It has been quite some time since I have used an old GetReligion term (Cheers!), so I think it might help for me to pause and explain the “tmatt trio” to new readers.
Back when I was on the religion beat full-time, I developed a series of three doctrinal questions that helped me scope out the dividing lines inside the battles that were shaking so many Christian denominations and ministries. You see, they all seemed to be arguing about the same issues over and over (James Davison Hunter, your ears should be burning), no matter what doctrinal heritage they were claiming to honor.
Yes, there are small-o orthodox and progressive answers to these questions, but that is beside the point. The goal of the questions, for me as a journalist, was to listen carefully to how people answered, or attempted not to answer, these basic doctrinal questions. The trio never failed to yield interesting answers and evasions that helped me, as a reporter, learn more about where people were actually coming, in terms of ancient doctrines (as opposed to mere contemporary politics).
So, here are the three questions:
(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?
(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?
Of course, there are churches that would not use the term “sacrament” in connection with marriage. Thus, I would tweak the wording on that question from time to time. Obviously, you need totally different questions when dealing with other faiths. The key is that you ask doctrinal, not political, questions.
Now, I have a personal confession to make. I first formulated these questions in the early 1980s, while working at The Charlotte News and then The Charlotte Observer. They grew out of my experiences as a member of the final Baptist congregation that I ever called home.
To be specific, if was the congregation discussed in this recent (alas, it has been in the tmatt guilt file for some time now) story in the Observer. Every reporter knows that clergy come and go all the time. In this case, the editors decided that a ministerial exit was news.
With tears and applause, hugs and handshakes, Myers Park Baptist Church said goodbye Sunday to a longtime senior minister who announced last week that he needed to walk away from the stresses of pastoring a 2,200-member congregation.
The Rev. Steve Shoemaker, who recently sought treatment at a Maryland facility for anxiety and depression, also bid his “beloved community” farewell with a final sermon that cast his resignation and the 70-year-old church’s upcoming search for a new leader as opportunities for each to start a new day.
“God is giving to me a new dawn, and God is giving to you, the congregation, a new dawn,” the black-robed Shoemaker said after climbing the stairs to the church’s pulpit one last time. “God is a God of new beginnings.”
Shoemaker, who also had admitted “self-medicating with alcohol,” wants to devote his attention to an intensive 90-day, out-patient recovery program and then pursue a career of teaching and writing.
Now, it helps to understand that Myers Park Baptist is a very controversial church and that has been the case for decades. On one level, this rather high-church, liturgical congregation is known for taking, as the story notes, “liberal stands” on the usual social and cultural issues. The congregation took early public stands in favor of gay rights, for example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In the story, the content of these “liberal stands” is hinted at in this paragraph: