Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We call unclean what God calls clean

“What I have called clean, let no one call unclean.”(1) In this story, God is encouraging Peter to break the Law of Moses regarding purity - God is explicitly encouraging Peter to commit the ‘abominations’ we mentioned above.(2) Peter’s vision is about the continuing expansion and inclusion of God’s call, begun in the OT with the many calls to hospitality and love of neighbor as well as aliens in the land.(3) Even if we pretended that the OT condemned consensual, adult same-sex love (which it does not mention, much less condemn), that love would be right there on the table-cloth...with the shellfish.(4) This is not Peter’s innovation, nor his revisionism, nor his denial of God’s authority, any more than it is for those who support LGBTQ rights and inclusion now. It is merely the continuation of God’s ever-expanding call, breaking down barriers wherever the Spirit is found.(5)

1. To be clear, this is a statement of the problem we currently face in the church.  Peter heard these words in a dream from God when God commanded him to commit an "abomination" by eating unclean animals.  As for God calling LGBTQ persons clean, we can't imagine clearer evidence than God calling and equipping them for various ministries, including ministry of Word and Sacrament, both with outward evidence and with an inward sense of conviction and call, not to mention the agreement of the communities they serve.  Whether you choose to trust them when they and their communities say they are called, or you look to the fruits of their calling, it is clear that our current polity defies the movement of the Holy Spirit.

2. Apparently injunctions in the OT regarding ritual purity are not intended to stand for all time - they are temporary measures.  We can speculate on why God broke God's own rules, but it should by now be more than evident that simply because we locate a verse in scripture which implies an impurity, we cannot simply accept it unthinkingly any more than Peter could.

3. The trajectory of salvation history is that of greater and wider inclusion, especially inclusion of groups Israel or the Church treats with contempt.

4. This is in reference to the fact that in the OT, sex with same-gender ritual prostitutes and eating shellfish are both described using the exact same Hebrew word.  The Bible never mentions loving, monogamous same-sex relationships at all, but even the extreme of same-sex ritual prostitution is described with the term used to describe eating shrimp cocktail.

5.  We're sure that Peter got called a 'revisionist' at the time, that he was accused of heresy and of 'going against the Bible', and so on.  These accusations hearken back to Jesus - scribes and liturgical lawyers never like it when someone goes off the reservation following a wild and undomesticated God, a God who might do wild and previously-unthinkable things like ordain women or bless interracial marriages or re-marriages.  For better or worse, we seek to follow a barrier-breaking God, which is most clearly demonstrated in the boundary-breaking life of Jesus Christ, but can be seen throughout the whole of scripture.


Doug Hagler said...



Nick.Larson said...

We at our alternative service will be using this passage to talk about table fellowship, and I'm making much the same points when talking about how this passage generally points to radical inclusion. The important thing to note in addition to this is that God seems to declare things "clean" to push the boundaries of inclusion. If I had to wager (which I don't) on why God broke God's own rules, that would be the reason.

Aric Clark said...

Provocative thought, there Nick. I'm gonna put up a post about why I think God breaks God's rules. Hint: she doesn't.

Nick.Larson said...

Interesting. I look forward to it. I pulled that line from your #2 answer. I guess for me it depends on what you mean by "rules."

Aric Clark said...

I know, we're a mass of self-contradictions. It all depends on how you frame it.

Aric Clark said...

It's up.