Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Claiming the Role of Prophet/ Knowing the Mind of God

Today I am interested in the articles from England, from the BBC and in the Guardian, saying that Bishop Gene Robinson has claimed to know the mind of God regarding the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both articles mention that Robinson told the interviewer that he had received death threats.

Robinson claims to know that God is "very disappointed" in the leader of the Anglican Communion. Now, many people are disappointed with the ABC's leadership. And the Anglican Communion is big on trying to discern the mind of the communion and through this, the mind of Christ. Here we have someone who already knows the mind of God, or claims to. Unfortunately, Robinson does not share with us how he knows the mind of God.

Both the BBC article and the Guardian say that Robinson claims that God is very disappointed that the Archbishop has not confronted the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Rev. Peter Akinola, for his outspoken opposition to homosexuality.

Of course it is the role of prophets is to confront the leadership when they have strayed from God's word. The problem we have here is that we have two prophets, each confronting the leadership, but with opposing messages. One claims the role of prophet and claims God wants full equality between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. The other claims that homosexual activity is abhorrent to God.

How can we judge the legitimacy of these opposing prophetic claims? Christian tradition requires:
a review of Holy Scripture to look for conformity with God's Word written,
a testing of the fruits for no good tree will bear bad fruit, and
the agreement of the leadership.
This was shown in Acts when the apostles Peter and Paul were claiming that there were no longer forbidden foods.

When we look at the case of Archbishop Akinola, we find a clear conformity with scripture, an abundance of fruit and the agreement of the major Christian denominations. Homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Anglican Church in Nigeria is growing with followers deeply committed to the Christian faith. And the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern and Russian and Greek Orthodox churches all agree with Akinola's traditional understanding.

When we look at the case of Bishop Robinson, we see a denial of the clear words of scripture, withering fruit, and disagreement from the major Christian denominations. Homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Episcopal Church in New Hampshire is has been declining in both active baptized members (2003: 15,627 vs. 2006: 14,347) and Average Sunday attendance (2003: 4,858 vs. 2006: 4,553). (See the Episcopal statistics tables here.)
And the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern and Russian and Greek Orthodox churches all disagree with Robinson's prophetic vision.

But does that mean Archbishop Akinola knows the mind of God and Bishop Robinson is falsely claiming to know the mind of God? Part of Robinson's argument is that violence against homosexuals is a result of the articulation of the Biblical injunctions against homosexual behavior. (Here we can see the strategic importance of Robinson's repeated assertions that he has received death threats.) Thus, Robinson claims, God wants Christian leaders to cease from articulating these Biblical injunctions to help insure the physical safety of homosexuals.

Is it possible that people with same sex attractions would be more likely to come to God and overcome their same sex attractions if the social stigma was removed? Certainly, in Robinson's case, the reduction in social stigma caused him to move in the opposite direction. As being a gay man in the United States became more acceptable, he chose to divorce his wife and assert himself as a sexually active gay man.

However, we also know that the sin that is not fully confessed to God is less likely to be removed by God. And it may be much more difficult to confront and confess one's sin if the social stigma against acknowledging that part of oneself could result in violence. Peter Ould has had two good recent posts in this regard: Day of Truth /Silence/ Golden Rule and Something Sensible from Gene Robinson. However, there is ample documentation of the Archbishop of Canterbury taking a stand against the stigmatization of same sex attractions. Gay activists may have extrapolated from the Archbishop's stand against abuse of those with same sex attractions to expect his advocacy for full equality between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

I do think we need to be sensitive to the fears of people with same sex attractions and denounce violence against those with same sex attractions. However, I would not be surprised if God was very disappointed in the Archbishop of Canterbury for his failure to confront Bishop Robinson on his advocacy of sexual immorality. And I am not claiming to know the mind of God on this matter.

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