I haven’t been around that many Baptists of late, but one of the first things that struck me in The Detroit Free Press story about Bishop Allyson Nelson Abrams and her departure from the pastorate of Zion Progress Baptist Church was that “bishop” title.
The leaders of free-church congregations, Baptists included, are free to call their clergy whatever they wish. But how common is that “bishop” title? Maybe a bit of explanation? A sentence at least?
Then, of course, there is the reason for Abrams’ resignation:
Facing a backlash from conservatives in her congregation, a noted Christian leader in Detroit resigned Friday from her church after announcing earlier this month she had married a woman.
Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams stepped down from Zion Progress Baptist Church, where she had served for five years as its first female pastor. Her announcement from the pulpit earlier this month that she had married a woman stunned many local Baptists.
Abrams’ resignation comes just days after the U.S. District Court in Michigan took up a challenge to the Michigan Marriage Act that bans same sex marriage.
Abrams, 43, used to be married to a man, but she told congregants Oct. 6 she was in love with Diana Williams, a bishop emeritus with the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C., a church that broke off from the Catholic Church. The two married in March in Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal.
Given the conservative views of many Baptists on the issue of homosexuality and female pastors, Abrams’ announcement caused an intense debate among local Christians. She said many supported her decision to come out while others opposed her gay marriage. Some urged her to stay with the church, but Abrams said she resigned because she didn’t want to further create division. Some in the congregation had found out about her same-sex marriage before she made her Oct. 6 announcement and were making it an issue that was dividing the church.
You don’t say?
A pastor — divorced, no less — goes off and remarries, apparently in secret, and to a person of the same gender. That would make it “an issue that was dividing” the congregation, wouldn’t it?
Of greater journalistic concern, to this reader at least, was the exegesis Abrams gave that was permitted to go unchallenged by any other point of view:
Abrams cited biblical verses to support the idea that same-sex relationships are allowable under Christian teachings, including Luke 7:1-10, which talks about the love a man has for his male servant.
Saying that love is a big part of Christianity, Abrams said: “We all know that we’ve been made in God’s image, and so no matter what you look like, no matter who you are, no matter what your orientation is,” we should be free to love whom we want.
“Love is something that’s supposed to be unconditional,” she added. “And as Christians, if anybody is supposed to be loving, we are.”
Abrams, who has a doctorate degree in theology, said her views about love and orientation changed a “little over a year ago.”
“I progressed in my theology and came to the point where I would love whichever came to me. I wasn’t just open to (a specific) gender, I was open to love in whatever way the Lord would bless me.”
The Free Press story contains the requisite pro and con voices with clergymen supporting or opposing Abrams’ move.
But that’s not my main point. Neither cleric discusses Abrams’ take on the biblical Centurion’s relationship with his servant, the subject of the verses from Luke to which the news article refers. Instead, Abrams is again allowed to expand on this point without challenge:
Abrams said her interpretation of scripture is compatible with same-sex relationships. She said that Greek words used in the Bible, “entimos doulos pais,” can be interpreted together to refer to a male lover.
She acknowledges there can be varying views on this issue.
“People have the right to interpret scripture whatever way they please,” she said. “I respect difference of opinions.”
But does Abrams respect Greek? According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, compiled by the late evangelical scholar Spiros Zodhiates, éntimos is taken to mean “honor, esteem, price. Honored, estimable, dear” in Luke 7:2 and five other passages; agap?tós, which means beloved is not a synonym or defining term used by Zodhiates in connection with this verse.
It would have been better for readers to have found a scholar or two — of which there must be one somewhere near Detroit, or at least in Grand Rapids — who could help with this question. Find scholars on left and right.
This is too important a matter to leave up in the air, and that’s what the Free Press does by allowing Abrams to have, essentially, the last word, or even the only word, on the Word.