A Case for Indoor Plumbing?

What do shrimp creole and flush toilets have to do with a church’s position on same-sex marriage? According to writer Adam Mill, in his recent piece at The Federalist, quite a lot. I disagree with him, but there’s a good bit for the thoughtful layperson to chew.

Adam Mill uses a pseudonym, probably because his day job as an attorney would make strong political and social statements problematic. Like me, he lives in the Kansas City area, and, also like me, he graduated from the University of Kansas. We also share a number of positions regarding political and social views. That’s all good.

Most recently, Mill writes about how he thinks the United Methodist church got things wrong when they took a fairly traditional position on the performance of same-sex marriages within the church and the ordination of homosexual clergy. Mill’s pastor, Adam Hamilton of the gargantuan Church of the Resurrection, supported a position that would have allowed for more local control on such matters. With a smirk, I have to note that Hamilton supported a position that was more Baptist than Methodist in its view of church government–at least on this one matter.

Hamilton, who I normally admire, argued that, basically, we have to keep up with the times, changing our beliefs to match the prevailing winds. He apparently argued from the pulpit that these things are supported in Christian history:

For instance, early Christians of Jewish origin believed that new Christians must observe the law of Moses on such matters as circumcision and diet. Deuteronomy 23:12-13 appears to prohibit indoor plumbing. Somehow we have made peace with going to the bathroom with a flush toilet.

Well . . . no and no. Some early Christians sought to enforce the law on believers, therefore forbidding shellfish (shrimp creole), but that was dealt with pretty fast and pretty definitely by Paul and others–not to ignore Jesus himself (Mark 7:19). And the text in Deuteronomy could only apply to indoor plumbing if you read it incredibly literally. Instead, it called the people to deal with their wastes in a sanitary manner and to keep the camp holy.

Of course, Hamilton could have pointed to differing beliefs on slavery, which led to the splits within both the Methodist and the Baptist churches in the United States. The 1844 creation of the Southern Baptist Convention was precipitated when northern delegates refused to support slave-owning Southerners as missionaries. Were those Northerners right in holding to what they perceived to be God’s will? Yes. Should the Southerners have been indulged since that was the prevailing sentiment in their part of the country?  Certainly not! The Northerners had it right in 1844.

The plan that the United Methodists voted down recently, applied in other settings, might have allowed for racial or gender segregation within the church. It might have allowed for a polygamist to be a pastor. It might allow just about anything that the local mores permit. Is this really what we should support? If we read a bit farther in the Deuteronomy passage that Hamilton cited, we get to this:

For the Lord your God walks throughout your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you; so your encampments must be holy. He must not see anything indecent among you or he will turn away from you.

The church, and our homes, are the modern-day equivalent of the camp of Israel. We should try to keep them holy. We should not be conformed to the pattern of this world but should be transformed and transforming. I feel like I’ve read that somewhere, too.

Before anyone waves that invented word “homophobe” in my direction, let me be clear that I have no fear, rational or irrational, of homosexuality. I also would insist that many in the church have plenty to confess when it comes to the hatred or disdain that has been shown to those who, in whatever way, do not conform to Biblical sexual standards.

But must we employ someone as clergy, must we solemnize their “marriage” within the church in order to treat them with love and respect? I don’t think so. We’re told in John 13:35 that people will know we are Jesus’ followers by the love we show for one another. However, that love need not include approving everything about that person. We can love the alcoholic, love the adulterer, love the mean-spirited, and even love the pedophile without approving their sins. Mill notes that political and social issues seem to have a life of their own.

Those [social] issues can take over and crowd out everything else. It’s not perfect and maybe Hamilton makes it too easy to be a Christian. But it’s better than letting the denomination die off, which is what was happening.

Here, I think, is where Mill really gets it wrong. What has been killing off the United Methodist denomination over the past several decades has been a substitution of the world’s standards for God’s standards, a refusal to call sin “sin.”

Spirit-driven Christians will always struggle to make their way in a sinful world, existing in it while trying to avoid being corrupted by it. We will err in various–sometimes serious–ways, but we will, we must keep trying rather than simply to acquiesce to the prevailing winds within the culture.