Jesus broke the rules of the holiness code, rendering himself ritually unclean, with great regularity. We want a cheap holiness code, not the one Jesus taught and modeled.
Sex life examination mandated to exclude the unclean
With Judicial Council Ruling on Petition 1343, various Boards of Ordained Ministry are going to be required to make a definite determination on whether or not an otherwise qualified candidate for ordained ministry is an unclean “practicing homosexual.”
If the BOM determines that such candidate is indeed practicing homosexuality, they must disqualify that candidate.
Let’s leave hypocrisy behind for a bit. It has long been my contention that if we are going to make a microscopic examination of the sexual lives of those whose sexuality does not match how we’ve interpreted the biblical norm, then we’d best be prepared to examine the sexual lives of those who do match how we’ve defined that standard.
In other words, if a holiness code applies to homosexual candidates, then it had better apply to heterosexual candidates as well.
A new set of questions to ferret out the unclean
It’s time to start asking, both of all current candidates and, retroactively, all those already serving as ordained clergy, the following questions:
How many male/female candidates have a problem with pornography or just plain lustful thoughts?
If a man candidate is practicing onanism or has a nocturnal emission, is he going through the proper cleansing rituals to be made acceptable again to the community?
How many female candidates read romance novels, i.e., female pornography, and find themselves fantasizing about the perfect man—who does not happen to be her husband?
Are the married candidates engaging only in mutually satisfactory sexual practices or do one partner’s wishes and desires take precedence over the other partner’s wishes and desires?
What defines celibacy?
Once defined, do the non-marrieds keep their sexuality within that definition?
Is celibacy “anything but,” a definition which can include some very, very intimate acts? Under that definition, is bestiality or S&M OK since there may be no technical penetration?
Are heterosexual candidates violating the holiness code by engaging in sex during times when the female is ritually unclean?
Along with that, it is not time that we insist menstruating women not have sacramental authority during the time of her menses since everything she touches becomes ritually unclean? Does she not contaminate the sacrament by touching it?
A true call to holiness insists we become unclean
Let us remember: The ultimate call to holiness demands that we pour ourselves out for the most despised of people. Look at Luke 10 and the story of the Good Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite followed the rules and kept themselves unsullied by the injured man who looked as though he were dead. The Samaritan chose to ignore the holiness code and was honored by the words of our Savior.
By the way, Jesus broke the rules of the holiness code, rendering himself ritually unclean, with great regularity.
The call to holiness pulls us into the dirtiest of waters and the nastiest of places so that we might be agents of grace, hope, and healing. Many are called to this, but only a few chosen. Most would prefer to stay clean at the expense of the eternal salvation of others.
We want a cheap holiness code, not the one Jesus taught and modeled.
This is not a call for an “anything goes” sexuality. Instead, I say we must beyond the details onto the bigger picture of the need to balance right behavior with justice and mercy.
It is a call to recognize to recognize that “right behavior” is very much defined by culture and circumstance.
Let us be honest about the biblical witness here: there are places in there where it seems that God affirms and even orders men to kidnap women (only the virgins, of course) and force them into marriage (Judges 21, Numbers 37, Deuteronomy 20, Zechariah 14).
Modern sensibilities find these passages pretty horrendous—but I would guess the original hearers of such commands thought this was “business as usual.”
Having said that, I believe our life details carry tremendous importance. The way we express ourselves sexually has profound implications. We can’t wall off our sexual lives and expect that they will not affect everything else we do.
At its best, our sexual expressions bring us most fully into that Garden experience: that place to both fully know and fully love AND to be fully known and fully loved.
At its worst, our sexual expressions use faceless, nameless, invisible others to satisfy a never-ending itch with no care of whom we hurt or what we destroy.
But, having said all that, in the UMC, we will indeed continue to operate by a rigid and unbending code of our own: get out all you practicing homosexuals.
I simply think that all the heteros whose sexual practices also don’t fit the holiness code need to leave as well.
Let’s be fair, folks. If some “unclean” must go, then all the “unclean” must go.
Best of luck to us all.
Mar Newhall, Unsplash
By Guil2027 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Jan Wijnants [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons