The Chaos of the Spirit
Marilyn Paarlberg – New York, Room for All Executive Director
The “Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage & Sexuality” means well. It reflects a natural impulse that we all have in uncertain times— batten down the hatches, check the fences, secure the doors, tighten the lids— in order to keep perceived chaos at bay. An unambiguous, yes-or-no document would seem just the thing, and calling it a catechism could only add ballast on the stormy seas of RCA debate about sexuality and gender.
But the biblical witness affirms that the Holy Spirit resists such anxious impulses, well-meaning or not. The Spirit gusts from unpredictable places and “blows where it chooses,” usually leaving its unsuspecting couriers careening in its wake. Could Philip have predicted his dizzying chariot ride with a foreign eunuch – an outcast on two counts— on a desert road? Or Peter, the outcome of an unsettling vision about eating (and associating with) that which the Torah unequivocally condemns as profane?
And yet, in the Spirit’s chaotic presence, the waters of baptism flow and the once-excluded go on their way rejoicing. Caught-off-guard witnesses are left to catch their breath while the Spirit has already rushed on to the next encounter, leaving faint echoes of the prophet Isaiah in its wake (cf. Isaiah 56: 3ff).
I’m struck with the Catechism’s Answer #4: “In this world, we are called to test all teaching about marriage and sexuality by Scripture, and we must not put human writings, custom or tradition, the majority opinion, the thinking of our own time and place, or even past decisions of the church, above the truth of God, For God’s truth is above everything.”
The truth of God. Yes, we may discern God’s truth in Scripture. But it can never be bound, not even by canonical writings, however divinely inspired the authors were. In areas of cultural norms and knowledge of the world around them, the writers of Scripture were speaking out of their own time. Do we really want to hold up a “biblical” model for marriage that includes polygamy, slavery and patriarchal domination? Do we want our worldview to be based on ancient limited scientific awareness, whether about the shape of the earth, or medical science, or the absence of any notion of homosexuality, for example, as a biological variant that occurs naturally (cf. Romans 1: 26ff) in some humans and animals?
God’s truth may be discerned in Scripture, but it cannot be restrained by it; God’s truth, is, indeed, “above everything.” God still speaks today through the ever-wafting, sometimes elusive Spirit of Truth, the “another Advocate” who still comes to a fearful band of followers in a world that cannot receive it.This Advocate is promised by Jesus to be the One who will teach his followers in every time (cf. John 14). Can we resist our well-meaning bibliolatry and learn to look for the signs of a sovereign God found both in Scripture and in the “beautiful book” of God’s created universe? In that book, “God has given all creatures their being, form and appearance and their various functions for serving their Creator” (cf. The Belgic Confession, Art. 2 and 12).
I have been privileged to know many LGBTQ people in the RCA throughout my life, who, like good stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Peter 4:10), have used their grace-given gifts in service to God and the church. Most were closeted in years past, some living an outward lie; yet, ironically, their good fruits have been well-documented in RCA history. Today, God’s LGBTQ beloved seek to serve openly, authentically, in full affirmation of their being and their calling. Contrary to this Catechism, they are not immoral.
I pray that the church might throw open the hatches, pull down the fences, unbolt the doors, take off the lids, breathe deeply, and not be afraid to affirm LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the RCA. Who are we, that we can hinder God? (Acts 11:17)