The Peripatetic Preacher Teaches the Book of Job in Light of That General Conference(4)

The Peripatetic Preacher Teaches the Book of Job in Light of That General Conference(4) March 18, 2019

I have just concluded a three-week series on the book of Job for members of my church, Westwood United Methodist Church, though currently in protest of the recent actions of the called General Conference, we have blacked out the words “United Methodist” on all our external signage. Thus, we are currently “Westwood Church,” close to the name used before the 1968 formation of the United Methodist Church, when it was known as “Westwood Community Church.” My long study of the book of Job and the unfortunate actions of the conference, where in essence my church announced that all LGBTQIA people were unwelcome as full participants in our life and work, have an interesting intersection of ideas and the means to express them. In short, the conference gave a new urgency to my teaching based on this wonderful book.

Job at its base is an attack on the long-held and overly simplistic view of the actions of the God of Israel, that that God is in the business of rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. Job and his three friends (four if one includes Elihu) ascribe to this ancient notion. Where they so violently disagree is that to the friends Job must be wicked, since only wicked people end up on ash heaps with nothing, while to Job he senses that he could have done nothing worthy of such an assault by the Almighty. We, the readers, know that Job is correct; he is innocent, in fact “perfectly righteous” as both the narrator in 1:1 and YHWH in 1:8 claim. Thus, for Job, it is God who is at fault, either confusing him with some sea monster (7:12) or simply attacking him for no reason at all (9:22).

It is often said that the book of Deuteronomy enshrines this absurd view that the righteous always get the good and the wicked always get what they richly deserve, namely the bad. Though it is true that one may find such an idea espoused in various parts of that book, along with other places in the Hebrew Bible (see various Psalms and prophets), I would argue that the overall outlook of the Hebrew Bible cannot finally be blamed for the notion. Still, the author of Job has apparently had his belly full of this idea, and sets about both making fun of it and attempting to offer another way to see the nature of God altogether. The author of Job is both rejecting a hallowed and broadly believed idea and is trying to suggest that one need not believe it to understand the figure of YHWH and the divine relationship to Israel.

I would urge all those who voted for the so-called Traditional Plan at that now infamous called General Conference to read again the book of Job in order to learn that one need not cling to old and outdated ideas to maintain a right relationship to God. Here are the modern facts as we know them: LGBTQIA people have not chosen to be as they are; God has made them and loved them as they are. Thus, the idea that the Bible has forbidden same-sex relationships, even marriages, is based only in a faulty understanding of human sexuality. It is plainly wrong, and finally evil, to deny loving Christians a place in the realm of God as full participants based on a ridiculously antiquated knowledge of sexuality. Job again and again bids his three so-called friends to look at the world in which they live, both the animals and the humans, to see whether there is any real evidence that the universe operates as they claim it does, that is ruled by a mechanical God who inevitably rewards and inevitably punishes. As Job so trenchantly notes, anyone who has lived at all, and who has been alert to the realities of human life, can readily conclude that the world simply does not work that way; there are any number of superbly pious and righteous people who die young, unrecognized and forgotten, as well as many terrible humans who grab and steal and horde, yet die in old age, trumpeted to marble- clad graves, revered for years and years as paragons of virtue.

And so it is with those of us who know many LGBTQIA people who are deeply engaged in the life of faith, who have heard the call of God to multiple kinds of ministries, who love the church, and who profoundly love persons of the same sex. That is the fact of my human experience. To deny these wonderful siblings of God a place in my church is to reject the very God we think we serve.

In the same way that that old canard about God’s actions toward righteous and wicked is skewered and destroyed by Job’s creator, so can the old sexual canard about LGBTQIA persons be forgotten and consigned, along with male dominance, slavery, racism, and any number of other human fallacies, to the bulging dustbin of history. For as sure as I am writing this today, we will look back on this appalling conference in later years and gasp in horror at what we allowed to happen to our church, based on biblical absurdities and wretched theology. Time to grow up and enter the modern world! The author of Job can lead us to a different and a better world of full inclusion and unbreakable love, thus echoing the God we worship.

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