Sunday, April 17, 2005

2 = x

As I was getting ready for church this morning, I thought about how I, as a church-going Protestant with ecumenical leanings, think about homosexuals participating in church life. I said earlier that I am in favor of civic gay rights, the kinds of rights that we should be pouring out on people indiscriminately. But there is a question lurking beyond public rights, in the private realm of protected, discriminatory church beliefs and practices (and by protected, I am talking about the First Amendment).

The thought that zinged me goes something like this, which I found in a mathematics quote database:

I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension of the following arithmetical formula: 2 + 2 = 4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a + b = c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.

This one has something of the flavor of what I remembered, but not quite, so let me break it down again. (Side note: Random Math Quote Generator.)

The one I remember said that arithmetic insight is solving problems where you let x = 2, and mathematical insight is solving problems where you let 2 = x. This speaks piercingly about what mathematicians do.

Anyway, I was thinking about where gay people belong in church life (and throughout, I will be referring to something like mainline Protestantism), and I started off with x = 2. I was thinking about gay people as a class to themselves, things like "Well, I'm not entirely comfortable with them being married and taking up leadership positions." And then "But I should still welcome them with open arms, because Jesus loved them and died for them." The dissonance was pronounced until I went the other direction.

I just don't understand the special condemnation for homosexuality. This is, after all, the same Bible where Jesus teaches that telling someone to Eff Off is wading around in the lake of fire, and checking out girls is cheating on your wife. This Bible in other words, is not just about wedge issues and groups of sinners neatly taxonomized by the do-gooders. If you are a human, you are indicted by the impossibly high standards of this all-demanding God.

But if 2 = x, do you belong in church? If I mutter curses at Logan drivers (some of the worst anywhere) in the privacy of my car and the publicity of the presence of God, should I really be married to my wife? If my friend struggles with consumerism and greed, should he really be allowed to tell Bible stories to Sunday School kids? The sacraments that we deny to the homosexuals are the same we should deny to the heterosexuals.

However, I would rather belong to a church that gets beyond pluses and minuses, sin and forgiveness, sacrifice and justification. There are regions beyond love, beyond miracles, beyond the horizon of the world. They are offered freely by this Jesus, just not as freely by his children.

Let 2 = x. Then the rest logically, naturally follows.

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