In 1999, I was among those attending the UCC Synod who was shocked when the publicly announced nomination of Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund to be UCC President was torpedoed in some sort of backroom political maneuver by a small group of GLBT activists. Dr. Brown Zikmund was, after all, a highly respected liberal feminist scholar who seemed like an obvious fit for the UCC. The scheme behind the abortion of her nomination has remained a mystery.
The sudden emergence of a relative unknown, Rev. John Thomas, to fill the position seemed at the time to be merely a safe choice. I had the opportunity to have the first interview John gave after receiving the nomination, during which he articulated his personal faith in Jesus Christ and in most of the central truths of the Christian faith without equivocation. While not entirely surprised, I was disappointed to watch him, after he assumed office, devolve into a fervent advocate for the religious legitimization of sexual license. Now, sadly, we know the extent to which taking that path wounded his soul and impaired his judgment.
But why does it matter? Although the priceless line “divorcing his wife to live in a committed relationship” from his original press release will live on in irony, shouldn’t we just chalk this up as just another clergy affair? Does it matter beyond the paralysis it seems to have caused in the Cleveland headquarters of the United Church of Christ where current President Geoffrey Black is reported to have been blindsided? Does it matter beyond whatever damage it has done to the credibility of all who serve and worship in the UCC? While we’re not all young, we probably will get over it.
No, it matters because John Thomas, has become an illustration for the failure of his own message. He appears to have believed that when he actualized his internal inclination to bond sexually with a younger woman with whom he perhaps shared a deeper friendship than he did with his wife, that he was engaging in a “love” that God would certainly understand and accept. If you preach that each person’s ‘natural’ orientation can be actualized with God’s full approval whether it leads to sexual relationship with someone of the same gender or both genders than of course why wouldn’t that apply to men attracted to more than one woman? Wouldn’t it?
So why on earth would he now have his ministerial standing suspended for such a thing? Is it merely some ‘boundary’ deal about their working relationship or some old school understanding of adultery? And if the boundaries of what is right in the sight of God are, after all, evolving in our progressive enlightenment, why should some committee in Ohio get to make life miserable for these wonderful, important people who have traveled the world together advocating for peace and justice, just because they loved each other?
This affair is a graphic parable for where all this leads. The absurdity is an object lesson we cannot avoid. The truth is sin is sin, God’s boundaries on love, life and marriage have not moved. Thomas has exposed the fallibility of the progressive ideology in much the same way that Ted Haggard exposed the evangelical idolatry of fame and fortune that placed him in a position of trust. It is a shame that Thomas, a man who once had a strong faith and was theologically trained fell for his own sales pitch and reduced himself to just another shabby moral failure.
The times ahead will be hard on John and Lydia. They will not find doing relationship in the harsh light of disdain and scandal without their positions of influence and their international travel schedule an easy thing. Chicago can be harsh and gray in winter and even in spring. The parable, however, must not be missed. Our own inclinations are fallen and self -deceptive. Without the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to transform our nature and renew our minds we cannot trust ourselves. The way of self-actualization does not lead to salvation or for that matter to true love. And yes, there is grace – but it comes by way of the cross. It comes by way of repentance, of dying to ourselves, all of ourselves, to be alive again, sexually and otherwise in Jesus Christ.
In His Grace,