be heterosexual or homosexual? I believe homosexuals are children of God, created by God, and are entitled to live their lives in equality and peace. As far as ordination is concerned, I repeat: God does the calling. Anyone who is called by God may be ordained.

7) Use of Coercion and Violence. The Religious Right definitely believes it is their right to coerce, intimidate and dictate. Using violence, bombing abortion clinics and bashing gays seem to be excusable actions. Very few public condemnations are made by the Religious Right of those who commit violent acts.

Where I differ is that I believe violence is always wrong, including the spanking of children which condones and teaches violence.

I've given you much to think about. No doubt, some of you disagree with me on some of these issues. My purpose is not necessarily to convince you; but, I do ask you, unlike the Religious Right, to be tolerant. My purpose is to lift up to consciousness that there are alternative positions to the Religious Right, and that the Religious Right is not necessarily right.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris