So it is in one sense completely unremarkable that Professor John Rumple's resignation from Johnson Bible College was followed by his public announcement that he is an active homosexual, having lived secretly with his same-sex lover while teaching at JBC.
What is more remarkable, perhaps, is that Rumple has launched a web-based campaign to challenge the understanding of Christian ethics that forbids same-sex sexual expression. We call this remarkable because we know of no adulterer, fornicator, pedophile or pornography-consumer who has taken similar steps to challenge Christian sexual ethics. In the larger respect, Mormonism might be seen as a polyamorous challenge, but most analysts would see all that as belonging on the fringes, including most contemporary Mormons. But of course, Rumple is hardly the first to launch such a quest (more on that below). So maybe this isn't remarkable either.
There is so much that can be said on this subject, we hesitate even to raise it at all. So, in our limited time that we are stealing from more pressing tasks, we make only these observations.
One: Like most who advocate the moral acceptability of homosexual practice, Rumple's argument largely hinges on the notion that the expression of individual identity or personhood demands acting on one's sexual impulses, especially same-sex attraction. SWNID objects to this move. Why do we consider "homosexual" to be a category of personal identity but not, say, "greedy person"? We expect that the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit will compel and enable us to restrain our greed. But the argument is that the same should not apply to homosexual impulses, which belong to something of the essence of a person. To oversimplify, some would probably say, "I experience greed, but I am gay." We challenge the validity of that distinction.
In fact, we'll get confessional with this challenge. SWNID has frequent, strong impulses to be bitter and rude. We will even say that bitterness and rudeness are of the very essence of our being, something that we've always experienced and can't seem to shake. We don't just have bitterness and rudeness, we are bitter and rude. We wouldn't be who we are without bitterness and rudeness. But the cross of Christ compels us to struggle against that aspect of ourselves, to "deny" ourselves, as the Lord's phrase can be translated, to "buffet" our "body," as the apostle's phrase can be translated, in favor of something closer to the nature of the God in whose image we were created and are being recreated. That this struggle is in small part on display for all the world in this blog is an irony that we note in passing.
So how is that of a different category than being sexually attracted to members of the same sex?
Two: We are puzzled that more than 30 years after the rise of the gay rights movement, Rumple or anyone else would believe that he had something to add to the discussion of pro-gay biblical interpretation by starting a web site. We've been alive and alert for the entirety of this "debate" (more on that below), and pro-gay exegetes and theologians have been rephrasing and recapitulating the same tendentious arguments since the 1970s. Perhaps Rumple believes that as a refugee from it, he has a special voice on the subject for the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. But the truth is, opinion-shapers in the SCRM listen to folks outside the SCRM too. So quite apart from the merits of his cause, we find Rumple's efforts to be superfluous.
Three: We insist that the call for an opening of dialogue on this issue among the Christian churches and churches of Christ reflects a completely inadequate assessment of the "dialogue" or "debate" in the mainline Protestant denominations that have been so engaged for years. There is no discussion in those contexts that suggest one can make a pro-homosexual theological case without first assuming that human experience as interpreted in the present has a preeminent role in critiquing biblical theology rather than the other way around. So the debate is really between those who would adhere to biblical teaching despite the Zeitgeist and those who would use the Zeitgeist to critique biblical teaching. The lines are drawn on theological method, not specific theological argumentation based on a shared method. So there's no meaningful dialogue or debate on the homosexual issue, just a lot of politicking between factions of denominations that have in reality been split for generations on what it means to believe the gospel. For those who want an example, see the most recent Christianity Today for its coverage of what's happening among Episcopalians.
Four: Drawing from Rumple's statements and those of a former student who in a letter accompanying a gift copy of her self-published, coming-out-of-the-closet memoir mistakenly thanked SWNID for caring more for how students think that what they think (we care for both equally, as careful thought about thought should suggest), we object to an assumption in the thinking of both, an assumption shared by many who are not gay and who pursue ministry. The assumption is this: that a "calling" to ministry is somehow a self-identified entitlement. In the case of Rumple and the former student, this thinking is reflected in the notion that one should be free to be in a position of professional Christian leadership and act without restraint on same-sex attraction.
Rumple reflects this mentality with statements like this (all quoted from his open letter to JBC):
- I have no doubt that God called me to the ministry of the Word (which the church confirmed by my ordination).
- No venue exists within our church tradition where I could engage in meaningful dialogue on homosexuality and not forfeit my vocation; I therefore felt unable to speak openly with the church (or with my colleagues) and still follow my calling.
- In fact, I have lived "in the closet" all my life in the church simply to survive and minister to it.
We will not comment on the rationalizations in these statements. We will note, however, that we have heard this same notion of entitlement from (a) a minister who committed multiple acts of adultery with multiple partners and justified his actions by appealing to the fruit of his ministry (big congregations) and his right to have some personal pleasure; (b) a student of ministry who insist that his talents, commitment and calling justified cheating on exams and plagiarizing book reviews; (c) a pastor who insisted that his calling and long tenure entitled him to pry into others' personal lives, even those outside his flock, exempt from the charge of gossip; (d) a student of ministry who insisted that his calling justified his ignoring his financial obligations.
We don't here assert that the moral standards of Christian leadership should be high. They should be, but we are making another point. We assert first that all leaders are sinners. But what we assert emphatically is that the nature of Christian leadership--no, ordinary Christian discipleship--is that it is a cross-shaped, towel-and-basin-carrying, forced march through the desert. It's a frustrating, humiliating, irritating slog that carries no emoluments except the title "unworthy servant." Finding some kind of church-enforced disconnect between one's "calling" and one's self means, again, giving up oneself, if one is serious about that self-proclaimed calling. And if you can't find the joy in that, read Philippians 2:5-11 until you can.
Fifth: When Rumple accuses JBC of approaching the homosexual issue with bad exegesis uninformed by scholarship, he's either uninformed or disingenuous. Yes, a number of exegetical and systematic theologians have offered pro-gay positions. But they represent theological scholarship as a whole about as much as Robert Funk's Jesus Seminar did. JBC knows this, and they've drawn conclusions different from Rumple's. Rumple is being unfairly accusatory when he implies otherwise.
For those who would like to start digesting the kind of scholarship that Rumple is not acknowledging, we recommend fellow Neutestamentler Robert Gagnon, professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, who has done yeoman's work in exegesis, theology and debate on the subject of homosexuality. And best of all, in addition to excellent books and articles he's provided a terrific web site chock full of stuff. We give him props for fine work that frees the rest of us for other work.
Sixth: Rumple finds his treatment at JBC to have been abusive and hateful. But this begs the real question in the same passive-aggressive manner of the substance addict who tells his enabler that if she loved him, she would give him the money he needed for drugs or booze. What if homosexual practice really is destructive to the persons involved (in ways that we both understand--or did once--and don't yet understand)? What if JBC is right that homosexual practice is not according to God's purpose for human sexuality? Is it love to let the person attracted to members of the same sex act on those impulses with moral endorsement if so to act is destructive?
We know a lot of folks at JBC. They're all sinners. But it's a crime to label an exceptionally gentle, humble, self-giving bunch of people as hateful and abusive.